I have posted before about how much I enjoyed seeing my projects finally reach the shipping dock after months of sales negotiation, designing, manufacturing, assembly, and testing. With the calendar year ending soon, many of you are probably under a lot of pressure to get multiple projects across that “finish line.”
Unlike the artificial deadlines on various home remodeling and car restoration shows, gear shop “required by” dates can have a big impact on future orders and career trajectories. Over the years, I have made and missed shipment dates, and some of the lessons that got burned into my backside were:
1. Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do the work.
Sales and management folks will make promises without knowing all the facts. The best time to address this issue is Day One; any time after that and you will have — in their minds — “bought into” the promise. My frustrated boss once sent me to a seminar called “Managing Technical Operations” — unaware of its secret subtitle — “Malicious Obedience.” The chief lesson of the seminar was “Never say no to management, but be sure to spell out the resources needed for success.”
2. You don’t get months behind all at once.
The concept of spelling out resources is great. But have you ever tried to use MicroSoft Project on a complex machine? Linking operations, specifying start dates, and tracking resource availability becomes more than a full-time job. A little slip in material delivery, a key machine being booked solid, even deer hunting season might not seem that big of a pothole at the time, but suddenly they combine to put you in a big, deep hole. It pays to determine critical components early and make sure they stay on schedule.
3. Keep the lines of communication to the customer open.
My first trip to Europe was an exhausting 36 hour round trip to take a “beating” for my project being behind schedule. The meeting wasn’t as bad as I feared, because people do respect you for showing up to personally be disciplined. At the wine bar later, when the big boss went to the water closet, my counterpart put his arm around my shoulder and thanked me for taking the hit. His half of the machine was much further behind ours, and if we hadshipped on time he might have lost his job. Since then I have become a proponent of honest schedule updates to the customer; i.e. — the best surprise is no surprise.
What lessons have you learned about project management?