No Shades of Grey: In Praise of Binary Project Management

I have to admit – it does upset my wife and kids…I mean being as “black and white” as I’ve become. To me – as I assume to most project managers – it’s either “yes” or “no”… complete or not…approved or not approved. After all, what is 73% complete?

But then I got to thinking – is there room for “grey” in project management? Is there a “twilight zone” of sorts that exists between when an activity begins and when it ends that truly is immeasurable but at the same time must be acknowledged as progress? I know we’ve all been in situations where our sponsors have looked at the infamous project dashboard and asked us to change our percent complete from 50% to 65% (or something like that). Their rationale – although there is no criteria for defining what is 65% complete, because we are further along than last week, we should show some progress. Therefore – 65%…

Taking it one step further – when seeking approval to move to the next phase of a project, or begin development of some functionality, haven’t we often been asked to proceed even before the appropriate “i’s” have been dotted and “t’s” crossed? That grey area of “well, it’s been approved but not signed-off” again forces us to either acknowledge the validity of “almost” or mandate total completeness.

For me, “almost” never counts…and here’s why…

Beyond the most obvious and simplest explanation that (at least to me) these issues really are binary (c’mon – doesn’t it always come down to “is it done or is it not done?”) – I have observed a more anecdotal rationale to mandate 100% complete or not at all. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you – as a PM – do not force your team members or stakeholders to complete a task before starting the next (especially if you’re operating under extremely tight timelines), the actual completion date of that first activity will always be delayed exponentially longer than the true effort remaining to complete the task…why? A couple of reasons – first – the team now will be doing two things. Resources will be split, and priorities will waiver…and second – “out of sight, out of mind” – the focus on and importance of that first activity will become diluted by the fact that it did not need to be done as planned, and it therefore will limp along to its (most likely) very late finish.

So while “shades of grey” may have their place in literary (or even child-rearing) world, not so much in project management.

Please mark this post now as 100% complete.

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