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I feel the need, the need for speed

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Is a quote from the film Top Gun where Tom Cruise plays United States Naval Aviator Lieutenant Pete "Maverick" Mitchell.

We appear to be obsessed with time. I want it all and I want it now sang Freddie Mercury (lead singer of the band Queen).

At the start of the project everyone is focused on go live. How many days to go live? Can we bring it forward? What is the critical path? Who do we need to motivate, to cajole, to encourage, to bring it over the line quicker? Let us identify the best individuals and bring them into the team; discard those who cannot perform.  If decisions need to be taken, then we will take them.

We are told that the project time-scales need shortening. The reasons:

  • competitive pressures,
  • legal needs (to meet mandatory requirements dictated by the law),
  • deliver organisational growth targets,
  • improve competitive capabilities,
  • provide better management information,
  • meet the financial year end
  • commitments made to the great and the good

and so the list goes on.

Yet this focus on time is very much a Western Europe / North America concept.

In the book Riding the Waves of Culture  the authors reference Time Horizons and how different cultures view past, present and future.

So let us consider adopting the approach of some cultures, where the past, present and future are all considered against a backdrop of a much longer time-frame: by doing so we get a very different perspective. We do not focus purely on go live, on getting the system over the line in as short a period as possible.

More time spent on considering a design, on garnering input from a wider range of stakeholders could well uncover important points that would have otherwise been missed. Instead of a two week period of User Acceptance Testing, if this is extended to three weeks there is 50% more time to run a larger set of tests and get more involvement.

It is very likely that the outputs from the project (i.e. the system) will be in use three to five years from now. For the end users who will live day to day with the solution, they deserve the opportunity to provide considered input to the decisions taken on system operation.

It was Mahatma Ghandi who said that There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.

We need to acknowledge that there is pressure on starting the project, getting the plans in place and getting the system live so the benefits can be delivered; yet let us also remember that quality design decisions cannot be hurried.  Putting people under pressure to complete testing could result in a lack of focus, so there needs to be a sensible period for testing. Users who are not trained properly in advance of go live make mistakes when using the system. Mistakes lead to non-conformance and reduced productivity.

So we must challenge the project time-line asking two questions, the usual one of Can we bring the go live forward?, and just as important Should we take longer as part of a quality approach to delivery?

Riding the Waves of Culture, Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business, Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner, 2nd Edition, ISBN13: 978-85788-179-9
I want it all by Queen from their album The Miracle
Top Gun 1986


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  1. James Dale
    James Dale 21 March 2014, 09:10 PM

    Hi GuysGreat debate but I am firmly with Ed on this.Mario Andretti poignantly once said 'that if you wait, all that happens is that you get older'.  Sending a man to moon by the end of the decade was an unreasonable and outrageous commitment by US President JFK, yet it was achieved against all the odds.  Operational Overload (D Day Landings),  perhaps one of the most complex and demanding projects of all times, was achieved in ludicariously short timescales.  We should never under-estimate the ability and capability of a committed project team and the sense of achievement that delievering against the odds engender.  When projects fail it usually for reasons not associated with the speed of implementation.RegardsJim 

  2. Amy Mitchell
    Amy Mitchell 20 March 2014, 02:12 PM

    I think there is a balance to be struck here. When I first read your post I was in complete agreement, but then I sat back and thought a little harder about the teams I work with and it's not always about more time, it's about the right time. Agreed we are very often pushing to meet ever tighter deadlines and that can be counter productive. But then you have to balance it with the perennial time cost quality choice, and of course cost is a big lever in the current world. From a more holistic view maybe it's about using time more wisely and devoting additional time to things that really need it and cutting out waste where you aren't adding value - I'm thinking of applying some LEAN principles? - As someone else has mentioned below, having realistic but challenging deadlines keeps up momentum and keeps minds engaged, especially when your project team are also involved in BAU activities too!

  3. Adrian Pyne
    Adrian Pyne 13 March 2014, 09:56 AM

    I was chatting with a colleague yesterday. He was recently approached to lead a SAP integration project. When he was interviewed, both Programme Director and Manager looked haggard. As the interview progressed it was clear that they were chasing a target date that was not achievable, never could be so and was never achievable.And yet........Does this sound familiar?He did not take the assignment.BRILL BLOG John

  4. Neil White
    Neil White 12 March 2014, 10:21 PM

    Pure propaganda Neil. Is say this with a degree of humour in mind but there is more, I think, than a little truth in this. With respect to those that would seek to compare and contrast the approaches of disparate cultures well they all I can say is that, even if they both have a 'core' and 'pips', apples are not pears!

  5. Edward Wallington
    Edward Wallington 12 March 2014, 08:54 PM

    With the risk of being contentious and a devils advocate (part of my intent!), doesnt the need to work quickly to a tight deadline focus the mind and ensure a project team works efficiently? 

  6. John Chapman
    John Chapman 12 March 2014, 01:03 PM

    Thank you Adrian, Neil and Merv for the thought provoking feedback on my blog.RegardsJohn  

  7. Neil White
    Neil White 11 March 2014, 09:48 PM

    I, like many others can see the merits in allocating more time to the various phases of a project lifecycle but the reality of our world is embued by the thinking and pressures that you identify in your piece. Accepting that we can relate to these pressures is it not a worthy task to identify and isolate their source? They certainly don't eminate from the projects themselves and it strikes me that if you could sit down with the 'perpatrators' and explain to them the consequences of such pressures and how they themselves could benefit from the improved outcomes e.g. higher morale, reduced defects, quicker user acceptance, freeing up of project resources quicker etc then they might think twice (but then again they might not!). Also, regarding the five years or longer lifespan.......nahhhh the systems we implement today are in many ways outmoded before they go live. And its going to get worse. So rather than try to slow things down there is probably and equal and opposite argument for going even faster. Neil 

  8. Adrian Bailey
    Adrian Bailey 11 March 2014, 07:28 PM

    Completely agree re: cultural differences. But we have long had another well-worn truism in the west - "There is never enough time to do something properly, but always enough time to go back and do it again". We preach quality of product, of service, but less often quality of life (for us and our teams as people). The culture of "now" at the expense of "right" seems to come from those (mostly senior) staff who are themselves in a hurry on to the next executive position, with a bonus to warm themselves on the way - private or public sector.   

  9. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 11 March 2014, 05:59 PM

    This excellent article reminds me of the African saying "If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together." In fact, after a quick search, I came across a small collection of African proverbs on a Pinterest Board and indulged in a little musing of my own. Another which has slightly less bearing on this particular article, but is worth quoting anyway is "The best tme to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now."I agree with John that there a great deal to learnt from other cultures. For example there is Africa, or African, time which connotes a more leisurely, relaxed lifestyle in African countries that the more clock-bound pace of daily life in Western Countries.That is not to say that we don't need good governance and proper controls in place on our various projects and programmes. However, a little more time given over to; thorough testing, joint problem-solving activities and personal reflection increases overall effectiveness.After all, isn't it best to take the time and trouble to get it right first time!