"Assumptions not documented now become excuses later." It was a favorite line of a former mentor of mine. I've used it plenty of times during project communication presentations. I even made reference to it in my first book. And what I didn't realize is that my eight-year-old was paying more attention to me than I ever credited her for.
My wife and I have been "persuading" her all summer to clean her room so we could paint it. We purchased a new quilt and agreed on a paint color. The only critical path was the
tidying up archaelogical dig it would take to plow through a world of eight-year-old treasures clutter. Last night, I decided to provide a teachable moment to my daughter. We drew up a contract. We discussed what the final deliverable looked like (because for some kids, "clean room" is an ambiguous concept). We covered timeframes. We documented consequences for failing to deliver. And to be fair, I asked her to document assumptions... what did she need from me to ensure successful delivery of the project?
- Hourly check-ups to provide feedback
- Move objects too heavy for her to carry
- Keep her little sister out of her room during the project
- Allow appropriately productivity-inducing music of her choice.
All seemed reasonable. Everybody signed on the dotted line before bedtime. We were ready to roll the next morning... until... where's my Miley Cyrus CD? Miley who? You know, Dad, Hannah Montana. Oh, that Miley Cyrus. Billy Ray's kid. The one who actually can sing. Then the news hit me: her mother had taken away the CD and hid it as punishment for an earlier (and now expired) infraction. Worse yet, her mother had forgotten where she hid it.
I tried negotiating. "Can't you listen to the soundtrack to Wicked again? You've only heard it 15,000 times. What's one more?" Nope. "Isn't there at least one Princess song you haven't memorized?" Princess songs are uncool past the age of seven. She resolutely pointed out the terms of the contract as she sweetly and innocently asked me, "What's the balance on your iTunes account?"
I blanched. The same iPod which housed the likes of Billy Joel, Alabama, Bon Jovi, Dave Koz, Johnny Cash, Marc Cohn, Blackhawk, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Connick Jr, Christine Kane, and Norah Jones was going to share giga-space with (gulp)
Disney Bubble Gum Demon Spawn Miley Cyrus? But a deal's a deal, and a contract's a contract. After listening to the same six songs repeat in a three hour continuous loop (who says you can't tell time in Hell?), the room was cleaned.
I'll probably leave the songs on my iPod as a reminder. And next time I negotiate a contract with my 8-year-old (or anyone else, for that matter), I'll do a quick refresher course of Rush Nigut's tips for contract negotiating... while I'm re-reading #3, I'll listen to the most recent iPod additions. That should cement the lesson for a long, long time. As Miley croons in her nasally adolescent voice, "Everybody makes mistakes." Just don't tell my achy-breaky heart about it.