Enterprise IT Watch Blog

Apr 21 2010   6:30AM GMT

Should the Squeaky Wheel Always Get the Grease?

Guest Author Profile: Guest Author

Ty Kiisel, today’s guest author, writes about project management for @task as an “accidental” project manager.  He shares many of the lessons learned from personal experience and conversations with customers-hopefully demonstrating that it really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the rewards of successfully executing project-based work are universal.

As covered wagons made their way along the Oregon Trail headed for the gold fields of California or the lush timber of Oregon, whenever the wagon wheels started to squeak, the wagon driver knew it was time to stop and grease the squeaking wheel-before it failed.  Along the trail there wasn’t the equivalent of a Firestone or a Goodyear to get a replacement.  A failed wheel was inconvenient at best or a matter of life and death at worst.

Originally, I think this phrase implied that problems should be fixed as soon as they are identified.  But over the last 100 plus years, the term has become associated with “the person who complains the loudest gets what they want.”

Organizations that rely on a “first come, first served” approach to making project decisions, or worse, the “whoever screams the loudest” approach, might get projects out the door-however are they the right projects.

For most organizations, keeping people busy isn’t the challenge, it’s keeping people busy doing the right things.  Evaluating every potential project based upon pre-determined metrics ensures that the business value of every project will be evaluated objectively, regardless of the stakeholder.  Making knee-jerk reactions to the demands of influential stakeholders can be expensive.  Spending valuable resources working on projects that provide minimal value can be catastrophic.

Establishing a process that requires every potential project to demonstrate its value based upon pre-determined criteria gives executives confidence that they are making well-informed project decisions.  Some of the important questions to ask when evaluating any project should include:

1.     What are the high-level objectives of the project? It’s not uncommon for a project to morph into something very different from what was originally intended.  Specifically identifying the goals of every project help project teams, sponsors, and stakeholders stay on track.

2.    What are the estimated costs of the project-and the anticipated rewards? Without the answer to these questions, it becomes difficult to determine if the potential project will provide any business value, let alone the greatest value.

3.    Does the potential project align with the mission, vision, and values of the organization? Individual projects must represent the execution of strategic direction if the desired result is to maximize every dollar spent in the pursuit of the greatest ROI.

4.    What are the risks associated with pursuing the project under consideration? If potential project risks can be identified and evaluated while in the consideration process, actions can be taken to mitigate risk and increase the probability of success.

In a perfect world, every potential project that provided business value would be pursued.  However, anyone doing project-based work understands that there always seems to be more work than there is time or resources to do it. Which is why establishing a method for evaluating every potential project is so important.  Measuring and considering every potential project based upon merit is the first step to effectively managing demand-and an important component to project success.

Should the squeaky wheel always get the grease? Probably not.

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