How To Avoid Workarounds
Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony make up the traditional list of 7 ‘deadly’, or ‘cardinal’ sins. This list has been used since the early days of Christianity to educate and instruct followers concerning fallen humanity’s tendency to sin.
While not nearly as profound or everlastingly impacting, there are certain scenarios within IT Project Management that you would want to stay away from as well. We collectively group these together under the banner of the Cardinal Sin of Information Technology Project Management Workarounds!
What is an IT Project Workaround?
There are many things that occur during a complicated IT project that will allow room for this sin of “workarounds” to come to the fore. No matter how much you plan, anticipate, manage risks, and monitor your project, there are always going to be things that go wrong or cause your project to go off track. These can be grouped into the following categories:
- Not Expected – The first category that could possibly introduce a workaround involves things that are “not expected.” These could include such surprises as a change in management, a sun-setting of a particular technology, or resources not being available. These are all items that may not have been considered in the project plan or did not appear on the radar of any risk management sessions that were conducted.
- Not Accounted For – The second category that could possibly introduce an IT Project Management workaround involves those items that should have been accounted for, but were missed. Examples of this could be: not scheduling enough time to test the software that is being developed; and/or not setting aside enough time for a proper solution to be architected.
- Out of the Blue – The third category that could cause one to ‘sin’ includes everything else that could compromise a project and prevent it from being completed on time with the proper quality controls or on budget. These could range from someone in your internal organization throwing a bombshell at the last minute, to a client accelerating the project schedule.
When any of the above situations occur that are not expected, not accounted for, or come at you from out of the blue, then you have a choice to make. People are going to come at you with options and suggestions for how to keep things on track during these tenuous times. The majority of these suggestions will include the phrase (or variation thereof)… “We can take a shortcut and still get this done on time.”
When you hear this phrase…Run!
After all, a workaround is nothing more than a shortcut that should not be taken.
Why Are Project Management Shortcuts Dangerous?
What is the longest distance between two places when you’re driving? Believe it or not, the answer is “a shortcut.”
Your passenger says they know a shortcut between where you are and where you’re going and you take them up on it. The problem is that it’s late and dark and you’re both very tired. The terrain becomes unfamiliar, landmarks start to disappear, and as you get more and more off the beaten path you realize that you’re lost! What do you do? You turn the car around, back-track to where you started from and keep on the straight and narrow course.
It’s the same thing with a project management shortcut. Someone comes to you and says that they know a way that this project can get done in half the time. You take them up on it. You quickly find that you’re moving into unexplored territory and new technical terrain. Your team hasn’t been here before and they begin to lose sight of those areas where they’re subject-matter experts. Next thing you know, you’ve burned up all the time you thought you were going to save, only to find that you need to back out of whatever you did and start over again. Not worth it.
There’s a saying that “if you do something quick and dirty, the dirty will last a whole lot longer than the quick.” Even if you were able to save some time by utilizing a shortcut, when things begin to unravel and management or others start to ask why something was a done a certain way, everyone will forget the time that was saved. All that will remain to be exposed is the nasty, sinful shortcut that was taken and how it compromised the integrity of the project you’re managing.
How Can You Overcome Shortcuts?
There are a number of ways you can fight the tendency to give into workarounds and shortcuts. Here are three suggestions.
- Just Say No – Sometimes you have to be the bad guy. You don’t have to, nor should you, say YES to every suggestion and idea that comes to you from the team. You don’t want to stifle their creativity and ability to offer suggestions, but you’re ultimately the one that’s responsible for the success (or failure) of that project. If taking a shortcut isn’t a good or responsible path to go down, then don’t take it.
- Be Transparent – A second option (if you do want to consider a workaround) is to be entirely transparent with the decision. Make sure that anyone and everyone that could be negatively impacted by this decision is aware of the potential risk and is in agreement with moving forward. Depending upon the nature of your organization and how good people’s memories are, you’ll probably want to get this in writing. If, and when, something goes off track because of this decision, then you can refresh everyone’s memories that this was a collective decision that, at the time, appeared to be the right one to take. Part of this transparency should also be the fact that this could run the risk of delaying the project even longer or costing more. You need to make sure that everyone is comfortable with this decision and understands that there is the possibility of things going terribly wrong.
- Fight for It – You’ll be in a better position to fight for the right to do things the right way once a couple of shortcuts have been taken and the project has gone south. “Remember what happened last time?” Or …“We were in a similar situation as this and this is what went wrong”. Either of these will certainly refresh people’s memories and hopefully jar them back to their senses if they start going down the slippery slope of wanting to take a shortcut. Fight the urge to get involved in a shortcut or workaround as much as possible. The consequences are not nearly as profound as succumbing to one of the traditional (biblical) cardinal sins; however, they certainly can make your professional life much more complicated. If you don’t feel that it’s the right path to go down, then don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. This ability to stand up and rely upon your experience as a professional project manager will help propel your career to new and fulfilling heights.
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