Project Manager: “We’ve had a major setback and we can’t ‘go live’ next week as per the original target date set. We’ve worked some long hours to think about this and what we need to do and have re-planned. We have worked out that, if we work really smart and hard and everything goes to plan, we believe we could be back on track in 8 weeks time.”
Big tough Leader: “I want it in 4 weeks.”
Project Manager: “I know it’s disappointing and you would like it as quickly as possible. That’s why when we did the re-planning we cut out all the fat AND used really stretching estimates…and it is this that gives us the 8 weeks….it could easily have come out at 12 weeks or more.”
Big tough Leader: “You’ve got 4 weeks.”
Project Manager: “I’ve spoken with everyone. We got together as a team to work out what is possible. They all rolled their sleeves up, did some good honest talking and they tell me that they will move heaven and earth to hit 8 weeks.”
Big tough Leader: “Look at my fingers [holds up four fingers]. I’m not going to discuss it anymore.”
…and so the meeting ends, with the Big Tough Leader walking off pleased with him/herself and the Project Manager having the unenviable task of trying to explain to the troops and keep them motivated…all of which will take further time (which could have been spent delivering value).
It’s at this point that I would want to press the ‘stop’ button in the conversation, wind back and at the point that the Big Tough Leader says “you’ve got 4 weeks”, I would want the Project manager to say “…but why?”
Now, there appear to be two logical answers to this question:
- The leader knows something that the Project Manager doesn’t, like there’s an important constraint that means that 8 weeks is no good….in which case the Project Manager (and the team) needs to know the full facts and can enter a proper dialogue about the options available…with some likely innovative ideas coming out; or
- The leader is attempting to ‘manage by fear’ and thinks that their clever ‘stretch-target’ will motivate (!) the workers. Further, it shows that the leader doesn’t trust his/her people and thinks they are lazy, that they are holding effort back and need a carrot/ stick management approach.
So, what actually happens when unrealistic target dates are set?
- disbelief by those who actually know the reality of the situation…de-motivation…and therefore a major disconnect between worker and leader…leading to an understandable lack of respect in the leader;
- de-scoping of value from the work so as to hit an arbitrary target date (“we delivered something!”), as opposed to achieving a target condition;
- the customer (the people receiving the outcomes) never believing the dates that you give them along the lines of ‘the boy that cries wolf’ fable. This is because big tough target dates are published (“because, then, that’ll make ’em work harder!“) and then have to be continually re-published as reality bites and dates are re-set;
- much effort is wasted ‘analysing’ variances between what was dictated vs. what eventuated…none of which comes as much of a surprise to the workers who knew anyway;
- much wasted effort is spent after ‘go-live’ coping with the semi-complete outcome and the customer fallout.
Okay, so you hit a published target deadline…big deal!
What matters is what was actually achieved in respect of the purpose of the value stream being affected. Is the value stream more or less capable in the eyes of the customer?
Now, obviously any roll out needs to know a date to be able to plan its implementation, BUT we should be trying to delay the setting of this date as long as possible in the work so that we have the most certainty as to what it will actually be – a ‘just in time’ mentality rather than a ‘hook to hang people on’.
Let’s try to move:
- away from thinking setting target dates as a management tool is a good thing;
- to thinking that setting target conditions* is the right thing to do, and then providing an environment in which everyone works to achieve this as effectively as possible.
* A reminder: a target condition is a description of the desired future state (how a process should operate, the intended normal pattern of operation). It is NOT a numerical activity target or deadline.
“First determine where you want to go, then consider how to get there within financial and other constraints.” (Mike Rother)
Do you use target dates as a ‘management by fear’ tool to ‘make people comply’?!