80% of Everything is 100% of Nothing

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Early in my career, I had a manager who called me into his office and asked me to take over a project that he had just found out was failing. From frantic calls of the site manager, my manager tells me that we were going live on a system on Friday night and that only gave us 3-days to get the programming set up right to upload into the system.

Plunking down four three ring binders with the information needed, he said to ask the current project manager the current status of everything and make it happen.

Such is the life of an employee that gets things done.

I called the site manager and asked the status from his perspective — how much stuff did he have to start the programming right now? “None,” was the answer. Oh, boy.

Taking the three ring binders to the current project manager, we went through each of the programming areas to determine what was done and yet to be done. Clearly the current project manager was overwhelmed. After going through everything I was left with a good sense of what needed to be done.

I again called the site manager and asked what programming he would prefer to have done first so he could get his people going. He gave me the priority list and I got to work.

In going through all the programming sheets (this was for a telephone system and each phone and network element needed programming information), it was clear that a lot of good work was done. But nothing was done enough so the next person in the process could start doing their job.

Based upon the desires of the on-site manager, I started working on the first priority. In about two hours, I had completed that section and was able to turn over something to the next person to move things along.

Then the next priority section. Then the next one. Then the next one. I completed each separate module to that it was ready for the next person to do their work.

That Friday night, we had one of the best go-live events of my career.

The trap was that the current project manager had 80% of everything done. But 80% of everything is 100% of nothing — no one else could start their work.

The lesson is to finish prioritized modules of work so that the next person in the process can start to do their work on the project. You want to have 100% of a module completed to pass on to the next person.

Doing it this way means you may only have 20% of everything done, but that 20% means everything to others who need to do their work.

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