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Work like it is your last day

We’ve heard a similar adage about living our life like it is our last day. But what about work? What is the value of a work day?

Imagine this, you are near the end of your project, right where you go from construction to testing, or when you finish testing and begining production. Every day, every hour is important! Work is urgent! There is no time to loiter.

But what about the beginning of the project? Was there a decision that took a month, which should have taken a week. Did you lose .a week somewhere when a key person was on vacation? Excess time for some approval?

Why are those days valued less, what problems does that cause, and how do you prevent it?

In my experience on projects, we do NOT treat every day as though it has the same value. We should! The failure to understand the value of each day leads directly to the failure of many projects. Here’s how that happens:

Most projects start with all good intentions, and often with sufficient time to execute them well. You used realistic ranges for your long lead time items, built in some schedule contingency, you may have used some PERT scheduling to avoid unrealistic estimates. You may even have used critical chain scheduling to insert intentional buffers.

GREAT!

BUT!

Then what happens with the early tasks? What happens when the week you planned to complete the budget comes and goes? What happens when the capital approval gets stuck in committee for a month, or two? What happens when the design isn’t quite finished when expected, and you can’t send out the Request for Proposals (RFPs) on time?

What happens: we don’t panic, we tell ourselves there is plenty of time to make it up, and we are usually too slow to make an adjustment or an escalation.

Then we start trying to make up the time. Maybe we don’t give the bidders but a short time to respond, reducing the quality of their bids so as to still provide sufficient time to order the long lead items. Or maybe we reduce the schedule estimate for leadtime, say 10-12 weeks, to the minimum, instead of the maximum expected time. Dangerous compromises!

Reality has a way of catching up, and maybe that item ends up taking 12 weeks to arrive anyway. Now our construction schedule is stressed. We try to change the sequence to accomodate the late arrival. Or we take the time out of training and startup!

Finally we are near the end of the project, right where you go from construction to testing, or when you finish testing and begining production. Every day, every hour is important! Work is urgent! There is no time to loiter.

What happened is that we squandered any slack we may have had in the schedule by our poor performance in the planning, approval and procurement processes. With all the slack squeezed out, we exponentially increased the risk of failure.

You see, not giving every day the same value, at beginning, middle or end of a project, is the root cause of many project failures. When you lose a day or hour at the beginning of the project, it is important! Work is urgent! There is no time to loiter.

Work every day like it is the last day.!

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