Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Everything Is High Priority, Nothing Is High Priority!

Your boss comes into your office to tell you to drop everything you’re doing and start working immediately on a new project because it is the highest priority project in the company. You look at him and say, “OK, but what about these other three projects you told me were the highest priority?  I can put all of my attention on one of these, but not all four!” Your boss then reiterates that all are of the highest priority. What do you do?

The need to prioritize is a fact of life. We all must do it, every day, in virtually every aspect of our lives. Is it more important to fix a broken window before a snow storm hits, or to take out the garbage? Is it more important to get a product released that is expected to double company revenues, or to get a product released that will have virtually no impact on company revenues? Some choices, such as these, are obvious, but others can be difficult and there may not be a right or wrong choice. Still, everything cannot be high or the highest priority. Choices must be made, and priorities must be set! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Don't!

When you sit down to start planning your next project or program, you lay out the tasks that will need to be undertaken and completed, the time expected to be required for each task, the resources that will be required for each of these tasks (and the availability of those resources), the sequences in which these tasks must be done, and the dependencies these tasks have on other tasks. From this, and other considerations, a timeline can be developed, milestones can be identified, deliverable dates can be estimated, and the anticipated outcome of the project or program as a whole can be projected.  The natural approach is to base the project/program planning effort on what you know will be required. However, if you base your project/program plan solely on what you know, you may well be headed for trouble at the outset. There are other considerations that you don’t fully know that you need to take into account, and it’s best to consider them from the outset. What you don’t know can hurt you!

So how can you plan based on what you don’t know? I suggest you break your planning effort down into four categories – known knowns, unknown knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. By thinking in these terms, you can more fully account for likely situations that will arise, and build such situations into your project/program plan. I will discuss each of these categories, and how to utilize them in your planning efforts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Speaking in Tongues

In any company, many “languages” are spoken, and the “language” of one group within a company is often as foreign and difficult to comprehend by other groups as if one group spoke English, another group Chinese, and yet another group Russian. The “language” of finance & accounting is very different from the “language” of marketing, which is very different from the “language” of engineering. Everyone in the company may speak English, but that is no guarantee that people will understand each other. They may understand each of the words (and sometimes even that is not the case), but they may not understand what is really being said or meant.

Among their peers, people tend to speak in their native “languages”, and there is generally a good understanding of what is being said and what is being heard. Even among peer groups, however, there are different “dialects” that are often difficult for other peer group members to understand. Let’s use Engineers as an example. For engineers, their “language” tends to be fairly technical, often jargon laden, often discussing esoteric and foreign sounding concepts often totally unrecognizable to non-engineers. Even within engineering, different “dialects” often make communication and understanding difficult for other engineers. For example, hardware engineers typically speak a different “dialect” than software engineers. There are many “sub-dialects” even within a specific “dialect”. For example, within hardware engineering, RF engineers speak a different “sub-dialect” than computer engineers. Reaching a common understanding even among different engineers can be difficult. However, when engineers meet with non-engineers, the communications chasm can be wide and deep, with a view by one group that the other group is “speaking in tongues”.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dignity, Respect, Compassion - What a Concept!

When people accept a job at a new company, they look forward with anticipation to a workplace environment where their contributions will be accepted, valued, built upon and improved, and where they will be able to work cooperatively with others with similar desires and aspirations. They anticipate a place where people work together to build something bigger than the sum of their parts, where they can become not just workmates, but friends. There are many workplaces that foster such a healthy environment, but there are also many workplaces where the workplace environment is unhealthy, and many more where it is somewhere in between. The difference between healthy, unhealthy, and in-between workplace environments is usually tied to how those organizations treat their people. Treating people uniformly with dignity (esteem, worthiness, honor), respect (regard, admiration, veneration), and compassion (empathy, sympathy, love) is often a prime differentiator.

What kind of workplace environment does your company have? Is it one where people enjoy working together and look forward to coming to work? Is it one where people happily and willingly come together to create products and services that the company’s customers want to buy? Or is it one where people drag themselves to work just to do what is necessary to earn a paycheck; one where they do only what is necessary to survive; one where they work begrudgingly with others only because they must, and do only what they are told to do? Or is it somewhere in between?

A healthy workplace environment can be a thing of beauty and something to behold (see Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!). It is one where people laugh often, as humor shows signs of comfort and joy in work. It is one where there is a free sharing of ideas, clear expectations and clear understanding of what’s expected of people and how they should behave, including following established professional values and codes of conduct. The workplace is comfortable and orderly with strong connections between coworkers. Frivolous demands and activities are minimal. Key to the workplace environment is that all people are treated with dignity, respect, and compassion; that everyone treats others as they would have others treat them, basically the golden rule for the workplace.  If you see these values honored, you are fortunate indeed.  Take a moment to savor the values that your organization has.