Project saying #66:
We’d rather do 10 projects 60% correct than six projects 100% correct.
I find that most organizations do the former. When I review an organization’s project portfolio a common finding is they are doing too many projects. Some of the projects don’t align with the strategic goals and should be terminated in any case. But even if every project is worthy on its own, collectively they are too much work for the available resources.
Why does this happen? It’s the fault of management (or managers to make it personal). Too many managers feel their sole job is to get more work out of employees. They resort to adding more pressure to employees by adding more work. The hope is the threat, or actuality, of additional work will motivate employees to work harder. As if employees are a clogged drain and the appropriate amount of force will clear the obstacles and allow a lot more work to get done.
Manager’s also hate to have idle employees, so they assign work to meet 40 hours per week. However, project work is variable. If you aim for 40 hours per week, that ends being the floor, not the ceiling. When additional work is required, during design reviews or testing or launches, to name three examples, employees put in far more than 40 hours per week.
When quantity of work soars over 40 hours per week, quality goes down. Quality goes down because employees don’t have enough time to do it right and testing is inadequate to find the poor quality. (Morale also goes down in this situation as Daniel Pink has explained in motivating knowledge workers.) Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure quality in IT projects during the project (and may be difficult to measure after the project is done). And more unfortunately, many IT project managers are not technical so they would not be able to determine quality in the first place.
Since measuring quality is not an easy thing to do, management reverts to measuring quantity. Perhaps they can measure quantity of requirements, lines of code or user stories accomplished but usually it’s quantity of hours – all too easy to measure and usable by the lazy and unsophisticated. This results in a situation described by 37 Signals founders Jason Fried and David Hansson:
some people “try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them…. This results in inelegant solutions.” Workaholics “aren’t heroes,” they write. “They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
Measuring true performance and developing a culture of quality is hard. So most organizations don’t do it. But they have to compensate for their culture of defining quality down, which leads us to the corollary of the saying at the start of this post:
We’d rather do 10 things 60% correct than six things 100% correct. Then we define 60% as an A.
Organizations that have a culture of only rewarding more have to come up with a new definition of quality. Voila!
Don’t fall into this trap. Do more by doing less. Terminate the least valuable projects and dedicate more resources to the most valuable. Both morale and quality will rise when employees have enough time to do things right.