Setting Project Exit Criteria
By Kevin M. Berry
Ever notice how easy it is to get INTO a project, and how hard it
is to get OUT of one? There's an old saying about project timelines -
"The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, and the last 10%
of the project takes the other 90% of the time."
So, how do we drive a project to closure? The answer to that lies
in setting the exit criteria first, as a part of gathering the
requirements and understanding the priorities. Usually, we don't start
identifying these criteria until we are in the closure cycle, and, of
course, the customer ALWAYS has extras they want done.
Have you ever had a day like this one? The boss calls you into
her/his office, and starts with an apology "...I'm sorry to give you
this assignment, but ..." and holds out the requirements document,
using gloves and tongs. You, of course, being a quick thinker (with
lots of scars) respond with Plan A. "Well, you know, I'm pretty
whacked with work right now, but I noticed Dave in my cubicle was
reading a novel this afternoon, and he looks like he's got some slack
time." Dirty, but hey, we've all done it, right?
So,failing that attempt, you move on to Plan B, which goes like
this: "OK, boss, I guess I can do it. But, could you tell me, what is
the absolute minimum I have to do to get this steaming heap of post-
digested-bovine-feed off my plate?" This, Grasshopper, is the key to
completing projects. Drive out the minimum acceptable product, on the
shortest reasonable timeline, using the least possible resources.
Think about this for a minute. It would be nice if we all got the
opportunity to bid on exciting, groundbreaking projects that we could
camp on for a long time, feeling fulfilled at every step. However, in
the real world, there are many tasks that Just Have To Get Done. Our
natural inclination is to bury these stinkers deep in our "In"
baskets, work them as little as possible, and drag out the hardest
parts as long as possible. This very human tendancy clogs our souls,
ticks off our boss, and drags overall efficience down like a lead
Ah, but I can hear Dan Akroyd saying "Rosanne, you ignorant slut.
Don't you know that if you get a reputation for doing putrid projects
quickly, you'll just become the Superfund site for the office?"
(Apologies to those of you who aren't vintage SNL fans.) Well, lets
analyze that for a minute. When the Glorious Earth Mother Of All
Projects comes along needing a PM, which position would you rather be
in, approaching the boss. Slug #44, who has dogged everything the boss
has given them, or Hero #1, who's taken it in the shorts for the
department time after time?
None of the above mitigates the need to get the customer's REAL
requirements, do a crisp project plan, and take the time to produce
quality work. Actually, driving a conversation on exit criteria
quickly defines the deliverables, and sets up a true understanding
with the boss/customer on what they really want. Delivering the right
product, on time and on spec, has got to be a good thing (even if you
do have to get your hands smelly). So buy some Lava soap, take a firm
grasp on that stinker, and earn your way to hero-hood!
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