Deal Overload

Author: Victor Menasce

I’m continually bombarded with offers to participate in deals. The vast majority make no sense. They’re not even close to meeting our criteria. Those are easy to say no to.

What’s more difficult is learning to say no when something is attractive enough to meet our criteria.

It’s a little like the chipmunk with an acorn in each hand, an acorn stuffed in each cheek, and there’s an acorn on the ground in front of them. In order to pick it up, the chipmunk needs to put one acorn down.

I’m often approached by people who have a great deal. Having built a reputation for executing well on projects, people have a habit of assuming that I’ll do any great deal.

I’ve discovered that my scarce resource is time. There are only so many hours in the day. Projects are hard. All of them. They all require focus. They all face obstacles and surprises.  Management attention goes towards managing the exceptions. Even in the case of simple projects, there is a period of intense work. You have to maintain your capacity to manage problems when they come up. If you enter an overload situation, then you can experience a cascade of delays and poor execution across all your projects. At that point, everything starts to look like a problem, even routine items.

Everything in this business requires attention to detail. For example, I’m in the middle of managing 6 projects that are currently in various phases of construction. We also have a portfolio of completed projects that are going through a “routine” refinance. At the end of the refinance is a return of capital to investors.

The accounting staff can and does make mistakes. This is natural because there is complexity. It means that the math in each investment payoff letter needs to be double checked. I’ve made errors in calculating accrued interest. The math isn’t simple. Now these sound like routine items, and in many respects they are. But unless you have enough staff in your business to afford the additional quality control staff, the quality control function will fall to your senior management team.

It comes down to your team’s ability to manage the execution of multiple projects. That’s always the constraint.

I’ve received no less than 6 offers to participate in projects in the past week.  I’ve had to say no to every single one.

When I say no, I’m not rejecting the individual. I’m simply saying that I don’t have the capacity to take on more projects. I believe there’s an art to saying no. Hopefully those who have received a no from don’t feel as though I’ve rejected them.

Adding capacity to the team can solve the problem, but not in the short term. Adding capacity requires the hiring and integration of new team members. That takes time. Unless you’re bringing someone on board who has tremendous skills, and is a self starter, it will take time before their contribution is a plus.

Another option is to delegate existing projects that might be less attractive than the new opportunity. However, that carries some risk. If the people executing the less attractive project don’t do a good job, the reputational risk is yours. Even a small project can represent a big problem if problems crop up.

I’ve discovered that its important to close the door to new opportunities until you have the capacity in the organization to handle it. Small teams often have the ability to handle only one project at a time.

If you want to expand your team’s capacity, then you want to think carefully about your hiring process. It’s sometimes risky to hire ahead of the income curve. You don’t have the income yet from those new projects, so you can’t afford to hire. You can’t take on more projects unless you expand the capacity of the team by hiring. It’s a circular argument from which there’s no escape.

Another option is to bring senior members into the organization and make sure that those senior members have the ability to take over and execute the more established projects with minimal oversight (but not zero) from your existing core team members.

In the meantime, maintain focus. Focus is a word that can also be parsed as an acronym. It stands for Follow One Course Until Success.