When a solution does everything except solving the problem.

Sometimes, a Project Manager would refuse to solve a problem even if solution is straight forward. Check out this small story first to understand this behavior first –

On a busy road one of the manhole lids got stolen. Since it was a busy market road, soon everyone coming to the market started experiencing the problem.

Local municipality committee decided to take some action to solve the problem. They hired and appointed an experienced project manager called Larry. Project manager was briefed about the issue and was asked to take the necessary actions to fix the problem.

As a good project manager Larry spent his day in the market trying to see what all chaos was being caused by the open manhole. He also talked to few travelers, victims and eye witnesses in the market. After his initial analysis he submitted his report.

In the report, he mentioned that the people coming to the market were not able to notice the open manhole in the busy market and they were driving their cars directly into the hole instead.

So Larry proposed that they should install a couple of sign boards to make people aware about the existence of the open manhole and this should stop these events from happening.

Once Larry got the approval, he immediately got two sign boards installed in the market.

First one saying —

“Attention ! Open Manhole 1 mile ahead.”

Second board was installed 300 meters away from the manhole —

“Please change the lane, open manhole 300 meters ahead!!”

Daily commuters could not believe, that instead of closing the lid, municipality got the sign boards installed. So they complained again and demanded to solve the problem.

Managing committee called an urgent review meeting.

Like a good manager, Larry was well prepared with the data. He ran his presentation and explained how there were 30 car incidents reported in the first month, after the sign boards were installed only 5 car incidents got reported in two weeks. This was a direct 67% reduction in the total number of car incidents.

This 2 weeks data was quite impressive and everyone welcomed Larry with a round of applause.

“Well, we are definitely making a progress. And these complains seems to be made by some people who are never happy with anything” — someone made a comment in the meeting, other members also agreed to this.

However Larry took matters very seriously and decided to do one more round of root cause analysis. He again spent few days talking to drivers and going through the details of all the accidents.

Larry created his second report about his findings. This time the report mentioned that, still few people were being ignorant enough to drive into the open manhole. This time Larry’s proposed solution was to appoint two security guards, at the ground zero.

They would ensure that sign boards are not stolen and also everyone changes the lane before reaching the open hole. Larry would also be doing audits of the whole system twice a month.

Management committee had no reason to object on the proposed solutions, so they approved. After another month Larry was ready for the followup meeting with the committee. This time the data was even better, the total incidents dropped from 10 accidents a month to 1 incident in the whole month. A 90% reduction in the accidents after last month, and 97% reduction from the original incident rate.

Finally everyone was happy, management with the data, PM with the project, and the commuters with a livable solution.

The only one which was not happy was the manhole, because the lid was still missing and the hole was still open.

Who is Larry –

Larry represents a group of professionals who believe in developing an eco-system around a problem instead of solving it. They work on the symptoms of the problem to showcase that they are solving it, but in reality lid is never closed.

Real world examples –

These examples are some real world examples taken directly from software development companies –

1) A Project Manager used to complain about bad performance of a development team member in every meeting. Even though talked about it in-front of every other manager, he never actually gave this feedback to the Developer. This meant this Manager would neither give a genuine chance to this engineer to improve, nor would he reported this to HR to get a more suitable resource for the project. Manager used this excuse to justify his delays and mistakes and keep the focus away from his bad management practices.

Tip:- A good manager with a bad team is a myth, a manager is as good as his/her team. So if a manager continues to cry about a bad team after every mistake, check what steps he/she has taken to close the lid and prevent the same mistake from happening again.

2) An Offshore team needed to fill two time-sheets every month. One daily on the client’s servers and the other one the weekly basis on a local system. At the end of the month Project Manager would send the local copy to the Account Receivable for billing purposes. The problem was that these two time-sheets must match at the end of the month, but Project Manager did not have access right to check client’s time-sheet, only accounting team had access to both the timesheets. So it was very common that Accounting would send the local timesheet back to project manager because for some team members their two time-sheets wont match.

The first step project manager took to resolve this issue was to ask everyone to share a screen-shot of client’s time-sheet every week, which he/she could match with their local time-sheet data. But soon not everyone was sending the screenshot every week. So the next step taken by PM was to impose a fine of $5 every week for anyone who does not send the screen-shot (the money used to go in the team fund for parties and gifts). This allowed PM to go through all the screenshots, sent by his 10 team members and match the local copy of the time-sheet with client’s copy, which resolved the issue up to great extend.

Did you notice how lid was still kept open. All project manager had to do was to ask client to provide access to their team’s timesheet the same way it was given to the accounting team. Or ask client to setup an automated weekly report from their Jira for timesheet data. But Project Manager kept the repetitive activities in his plate.

Tip:- If a solution requires human involvement every week or every month, it is not a solution. Either automate the process or find a real solution so human hours can be used for intelligent work.

Do you also remember some similar events when someone was keeping the lid open, share with us in the comments. Your feedback and comments are welcome.