Monday, December 12, 2011

Planning and budgeting

(A story about personal responsibility)

The process of planning and budgeting has always made sense to me even long before I had a leadership role. I understood the need for planning and budgeting at work and in my personal life. Over the last few years we have implemented a process of planning out the number of hours it will take to complete each initiative at budgeting time. This allows us to make sure we have the hours for any project we have the dollars for and vice versa.

I have resisted this process from day one, and did it only under noted objections. Don’t get me wrong I truly understand and believe in the value of this planning. I just felt like with what I knew about my customers they would take this the wrong way. That as soon as I gave them an estimate based on almost no data if I was wrong, they would hold me to the number.

As I predicted my customers were upset when we could not live to our estimates. So after a year of saying to anyone that would listen that this process was broken, I was vindicated, I was correct. So I should have been safe from reprisal? Nope I was in trouble, my customers were upset, and many conversations were had with many hours spent about how we could “fix” this.

I was committed, the next year I would speak up in every meeting, I would make sure there was a something in writing saying that these were “Just estimates”. I did just that, ready for a year without this pain we moved forward, and as soon as we hit a project that had a major deviation from what was estimated, the world fell in around me again.

Here I am doing damage control again and it’s time to find someone to blame. I could blame Sr. leadership for not communicating the scope of these estimates, to other top leaders. I could blame our Project management office for not giving us the tools to plan this better or not defining what variation was acceptable. I could even blame my supervisor for not including a disclaimer about these being estimates in every message ever sent.

Let’s think about a general world situation which could be used to relate this sort of situation. If you see a baby carriage about to roll down a flight of stars (not your baby mind you). What do you do? Likely you first yell “That baby carriage is starting to move someone stop it” hoping that the parents will intervene. Well what if no one comes? You still see an impending problem, do you take action? How long do you spend your time yelling for help before you act? If the carriage rolls down the flight of stars whose fault is it? The parents yes, but yours? You could have prevented it, but you didn’t?

In the end if you can see something going wrong, communicate of course. Let others know if they have a share of the responsibility, but telling someone doesn’t alleviate your responsibility in the situation. You are responsible for taking action to resolve impending problems. Blame is easy to cast, but always start by casting it at yourself.

So how will I approach my problems communicating our planning expectations with my customer? Own them. My Sr. leadership is helping, but I need to communicate directly, my customers are reasonable they just need to understand what to expect. I need to spearhead the establishment of a numeric acceptable variation from estimates, to project completion. I need to engage my customers more in the estimation process, to help them understand when they present me with unknowns how that negatively impacts my ability to provide them with reliable information. I need to in general open more direct lines of communication with my customers.

The most important part of all the things I need to do is, “I” need to do them or at minimum take responsibility for them happening.

Why do I put this in a blog about leadership?

Because some leadership is by action and other leadership is by example. This is a situation where you need to set the example to take action, and in the void of action, take responsibility.

In the words of President Truman “The Buck Stops Here”, live that.