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Let the Information Age…

Do you feel the need to act immediately in response to adverse information?  I sometimes do, especially if it’s something that may negatively impact the cost, scope, and schedule of my project.  Not only do I want to be perceived by my customer and team as pro-active, but I also want to take care of the problem, avert the potential crisis, and mark it off my list so I can focus on the other twenty things I need to do that day.

However I have occasionally regretted that approach because I acted too quickly on incomplete or imperfect information; I allowed myself to be misled about the situation because of the animation of the messenger.  Even worse, I have unnecessarily excited my customer and exercised my team over situations that turned out to be non-issues.

To help me evaluate the proper response, I have developed a simple and informal checklist of questions I ask myself before I agree that the sky is indeed falling:

  1. Is the (insert area of concern) a critical part, process, or resource that could impact project success?
  2. Who is providing this information?  We’ve all worked with those well-meaning individuals who treat every issue – small or large – as potentially fatal.  I’ve learned to pay more attention to those folks who aren’t always in my office and who can be relied upon to accurately portray a situation and its potential consequences.
  3. Is the messenger sure?  What data supports the presented conclusions?  Has the reporter checked the numbers twice?  Has someone else run them as well?  How does he or she know?  As Project Managers, we’ll never have complete information and we’ll most likely need to press forward with some decision without perfect certainty.  But there is usually some additional analysis that can be performed to increase our confidence in the report.
  4. What’s the cost of waiting?  Could be in terms dollars, time, or both.

Of course, there’s no perfect combination of “yes,” “no,” “low,” or “high” responses to the above questions that always equals a prescribed action.  But the answers to questions 3 and 4 carry a lot of weight with me.  Even if I’ve just been informed of a potential problem with a critical part that will impact project success, if the messenger isn’t sure about the data, then a good strategy is to let the information age until further evaluation can be accomplished.  Although there are lots of studies that extol the virtues of timely communication and Project Managers always want to keep their stakeholders informed, there are instances where it is best not to become your supervisor’s or your customer’s Chicken Little.

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