Deliver in six months or you

Is it possible that there’s just not enough pressure in our business?

I’m not saying that we’re not working long enough hours, that the deadlines we’re working to aren’t increasingly tight, that the expectations of our clients aren’t increasingly unrealistic.

I am saying that that too many of us don’t know how to perform as if what we did was of life and death importance, because we know that what we do really isn’t.

Sure, the work we do is important, but for most of us, it really it isn’t “mission critical” despite the labels we attach to it.

Ask yourself honestly: Will your organization really be in danger of failing if your IT initiative doesn’t deliver what you said it would, within the schedule and budget you committed to? I didn’t think so.

The problem is that we know this deep down, we know that the work we do isn’t life and death, that no one will die if we don’t get it done on time, that we probably won’t even get reprimanded, let alone fired if we go over budget. In most organizations, there’s always an excuse, always someone else to blame.

Since we know our work and our projects aren’t really life and death, we behave accordingly: we let tough project issues slip by without forcing a decision because the effort to drive to a resolution just doesn’t seem to be worth the hassle, and even though we get the nagging feeling that the steering committee members for our project have widely different views on what constitutes project success, our fear of making waves outweighs our desire to ask the tough questions that will force a discussion on objective criteria for success.

After all, it isn’t life or death – so what if this project slips a little, doesn’t every project in this organization slip a little?

Lack of a fear of failure means lack of focus, a lack of focus means a lack of care, and a lack of care means an indifference to project failure.

So what would cause us to focus? How about fear? We’ve all heard the expression that “nothing focuses the mind like the fear of death”.

I hope none of us are ever in a situation where the projects we work on really, directly, mean life or death, but what if we acted like they did? I’m sure we’d act differently – but how?

Deliver fast: If it really meant life and death, would we ever take on a project that would take more than six months to deliver? With the degree of change in our business, and the amount of uncertainty in the businesses of the clients we support, taking on a project where we couldn’t clearly see the goal line inside six months would make no sense at all.

Demand a clear definition of success: If it was a life and death project, would we accept any uncertainty at all around what the project success criteria? If it really mattered, we’d push for the definitive answer – no equivocation, no fence sitters.

Serious risk mitigation: If we knew that something had the potential to screw up our life and death project, we’d damn sure do something about it. We’d assess the risks carefully, and follow our risk mitigation strategy with discipline

Focus: In a real life and death project, no one would be checking their stock portfolio on-line during working hours – if they did, the rest of us on the team would surely beat him/her to a pulp.

Even if the work we do isn’t life and death (and we should all be thankful for that) wouldn’t we all do a better job is we acted a little more like it really was?

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at