Have you seen action items that look like this in meeting notes or on formal action item lists?
During discussions, all of these made sense. But later, will people remember what each meant? It's the documentation that is lacking. This inadequate quality appears in hastily written or typed notes or just through bad habits. Unfortunately, written action items like these may lead to tasks that are not completed on time because workers did not know
You are a project manager who wants to ensure a high-performing workforce, so don't allow bad task documentation to get in the way. You have a lot of control over this, especially if you maintain a single compiled list of action items from all meetinhgs and discussions that many in the project contribute to.
Your objective is to enable someone to complete the task easily from the information documented.
First, make sure you get the basics documented every time. Everyone should make this a habit. Obtain these components:
Description . . . A clear, full statement of the task/goal. The trick here is to specify when it is truly done. That is, what exactly is the result desired. The three examples at the beginning do not do this well. Capture details here or expect problems.
Task Owner . . . The individual (not a team or group or role name!) that will ensure the task is completed. This person can delegate or get help, but is still responsible for getting the task done. The owner does not have to be at the meeting, so the clear, complete description is then even more important.
Date Started . . . You need this to track those items that are taking too long to complete and to have a record for future audits or lessons learned. There is another advantage that will be covered in the next post.
Due Date . . . This is important to create a sense of urgency in the owner. In addition, you can sort on due dates to bring attention to those that are due soonest. Sometimes Due Date is avoided because it is not clear at the moment what the due date is. The date can be so far in the future the date is not able to be specified. In these cases, would you put something like "N/S" or "TBD"? Don't do that. You need something to help manage your list of action items better. Instead of a particular date, you can put something like
These date alternatives provide a better tickler system when managing a longish list of action items.
It is difficult to be complete and accurate on action items if you wait for the end of a meeting and have to cram everything in, so define the action items clearly as they arise in discussion and think of what the task owner has to know. Get everyone in the habit.
If your project team reviews action items every week, you should maintain this kind of rigor. You as the project manager, or your project coordinator, can review the action item list proactively to find basic documentation gaps that should be filled before or during the next task management meeting. Sort on due dates to see which items to discuss first. I recommend this approach over reviewing by the order in which they were created.
Even with these tips you still have more productivity to gain. I'll provide more tips in my next post. Count on it - it's on my action item list.
There is an easy way to improve your reward program and you would be hard pressed to guess it. It doesn't take any more money or larger rewards.
If your reward system uses gifts of some kind, for example, logo cups, umbrellas, or any other kind of merchandise, all you have to do is split the items into two groups and allow selection from each group. Use any groupings you want, they don't even have to make much sense! The study showed that what is important is to build the desire to avoid missing out on the opportunity.
So consider how you can use this information:
But there's more! Looking at another report on rewards helps you refine your plans.
Make sure you connect rewards and recognition to organizational values.
Make sure you clearly connect rewards and recognition to desired behavior and performance.
If you do not have a lot of support in your organization for expenditures for rewards, consider recognition emails/letters from high-level leaders. Don't give up on some kind of effective reward system. It can set you apart from other managers in a time where the workforce really needs some support.
In my last post, the topic was a recent workforce survey and solutions to its highest-rated problem: crushing deadlines. But the respondents identified other high-ranking problems in the daily work environment that you can and should deal with in some way.
Interruptions and broken processes, for example. This is not the first time we have seen a survey rank interruptions high on worker's complaint list. These appear to be pretty universal., so if you did not do anything the last time ideas were given for interruptions, I urge you to do so now.
Try the following:
In the survey, non-existent or broken processes were also a major source of frustration. Broken processes can be seen as outside of the control of the project team, so workers feel especially helpless.
But this is not necessarily so in all cases. Consider a phase planning exercise where you ask the following questions of the team responsible for tasks during the phase.
Note that fixing these problems in some way will reduce the second-highest spoiler of the workday: never-ending overtime. Yes, if work flows smoothly (no interruptions and all processes are efficient) workers can be more productive. Being more productive means they will not have to work as long hours to get the expected amount of work done.
In both cases above, you are wearing your facilitator hat, not solving the problem yourself. Playing this role also shows your concern with the daily problems experienced by your workers, itself useful in helping them cope with these problems and thinking of you as a leader.
Does this sound like your workplace?
According to a proprietary survey conducted by AtTask, those are four characteristics of today's workplaces. Yikes. That is no place to get a project delivered.
Unfortunately, in cases like this, project managers can think, "Well, I can't do anything about these kinds of problems. They are the responsibility of people above my pay grade''. Still it is you who suffer the consequences.
Is there anything you can do? Push yourself to think of options. Not all may be possible, but you may identify a shrewd way to mitigate these circumstances. Perhaps a way that may also help you be seen as a better manager, a better leader, someone valuable to have in the organization, someone who is one of the top performers.
Here are some ideas. Try them or use them to inspire your own ideas. The fact is that it is not possible to continue to overuse your workforce and still get needed productivity. Instead, you will lose productivity to one or more of the following:
Consider the top listed item from the survey : Crushing deadlines for the workforce.
When planning, think about the factors that cause this to happen and nip them in the bud. If sponsors or internal customers routinely demand impossibly short durations, provide initial estimates that are longer at first, then allow cutting down to a more manageable level. Everything is a negotiation. Your justification in this case is that you are basing your initial durations/timelines on recent history (lessons learned) of the organization. You are considering current resource constraints and stakeholder participation (or something similar).
In case you are now past the planning stage in your project and are experiencing crushing deadlines that everyone has just simply come to expect without thinking about it, what can you do? It's part of the culture.
Take refuge in your project management processes and practices. Log and raise an issue that an upcoming deadline may be missed. Have a substantial list of reasons based on input you get from the workforce, partner groups and stakeholders involved. It's got to be honest, accurate list, but you should be able to get plenty of input that can be trusted. Communicate this through normal report-outs and escalation channels.
Show your optimism and can-do attitude by providing a resolution plan, "go to green" plan, whatever you call it to add a couple of more weeks, or whatever is needed to complete the work. You will have asked your workforce how much longer they need to create this plan.
Now be careful, don't blame it on one person or group. This is a prescription for conflict that will spoil your plans. No one wants to be blamed in this kind of environment and they will attack you professionally and personally if they are backed into a corner. Instead, describe a general problem across the organization, "existing in multiple areas" you might say. It could be a resource constraint, holidays, delays in getting access to leaders due to an offsite strategic planning period, new regulatory compliance initiative taking time from multiple groups, whatever. Seize upon the opportunity to communicate the problem and get more time. It's better than missing the deadline with little advance attention and communication. No leaders like surprises.
What if you really really to want to blame one or more people? Goodness knows this is a real problem sometimes. As a more constructive alternative than blaming, gird yourself and go to these individuals and get their take on the situation. They too may be having the same problem. Or they may have a rationale that helps you understand and communicate the obstacles you face to meeting your crushing deadline.
As a project manager you may face stiff odds to meeting certain deadlines. Do not give in to despair. Be creative in seeking solutions that work in your organization. That will put you in the small percentage of persistant professionals who get things done when others only find obstacles and excuses.
What other ideas might work in certain situations for crushing deadlines? How have you been successful? What have you learned?
In future posts, I'll look into dealing creatively with the other characteristics.
Do you exhibit the most desired executive trait? If you do, it certainly makes your work easier and even benefited your career.
So see if you can pick the “most desired executive trait” as determined in the IIC Partners survey of leaders from this list of desired traits:
This should be a pretty easy choice. Executives around the world chose this 3:1 over the next most desired trait which is "Performs well."
I've got to admit, I might not have guessed it although I know of its importance. I might not have guessed because we are talking about executives ranking their own most desired trait. I may have been led astray by my experience or Dilbert. Anyway, the trait they chose overwhelmingly is Ability to Motivate.
Do you see why I would have selected something different? Is it your experience that executives are great motivators?
If you are a project manager and you have the ability to motivate, you can better get project teams to meet deadlines with expected quality. You can get stakeholders to participate more often. You can get decision-makers to make decisions. You can get your project core team to focus on the correct tasks and follow the best project management process. And that is good for everyone.
And, if you are thinking about moving up in the organization, there is even more reason to build your motivation skills. It's what executives are looking for in other executives they are hiring. The good news is that you can build and show off your motivation skills as a project manager!
There are many posts in Eye on the Workforce on motivation (filter the posts on Leadership or Performance Improvement to start) not to mention the rest of the site. You can find plenty of other resources on this topic.