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Measure Twice, Cut Once

PlanThis past weekend, I found myself building three raised garden beds for my son’s elementary school. One could easily tell that the project was as low-tech and unsophisticated as construction could possibly be by the simple fact that I was doing it. But there I was, tucked by the side of the school while remainder of the school population was out back enjoying the annual May Day carnival.

The project provided a good opportunity for me to work with my sons, 12 and 8,  on some basic woodwork and construction techniques. You can have absolute faith that the word “basic” comes fairly into play because, again, I was doing it. As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the piece of advice I most often doled out was “measure twice, cut once.” I began to reflect on how important this homily is and how often it is ignored in most every walk of life…including business.

Projects are usually entered into with a sense of urgency. It may be because of the need to get started, the rush to beat a deadline or the imperative to show something productive. Whatever it is, the desire to produce something seems often to produce something… well… mediocre. Over the weekend, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that so many of the problems crossing my desk can trace their origins to this dynamic.

A few cases in point:

  1. Plans and specifications are issued half-baked, kicking significant issues down the road because of the need to get started. The result? Change Order after Change Order after Change Order.
  2. Parties to a transaction refuse to spend the time drafting a clear Letter of Intent spelling out their agreement on material terms, only to waste money down the road as attorneys exchange draft after contractual draft attempting to negotiate what should already have been resolved.
  3. Banks fail to spend adequate time on commitment letters, preferring to present their borrowers with full loan documentation at the last minute, containing never-before-negotiated terms, severely straining their relationship with the customer
  4. Web designers and business owners fail to take adequate time in the planning stages before coming up with the first mock-ups. (Because, as we all know, the design unveiling is the fun part.) The result is almost inevitably less than a perfect match with the client’s hopes, vision, and expectations.

In How Did that Happen?: Holding People Accountable for Results, coauthor Roger Connors submits that successful outcomes hinge upon “effective formation, communication, and alignment.” He explains that success hinges upon:

  • Formationof the full plan;
  • The investment of time to communicatethat plan to all necessary participants; and,
  • The need to receive assurance that the plan is alignedwith the owner’s vision and the available resources.

Too many short-sighted organizations give in to the temptation of showing results before investing in the planning stage. Banks do it; so do developers, constructions companies, graphic designers, and (in a frightening realization) doctors.

Instead: On your next project, fight against this temptation. Pay heed to deadline and client expectations, to be sure, but put off the instant gratification of the unveiling for just a little while longer to do things well.

Chances are you will have built not only a successful project, but a lasting relationship as well.