We missed a deadline the other day. By three minutes. It sucked. Might as well have been 300 minutes, since the late minutes tolerance was zero.
[Parking meters are like this – have you noticed? You can pump in a whole month’s worth of collected quarters for a few hours parking. But return to your car just a few minutes late and you might find yourself with a ticket for “non-payment”. What? You just paid lots of money. You didn’t NOT pay; you just got back a little late. No matter. Parking meters are binary. You either did or did not pay for this particular minute. That’s it – no maybe, no almost.]
As I was saying…
We knew we were running a risk. We flew (as much as cars can fly in metro DC) to the designated office for hand delivery of our package – a package of recycled paper and other materials, detailing how we proposed to exert our professional efforts to further the green cause of this particular government agency. This agency, by the way, insisted all submitted materials be delivered in hard copy, actually in six hard copies – all on recycled paper but still, six sets of paper. No electronic entries accepted. (Is that just a little surprising?)
Anyway, I pulled to the curb and my teammate sprinted out the door with package in hand, racing to the fifth floor. A few minutes later she reemerged, still holding that package – the one she had worked so hard to format beautifully, made conform to all the rules, and enhanced with a touch of flair while still adhering to all the very particular “green” requirements.
The look on her face said it all. In mere moments our week’s work – ours and that of our collaborators – all fell to naught. It was a painful realization, at least at first.
As we worked to swallow our disappointment some lessons started to emerge for me:
START EARLY – We didn’t have a lot of notice about this proposal opportunity, but still. Things always take longer than we think they will. Always. We should just plan for it.
BE ACCOUNTABLE – All parties involved need to be accountable for deadlines agreed to and promises made. It’s hard to work collaboratively if you can’t count on these things.
IF IT FEELS LIKE IT’S NOT WORKING, MAYBE IT’S NOT – This is a tough one. It flies in the face of “never give up; never surrender.” Ever have this feeling…? You’re doing your darndest to push through something – writing, creating, whatever – and it’s just not happening. The pieces don’t seem to fit, the clock keeps marching on, anxiety is growing, and the target seems ever elusive. It really depends on what your goal is, but in some cases maybe these feelings are cause to declare a time out. Even a short one, but an opportunity to re-assess what is happening, poll the team, and then either recommit, or adjust the strategy, or make a different decision.
We had a few such points in the project referred to here. But we kept pushing through. Don’t get me wrong – determination is good! But let’s give ourselves permission to change our minds occasionally, when the situation seems to point that way. We don’t want to back down in fear, but there may be times when our thunder is best saved for another opportunity.
Beyond the lessons learned, I also find some redemptive qualities in our disappointment:
WE HAVE GAINED VALUABLE EXPERIENCE – We are now more practiced at what this kind of effort takes. We have the knowledge to better organize ourselves, to watch out for the pitfalls we have tripped into in the past.
WE HAVE BLOCKS OF TEXT THAT WILL BE REUSABLE IN FUTURE EFFORTS – Our proposals are custom written for each situation, but there are sections that are consistent across many of them. We have updated, revised, and fine-tuned many of these sections and will save time in future efforts by reusing them.
NOT WINNING THIS CONTRACT MAY BE A BLESSING IN DISGUISE – I don’t know if my boss would agree with me on this one. But navigating the wavy line between furthering this client’s “green” goals, while adhering to administrative requirements that seemed to go counter to that mission was not something I looked forward to.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’m ready for the next challenge and optimistic about our prospects. Bring it on!