The biggest problem in business today is that everything is date-driven and not quality-driven.
There, I’ve said it. And a few dozen of my past and current clients are now sidling up to their laptops to shoot me an e-mail asking me if this blog is about them. (The answer is Yes It Is And You Know Who You Are.) Seriously, this is a problem everywhere, yet despite the wholesale crises it precipitates it’s actually getting worse.
The root cause of this problem is the old bugaboo of perception. “Progress” is usually measured by speed-of-delivery, not fitness-for-purpose or conformance to requirements or streamlined processes or any of those other quality maxims. We’ve all heard a variation of the following:
“Just [complete the work] so I can get it into my status report for this [week/month/year].”
So that project manager’s boss is now satisfied that the team is getting things done instead of abusing flex time or work-from-home policies. Meantime the campaign went to a saturated segment. Product prices no longer match across divisions. Account managers are confused about territory assignments and are cannibalizing sales. And the Feds have just left a message for your CFO.
You have to name it to claim it. (I learned this from watching The Biggest Loser the other night.) So herewith, the five main reasons for this phenomenon:
- The measurement conversation isn’t baked into project initiation. In our BI, MDM, and data governance projects we make sure that this is part of the requirements phase. But practitioners aren’t the only people who need to have this conversation. Business executives and managers should be proactive about their quality criteria during ideation or (at the latest) in the business case. This not only elucidates delivery steps, it makes scoping so much easier.
- The “effort delusion”, that anachronistic WASP-y assumption that many people working hard will yield positive results. There’s a monkeys-on-an-island analogy here that I’ll refrain from making. But as many before me have aptly observed working hard simply isn’t enough.
- No one closes the loop. Imagine how many companies have invested in quality programs, data quality automation, business analysis skills, TQM and SixSigma training and other improvements yet continue to fail to reconcile the project’s original objectives from its delivered outcome. Instead, projects endure scope creep or are delivered as a shadow of their original vision. Closing the loop between original vision and ultimate deliverable is a learned and practiced behavior. Instead, mediocre projects drive a flurry of fix-and-maintain activities that would have been unnecessary had they been delivered right the first time, and ultimately far more costly.
- Failure to define realistic delivery increments. This is Project Management 101. Or is it? The problem here is that the people doing the scoping are often not those on the hook to deliver the goods. I’ve seen project managers idling in the doorways asking programmers to rattle off their tasks, then randomly assigning time-to-completion. It doesn’t work that way. Or it shouldn’t.
- The economic climate has made people paranoid. There, I’ve said it. And a few dozen of my past and current clients…oh, nevermind. You’ve seen it yourself. People go into delivery hyperdrive and start producing at all costs. (“Just load the data into the database—we’ll worry about whether it’s usable later.”) Worse, they cover their collective asses while spinning stories of their productivity, backing into post-facto project plans and pointing fingers when people ask questions.
Maybe if we understand the root causes, we can fix the problem. (Thanks for that one too, Bob and Jillian!) Or maybe we’ll just stay on the couch and keep chomping away, occasionally groping for the remote control so we can get something different just by pressing a button.
Jill also blogs at jilldyche.com.