And Thats why Nothing Gets Done on time..

.. or within budget.


Boss (B): Hey Mr. Employee, can you give me a rough estimate as to how much time you might take to drive from Ouagadougou to Tarawa?

Employee (E): (Here goes Mr. Bonkers again). Er .. boss .. I dont even know what continents the two places you mentioned are located on. If you could give me some time to do some study before I give you an estimate ..

B: Huh? Driving is supposed to be your primary skill, is it not? You are expected to be competent enough to put at least a rough number against this task.

E: (How can I “put a rough number” without even knowing what I am supposed to do Dammit!) I understand boss, but these 2 places could be as near to each other as 5 kms .. or as far apart as five thousand. Could you at least give me time to look up the locations of these places?

B: (Believing he's striking a compromise) Tell you what; you give me a very broad guesstimate now because I need to project this to my bosses right away. Then you can revise it later.

E: (reluctantly) Ok Boss. I don't know why, but the names of these places remind me of Africa. So I assume they are both located in Africa; and I take a wild guess of 30 days if you give me a proper all-terrain vehicle.

B: Oh .. but I don't think we have that much time. If I go to my boss and tell him that we'l take 30 days, I think he's going to freak out. Let's do this. You send me a mail saying that your estimate for this drive is 23 days. Then we will work it out. What say?

E: (Do I have a choice?) @#$%^

Mr. Employee goes back to his desk and finds out that Ouagadougou is the capital of Burkina Faso, a country in Africa (he got that one right!), while Tarawa, to his horror, is located in the Kiribati Islands in South Pacific!How in this whole ellipsoidal world would he drive from a small country in Africa to an island diametrically opposite?


Ok, let me begin at the beginning. I was having a discussion with my friend, Mr. Professional (MrProf), about the routine delays in projects in India (or anywhere for that matter). Construction projects, education initiatives, healthcare programmes – whether in Government space or private sphere – they all have one thing in common: Time & cost over-runs. I have quoted here verbatim, the story which MrProf told me in this context.

I gave it quite a bit of thought, and I reached the conclusion that MrProf is right. The flow of inefficiency usually goes like this:

  • It all begins right at the top. Like at a Minister, or Executive level. They are the ones who commit to something outlandish in order to get votes or customers.

  • They then put pressure on the project planners to squeeze in things so tight that storage companies would pay a fortune for such kind of squeezing capability!

  • There is invariably one level of project planners who are totally dispensable – all they do is seamlessly transfer the pressure from a level up to a level down (many bureaucrats in the Indian administrative setup belong to this category). This level is where the planning is botched up.

  • The pressure eventually reaches the “worker” level (this is the root-level where the actual implementation is done). At this point, Boyle's law kicks in. Under all the pressure, the temperature begins to rise too. We all know how many mistakes a heated up worker on-the-ground is liable to commit!

Result – project screwed! This is not all that far-fetched, even in case of the B-I-G projects (see the programmes on Discovery and NGC – like “MegaStructures”, or “World's Biggest” to know what I mean). And more often than not, who is the one whose head is on the chopping block? The worker-bee.

For example, take the same story as above. How would it play out when Mr. Employee complains that the drive is impossible?

Employee (E): Boss, the Ouagadougou-Tarawa drive is impossible. Tarawa is on an island bang in the middle of the Pacific.

Boss (B): But, you were the one who committed to me in the last meeting, were you not? How can you not honour your commitment?

E: But boss, I was not given enough time to do a background study before coming up with an estimate. And it was only an estimate anyway, not a commitment.

B: Well, you should not be using the “lack of time” as an excuse to cover up for the error in your calculation. You should have taken all this into account before you gave me the 30-day number. And it was a commitment because I communicated this number to the higher-ups. ...

E: (are you just arrogant or plain stupid?) Sorry to interrupt boss, but we are not talking about the feasibility here – we are talking possibility – which is zero. (you want to drive thousands of miles in the Pacific? For Gods' sake).

B: Well, we cannot displease the powers-that-be. You will have to put in extra effort and get the task completed in 23 days.

E: @#$%^


OK. That was exaggerated. But the point remains:

Most projects/initiatives, even though initially badly planned, can still be brought back on track. But they rarely are – because of the all-pervasive I-just-wanna-save-my-neck gene which everyone carries in abundance these days.

I conclude this off-topic post (rant rather) with the statement that I think in addition to what MrProf has told me, it is the passing-the-buck attitude which is blocking transparency, efficiency and a better world on the whole.

Countries might become “developed”, per-capita incomes might sky-rocket, infrastructure might boom – but as long as the attitude of the masses remains under-developed, so will the world in general.


5 comments to And Thats why Nothing Gets Done on time..

  • Good post. Most people get horrible with estimation. Yeah… it’s not only in IT, its there all over. Imagine how worst it can hit the project when thousands of people work day and night to get those huge structures built as they show in NGC.

    How many times we find our self in those situations… will be told to give estimate without even knowing how much customization the client needs. Mostly this number becomes a convincing factor then projecting the actual. The obvious question from the top will be - “For this SIMPLE activity do we need so many days ?”

  • Brilliant, simply brilliant!

    As someone who's been a Mr Employee, and ostensibly a Mr Boss too, I can imagine being in both situations. :P

    You've hit the nail bang on the head, though! :)

  • Tell you something? Give Mr. Employee enough incentives and he will figure out a way of getting there in 23 days ;)

    And once he does, no one will care to see if he has actually driven the distance :P

  • @JSincro, Sumit: Thanks!

    @PC: "Mostly, this number becomes a convincing factor rather than projecting the actual". Hah! How true. BTW, this post was inspired by your latest one, if you know what I mean ;)

    @Mihir: Haha .. you are absolutely right on that one. You spoke like a true MBA there dint you? ;)

    But anyways, this story also holds true where the whole objective of the project is to drive there and not to get there. And there lies the devil!

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