The more we complicate our lives, the less space remains to fill it with value

I was talking with my Colleague about Seth Godin and bam! the first article I see rings true like a church bell to me – A productivity gap:

You’d think that with all the iPad productivity apps, smartphone productivity apps, productivity blogs and techniques and discussions… that we’d be more productive as a result.

[…]

Isaac Asimov wrote more than 400 books, on a manual typewriter, with no access to modern productivity tools. I find it hard to imagine they would have helped him write 400 more.

Productivity has nothing to do with all of the fancy tools out there. Of course, that’s my opinion, and my opinion only. And believe me, I “invented” lots and lots of tool-related problems in order to waste time solving them later on. If anything, tools *might* draw us further from being creative as we begin to focus more on the process rather than the outcome itself – perfecting the *how* instead of shipping something worthwhile. We don’t need much in order to do good. The flip-side – the more we complicate our lives, the less space remains to fill it with value.

Reference: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/12/a-productivity-gap.html

Lessons learned: do not forget about milesone plans

PRINCE2 distinguishes between management and technical, specialist products. The first are “value enablers,” the latter drive the real value for the customer. Both are needed — assuming the right balance, but it is technical products that build the project’s backbone.

There are companies where extensive control processes diminish the clarity of the value for the customer. The key aspect then is the organization’s project lifecycle — its phases determine the key dates for the project.

In such organizations milestone plans — the ones based on key technical deliverables (groups of deliverables) — are a rare thing to find.

Lesson learned
When developing the scope, building a WBS, and later on — continuing with a schedule, we should still create a milestone plan, presenting the completion of key technical products (not project lifecycle phase gates). Such a plan is particularly useful when reporting progress and when discussing the project with the organization’s management.

Evernote Camera Roll 20131215 213016

 

What do you create?

Life isn’t only about experiencing. We have the right to create. What do you create then? Do you fill the world with sounds, scents, and colors? Do you paint, compose music or build with hope and kindness? Are you supportive and helpful? Do you create things?
 
Focusing on consumption — experiencing life only — may leave us longing for value in our existence. Especially if we lose balance between experience and creation. Humans want to feel useful and only by giving — even sharing a smile in a corporate corridor — we can feel complete.

To be there is often enough

One of my favorite quotes is Woody Allen’s famous:

> 80 percent of life (success) is showing up.

According to the author, success lies behind making an attempt.

But even when we feel overwhelmed, when we consider giving up, if we do show up, we find ourselves doing our best anyway (provided we have decent work ethics). To be there is often enough. In many ways.

A Formidable Organization

“A formidable person is one who seems like they’ll get what they want, regardless of whatever obstacles are in the way.” – Paul Graham

A formidable organization is one that limits the creation of internal obstacles.

Editor’s note (2013-08-11):

It occured to me that limiting the creation of internal obstacles is rather good enough. To be truly formidable, an organization would need to actively seek for ways to reduce the number of such obstacles.

No limit to efficiency?

I got fooled. I tought there was no limit to efficiency. I was wrong. And it’s not simply the inability to do faster or more things at once. You can process things faster, to some extent. You can do more, but only to a certain degree. There is a price in the long run and that is something we tend to ignore. When dealing with people, pushing the effectiveness bar too far and overloading the employee might influence the atmosphere at work, result in burn-out, and generally — decrease job satisfaction.

Every knowledge work needs introspection — the time & space to… 

  • Incorporate new knowledge
  • Build on latest experiences
  • Link between different domains
  • Gain strength to improve further

Routine helps greatly. It creates space. But most important is to simply allow time. To limit work in progress. To allow play.

Many words have been written & said about the “myth of 100% effectiveness.” I have learnt my own share and cannot stress how destructive this kind of belief is. While adding to the burden helps improving one’s tools and processes to some extent, it destroys too much to be justified in the long run.

Where is your PMO?

Where are project portfolio decisions made in your organization? Where are priorities set up — say, based on strategic goals and key development areas? Finally, where is the PMO located in the org’s structure?

Surely, it depends.

IT rulez!

Some organizations do not face many portfolio-related decisions (of the “what do we do with our strategy” type). These might have never reached a high level of push on projects — due to a lack of funds, complex structure with competing goals, and/or decision bodies. Oftentimes, they do not have a PMO at all. If anything — there’s one scattered on the IT side, dealing with both Business and IT projects. At some moment in time, infrastructure projects may be separated from the rest. That’s it. There’s hardly any development inhouse — most of it done by external suppliers.

it_rulez_small

Neither the Business nor IT know much about what the other does in “that other black box”.

Too much money?

There are organizations where there’s so much money that IT becomes a bottleneck. It’s costly, incomprehensible, always asks for more time, and… “why can’t these guys dress up in the first place?” Portfolio decisions are then made on IT level — what goes, what stays, obviously with management involvement, but with a very important stake in IT altogether. I’ve come across organizations where there was hardly a need for individual steering committees for that reason. What for?! We need to process financial decisions in a FIFO manner on portfolio level. Not if but who gets the money. Weekly, no! biweekly if needed.

At some moment the Business understands that there is more to say from a strategic perspective and a Business-level PMO might come into play.

Business-IT discussions

Then, there are organizations which managed to build a management-level PMO deciding about corporate standards, aligning reporting up to top management, not to mention — facilitating portfolio decisions, based on key factors for the organization, e.g. strategic goals, products, channels, markets, client groups, you name it. There might even be a balanced scorecard somewhere, KPIs and KSIs aggregated from team to board level. The relations between Business and IT might be based on budgets and resources (budgets again) — to see what’s available for the business portfolio managers to share for their initatives (in accordance with strategic priorities).

discussion

Obviously, this has to mature — mapping the processes, setting up simple indicators and reporting, identifying the links between processes and projects to gradually improve parts of these processes (e.g. automation), aligning this with the IT architecture and portfolio of applications. This takes time, consistent systems, streamlined reporting, and above all — positive & involved people (aka corporate culture).

At some moment, someone high above might say: “Humbug! This is all overhead! Let’s disband the whole structure, rightsize, and transfer the remaining ‘dinosaurs’ to operations!”

Bottom line

There is no bottom line. It’s just that every now and then, in the history of management and corporate life, someone exclaims “our clients are most important!” And so the story repeats itself. Most likely, there are more facets of the cases mentioned above. Care to share a few?

The ‘How’ in Project Management

Two basic need drivers:

  1. Hope
  2. Fear

Products and services aim at one of the two. Most self-help, personal development books carry a promise, they give hope. Rarely does the reader find in them the tools needed to put the content into practice. The same goes for most trainings, especially seminars and conferences.

Is experience the only teacher?

We sometimes complain that project management does not give the expected results, but do we provide enough guidance on the “how to do it” part? Please note, I’m not talking about “best practices” of what should be done (as in PMBOK), but how to apply these best practices in a set of circumstances.

How were the top 2% of Project Managers described in Andy Crowe’s book able to differentiate from the rest? Experience? As in — they managed to evade failures big enough, they bounced back faster than the rest, they managed to build up their own how?

Did they have someone to help them?

Call for mentors

Mentors are one option. I don’t think they address the root cause of the problem described above (i.e. how to make a field with lots of general knowledge, “best practices” and soft elements more applicable?). But they shift the focus towards application / practice and guidance.

Let me end with an example. Toastmasters International focuses on improving a general competence — public speaking [and leadership]. Apart from providing a certification path, developing a community, tools to focus on self-practice, it encourages its members to learn in a step-by-step way, and embeds the role of mentor into its educational program.

Writing again…

It took me almost a year to start writing again. I changed my full-time job twice in the meantime, my kids grew up even more, adding to my days substantially. It’s been a beautiful & challenging 2012 overall. I’m looking forward to 2013 and I hope you feel the same.

One of my biggest dreams is… you could have guessed — to write more. I know I have to make this blog feel “more draft” (from my perspective). To give myself enough space to learn and experiment. A drawer of sorts. It would be best for those of you who happen to drop by and myself, obviously. I’m always in search for new resources. Why not put them on the blog? If we are on the same road, why not share and exchange?

Write more then. And comment more. Expect me to visit your blog and join the discussion, if you don’t mind.

I’m looking forward to seeing you here or on any of the blogs I read (please share your reading recommendations too). Comments are open — I promise not to change that anytime soon.

Take care!

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