Reality check

I am a great believer in facing up to reality, regardless of the pain involved. I don’t know whether it is my experience as a senior business analyst or my character or both that causes me to step in from time to time and say: “Stop! Time for a reality check!”

How many times has your manager demanded the improbable (or impossible) but expects that a “can do” attitude will turn it into a reality? This is what I call “dropping the buck”. It is not simply a case of passing the buck, but dropping it on you from a height.

All you can do in those circumstances is highlight the risks involved (and the likelihood of their occurring). For my part, I never commit to something that I do not believe I can deliver. People can interpret my attitude as negativity, but I see that as their issue and not mine.

BPM: I want you to hold these three large apples in your hands.

Me: I should draw your attention to the fact that I only have two (relatively small for a man) hands. Can you provide me with someone who has a free hand?

BPM: There is no budget for an extra hand.

Me: In that case, while I can try to hold all three, I cannot commit to holding on to all three and I must highlight the risk that in attempting to hold on to all three I may in fact drop one or more. I consider it highly likely that I will drop one, somewhat likely that I will drop two and unlikely that I will drop all three. I would also like to point out that if I start with only two apples, I can commit to holding on to both without dropping them and I recommend taking that course of action.

BPM: You are so negative. What I want to see is a “can do” attitude!

Me: I can do it. I am simply pointing out that the likelihood of success is minimal and that you should factor the risks into your planning.

BPM: Just do it.

Me: Happy to (now that I have clearly stated the risks).

[Ten minutes later]

BPM: Why is one of those apples on the floor bruised?

Me: I dropped it.

BPM: Well did you try to catch it?

Me: No.

BPM: Why not?

Me: Because I decided that attempting to do so would increase risk that I would drop another one. I felt it would be better to have one bruised apple than possibly two or three.

BPM: Gaaah!

Me: It’s not like I didn’t warn you.

[Blood vessel bursts in BPM’s head]

This approach is unlikely to earn you a promotion in many corporate environments, but I believe that as long as it is delivered with honesty and courtesy (and followed up by e-mail), then it is the correct approach.

By the way, can you guess what “BPM” stands for?

Kind regards,

Declan Chellar

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