Monday, November 17, 2014

Red Zone

In my agency, we hold Red Zone Meetings when construction nears completion. It allows us to identify the areas in which we need to make adjustments before completing the project.  Stakeholders, construction folk, contractors, local sponsors, project managers, and even some of the brass from the Corps join together to see what remains to be completed.

It gives everyone a chance to revisit expectations, to discuss the way that the project should be completed, to talk about lessons learned, and to lay out the plans for turning the completed project over to the local sponsor.

For those of you who are not football fans, the Red Zone is the area within the opponent's 20-yard line; the area where the offense has gone 80 yards, and only have 20% before they can cross the goal line and score. Each team hase Red Zone offensive plays that are developed specifically to address the problems of finishing strong.  RZ offense is tricky: the closer you are to your goal, the things holding you back from reaching your goal seem to multiply.  When those obstacles are compressed between the project plan and project completion, it is much harder to slog your way, and frustration is greater, at the same time that execution is the most critical.

I love the metaphor.  And I have recently begun to reflect on the process of planning for the finish line. (I have always worked in the planning process, which takes place before ANY of the construction is done; this part of the process is new to me.)  And some questions have started to occur to me: What changes would you make if you knew that you were 80% done?  What adjustments?  What new plans would you put in place?

Last month, I joined a group of guys in hiking the Inka trail.  Beforehand, we heard horror stories of day 2; one co-worker who had done it said that going through her chemo treatments was easier than Day 2.  The first part of the day was brutal - we hiked from 9,000 feet above sea level to the impossible elevation of 13,800 feet, and celebrated at the top of Dead Woman's Pass.  Then we hustled down to 9,000', where we met the porters, who had run the same route (loaded down with our equipment and food and tents and....) who had lunch prepared for us.  Thirty minutes later, we were headed back up to the second pass, at 13,200'.  It was an exhausting climb: the oxygen was thin and climbing was tough.  More than anyone on our trip, I struggled with the thin air, and for every fifty steps I took uphill, I had to stop for two full minutes until the gasping for air receded.

And finally, we had made it through the pass, and were headed back downhill, for the rest of the day.  Out of a ten-hour hike, the last two hours were going to be all downslope. We were exhausted, but the camp slowly started to get closer and closer. 

And with only a half mile to go, we were able to see the bright red tents welcoming us with the promise of popcorn and hot chocolate (Llama Path's version of happy hour).  And the guide looked at us and said, "OK, that archaeological site (he pointed to the left of the trail) is the last thing we do before we head to camp."

Straight up.

My friend Miles and I had an honest conversation about whether we were going to go up and participate.  I mean, a huge amount of the appeal of the trip was the archaeology.  But after 11 hours of the hardest hiking I had ever done, I wasn't sure if I was up to another push.  I had not included the uphill climb at the end of the day in my RZ plan.

What happens in the Red Zone is more important than what heppens on the rest of the field.  The decisions made there are more critical, and affect outcome more than any other location. 

So what am I doing in the last hour of an eight-hour day?  Coasting?  What does my Friday afternoon feel like?  Am I pushing hard to get things done, or already mentally cracking the revenue on the bottle at home?

Football teams are defined by the success of their Red Zone offense. And more importantly than reputation, the really good things happen if the effort in the RZ is successful. 

My friend Miles looked at me, and told me it was my choice.  That he would go with me straight to camp, skipping the archaeological site, or we could go up and see what the guide was showing us.  The result was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. 

Maybe, just maybe... I'll push a little bit harder in the Red Zone. The payoff is pretty awesome.

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