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What, Me Worry?

August 28, 2014

I’m not sure why it took me so long to notice. Maybe it was the long hours. Maybe it was the darkness. Today I “slept in” until 5:00AM. All week I’ve been getting up at 3:15AM to be at work at 4:30AM. I was back to The Brutal Schedule of Working Half Days. Today, I didn’t need to be in until 7:00AM.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until I was on the freeway that I looked down at the dash and my heart fell. All of a sudden I remembered I was planning to buy gas first thing before heading to work.

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Not only did I forget, I’d let my car get lower than I ever had in the past. Panic set it. I’d gone from “being comfortably early” to work to “how late will running out of gas make me?”

My mind went into overdrive:

– Where is the next gas station?
– How many miles do I have left?
– Will my temperamental transmission complain if the engine dies at 70 – MPH?
– Will I have time to move to the shoulder when the engine dies?
– Which meetings will I miss if I’m a couple of hours later?
– Will I have to buy a gas can?
– Do cops stop and help stranded motorists?
– Should I stay with the car when it dies, or should I try walking to the gas station?

And a million more thoughts. My stress level went through the sun roof. And then, still miles from the nearest gas station, all of a sudden I quit worrying. I didn’t assume everything would be all right, but I did quit worrying. I turned the radio back up and enjoyed the Country station.

A project manager is a professional worrier. Seriously, I get paid to think about everything that could possibly go wrong with my project. We do an exercise called “Risk Analysis.” We look at the risk, for example, the possibility that I won’t be able to get fiber data circuits in time for my GO LIVE date. That’s an actual risk on my current project.

Once you’ve identified a risk, you have to put it on the Risk Registry and you decide what you can do to minimize the risk, or mitigate it. In my case, we realize it’s unlikely we will get the 50MB fiber circuits we need in time for GO LIVE. We know we won’t get them in time for my TRAINING date.

So, Plan B is to immediately order 12MB “copper” circuits in the interim. They take less time to get installed. Now, we go through the Risk Analysis process all over again. There is a chance the 12 MB circuits won’t be ready in time for my TRAINING date. Plan C might be some sort of cable modem or a DSL line. They have an even shorter install lead time. But, they are smaller than the 12MB circuits. We might not be able to run our training classes on a cable modem.

See? I worry about the backup to my backup plans. And Circuits are just one of about a dozen areas I have to track. Every area; Desktops, Network, Facilities, Security, Systems, Telecom, have their own risks and mitigations.

I’m really good at worrying. That’s why you might be surprised that I suddenly became so calm at the prospect of running out of gas on the freeway and being late to work.

The reason is that in addition to being really good at worrying, project managers are also really good at not worrying. In the circuit example above, I worried my way through three different possible plans. The guy in charge of ordering our circuits knew what the the various plans were, and more importantly, he knew what our preferred plan was. At that point, there is nothing else I can do. I can’t make the order process go any faster than it was already going. At this point, my plans are either going to work or they are not. And no amount of action, and especially no amount of worrying on my part will impact any of the outcomes.

Once you’ve done all you can, there is no point to further worry. This is different than fatalism. I will watch the developments carefully and be ready to change my plans if necessary. This is different than the post I wrote where I explained It’s Not That I Think We’ll Crash. I Just Don’t Care. In that case, I didn’t worry because there was nothing I could do if my plane was going to crash. In my current case, I don’t need to worry once I’ve done everything I can.

And that’s exactly why I quit worrying about running out of gas. No amount of worry was going to cause my car to go farther on fumes. No amount of knotted stomach pains would shorten the distance to the nearest gas station. In my head I plotted my route to that gas station and got into the right hand lane in case I had to coast to a stop.

At that point, I realized there was nothing more I could do. No sense worrying over something that might not even happen. Again, this applies to my work as a project manager. My circuits would either come in on time or they wouldn’t. If they didn’t, I had my backup plans. If I ran out of gas, my backup plan was to walk to the gas station.

It would be awful to end this column without finishing the story.

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I made it to the gas station. Plus, I put more gas into my car than I ever have. In fact, more than I even thought it would hold.

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With my project, I got word yesterday that the 12MB circuits would be installed in plenty of time to meet my training date, and my 50MB fiber circuits would be available 2 months earlier than expected.

Much of what we worry about never actually happens. Makes me glad I didn’t spent any additional time worrying about it.

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Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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