Speed, Quality or Cost – What Drives Your Leadership?
I get regular feedback from our online business manager that a basic rule of project management is that we can have speed, quality, or low cost, but not all three. “Pick your top two priorities,”she says.
While this simple choice set seems easy enough, it occurs to me that many leaders do not examine it with enough reflection. It is easy to drive projects from an automatic mindset that may have been established in your very early years and not questioned in more recent times. Denial of the necessity of choice may also come from an unwillingness to surrender to the seemingly subjective tyranny of having to give up something to have the rest when you don’t want to, and to believe you can just demand all three and have them.
Now the simplicity of the model does not imply that you can’t have any of one dimension when you choose the others. It simply says you cannot have the very best of all three, and unfortunately you are delusional when you pretend that you can just issue orders and get the best of all 3.
It’s the delusional part that deserves the most introspection. I worked for an otherwise excellent leader that lived in this delusion. Whenever we would get a project in front of us that demanded rapid attention, had important and consequential outcomes, and was going to be costly he would simply assign them to the same person in the organization. He did so because he hated to allocate the required resources and she would accept the assignment without insisting on what she needed. I called them “Joan projects” because the dynamic was always the same, the project would not get done on time, the company would get the consequences, and Joan would get the blame.
It would seem that thoughtful leadership would notice the failures and associated consequences and either fire Joan for her failures to deliver, (thereby avoiding giving up delusional leadership), or realize that repeatedly launching projects with inadequate funding doesn’t work at least as far as delivering on time with desired quality. Because he would get lost in his own anger and frustration, (and at some level realized that Joan had given it her best), he never did fire her. Eventually she did wise up to her plight and leave the company. She was a valuable resource for many other reasons so her departure was not without negative consequences.
So how did this executive fail? First, he never examined his recurring behavior that never gave him the results he was seeking. Because he was so biased to “penny pinching”and believed strongly in the virtue of his approach, he never faced facts. Second, he never made it safe enough for Joan to refuse the assignment unless given adequate resources to succeed. Certainly she had accountability for that dynamic as well, but I can say it’s very unusual for lower level employees to stand up to a tough CEO who has given absolutely no permission to question his demands.
What about you? What is your “default”bias? Do you demand all 3 outcomes at the same level? Never allocating the necessary resources? Expecting things to be accomplished yesterday? Getting carried away with quality to the point of regular cost overruns? Pushing speed to the point of getting shoddy results? Give yourself a gift and ask those who work for you about how you prioritize the 3 fundamentals of speed, quality and cost for your projects. You might be surprised what you hear.