Two-Minute Warning

J0315498If you knew today that your project might lag behind schedule, what options would you have? What measures can you employ right now to mitigate the consequences of a tardy project?

Do you have a big project winding up in the next two months?

If so, this is your two-minute warning.

I hate to drop it on you, but I think you should be aware that projects scheduled to close out after Halloween often fail to be fully completed before Valentine’s Day.

You may come to regard this span of months to be a sort of no-man’s-land; a dead-zone, a veritable Bermuda Triangle in which smooth-sailing projects can be blown inexplicably off course. I know I do.

Bear in mind, this is not a rule; it is merely my observation. And I tell you this not to fill you with nihilistic foreboding, but to encourage you to begin to prepare your contingencies (and to batten down the hatches).

Start today.


Assemble all interested parties and ask the hypothetical question,

“If we knew right now that our project might lag behind schedule, what options do we have? What measures can we employ right now to mitigate the consequences of a tardy project?”

This is no joke.

This is not some clever “C.Y.A.” strategy.

Good business practices require us to be vigilant and to assess potential threats regularly. Any factor that may diminish the success of a high-profile project is a SERIOUS THREAT.


“Two minutes. Get your act together.”

In the 1970s, comedian George Carlin asserted that one might apply football’s final call to life-and-death, itself in order to achieve a personal epiphany. In our professional world, I suggest we may benefit from hearing a two-minute warning right about now in order to achieve a type of project-centric clarity because, in reality, the approaching holidays offer us much less time than we think to do what needs to be done. I wish I could make this sound as funny as Carlin’s shtick, regrettably, it is no laughing matter.


November (15 workdays out of 30). While the only “official” holiday is Thanksgiving Thursday, unless you are in retail, you’ll probably take off Friday. If you plan to travel (or to cook a feast) you may take off the whole week.

December (14 workdays out of 31). The Monday after Thanksgiving is always a bust due to return-travel delays. Christmas week and its neighbor, New Years week should be cut from the calendar entirely (no one shows up and those who do will be too short-handed to accomplish anything that requires manpower).

That’s right. In eight-and-one-half calendar weeks, we start out with the about six POTENTIAL working weeks. I use the term ‘potential’ because that is the amount of usable time in which to achieve some progress before reality pulls the rug out from under you:

November and December are prime flu months. According to the CDC, as many as one out of three people who exhibit cold symptoms may be actually suffering from (and, therefore, transmitting) flu(1). Faced with these odds, a department, construction crew or installation team may lose as many as two man-weeks out of ten due to worker illness or workers claiming leave time to care for a sick child.

While November and December may not be the wettest months (in terms of inches of precipitation), cooler temperatures reduce evaporation causing water in all its forms to linger. Standing water is troublesome especially around construction sites where mud and super-saturated soil hamper final tasks such as landscaping and interior clean-up. Although construction planners factor fifty-year seasonal weather averages into construction schedules, this does not account for subcontractors who divert trade crews from near-complete projects to more weather-sensitive job sites in order to protect exposed materials, relocate equipment, deploy space-heaters or complete dry-in.

Whether shopping for produce reserves sufficient to feed Ethiopia or for the perfect gift for a parent or spouse who already has it all, we can expect to shed several man-days due to productivity loss (curse you, and absenteeism (a pox on you, Wal-Mart, Sharper Image, Barnes & Noble, et al).

With the added highway congestion caused by panicky shoppers and weather-related delays, key personnel are often delayed or absent from important meetings. As a result, important decisions may be delayed or hastily implemented without adequate input. The consequences may not be recognized until the damage has been done.

As a project nears completion, everyone involved feels the press of time. In our haste, we begin to cut corners. Sometimes we overlook important details, mistakenly order the wrong part, absent-mindedly misplace a component or fail to read installation instructions. When these oversights require us to order a replacement for a critical part on which the project depends, each day without that essential component may represent another day for which we postpone completion. Since distributors and parcel carriers are subject to the same workforce conditions described above, it is reasonable to expect handling delays while awaiting an item’s arrival at the expected address.

January is a deceptive month. It begins with the most optimistic of celebrations: the New Year. And comes fully-loaded with twenty-one workdays. January, however, is the coldest month in most parts of the continental states. In North Carolina (where ice storms and power outages have become commonplace) the mean climate in January is 10% colder and 25% wetter than December. Even a mild storm can have devastating effects upon timelines. And, although, January is not the worst month for flu outbreaks, protection offered to those who received inoculation early in the season begins to wane just as new flu strains emerge.

In summary, if your project completion date should slip after Halloween, you may not feel on top of things until after Valentine’s Day. If you think I’m a bit harsh to call this a ‘Two-Minute Warning,’ consider this your two-week notice.

1. Surveillance for Influenza – US, 1997-98, 1998-99, and 1999-00 Seasons, CDC

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