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On Tooth Paste And Project Tasks

Crest_and_colgateI'm switching brands of tooth paste from Crest back to Colgate.  There's really no difference in price or performance.  For the same amount of money, I get my teeth adequately whitened, and my breath at least doesn't cause people to run screaming from the room in some kind of sensory-induced agony.  (I do, however, have many other tools at my project management disposal to make people run screaming from rooms.)  I'm abandoning Crest in favor of Colgate because of their lids.

You see, I like using the toothpaste containers that can stand upside down and yet still upright on their lids so the toothpaste always settles closest to the opening.  The problem with Crest's bottle is that - even when supposedly closed - the toothpaste oozes out and makes the lid a sticky mess.  The Colgate container seals tightly so that no toothpaste escapes between uses.

By now, you're wondering why I've abandoned project management discourse to discuss the tools of dental hygiene.  Bear with me, I do have a point.  As project managers, we should want our resources to act more like Colgate than Crest.  When people tell us a task is closed, we want to believe them.  However, how many of you have heard the following when asking about a task's status?

  • "Well, that task is TECHNICALLY closed."
  • "We only have a couple more things to visit and then we can close that task for real."
  • "Come on, close out the task already... it's 99.9% complete."

If you're naive enough to fall for those lines, your project plan ends up looking as gunked as a lid from the Crest toothpaste bottle.  In the eversmall blog, which is also engineered for Entrepreneurs and Small Business, Mark Smallwood provides some great advice on completing project tasks:

It’s sometimes difficult to complete large tasks, but letting them go stale is the best way to discourage yourself. Incomplete projects generate physical, mental, and emotional clutter.

Yes, it sounds very basic, but you'd be amazed how many times those "almost closed" project tasks stay open longer than anybody ever suspected, wreaking havoc at the least opportune time.  Here are some possible techniques to follow when the project task somebody reported as complete actually must be complete in real life as well:

  1. Create exit criteria for task sign-off (at least for critical deliverables).  Make sure that everybody understands what "done" looks like.
  2. Base "% Complete" progress on the number of hours expended on a task and the number of hours left.  This prevents the game of having people creatively estimate the real completion status of tasks.
  3. Hold people accountable for fictional reports.  If somebody reports a task as complete, and you find out later that they lied about it (as opposed to those who genuinely believed the task was done and a new issue arose which caused it to reopen), hold them accountable both for the lack of task performance AND the lack of integrity, and make it very clear what their falsified report has done to the project.  If the behavior continues, remove them from the project.

Remember:  done is done.  Complete means complete.  A finished task implies that none of us will ever see this task rear its head again.

So... are your project tasks more like Colgate or Crest?

Carpe Factum!!!

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Comments

Tim,

Thanks for the mention! I love the analogy you've used here. It's perfect.

Best,

Mark

Mark - my pleasure - it was a great read on your blog. It's amazing what happens when "closed" really doesn't mean "closed" isn't it? Thanks for swinging by iowabiz.

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