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  • Layne Lewis

Just Enough

Just Enough. Two simple words, but heavy on meaning that took me a lifetime to learn. Thirty years of engineering development, failures and successes, to help me recognize what is worth spending time doing and what isn’t.

My team is sick of hearing me say it I have no doubt. When I was a Project Manager at Hewlett Packard, we had a similar saying – “don’t shake the jello”, meaning that for many of us engineers, if you give us time to change something, we will. It can always be better. As a manager (and mother?) I moved to a new reality, one with real timelines and real expenses.

I learned some hard lessons during this transition, here are a few of my favorites:

• Great engineers are often not great time estimators. The worst thing that I ever did as a naïve PM was actually listen and plan according to the time estimate that one of my senior engineers gave me. HA!

• Great managers learn what multipliers to use. Seriously. I have a couple of folks who give me an estimate and I literally multiply it by 10. With others I use 4. You know what I am talking about.

• All projects MUST do all project development steps. This is one of the most vehemently argued lessons I have ever seen. Like religion. Or your choice of pistols. I stand by my statement, but submit that many of the steps can be done informally – as in on a napkin, or maybe even in your head - but you logically must work through them. Often while running or riding a horse. You must think through the project as a whole to enable you to validate the logic of each the lower level steps.

• Testing and Integration are important. Really important. And often completely left out of any engineering development schedule. “Oh testing? We can do that in 3 weeks at the end”. I once laughed out loud – like true belly laughed – at a vendor who told me, and I kid you not, “I can change all of the software in this entire device and have it regression tested in 5 days”. Turns out the MARSOC Marines I was with believed him, and then got really Really REALLY mad when it actually took 9 WEEKS. I don’t recommend having the mad MARSOC Marine call you when you have missed a milestone. That’ll leave a mark.

But how do we do it all, and still meet our deadlines?

The trick, I have found, in balancing the inaccurate work estimations with the actual tasks that must be done comes down to the “just enough” concept.

Build your team up with very talented experts and then TRUST THEM. Trust them to tell you what must be done (and what shouldn’t be done) in their area of expertise. If they stray outside of their lanes, have another expert evaluate that input, and so on. Enable the experts to help you answer the questions “How are we doing”? “have we tested enough”? and most importantly, “are we done?“.

With every project “better versus good enough” comes into play and at some point, we have to stop, and put our pencils down. Work with your expert team to help mitigate the risk that is found in every project and your “just enough” will make your customers truly happy.

Now, if only I can apply this logic to my Thursday Thanksgiving meal…..and eat “just enough” …..

Happy Thanksgiving!


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