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Ding Dong Ditch

A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year. -Polish Proverb

gallagherApr30Just the other day I watched two little kids in my neighborhood playing Ding Dong Ditch. This is the game, of course, where a child rings a neighboring doorbell and before the victim comes to answer the call, the child takes off with fiendish delight. These kids couldn’t have been more than seven years old and clearly they were thoroughly enjoying their elusiveness and trickery.

What was even more interesting to me, though, was to watch the owners with a newly triggered urgency race to the door— signaled by alarm, irritated by curiosity, and plagued by a nervous anxiety once they realized no one was there. In fact, they probably spent the next several days trying to make sense of what happened and why. Who was at the door? And why were they not there? The children to the contrary moved on to their next victim and did not spend another single moment worrying what that doorbell signaled to their unsuspecting neighbor.

One of the many recurring patterns I see during the course of consulting engagements is what I refer to as organizational ‘Ding Dong Ditch.’ It goes something like this— an email comes into your inbox much like a doorbell. It signals an issue and, though poorly defined, it is marked as urgent. If you are a type A personality like so many of us PMs, you will undoubtedly find yourself racing to that door, rescuing this issue. And because you are the PM and the doorbell rang at your door, you assume it is time critical (since it was marked urgent) and as such you will surely ‘cc all the key stakeholders on your reply. Clearly, this email (doorbell) has signaled that your green project is at risk of going yellow that fast, right?

Well maybe not. You may come to find out that someone just rang your doorbell and there is no one at the door. You got played, they sent the email, and never spent another single moment worrying about what that email signaled to their unsuspecting project manager. These days emails are flying around like loose newspapers on a windy day. As a responsible PM, you race around to try and catch them in a continual effort to answer the door and to avoid the embarrassment of having them all over the neighborhood. Just like the neighbor who just got ding dong ditched, you work to identify, diagnose and analyze who rang the bell and why.

Does this sound familiar? I have seen it happen to some very experienced project managers and it is something that can be avoided by following these simple steps.

  1. Know your project schedule inside and out especially with a focus on the tasks that make up the critical path. The reason this is important is that if the issue does not impact the tasks along the critical path you will have more time to resolve it. In Microsoft Project this can be determined by looking at your Free and Total slack fields. Free slack is the amount of time a task can be delayed before its successor task is delayed. Total slack is the amount of time a task can be delayed before the project finish date is delayed.
  2. Engage your critical thinking skills and work to clarify the issue at hand clearly separating fact from opinions. For example, when you go to a doctor’s office they often utilize a critical thinking framework called SOAP. It is designed to separate out the subjective (opinions), from the objective (facts) and this feeds into the overall assessment and planning.
    • S – Subjective
    • O – Objective
    • A – Assessment
    • P – Plan
  3. Take it offline, do not use email. Those doorbells are making us all crazy. The conferencing feature on a phone is a very powerful asset for a business analyst or project manager. It is amazing what happens when all involved parties do not have the time delay of email as well as the potential to misinterpret intentions or tone.

It is clear, the doorbell is our email. When it rings next time, take the time to be prepared to answer it regardless of whether or not someone is at the door and use these simple steps so you do not become another victim of Ding Dong Ditch.

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