Battling The Blob II

Side questions and musing from top executives trigger untold wasted effort by project teams.

The last article, Battling The Blob, explored the pain that project teams inflict upon themselves when they rely on the grapevine to please decision-makers (and decision-makers put a stop to excessive work ). But executives can also cause an effective, streamlined decision process to get bogged down in wasted effort.

“I’m just curious…” became a catch phrase that brought notoriety to an executive I worked with. She regularly presided over projects that ran in the five to ten million dollar range and she developed a reputation among project teams as one of the highest maintenance decision-makers they served. This executive’s ‘curiosity’ invariably raised questions far outside the firm’s well-defined evaluation and proposal guidelines.

Project leaders hate being caught without answers, particularly in front of executives. With the mantra, “Never again,” most project leaders accumulate their own lists of questions executives are known to ask. Over time, preparing answers to these lists cause hours of distracted effort.

Now, executives have every right to ask any question they wish. After all, they are fully responsible for their decisions. But decision-makers cause efficient capital budgeting processes to grow obese when project leaders fear they must prepare answers for every question – no matter how random or minuet. The art is in the timing of questions.

Everything In Its Time

Decision-makers can take intentional steps to keep good processes streamlined and efficient – freeing their project teams to focus on the truly critical work.

  • Consider the nature of your questions before voicing them.
    • If the answer could affect your decision, by all means ask the question.
    • If, however, any answer is unlikely to sway approval or decline, hold the question until after your decision is announced – and be clear it is a one-time question, not a new expectation.
  • Watch for symptoms indicating teams are over-doing the evaluation and analysis. Where teams are going beyond effective use of their time, coach them to focus on the critical activities.

Holding back your curiosity is never easy but unrestrained questions cause wasted effort in the future as teams scramble to anticipate every possible random question that might arise. That’s waste we simply can’t afford.

© Dave Wittenberg