Productivity

It's the People, Stupid: Key insights from Brightline and Google

People Succeeding.jpg

It's hard to dispute that people are the fuel on which an organization runs. They're what'll carry you from an idea or a goal to a winning product or service. Without a doubt, you can have the best strategy and the most accurate resource plan in the world, but if the people don't perform at their peak or aren't on board with your mission, your organization's main vehicle will stall before it even gets out of the driveway.

This is the crux behind the Brightline Initiative's People Manifesto, a free PDF download worth checking out. As Brightline points out, "People form the link between strategy design and delivery."

Brightline's People Manifesto includes four central principles, each of which refreshingly dares to fly in the face of common thinking and practice. I’ve paraphrased below with my own commentary:

Leadership is Over-Emphasized - While Brightline recognizes the crucial role of transformative leadership, they point out that sometimes it's best to follow someone in the know and support them to your best ability (this is true for leaders and followers alike). Likewise, not everyone's value to the organization will be as a leader, so be sure to value great "doers" as well. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everyone a leader.

Collaboration is Key but Isn't Everything - Nobody is saying collaboration isn't critical, but individual efforts and heroism play a significant part as well. I've always endorsed this approach, so I was pleased to see it considered. Sometimes, teamwork is indeed vital for the synergies it brings, and sometimes the Herculean efforts of the few or the one is what saves the day. Nurture your heroes and know when teamwork is needed and when it isn’t.

Culture is Never Built - While culture can't be forced, it CAN and SHOULD be nourished. As Brightline emphasizes, a shared sense of purpose and mutual trust can help create an environment where a positive and productive culture can emerge. Combined with strategy, a good culture can lead to greater employee and customer retention, higher productivity, and ultimately a strong competitive advantage. 

People Act in Their Own Self Interest - This should be common sense, but the fact that it isn't makes this an important point to remember. People don't do things at work out of the goodness of their hearts or because they're forced to. They perform according to their internal motivators, which can vary by individual. Brightline wisely points out that even if people perceive that something is in the greater collective interest, if it impacts them negatively, they're less likely to be on board and may even actively resist. Communicating the "why" is key, but so is learning their internal needs and motivating factors and trying to address them. I once heard someone say, "The trick is getting people to do what you want them to do because THEY want to do it."

Understanding what people want and what drives them to perform is tricky. Recently, I read a report that Google spent two years studying 180 teams to see what drives high performance. The most successful teams shared the following traits:

  • Dependability (team members could be trusted to get the work done on time and correctly)

  • Structure and Clarity (they had clear goals and well-defined roles)

  • Meaning (the work had personal significance to each team member)

  • Impact (they believed their work was making a difference)

  • Psychological Safety (they weren't afraid to ask questions or challenge the status quo)

This supports and augments the points made by Brightline quite well. Collectively, they serve as a good blueprint for getting the most out of your organization's most valuable asset--its people. If that isn't good resource planning, I don't know what is.


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.

The Advantages of Product-Based Execution

Product Focused team3.jpg

With all the well-publicized challenges inherent with project-based work, could there be greater benefit to operating in "product mode" by organizing ongoing business capability-focused teams around products and product lines? This is the subject of a fascinating article on MartinFowler.com by author and consultant Sriram Narayam (Agile IT Org Design) titled Products Over Projects.

For quite some time I've been suggesting to clients to consider organizing by product, so I'm delighted to see the concept so well articulated and thought out.

Problems with Managing by Project

As Narayam points out, with projects, an initiative is funded, a team is formed, and the outcome is delivered. Then a new project is assigned, and in all probability a new mix of players that have to go through the whole "forming/storming/norming/performing/adjourning" cycle all over again. And forget about ideation, that's a whole separate process done by "other folks." Prioritization also generally happens external to the project. Lastly, the rest of the product lifecycle, including benefits realization, is disconnected.

With a narrow focus on the scope of the project, you run the risk of getting exactly what you asked for (if you’re lucky) but not what you need.

What is Product-Mode and What Kind of Environments is it Applicable To?

In an organization that operates in "product mode," the flow from ideation to build to run is much more holistic. A team is funded based on the needs of the product category, product line, or strategy that they're meant to foster and nurture. The team generates ideas and prioritizes work. The team leads the delivery. The team owns the benefits realization, and is measured by meaningful KPIs, not just whether they delivered to a set of requirements. 

Equally important, the team sticks together beyond the lifecycle of a single project or initiative. They build knowledge and gain rapport, remaining at peak performance throughout. While the article focuses on this approach in the IT sector and the digital realm (beyond just software development), I would add that this concept is broadly applicable and increasingly employed in R&D, Professional Services, NPD organizations, and more. 

Why not create programs around your product categories, products, or product lines and have the teams responsible for the prioritization, development, and nurturing of their area? It's a much more integrated approach.

Narayam uses a case study about the development of a Retirement Calculator as an example. A financial services company needed the calculator in order to steer prospects toward buying retirement products or improving their plan contributions. A project team was assigned to develop the calculator and then… well, that was it for their role. A product-based team would have instead been focused on solving the problem of increasing sales and plan contributions, of which a calculator may have been part of. 

Impact on Resource Planning

Most articles that talk about agile and product-based approaches ignore the ever crucial resource planning aspect. Fortunately, this article doesn't, and specifically cites the staffing utilization challenges, which differ somewhat from that of project-based environments.

For instance, team sizes need to be periodically reviewed to adapt to changing business needs. Areas with light roadmaps may need to be combined with others.  As for prioritization, a central component of resource planning, cross-team "initiative" priorities must still be set centrally, with team-specific "roadmap" priorities managed by the team.

From a cross-team utilization perspective, the article notes that some team members may take on multiple roles if they have bandwidth. However, Narayam wisely cautions against optimizing solely for utilization, implying that optimizing for speed of delivery and value is more beneficial in the long run. He also offers suggestions for employing different types of teams, and even having hybrid core/flex teams, augmenting core teams where appropriate with additional resources.

All in all, Narayam makes sound points in illustrating a refreshing approach to work that is built to foster an increased value focus, reduced time to market, and greater benefits realization. I think the article is an absolute must-read for anyone pursuing greater business agility and value-focused work methods.


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.

Takeaways from the Resource Planning Summit

Nasvhille.jpg

I had the good fortune to present with some excellent fellow speakers at this year’s Resource Planning Summit in Nashville, TN.

Speakers were on hand from leading organizations to talk about good practices in resource planning that have helped them succeed, as well as challenges to look out for.

Several common themes emerged across the diverse presenters:

  • Prioritization is essential to good resource planning

  • Engagement across business units is key to allocating resources properly across the enterprise portfolio

  • An ongoing cadence of portfolio reviews and resource allocation is necessary to keep things on track

  • Paying attention to demand distribution and how people and money should be aligned across demand types can help ensure optimal resource utilization

  • The human side of resource management cannot be underestimated. Resource optimization and productivity is as much a psychological issue as it is an alignment and capacity/demand issue.


The closing day keynote speaker was filmmaker/screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men, X-Men 2, Watchmen), whose behind-the-scenes filmmaking stories brought a wealth of advice in an entertaining and humorous fashion. Some key takeaways I noted, especially regarding the soft skills of leadership and resource productivity, but also in project and portfolio management, were:

  • All environments are chaotic to a degree. Some are exceedingly chaotic and downright negative. Sometimes this is because the leader WANTS chaos. They think that constantly changing directions will keep people sharp or give them an advantage (note: It may, but at what cost?). Then it becomes a matter of how to perform well in such environments. This is true in filmmaking and in business.

    • Being unpredictable is one of the power principles espoused in the book, 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene, a Machiavellian tome described by its own publisher as "amoral, cunning, ruthless, and instructive." Hayter added that this is by no means a recommended strategy, merely an expose into the mind of such leaders.

  • People set the culture of any organization. BUT… the leader's energy (positive or negative) often spreads to the whole team.

  • Regarding projects and programs: Don't be afraid to switch gears if it'll bring greater value, regardless of how much has already been spent. In the X-Men movie, a late decision was made to involve a lead character more because it was the right thing to do, even though it added cost. The value return was exponential.

    • In general, think more toward value than cost. Some of the best ideas weren't planned from the beginning. Sometimes you may need to make a case for taking corrective or new action.   

  • Ernest Hemingway said "Kill your darlings." This is applicable to project portfolios as well. Sometimes to bring greater value, there's more to be eliminated than there is to be added.

  • When given conflicting or contradicting direction by different stakeholders or leaders, have a dialogue to address the differences. Be a leader. 

  • Chaos happens, but a good, open culture can help expedite problem solving. You may reach the same finish line in both positive and negative environments, but the latter is unnecessarily stressful.

  • Since chaos and troubleshooting are the norm, the only thing you can control is yourself and your reaction to it. Some guidelines are:

    • Don't take on a fight you know you can't win

    • A combination of humility, listening, and adapting, plus knowing when to stand up and fight back is the ideal course to take.

    • Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse said, "Be nice... until it's time to not be nice." But keep in mind the above. There is a nobility in the Zen response.

  • Leverage opportunities when you get them, but be prepared to deal with a variety of situations. Remember, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" - Roman philosopher Seneca.


In addition to the above takeaways from David Hayter, attendees were asked to contribute their favorite quotes from the event. Below is a short summary:

  • You can't change an event, but you can change the outcome.

  • Normal is the exception to the rule.

  • People are the fuel on which an organization runs.

  • Life is change.

  • Resource management is the cure for disengagement.

  • Life isn't always the party we hoped for, but while we're here we might as well dance.

  • If you want to create a movement, get people engaged.

  • The first casualty in any battle is the plan.

  • Employee entrepreneurial orientation delivers innovation.

  • General Custer could've used resource management.

  • Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

All in all, the event was a splendid time for all (to paraphrase the Beatles).


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.

Resource Planning Can Make You a Superhero: The Human Side of Resource Planning

blob

People often associate resource planning with cold numbers or hard skills, and speak in terms of "FTEs," "resources," and "head count." For a high performing, motivated team, it's crucial to remember that it's human beings we're dealing with. Unlike machine parts, human beings have good days and bad days and family issues and working styles, and all sorts of things that can impact their work, for better or worse. As one of the key founding fathers of Agile, Alistair Cockburn, once shared with me, "People are not suitcases, to be moved around at will." 

Indeed, optimizing resources means creating an environment where people can do their best work. A pioneer in the positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, created the concept of Flow, where people are so immersed in what they're doing that time seems to stand still. To enable that optimal state, they must be doing work that both has an appropriate level of challenge and is an appropriate match for their skills/strengths. Too little challenge creates apathy. A skills mismatch creates frustration. Either will reduce interest and productivity.

Of course, for Flow to happen in the first place, the environment must be suitable for it. 

A big part of enabling people to do their best means not overloading them with multitasking or forcing them to work out of their comfort zones. This is best addressed through resource planning (for lack of a more suitable term), which involves ensuring that incoming pipeline projects are prioritized and the availability of people with suitable skills is assessed. There are multiple approaches for addressing any shortfall, including delaying or altering the incoming work, securing outside or additional resources, or shifting priorities.

Management guru Ken Blanchard said, "Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people and taking care of your customers." With this in mind, you can become an absolute superhero to your organization, and the people in it, by introducing and/or improving a resource planning process that will enable optimal performance.

Speaking of superheroes, I was especially saddened to hear of the recent passing of Marvel legend Stan Lee. I grew up reading his stories and had the good fortune to meet him at a comic con a few years back, where I happened to be speaking on the art of storytelling (side note: I write sci-fi in my other life). He was a gracious man with a knack for telling captivating tales. A consistent theme he'd always preached through his characters was that doing the right thing was heroic, and that superheroes can come in all shapes and sizes.  

It does not seem a stretch to extrapolate from that a valuable lesson that introducing resource planning is simply the right thing to do. It's right for the people, right for creating value, and right for the top and bottom line. The other choice is to continue business as usual, burning people out while projects get delayed, errors increase, and customers get irate. The question then, is: Can you afford NOT to do resource planning? 

I know which option Stan Lee and Ken Blanchard would choose.


HAYTER+HEADSHOT.jpg

PS: Related to the topic of superheroes and resource planning, noted screenwriter and filmmaker David Hayter (X-Men, Watchmen, and more) will be delivering a keynote at the 2019 Resource Planning Summit in Nashville, TN (Feb 10-13). He'll be sharing team-building and resource planning lessons from the fictional world of superheroes as well as real-life superheroes, the teams that make the films, amid high complexity, constant change, and tight deadlines. To learn more, visit www.ResourcePlanningSummit.com


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.

When is Agile Not Agile? Common Mistakes to Avoid

Simpsons-sweatshop.jpg

As organizations strive to gain greater business agility, many are adopting Agile methodologies, not realizing that their implementation of it is anything but agile. In fact, it's often quite the opposite, turning the original set of guiding Agile principles on its head.

Bestselling authors Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi wrote an insightful article in HBR titled "Why Agile Goes Awry---And How To Fix It" that makes this very claim.

"In the spirit of becoming more adaptive," they say, "organizations have rushed to implement Agile software development. But many have done so in a way that actually makes them less agile." Not only that, it makes them less motivating.

The article goes on to contrast the original four guiding principles of Agile with the common practices that seem in direct opposition.

Regarding the principle of "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools," many organizations have let their Agile process become so rigid that people feel handcuffed by it and aren't allowed to question it. According to the article, developers and engineers have reporting feeling like “short order cooks.” Not surprisingly, I’ve heard this very term used myself in some Agile organizations.

And despite the mantra of "Working software over comprehensive documentation," some teams spend significant time documenting detailed user stories to the detriment of the true Agile mission of getting small experiments done in a collaborative manner.

Speaking of collaboration, the core Agile philosophy of "Customer collaboration over contract negotiation" goes out the window when the process involves work being passed like a baton from product managers to designers to engineers, with the customer nowhere in sight until release time.

Lastly, the principle of "Responding to change over following a plan" has become confused with "winging it" or "picking features that look interesting" as opposed to high value, strategically-important features that have been prioritized with the customer.

None of this is theoretical speculation. On the contrary, it’s sadly become common practice in many companies. Indeed, the authors based their findings on their study of engineering practices in 500 organizations, along with anecdotal evidence. 

The most striking finding of all was that these practices not only ignore core Agile principles, but they bring about the opposite result that Agile was intended to deliver. They demotivate people. As the authors put it, "Because they’re not allowed to experiment, manage their own work, and connect with customers, they feel little sense of play, potential, and purpose." 

It’s a sad, all-too-predictable, Dilbert-like situation. But all is not lost. The authors propose six changes to consider to better balance tactical and adaptive performance:

1. Software development should be a no-handoff, collaborative process.

2. The team’s unit of delivery should be minimally viable experiments. 

3. The team’s approach should be customer-centric.

4. Use timeboxes to focus experimentation and avoid waste.

5. The team should be organized to emphasize collaboration.

6. The team should constantly question their process.

For projects that benefit from an Agile approach (and not every project does), I couldn’t agree more. The authors expand on each in the article, so it's well worth a read.


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.

7 Practices of Resource-Savvy Organizations

Maximize Potential2.jpg

Maximizing your organization's human capacity to get things done doesn't have to be complicated. It fact, it's pretty much common sense.

Note that I'm NOT talking about increasing capacity. That's easy. Just hire more people or pay for contractors. I'm talking about maximizing the resources you already have.

To start, there are two fundamental principles at play for maximizing your resources:

  1. Increase value focus

  2. Increase performance

In other words, if your resources are working on the right stuff at peak performance, you're operating at optimal capacity. It's as simple as that.

Now the trick is how to achieve that.

For guidance, it pays to look at high-performing, resource-savvy organizations. From studies I've been involved with, I've found that such organizations tend to observe seven distinct practices that increase both value-focus and performance. 

Specifically, they:

  1. Prioritize all work - All work should be categorized and prioritized in the context of overall value to the organization. Otherwise, precious time could be spent on lower value activities. Also note that priority is methodology agnostic. 

  2. Eliminate waste -This includes excess approvals when checklists would suffice; redundant process steps; extraneous data on forms; excessive documentation that nobody will read; capturing data that nobody is using; and more.

  3. Clarify goals - If people aren't clear on the organization's goals and priorities, then their interests may not be aligned with value. Always reinforce goals as opposed to "tasks." Better yet, engage them in strategizing on how to achieve the goals.

  4. Align people with their strengths - People perform best when they're able to leverage their primary strengths toward an interesting challenge. A strength mismatch will create frustration, while a lack of challenge will create apathy. This is the concept behind the Flow principle.

  5. Reduce multitasking - It's been proven that multitasking decreases productivity. Encourage people to schedule "downtime" to focus, and avoid diluting productivity with multiple concurrent initiatives.

  6. Enable with tools and training - Even the most talented, motivated people will struggle without the proper tools and training to do their job effectively. Skimping here is like burdening your people with a heavy backpack and expecting them to run at peak performance. 

  7. Institute continuous resource planning - Resource planning looks at work in the context of three variables: supply, demand, and priority. The goal is to meet demand with supply in priority order, so that if any work gets bumped, it'll be the lower priority activities. Regular, ongoing resource planning ensures that people are always aligned with value, and that they aren't overloaded beyond their capacity. 

Collectively, these practices can drive value-focused performance, while also fostering a positive, inspiring culture. Resource-savvy organizations that have adopted them have seen a boost in productivity, employee retention, and customer satisfaction. Best of all, they've gone from reactive to proactive.

I’d venture to say they've also taken to heart the wise words of Albert Einstein:

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.


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.

How to Include People AND Make Expedient Decisions

Employee-engagement-relationships-2-1.jpg

In his insightful article on PM Times titled The Power of Team Belonging, author George Pitagorsky (The Zen Approach to Project Management) raises the importance of inclusiveness, along with some interesting predicaments. For instance, what if a team is under pressure and in the interest of making expedient decisions, excludes one or more members? 

There's something to be said for avoiding time-consuming debate, but there are always methods for including and considering alternate ideas, and informing people why certain approaches are being taken. It also avoids active sabotage. There are even ways of reframing the "outsiders" as external contributors or advisors, whether or not they're part of the core team. Pitagorsky talks about this in the context of defining formal role definitions for stakeholders.

In my book, Managing the Gray Areas, I talk about seven common leadership dilemmas, one being how to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the organization. Pitagorsky deftly addresses this issue head on, suggesting ways to make people feel included, even when ruling against their ideas or keeping them external to the core team. 

In essence, an ounce of inclusion is worth a pound of disenchantment. Plus you may get some good, alternate ideas or issues to consider.

Pitagorsy sums it up best:

The trade-offs between the perceived burden of communicating, managing relationships and doing due diligence in decision making, and the benefits of healthy long-term relationships, problem avoidance and optimal product quality should drive the decision makers.
— George Pitagorsky

I highly recommend reading the full article, and considering the impact of belonging whenever making team decisions.


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.

10 Productivity and Morale Killers That Are Crippling Your Teams

productivity-killers.jpg

With all the talk about resource capacity planning, it's easy to forget that productivity and morale play a huge role in your organization's capacity to get work done.

As Napoleon said, "The moral is to the physical as two is to one." 

Here are 10 common productivity and morale killers to watch out for:

  1. Departmental silos / competing objectives - People aren't sure who the internal customer is, which internal customer needs have highest priority, or how to satisfy conflicting needs among multiple internal customers. Also, other needed resources are unavailable or focused on other things in their own area.
     
  2. Inadequate knowledge sharing - Cross-talk is discouraged and facilities for sharing knowledge in real-time is lacking. Thus, people are working without a full set of up-to-date information.
     
  3. Lack of collaboration technology - People don't have an easy way to collaborate on work on a daily basis. This is especially critical for distributed teams.
     
  4. Culture and policy issues that inhibit teamwork - Archaic organizational policies, HR incentives that send the wrong messages, and accepted values and norms are all factors that influence a company's culture, and thus its productivity.
     
  5. Overly complex approval/checkpoint processes where checklists might be sufficient - Nothing slows a project down more that waiting for multiple approvals. If hospitals and airlines can reduce bureaucratic approvals with simple checklists, so can you. Keep approvals to a bare minimum.
     
  6. Redundant process steps - If multiple departments are involved in the chain of processes required for implementation, make sure there are no redundant steps. After all, each group only sees things through their own lens. A good solution is to have a process walk-through with all parties to ensure all steps are indeed necessary, and clarify each steps purpose to the team. Including the customer is even better.
     
  7. Poor leadership/management - Most people who leave a company do so because of their relationship with their direct supervisor (the reverse is also true). Be sure middle management is executing company values and priorities, and that they understand people, can communicate well, and are adept at situational leadership. Otherwise, they'll cripple your productivity as people flounder through their roles with unclear objectives and unsupportive managers.
     
  8. High levels of multitasking/Interruptions - As multiple studies have shown, multitasking decreases productivity. This is especially true for project managers, who, suffer a significant degradation in performance for each additional project they're asked to manage. Limit multitasking and encourage people to block off "downtime" hours during the day to focus.
     
  9. Inadequate tools, software, or training - Broadly speaking, if people don't have the tools, software, or training they need to do their jobs effectively, productivity will suffer. Investing in tools and training is always wise.
     
  10. Little or no intake filters to vet incoming demand vs. capacity - When the flood gates are open to any and all requested projects, your people will be quickly overloaded. Then everything takes longer, mistakes happen, and management wonders why projects slip. The root cause is usually a lack of prioritization or demand intake filters, along with a lack of a capacity assessment to see when the incoming work can be feasibly taken on. 

These ten items were just a sample of the most common factors that inhibit productivity. What factors limit productivity in your organization?


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.

Are You Leveraging Your Team's Strengths?

Pig-Singing_m-eps.jpg

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.


WEBINAR ANNOUNCEMENT: Join me and PDWare CTO Paul Samarel this Thursday, June 28 at 11am EST for a one hour FREE Webinar on Strategy Execution. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.


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 

Team Culture Boosts Resource Productivity

Culture - Mountain-Top.jpg

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:

culture2.jpg

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 

Focus Matters on Agile Projects, Too: Oscillation versus Iteration

Oscillation.jpg

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).

Genchi Genbutsu.jpg

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).


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 

Focus is the Key to Strategy Execution

lens-1209823_1280.jpg

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.

Napoleon on Project Management.jpg

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." 


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 

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

The Robot and Will Robinson-8x6.jpg

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!"


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 

Goal Setting Key to Project Success and Resource Planning

Einstein.jpg

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!


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 

Do You Have a Group or a Team?

modern-business-team-walking_23-2147707536.jpg

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.)

Star Trek.jpg

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."


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 

Process and Productivity: Finding the Right Balance

PeopleVsProcess.jpg

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."


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 

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

How-To-Hire-Good-Employees.jpg

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


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