How to balance redundancy and efficiency in project management

project manager drawing a diagram

All projects suffer from the same inherent risk: If any part of it fails, no matter how small that part may be, it can lead to the failure of the whole.

Project managers prefer to be proactive and, whenever possible create redundancies: duplicate systems or components that are supposed to act as backups in case the original system fails.

Redundancy: A Smart Backup Plan, or a Waste of Resources?

The use of redundancies has become so ubiquitous in our lives that it is in everything from aviation to data storage.

However, is redundancy always the best solution from an efficiency standpoint?

The True Cost of Redundancy

In business, efficiency, or lack thereof, can have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line, and anything that consumes more time than it is worth is inefficient by definition.

For instance, if a software team has two members working on the same exact project, and neither of them is aware of the other’s work, not only is the same work being needlessly duplicated, costing the team valuable time and manpower, but it will also prove very disheartening to the team members when they realize this glitch.

No one likes to see their hard work tossed aside; just ask Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational”.

Another form of redundancy that can prove costly is that of information.

Whereas it may be important to have backups of a company’s critical data and information, having too much information or looking through every data point without filtering out the noise can be a bad thing.

Today’s project managers are already swimming in a sea of information, and the last thing any of them needs is the same information regurgitated to them in different forms or, worse yet, conflicting information from unreliable sources.

This can prove costly and lead to poor decisions.

The Importance of Redundancy

On the other hand, if you aren’t sold on the importance of having redundancies in your system, you need to look no further than Nassim Taleb’s “The Black Swan”, a book that explores how highly improbable events affect our lives and how life is, at the bottom, unpredictable.

And, what’s a project manager’s job other than to prepare for the unexpected?

No matter how experienced a project manager may feel, there are always new surprises right around the bend that don’t conform to any old problems.

Even meticulous planning can fall short. Experienced project managers are accustomed to the fact that projects rarely meet their deadline, their budget, or both, and they rarely go according to plan.

After all, as the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”.

Having redundancies in a system is sort of like having insurance against the unexpected, a buffer against events that cannot be predicted but are bound to happen:

The employee who was supposed to make a presentation to the client today called in sick?

A good project manager will have prepared another employee and kept them ready in the wings for just such a scenario.

In short, redundancies are an investment that gives a project manager more options and lowers the risk of failure.

Balancing Between Redundancy and Efficiency

A good project manager will know when to have backup plans, and when it’s better to skip those.

They will know how to find the right balance to keep efficiency at good levels.

How to Decide What Needs to Be Redundant

When it comes to backup plans, there are several resources a project manager would like to have two of if not more:

Back up the Right Skill Set

If an entire project hinges on the efforts of a one-star player, this can be very detrimental to the entire endeavor.

The amount of inherent risk in having the workflow halt completely because the star player is not feeling up to it is too great.

Proactive managers ought to ensure that, when it comes to critical tasks, more than one person can get the job done.

Keep Data and Information Safe

As mentioned earlier, even though too much information can be problematic, the data and the information that is critical to the success of the project have to be backed up.

Otherwise, the loss of this information, whether through damaged hardware or a malicious attack, can prove costly.

Aside from the money wasted as the employees sit idly, waiting for things to get back on course, the cost of retrieving the lost data can be exorbitant, assuming the data is retrievable in the first place.

Control the Quality of Work

Quality control is like a sieve, where the deliverables that meet the required quality criteria are separated from those that don’t.

However, some sieves may be faulty, unable to sort the wheat from the chaff.

So, a proactive project manager will have more than one review process in place to ensure that the quality of their work doesn’t take a hit.

How to Ensure Redundancy Doesn’t Get in the Way of Efficiency

The biggest mistake you can make as a project manager is to have too many backup plans.

These will drain your resources and nip away on the overall project quality, which can ultimately derail the whole project.

So, when is it time to stop?

Be a Single Point of Contact (SPOC)

A run of the mill project manager is one who plans a project then oversees it and tries to solve problems wherever they arise.

A proactive project manager is one who tries to think ahead, see what elements might be problematic, and have contingency plans for them.

Even though a lot of problems that pop up tend to be unpredictable, proper preparation will give a manager a better chance at minimizing the resulting damage.

In short, a proactive manager is one who thinks with redundancy in mind.

When a project is operating across several different systems, there should be one project manager responsible for the whole endeavor:

When there are a lot of cogs involved in a single project, it is a good idea to have an individual act as a “single point of contact”, also known as the SPOC, who in this case will be the project manager.

This will prevent any confusion from taking place and will ensure that no two employees work on the same exact task.

Preach Simplicity Above All: KISS

KISS stands for “Keep it Simple and Stupid”. Complicating matters needlessly will only harm a team’s overall productivity and amplify any inefficiencies present.

So, when a project manager is assigning roles, breaking down tasks, or coming up with a plan, it is worth remembering that the simpler, the better.

This will even make it easier to avoid unnecessary redundancies while allocating time to ones that are likely to pay dividends.

Take Control of Information

With regard to redundancy problems caused by the over-availability of information, there are two things project managers can do: Control the quality of the information coming in and controlling its quantity.

To control the quality of information, project managers should start by always looking at the source of the incoming information. It is advisable to make sure that the information is from a reputable source, one that backs up what it says with verifiable data.

Project managers could subscribe to high-quality publications, and if the information is internally generated, then they should verify the data, where it came from, how it was processed, and how the final information was arrived at.

As for managing the quantity, project managers might want to create their own information management system, an automated set of protocols that help with filtering any incoming information.

Another idea is to create a disposable email address, one that serves a particular purpose then gets chucked to the side.

This will ensure that information from different sources doesn’t get mixed up, and once an information source is no longer relevant, it gets excised from the project manager’s feed.

Be an Efficient Communicator

The success of any project is related to how well the team members communicate with one another: It is not enough that a project manager effectively communicates with their team, but the team members themselves have to communicate with each other.

A good manager will find a way for their team to communicate without having to conduct hourly meetings, an efficiency killer.

This could range from boards that tell the essentials to well-orchestrated meetings that wrap up in under 15 minutes, kind of like Scrum meetings.

What matters is that everybody knows what everyone else is doing, and at no point is the left hand busy replicating the exact work the right hand has been laboring over for the past couple of weeks.

In Sum

When used right, redundancy can be a useful tool in a project manager’s arsenal. But, left unchecked, it can backfire and lead to a waste of time, effort, and money.

Every project manager has to start by asking themselves what are the mission-critical elements of this project and how they can be replicated.

After that, with a little proactivity and a pinch of communication, everything should be right as rain.

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