Driving in Lahore is nothing short of an adventure-filled with unexpected interactions at every turn, if you're not not vigilant you cannot survive. This experience reminds me of my years of experience in project management and how similar the two activities are.
I was driving to the office one morning when an interesting thought occurred to me. I don’t think that ‘occur’ is the right word, it was closer to an epiphany which transpired because I narrowly avoided running over a motorcyclist.
The epiphany was that I narrowly avoid running over a motorcyclist on most days when driving to the office!
You might be thinking that I need to be taken off the streets but hold that thought for a bit while I try to explain.
Tintash is located on Shadman Road in Lahore. There is the main Shadman road and side lanes on both sides which are separated by green belts. It is a fairly busy road since we are located right in the center of the city, along with a busy hospital, as well as other businesses.
My daily routine is to drive past the office building on my left while driving on the main road, give the left indicator for the next turning into the side lane and then make a u-turn into the side lane to arrive at the office.
So far so good.
Now while planning to make the u-turn today, I gave the indicator and then checked the side view mirror. All clear. 5 seconds later, partially through the turn, I get a feeling! A motorcycle trying its best to go straight before I could complete the turn. I slam the brake. The motorcycle passes. Another motorcycle passes and then another... I slowly inch forward as well every time I can, closing the passage. Finally, I am able to complete the turn.
Hold your judgment for a little bit longer.
This is how traffic operates in Lahore. You have to fight for every inch. See, before the turning is a speed bump (yes we have speed bumps on main roads) designed to give people enough time to turn but whoever built it made the critical error of not joining it to the green belt. The six inches of space they left is enough for motorcycles to speed through and stop me from turning.
The extended epiphany was that I get this feeling every day when making the turn because experience has taught me that there is a high likelihood of a motorcycle trying to squeeze through my left as I try to make my turn.
Wait. There is more.
It is the same feeling I get when a client tells me that they need something ready by 20th March and I tell the team that we need to have it ready by 1st March otherwise we will all be in trouble. See, experience has taught me that there will be a motorcycle trying to squeeze through (read: client change requests and annoying non-reproducible bugs) while I try to turn (read: hit the deadline).
So rather than assuming that my left turn indicator (read: Statement of Work) will protect me, I should give myself the room to be able to adjust and avoid running over the motorcyclist.
Go ahead. Now you can judge me or read further.
In my mind, the motorcyclist looks at the 2 feet between my car and the green belt, and rubs his hands in glee while thinking:
“Ooh! 2 feet and a moving car. Let's see if he brakes in time while I try to speed through!”
Similarly, it seems the universe looks at a project deadline, rubs its hands in glee, and goes:
“Ooh! The project seems to be close to its deadline. Let me see if they can swerve and avoid all 10 interruptions I place in their path!”
I’ve managed projects for about 7 years now and the more I think about it the more parallels I find between driving in Lahore and project management. You have to expect the unexpected.
Let's look at another example.
One day I was calmly driving down Ferozepur Road when a Rickshaw driver to my right suddenly realized that he needed to take a left turn 50 meters ago. He sped up and then cut across me as soon as he was slightly ahead.
I had slowed down on instinct when the Rickshaw sped up. I slammed the breaks when I noticed the slight peek the Rickshaw driver took around the corner after speeding up. That was enough for me to make an educated guess about what was about to happen. I also understood that the next thing to check was the back view mirror to see if I was going to be lucky today. A Suzuki Mehran was trying hard to slow down but since Suzuki still uses the same brakes that they designed in 1980 I gave it up as a lost cause. As I braced for the impact I noticed the rickshaw turning after having driven through oncoming traffic.
I have no exact parallel of this particular incident with Project Management but it does closely resemble the summer of 2014 when Facebook realized that a user giving permissions to a friends data was probably going too far. Duh!
Tintash happened to be working on a social game for a client at that moment and we had to redo a lot of the functionality for the application. The most interesting part was explaining to the client why their previous application could continue to use the older Facebook API for another year but the game we were building right now would have to use the new Facebook API starting today. Thank you, Facebook (read: crazy Rickshaw driver that needed to turn 50 meters ago).
So if there’s one way that the terrible traffic in Lahore has actually benefited me, it’s to teach me (probably the hard way) the one core principle of project management: always think ahead and except the unexpected.