Today, my family is headed home after spending some time with my wife's parents in a cabin in Brown County State Park in southern Indiana. It was a fun time out in nature and we enjoyed catching up with and enjoying quality time with family.
Except for one small detail: Bathrooms.
You see, our otherwise perfect cabin in the woods was equipped with only one bathroom. I have a general rule about bathrooms, which has served me well over the years: Never share a bathroom with women, those under 10, or those over 60.
I just described every other member of my party.
(Caveat: The 10- to 60-year-old male can go for hours without needing a bathroom. Their use of a bathroom will make it look like the cross between a train wreck and a hurricane when they are done, but at least they don't need it that often.)
You can guess what commodity became valuable during our few days together.
In projects, we have to "share a bathroom" a lot of the time. It's called resource contention. It's that one person (or piece of equipment or single-license computer program) everybody wants, the one who (except for the legalities of human cloning) would be dedicated 100 percent on EVERY STINKIN' PROJECT PLAN in your organization (um... no pun intended).
It's the Web designer who cranks out perfect web pages. It's the claims examiner who always seems to know what to do in every situation. It's the accountant who is abreast of every financial law and policy in every state. And we can't have them because every time we think we need them somebody runs ahead of us, gets inside, shuts and locks the door, and leaves us crossing our project plan legs in excruciating agony until the resource is available again.
But I know why I'm a project manager. I used the same strategies for handling the bathroom constraint that I do handling resource constraints:
- Communicate ahead - I'm a relatively strong creature of habit, so communicating that I needed the bathroom from 6 to 6:15 every morning seemed to work for basic needs. If you know you will need a resource for your project, talk to them and to their functional manager and get it on the calendar.
- Make alternate arrangements - we were half a mile from the lodge, so I made sure to use the ample facilities there whenever possible. Instead of insisting on using this one available resource, can you train another person in the company or outsource to another company?
- Change and be flexible - instead of showering in the morning, I changed my routine and showered at night. This alleviated competition for the one available resource every morning when all of the others wanted to use it. In the same way, find ways to use your resource at different times when they may not be as busy and are more inclined to want to help you.
- Share - "Oooo! Oooo! Oooo! Me next!" was heard a lot in the cabin. Four adults and two children learned to wait in line and take turns. Unless it makes your constrained resource feel like a piece of property, simply communicating your intentions and then standing in line may be the best course of action.
- Relax - no amount of pouting, shouting, whining or breath-holding will make another person finish their "work" faster. I've seen a lot of project managers make silly mistakes because they can't take a deep breath, relax and think. (Project puddles are a bad, bad thing.)
- Do you REALLY need to? Sometimes we only think we need to go (curse the power of suggestion). Similarly, I've challenged project managers who knew for sure they needed one specific resource... and when questioned, they backed down quickly knowing they could get by without.
Knowing what is really constraining your project is critical. Gregg Phipps wrote an excellent piece on critical chain management and understanding how to deal with these constraints. Resource contention can derail your project faster than you can say "toilet paper." If you can identify and isolate these constraints on your project resources and time, you have taken a giant leap forward in solving the problem. So what - or who - is holding your project up? What excuses are causing the slippage? Can you use one of the above strategies to fix it?
And once you do fix it, don't forget to flush and wash your hands. You always want to leave the project resource in great shape for the next person.