Sunday, August 16, 2009

No Really...Size Matters

Today is Sunday but my lesson I have yet to share with you is from yesterday. I was too tired to write it yesterday because I was completely waterlogged with Chatahoochie River water and starving when I returned home from a day of "Shooting the Hooch" as we Georgia-Folk call it (for you Yankees, that's floating an innertube down the Chatahoochie River, attempting to avoid rocks, and most importantly, keeping the cooler of... "refreshments" upright). Once I returned home, fed myself, washed myself, it wasn't long before I was dozing off in front of the television.

What I realized during this trek down the River with 4 innertubes and a floating cooler all tied together with a spiderweb of nylon rope is that it is hard to get that many objects moving together in the same direction. I've made this trip before with friends in which we were not tied together and paddling around was much more efficient. Once you've tied yourselves into a floating blob, not only do you move more slowly, but it's impossible to all work towards the same goal efficiently because you're all facing different directions. Ideally, the river would just sweep you along in the correct path. Ideally, the river would not have any bridges to go under, fallen trees, or sharp rocks to navigate. This river is not ideal.

Likewise, most projects are not ideal. It's not a foreign concept that we try to keep project teams as small as possible in order to reduce "drag" and keep the project momentum going forward. However, how many times do you approach a project deadline and realize that with time running low you need to add resources to finish the project on time and you start adding players to the team like Brad and Angelina add kids to the family? However, instead of moving along at the same efficient pace, you find that work becomes slower, more labor intensive, and the people stuck in the middle of this blob are getting rope burn from the tangle of rafts tied together around them?

It became obvious how difficult it was to maneuver 5 floatation devices around the rocks and trees at multiple points throughout the day. Luckily we all had one common goal, "KEEP THE COOLER UPRIGHT!" The real tragedy would have been a cooler full of river water and warm ...refreshments. It took only one tube getting stuck to hold up the entire team. Two tubes stuck could easily flip over another tube as I discovered. And, if you're the tube in the center of the blob, expect some rope burn when the other tubes are not all working together.

We made it to the end of the float with the only major injury being one split toenail resulting from stubbing a toe on a rock. Luckily, I had enough refreshments to dull the pain until I got home and into the shower. It may be a few days before I'm back in my stillettos and I may be cancelling that pedicure I was looking forward to so much.

The thing I realized is this: if we'd collected team members as we progressed down the river, we would have had more people to help paddle but we only would have gone in circles more. We would have had more people to push and pull when we got jammed but we would have hit more snags. We would have had more people working to keep the cooler upright but we would have had to share the refreshments with everyone.

So, before you go adding resources to your next project because of time constraints, consider the drawbacks. Larger project teams are far more cumbersome. Even with more people to do the work, there's the time it takes to get them up to speed. There's the risk of doing the same work twice. Coordination of more people is much more complicated and time-consuming. You're increasing the chances for mistakes and you're depleating your payoff. In some cases, you may just be better off working at a steady pace without adding extra people. Carefully weigh the cost and benefit.

Finally, as I have displayed a blatant lack of responsibility, I feel a final disclaimer is required before I sign off:

I highly recommend taking a fun day and spending it on the Chatahoochie River tubing. If you do, take precautions. Some areas are deep and swift and can be dangerous. If you are not a good swimmer, wear a life vest. Tying tubes together creates a hazard if someone falls out - you could get tangled in the ropes. You should never mix alcohol and water activites. Be responsible.

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