Into my third week as a Project Manager I’ve already learned that everything, and I mean everything, has a cost.
By no means have I only just stumbled across this massive lesson of life. No, I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over with each new chapter. Each instance shows me some new way to slice and dice projects, but more importantly build relationships.
The first time I really learned about cost was from my mother and step-father. They spent most of their careers in real estate, my mother as a broker and step-father as president/CEO. As a kid, each night over dinner they would go no stop about business. I was privy to sit in on hundreds of dinner conversations. While I couldn’t add my two cents, I could listen and occasionally ask questions.
One dinner conversation that stood out was about a building remodel. They had just purchased an older building in downtown Spokane that used to be the famous Ram Bar and Restaurant. Being a beautiful older building, they considered making changes and updates to the interior to accommodate the shift from restaurant to office space.
They told me that with all remodelling you get to pick one of three things with choosing a contractor: Time, Quality, or Money. “If you’re lucky, you get to have 2, but that’s rare”, I remember my step-father stating. For me, I’ve carried this lesson on with every project I undertake. If you’re negotiating pay or about to undertake a major workload, consider how you talk about the expectations around time, quality, and money/resources.
Time, like a square pizza, can be cut however you like and still not come out right.
The question of time always comes up in a project. You’ll get asked, “When can I have it by?”, “How long do you think it’ll take”, “How often is this supposed to happen?”, “and my favorite “Can I expect this will be done by XXX?”. Time is weighed by the perceived difficulty. Taking too long to complete an easy task will make you lose face. Conversely, completing a difficult task quickly can run its own risks. Namely, your audience may think you’re using hyperbole to gain some benefit or extra pay.
How you talk about a project’s difficulty is how you talk about time.
As well, you may get into recurring projects. I train people to use syndication portals (websites that collect blog posts much like a news site). Usually, I tell them that featuring posts will take 15-20 minutes each instance; however, they could easily spend more than an hour every day if they wanted.
Did you see the difference in that last sentence?
1 hour a day * 5 days a week = 5 hours. 5 out of 40 is 12.5% of a work week.
15-20 minutes * whatever they feel = Most likely 15-20 min a week.
In either case I do not speak about the difficulty unless pressed. I let them decide for themselves. If this is something easy, and therefore a nice task to add to a workweek, they feel I haven’t asked them to do much. If this is something hard, and therefore a chore of a task, I make sure to provide myself as a resource along with a how-to guide. It is not my place to judge anyone’s unproven technical competency. It doesn’t help them learn if I start with “this is going to be hard”.
Really, just be careful with how you discuss time and be conscious of others expectations.
Quality comes in many forms. Features, design, materials, color schemes, ongoing support, anything that requires something that cannot be recouped comes into play when we’re talking about quality.
Quality is almost always confused with time. Take the term “hand-crafted” for instance. Usually, this means that extra time and care was taken into making something “artisan”. People assume that the extra time taken means that the quality will be that much better. They’re wrong.
Quality is determined by how much a product or service fulfills a need.
Recently I’ve been replacing my wardrobe from hammy-downs and worn-outs with new shirts. I bought a 4 pack of cheap v-necks for $10. I thought, “if I can take care of these like I do my other clothes, I’ll have these for a few years and save some money”. Two washes later the shirts are falling apart at the seems. I expected years and got weeks. My need for new clothes became that much more of a costly chore because I went with lower quality.
Take blogging as another example. I’ve had blogs on several platforms over the years. The free ones didn’t offer design or live support. Some cheaper ones were dedicated static websites and left blogging to the wayside. My longest running blog is also the best quality one (this one if you didn’t pick-up on that). The writing environment is great and I have unlimited freedom to change the design. I also get the extra security. The best part is access to my co-workers. They really make this blog an ease. I can ask for anything and get help. For me, this blog really fulfills my blogging needs in every way. That makes this blog the most valuable I’ve ever owned.
Money / Resources
“You get what you pay for”
Just like my short story about buying low-cost shirts, cost gets confused with quality all the time, but quality and cost are seldom the same.
The reason is simple. You can recognize the quality in craftsmanship, but still pay very little. Likewise, getting grifted into spending hard earned cash on poorly made goods happens to people every day.
Take batteries as an example. When I worked at the watch store we purchased batteries for $0.27 a piece and charged $15. Sure, there’s costs associated with rent, utilities, and labor. There’s also variability costs associated that involve likelihood of sale and expected monthly minimums. Not to mention we installed the batteries for customers. All this to say, most customers still felt ripped off.
No one can spend what they don’t have.
You can buy a couple packs of AA batteries for $15. We tried claiming “Swiss made” and “5 year minimum lifespan” to offset the seemingly steep cost. People are willing to spend more if they think something is “quality”. While what we said was true-ish, it didn’t always make up for what people thought i.e. “A battery is a battery”. We didn’t have the clout to combat customers understanding of battery prices. I usually reminded them that I was the one putting the battery in, but even that wasn’t enough to sway most customers.
I’ll make this quick. This whole post is really about one thing: how your audience perceives you at the start of a project. Your reputation is built on how well you’ve communicated and fulfilled expectations. Just remember you get to pick one thing to be known for with your work. Which will it be? Time? Quality? Cost? Or are you lucky enough to have 2 out of three? Try to recognize which route you are trying to take and which one suits you best.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I hope you found something to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire.
Just a couple neat things before you go. I’ve fixed up my site a bit with the design, but I also have the subscribe forms working and the comment forms working! Drop a comment if you liked the post or hit me up on social media.