The following is a guest post from Bill White, the owner and founder of Succint Research, based out of Tuscon, AZ. Bill's bio is at the end of this post. Let's get right to it! Be sure to follow Bill in all of the appropriate places using the links he provides. Enjoy.
The stated and unstated goals of cultural resource management projects
It was one of those moments when you just think to yourself but don’t say anything. After slogging through the Sonoran Desert for 5 weeks during the heart of summer, my boss was telling me that the project area was slightly miss-marked by the surveyors. The area provided by the client was incorrect, so what I’d surveyed wasn’t the actual project area. This meant we hadn’t covered the whole APE. Guess what? I was going back out there to finish the job.
How did this happen? How could they “finalize” a project area without double-checking if it was correct? Most importantly, who should I be mad at?
I never did figure out whom to be mad at, but this project was an excellent example of how there are two types of goals for every cultural resource management project: stated goals (the ones in the scope of work or contract) and unstated goals (the goals of your boss, your client, and yourself).
Here’s what I mean:
Stated goals are obvious. They’re all the little things you, your co-workers, and your company have to do to complete a given project. This includes stuff like archaeological surveys, excavation, monitoring (makes you snooze, but it pays the bills), and report production. But this also includes creating and sending invoices, collecting payments, writing proposals, and reporting to the client. The client also has pretty obvious stated goals, most specifically, “getting their cultural resources box” checked off so they can proceed with their undertaking.
Unstated goals are not as obvious. This includes all the personal stuff that never gets said out loud. Your boss may have an unstated goal of staying on budget and saving money. You can probably guess your company’s primary unstated goals: make money and make clients happy. Aside from earning beer money, you also have some unstated goals even though you don’t usually think about them. These may include doing interesting work, finding and digging up cool stuff, learning something you didn’t know before, and impressing your supervisors enough to stay employed or earn a promotion.
What we typically don’t think about is all the unstated goals of our clients. Unsurprisingly, they are similar to our unstated goals. Our clients want to make or save money. Our client’s project managers want to finish tasks on budget and on schedule. And, each of our client’s employees wants to impress their bosses enough to stay employed or move up the corporate ranks.
How do you figure out the unstated goals?
Nobody ever tells you to think about the motivations and politics inherent in each project. You’re supposed to just know it. But how do you ever learn to spot the unstated goals?
Just to help you out, here are some things I think about to help me deduce some of the unstated goals inherent in each project:
Think about how business works- We all know about supply and demand, but there are three principle techniques every business uses to make money.
- Charge more for each product without raising production cost.
- Sell more products without raising production cost.
- Sell more or the same amount of product while cutting back production costs.
All three of these principles are operating all the time at every company that wants to be profitable. At least one of these principles is an unstated goal rumbling in the background of every project you do. Always remember this.
Businesses are made of people- Contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks, corporations and businesses are not people. Businesses are groups of people, each of whom has a personal agenda (i.e. they want something for themselves). It may be money, or prestige, or simply to do as little work as possible, but everyone has an agenda. Try to figure out your boss’, clients, and own personal agenda so you can better navigate the political minefield that is work.
People and projects follow the laws of physics- A long time ago, in a time far, far away (c.1687), Sir Isaac Newton proposed the three Laws of Motion:
- A body is at rest, or, if in motion, moving forward in a straight line.
- When force is applied, a body accelerates in the direction of the force. It also accelerates at a proportional speed.
- When two bodies collide, the force of the collision has an equal magnitude in the opposite direction.
What does this have to do with the unstated goals of cultural resource management projects? More than you would think.
First, people are inherently lazy (Law 1). They like to stay at rest. But, if you motivate them (or, get them afraid of something) they will start moving in proportion to the net force/Fear of God you put in them (Law 2). Also, if a person or project starts going wrong, a proportionate-sized shitstorm will start snowballing in a certain direction. The force of the collision between the shitstorm and the proverbial fan will be equal in magnitude. The project will then start moving in the opposite, and undesirable, direction (Law 3).
Basically, people want to do the bare minimum. But, when motivated by fear of losing their job, losing their company’s money, or losing prestige, they can do a number of things that are bad for business. Once things start going sideways, it’s difficult to get them back on track. Oftentimes, a project-sized eruption occurs and things get all mucked up.
Who’d I get mad at?
I went back into the desert and resurveyed the new APE. It didn’t take long and my company was able to renegotiate additional money from the client to finish the job. Turns out, the client’s project manager didn’t want to be late on the project so she gave the go-ahead before the project area had been approved. Evidentially, her department is frequently late and she wanted to make her boss happy.
This was a perfect example of how the unstated goals inherent in all cultural resource management projects can cause problems that cause problems. You can prevent potential delays by remembering that the scope of work isn’t the only set of goals.
Do you have any stories of how unstated goals hampered your projects? Share them with a comment below.
About the Author
Bill White has been a project archaeologist since 2002. He started his own business, Succinct Research, which is a company dedicated to helping environmental consulting businesses and individuals increase their online visibility using articles, innovative eBooks, videos, podcasts, and presentations. His well-received book, Résumé Writing for Scientists, explains the techniques recruiters use to create killer résumés that help place their clients.