When On-Time, On-Budget is Only 'O.K.'


You scoped the work. You delivered on your commitments. You exceeded expectations when you look at what you had originally set out to do. Every “i” is dotted, every “t” is crossed---attaboy.

Your customer’s needs are still unsatisfied.

How did this happen?! You busted your tail. You really, really hit the issues hard to try and get a good read on the needs. And damnit, you delivered. This should have been a fantastic addition to your portfolio.

Why did your customer (or manager, or who ever should have benefited from your work) just give you the “Uh, ok, thanks.” Insult to injury: getting an “Oh yeah, nice job” as you drag your tail out the door.

Odds are good that we've been misled by the obvious. We saw the issues presented, we heard the complaints, but maybe we didn’t do a good job ferreting out the issue behind the issues. Lazy bugger.

I’m guilty of this, too. A painful admission. I thought about my portfolio, and the useful feedback I should've received on a few pieces had I solicited it on a deliverable-by-deliverable basis.

In all fairness, it well could have been:

  • Toby did what I asked, but he missed the opportunity to dazzle me because he was eager to solve the problem he was given instead.
  • Toby delivered on time and on budget. Had he reframed the issues, though he could've moved us further forward.
  • Toby is a smart-ass and likes to use big words. I don’t know what he said, but was too embarrassed to ask him to explain his findings (true story, this one). He may've been very precise in his use of industry terms and language, but the message got lost in the delivery. So, fail.

I hope you’re not nodding your head. Shame on you (especially if it the “big words"; it's a bad communication habit). The thing that strikes me with the list above is that each is an example of where I drifted from being client-focused, and became deliverable-focused. So while I might get credit for exhibiting “discipline” on the career risk-management rules, I totally blew it by not taking risks I was capable of, and not effectively communicating.

To differentiate yourself and be viewed as the asset you aspire to be, and not simply the title you carry in your current role, try these familiar little tricks:

Hold your tongue and LISTEN. What might have sounded straightforward could've just been a few discovery questions away from your next biggest, greatest (and most fun) challenge, but in your eagerness, you let it slip away. Remember, we work with people (not all of which realize they are fallible, too), and we can all use a sounding board for our thoughts.

3 'duhs' of better delivery:

  1. Hold your tongue and LISTEN.

  2. Dig for the issue and not the obvious symptom.

  3. Refine, refine, REFINE!

Help your client dig around to find the issue and not just the obvious symptom. This obviously doesn't work in every setting ('Can you just make the damn copies already?'), but when you think about work that moves a company, and hopefully your career, forward, be sure you really hit the nerve-ending squarely when you plan your work. Think about the customers’ context (again, insert manager, executive, shareholder, or whoever values your work here) and their visibility to the issue, and then apply your observations to uncover unseen cause-and-effect relationships at play.

Be open to refinement (gasp! – changes) as the work progresses. Some things are really as simple as 'get it done on-time and on-budget.' I can’t think of any examples off hand, but I’m sure they're out there. Understand that changes happen as time elapses and details are revealed, and be on the lookout for opportunities to refine with the result of a higher-quality outcome than originally envisioned. Seek to be a dazzler.

Shining stars listen. They challenge and they adapt. It’s not easy to be one in a million, but I think it’s worth a try.

Too soft-side for you? Too much push back when you (as a customer) just want the work completed? we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Content adapted from More Than A Living: A collection of written advice pieces, rants, quips, and lamentations by Toby Lucich, Rick Turoczy, and Amy Winkelman.

The topics are about, well, how to be more than the dollars you take home.