Let’s just say: what if I owned a time machine? But it isn’t the kind that will allow you or me to buy a lottery ticket or invest in the stock market or anything like that. It only allows a person to go back in time and affect any project that I’ve worked-on in my career, or yours. Think about any project where you struggled with the timeline. Then picture yourself going back and changing a few things. Wicked-cool, right?
Your mind starts racing. Eventually it occurs to you: why have I been holding back?! Why didn’t I already use it to fix these projects already? I mean, like, people were losing their minds here and I could have prevented it, or rather, I could go back and prevent it right now, or whatever. Just do it already! Right?
Now, what if I told you that I already used it? I went back in time, and did the things that were necessary to fix them, but it didn’t work. In fact, I did it a dozen times and yet, nothing.
You see, the solution wasn’t to work more hours. I did that and it wasn’t enough. Adding hundreds or even thousands of my own hours didn’t fix a timeline or a project. I guess that could only mean one thing: Hours must not be the problem or solution.
I didn’t just add hours to the project either. I looked at several other factors and guess what? I found the root cause. Yes. Not only that, while I was back in time, I had a talk with management about the problem, I explained the cause and the solution.
But wait! We still seem to have (or had) the same problem(s). That would mean that, knowing the solution and telling folks, didn’t fix the problem. But why not? It was the root problem, and knew the future and I revealed the answer, and yet, the problem lingers and we didn’t get the problem solved? What gives?!
This is the problem behind the problem: I knew the problem and the solution, but I just couldn’t get through to the right folks. I talked and persuaded and said scary stuff and maybe even threatened to quit, but none of it worked. They didn’t budge. It’s almost like they didn’t believe me or something. So now we have our current situation.
Is that really a “them thing” or is that a “me thing”? We could say that this is “their fault” because they just wouldn’t listen, but also, my persuasion skills or mentoring or guidance or whatever, could also be a factor. Right? Is there anything that I could’ve done to get through to them? If there was, then guess what? I need to learn that! In fact, I need to get better at that. What if I became great at that?
If I honestly did know the answers (and not just my ego talking), and I couldn’t convince the right people, then I guess that is a root problem (too). So, what if I worked on being great at getting through to folks. And then folks listened and we changed what we were doing, and things went better and more efficiently, and then everything was completed on-time.
Steven Covey: “Start with the end in mind”
Guess what we just did? We uncovered the underlying path to success. And it starts with learning how to get through to someone. That is our time machine. Feel free to use it any time.
You think I just tricked you. All I gave you is a play-on-words, or a metaphor. It is not like I own an actual time machine that I could lend you, or anything. And yet, that is completely a moot point. Isn’t it? Because it won’t make a difference, if we go back in time, and yet are still unable to fix the real problem. Do you think that going back in time and donating a bunch of your time (for free) is a solution? Or even for pay? Then why didn’t you just work more hours, or rent the right people, when you had the time? The problem wasn’t time. The problem was that you didn’t make the right decisions, and you didn’t pick a timeline that was realistic (and therefore you could not meet).
And to continue our metaphor, picture yourself six months from now. You borrow a time machine and you are transported back-in-time to today, right now. What will you do now, to make sure that your next project will be successful? If you think in these terms, then you have something which is every-bit as effective as a time machine. The only difference is that you can’t draw upon experience and hind-sight. However, you do have plenty of experience and hind-sight that you can draw-upon from previous projects. They can’t all be that different. Can they? You could use the lessons-learned from those projects to anticipate the kinds of things which will damage your schedule, and you can take measures to prevent them. It is something that you do have, and you can use.
Oh, and more importantly, you can start working on your communication skills and your relationship with your manger(s). If you can’t already persuade them now, or you can’t get them to improve current practices, to increase your odds of success, then a time machine probably won’t make much of a difference.
Use what you already have and get good at it. It is probably more powerful than you give it credit.
Disclaimer: The intent here was not to call-out anyone. It is meant as advice to other developers, project leaders, PMs & other tech folks.