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I haven't written much here this year, but intend to change that in 2016.
Planning to do so will be part of my end of year reflection along the lines of what my colleague Colin has written about in his post "It’s that time of year". I will take time out for that reflection during our annual holiday at the beach shown in the photo above.
I also point you to Colin's recent post "Freelancer, contractor, associate …?" where he describes the increasing move to forms of employment that are outside the standard "full-time employee" construct. He also disects some of the implications for both "employer" and "employee". I will explore this further here next year.
For now, I wish you a great Christmas and New Year, however you celebrate them.
I also hope that 2016 is a productive and fulfulling year for you.
Recently I have returned to reading on being an introvert, and techniques for living (some would say surviving!) and working productively in our increasingly extroverted world.
As a consultant, I often work in my client's offices. Usually, they are open plan offices.
As an introvert this can be a challenging working environment as open plan offices are typically full of distractions - movement, conversation, etc.
My observation is some open plan offices are so full of distractions that even extroverts, who by nature thrive on interaction, can struggle to be consistently productive.
- take more lunches and coffee breaks by yourself;
- create a signal to let others know you’re concentrating;
- create a sense of private space within your personal area;
- note what times of the day and days of the week are typically quieter in the office, and use those times for more difficult work or even downtime for yourself;
- book a small meeting room on a semi-regular basis, but don’t invite anyone else.
The first tip is a bit of an "aha moment" for me. I had instinctively formed this habit - without explicitly realising it is an effective strategy for creating some space for myself to relax, reflect and re-energise in the middle of the working day.
I particularly like the closing paragraph:
Bottom line: the stress of the open-office plan isn’t inevitable, and you don’t have to be aggressive or stage a protest to overcome it. Pockets of time and space can be effectively carved out to give you space to breathe and, yes, maybe even enjoy your work again. Some of those extroverts in your office might even adopt your brilliant strategies and learn to nurture their own introvert qualities. Who knows? You might end up with a small revolution on your hands.
I encourage you to read the full article: 5 Ways to Love Your Open-Plan Office.
One of the services I provide is training and coaching, often via Top Performers, owned by Colin Sander.
Colin has been writing some thought provoking articles recently - a selection:
- Why Experts Often Don’t Sell!: "Over the years I have been exposed to a large number of salespeople who are in their own right, experts in their field, whether they be engineers, veterinarians, designers …"
- Salespeople: “What Value Are You To Your Customers?”: "The greatest value a salesperson can bring to the table is to be comfortable challenging a customer’s thinking ..."
- Meetings for the Sake of Meetings: "Repeatedly I hear people saying that in their organisation, there are either too many pointless meeting, or not enough meetings, or the meetings that are happening have no purpose and no outcomes ..."
- The High Cost of People Turnover: "Repeatedly I come across examples of poor recruitment, frequently internal, which is driven by convenience as much as anything …"
- The Power of Being Self Aware: "I have recently been working in a business where in one division, there are two relatively new team leaders who have been appointed. Both internal appointments. ... In conversation with the one who is displaying real leadership and impacting positively the performance of her team, she regularly reflects on her own behaviour and what is motivating that. I have observed her interacting with her team members, and adjusting her behaviour in response to what she is observing in them."
- The Price of Errors: "Whether it be in the back office, sales in the field, on the factory floor, or the meeting room, the costs of errors, and the costs of not making decisions, carries significant cost ..."
- Engagement or Burnout?: "I have come across several examples of people who are highly engaged, highly talented, and potentially on the path to burnout ..."
- Resilience: "Whether you are in a sales role, customer service, or management, one of the all too rare qualities that delivers success is resilience ..."
- Balanced Feedback: "I have come across a couple of situations where people have held an overly inflated view of their capabilities ..."
- Do You Work With A “Blamer-Complainer”?: "Any change effort in an organisation, whether it be business, community group or family, will meet with resistance of some sort ..."
- Performance Reviews: An Investment Or A Cost?: "Several conversations in the last few weeks have driven home just how often these 6 or 12 monthly meetings are a box ticking exercise ..."
- Performance Coaching That Delivers High ROI: "I want to share an example of how a client of mine makes it work to everyone’s advantage ..."
- What’s Your Energy Source?: "I recall when I was in the corporate world in a management role, and my then young son would spend time in the office during school holidays. We had just arrived home one afternoon and he said; “Dad, don’t you like us?” ..."
- The Focused Sales Culture: "It is quite apparent that those salespeople who are thriving in today’s environment, apart from possessing positive values, are very clear on what it is that works to achieve profitable sales ..."
Contact me if you would like to find out how Colin or I can assist you in achieving increased performance levels for yourself, your business or your organisation.
It was some years ago, early in my project management career, and I was in the early stages leading a particularly challenging client engagement for a consulting firm.
I went to the partner, my boss, and told him we simply couldn't deliver the project the client had asked us to deliver due to information we had not previously been aware of. The project was to implement a supposedly already built system - but it turned out it was nowhere near ready, and was probably never going to be due to a fundamental flaw in how it had been designed.
While he understood why I was saying this he refused my request to pull out of the engagement. His view was that it was simply too late to go to the customer with such a high level analysis. Initially I was very frustrated by this response - why insist on continuing with a project that was going to fail? But my boss took me beyond that.
He challenged me, "if you make enough assumptions, do you think we would deliver the project for the client?"
I said I believed we could, but I that I didn't think the assumptions we would need to make were viable. Some, if not many, of them will fail - or, possibly already had (e.g. that the system was ready).
He said, "that is fine, for now, let's work out what the assumptions are and take them to the client. The client will then easily agree with why the project either has to be abandoned, or dramatically re-shaped".
So, we stood around a whiteboard and listed all of the assumptions we would have to make for the project to have a chance of success. It was a long list!
We then went through each and rated them as either having already failed (the assumption was no longer true, if it ever was) and for those that were still true (the assumption was still valid) work out the likelihood that each would continue to be valid for long enough to deliver the project, and what we could do to increase the likelihood of that being the case.
My boss then said to me, "there you are, there's your risk management plan".
Initially I didn't understand, but he then clarified it for me - each assumption was simply a risk stated another way.
It also happened to be his agenda for discussing with the client why the project either had to be abandoned or dramatically re-shaped.
We were so well prepared for that conversation that the client agreed fully with us, and agreed to re-shape the project based on de-scoping those parts of the system that were never going to be ready, adding some completion activity to the project to finalise those parts of the system that were close to ready, and re-doing the implementation plan to only cover those parts that were already ready or were close. We had a new scope, a new timeline and a new budget - all of which were achievable.
The client was happy because finally they had an achievable path forward, after many years (yes, years) of trying to implement this system themselves.
We were also happy because we now had a project we could deliver - which we did. On time, on budget and to scope.
By way of example, a classic project assumption is to "assume that the people required to deliver the project are available for their scheduled project tasks". Re-stating that as a risk turns it into "there is a risk that project resources are not available to perform their scheduled project tasks". The classic mitigation for such a risk is to communicate with sufficient notice when people will need to perform their scheduled project tasks so they can block out their diaries accordingly and schedule their other work for other times. Another mitigation is to have the project fund backfill staff to release the project team members to the project. Often you do both.
This is another in a series of Project Management tips derived from my experience building an enduring record as a Project Manager who leads business and systems projects from inception to successful completion.
PM Tip: Ask Another Question
Asking questions is one of the primary tools available to you as a project manager - what is the status of this? when will it be complete? what are you waiting on? who are you waiting on? are there any issues I don't know about? what are the risks to successful completion?
I learnt early on my career as a PM that all too often the real answer to such questions is not the first answer you get.
Colin Sander, a colleague in business coaching, who has mentored me regularly over the years, has written on this: Accountability, Closure and Performance:
[The PM] asked a member of his project team a question relating to the level of progress with a project task.
A simple question: “when will task x be completed?”
The answer from the team member was: “I’m working on it” ...
In this example the response from the PM should have been another question: "that's good to hear, but when will it be completed?"
I happen to know that is exactly what the PM's response was!
And sometimes one more question is not enough.
You need to keep asking further questions until you are fully satisified that you have the full answer.
In my experience it is not that team members are usually being deceptive - if they are you need to hold them to account on that too.
Rather they often perceive such questioning from their PM as a distraction from their work, and will give enough of an answer to make you go away!
If you do go away after receiving an incomplete or even evasive response then you can expect to receive more and more of them.
Ask Another Question!
Prior posts in this series:
a good article from Josh Linkner containing 11 Leadership Lessons From Jazz Musicians, which builds on my blog post a few years ago on "Lessons on Leadership from Jazz"
Josh makes 11 points comparing Jazz to Leadership (read the full article for his explanations):
- Playing it safe gets you tossed off the stage
- There are no do-overs in live performances
- Listening to those around you is three times more important than what you play yourself
- There's a time to stand out as a soloist and a time to support others and make them shine
- Expect surprises and adversity, since jazz (and life) is about how you respond and adapt
- Know your audience
- It's always better leaving people wanting more, rather than less
- The best leaders are those that make others sound good
- Pattern recognition is easier than raw genius
- Shy musicians are starving artists
- Keeping it new and fresh is mandatory
This is the third in a series of Project Management tips derived from my experience building an enduring record as a Project Manager who leads business and systems projects from inception to successful completion.
PM Tip: Sometimes You Have To Pull An All-Nighter
As a Project Manager your credibility and integrity is perhaps the most crucial tool you have in your arsenal.
When times get tough on a project - and they will, if it is a project worth committing some of your career to - the ability of your client (the person/s sponsoring your project whether or not they are a client in a traditional sense of being someone you invoice) and your project team to trust you will often be the difference to getting through a challenge, or not.
Recently I committed to produce some critical project planning documents for a project - without factoring that the 4 days after the day I made the promise (a Thursday) were a long planned Friday to Monday family holiday during which I could not work - both in the sense of honouring a commitment to my family, and also I was holidaying in a location without power or internet so literally could not do the work.
The deadline for these documents was the Friday of what had suddenly become a short week for me. Especially as I had another client commitment, which included travel, for the Thursday and Friday of the week the documents were due.
I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. I made a promise I couldn't keep - while working a normal business day.
On the day I made the promise there was more than a week to go. But in reality I only had 2 days of normal business hours to do the work - which wasn't enough.
Maybe I could have reset expectations and pushed out the deadline as I had left myself too short a time to produce these documents - but the commercial reality was they needed to be produced when I had originally promised.
The only way through was for me to 'pull an all-nighter' - which I did.
On the Wednesday evening I worked until 4:30am on the Thursday and got the documents completed. I got to bed for about 1.5 hours then got up to catch my flight to meet the unrelated Thursday and Friday commitment.
I was exhausted - but I had honoured my promise.
The client (whom I subtly made aware of my 'all-nighter'!) now knows that when they receive a commitment from me I will do what it takes to honour my commitments.
And my project team know the same - and won't be surprised when I expect them to do the same.
The influence that flows from keeping my commitments will make me a much more effective project manager.
Sometimes You Have To Pull An All-Nighter!
Prior posts in this series:
This is the second in a series of Project Management tips derived from my experience building an enduring record as a Project Manager who leads business and systems projects from inception to successful completion.
PM Tip: Look for Early Warning Signs
A few months ago a client went live on a new system for which I was the vendor side project manager.
They were a particularly challenging client throughout the three month project. They were always trying to push project activities back on to the vendor project team - even though they had accepted responsiblity for completing these tasks. This was so they would learn the system during the project so they could be more self-sufficient post-go-live. It was also to keep project costs down.
They were also not very good at managing their diaries. This became a frequent cause of frustration and sometimes delay on the project. We were regularly rescheduling meetings they accepted initially then declined just before the meeting, or simply didn't turn up for.
I had recognised this was probably going to be the case when for the very first project workshop (a whole day) they asked for it to be delayed late on the day before it was scheduled, even though it had been scheduled for weeks, and required travel for a number of workshop attendees (including me). Their excuse - a weekly team meeting within their organisation that they would have known about when scheduling our project workshop many weeks prior.
Apart from being rude we interpreted this as a likely ongoing behaviour, which proved to be the case.
As vendor project manager I became increasingly more active and direct, sometimes blunt, during the project when managing their delivery of their obligations to the project, and even simply turning up to meetings.
The lesson: look for early warning signs. People's behaviour is typically repetitive. If they do something early in a project, they are likely to keep doing it again and again during the project. In this case it was a corporate learned behaviour - the whole client team behaved this way. Sometimes, however, it is one individual who behaves a particular way.
Look for early warning signs!
Prior post in this series:
This is the first of what will become a series of Project Management tips derived from my experience building an enduring record as a Project Manager who leads business and systems projects from inception to successful completion.
PM Tip: Intervene Early
One of my current roles is Project Manager for the implementation of a new system at a client organisation which is not accustomed to projects where technology is the primary enabler.
When they were presented with a requirements document, to review for sign off, that was by nature more technical than they are used to, they initially balked and started expressing reservations about their ability to understand the document, much less sign it off.
I have worked for global consulting firms where they would wait until the client didn't sign off the document to raise a formal issue about it - with the excuse that it was clearly pre-agreed that this was the client's responsibility.
But by then it is too late - the milestone has been missed.
Instead, on this occasion, I saw that unless we guided their review of the document they would not get to a position of signing it off. Possibly never, but certainly not within the project timeline.
So we devoted extra time to helping them understand and review the document. They still had to make the judgement calls, but we guided them through the process. More so than usual.
However, by intervening early, helping them understand the document and where they needed to focus their review, the outcome was that they signed off on the document - a day early.
My congratulations to my friend and colleague Mark Elley who built Jireh over the last seven years into a successful JDE consultancy with clients who speak very highly of the high quality services provided by the Jireh team.
The acquisition brings the Jireh and Red Rock teams together so as to better serve the market for JDE services, primarily in New Zealand (under Mark's leadership), but also in Australia where Red Rock is based.
I have provided JDE consulting services through Jireh since 2008, and will continue to do so through Red Rock.
As described here on GavinKnight.com here is a refresher on the services I provide:
- Project Manager - I have an enduring record as a Project Manager who leads business and systems projects from inception to successful completion;
- Business Analyst and Business Systems Consultant - I have extensive experience as a Business Analyst and Business Systems Consultant who can understand business requirements, translate them into clear requirements definitions with an appropriate mix of systems change & process change and then implement them;
- Business Coach - I use my experience as a consultant and leader to coach others to increase their performance.
To discuss how I can help you improve the performance of your business please contact me using one of the contact methods listed at the top right.
I just ordered my copy of Collaboration Roadmap: You've Got the Technology — Now What?; the fourth book written by my friend and professional colleague Michael Sampson (@collabguy) - this time to address the following business challenge:
Many firms are struggling with collaboration technology. Either it's been installed and is not being used, or they are not sure what to do. How do you make great decisions about collaboration technology and its use within organizations? Collaboration Roadmap answers both questions.
Have you ordered your copy yet?
Or, you can contact me if you need more general assistance with choosing or implementing technology, or your use of it, so that your business is more effective.
I like Nicholas Bates' writing - it is brief, yet eloquent and regularly provokes me to think and act differently.
For example, consider this as my interpretation of his post on Work Life Balance:
- discuss and agree with your partner what 'work/life balance' is
- switch off more
- create zones of peace: physical and/or time
- reduce multi-tasking
- be 'here' now
- realise you cannot do everything, so prioritise
- accept you will never have enough time, so make choices
Please refer to Nicholas' blog article for a slightly longer discussion of each point.
I received the regular email newsletter today from RainToday.com. It contains an excellent article by Andrew Sobel (pictured) titled "Where Independent Professionals Succeed and Large Firms Fail". It expands on these key points on where independent professionals can succeed:
- Create personal brands by building individual market renown;
- Regularly develop and disseminate intellectual capital;
- Focus on conversations, not PowerPoint;
- Try to achieve success, not perfection;
- Have learned to eliminate non-value added activities;
- Take responsibility for their personal development;
- Organize around clients
- Truly act like it's their money.
This is very good advice for me, given that a lot of my work is by nature freelance or independent consulting.
How do you achieve success?
I'm really enjoying getting the regular email newsletter from Brian Fraser of Jazzthink. Overnight this gem - Brian's tip for this month - arrived in my inbox:
Jazz is the art of aligning talent so it can perform well. Musicians discover and develop their own talent through practice - lots of practice - so they can express their genius. They join with others who have done the same to align themselves in playing melodies, rhythms, and harmonies that keep them all in sync and please their audiences. From the core of their genius they align with others to play the core of their common purpose. Exceptional managers and leaders model this process and create an inviting space for it to happen consistently.
I've not often used mind mapping as an idea capture technique because it didn't seem to suit my personal style. However, recently a colleague recommended I try it again, and I now like it!
Wikipedia describes a mind map as:
"... a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.
The elements of a given mind map are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts, and are classified into groupings, branches, or areas, with the goal of representing semantic or other connections between portions of information. Mind maps may also aid recall of existing memories.
By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, mind maps encourage a brainstorming approach to planning and organizational tasks. Though the branches of a mindmap represent hierarchical tree structures, their radial arrangement disrupts the prioritizing of concepts typically associated with hierarchies presented with more linear visual cues. This orientation towards brainstorming encourages users to enumerate and connect concepts without a tendency to begin within a particular conceptual framework.".
In workshops for clients I've started creating maps on whiteboards and flip charts, but I also like to capture thoughts in this format directly into my PC where I archive everything of value.
I've found the following software options seem to work best for me:
- FreeMind is free PC mind mapping software which I've found to be functionally strong, easy to use and creates mind maps which are very visually presentable (eg in client reports);
- I also sometimes use Personal Brain but even the free option is significantly more functionally extensive than just mind mapping, so I don’t find it as easy to use as FreeMind;
- on my iPhone I use Simple Mind - whilst there is a free version which creates jpg images in your phone's photo camera roll the paid version also saves out to the web in pdf, jpg and freemind format for further editing on your PC.
What do you use?
A useful reminder from Nicholas Bates of some simple techniques to bring back perspective:
- Hug her. For longer, looking deeper into her eyes.
- Drive the scenic route: country, mountain, desert, coast. Sure, you’ve got time.
- List your blessings.
- Remember those crazy dreams you had as a kid? Time to resurrect some of them.
- You're going to take the stairs, rather than the lift.
- There's a brand new working week of opportunity ahead.
- Consider for a moment: pretty well everything is getting better; the rest, well, you can handle it.
I'm enjoying reading The High Calling of our Daily Work blog, which regularly reminds me of the dignity and holiness inherent in work.
Today I have read a timely reminder on the value of taking a break from work, and in particular that "one day each week should be different".
This, of course, aligns with the discipline I attempt to maintain of 'diverting daily, withdrawing weekly, and abandoning annually'.
A commenter on that article pointed to one of the many document sharing sites out there as an alternative. This prompted me to think deeper on why Google Wave has me so intrigued, when there are plenty of collaboration services which I could implement in a way that would meet my needs.
My initial thoughts were - with my subsequent thoughts in italics:
- I'm looking for something to collaborate on docs (ie edit too) not just share them - the commenter pointed to a sharing site;
- Wave is from Google and therefore much more likely to become more pervasive if it succeeds - as a consultant working with an ever changing array of multiple customers and partnering organisations I collect too many systems, UserIDs and passwords as it is, if Google Wave takes off and removes a need for a lot of them (I don't expect it to replace all of them) that would simplify my life and hopefully enable me to deliver value to my customers quicker - rather than being distracted as I often am now by having to learn yet another system with yet another pair of UserID and password credentials;
- because it is designed ground up as an open protocol - very soon other providers will be able to provide Wave servers, and waves will federate among them so it won't be a closed system like too many of the current alternates - as well as the points made in 2 this one is particularly relevant to my work as a consultant working with an ever changing array of multiple customers and partnering organisations - I don't always get to choose which systems I have to work with as my customers, and sometimes my partner organisations, often choose the tools to be used for a particular project - Google Wave offers the potential of using a system that might become as common as email, without the frustrations of email (which are why we are all looking for new options anyway!).
My business partner now has a Google Wave account and I will blog my real world experience of using Google Wave in the context of running our consulting company.
I have started exploring Google Wave, and already see potential uses for it in the inherently collaborative project world in which I spend my working life. Many of the tools on which I, my colleagues, our clients and our project teams rely simply aren't doing the job sufficiently - particularly the all too pervasive practise of emailing documents around for review, comment and editing.
Google Wave was originally pitched when announced by Google earlier this year as a replacement for email, but that is quite misleading.
Lifehacker's explanation, from their "Complete Guide to Google Wave" is closer: "Google Wave is a new online communications tool that enables groups of people to edit and discuss documents simultaneously on the web. The Google Wave team says Wave is 'what email would look like if it were invented today.' However, because Wave is mostly a document collaboration tool, the oversimplified email metaphor can mislead new users. The initial Wave experience can feel chaotic and confusing, but use cases for Wave abound. Come on in and meet Wave."
If you would like to read more, check out these resources:
- Lifehacker’s "The Complete Guide to Google Wave" published yesterday is excellent;
- Google's own explanation of Wave: including a video of the launch/preview at the Google Developer conference earlier this year (the first 20 minutes is the key content but watch the full 1:20 if you’re really interested);
- the Wikipedia article is good (eg “Waves, described by Google as ‘equal parts conversation and document’, are hosted XML documents that allow seamless and low latency concurrent modifications”).