Know What NOT to Do: Part 2

This is the second of a few posts that will deal with engaging with staff about profitability. The underlying theme is that we are most profitable when we are working with knowns. Unknowns are what cost us time and effort that we might not have anticipated. The previous post is at this link: Know What NOT to Do: Part 1

Move quickly and strategically to refine and solve

Move quickly and strategically to refine and solve problems (unknowns)


I’ll introduce the concept of engaging. Engaging means that we review a task and determine that we are the right fit for doing that task. For our purposes, if we choose to NOT engage, it means that we pass a task on to another person or entity. This is an intentional transfer since all tasks need to be completed, or renegotiated.

Assuming that we choose to engage. The previous post discussed that project difficulties are normally associated with unknowns. When we have unknowns, there are a few possible impacts that may have on us:


When we encounter an unknown, it will result in extra effort and hence extra money. As consultants, time = money. We have several opportunities to control unknowns.

  • Budget: We try to anticipate unknowns and schedule appropriate time and effort to resolve them. As landscape architects, we are always dealing with things we haven’t done before. Much of the time we have done similar things, so we can use past knowledge to guide us. Some of the time we are doing completely new things. We do our best to manage budget unknowns. It is important to stress that sometimes we agree to the wrong budget. If we have good project management skills, we can minimize negative impacts, but the most important thing is to identify issues and plan for them.
  • Knowledge Gaps: We are all learning. We are a team. There is almost no benefit from learning something the hard way, unless it is an intentional pathway agreed to with someone who has more knowledge. As soon as something is new to you, you need to assess whether you can learn it quickly and efficiently, or whether you should check in with someone. They may encourage you to go and learn it, they may teach you, or they may give you a few pieces of the solution to help you out.
  • Skillsets: Who is the best person for the task at hand? We should all be in a place to learn, but you don’t need to learn everything today. If someone else can do what you are doing faster than you, figure out how they can assist you. This benefits the project, and means that you meet current project goals and you will be better at it next time because you interacted with them and their knowledge.

Bottom line: Budgets and project management are in our control. The only way we can evaluate success is if we have outlined goals and strategies. The only way we will achieve success is if we have goals and strategies.

Sleepless Nights

If you have a conscience and are passionate about things, you will have sleepless nights in the face of unknowns. It’s a fact. You care. Our goal is to provide the strategies, frameworks and support network to minimize their occurrence. Sleepless nights are a product of growth and upward movement. The more responsibility that you have, the more decisions and outcomes will be reliant upon your actions. The main advice for this is to look to the root of the worries, and assess what is in your control?

If it’s in your control do you have the strategies in place for a pathway to success? You still might worry a bit, but hopefully minimally since you have done your best.

If there are components that are not in your control, have they been delegated to someone that can control them? All items need to be identified and associated with delegated (and accepted) control. If that’s not the case, the unknowns that are worrying you need to be assessed again and a strategy developed. If there is no pathway to control, then disengaging needs to be examined.

Bottom line: If you don’t have control, and can’t gain control, then it needs to be someone else’s worry.

Opportunity to Learn

We include opportunity to learn within this since this is the most intentional way to look at solving unknowns, and is based within positive thinking. If the proper framework for learning is provided, then the negative impact of Money/Time and Sleepless Nights will be minimized. We have already discussed ways to minimize negative impacts above, so the key component to learning is their implementation. Underlying it all is that an intentional pathway validates actions and allows us to define and control success. For example, a project may lose money, but it was recognized as a possibility and validated through a positive result: a new client, a new skillset or another positive outcome.

Bottom line: You can’t (and shouldn’t) learn everything you need to know on your own. You are part of a team.

The Pathway to Success

Whenever a task is contracted, part of the contracting effort is taking the time to understand the required effort, and all of the components that will need to happen for success. This can merely be thinking it through and discussing with your supervisor/team, or developing a written task strategy. The underlying goal is that a pathway for success is identified and agreed upon by those involved.