Expenses Masquerading as Problems

moneybow.jpgSometimes we think we are dealing with problems, but we’re not.  If it’s something you can tolerate, and not worth fixing, then it’s not a problem at all, it’s an irritant.  Don’t waste your time thinking about it unless you think it’s gonna grow into a real, live problem.  And, if money can solve it, it’s not a problem, it’s an expense.  Make a list of all of the problems you can think of in your project, your life or the world at large.  Now, for each one ask yourself “Could money alone solve this?”  If “yes”, don’t waste your time trying to solve the wrong problem.  The real hurdle you face is a shortage of cash or credit.  Get some!  Or maybe you’re just unwilling to pay for something that you could get some other way.  If you have plenty of time, for example, you might spend 2 hours driving across town to pick up a piece of equipment you need the same day.  Fighting with your spouse repeatedly over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen?  Hire a maid!  It’s cheaper than a divorce.  If you’re on a busy project and no one can be spared, you pay a courier to bring it to you.

I know times are tough, but there are creative ways of coming up with money.  I have plowed fields, delivered phone books and given fat people diet shots in the butt over the years to earn money.  I’ve also borrowed and lent money among family and friends, against conventional wisdom.  It won’t damage relationships just so long as no one expects to get paid back in any reasonable time, or ever.  Personally I financed the launch of my consulting business 8 years ago through a series of revolving credit card cash advances, some of which I’m still paying off.  A dangerous stunt even in the best of times, in a climate of economic meltdown this is sheer lunacy.  But I did it anyhow, and I never regretted it.  And I’ve always been mentally prepared to live in a pup tent with just a mobile phone and a satellite internet connection, so the downside was pretty minimal.  Family and friends are also a source of cash if you can catch them at a weak moment.  I once lent a relative some money before someone took me aside and warned me that they were a drug addict.  I thought that smell was oddly familiar!

Look, I’m not a financial adviser, so don’t take my advice on this.  I’m just saying there’s no point trying to solve a problem that’s just a symptom of a cash shortage when what you really need to do is come up with, or part with, the money.

At work, for example, there is always money even when there is no budget.  How do I know?  Years of watching people come up with money for things that were not in the budget.  If your project is important enough to be worked on it is important enough to properly fund.  If you can’t get the money required to achieve the goals then you might want to have a discussion over whether the goals are worth achieving.  If you can find an executive who cares about the results of your projects you can usually pry a couple of thousand dollars out of their discretionary budget to cover something that is clearly an obstacle standing between the team and success.  One team complained week after week that they didn’t have an LCD project in their usual conference room so they wasted 15 – 20 minutes at the start of their project meetings each week getting the portable project working.  A simple calculation of the time wasted for this team could have easily justified the purchase.

Sometimes the amount of money required is small enough that it makes sense to cover the cost yourself.  Don’t have a comfortable chair?  Go buy one!  No budget for a team celebration?  Pay for pizza and beer yourself, ya cheap skate!  Sometimes you can get expenses reimbursed after-the-fact, but don’t count on it.  Our QA lab was stuck waiting for approval to purchase a collection of DVD players to test the compatibility of our product.  We were on a tight schedule, so I headed straight over to the local electronics store and purchased a half-dozen different kinds, enough to cause my credit card company to call me to make sure this was a legitimate purchase.  The QA gang got started testing that afternoon.  We shaved days off of a tight schedule, and I was eventually reimbursed.  (Yeah!  Cheated death again!)

Money turns many problems into expenses.  Check and see if you are dealing with an expense dressed up in problem clothes and then solve it with the flash of a credit card if you must.  Of course there are some problems that no amount of money will solve.  Last week a guy was interviewed about his work with people who won big jackpots in the lottery.  He said that in almost every case the money made their problems worse.  Personally, I’m willing to risk it.

Wishing you a jingle, jingle, jingle . . . in your pocket,

Kimberly Wiefling, Author of Scrappy Project Management, regularly one of the top 100 project management books in English in the USA, Japan, Germany, France, sometimes Canada, but usually NOT in the UK, for some reason.  Help me solve this problem (except by dropping “scrappy” or using proper English) and I’ll send you a free book.

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