Deana had my curiousity. “The ops manager said he was afraid to show everyone what he was doing. But, now that the cat was out of the bag, he explained. He understood the sandbagging. He said each person on the team, and he called them by name, thought they were being sneaky by adding extra days to the project schedule, when, in fact, sometimes things go wrong and those extra days might be necessary. He called those extra days, buffers.
“He showed us his secret project schedule where he took all the buffers away from each segment of the project and put them at the end. He was afraid that if people saw their buffers disappear, they would get mad at him, so he kept it a secret.
“The schedule still had the buffer days, but they were all at the end. As the project went along, some of the buffer days were needed, so he would move only the necessary buffer days back to the segment. So, if a project segment went long, they still had buffer days.
“When the last segment was completed, there were still eleven unused buffer days. Guess what that meant?” Deana teased.
I just stared. Waiting for her discovery.
“That means the project came in eleven days ahead of schedule. In all my time here, we never brought a project in ahead of schedule.”
“What was the most important lesson in all this?” I asked.
“You were right in the beginning,” Deana replied. “The issue had nothing to do with the schedule. It was all about the team.”
This series has been an illustration of Basic Assumption Mental State, affectionately known as BAMs. The mental state of a group can shift in seconds. Teams can go into BAMs in a heartbeat, moving from Work into Non-work. It takes courage, and some skill to shift back into work mode. BAMs is most clearly defined in the book Experiences in Groups, by Wilfred Bion, brilliantly captured by Pat Murray and now by Eric Coryell in the stories they tell.
Project buffers is a concept illustrated by Eli Goldratt in his book Critical Chain.