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Showing Progress vs. Making Progress Syndrome
Dennis President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
You are an engineer working diligently on a new and
exciting project. Youre making good progress on your development
commitments, and it looks like, if everything continues to go as expected,
you may even beat the planned time to reach your coming milestones.
Everything is coming together as you hoped and expected. Things are going
great. Life is good.
Then your boss comes in and says that a critical customer will be coming in
for a visit in two weeks, and he wants to be able to show a working demo of
the portion of the product that you have been working on. He wants you to
make this your highest priority. You tell him that you can do this,
but that it will have to involve a number of other people working on other
areas of the product development, and will likely delay delivery of what
will be needed for the real product, as you and others will have to take
time away from doing that real work in order to get something temporary
together for this demo. Your boss says thats what he wants you to do as
this customer is very important. You do it, and the customer seems happy,
although it appears to you that what you demonstrated was really of only
mild interest to that customer, who appeared to have other, more important,
things he really wanted to discuss with your boss. Your boss seems happy
with your demo, but otherwise occupied with other issues related to this
critical customer. In any event, youve done as you were asked and
delivered a good working demo. Nice job, you think.
A month later, you (and the others who were involved) are now about two
weeks behind in your development efforts, and your boss demands to
know why and how this critical work got delayed. You remind him of the demo
he asked you to prepare, but your boss says, But that was only a quick
demo! You never told me that it would delay the project [despite the
fact that you did]. This delay is unacceptable and so is your
performance! I want to know what youre going to do to get the project back
on track! You know that this project is your highest priority! You
have just become a victim of Showing Progress vs. Making Progress
Syndrome. No good deed goes unpunished!
Ive fallen prey to this syndrome myself, always to my regret. Im always
disappointed with myself that Ive given in to pressure to have something
to show (most recently at a critical trade show), knowing that
damage would be done to the actual development effort and that the delivery
of shipping products would be delayed, but caving in to the pressure
anyway. Like the common cold, no one is immune.
In general, bosses are afflicted with this syndrome far more often than
engineers. They seem to feel the need to show off to their bosses or
others, or to bow to pressure exerted by their higher ups. They want to
impress others and nothing, in their view, impresses more than a good demo.
What better way to show the great progress the boss (and his team
of course, he said laughingly) is making than with a showy demo. If it
comes at a cost, so what! Delays are the fault of the engineers, not of the
boss (or so the boss may say).
Engineers are generally more interested in getting the job done than in
putting together a big dog and pony show. They know from painful
experience that delays due to showing progress will be held against
them. They will be measured for making progress, and if their real
progress doesnt measure up to expectations (which of course never
included any show demos), their performance evaluation will
suffer. Of course, if they refuse to put together these dog and pony
shows, that will be held against them as well. Theyre damned if they
do, and damned if they dont.
What is the right thing to do in such a situation?
If it is possible to show progress as a natural consequence of making
progress, thats a win-win situation. In this case, a natural point in the
development effort has been reached where a demo can be given without any
impact to the development schedule. In fact, if such points of progress can
be identified, it would be a good idea to make this fact known to your boss
or higher ups and encourage them to come and see a demonstration of what has
been accomplished by the team. Such a demo can be set aside so that it can
be readily re-assembled for demonstration at short notice without
significant project impact. As such natural show point demos can
be made available, the management team and the rest of the development team
get a good picture of the project status, and can give kudos for making
critical people aware of the real progress being made.
Problems arise when, in order to show progress, you must stop (or
at least slow) making progress and devote significant side efforts
separate from the real development tasks. When this is the case it is
imperative to make the impact of showing progress brutally clear.
The likely delay to the overall project must be totally understood and
accepted by all involved. Management must recognize that real
revenue will be lost due to the delay that will be incurred to prepare for
this showing progress demo, or whatever it is (see
eN-021121 Late Projects Kill Companies!). If at all possible,
the revenue loss should be quantified so that its impact can be fully
understood. If after all of this, the need for showing progress is
still mandated, then you can move ahead with the understanding that
management fully buys in to the impact (although they may still deny this
after the fact). [See also
eN-021107 Ineffective Engineering Costs You Time, Money, and Customers!
eN-050303 Project Management: When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects.]
Completing complex product development projects in a timely fashion is
difficult under the best of circumstances and when all goes well.
Artificial complications that are a result of Showing Progress vs.
Making Progress Syndrome greatly complicate the process further and
often derail it. If at all possible, strive to make progress
without artificial detours to show progress.
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Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved