An old folk tale goes like this:
A shop owner was in his house when he heard a heavy cart rolling outside. Curious, he called one of his servants and asked him to find out about the cart.
A few minutes later, the servant came back and replied, “The cart is carrying rice sacks.”
“Can you go and find out what they are being sold for?”
A few mins later: “10 gold coins per sack.”
“OK, how much does each rice sack weigh?”
“Oh, I will be right back with the answer.”
And so it went on for a while.
Then the owner called another servant and asked him to inquire about the cart. The new person went and returned, replying, “The cart is from two villages away, carrying 50 kilo rice sacks at 10 gold coins each. The cart owner is willing to accept 8 gold coins each if we buy 20 of those sacks.”
The moral of the story is clear. The second servant is a much more useful employee not only because he saves a lot of time, but because he understands what the owner is interested in and gets the necessary information. He is, in other words, detail-oriented.
In projects, the amount of pressure and tension associated with deadlines and quality can be significantly reduced when both managers and employees pay attention to details and anticipate what customers need. On the other hand, if they are only doing their job superficially, things fall into the cracks and escalate into major issues, sooner or later.
Unfortunately, on the list of personal traits that society places importance on, being meticulous falls behind on intelligence, communication, etc. Even though lack of focus usually seems to be a major cause when it comes to problems. People usually make stupid decisions not because they (the persons) are stupid, but because they haven’t done enough homework. Or they don’t do something because they just plain forgot.
This is one characteristic that people either have or they really struggle with. I know managers who are very precise about maintaining lists and following up. And there are people who have to be constantly reminded of a single task.
Sometimes, in a situation where you have someone really talented and capable of producing great work as long as they are focused on it, it may be worthwhile to doing the “paying attention to details” for them. So, you have managers worrying about task management, you have business analysts worrying about requirements specification and you have testers worrying about all the ways that an application can be broken. Specialization solves the problem by throwing money at it. So it is expensive.
Projects would be better served by hiring people who are better at task management and attention to details while competent at their work. And by that, I mean something more than asking the person’s recommendations whether they were good at task management. There should probably be specific tasks during hiring to evaluate whether people can pay attention to details.