“Of sharpening the axe”- 18 June 2013

The company had garnered a great project after much convincing and canvassing. It would fetch crores of rupees on completion in about one year. All the project needed was a dynamic leader, and so the President appointed Pradeep Kumar to head the new project, by calling him off from another assignment. Pradeep Kumar was allowed to choose his team and prepare his own time-table for the implementation.

Thus began the work on the prestigious project.
However, instead of choosing people from anywhere in the company to make the special project team, Pradeep Kumar adopted an entirely different approach. The project was to be implemented by one particular division of the company. That division had all the manpower, and Pradeep Kumar decided to make use of the available team.
So far so good. But what happened next was something unexpected. For, all the new project chief did was to call a meeting of his colleagues and talk to them for one or even two hours. He did not utter a word about the project which the company treated as very critical and sensitive to its future growth. Meetings continued for weeks, without any discussion whatsoever about the new project.
The Board would enquire about the progress and Pradeep Kumar would smile and say, “Everything in step, Sir”
But slowly, as weeks turned into months, the Chairman started becoming uneasy. He talked about the project to a few other people who reported that nothing was happening. There was a distinct unease in the company. The project was important, and stakes high. Yet, Pradeep Kumar was patiently holding meetings with no discussion about the project.
Then one day, the Chairman called him. “Yes Pradeep, what is happening? Why are not you proceeding with the project? What is your problem?”
Pradeep Kumar realised that the Chairman had been fed with some distorted information. So, he chose to share with the boss a few details: “Sir, the project is very critical and needs a very careful handling. Technology is less important in this project. What will count most is how the team works. So, I am in the process of preparing the team for the project. Yes, you had allowed me to pick up my team from any corner of the company. So, I chose to get going with the men available in the division. Therefore, I am going ahead with the members, preparing their correct mindset.”
The boss was surprised, but still confused.
So, Pradeep Kumar said, “Sir, already two months have passed, and we have barely eight months for the execution of the project to its final stage. For the next one month, I am still going to continue with our meetings. Then I would take the plunge. All I would require is only four months to do the job well. So, please don’t worry”.
The boss worried himself sick, however. How can Pradeep complete the project in just four months after having wasted three-four months in meetings that do not even discuss the project details? — he wondered.
Yet, he was a wise old man and chose to watch. For, in Pradeep Kumar’s approach, he saw seeds of great leadership. So, he opted to wait rather than jump to wrong conclusions.
In a few more days, Pradeep requested the boss to attend his morning meeting. The boss came. All stood up and said “Good Morning, Sir”. And then Pradeep Kumar stood up and spoke, for the first time, about the project — all details, well planned schedule of work, and gave each member a specific assignment. He also explained the reporting system — who will report to which boss etc.
Then came a round of responses from each member of the team. All spoke in precise language, and felt proud that they were given the responsibility. Each one also asked for one day to think about the details of individual assignment and then explain respective lines of action the next day.
In the meeting the next, the Chairman found everybody fully ready to accept the assignment. All details were in perfect order. Obviously, Pradeep Kumar had done well to prepare the team for the assignment.
Rest is history — of a great project executed with clock-like precision, in much shorter time and much lesser cost.
“What is the secret of all this, Pradeep””, the boss asked when he invited all Board members and senior staff for celebration. Pradeep Kumar was simple in response: “Sir, I know one reality. With the help of an axe, we can fell a tree in just one hour. But that axe must be sharp enough, and that sharpening of the axe takes seven hours. Through the first three months, I was only sharpening the axe.”
The people present there took some time to emerge from a stunned silence and start clapping.

This story has much to tell about project execution and team work.

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