This interesting string of wisdom comes courtesy of a conversation that I had with a friend. We were talking about office life and the inherent stresses of working on a team where everything depends on everyone getting their job done, done right, and done on-time to ship a product.
During the course of this conversation he shared with me an experience of a mutual friend who was put into a hard place, and therefore had to make a hard choice in order to be the one that did not drop the ball in the product assembly line, as it were.
Our friend was employed as a freelancer but was restricted in the hours that he could bill, on account of the company having budget restrictions. As the job progressed, it became apparent that the scope of work being asked for was too large to deliver in the limited time constraints that the company provided.
I want to pause here and cut to some words offered by author Neil Gaimen to a graduating class at University of the Arts just this year (2012).
People keep working in a freelance world … because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine.
This quote is a colorful way to refer to the freelancer golden three: fast, cheap, good. Pick one.
So my friend was being asked to either be late, do a hasty job, or go over budget (charge for overtime). Let's take a look at these three outcomes and see which is the wisest choice:
A very easy thing to do would to not turn it in on time and complain and excuse yourself by saying there is not enough time in the budget and you need to do a good job. Makes sense. You have a seemingly valid excuse. But how does this play out in the meeting? Where does the blame lay? At your feet. You are the late one. Your inability to act quickly has led to holdup in the process, and money is being lost as the rest of the people dependent on your work are blocked. Not good, you are the bad guy, easily blamed and easily cut.
(Now, I have to give a bit of a disclaimer at this junction. It is not my personal belief that this option is a part of the equation. I believe that a crappy producer will produce crappy work despite the time restraint. In fact, it has been my experience that time restraints are helpful in producing good work. Parkinson’s Law and all that. On the other hand, I also believe that there is a cut off point, there is a specific 'right' amount of time required by each project, but that time gets smaller and smaller the better you get. Anyway, I digress...)
The outcome for crappy work is a no-brainer. You can't say "I would do better work if I had more time, but instead I threw this crap together" and win the argument. Any time your work sucks, you and only you are responsible. It's easy to see who gets the axe when it's that time.
You put in the extra time, you make a good product, but you charge more for it. Imagine the meeting here. Who is at fault? What component in the machine broke? The work is good. It's there on time, so production is still moving. The thing that broke is the budget. Are you in charge of that? Nope. Someone (not you) wrote an under-sighted budget. As a bonus, it's possible that the next time around the budget may be bigger. Big win.
As it turns out this is exactly what my friend did. The company then realized that they needed a bigger budget for his work and hired him on as a full time employee. Happy ending.
The point of all this is not to say that it's ok to go over on your budgets. No. The point that when people think of problems they often think of them in terms of who is causing them. If you are causing them, they will think that to get rid of you is to get rid of the problem.
Don't be the repository for your organizations problems, let them bubble up from the source.