Fake it till you make it!

There are a large number of different solutions for different industries and companies out there that will help any business to finish any project.  There is one little thing though… they are not free, and they are not cheap.  Most are geared towards big projects and require specific resources to be dedicated to run them.  There are some that are not as complex and fairly simple to use, except there is always something missing.  Partially because it was underdeveloped and partially because it was meant to do just one thing.  And in most cases, the tools which are available are not what you need.

When I started with my company, there were only about 10 workers including myself.  Today the company has expanded to three different locations and close to 100 full time employees.  As the company was growing I noticed an interesting trend.  Most of the projects that we’ve completed over the years were managed by the seat of our pants.   Even when I thought we had plan, in the end I discovered that most of the decisions were done on the fly regardless of what the original plan was.

There are different factors that contributed to this way of operations.  Most of the projects did not have a clear goal.  We had an idea of what we wanted to have in the end and worked it out along the way while shaping the final objective based on the available resources and conditions that were present at the time.   A lot of decisions had to be made quickly and for some of these projects the research was going to take more than the execution.   There were other constraints that most small businesses encounter: lack of resources, capital, knowledge, experience and of course time.

In the end some projects worked and others failed.   Those that worked served as a foundation for new projects.  Those that failed served as lessons learned and what not to do scenarios.  The beauty of this approach was that the costs for most of these undertakings was minimal and even though some failed the experience gained was far more valuable.  As the company grew, the need for more thought out projects also grew.   We started to come up with regulations and SOPs and I noticed that we used to be able to get things done a lot quicker in the past.  The pace of change has slowed down.  The business is still growing, and I have been pondering a few questions.  Looking back, would the company been better off by utilizing standard project management tools like planning, budgeting, and reporting?  Is this beginning of an end for our growth? Can the company maintain its decisions on the fly approach while using standard project management approach? Can the two coexist?

5 thoughts on “Fake it till you make it!

  1. My organization is in a similar situation. Part of the issue that I see is that how the word quicker is defined. How much time is really being saved in the overall scope of the project? The bad news is that under the pre-SOP process, you most likely have no way of knowing. So are you really saving time? Pre-SOP, decisions do get made faster, but many times these are made at the expense of other project aspects that are not considered at the time. Other times, decisions that have been made will need to be readdressed.

    While developing SOP processes and implementing a Project Management style is hard work (the sticking point for most small organizations) in the long run it will typically pay off if done properly. I have also found that many small businesses will attempt to implement a project management style of process but only go at it half-assed, causing it to fail. Management then uses this failure as proof that the old style is working fine and is, in fact, better.

  2. Hello Nikita,

    Nice title.

    “Looking back, would the company been better off by utilizing standard project management tools like planning, budgeting, and reporting? Is this beginning of an end for our growth? Can the company maintain its decisions on the fly approach while using standard project management approach? Can the two coexist?”

    The answer to your question can likely be found in your finance department. Little risk yields little pain. How did you fund your growth?

  3. As the only saying goes, hind sight is 20/20. So to answer your question “Looking back, would the company been better off by utilizing standard project management tools like planning, budgeting, and reporting?” I would have to say no. You and your company had to go through its growing pains before it was able to find its character. By growing and perserving together you have an identity that your whole team can relate too. Great post.

  4. Great thoughts Nikita! I don’t think you can create SOPs until you’ve been through the ringer a few times. I write up SOP’s often for my office but I do that so we don’t waste time on the small stuff and so we can put our energy toward improving other parts of the projects. I also have a good amount of time under my belt to know the ideal and effective processes. SOP’s also help for on-boarding the new staffers so they don’t have to learn as many lessons the hard way. We are always encountering new obstacles so I don’t think we ever escape the seat of our pant decisions!

  5. Nikita,

    It would be interesting to analyse the resources(Human, raw and financial)used for the project that failed vs the projects that succeeded. If 8 out of 10 projects succeed and your cost for those projects was significantly less than if you were to use some sort of expensive tool that would dig into your profit, I would consider that a win. Those types of projects would have a higher margin or NPV, and as we have learned you always chose the project with the higher NPV. I’m interested in how you keep track of the lessons learned. At my company we have a post mortem meeting where we discuss lessons learned, but they are not tracked anywhere and they leave once a person moves on.

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