Projects, Processes, and People

Photo by Marcelo Braga, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Today, I experienced an interesting discussion and later this evening I read three related articles. That all came together more or less incidentally.

At work we are going through a restructure phase and one team had a coffee to discuss what it meant for them. In general, the people were concerned about the lack of detail, what the change meant for them personally and how “it” was going to work.

I don’t actually need to go into the details who the team was and what they currently do, it is immaterial. Not one team member was or is a change agent, not one was able to translate the strategic vision into something tangible.

Later I came across these 2 articles:

First, a blog post from 99U published in April 2014:

he Difference Between Projects and Processes:

Projects create change. Processes resist change.

Wow, so obvious and still – I forgot about it at the discussion. The people are used to work in a particular way, they are used that someone is responsible for this, then another person does that, and finally a third one completes the task. Quite obviously the new structure is meant to break that. Its objective is to create, to force change. That’s not going to happen if processes stay the same. Hence implementing the new structure must be treated as a project.

And that’s where the second article comes in. This one published by the Smashing Magazine in July 2013:

People > Projects > Processes:

Having a process is good, but be careful that it does not overshadow the project itself or the people involved.

Processes are good to get the same quality every time. The ISO 9000 family is designed to do just that.

Projects are meant to create new processes or make existing ones better. And often they rely on processes themselves (PMI or Prince2 anyone?).

And what is the most important asset any organisation has? Its people. What is in the top 5 most important things organisations try to improve on? Employee Engagement. Why do projects fail? In 72% of all cases it is a communication breakdown.

Summary

Coming back to our discussion. Yes, I failed to appreciate the disruptive value of the restructure. But also, uncertainty about mapping the vision to the structure on middle management level means learning by making mistakes in creating new processes for the same business objectives must be acceptable. Disruption to existing support processes and delays in delivering functional projects may also occur. All under the vision of creating a better service in the near future.

You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.

The Art of Presenting

PresentThroughout my career I did and still do presentations. I remember the first time being nervous as hell and so close in forgetting my story line. My mentor at the time simply said, ” These are just people like you and me. just imagine them naked.” My mind got the picture, took the focus of the nervousness, and from then on I had a good time presenting.

Audience

While this is a great method to overcome stage fright, it is no substitute for not knowing your story. I assume you know your stuff and the topic at hand. And let’s take a wild guess, that’s why your audience has come. They want to hear from you what you gotta say about the subject. With that in mind there are still some distinct options. For example:

  • The audience knows about the subject, too and wants to learn more or hear a distinctive view.
  • The audience doesn’t know and expect news or clarification.
  • The audience is preparing for a decision and you present a recommendation or options.

Story

That brings us back to your story. A good presentation is like a good children story, it comes with a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. The beginning is setting the scene. This can be done in multiple ways. Start with a bang if time is of essence and your audience is known for making quick decisions. Tell a brief personal story that captures a large audience, or do something where the audience can relate to. The beginning is all about making a connection.

Body language

Now that you have it, don’t loose it. Make eye contact. Don’t stare but look at the eye brows. Let your gaze go from one end to the other. Speak confidently and assuredly. Loud enough to be heard at the back of the room or the end of the board table. Don’t yell – use a microphone if needed. Don’t hide behind a stand up desk with a fixed mic and your bunch of papers. Be visible and stand up. Even in the board room – stand up. Your voice carries more weight and you look more confident. Hands out of the pocket, even if it’s your team you are talking to. Avoid walking like a Tiger from one end to the other on stage all the time. Be in different places fitting to your story and acknowledging all parts of the audience.

Story

You are telling the main part of your presentation. This is the meaty part. Don’t let your slides do the talking. They are there to illustrate your point. The audience came to listen to you or you could have send them the slides. Remember that the human short term memory is good for 5 to 7 items. Also keep in mind people remember the first few and the last few best. When I present options I limit those to 3. That magic number works wonderfully and I can be assured people will remember those when it comes to decision making.

Conclusion

Your presentation must come to and end. Be on time. Steve Jobs rehearsed for weeks to that right. No shame to do it a few times yourself. You will become more confident and know where to cut fluff out and add more details in. The end of your story should highlight your main point. If anything what is the single thing your audience should remember? You made your case for a recommendation in the middle, now is the place to tell.

Questions and Answers

Allow for questions. Always. Make it clear from the start if questions are limited to the end or allowed throughout. Questions are fantastic. They mean the audience is listening, is interested, and wants to know more. Repeat a question to ensure everyone heard it. It also ensures you understood it correctly and gives you to time to formulate an answer. Be not afraid if you don’t know. Say so, offer to answer later (a good opportunity to present your contact details), or ask the audience of their opinion. It’s an opportunity for you to fill a gap.

In Summary

(1) Know your story

(2) Know your audience

(3) Use your body language

(4) Enjoy question and answers

(5) Emphasise your main point at the end

Inbox Zero?

InBox Zero

Recently Inbox Zero popped up again. Not a surprise considering summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere are coming to an end.

Automated responses

The BBC ran an article 2 days ago where German car maker Daimler offered employees to delete holiday emails in a very friendly way:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Comments are consequently positive: “This is good email management.” It doesn’t address the standard flood of emails although it makes the re-start after being away a lot easier and not daunting.

Another approach is trialled by the Christchurch City Council. The management team implemented a suggested response when the recipient is “just copied in”. The response reads similar to this:

“Thank you for your email. As I’m just copied in, your email has been parked in my “for info” folder. I’ll endeavour to check those emails once a week. If your correspondence is urgent please re-send it to me directly with your expectations of my action.”

The objective is to reduce cluttering email inboxes with information that doesn’t require an urgent action by the recipient or in short to reduce clutter.

Most email applications allow for such automated actions via rules and filters, and categories, folders and labels.

Decisions

While the technology allows for such things, it’s up to us humans to actually do it. That means,

  1. consider your response types (do, reply, defer, delegate, archive, delete or see the original post from Merlin Mann),
  2. create good auto- and template responses,
  3. and then actually do it.

The reality looks, unfortunately, different. Some follow their good intentions and put such actions into place while others don’t. There are some good and not so good reasons:

  • a full inbox means I’m busy
  • I actually like having that many emails
  • the Inbox search is great – why hiding important stuff in many folders
  • those rules are too complicated
  • I fear I miss important stuff
  • people expect I’m informed what’s going on
  • the tools don’t match how I work

Some options

Hey, it’s your Inbox, isn’t it?

or

Could we check how you work and see if there is a process that can be adjusted, another tool be found, or expectations managed more efficiently? There are systems like Sanebox, or MailBox, Mailstrom, and Tapermail that all take a different approach. And there is this blogpost for Outlook fans. One might work for you well 🙂

 

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

A leadership lesson in whey

reputationYou can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” – Henry Ford

Only if you live behind a rock you don’t know about the Fonterra milk powder scandal. I don’t want to analyse or discuss the potential or actual impact on the industry or New Zealand’s reputation with its international partners. There are sufficient of these in the media.

No, I want to look at the action or non-action between the incident itself that caused the contamination and the information of the public.

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Good Bye and Thank You

Chocolate Fish

To the people of Tait who have touched my professional and privat life

Good Bye

After 14 years I’m leaving friends and colleagues on my path to different pastures. It is a strange feeling. First, it is like leaving some good old friends behind. I developed an attachment to you and care about your well being and success. I hope I made some contribution to your personal and professional development. I certainly learned a lot. Second, it is like regaining some freedom back, allowing me to look forward, to review, reflect and set new goals.

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