“Tiger By The Tail” – Commitment

The Holy Grail: A fully committed Project Team, working towards the overall success of the Project! Such a scenario gives the Project the best chance at achieving Success.

Please note that completing a Project does not equal Success. In my opinion, a Project is successful only if the Project Execution was such that it maximized the potential and capabilities of the Team Members, and met all the criteria set forth for that Project (I.e. Budget, Schedule, Features etc.). It is no secret that a fully committed team can do wonders for a Project. What then instills the Commitment?

During my Career, I have noticed several methods Organizations use to get Commitment.

Note: Commitment is to a Project Team, what Spinach is to Popeye The Sailor.

Fear

Hah! A method used extensively during times of Economic Crisis. With Companies shutting down, Projects getting cancelled and Employees getting laid off, it does not take a Motivational Guru to get a team to show Commitment. I am doubtful whether it is an effective long-term Commitment-creating strategy, though. After all, no self-respecting and qualified Engineer is going to submit himself to it for a long term. But having said that, this method is quite widely employed. “If we do not get the purchase order for ProjectA …”, “If we do not hit DeadlineA …”. Note that the fear of failure is inbuilt in all of us and this fear spurs us to try and achieve our best. When I refer to “long term” above, I am referring to the pressures added on top of this inherent fear.

Incentives

Incentives, as a motivation, works very well with Commission-based jobs like Sales for example. The chance for more Commision and more Bonus helps the Employees to try their very best. Showing appreciation by rewarding successful Project Teams helps motivate them. It appears that there is a lot of research to prove that there is no direct link between “Happiness at a Job” and “Compensation”. While that may be true, I am yet to see a team get Inspired, Motivated and Committed, when they are told that “After this project, most probably you will get zero Bonus and your Salaries will remain same (or may go down)”.

Interesting Work

Who would not like to work on a “Cool Project”? The chance to develop an innovative product is something a lot of Engineers would jump at. I have come across many people who do what they do, because they love what that job allows them to work on. More than Monetary benefits, the goal in such a case is to attain that professional satisfaction of having done something never (or rarely) done before.

Inspirational Leaders

There are leaders who have the gift of being able to inspire people to achieve great things. (World has seen quite a few Leaders of this sort, some of them quite notorious). I have had the good fortune to work under some Engineering Leaders of this category during my Career. Such leaders are able to make a routine “Engineering Project” sound like a “Noble fight against the Aliens, a.k.a “Independence Day””.

Positive Team Dynamics

A Team which consists of confident and competent Team Members, who respect each other and work positively with each other, creates Commitment almost as if by magic. No one wants to disappoint anyone else and the general positive environment helps keep the Team focussed on the job at hand.

Pride

All Engineers want to be associated with successful projects. There is a sense of pride in a job well done and I have seen Engineers showing a lot of Commitment in trying to attain that feeling.

Whichever method is employed, if the Project Team lacks Commitment, one does not need to be a Nostradamus to predict the ending of that Project’s story.

“Tiger By The Tail” – Project Schedule

While I address the various Project Risk factors one by one, my Blog will be titled “Tiger By The Tail”. I pick such a caption for the obvious similarity to what we feel once we have a Project under way, with dwindling options to make it successful. Should we let go? (Hopefully it wont turn on us) Or should we let the animal yank us this way and that?

How many humans never drink water? Answer: Zero!

How many humans have visited Pluto? Answer: Zero!

How many Corporations/Management says “Hey Guys, You know what? Take all the time you want on this project. Totally your choice!”? Answer: Zero! (Note: If you feel this answer is not correct and you know some Corporation which does say this, PLEASE let me know so that I can also get into the long (I am sure it will be long) line of applicants!)

The truth is, there is severe competition from all corners. It is not enough to bring out a “perfect” Product. You have to bring it out in record time! When you consider the options from the Management side, you can understand why such demands are put forward. At the same time, the Company and the Project Team has to give itself a decent chance to succeed. “No Risk, No Gain” quote makes a lot of sense. I do not think it means “Total Risk, Zero Gain”.

I personally do not think that it is by “accident” that the typical Working Hours per week is 40 Hours per Week. It has been shown that an average Human can hold his/her concentration and high work performance for only that period in a Week. Of course, all of us have Phases where we do put in much more than 40 Hours per Week. For example, in the recent past, our team had to go through a stretch of several months of continuous Late Night Work, Early Morning Work, Weekend Work etc. By the end of this Phase, we were all burned out and took a few months to “recuperate”. In my experience, Engineering Work has cycles, which evens things out in the long run. Or it “should” even things out. If not, it becomes impossible to sustain.

Successful Project Schedule (or Project Schedule with Excellent Chance Of Success) = Accurate Self Assessment + Realistic & Confident Outlook + Margin For Errors/Mistakes.

Accurate Self Assessment: The Team Leaders and Team Members should know themselves very well. Regular Performance Evaluations and Skills Evaluations help achieve this aspect. CompanyA has all the various Skills required to successfully complete ProjectA, except for Skills X, Y and Z? Well, CompanyA better fill in the blanks with respect to X, Y and Z before the Project commitment is done.

Outlook: How quickly can we complete the project with a high degree of Schedule predictability? That is the Million$ question. Should you go for broke? The chance of failure in this scenario is very high. Or should we play it so safe that we time ourselves out of the market? That too, even before the project starts! The reason I mention “Confident” is to avoid the pitfall of Team Members overcompensating due to lack of confidence in their Skills. For example, EngineerA knows that he can complete TaskA in one Week, with a very high chance of success (say, 95%). But the fear of the 5% chance of failure could make him/her quote 2 Weeks (for a 1 Week task!).

Margin For Errors: A simple example. Scheduling a piece of work (e.g. TaskA) by calculating (Total_Hours_Required_For_TaskA / (8 * 7)) = Weeks_Required_For_TaskA, where “8” is the Work Hours per Day and “7” is the Days per Week. Such a calculation leaves no margin for error. As you can note, Weekends are included in the calculation as well. In case you wonder, “Which Company does that?”, trust me, there are many Companies which does that. There are scenariois where such a course of action is a must. For example, an Enterpreneur who has to get his Product into the market ASAP or face a total shutdown. In such a case, the Enterpreneur better make sure that such a course of action is sustainable for the time period it takes to launch the Product.

A pure Top-Down Approach, where the Management rams the Schedule down the Team’s throats, or a pure Bottom-Up Approach, where the Management goes only by the estimates of the individual Team Members, will not work. It has to be a process of open discussions and negotiations.

(No Project Schedule will work without total Commitment from the involved parties. I will touch upon this in another Blog. You can have the best-designed Project Schedule. If the entire Team is not committed, you might as well scrap the Project right away and save some costs).

50+% Engineering Projects Delayed or Over-Budget?

Depending upon which Research Study you review, somewhere above 55% of Engineering Projects are delayed, over-budget or worst, both! We are talking about well-educated, well-meaning, capable and committed Engineers failing a significant amount of the time. Throughout my career, I have been fascinated by this phenomenon. I would be lying if I claimed that 100% of my Projects were on time and within Budget. They were not. Though, a high percentage of them were, which was enough to give me confidence that this is the area I should be studying and focussing on. (For example, if I were a person who times a 100 meter dash at 30 seconds, at my very best, I should be a fool to aim to be the Olympics 100m Gold Medalist, right?)

Engineering is a lot about Research and Development.

So, why not Reasearch and Develop Techniques, Methodologies and Ideas, which helps Project Execution?

This makes all the more sense when I am reminded that I am in an Industry which has a significant amount of NRE costs involved and Delays and Insufficient Budgets often mean the death of a Project (or in a worst case, the death of the Company itself).

I will expand on this topic in future …

My Passion, Strength & Goal: “Creating Order Within Chaos”. Being an Engineer, I value Schedule/Budget “Predictability” a lot. Linking the World of “Ideas”/”Concepts” and the World of “Successful Products/Projects”, using the path of Optimal Execution. That is what I am good at and what I intend to continue developing and refining!