Takin' My Time

I've spent a fair amount of time working in deadline-driven, high-volume production environments. In those situations, the right way to do things has

I've spent a fair amount of time working in deadline-driven, high-volume production environments. In those situations, the right way to do things has a lot to do with which way is the fastest. This hones your abilities to set priorities and to evaluate and implement efficient tactics. It also forces you to be resourceful and productive and to create on demand.

Some people thrive under pressure, bless `em, and they do their best work under those circumstances. But some fast-paced projects have left me feeling that the right way to approach a commercial project - that is, the most expeditious way - was not the best in terms of producing a quality product. Some things come out best on a quick "first take." Others take more development. Projects with heavy deadlines allow only one of these approaches; that is a simple fact of life.

Given all of this, it is easy to understand how one can develop the perspective that when there are two ways to do a job competently, the faster is the better. The faster may be the better way to get the job done on time, which is often the project's most important goal, but, even then, from a balanced perspective, it is clear that some good things cannot be accomplished when working quickly and that emphasis on speed alone compromises excellence. An approach in which every project is done pell-mell, with insufficient time to learn from mistakes and explore qualitative issues, can result in the same failures occurring time and again and limit the project's caliber.

Working quickly also discourages experimentation and promotes employing "tried and true" methods. In addition, the effect on individual and group mental health of a constant "hurry, hurry, hurry" refrain is not to be underestimated.

To project managers (indeed, to all involved), I say that expectations must match available resources: if you give `em no time, you can't expect a highly polished product. However, if extra time can be eked out, even for just one key area, it can pay compelling dividends.

For the practitioner, it is a bit more complex. If you shine your brightest under pressure, this column has little to say to you besides, "Carry on and good cheer to you." For those like me - who can work quickly but neither work best that way nor, at the end of the day, find it wholly fulfilling - we, too, must accept the reality of time's tyranny.

On the one hand, this translates into letting go of artistic goals that take time to accomplish and going with the project's imperative of making the deadline. This is difficult because, put bluntly, it usually amounts to lowering one's standards. On the other hand is the personal need - and indeed, the need of society as a whole, if we are to enjoy and encourage quality - to achieve those artistic goals in areas outside of commercial projects. Those things a deadline-driven commercial project environment shuts out should find an outlet elsewhere, especially if that is how you do your best work. Take the time to make it shine.