Focus on what matters

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on August 21, 2009 in: Project Management

Long before I started my own business I worked at a company in the typical just-out-of-college job. I worked hard and gave my best, so my on-the-job performance earned me praise from my employers… most of the time. But there is one time that stands out in mind as the exception to that experience.

The people on the executive team and the board of directors each received a printout of weekly reports every Thursday and one of my reports was bound with several others and sent out. Each and every Thursday, 52 times a year.

So, several months into my job, after numerous Thursday report publications, I brought my weekly report to the copier, printed off the dozen or so copies they needed and left them with the person who did the binding. They were to be sent out Wednesday night by courier.

On Wednesday afternoon, an executive assistant burst into my office in a flurry. And she was clearly on the edge. She was carrying a bound copy of the reports.

“There’s something wrong with your report!” she announced and handed it to me. I opened the page and looked at the numbers. Nope, everything balanced.

“I don’t see the problem here,” I said.

Then she pointed at the page. A small, straight 1-inch line – just a hair’s thickness – was on the page. From what I could guess in that split second, was that something (A sliver of paper? Someone’s hair? Actually, it looked like a single strand of dog hair) had appeared on the copier. It was small enough for me to miss when I checked to make sure that my copies were dark enough.

“… okay” I said, no knowing what to say. “Looks like something might have been on the copier”.

“Yes!” she said, as if she had finally got through my thick skull. “We can’t have it going out to the executive team like this. They’re executives“. (Yes, she actually said “they’re executives” as if that excluded them from ever seeing a piece of paper that had anything but writing on it).

So, how did I spend my Wednesday afternoon? I had to reprint my report, unbind those reports, and replace the old copy with the new copy. I was also sternly warned by my manager that nothing imperfect should ever end up in the executive’s hands.

I think that it was right around then that I decided to start my own business.

The point of my blog is not to say that we shouldn’t do our best or work towards perfection. I think we should! But we also need to focus on what matters. This executive team and board of directors were constantly sending memos out about saving money and watching expenses. And here I was wasting paper and hours of my time to create a perfect weekly report (which, I am confident that those reports were barely read – heck, they got them every week).

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated experience. In working with large corporations to manage projects for them, I see it frequently: Internal teams that are collaborating on projects expend hours of their valuable time (and thousands of valuable dollars) creating internal presentations that will never been seen outside of a single project-management team-update meeting.

And, I’m sad to report, but I can estimate with great accuracy that the higher up the food chain the final project sign-off person is, the more money that gets spent on internal never-to-be-seen-by-the-public window dressing to create a perfect experience for the reviewer.

In today’s economy, if CEOs and presidents and upper management ever discovered just how much their subordinates were spending on things to look nice for them, there would be a swathe of cost-saving firings.

Focus on what matters. And stop hassling people if they leave the covers off the TPS reports!

Happy Blogging!

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I love working with coaches, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to help them become more successful. If you'd like to improve your business, find out how I can help.

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