Signature focus

The focus of signatories on a piece of work rises exponentially as the point of their signature approaches.

We sometimes hear; ‘the boss doesn’t read anything until the last minute, and then he wants a load of changes.’ Its frustrating, but its also human nature – the busier we are, the thinner our attention is stretched. Unless something stands out from the noise in our inbox, or our reading pile, we won’t give it the attention it might deserve until the last minute.

I was reminded of this truth twice last week: the first time when reviewing legal terms, conditions, and guidance for a web app that’ll be live in a week – the task had been abstract for months: imagining how it might look, and work, based on a ‘powerpoint spec’. Now it’s real, and so is the realisation that what we’re writing will be the focus of a lot of people, not all of whom will want the system to be a success.

For those involved, email response times have dramatically reduced, phone traffic has increased, and the people whose names will be above the shop are actively organising review meetings, wanting to know what’s being done in their name, and manage their exposure. All this is reassuringly predictable – it’d be seriously worrying if no-one cared about the detail a week before go-live, and the frenzy of activity preceding a release is just another stage of a project, where days (and nights) are filled by finding and tying up the loose ends as T minus zero approaches.

The second time I was reminded of signature focus was when writing a talk on solving the problem of business requirements for the Project Challenge Show on the 22nd March. I’d pitched the talk back in November, and had jotted down a few thoughts; sketching a few ideas for graphics to explain my ideas since. A couple of weeks before the show, I started making a few more notes (constrained a little by the demands of the go-live mentioned above) and putting together a few slides.

The day before the show, the realisation hit that I needed to focus on hammering out a coherent talk that flowed, made sense, and put across the points I wanted to make in an informal, friendly, and useful way. Unlike a lot of people I really enjoy public speaking, but while I don’t mind getting up and talking, I really don’t want to look stupid in front of a lot of people. With the motivating focus of an ultra-close deadline, I finished the slides half an hour before I was due to give the talk, with the flow of ideas fresh in my mind. Judging by the generous follow-up, it went down well.

It’s always sensible to think about things well in advance, and plan them out as much as possible, but the signature focus that deadlines bring are useful, and necessary, and occasionally entertaining.