You see this all the time. Projects with a high degree of creative content are started. The artists, makers and producers agree with the sponsors and managers that they will bring the project in, on time and on budget. Everybody agrees that the project is hard, worthwhile and will make an important difference, along several dimensions. Everybody equally acknowledges it’s a risky project. People have high hopes for the outcome.
Somewhere along the way, the project encounters a difficulty that nobody anticipated. Sometimes it’s the kind of difficulty nobody could anticipate. At other times, it just turns out to be harder than expected. This is when things go wrong.
Suddenly, people start elevating budgetary concerns to the highest priority. Let’s cut some corners. Let’s burn out our creatives, by intimidating them into working in a Quixotic and futile push to get it done, using donated time. Why don’t we micromanage everyone? Perhaps more frequent status reports will solve it. Let’s dilute the project into something that is no longer worthwhile, or important. Let’s forget about making a difference.
What was the real goal? Was it to spend the budget and then stop? Was it to do something less than worthwhile, so that the bank balance stays intact? Did we lie, when we said that the main thing was to do something extraordinary? Why the loss of courage? Were you really only in on this project to look good and are you prepared to bail-out and sabotage the project, if you don’t? Did you really accept the risk and have a contingency plan and fund to mitigate it? Was your commitment to the importance and quality of the project a sham?
If you don’t have a way of meeting extreme contingencies, budget-wise, when you commence an important project, then don’t do it all. It wastes the talent of the artists, makers and producers. They could have been doing something else worthwhile, for somebody that had deep enough pockets to withstand changes in course. There is nothing more wasteful and tragic than spending the whole budget, but delivering something half-baked, or worse, not delivering anything useful at all.
Finishing matters, but so does what you finish. If your budgetary constraints destroy or emasculate what it is that gets finished, so that it loses its quality, its ability to make a difference and its worthwhile importance, then you have committed the worst sin of all. You’ve broken what you set out to make, spent all the money, wasted everybody’s time and talents, and achieved nothing worth doing. It’s a species of quitting too soon.
Project sponsors: before you take on a project of significance, make sure you can pay for the journey, if it has to take the longer road. If you can’t, don’t even start. Creators: don’t work for people that can’t pay their way through the obstacles. Managers: your first loyalty is to the integrity of the project. You aren’t here to make yourself look good or to do whatever it takes to spend up to the budget, but not a penny more. Your job is to deliver something worthwhile.
Focus on the real goal, which is doing hard work that makes a difference. Deliver work that matters.