Time Horizons in Higher Ed
Carl Gratiot: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, Time Horizons in Higher Ed. And now here are your hosts, Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.
Kristin Van Dorn: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about quality against time, and I think that we have a false sense that these two ideas or concepts are intentioned with one another.
I think, yeah, it does take time to do good work, and I don’t wanna deny that, but I always feel like when you take too much time on something, you allow all of this, like you allow things to go cold, you allow, all this extra work of getting like reacquainted with something after a couple of days of being away from it or, picking up where you left off.
Like all of that takes a tax and takes a toll on the quality when you allow something too much time and too much space to be worked on.
Joel Goodman: Another weird side effect is that when you put too much time in the middle of a project or the middle of a task, you’re leaving more opportunities for something just wild to go wrong or some emergency to crop up, or you know, some big change to happen that you may not have anticipated when you started the thing, you know, and that can affect the quality, but it can also affect the time even more. It makes that it so there’s kind of a diminishing return on both of them when you allow these kind of surprises to show up.
Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. So in the life cycle of project management, anytime you have a project that’s going on too long, it’s going to be vulnerable to shifts in the environment.
So you might have a change in budget status. You might have a change in the people that are working on the project because they have issues that crop up or they leave or they leave and come back. But, the longer your project’s time horizon is, the more vulnerable it is to those interruptions that are going to potentially change the scope of your work or throw your work off course.
And then you have the process of editing and picking up to the new standard that just got moved. So the longer your time horizon, the more of a shifting bullseye it is to meet your target.
Joel Goodman: I’ve experienced this a lot in my 16-ish years in Higher Ed especially, I think we see those shifts in staffing and priorities, and budgets happen a lot because it’s an industry that’s very, it hinges a lot on people’s whims.
Right. And the political policies of how you deal with those whims are, are so different, from a lot of other, a lot of other places. But I, but I also think, or, or I don’t know if this is true, but Ihad this thought, so I wonder if it’s also why in startup circles there’s been that move fast and break things mantra that Mark Zuckerberg coined when Facebook was starting up.
This whole idea that if you just work and do stuff and get the thing done fast, you’re kind of eliminating a whole lot of variables that could come in from other areas and really just kind of mess up your flow, but at the same time, creates, you know, you may see other errors come up or you may have to pivot a little bit, or you may have to make changes after the fact, but at least you’re not having to deal with all these environmental variables.
Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. So I know that when you hear that move fast and break things mantra, that Higher Ed people get freaked out. They get freaked out for a number of reasons. One, it’s not a fast moving industry anyway, just by the nature of the beast. B, the other issue is that, time is relative, right? So they think move fast means moving way faster than they’ve already been moving.
And break things, they’re accountable to public dollars in many cases if you’re a public institution. If you’re a private institution, you’re still accountable to donors and to alumni. And so I think the break things mantra throws them off course too. They’re like, well, wait a second, nothing should ever be broken, ever. It should always be in a state of perfection, which is impossible and it never is.
But if you can consider that just moving a little faster than you’re moving right now is probably a good step in the right direction, you can avoid a lot of the pitfalls of having that super long time horizon that’s gonna change your environment. Cause the thing is, you’re not capitalizing on the success of a well launched thing.
If it takes three years to launch or if it takes extra time to get there, what’s gonna happen is you are in the time between when on a short time horizon, you were building up all this capital or all of this equity in the product that you launched. If you have a long time horizon and things change, you’ve lost all that opportunity for that equity.
Joel Goodman: Yeah, definitely. I used to see this a lot, or, or I guess I noticed it when I was still working on a campus. A lot of competitors would take, you know, a really long time to, to do a web project and they would write all their content at the very beginning and then it would take, you know, six months to do the design and dev work for it.
And then, you know, you’re at a point where, you know, if, if say like your design took two or three months, then your dev work took three or four months after that, with the speed of how public opinion changes, of how fast tech changes, how fast design trends change. It always felt like it would be very easy for, for those projects to get out of hand and just be irrelevant as soon as they were launched because they took so long to do.
But the difficulty is that these projects are huge. Like, it’s, it’s writing hundreds of pages of content and it’s designing full design systems for, you know, for brands that haven’t really approached that yet on the web. It’s, it’s building tech that’s meant to do a whole lot of things, or dealing outdated tech stacks that, you know, you don’t want to build something on because you know it should be more modern.
It’s interesting the amount of shifting and change that can happen with those extended time periods.
Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah. And I think with Higher Ed, you have so many people with those nebulous job descriptions, like all of these job duties and other duties as assigned. So when you have staff that wear many hats and take care of multiple things under their employmentbrella, what happens is when you have a big project, an enterprise level project or a product that you’re trying to change features on, or something that you’re trying to elevate, and you have staff members that are individually dispersed across the organization in terms of responsibility, they only have, you know, five to ten percent of their week, which might work out to be like four or five hours at the most to devote to the thing that you’re trying to upgrade.
So imagine trying to write all the new content for a website with four to five hours a week. That’s gonna take you maybe two plus years to get through. And each time you get into the work you’re going to realize you have to figure out where you last left off. And that means that any internal project is vulnerable as long as you’ve got that long time horizon that’s sending you out.
Joel Goodman: Yeah. And and the reality is a lot of those roles that exist in, especially in marketing departments in Higher Ed, are, they’re really maintaining roles, right? They’re not meant to start up new projects because they don’t have time to start up new projects. They have to deal with all of the, you know, the content debt, the cruft that’s built up to try and maintain a status quo, but I guess maintain and improve a little bit. But they’re not like radically shifting. They don’t have the time to make any of those sorts of decisions, and that’s what makes that tough.
And I think that’s why a lot of times you see a Higher Ed marketing organization needing to go to outside help, whether that’s an agency partner, whether that’s a consultant that’s coming in to help them kind of get things set straight.
It’s that no one internally, none of their core competencies lie in doing the brand new stuff, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have time to do it because they have to maintain.
Carl Gratiot: Thank you so much for listening to Appendix B. If you’ve listened to the show for a while now and are feeling generous, we would love it if you would tell somebody about it, it really helps. And if you’d like to hear more from us at Bravery, please check out our Higher Ed Hot Takes newsletter by visiting bravery.fyi.
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