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Too Much of A Good Thing

April 22, 2013

“So, after the band is done, I just thank everyone and send them home, right?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

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Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband were playing our company party and I was the MC. The band had been good, but I was frustrated. I knew a little bit about schedules and how to put a schedule together. A lot of what Program Managers did was balance the resource, schedule and feature triangle.

Our schedule tonight had been pretty set. Arrive at 6:00pm. Dinner at 6:30pm. I start introducing the program at 6:45. The Band comes on at 7:00 and plays for 90 minutes or so, and we send everyone home by 9:00; late enough that the babysitter has put the kids in bed, but early enough that there’s still time to catch The Office.

That was the schedule I’d been handed, and I was comfortable with it. I figured I’d have plenty of time while introducing the band to share some of the corny jokes I’d written that poked fun at some of the executives.

I arrived about 5:30pm and immediately found Kent, the guy in charge of setting up the annual Employee Association appreciation dinner, next to a table full of laptop bags, pens, notebooks and other trade-show faire.

“So, what’s all this?”

“Oh, these are the door prizes.”

“How are they going to be given out?”

“Any way you want.”

I watched the buffer in my schedule start to evaporate.

“There’s a lot of stuff here. How many prizes are there?”

“About 30, but these gift certificates go to the winners of the pie eating contest and the best belt buckle. Figured it would fit with the western theme. Oh, and we’re asking the band to give out these iTunes cards.”

“So, how will I know who wins the belt buckle contest?”

“Totally up to you. However you want to choose it is fine.”

And there went the last of my schedule and then some.

“So, am I judging the pie eating contest too?”

“Oh no, we didn’t want to put too much on you so we’re having the band do that.”

Do you have any idea how long it takes to give out 30 door prizes? At least 30-45 seconds each. And that’s being fast about it. And not only did I have to find the time to hold the belt buckle contest, but I had to think up the rules on the spot. Don’t think I was going to just randomly pick someone. Our CIO was entered.

The result was the crowd voted someone other than the CIO best belt buckle, we managed to get all the door prizes given out in a reasonably equitable manner, the band went on about 20 minutes late, and I got to deliver less than 2 minutes of the jokes I’d practices. I was eating my lasagna and trying to let the band lift me out of feeling annoyed.

I had succeeded in masking my displeasure from Kent. After all, he’d been planning this for months and put in a lot more time than I had.

“Yeah, once the band is done, just thank everyone, remind them to drive safe and send them home.”

“Got it.”

They are a very talented group. It was easy to be enthusiastic about thanking them for the entertainment. As I was wrapping up, wondering if I had time to slip in a joke a two, Kent emerged from the door to the green room and joined me on stage.

“And let’s have a nice round of applause for Kent and his committee and the hard work they put in!”

“We have just a few more prizes to give away.”

“Excuse me?”

The iTunes cards. The band decided they didn’t want to interrupt their act to take the time to try to give them out. I didn’t blame them.

“Ah. . .What do you have in mind, Kent?”

“Trivia! Who knows what year Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band first performed?”

Okay, maybe a bit obscure, but he’s got a plan, I’ll let him go with it. After finding a winner he turned and handed me the rest of the cards.

“That’s the only one I know.”

At least I had some warning on the belt buckle thing. Two hundred people staring at me, wanting to leave but too polite to go home, even though we were already 45 minutes late, and I’ve got nine more prizes to give out.

I asked some random question about company leadership, mostly just to buy time to think of more questions. That’s one down. Eventually, I seize on geography.

“Who lives the closest?”

“Farthest?”

Two more down, Six to go.

“Who’s worked here the shortest?”

“Longest?”

Oh good, a tie. Three more down, only three to go.

“Who has held the most different titles?”

Give me a break, I was running out of ideas. Finally a tentative guess from the back. Great! You win. Two left.

“Whose name appears earliest in the Address Book? . . .Last name, not first.”

“And whose name is at the end?”

“Great. Thanks for coming. See you on Monday!”

And we are out!

There were two big mistakes here. One by me, one by our committee. My mistake was that I didn’t engage early enough. I assumed I knew the schedule and whatever I didn’t know I could handle on the fly. I did, but it was pretty frustrating.

The second mistake was the committee, and it’s a common mistake. They wanted to give door prizes. That’s a good thing. But, they didn’t consider that EVERYTHING has a cost. In a sense they wanted to put more features into our project. And just like a development project, if you add features, you are going to end up blowing your schedule.

It’s hard to say no to good features. But, as a project or a program manager, you have to manage the tradeoff between features and schedules. And at some point, you have to cut off the features and say, “THIS is what we are shipping.”

If you want to learn from my experience, it’s never a good idea to try to cut features in front of your customers.

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