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 Happy Employee

Happiness in 3 facesEarlier this week a friend posted an article about “Is it your fault when you are unhappy?” The original blog post is actually from James Adonis, one of Australia’s best-known people-management thinkers.

James presented two opposite opinions:

  • “Your employer is not responsible for your happiness. You are.”
  • “It’s not difficult at all for leaders to create happy employees. The only reason it doesn’t happen is if you work for a tool.”

“So, who’s right? Are employees ultimately responsible for the joy they feel at work? Or do their bosses have a moral obligation to make it a priority?

That leaders have a financial obligation is already clear. There are many credible studies demonstrating the benefits associated with happy employees or, more significantly, engaged employees. These reports, for example, outline some of the empirical findings that indicate the positive outcomes include better customer service, higher productivity, enhanced sales and fewer safety accidents.”

James favours the first opinion and continues outlining 4 traits that distinguishes happy employees:

  • A desire to work for the simple joy that arises from doing a good job.
  • A positive attitude comprising enthusiasm and cheerfulness.
  • A conscientious work ethic of hard work and resourcefulness.
  • A proactive approach that seeks opportunities to make a contribution.

He further discusses Unhappiness as a result of “waiting” and concludes:

“So, cheers to the leaders who make it a personal mission to create a happy and engaging workplace. But an even more emphatic cheer is in order for the employees who do it themselves.”

My Opinion

I agree happiness is not something leaders can give to people. That is inherently impossible. It is up to you personally what and how you live your life. That’s why I start every day with a smile and enjoy a beautiful Monday.

Although that doesn’t mean leaders can sit back and relax, knowing it’s not their fault if employees are being unhappy. They do have a responsibility to provide 5 things:

  • make sure employees do meaningful work
  • communicate open, honestly and share information
  • ensure employees have autonomy within their responsibilities
  • foster innovation, teamwork, and be the chief road block remover
  • provide fair compensation and possibilities to grow

If they don’t, people who take responsibility for their happiness will leave and those who wait for happiness to come to them will stay.

To your question, Greg, I don’t think leaders have a moral obligation to create happiness. They work in the same organisation as their team. So, it comes down in my opinion to

  1. What does the organisation stand for, what’s the purpose? Can I identify with that as an individual.
  2. What are the values of the organisation and are they demonstarted by the senior managers? Do those match to a large degree with my personal values.
  3. Do I feel I can make a difference and add value?

If those three questions line up, I can see happiness and meaningful work coming up 🙂

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 🙂

 

them or I?

list of choicesChanging roles a few months ago and evaluating different opportunities over the past few weeks made me think about the criteria I use to do so.

For example, while working at Tait and previous roles I steadily climbed the corporate ladder, gained clout, responsibilities, and enjoyed the success of projects. Surely this came with the price tag of accountability and personal availability. There is no free lunch. However, my point is, it was my choice. Several times during my career I made a case why it was good for the business to implement a change that was also good for me.

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Butterflies in my tummy

ButterfliesI’m looking for a new challenge. My dear wife Susani took it literally and asked me if I’m up for a game. I wasn’t sure where she was going with this but agreed.

Which ways can you go?

was her first question. She put my answers each on a sheet of paper. These were for me:

  • “start own business”,
  • “take a similar job with another organisation”, and
  • “go contracting”

She put the paper on the floor and made me stand on one of my choosing.

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Delays and Changes

opportunityWednesday last week proved being a turning point in my life.

Tait announced a restructure and as part of it my role got disestablished. Now this has 2 consequences

(1) unfortunately our land purchase is delayed as without an income stream the bank doesn’t lend us the necessary funds. Understandable. I talked with the vendor letting him know. He was very understandable and happy to hold the purchase until we are in better shape again. Good on you Jeff!

(2)  I have a fantastic opportunity to review what I want to do in the future 🙂

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The Liability of Complex Communication

Guide4ClearYesterday I found a study published by the University of St. Gallen “Complex to Clear – Managing Clarity in Corporate Communication“.

The authors Martin J Eppler and Nicole Bischof argue convincingly a business case for clarity in all types of corporate communications. They address reports, emails, and even Twitter. That fascinating study can be downloaded from the University’s website and there’s also a presentation on Slideshare.

I was so fascinated by the clarity of the report – it follows to a great extent the recommended principles very closely – that I decided to blog about it straight away. It took me just half an hour to read through the 67 pages.

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