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The Hidden Costs and Dangers of the Shortcut

~ By Michelle LaBrosse

Yellow earth mover building a road

We live in a world where we are often pressured to take shortcuts to save time and cut costs as much as possible. However, if you're not a skilled and experienced project manager, the wrong shortcut could end up costing you a lot more. Here's an anecdote to think about.

Let's say you are running a project, and the goal is to upgrade a road to a remote property. You solicit bids from several contractors and ask them to do it for the least cost possible, and you also stipulate you don't want to get any permits.

None of the contractors are willing to work under those conditions, so you get your own earth moving equipment and a friend with some experience to help you upgrade your road.

In the process, you fill in a spillway to a dam for a reservoir. You think this is no big deal because the fine you pay for that is far less than what it would've cost to hire a contractor to do the job properly.

Three years later in a heavy rainstorm, the dam breaks because the spillway has been compromised. Seven homes are washed away in the ensuing flood and ten people die. Now, what was intended as a shortcut to save money ends up taking lives.

Is it so far-fetched? How often is safety comprised every day because people are looking for the quick way out? Even more important as project managers, we have a responsibility to be the voice of reason that understands the hidden costs and dangers of the shortcut.

Let's look at how a PMP could have prevented this:

  • Standards: When someone gets a PMP, they are showing they are willing to learn the global standards that are universally accepted as a standard set of processes, tools and techniques for doing projects, ALL projects. This means they are willing to learn the rules of the game. Rules are generally created for very good reasons, and as project managers who know how to follow them, PMPs show their leadership because they have the ability to go the distance, learn the rules of the game and only adapt them when it is for the overall good of a project.
  • Stakeholder Impact: To become a PMP, a person has to learn about a variety of topics that influence the outcome of projects. Many factors that influence the outcome of a project have absolutely nothing to do with the goal of the project, as in the story above where the goal was to upgrade the road. In pursuit of their PMP project managers learn to weigh all the stakeholder impacts on their projects and to ask the tough questions.
  • Communication: PMPs learn how important it is to communicate with everyone involved in a project and look beyond the typical aspects of satisfying the project sponsor to include all the factors. In the anecdote, the property owner was, in fact, the project manager and is now being charged with manslaughter because of the unintended consequences of his project.

Could someone without a PMP have done just as good a job managing the road project? From my experience, having someone with a PMP leading your projects reduces the risks of managing the project because they have a demonstrated ability to play by the rules. In a world enamoured with people "just doing it" and "thinking outside the box," we need folks who still know how to learn the rules, understand why they exist, and create a safe environment for all.


The Know How Network is a monthly column written by Michelle LaBrosse, the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. Distributed to hundreds of newsletters and media outlets around the world, the Know How Network brings the promise, purpose and passion of Project Management to people everywhere. Visit www.cheetahlearning.com to learn more about Cheetah PM, the fastest way to learn about Project Management and get your PMP.


Comments (4)

Topic: The Hidden Costs and Dangers of the Shortcut
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9th April 2020 10:39am
Masaidio Kalenga (Jinja) says...
A great anecdote that explains why PMP is a profession that needs to be given due attention in all projects. This anecdote reminded me of my own experience where our organization decided to use one of its staff to design and construct an office for its operations. This co-worker had some knowledge in construction but had no qualifications in the field. Yes, he managed to build a very nice looking office, but the floor of the building keeps collecting in water and neither him nor the builders he worked with know where this water comes from. The paint that was used on the floor never dried and keeps peeling off. That's another example of the outcome of wanting to take shortcut. There's a common saying that "cheap things are expensive".
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8th April 2016 9:51pm
Simplice Chigbo (Abidjan) says...
Very good article and very nice anecdote of not to be committed mistake. Project management is a profession with skills, rules, an orthodoxy and moral conduct shared among practitioners. Not all of us have skills in house building or woodworking. This is why we go to them when we need them. Let's imagine what disaster will be the world if we all decide to build our houses ourselves, just because we are saving money that way.
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28th June 2016 11:21am
Ochola Wayoga (Dar es Salaam) says...
The article is masterpiece despite basing few reasons why the project owner decided to do it without the involvement of professionals. I think as a project owner the project costs should not compromise standard else negotiate the costs effectively to meet your budget and get the work done. Perhaps, in my opinion, its the costs associated with the execution of projects that lead project owners to compromise the standards

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