The Conundrum Behind Cutting Corners

It’s a poorly-kept secret—and occasionally a source of embarrassment—that project teams often resort to cutting corners when problems crop up. Everyone knows it’s a bad practice and most people agree they shouldn’t do it, yet the corner cutting continues. If your team has succumbed to the temptation to skimp on effort or short-change a project activity, consider the risks of your actions and look for ways to avoid cutting corners when executing projects.


Know the risks when shortcuts are taken

Whenever a project team skirts the normal course of action for completing a task, or avoids steps in the Project Team’s standard processes, there are risks that may follow. Some don’t draw much notice, such as skipping a routine internal update. Many times, the risks are apparent but don’t rise to a high level of concern. If an end user’s low-level request is omitted to save time, it could lead to a drop in satisfaction and a loss of trust but little practical impact on the team.

Other results from cutting corners could prove to be much bigger problems in the long run. If documentation is missing or left incomplete, for example, a post-project review—by the organization, a client or outside business partner, or a regulatory agency—could flag the omission and bring operations to a halt while the situation is verified and records updated. An activity that isn’t completed correctly, either because the schedule was slipping or funds were running out, could force bigger expenditures later if a task needs to be redone to set things right.

Why do project teams cut corners?

Knowing all the ways it could come back to bite them, why do teams still take the easy-but-dangerous route and continue to cut corners? The answer is both simple and frustrating: Because a lot of the time, they get away with it. One unhappy end user probably isn’t going to change the Project Team’s satisfaction metrics. A budget overage here or there can be explained away. In many instances where teams ended up cutting corners, the repercussions are too small to raise any flags. In some instances, overburdened and under-supported PMP®s may feel they have no choice but to cut a corner occasionally if they want to move their project to completion. They may opt to cut corners even as the negative impacts pile up because they simply don’t know how else to proceed.

Strategies that avoid cutting corners

A project methodology that incorporates a stringent control process can help eliminate the inclination—as well as the need—to cut corners. By identifying potential issues early, whether it’s a conflict between dependent activities or a delay in the delivery of a critical piece of equipment, the team will not only be aware of where problems are lurking, they’ll also have the early warning they need to resolve the issue and ensure the project stays on track. If project controls are implemented, corners won’t need to be cut to achieve the expected results.

It’s also important to emphasize accountability across the Project Team. Shortcuts are often taken when one member of the team discovers that someone else hasn’t delivered what was expected. Rather than simply pointing fingers, other PMP®s may resort to cutting corners to keep their activities progressing as planned in spite of their teammates. Improved accountability eliminates this challenge, as each team member knows exactly what they must do to achieve success.

Together, these proactive strategies are more effective than any reactive approach, offering Project Teams the kind of oversight and forward-looking data necessary to avoid the need to cut corners and risk bigger complications later.