Start Strong

January 31, 2009

As another semester begins here at school, I’ve been thinking about beginnings and how much how you start effects how you finish.


Many of us have a tendency to ease into things. I would argue that in a professional setting this is a mistake. You want to hit the ground running. Whether it’s a new job or a new project, always remember how critical beginnings are to setting up good endings.


I think some of this stems from our misperception of the value of time. Time is finite and when it has passed it is gone. If you lose money, you can go make more. Time doesn’t work that way, yet we usually fail to appreciate this and its implications.


As an example let’s look at the student projects we run in the Carlson Consulting Enterprise. A project typically lasts 13 weeks with 5 people working ~15 hours per week (13*5*15= 975). So you have roughly 1000 hours of efforts to apply.


Week one is a scoping, understanding, problem definition period. It is easy to slide into “let’s do a few hours of reading and we’ll meet to chat about scope and then next week we’ll hit it hard” mindset. This doesn’t seem unreasonable, you still have 12 weeks left. Right? I say, “not really.”


Several bad things happen when you think this way.


1)      Most simply you may have just squandered 25-50 hours of available effort.

2)      You may find you need to “make up” those hours in future weeks. This either ruins your life and/or reduces flexibility for the other (inevitable) project changes that will come up.

3)      You have lost a week of potential iteration of work. In a project setting the more times you are able to get through a build, review for feedback and edit cycle the better for improving likely outcome. The longer you delay, the fewer cycles you can get to.

4)      You miss an opportunity to make a strong impression on a client or boss.


So don’t waste time. Get your project scoped. Develop your research plan. Think about what you need to develop as a part of the project. Define team responsibilities and expectations. Begin reading and building hypotheses etc.


I encourage you to hit the ground running and take advantage of the time you have. It’s precious. If you don’t use it you lose it.