When Wait and See Backfires

Read the warning signs and act decisively to manage your project to plan.

This past spring I woke up with water in my ear. That feeling of pressure. I looked like a Three Stooges routine whacking the side of my head to alleviate that sensation. I’ve had water in my ear before and it generally resolves itself in a day or two. I decided to wait and see what happened.

say what nowA week later I entertained the idea it was not water, but some sort of blockage. Plenty of acquaintances shared their experience of having their ears flushed. I decided it must be that, a massive ball of wax in there (ewww!). My neck was starting to get sore from the Three Stooges routine.

Another week and I’ve returned to my original thought, water in my ear. It feels just like that. I go to CVS and purchase the Swimmers Ear drops. Night one, administer the drops. No real improvement. Day two, another round of drops. Now I have pressure and PAIN! Ok, time to see the doctor.

Four days later, her diagnosis is seasonal allergies. Hmmm. I don’t actually have allergies, but what do I know. I use the nasal spray, take the tablets, things get better, I guess. At least for awhile. Autumn arrives. Pressure is back only this time I sorta can’t hear either. Back to the spray and pills except there is no improvement. Time for the big guns…the Ears, Nose and Throat specialist. After two hours of exams they have determined all sorts of things are going on, not to mention I do, in fact, I have a minor loss of hearing, which may or may not be permanent.

What!!?!!? How the hell did that happen?

Freaked out, I am looking for a plan. And I got one. A good one. One that has all the elements of the type of plan that is put in place to resolve an issue. This doc asked a ton of questions, and so did I, and then she laid it all. Here are the likely culprits. This is how we will test things out to determine which one is happening. You will do this for so long and then you will assess. If this is the case do this, if not then do this. Be back here in this amount of time for us to formally re-evaluate both the issue and any damage.

Turns out my approach of wait and see, like the one that so many project managers employ, was not only ineffective, it may have made things worse. And my second approach, which made things feel better but didn’t actually get to the heart of the problem, only delayed the inevitable reoccurrence and… probably made things worse. In project parlance, nasal spray and decongestant is the equivalent of adding resources without knowing why you need them. In a broader sense this is only another version of wait and see.

While acknowledging there even is an issue is a fabulous and critical first step, it is only that: a first step. You have to investigate and analyze to know what caused the problem. Yes, you need steps for damage control but they should not be in lieu of steps to test your theory on the root cause. Sure, use that nasal spray, or hire some short term staff, but do it with an expectation of what the result should be. Set a specific period of time to actualize those results. Know what your next steps are if you do or do not see that expected outcome. Be prepared to take those additional steps. Most importantly, you must continue to monitor both what is happening and the condition of what has been impaired. You need to know what has been lost and where you have the possibility of improvement.

To be clear, I am not saying that you cannot use a Wait and See Approach. I am saying make sure it fits into a plan for addressing what is taking place and what has been done. Use it with intent to discover a pattern or verify an issue exists. Establish metrics, timelines and next steps for the wait and see period. Make it part of a well-conceived plan for resolving the issue and its cause instead of a mechanism for justification or denial of the problem.

Where is your wait and see approach becoming part of your project problem?


What is the root cause behind what you’re struggling with?  To find some answers and insights try Journaling about it at www.MeetMaple.com.

Originally published on October 26, 2011

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