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The Project, the Devil and the Dog
The first Devil’s bridge I ever crossed is in Cividale, near my home town, and it has a fascinating legend about its name. I later discovered that the story is an archetype shared with many others and, quite ironically, the most ancient bridge sharing this legend is not called Devil’s bridge.
St. Maddalena’s bridge, near Lucca (Tuscany), is a true engineering wonder built around 1080–1100. Like all of the other Devil’s Bridges, it has a nice legend.
The ability to take calculated risks is a necessary skill for a Project Manager, but the master builder went a bit too far. When he realized that he would not complete the bridge on time, he swore so much that the devil decided to visit him and offer a deal: the bridge would be ready in one day, in exchange for the soul of the first traveler who would cross the bridge.
The master builder accepted and, being a good man, he also devised a brilliant stratagem: once the bridge was completed, he sent a dog to cross the bridge. The devil, furious for having been outsmarted, threw himself into the river and never came back. The ghost of the poor dog is said to haunt the bridge on some foggy late-October evenings.
Up to a certain extent, the story is not so absurd as it might seem. During a large project I managed, I once had to take a painful decision:
- give priority to a short-term goal that suddenly came from another important project (and compromise the deadline, on which another smaller project was depending)
- keep the deadline (and the promise made to the smaller project), but sacrifice the goals of the other important project?
Of course I was not alone in taking the decision to favor the bigger project, but the simple fact of proposing it felt like playing the Devil’s part. It was the right thing to do, but nevertheless this caused some trouble to the other, minor initiative: the innocent victim, as in the legend.
It is not an uncommon situation in project management, but it can happen in any kind of activity: what about you? Have you ever made painful compromises in order to meet an important deadline?