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Shortcuts Are Not Always Shorter

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Shortcuts Are Not Always Shorter

I visited the Great Wall of China. The feeling of awe is hard to escape.  I marveled at what had been built and the thought that went into the design and implementation.  The wall was built as protection from invading forces.  To further repel or slow down an army if they breached the wall, the steps are not uniform in height and would naturally slow down anyone unfamiliar.  The wall, at least large portions, is well-preserved and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I came across an article reporting that a construction crew used an excavator to remove part of the wall to create a shortcut to reduce the time to get to their project site.  From the outside, of course that should not happen.  How could they think it was permissible to damage the wall in the name of saving a little time?  After shaking my head in astonishment, I realized we routinely take shortcuts.  We have become conditioned to do things as fast as we possibly can.  How often do those shortcuts pay off?  I suspect less often than we might expect.

Slow and Steady

The parable of the tortoise and the hare teaches us that taking our time and making steady progress will get us over the finish line first.  Our competitors may claim they can finish a job faster or cheaper.  Too often, a project owner only looks at the end date or price tag.  From a business perspective, that may be a project you will be willing to lose if the client does not ask the right questions, concern itself with safety, or respect the advice of a responsible company.

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

We have all likely seen the depiction of this in cartoon form.  A fundamental question can be asked about why shortcuts are even considered.  In my experience, it goes back to poor or incomplete planning.  When I teach about project management, most of my time is spent focusing on the planning activities.  What are the activities, the duration for each, how do they get sequenced, dependencies, and possible challenges to successful completion? 

We Don’t Have Time

The sad and applicable adage is: “We don’t have time to do it right, but we have time to do it twice.”  How often does this rear its ugly head when we take shortcuts?  Some things just take time. We can’t rush them.  There is a minimum amount of time needed to let concrete set and the daily safety briefing is minimal compared to the lost time due to an incident or injury that halts all work.

Let’s make sure we dedicate the appropriate amount of time needed to deliver our personal work or projects safely and with high quality.  It may involve a difficult conversation, but that shortcut may be a sharp left turn down a dead end street.

As always, you can reach me at

Michael Riegel


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