Last minute change of direction – Avoid at all costs

Many times I have experienced firsthand, a brilliant move by a team member that causes a last minute change of direction.

I have seen this many times in different initiatives to distinctly note this as human tendency, almost to a pattern.

In this post I am referring to initiatives where a team is executing a group exercise following a well-communicated plan.

This is not to confuse with individual exercises such as a last minute decision by a driver to swerve left or right to avoid a crash.

Fast-moving sport calls for last-minute, split-second decisions to be made based on a glut of new information not known before. For a batsman to play a shot or leave a ball, a goal-keeper to decide where to dive, last minute change of plans while running a long-distance race, etc. are individual decisions. In fact the decision is what makes sport amazing and the (successful) sportsman brilliant.

This post is about a project team that is going to finalize last-minute post-testing preparations before going “live” and suddenly someone announces a brilliant change of plan.

If taken seriously, this brings a new risk to the successful completion of the initiative. It jeopardizes the chances of the team reaching the goal.

The risk of failure is high, and so is the probability of failing.

There isn’t enough time to think through the new plan, communicate, re-test and feel confident that the goal is achievable.

Between the final tests and reaching the goal-line, there should be a “plan freeze” put in place. The leader must ensure that no such “brilliance” creeps in to stymie the well-orchestrated plans.

I am not disputing that the last-minute change is not brilliant. It could very well be.

But unless it is so awesome that you can get a change in schedule, and the authority to re-think the whole exercise, it should be kept aside. Too bad this did not come earlier. Let’s think about it AFTER the current initiative is completed, and weave it into the next one (if possible).

A project, an event, a team initiative is like an orchestra. Individual brilliance has a time and place. They should be (are usually) solicited in the initial conception phase, during brain-storming. Once the plan is concrete and the project is almost at the cusp of being delivered, everyone must do everything in their power to “protect” the plan.

I have seen at least three major instances to note this as a pattern:

A major technology project, involving at least 2000 users and a 60 member project team. The last minute strategy change threw everyone into confusion and while some folks were hastily executing the new instructions, others were scratching their heads. We lost at least 8 hours during a two-day final cutover until sanity was restored and we fell back to the original plan.

A team submission for a case-study. This happens when you pull an all-nighter trying to finalize a submission which has to be presented by your team the next morning. The team member with the most energy and drive cannot resist the temptation to slip in a few changes as she is pulling the final submission together. Guess what happens to the other well-rested, well-dressed team members the next morning, when they find the “script” has a few tweaks in it!
I have also seen this while events are being managed. Especially when there is a large group involved, during the final preparation the night before the event, I have seen some new “brilliant” change of plans being forced in at the last minute. Even the discussion of the newfound idea consumes scarce time and energy, that can be channelized for the original execution.

The whole team and the leader should be aware that such a thing can happen, and then all should be guard to prevent the happening.

I would love to hear about any instances related to this topic that you have experienced.