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The Costliest Inch…and the Cheapest Foot

March 6th, 2013 · No Comments

The homeowner said, “I love my porch…but I wish the ceiling could be just an inch higher. Then it would be perfect.” In ‘project management speak’, this is not so demanding. After all, they are only asking for an inch!

The problem is…that here are the options for giving this ‘reasonable’ homeowner what they want:

  1. Remove the entire roof and underlying roof structure, raise one inch, and build new roof and underlying structure.
  2. Find a way to ‘jack up’ the roof, insert one inch spacer all around, then apply finishes.
  3. Find a way to lower the floor by an inch, perhaps by removing the existing floor and replacing with thinner floor boards over a modified support system.
  4. Remove the existing ceiling, find a way to ‘shave off’ or otherwise reduce the depth of the rafters to which the ceiling was attached, and install a thinner or slightly higher ceiling.

I am sure there are other possible solutions…but you get the idea! This is the proverbial situation of “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole”…and results in the “costliest inch”!

Now, consider another situation, where the homeowner is building a new porch. In the design phase, they are reviewing the drawings, and the idea of a high ceiling hits them. They request an additional foot in ceiling height.

In this situation, none of the four options above even apply. Adding the one foot of celing height represents the very marginal cost of buidling the wall an additional foot higher, and the cost of everything else remains the same. In fact, that is probably the “cheapest foot” of the project!

This problem is both an engineering problem and a project management problem. The “how to” part represents the engineering portion, and the “what to do” is a way of thinking about the project management part where the PM explains the options. You may need to do both the “how to” and “what to do”…but really to lead the project you must at least understand both. Most importantly, as a project manager, you need to be able to clearly articulate the implications and tradeoffs to cost, quality, and time on the project to the homeowner, or stakeholder.

This is an illustration of the art of project management, where we deal with such non-linear anomalies. It is incumbent upon us to identify the costliest inch and the cheapest foot on our projects, ensure that they are understood, and then let the stakeholders decide what to do with “eyes wide open”.
John Reiling, PMP
PM Training Online

Tags: Project Management Process · Soft Skills