Are You Leveraging Your Team's Strengths?

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Robert Heinlein said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

It's wise advise. So why do so many organizations keep trying to do this to their teams? 

How many of you have seen this: Accidental project managers who are great subject matter experts, but don't know a thing about influencing people or bringing a project home; Excellent technicians who can't relate to human beings but yet are thrown in customer relationship-heavy positions; Leaders who don't in any way, shape, or form belong leading people, but who were put there because they were good "doers" (aka the Peter Principle).

How much time is wasted coaching and training in attempts to fix people's weaknesses instead of amplifying their strengths? I was once asked by a client to help their best technical person, a real workhorse, become more customer-friendly. It was apparently causing him and the team frustration when customers complained. I said, "Why on earth would you want to do that? He is who he is, which happens to be a superstar technician. Better to pair him with someone who IS customer-friendly." Fortunately, they had someone in mind (once they freed her up from some activities that weren't in her area of expertise) and it worked wonders.

Having team members work against their strengths creates what I'd call "negative flow," counteracting any resource productivity improvements.  If Flow (as its conceptual creator Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines it) is about finding the optimal balance of applied skill and challenge, having people work against their strengths (negative flow) creates friction and resistance, slowing team progress along the way. This is very much a resource planning and productivity issue, yet is often overlooked as such. 

One colleague in the positive psychology movement compared it to bringing in a pitching coach to strengthen the left arm of a right-handed baseball pitcher. It's fruitless. Likewise, Tom Peters once lamented that you don't take a first violinist in an orchestra and automatically say, "He's so good, let's make him conductor!" yet companies do the equivalent all the time.

You can learn "stuff." Attitude and natural strengths, not so much. Fortunately, there are tools for assessing your natural strengths. Perhaps the best known is the CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly called Strengthsfinder) from Gallup, made popular in Marcus Buckingham's books, which I highly recommend.

Perhaps Peter Drucker said it best when he said, "The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant."

Knowing this, think about your teams. What are some ways you can pair or augment strengths that can make their weaknesses irrelevant? It can be a tricky puzzle, but it beats the alternative.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Distributed Versus Co-Located Teams: Which is Best?

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The title to this post is a bit of a trick question. When it comes to building camaraderie, boosting productivity, and gaining clarity, there's nothing like being in the same location and having face-to-face communication. However, there's more to team effectiveness, such as work style flexibility, autonomy, and cost efficiency.

Moreover, working virtually, at least part of the time, is increasingly an expectation in today's digital world, so employee satisfaction and retention is a consideration.

The question of which is best, therefore, is misleading and falls short. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The best solution is usually to combine both, having periodic face-to-face meetings, especially at the beginning of major initiatives or at crucial points, and at least yearly. There are exceptions of course, depending on your industry and culture, but it's worth considering the advantages of a combined approach.

I recall being on the leadership team for the Project Management Institute's standards for program and portfolio management (First Editions) a number of years ago. We had to lead over two hundred volunteers in a multi-year program. The leadership team and several sub-teams met face-to-face a couple times during that period. With each face-to-face meeting, we noticed a marked improvement in clarity and productivity, and the first one alone boosted camaraderie immensely. Yet, working virtually most of the time was quite effective and productive.

This article in Harvard Business Review on Combining Virtual and Face-to-Face Work offers a concise overview of the benefits of working virtually and face-to-face, and provides sound approaches for combining the two. It's not a bad guide to follow.

For more on virtual teams, see my post from a few weeks ago on Finding a Balance with Virtual Teams.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Strategy Execution is Driven by Conversations

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Whether it's conversations about strategy and priority, conversations about staffing and resource planning, or conversations about project needs, the greatest enabler of getting things done is... you guessed it... conversations.

The best systems in the world won't make up for a lack of communication. But, as George Bernard Shaw said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

The right kind of communication requires what my good friend and leadership guru Judith E. Glaser calls Conversational Intellience, or C-IQ, which is the subject of her landmark book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results.

In the book, Glaser talks about three levels of conversation, each with its own purpose:

  1. Transactional Conversation -- in which the goal is to INFORM, and at best seek give and take.
  2. Positional Conversation -- in which the goal is to PERSUADE, and at best seek a win-win.
  3. Transformational Conversation -- in which the goal is to CO-CREATE, engaging in a mutual exchange of ideas.

It is the third type that is often most elusive, and where real change happens. In this article from the Korn Ferry Institute titled "What is Conversational Intelligence?", Glaser also talks about five mistakes that lower Conversational Intelligence, including:

  1. Ignoring other perspectives
  2. Fixation on being "right"
  3. Tell-Sell-Yell
  4. Allowing emotions to affect listening
  5. Disengaged listeners

The article offers tips for dealing with each. I highly recommend reading it, and the book, which offers, among other things, the following words of wisdom:

To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of our culture, which depends on the quality of our relationships, which depends on the quality of our conversations. Everything happens through conversation.
— Judith E. Glaser
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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Simplicity Gets Things Done. Plain and Simple.

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Artist Hans Hofmann said, "The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."  I've always found that to be such a profound and brilliant statement that applies across a plethora of areas. 

Certainly it applies to portfolio management, where a focus on key priorities will drive greater results.

It also applies to process, where 20% of the standards will usually bring about 80% of the improvements.

Without a doubt, it applies to communication, where saying many things communicates nothing. 

And I suppose it applies to art as well, in all its forms.

Simplicity happened to be one of Napoleon Bonaparte's "six winning principles" that I highlighted in Napoleon on Project Management. In fact, management guru Tom Peters ("In Search of Excellence") picked up on it and often shares the below quote from Napoleon in his presentations, along with one or two others. 

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I think Napoleon and Hans Hofmann would've gotten along  quite well.

Bottom Line: Simplicity and focus go hand in hand, and whether you're implementing a process, configuring a system, or communicating a change, remember to K.I.S.S ("Keep it Simple Stupid").


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Project Priorities Are the Foundation of Effective Resource Allocation

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When staffing an onslaught of incoming and active projects, it's tempting to try to "fill in the gaps," assigning resources to meet the stated skill needs. But if multiple projects are clamoring for the same resources (and let's face it, they usually are), which projects take precedent?

This is where priorities come in. Resources (or teams) should be allocated to projects in priority order (and ideally, your software will accommodate this automatically). This way, if a lower priority project needs certain resources and they've already been assigned to a higher priority project, well, that's exactly as it should be. Conflicts can then be discussed if need be, and priorities can be reexamined. 

But it's more than just that. Priorities should determine the incoming projects to begin with. All planned strategic and business initiatives should be in support of defined and prioritized strategies and goals, and should be submitted with a relative priority (this is where portfolio review meetings come in handy).

Ensuring projects are prioritized also avoids the case where individuals find themselves overloaded and begin to prioritize their workload.

Stephen Covey said, "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities." There's a subtle difference, and it's all about whether you want to be in reactive mode or proactive mode.

In other words, rather than operating in reactive mode by prioritizing an incoming list of initiatives (many of which are often submitted based on the idea du jour or the "squeaky wheel" syndrome) or a schedule of activities, focus first on your  organizational priorities and then proactively schedule activities to deliver them (taking into consideration your finite resource capacity of course). Then, resources can be allocated in accordance with each initiative's relative priority. 

In essence, the time to think about priorities is when the projects get submitted, not after you have your daily to-do list. The project priorities should determine individual and team priorities.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Team Culture Boosts Resource Productivity

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More and more, organizations are planning and working in teams. That's an important fact to remember when talking about resource productivity and planning. Yes, heroes can and do save the day (and that's just fine. As Michael Jordan said, "There's no 'I' in team but there is in win."). And yes, the "I"s in the team are just as important to nurture as the "We." But there's no doubt that having a great team culture can boost individual productivity and happiness, and improve the overall culture of the organization. 

This article in Forbes by Molly Nuhring on Five Questions to Help You Guide Your Team's Culture is a great place to start. Specifically, Nuhring points out five areas to consider. I've paraphrased below:

  1. Team escalations - The more the team escalates issues, the less effectively they're operating as an empowered, decision-making team.
     
  2. Finding the influencers - The influencers in an organization aren't necessarily in management positions. Identify them and make sure there's vision alignment. Get their input in shaping the culture.
     
  3. Rewarding the right behaviors - Be careful what attributes you may be subconsciously (or consciously) rewarding. Note: I'd add that it's a good idea to use team rewards to build a shared sense of commitment, while rewarding and encouraging individual behaviors as well.  Just be careful to craft individual incentives that are counterproductive to team performance. It's often more an art than a science, so it's important to look at things in the context of both the team and the individuals.
     
  4. Watch Your language - Using the right vocabulary can make all the difference in a team's culture. Using words like "compliance," "mandatory," "headcount," etc., can set a certain tone, and it's not a good one. So can phrases like, "No, that'll never work" or "We've always done it this way." Likewise, Nuhring points out that it's not just language, but interaction and demeanor that you need to observe. Is there a sense of empathy on your team? Are people having fun? Do they feel comfortable sharing ideas? I'd add that language can often influence this.
     
  5. Fix One Thing at a Time - Find out what the one thing is that's holding your team back culture-wise and focus on that. Then you can move on to the next thing.

This is just a summary, so I encourage you to check out the full article. Your teams will thank you, and so will your bottom line. For now, remember this:

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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Focus Matters on Agile Projects, Too: Oscillation versus Iteration

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In my last post, I talked about the importance of focus. Nowhere is focus more needed than on Agile projects, where change is king. I particularly recall an excellent article by one of the Agile founders, Jim Highsmith, where he talked about Oscillation vs. Iteration

As Highsmith pointed out, with short iterations and close customer interaction, it can be tempting to switch gears more than once. In fact, in some Agile projects, the gears are switching constantly. The customer keeps changing their mind. Multiple customers chime in with different needs. An emerging business imperative forces a change in tactics. Or worst of all, you didn't quite understand the need to begin with (or it wasn't articulated well enough).

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This is where I always point out the need to be an "anthropologist." Using the Toyota's lean manufacturing principle of Genchi Genbutsu (go and see for yourself) or Honda's Sangen Shugi ("three actuals," representing the actual place, actual product, and actual situation), you shouldn't just assume that what a customer asks for is what they need or want. Go and see for yourself what the situation is. At the very least, you'll have a better understanding of what they're asking for.

Likewise, just because you have an iterative, Agile project doesn't mean you shouldn't have design guidelines or requirements, or even an understanding of scope. Agile doesn't mean no planning or scope. It simply fixes the time and cost, and estimates the features and scope (as opposed to Waterfall, which does the opposite, estimating time and cost to deliver a fixed scope of work). With Agile, you're estimating what can and should be delivered to meet a certain objective, both in terms of defined iterations and for the ultimate project (typically a targeted release).

But back to our oscillation discussion, Highsmith cautions that it's not always easy to tell when you're oscillating vs. iterating. For instance, if government regulations keep changing or there are legitimate learnings that dictate a new course, then it's a normal part of Agile iteration.

In any case, the point is to be aware of when you may be oscillating, and if so, take corrective action before it gets out of hand.  And to avoid unnecessary oscillation to begin with, be sure to gain an understanding of the goals and objectives of your initiative (seeing the situation for yourself where possible).


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Focus is the Key to Strategy Execution

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When companies point to their struggle with executing on their strategies, the first thing I often look for is where their focus lies. Often, the culprit is lack of a demand prioritization process, a disconnect from strategy, or both.

It's with that in mind that this article from Oliver Emberton caught my eye: If You Want to Follow Your Dreams, You Have to Say No to All the Alternatives. I think this works on both an individual level and an organizational level.

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In my book Napoleon on Project Management, I highlighted a few examples of this from 200 years ago (Nothing is new under the sun).

First, aside from his many military campaigns (mostly defensive in nature), Napoleon accomplished an incredible amount of administrative reforms in the areas of finance; education; healthcare; civil rights; and more. But he didn't do it all at once. Generally, these reforms were introduced piecemeal, focusing on one area at a time.

Likewise, when his 250,000-strong army was poised to cross the English Channel to preempt a pending British attack, he received news that the Austrians were coming from the east to invade France. Did he split his forces and send half to England and half to face the Austrians? No.

Instead, he turned his entire army around and marched across France at unprecedented speed. That was the more immediate threat. His well-coordinated army marched in seven columns across a hundred-mile front and looped around the Austrians, attacking them from behind. The battle was over before it had begun. 

Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, to try to take on too many battles is to dilute your efforts on all fronts. Yet organizations do this all the time, trying to take on every new idea that comes their way. I'll share a relevant quote from Emberton's article:

"Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success stratagem."

(Or as John Lennon sang, "How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?")

Emberton's statement of course is in the context of individual endeavors, but in an organization there's no doubt that a heavy focus on demand prioritization and alignment with strategy (in combination with reducing or eliminating lower value work) can exponentially increase the value you get from your most precious asset---your people. Allowing them to focus individually is equally important, which means avoiding multitasking like the plague, and encouraging them to have "downtime hours" where they can focus uninterrupted on what matters.

If there's one takeaway, pay heed to Star Wars creator George Lucas's advice: "Always remember, your focus determines your reality." 


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Finding a Balance with Virtual Teams: Don't Let Them Get Lost in Space

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Maximizing resources isn't just about putting the right people on the right work at the right time. It's about harnessing the collective strength of your people. And in today's world, that means leveraging virtual and remote teams effectively.

In the recent CIO article "How to Lead a Virtual Team: 5 Keys for Success," author Josh Fruhlinger points out the need to boost communication with remote teams; document team agreements and action items; balance autonomy and connectedness; break into small teams where possible; and last, but not least, to never let "out of sight" be "out of mind."

This is sound advice for sure. Finding the right balance in making sure remote team members feel included but not micromanaged is vital to success. Likewise, in the sea of new collaboration technology, it's all too easy for decisions and information to get "lost in space" -- along with the remote workers themselves.  

Fans of the Lost in Space sci-fi series will no doubt be familiar with the robot's battle cry, "Danger, Will Robinson!" That's also what you should be thinking if your remote team members aren't being kept in the loop, or worse, are feeling micromanaged. 

Side Note: As a sci-fi author (in my other life), I'm a guest and speaker at lots of pop culture conventions. It just so happens I spent the weekend with a couple of wonderful Lost in Space actors, Marta Kristen (Judy) and Mark Goddard (Don West) at a show in Delaware. You never know where inspiration can come from!

But I digress.

Anyway, here's the thing. In today's world, millennials and other employees expect to work remotely, at least part of the time. Mergers, acquisitions, offshoring, and global expansion mean teams may be scattered all over. Even Agile teams, for which co-location is a founding principle, are now adapting to using technology for boosting virtual collaboration where necessary. 

In all, there are three areas to explore when leading virtual teams, along with certain dynamic tensions to consider for each:

  • Engagement -- How can remote people remain engaged while also being trusted to operated freely and independently?
     
  • Governance -- How can guiding themes and principles ensure consistency, while allowing for local needs and personal creativity?
     
  • Technology -- How can collaboration technology serve as an enabler without overloading people with too many tools to use or making them feel micromanaged? 

Mastering these areas is more of an art than a science, and what works for one team member may not work for another. Preferences could be location or culture-dependent as well. That's where good old candid communication comes in handy, talking to people about their desires and needs. 

Similarly, you don't want to burden remote team members with constant standard recurring meetings. I see this all the time as a weak substitute for good team collaboration. Again, some team members might prefer it. Some will see it as an annoyance.

Meanwhile, I'd challenge leaders to find ways to keep people in the loop and engaged while minimizing recurring meetings, though some may be needed for specific projects. Or make the meetings monthly, with ongoing collaboration in between. Again, this is more an art than a science, and can vary with each team member.

One last bit of advice. Always try to plan a face-to-face gathering, ideally at least quarterly, but no less frequently than yearly. Every virtual team I've come across touted huge boosts in belonging and engagement after each face-to-face meeting. A face-to-face meeting can go a long way.

Whichever approaches you settle on, just remember author Mark Sanborn's words, "In teamwork, silence isn't golden, it's deadly," That's when it's time to say, "Danger, Will Robinson!"


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Goal Setting Key to Project Success and Resource Planning

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Albert Einstein said, "Confusion of goals and perfection of means seems, in my opinion, to characterize our age."

In my opinion, it also characterizes most project and resource planning efforts. So much attention is spent on improving project mechanics (e.g., critical path scheduling, task estimating, financial planning, resource assignment, baselines, change approvals, running meetings, etc.), but precious little is spent on understanding the goals of the project, and of the portfolio.

Understanding and articulating the goals leads to more informed decision-making, better-aligned resources, and greater customer and employee engagement. Often, there are conflicting goals among stakeholders, and this needs to be rectified as well. It's why Napoleon said, "It's better to have one bad general than two good ones."

Unfortunately, many leaders are overly focused on mechanics and tactics, especially newer project managers. I often compare it to someone just learning to dance; They're so busy watching their feet and counting steps that they forget to just listen to the music.

There's no doubt, when goals are clear, the organization operates like a well-tuned orchestra. Otherwise, you can have the best systems and processes in the world and you'll still come out sounding like a grade school band (no offense to parents of grade schoolers out there).

Bottom Line: Next time you're leading a program, implementing a system, or attempting to allocate resources, make sure the goals of the endeavor are understood and widely agreed upon. Fix that, and everything else will fall into place. Put another way, Focus + Purpose = Productivity. Now that's an equation even Einstein would like!


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Do You Have a Group or a Team?

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Much has been written about effective teams. But some people get confused as to what a team really is, let alone how to make it effective. As this Forbes article by Jeff Boss points out, titled "What You Don't Know About Teams May Be Hurting You", teams and groups are not the same thing.

In a true team, the people are joined in a mutual endeavor and will share the same fate. If someone doesn't do their part, the whole team can fail in the mission.

In contrast, with a group, the individuals can succeed or fail on their own merit without impacting the others in their group. In fact, with some groups, there's built-in competition, with individual incentives for those who achieve certain goals.

A department full of salespeople or business analysts, for example, is a group. Each person is likely working on something that bears no impact on the others in the slightest. However, one of the business analysts could also be serving on a project team.

Boss rightly points out that, for teams to be effective, there should be team-based (not individual) incentives, a team decision-making process, and shared goals. He also suggests building connection through better conversations. My dear friend and fellow author Judith E. Glaser wrote an excellent book on this topic alone, Conversational Intelligence, which I highly recommend. Stay tuned for a post with more on what Glaser calls C-IQ (Conversational IQ).

(Note: I was a founding member of Glaser's Creating WE Institute, an organization dedicated to helping organizations progress from a group of "I"s to a sense of "We," through research rooted in the crossroads of leadership and neuroscience.)

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In addition to team-based goals and incentives, team decision processes, and better conversations, I would cite complementary skills as a key component of effective teams as well. Think Star Trek's Enterprise crew, with Captain Kirk's boldness synergizing perfectly with Mr. Spock's logic. Or any other great team (fictional and otherwise), for that matter.

Noted author Patricia Fripp cites complementary talents as well in her article "A Team is More Than a Group of People".  (Side note: Fripp's brother Robert is the founder and lead guitarist for one of my favorite bands, King Crimson). 

What DOESN'T work is sending everyone to a single teambuilding workshop and expecting all the lessons to magically turn them into an elite team. However, soft skills training does help. So does making transformational changes toward a better team culture. Having the right mix of people doesn't hurt either.

As Robert Redford said, "Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together."


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Process and Productivity: Finding the Right Balance

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Many organizations struggle with how much process to put into place versus "letting people do their thing." There are a number of perspectives to consider.

Quality legend W. Edwards Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” My wife used to manage Deming's events, so I had the pleasure of meeting him a number of times and took a tour of his TQM principles in action on the USS John F. Kennedy. A consistent theme of his is that people don't fail, systems do.

Before improving a process, you have to have a defined process to begin with. Thus, key business functions need to be defined in terms of functional processes along with inputs and outputs of each. Then improvements can be made, either using Deming's "Plan-Do-Check-Act" method, Six Sigma, or other process improvement approaches.

But where do we draw the line between having defined and measured processes and creating an environment where people can flourish in an empowered fashion? After all, as highlighted in this Fast Company article on 5 Ways Process is Killing Your Productivity, managers can take it a bit too far, for example:

  • Damaging trust and bogging down progress with approval steps
  • Focusing on process over people
  • Excessive meetings (especially recurring ones) to "keep things on track"
  • Empty jargon-filled slogans and mission statements
  • Micromanaging and filtering new idea

One way to help ensure the right level of process and standardization is to engage people in creating it. Even the late Peter Scholtes, author of The Team Building Handbook and standardization proponent advised, "By involving people in the standardization of work, we can remove some of the oppressiveness of it. People are less likely to balk at standards they have devised." He went on to say, "We need not standardize everything."

As for process vs. productivity, Fons Trompenaars, my favorite author on cross-cultural communication (his book, "Did the Pedestrian Die" is a landmark achievement in that area), advises taking a "through/through" approach when trying to balance two seemingly opposite agendas. Instead of focusing on one or the other, think how you can improve productivity "through" process improvements, and how you can improve processes "through" a greater focus on productivity. it's not "either/or" and it's not even "and/and." It's "through/through."

In other words, always consider the people perspective when defining processes, and find ways to improve processes to boost productivity and reduce barriers.  For more on this, I expand on this and other common leadership dilemmas in my book, Managing the Grey Areas.

Meanwhile, whether you're instituting processes for resource management, project management, portfolio management, or anything, for that matter, consider the following points:

  • Before you improve a process, you need to define one
  • Keep it simple, and consider the people aspect
  • Engage people in defining the process and identifying two or three key measures of success
  • Use checklists instead of approvals where possible
  • When balancing two seemingly opposite perspectives (e.g., process vs. productivity), try a "through/through" approach to incorporate both perspectives
  • Once a process is defined, use Plan-Do-Check-Act or Six Sigma's DMAIC model to improve specific areas as needed

Author Subhir Chowdhhury summed it up nicely when he said, "Quality combines people power and process power."


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Project Estimation and Resource Planning Go Hand in Hand

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Effective project estimates and resource planning are indelibly linked. After all, if the estimates are wrong, it'll skew your resource plans. And if resource planning isn't done, it'll skew your estimates because people may be overloaded, causing everything to take longer.

In this PM Times article on improving project estimates, author Rich Butkevic points out common estimating fallacies, such as assuming nothing will go wrong, attempting to estimate tasks in a vacuum, and underestimating due to faulty assumptions based on prior projects. 

Butkevic also highlights a number of factors when making estimates, including project dependencies; past performance of similar projects (with proper cautions about assumptions of course); necessary buffers and contingencies; third party availability; consulting the team on resource availability; and more. Of course resource planning can also help from the availability perspective.

Bottom line: Next time you're thinking about resource planning processes, don't forget that sound estimating practices are a key success factor. And beware of Dilbert's boss.

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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Visibility of Resource Capacity and Demand Drives Decision-Making

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Visibility of resource capacity and demand isn't just important. It can be the difference between good decisions and bad ones.

To use an analogy, assume you need to buy a car. You have your checkbook in hand, but you have no idea what's in your checking account.

There are two kinds of people in this situation:

 

  1. The optimist, who takes a chances and hopes the check won't bounce.
  2. The pessimist (or perhaps realist), who doesn't want to take a chance and forgoes buying the car.

Both of these people can end up with bad outcomes. One may overextend their resources and the other may miss out on a car they very much need.

It's the same with organizational resource capacity. If you don't have a good picture of the complete set of demand that your people are faced with, how can you really know which projects you can afford to take on? 

Maybe you'll take on too many projects, overloading your staff and causing excessive delays. It's been known to happen. Or maybe you'll decline a potentially valuable project that you just might have been able to staff using untapped skills in your organization.

It all boils down to a simple question.

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Do you feel lucky? Or would you rather know for sure?

To avoid the Dirty Harry "Do you feel lucky" approach to project intake, be sure to have a prioritized inventory of your projects, an inventory of your people resources and their capacity, and at least a high level effort forecast of who's scheduled to work on which projects and when.

Equipped with better information, you'll find yourself getting luckier by the day.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Are You Sabotaging Your Resource Planning Efforts with Poor Talent Management?

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You can have the best resource planning processes and systems in the world, but if you have the wrong people in the wrong roles, you're sabotaging yourself.

Likewise, you need to be staffed with the future in mind to remain agile and adaptive. This is especially true in management and leadership positions.

This Forbes article on solving the big talent problem gets it right. Hire for soft skills, particularly curiosity. People who are eager learners and socially adept will shine regardless of how much technology and skill needs change in the not-so-distant future.

"Stuff" can usually be taught. Behavioral traits, not so much. There are of course exceptions for specialized knowledge workers, but that in itself doesn't qualify them to manage people. 

As management guru Tom Peters likes to point out, an orchestra doesn't say, "Hey, he's so great as first violinist, let's make him conductor!" In baseball, having been a great third baseman doesn't qualify you to be a great manager. So why do we do this all the time in business? The Peter Principle is alive and well as we regularly promote people to their highest level of incompetence. 

Bottom line. If you want to really maximize your resources, you have to get the "people" part right.

#WednesdayWisdom


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Are You Using Your Resource Planning and Portfolio Data to Drive Decisions?

A piece of spaghetti or a military unit can only be led from the front end.
— George S. Patton
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Patton was speaking to his young lieutenants about how they should lead their platoons, but this maxim is equally true in business. If you want people to adopt a new process or system, you need to actively use the data to make decisions, even if it's half-baked to start with. 

It's one of the first things I tell organizations implementing resource planning and portfolio management. Start using the data to make decisions. Pull the organization along. Then they'll follow suit. The data will improve over time.

Another phrase I've heard to describe this is: "Use it or lose it."  

#MondayMotivation


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Getting Started with Resource Planning? Use the 80-20 Rule

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The Pareto principle, or the law of the vital few, proposes that roughly 80% of the effects of a situation come from 20% of the causes. I believe this is also accurate for both project management and  resource planning.

I'd venture to say 80% of an organization's project and resource problems can be solved by getting 20% of the necessary processes and data in place. Likewise, most resource bottlenecks can probably be isolated to 20% of the resource pool.

Using this approach, where should you begin with resource planning? If knowledge is power, then visibility is king. Thus, I'd start with building the basic visibility of three elements:

  • Supply
  • Prioritized Demand
  • Effort Forecasts

For Supply, simply capture a list of your people and their capacity by time period, at least for the next six months (e.g., Johnny has 1 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) available per month for the next six months. If you can easily capture their primary skills and other information like rate and cost center, even better. Or you can do that later.

For Prioritized Demand, capture a list of active and upcoming projects, and try to give it some kind of priority grouping. Numbers work better than letters because they're easier to sort. Later you can worry about more detailed prioritization methods, such as scoring and ranking. For now, just enter the projects, whatever information about them you have available, and a priority grouping (e.g., 1000, 2000, 3000, etc.).

Once you have your supply and prioritized demand, now you're in a position where you can enter effort forecasts.

This, too should be simple. You don't even need full project schedules yet. Simply forecast for the next six months, the skills and/or named resources that you'll need on your projects (at the project level) by time period. 

For example: For Project Alpha, we need a business analyst in the amount of 1 FTE per month for June, July, and August. If you want to forecast by week, even better, because then you'll have more granular visibility of when this role might be freed up to take on other work. If you know the named resource, then forecast the person instead of the role. At this point, you don't need to know which task they're required for. This is just a high level effort forecast.

This is what it might look like if you had three projects with a three-month FTE forecast. 

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Notice that Joe is already fully booked on a high priority project (Alpha), so trying to book him for a lower priority project (Beta) in August forces the red alert. Also notice that the Gamma project needs a business analyst for August, but Sue is already booked on Beta. Since Gamma is lower priority, unless there are other business analysts in the organization, there may be a delay in that project. 

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Hopefully, you can see how, with just this basic information, now you have the data to know:

  • who's booked on what projects
  • which new projects you can take on and when
  • which roles/people are overbooked or underutilized
  • which projects will run into resource issues
  • whether your people are allocated to the most important work
  • whether high priority projects are not getting the resources they need
  • and more. 

Notice we didn't talk about timesheets. Unless the work your people are doing is billable, or unless time-tracking and/or actual costs are required for regulatory purposes, this can come later. Aside from the above reasons, tracking actuals can ultimately be useful for historical analysis when developing future estimates. It can even be done just for specific projects.

Keep in mind, for the purpose of historical analysis, there are other ways to extrapolate actual cost information that would likely be every bit as accurate as timesheets. Let's face it, no matter how quick or easy it is, nobody likes entering timesheets. And when people enter their time at the end of the week, the likelihood that you're getting a reasonably accurate picture of what they spent time on that week is slim. If you absolutely must have accurate time tracking data, have people enter it daily and make it EASY. They can submit it at the end of the week.

What about non-project work? After all, people spend lots of time on that too. 

Glad you asked, since it's an important part of the demand picture. 

You can do one of three things to account for non-project work.

  1. Do nothing. Assume people will have other things going on and account for it in your project time estimates.
     
  2. Reduce people's capacity (let's say, by 25%) to allow for the non-project time they may spend doing support work or attending meetings. 
     
  3. Or, if you want more granularity, you can create an annual "bucket" project for each area of non-project activity (e.g., consulting, meetings, admin, etc.), and forecast resource effort for those activities just as you would a project.

If this all seems like too much work to start with, remember the 80/20 rule. You could start by maintaining forecasts for the 20% of resources that tend to cause the most bottlenecks. You may not get the full benefits of broad visibility, but it's a start.

Once you get the resource planning basics down, then you can move on to better portfolio reviews, improved project execution, greater strategic alignment, and more. But it all starts with basic visibility of supply, prioritized demand, and effort forecasts. 


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Project Management?

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In addition to consulting, writing, and teaching in the business world, I also write science fiction, though sometimes, as actor Richard Dreyfuss told me at a recent event, it's hard to tell the difference.

So, it was with great interest that I read a recent article in the UK-based Project Manager Today about... well... project managers tomorrow. Specifically it was about "how project management roles might change in the future."

We've all been hearing about digital transformation and the Internet of Things for some time now. Recently, there's been buzz about breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, from the intelligent android Sophia to Emotion-Detecting AI that can detect real-time changes in a person's mood based on their face and/or voice.

How fast is all this going to evolve and what does it mean for project managers?

According to the Project Manager Today article, some forecasts suggest that "by 2030, up to half of all jobs could be replaced by robotic or AI workers." The authors cite eight fields of endeavor that could be impacted by this, from doctors, teachers, journalists, and lawyers to construction workers, entrepreneurs, R&D workers, and market strategists.

Put simply, if robots are performing medical operations, capturing news for journalists, and executing construction demolitions, and AI is preparing lesson plans, legal cases, and market studies, things could be looking a bit different in just a few years. Tony Stark-like entrepreneurs could have their own Jarvis-like AI helping the run their business. Elon Musk is probably already working on it.

Meanwhile, project managers could find themselves busier than ever with more complex projects, supporting and administering robotic and AI efforts, serving as the human facilitator in otherwise automated initiatives, leading projects to make new and better use of AI-driven analytics, and more. As the authors point out, some areas, such as pharmaceuticals, are already making gains in AI, and project managers with experience in such projects could soon be in high demand. 

Could project managers one day also gain from the benefits AI offers? Could AI assist with stakeholder analysis; detecting customer satisfaction; planning out the project tasks and resources required; identifying troubled projects early; managing risks; and more? These are  questions we may actually be thinking about over the next five to ten years. 

What about the negative impact to a project manager's career? Could there ultimately be a time when we have a robotic project manager, able to make phone calls and send emails when tasks are running late, or change gears when a resource is pulled off on an emergency? Considering project management is mostly about communication, building relationships, and removing barriers, it may be a while, though a Jarvis-like assistant wouldn't be unwelcome (aside from the occasional urge to slap it).

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Then again, once Sophia and other androids begin improving their emotion-detecting skills, they could well do more than we imagine. If you asked me in the early 70s if we could one day in my lifetime watch practically any movie at home instantly at any time, I would've said you were dreaming. Now we have self-driving cars, Google brain developing its own encryption method, Watson winning at Jeopardy, and Adam and Eve forming scientific hypotheses and determining which compounds to study. Project management may not be that far off after all.

Meanwhile, I'd like my own BB-8 to start with.

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JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Where Does Resource Capacity Planning Fit in the Context of People, Process, and Technology?

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When I talk to certain people about resource capacity planning (you know who you are), their mind immediately goes to technology resources, not people. After all, Capacity Management is a key service delivery component of ITIL (Infrastructure Technology Infrastructure Library), the set of standard processes that facilitate IT service delivery. 

In ITIL, the term resources generally applies to components (network bandwidth, workstations, etc.) or services (email, internet, messaging, etc.), not necessarily human beings, except maybe in the context of keeping those services running and available. Even the "Business Capacity Management" sub-function of ITIL deals strictly with technology services as it relates to meeting business demand. See the Tech Republic article "ITIL 101: Capacity Management Sub-Processes" for an example of this focus.

As mentioned, (and as pointed out in this OpenCampus article), ITIL Capacity Management does indeed consider human workload in the context of meeting SLAs or operational commitments for IT services. In reality, this aspect of capacity planning is often given short shrift, and if done at all, is often isolated from any big picture "people resource" planning for meeting prioritized project demand.

Compare this to the Professional Services industry, where human beings ARE their business. In this article by David Young titled "The Art and Science of Capacity Planning" for TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association), the concept of a Resource Management Office is introduced, where the defined goal is "to have the right people with the necessary skills in place at the right time to meet your business needs."

It's the same for any project-driven organization.

Caveats When Referring to People as Resources

In the professional services industry and in the project portfolio management arena, the primary resource is people. From an IT internal services/infrastructure perspective, the primary resource is technology (though people are considered as a secondary means to keeping the technology and services running). 

Referring to people, processes, and technology as resources is accurate, but there are some advisable cautions when it comes to people.

The key thing to remember is, people are not a commodity, and by referring to them as resources, we do risk forgetting that these are human beings we're dealing with, who have good days and bad days, individual personalities, and preferred working habits.

Regardless, the industry has well established the term resources in both contexts: technology and people. The same is true for capacity planning.

Addressing All Aspects of Capacity: The Right Tool for the Right Job

In the broadest sense, the capacity to tackle business initiatives is provided by way of people, processes, and technology.

Standard methods like ITIL can ensure the technology services are available to meet the appropriate needs. Process reengineering and improvement tools (such as Six Sigma) can be used to remove process bottlenecks and improve process quality.

Last, but not least, an overall resource management process and toolset (whether facilitated by a Resource Management Office, an EPMO, or some other organization) can maximize your "people resources" toward optimal delivery of prioritized business strategies.

Let's talk about that third area for a minute.

In the project arena, the Project Portfolio Management (PPM) field has already established the use of the term resources to primarily refer to people, though most PPM tools also allow for adding non-labor resources such as equipment, trucks, etc.  

Even the Project Management Institute (PMI) says of Resource Management, "Hiring, developing and retaining the people needed to turn corporate strategy into reality is of critical importance... Research sponsored by PMI shows that talent deficiencies significantly hamper 40 percent of strategy implementation efforts."

Clearly, "people resources" is a vital topic. Of course, even PMI acknowledges that the topic of resource management also can include managing supplies in the supply chain. 

Resources As Assets

When I wrote The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, I made sure the subtitle said "A Guide to Maximizing the Value of Your Limited People Resources," emphasizing the word "people," since that's the focus of the book. Of course, I've since learned that in France, "limited" can be interpreted as "stupid," but that's besides the point.

Anyway, according to the Collins thesaurus, synonyms for resource include supply, facility, means, and ingenuity. In others words, a resource is an asset that can help you achieve your goals. Without a doubt, people are an organization's greatest asset (at least until such time robots take over, but... SPOILER ALERT... that's the subject of my next post). 

Meanwhile, my advice is to consider the audience when talking about resources, clarify your intent, but also acknowledge that capacity can and should refer to technology, processes, and people, with respective disciplines for addressing each.

Most importantly, never treat people like machines. Don't assume you can move them around and load them up like trucks. Look beyond the term resources when you're harnessing their talents, working styles, strengths, and availability to meet business needs. Think of them as what they are---your greatest asset.


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Project Success - You Know It Don't Come Easy

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Former Beatle Ringo Starr sang the iconic line, "You know it don't come easy". He could've easily been singing about bringing projects to the finish line successfully.

In his PM Times article titled "Doing What You Have To Do For Project Success -- It's Not Textbook," consultant Brad Egeland highlights a day in the life of a business analyst to illustrate the many skills it takes to drive projects to a successful conclusion. And, as his title implies, it's far from just following textbook project management methods.

Much like a project manager, a business analyst, says Egeland, "needs to be a savvy communicator, a good negotiator, an independent thinker, a subject matter expert (SME) and a project manager of sorts all rolled into one." 

In fact, often both are part of a core team, which collectively can provide the necessary skill sets to help a project come together. After all, who really wants to carry that weight alone?

From communicating with customers to interpreting business requirements; negotiating with contractors and sponsors; making on-the-spot decisions; lending subject matter expertise; leading meetings; and more, Egeland points out the oh so many ways a business analyst (and project manager) must help to keep things moving at a steady pace.

As he says, none of this is easy. In fact, it's enough to make you run for your life. But it's all necessary and having the right skill set is imperative.

Note that most of this is related to communication and soft skills, which is where organizations often fall short in their training initiatives. If more time was invested in boosting skills in communication, negotiation, and persuasion (or at least assembling a core team that collectively has these skills), you'd find things getting better pretty quickly.

As Ringo's former bandmates once sang, "And you know that can't be bad."


JB Manas - website photo.jpg

Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn