Monday, August 10, 2009

It's painful being a Project Manager....

Have you ever felt alone, completely helpless, struggling with everything around you knowing that you can't do a thing to make it any better?

No, this is not a commercial for a Prozac, it's a story about how I got caught at an incredibly inefficient process at an IKEA one day and almost lost it. I was working on a bunk bed project, had bought a used IKEA bunk bed for my 4 year old and discovered happily at 1am while building it that it was missing alot of critical hardware. So, rather than chase down the seller who had probably already gotten packed up and moved out of the city, I decided to go to the nearest IKEA to get the parts replaced.

I showed up at the returns/spare parts line with the instruction manual for the bed I was trying to build, the pieces of hardware I had left and a list in my head of what I needed. I saw one of those typical scenes in a store, a huge line of people looking really frustrated and just one or two customer service people helping. Then, lots of other IKEA staff were wandering around, attending to other areas that were not as crowded. It's the kindof thing that makes you want to scream...watching people wandering around looking like they have nothing else to do when there clearly are long lines that need to be helped. I thought about Brooks Law for a moment, and decided that in this type of project adding resources might cause a slight delay intially just to get people setup and going, but ultimately will definitely make things go faster.

And wait, there's more!
We all had to pick a number and wait for it to be called, the line moved at a pretty steady (slow) pace but than at a certain point things sped up. The line almost breezed through the last 8 numbers before me and then behold, the two people right before me had a seriously huge cart of stuff to return. Not only was there a lot to return, but there were major complications with their items. It made me think about the idea that software project tasks are either 0% done or 100% done. It's impossible to predict the exact amount of work that will be required to get something done, anyone who's managed programmers before knows that they love to say they are 95% done for the last 90% of the project. You can only get a truly accurate estimate when the task has completed. In the meantime, stick to ranges.

As I sat there waiting and watching the clock tick, I figured I should use the time wisely and made sure I had an exact list of the parts I needed. So, it took 5 minutes and I got my list down. I wish some of the other people around me would have thought of the same thing. I couldn't stand watching the people at the head of the line rifling through their papers, I thought if they had only taken a few minutes to plan before it was time for them to get to the top of the line they would have saved everyone else a lot of time.

So, I'm not saying I'm an expert and that all my projects launch perfectly with the time/budget/scope triangle balanced to a tee. I enjoy learning about how to improve what I do and how to incorporate the right processes that will make my projects more successful. When I spend a lot of my time learning how to make things run more smoothly, it just pains me to see disorganization and chaos in a place where I have no control over things. Yes, I guess I could be one of those people to shout at the customer service reps to move the line along or lecture the others in line to be more organized, but I just don't swing that way.
I suffer in silence, and wait for the moment to pass (well, sometimes at least...)

No comments: