How Cutting Corners Costs You More

Filed under Grab Bag, Lessons Learned | Posted by PMStudent

It happens to all of us.

You’re a developer or a project manager and here comes the customer or stakeholders asking about how to cut a few corners.

Your spider-sense should be tingling, because usually this will cause you more pain than it’s worth.

Get the Full Perspective

In order to make a decision like this, you need to weigh the pros and cons. ?Unfortunately, we humans are good at estimating short-term impacts in our immediate surroundings, but terrible at knowing what long-term impacts may occur in areas we don’t really deal with much.

In the case of trying to take shortcuts on your project, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of changing your plans and adopting an approach that feels pretty good at the time. ?Change is good and new information should influence your plans and approaches as you progress through projects. ?What I’m talking about is trying to get by or ‘get by for now’ in the hopes that everything will turn out all right in the end.

One of the reasons I enjoy working with agile and lean processes is the focus they put on perspective. ?Daily stand-up meetings, frequent releases and feedback, user stories….all of these things help foster a fuller perspective of the functionality being developed, especially when it comes to changing mid-stream and being able to assess the impact.

Whatever processes you use, be sure they allow you to have a full perspective. ?If you are making decisions without thinking through impacts to other interfacing systems, maintenance time and cost, scalability, or flexibility, you are doing it wrong.

Sell It

Sometimes you and your team know what the right approach is, but your customer and end users aren’t seeing it. ?Sometimes corner-cutting got worked into what the customer wants…they want it to be a half-@$$#& product. ?It’s crazy, I know…but it happens. ?As the project manager, sometimes you must take it upon yourself to educate your customer about what is good for them.

Years ago, I worked on a project to overhaul the reporting systems within an MIS department. ?What I found were analysts who were spending the majority of their time doing data entry and copy/pasting, instead of analysis. ?Many of them had been in the same role for 20 years or more.

Here I come, a project cowboy wanting to disrupt their world.

Cutting corners and doing enough to get by is what led to the place they were in. ?As new requests and data sources came in, they continued to cobble together new processes with duct-tape and chewing gum. ?People couldn’t be out sick, because everyone had their own little ‘niche’ of processes that only they knew. ?They felt secure and needed in their roles, but were hobbled by the chains of their own making to the point they couldn’t really add much real value to the business any longer.

The only way to combat such a thing is to step back, assess what will create some real value for the organization, and go do it right. ?Cutting corners doesn’t create value…it leads down a path of slow deterioration with hidden costs that will slowly kill from the inside.

I spent a good deal of time convincing and demonstrating to the end users and their management that I wasn’t automating them out of a job… we were empowering them to do something amazing. ?Actual analysis work. ?It was a lot of prototypes and demonstration for me and my team. ?Slowly, we guided them down a path towards sharing a vision for how good it could be.

I still remember the first time one of the analysts discovered a problem with a specific site through data mining and doing real analysis work to find a pattern no one else could see. ?This veteran who so strongly resisted change of any kind in the beginning. ?She was the toughest sell, one who kept telling me she didn’t need this or that functionality, because she already had a tried-and-true method to do something like that already. ?The fact it took her an hour to put something together versus a few clicks of a mouse with the new system didn’t enter into it at first. ?She slowly came around, but I had to sell her on it.

I remember the look on her face, the bright smile of real accomplishment, real value delivered.

It was beautiful. ?There were no shortcuts to get to that place.