When Busy-ness Hides Laziness

How can you be busy and lazy at the same time?

You can’t?

You bet you can!

The best example I’ve come across for this was on a big IT project I was involved in.

Projects that are formally/mechanically managed are fairly typical in IT and construction.  Project management provides a set of tools and techniques that can seem to create order out of chaos – producing a set of collateral that clearly sets out who needs to do what, when and to what standard and cost.

However, project management occurs within a broader context – usually an organisational context – and organisations are messy, political, human creations that tend to work more like eco-systems than Gaant Charts.  Not only this, but there can also be political factors and financial factors at play outside of the strict scope of the project.  People’s reputations may be on the line – or even their jobs and livelihoods.

Why does this matter?

Well, first, it matters because the project management tools are designed to minimise the impact this external ‘messiness’ has on the delivery of the project – to manage it.  To confine it to steering group meetings and risk registers.

But, that same context (made up of real people who can go ‘off-plan’ without warning) can assert its influence at any point – in a helpful way, in a clear and constructive way that is deliberate and relevant to the task at hand OR in a random and unpredictable way, driven by unrelated factors and events, and with little regard for the deliverables of the project.

Second, the existence of the lovely plans, charts and reports can lull those who are managing the project (generally rather black-and-white types in the first place) into a completely false sense of certainty about the status of the project.

So, in this context ‘lazy’ becomes the act of continuing to deliver the project as per the original plan even when new information becomes available, a ‘better’ way is identified to complete a task or milestone, or the external context changes in an untenable way.

In other words, it is less work to keep pushing on in an inferior (or in some cases doomed) manner than to re-plan and work through the implications of the new plan with stakeholders.  Often those stakeholders have made significant investment (money, time, reputation, political capital) in the original plan and will be incredibly resistant to change mid-stream.  The costs of maintaining the status quo versus an alternative can be difficult to quantify, and the inertia to stay the course is very strong.

Have you been involved in a project where this has happened?

Have you every found yourself trying to persuade a colleague that a change of course – a longer course that would result in a more effective solution – was a good idea?

Did you succeed?  And if so, how?

I’d love to hear from you.

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