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Eat Your Veggies; Enforce Your Tasks

Eat_your_veggiesOne of the most valuable lessons of project management came as a child at the dinner table. 

Let's face it:  very few children like to eat their vegetables in this McDrive-Up world of fast food.  Until I was married, I honestly thought the four food groups were grease, fat, sodium, and cholesterol.  But all too often, because she knew it was good for us, my mom would serve us vegetables.

Mind you, to the typical eight-year-old, vegetables of any variety in any quality are often perceived as ... well... gross, at best.  But I learned to eat them quickly and get them out of the way.  Why?  Because as unpleasant as they were piled piping hot on my plate, they were absolutely unbearable if they were allowed to grow cold.  There was truly nothing worse on this planet.

On projects, we all have tasks that are unpleasant.  Nobody wants to get them done.  They may involve filing government paperwork or filling out permit applications or sorting through historic data to find one minuscule fact.  Tedium!  But... if left unchecked, that same task could end up taking twice as long and costing four times as much due to penalties, estimate overruns, fines and interest, or lost opportunities.

How much of a stickler do you need to be at enforcing deadlines?  Well, it depends on whether you actually like cold and slimy asparagus, whether you want your eggplant looking like over-exposed road-kill.  (Sorry, but the imagery was too good to pass up... I hope you weren't reading this around dinner time.)  Really, it depends on your consequence-tolerance level should you let deadline after deadline pass without penalty.

People are people, regardless of age.  I found a great new blog post by a teacher where she talks about her mentor telling her that assignment due dates should never be enforced: 

Students are faced with deadlines all the time. "You can not play with your friends until you put on a coat." "You have to earn your allowance money before you can go shopping." They watch their heat being turned off in their apartment because mom or dad couldn't pay the gas bill by the 15th. Coach makes them run an extra lap because they were the last one to practice. Auntie burned the pie again because she didn't take it out when the timer beeped.  We are a culture of deadlines; when time lapses past the deadline and the task is not completed direct and indirect consequences happen. Middle school students understand this, perhaps what they have a harder time understanding is how to function without the deadline.

And so it goes with project teams and tasks.  There is one tool that I use consistently on projects that keeps the number of late tasks to a relative minimum:  The Late Task Report.  I create a report that shows which tasks are late, when they were due, and who is responsible for completing them.  Then I distribute the report far and wide:  the entire project team, project management team, company executives, CNN, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, The Weather Channel.  The result?  The team members HATE having it published to executives that they are behind on tasks.  They complete the task as quickly and accurately as they can, without much additional prompting from me.  The report itself works as a kind of "bad cop" to motivate behavior.

So... how are you doing at eating your veggies in a timely fashion?  Is it a project that you can stomach?

Carpe Factum!

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