Month: March 2017

“Make Time for the Work That Matters” – re-post

Project managers are the servants of the Goddess of Time. Things need to be delivered by a certain deadline. Time management is the project manager’s best friend who comes with another friend – the tasks management. The contract needs to be signed, the event – organised, the equipment – checked, the building permissions – secured, the meeting – attended, the plans – drawn, the email traffic – organised are only a few of the daily project manager’s tasks. Experiencing a feeling of being overwhelmed is not unusual in projects. There are number of ways to deal with it or, even better, prevent it.

One tool I find helpful is this Self-Assessment tool for Identifying Low-Value Tasks https://hbr.org/web/2013/08/assessment/make-time-for-work-that-matters from “Make Time for the Work That Matters” by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen from the September 2013 Issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The results of the self-assessment will give you a clear idea of what to drop, delegate, or redesign.

Next, look at the things you should be doing but are not. And commit to what you delegated and the tasks that matter to the company/organisation, the project and to you.

If you are not a fan of self-assessments, there is another simpler way to manage your tasks at hand: “The Not-To-Do List” by Sage Grayson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or just try 🙂 whatever works for you and your projects.

Human resources management dilemmas: a story

Everyone was pushing for his dismissal. His client, the project sponsor, the implementing agency. All except for me. I’ve dragged on the file for four months, for as long as I could, given the pressure from all sides.

A letter from the client to the project sponsor put an end to his contract. We settled for a mutually agreed termination of the contract and a bit of extra paid days.1.4

In the three weeks that followed from his resignation letter, he displayed the model of best professional behaviour. He was cooperating in his hand-over to a remarkable extent. I tried my best to respond to all his e-mails (up to seven a day some days), his telephone calls. I knew it was important to him. To talk to and to listen to him.

There was no blame. Just a set of circumstances.

A farewell coffee, a farewell note, cc-ed to entire team and a recommendation letter. A warm shake of hands and an eye contact to last throughout years. The least I could have done.

I often missed his honesty, integrity, eloquent communication style and a sense of humour to envy. Rare qualities these days.

My takeaway lesson from this is simple: As project managers, we need to look beyond strict client-consultant relations and understand the numerous complexities involved. Thanks to this mindfulness, I would like to believe, he was fully supportive of all management interventions that were required.

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his last e-mail to me                                                                                                                                   10 June 20xx

I hesitate to say, “You’re an absolute darling”, for obvious reasons … but you are.

Thanks,
S

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The simple art of confidence in projects and beyond

One of recent birthday cards from my dear colleagues read “We are happy to have such a confident colleague!”. I am thankful they let me see the way they see me. Especially, after a year of self-doubts, lows and struggles.
Some think confidence is built-in, genetic. Some think it’s about habits and choice. Might be both.
What I do is no rocket science, just a few tricks:self_confidence A. I know that fear and doubt are good signs. They save me from complacency and push my boundaries. I know I made it last time and there is no reason I cannot do better.
B. I say a polite “No, thank you” to my comfort zone. I have a public speech anxiety? I’ll ask my manager to book 15 min in our next meeting for an intervention. Once on the agenda, noblesse oblige.
C. I breath. I listen to my body. To its signs. I feel my heart racing? Good. My brain and body get more oxygen.
D. I move. I am relentless. I get things done. Procrastination? Fine, allowed sometimes. Bothering? Get off my *… and do something. Bake. Prepare home-made chocolate. Water my plants. Go to colleagues and ask if they need help.
E. I have fun. Once I drew a funny face carrot on a flip chart in a difficult Carrots-and-Sticks policy dialogue.
F. Some say confident people don’t care about what others think. I do. As long as I can learn something from it. Confidence in others strengthens my confidence.
One time, I had to share the feedback from an important partner with a consultant. It was very good to excellent but he did not know it. I handed it over in a sealed envelope with a grave face. “Is it bad?” He asked. “Yes, it is”, I answered and watched him turning red as he took off the papers. One minute later: “I knew you are bad. But you are very bad!”And we laughed. I took his point. Confidence does not need to be associated with bad.
G. I am staying on a judgement-free territory. Judging and gossiping are a waste of time and energy. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even if this was a hiring mistake.
H. I am resourceful. I know I do not have all the answers, but I have ideas where to look for solutions, whom to ask. I learned this from my first Human Rights professors. “A good lawyer does not need to know the law by heart. Knowing where to find answers makes a good lawyer”. I practice the same with people I work with. There are clear “Who’s monkey is this?” rules and I always ask if problems people face come with solutions and options to consider together.
I. Comparison is the thief of joy. I admit to the sin of comparison only with better and seek inspiration from most unexpected sources and people.
J. I build a network of friends and supporters. Sorry, negative perspectives and people with tendency to drag back are not part of it. I also know I cannot please everyone in life.
K. I keep trying. A failure? Good. Learned something. A mistake? Is it an interesting mistake? Oh yes, come in, and teach me. I am ready to try again.

Thank you Alden Tan for inspiration. http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/11-things/

Standard Operating Procedures

Projects are busy beasts. It is their very nature. Lots of processes running in parallel on the critical path. Soon you start noticing a déjà vu feeling. Hiring consultants. Procuring goods. Communicating on the 5th event the project organises. Organising the 3rd board/steering committee meeting. Handing over project results….

Here is where Standard Operating Procedures, also knows as SOPs, come in handy. They are nothing glamorous, but are very practical. SOPs may exist in the organisation or the Project Management Office. Or may be crafted by the project team.

In a Project Management Office I once worked, I was in charge of developing SOPs. I found that SOPs served well at least three purposes. They:

  • give clear instructions on ‘What to do When…”;
  • organise and record the information and its flow;
  • simplify the communication within and between teams.

See for example, a SOP for the Acceptance of the Project’s results/deliverable. Feel free to use it and/or adapt it to your project’s needs.

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Life behind bars: look beyond

I visited once a prison. I keep it in my collection of stories as a reminder of cognitive biases when I prepare projects. And how easy it is to fall into the traps of conventions and assumptions.

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It was in a former soviet country. It’s a travel in time. Once the gate closes behind you, the air, the walls, the smell, people looks all say “welcome to urss”. Not a very welcome “welcome” though.

It was a planned trip. The administration knew we are coming. White table cloths on meeting tables betrayed it. You cannot come in an unannounced visit to a prison, unless gifted with invisibility skills. What I could not have planned were my feelings and sensations. It does not help being a lawyer trained in human rights in this case.

After a dull meeting with silent and very tense staff, a guided tour was offered by the administration. After the first wall, the family reunion hall opened its door in front of us. A hall with seven doors: a kitchen, five  bedrooms with king size beds, and a bathroom. It’s the dream land for any inmates. For good behavior they get up to five days of family time per year with one of their loved ones. In the kitchen we found a beautiful, big eyed young women. She was cooking a meal for her husband who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. I saw sadness and commitment and no trace of resentment in her eyes. Will she be coming every year for the next 18 years to cook meals for her husband? They retrieved to “their” room. Tears filled my eyes.IMG_0778

After the security zone, en-laced in barbed wire, where a cat seemed chez-soi, we were taken into the heart of the prison. The prison has three blocks. The first one we were taken to was presented as exemplary: clean and all beds were made. It was remarkable as it was a large room, 70 by 100 feet, beds one by one, with tiny passages between the endless rows. I asked whether it looks so orderly because they knew that we were coming. No, assured me the head of prison, it’s a norm now,  after quite „a lot of invested effort and time into discipline”, whatever that means. It was the mine workers block, who get paid for their work and also get their term cut: a day for three days worked in a nearby mine. The room was filled with testosterone. Me and my other female colleague were safe, behind our colleagues from headquarters and their wide shoulders. In parallel, what I found striking was how relaxed were inmates compared to prison staff. After all,  they got it right, it was not them who were inspected!

What followed were a cascade of feelings. An overwhelming feeling of saturation, when I entered the canteen, the feeling of gratitude for my health, when I stepped on the white floor of the medical care unit, the feeling of dignity when the head of administration persuaded us against visiting the remote inmates block, the feeling of bounder-less creativity when I entered the church the walls in which were being painted by an inmate, the feeling of family connection when I looked in the eyes of a 70 old inmate who stabbed his wife, the feeling of enough when have seen two women surrounded by packages of food to fit into a wagon waiting for clearance to enter the prison and feed their dear ones, the awareness of the gift of freedom on the tiny, dark corridors of the solitary confinement ….

We were then taken to a workshop where some inmate were filling their days with wood crafts. Good behavior was a ticket to the wood workshop. I noticed the sharp objects they were using and asked whether there are any incidents/accidents involved. No, assured me again the head of prison. I’ve seen sad portraits, icons and toys cut into wood. I asked an old inmate what is he crafting. “A toy for my daughter” he said. It was a beautiful wooden horse. He was dreaming of freedom…

In this country now the head of prisons is a women. I would like to believe that she sees and feels beyond a wooden horse. And that so do we, those who craft interventions to help.