Project Management

The Lazy Project Manager

by
Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’. His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance. More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

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The Complex World

Is your business life ‘Complex’?

Well don’t panic, you are certainly not alone, but you should accept that you are part the ‘VUCA’ world today!

C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.

Meaning: Consisting of many different and connected parts - not easy to analyse or understand; complicated or intricate.

In a Forbes article ‘What Does VUCA Really Mean?’ Jeroen Kraaijenbrink writes: ‘Complexity refers to the number of factors that we need to take into account, their variety and the relationships between them. The more factors, the greater their variety and the more they are interconnected, the more complex an environment is. Under high complexity, it is impossible to fully analyze the environment and come to rational conclusions. The more complex the world is, the harder it is to analyze’.

The key here is whole messy interconnectedness of, it seems, everything to everything else.is not, necessarily, that any one point of connection is, in itself, complicated but that by connecting that point to another point, and both those points to each other, and then doing that over and over again many, many times that what you end up with a very scary looking piece of perceived ‘complexity’.

Harvard Business News noted, in an article called ‘Learning to Live with Complexity’ by Gökçe Surgut and Rita Gunther McGrath that there are two major problems of complexity (and you do need to know the difference between complicated and complex by the way). They said, ‘We’ve observed two problems commonly faced by managers of complex systems: unintended consequences and difficulty making sense of a situation’.

·       Unintended consequences: In a complex environment, even small decisions can have surprising effects.

·       Making sense of a situation: It is very difficult, if not impossible, for an individual decision maker to see an entire complex system. This is essentially a vantage point problem: It’s hard to observe and comprehend a highly diverse array of relationships from any one location.

So, the first concern is along the lines of ‘impact any one point and who knows what this might lead to’, which is a very worrying situation many would agree.

The second is that ‘nobody can actually see the big picture’ even though we have all been trained for years to ‘look at the big picture’, which is fine until now, because the picture itself cannot be seen in its entirety or ‘complexity’.

And so, the question has to be ‘How can we understand what can’t, apparently, been viewed?’.

Which leads us naturally to the appreciation that alone, we can’t. But in the company of the many, in the land of true collaboration, the impossible becomes more than possible thanks to our colleagues and compatriots at work.

 

Webinar

Join myself and Neil Derbyshire from Clarizen on the morning of 5th December where we will address the 4 main challenges of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and how working in a business agile mind-set can bring the rewards of stability, certainty, simplicity and clarity to your day-to-day work.

Join this free webinar to learn first-hand how:

1.    VUCA can be used as a catalyst to bringing change in your day-to-day world

2.    How a business agile mind-set will help bring stability, certainty, simplicity and clarity to your role

3.    How technology can help you overcome challenges in a VUCA world

4.    What can businesses do today to prepare for challenges in the future

Register your interest today to avoid VUCA now and in the future!

https://mkt.clarizen.com/webinar-register-how-to-become-business-agile-in-a-VUCA-world.html

Let’s Un-VUCA the VUCA world!

 

Peter Taylor is a change expert who has advised many other organisations on Change and Project strategy.

He is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com

Posted on: November 25, 2019 04:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Communication Breakdown

‘If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words’ Cicero, Roman orator and statesman.

The would be ‘lazy’ project manager will think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it and why they are communicating what they are communicating.

The general guidance is that some 70-80% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That is 70-80% of their time!

So, if you play the productive lazy game at all, and you only apply it in one area of project management it makes blinding sense to do it here, in communication. This is by far the biggest activity and offers the greatest opportunity of time in the comfy chair.

Imagine if you would able to save some of that 70-80% of your time, how much more relaxed would you be?

There is, to my mind, a great book – Alpha Project Managers by Andy Crowe[1] – it talks about ‘what the top 2% know that everyone else does not’ and it certainly identifies communication as a key area that top project managers excel at.

The book, based on a survey of 5,000 project managers, states in its findings:

‘Good communication is comprised of more than how the message is delivered. The information itself, the method used, and the timing with which it is delivered all contributes to effective communication.’

Communication on a project is a two way process. You are communicating out and you are receiving communication back at you and the usual complexities of filters and noise typically confuse the process of giving and receiving clear, accurate and understandable information.

Communication is also sequential, communicated through chains of people, which will add that ‘Chinese whispers’ effect – either intentional or accidental.

Add to that the sheer volume of communication these days, email, phone calls (landline and mobile), written, presented, verbal and so on, then life can be very tough for project managers to learn what they need to learn and to share what they need to share.

I was taught a truth in my early project management days – reporting is not communicating! The fact that the critical facts and important truths are buried somewhere in a report that the right people may be in possession of does not, in any way, mean that they have received the message.

I have also learnt that to waste time and effort in ‘defensive’ and ‘offensive’ communication, typically email these days, is truly pointless and will distract the project manager from the real issues. I know building an email trail that, to put it bluntly, ‘covers your ass’ is easy to do but far better results can come from directing those same efforts in really effective communication.

Effective communication is about isolating the critical information, utilising the optimum communication method for the person (or people) that you need to communicate with, and delivering that information at the appropriate time. I would also add that to ensure that you receive the right information back to you then you need to educate people on what information you need, how you would like to receive that information and when.

Understand how communication works

Now; you can go and do your homework, you can read a book, you can attend a course, you can ‘Google‘ to your heart’s content, and you will find lots and lots and lots of information about communication[2]. I really don’t want to get too technical here but simply put, and just so that you have a basic understanding, here is a summary:

There is a source – someone/something sending out the information.

There is the medium - this is the means by which the information is sent. Maybe this is spoken or electronic (email, fax, web etc) or through the telephone, maybe it is paper based (letter, poster, memo, post-it etc), or it could be an image or visual, or a sound. It can actually be silent through a look, a smell, body language, colours, or the arrangement of text (numbers or letters).

Right then we have what is known as the receiver – someone/something that is receiving the information...

And the final part of the process is feedback - the source will not know whether the communication that has been sent has been successfully received unless some feedback is received (some action or change in behaviour).

OK, got that, easy? Well no, there is a little more (well lots more if you study the topic properly).

Communication is just not simple, there are lots of different types of medium by which to send information and the way that the receiver understands the information might be very different to that which was intended. Most of us will have received a text message from someone that was taken to mean something completely different to what was intended for example, the same can applied to email.

On top of all that there are actually barriers to communication that can add to the challenge of communicating in successful and clear way. These can include:

  • Language (you are communicating between speakers of different languages or, if in the same language there may be an imbalance in the level of those language skills, or local dialects may be in place)
  • Content (maybe there is some ‘deep space’ technical content involved or acronyms or just long words that not everyone understands. Another variant of this are the levels of knowledge and expertise of the sender and the receiver)
  • Understanding or the lack of understanding of what the receiver wants or needs (how they wish to be communicated with and what they want to communicated)
  • Feedback (there can be a level of inadequate feedback, or none at all – have you ever been on those long conference calls where nobody says anything apart from the speaker?)
  • Emotional – your very mood can cause communication interference (if you are angry or upset)
  • Quality of the information being sent
  • The medium used (resigning from your job by text is not advised for example)
  • Lack of trust or honesty in the source
  • Lack of attention from the receiver (maybe a matter of priority, the status of the source or just poor listening skills)
  • Cultural differences

There are so many that it is amazing that we can communicate as well as we do on a daily basis.

Well often I fail at this. For example, telling my three boys it is time for bed should be easy. ‘Children, it is time for bed’ – job done. In reality, they will be watching the TV or on their laptops or playing their game machines, or more typically doing all three at the same time. I will be somewhere else in the house and they won’t be listening anyway and even if they did, they would be filtering me out because they don’t want to hear this particular piece of information. And so it results in the message being sent many times, at varying ranges and volume (and accompanied by increasing threats/incentives).

Be honest and be open

So having solved all the above challenges on communication I would suggest that in order to keep the levels of successful and productive communication high then it is very important that you are both honest and open in all of your communications. Even if you cannot share everything with others you can at least be open and say that that is the situation and why.

Be honest and keep your promises, do what you say you are going to do, deliver what you say you are going to deliver. Trust is critical. The lack of trust or honesty in the source (you) is, as we have already seen, one of the barriers to communication. But if you fail someone then they are not only likely to resist future communications they are less tolerant on understanding such communications.

And finally honesty in communication should also extend to not overpromising or ‘overselling’ anything.

There is very good Swedish saying ‘Sälj inte skinnet förrän Björnen är skjuten’ which roughly translated means ‘Do not sell the skin before the bear is shot’. What is the point in successfully communicating to someone and overcoming all of the challenges that that entails, only to communicate something that isn’t even true?

Communicate in the modern way

Now I get started on the modern world. The world of emails and texts and electronic information, the world of mobile phones and Blackberry’s, the world of conference calls and webinars, the world of almost instant communication. Shouldn’t it be easy these days?

Well ‘yes’ but also ‘no’, and the ‘no’ is mainly because of three factors. One is the massive reduction in non-visual communication – email, text, phone, conference calls etc – and the less visual activity (both sending and feedback) the greater the risk of misunderstanding. You know we even try and compensate for this – think of the ‘smiley’ faces we add to emails and texts for example. Secondly there is an equally massive rise in the sheer volume of communication each day – how many emails do you get each and every day? And thirdly, the speed of communication development means less time considering the receiver(s) – in the days of letter writing far more time was put in to constructing these forms of communication – how many times have read something you originally wrote some time later and thought ‘I didn’t mean that’ or how many times have you copied someone on an email without checking the email ‘trail’?

Effective but minimal communication is always recommended.

So my ‘Top 10’ tips on being ‘productively lazy’ when comes to communication:

  1. Understand how people, individuals, each want to be communicated with and adjust your style to suit them
  2. Explain to people how you yourself want (need) to be communicated with (and why)
  3. Prioritise communication targets (if you do get temporarily overloaded reduce your communication to this list)
  4. Validate that the communication you are providing is working for the receiver – in particular for critical information does written communication need to be supported by your spoken clarification?
  5. Delegate by plan – you have a project team so you don’t have to be involved in everything (decide what you can delegate ahead and make it happen)
  6. Filter – what you do get, don’t get involved in those communications that you don’t have to and someone has just copied you on and delegate at every opportunity
  7. Delegate by action – as and when you get new topics of communication always consider who else can do this for you (and then enforce that delegation)
  8. Enjoy the real benefits of Self Resolution (I am not saying don’t do your job but actually it is amazing how many ‘issues’ or ‘questions’ can be answered or resolved without you getting involved, don’t leap in immediately, give others a chance)
  9. Don’t get involved just because it sounds interesting – ask yourself ‘do I want to get involved’ and then ‘do I need to get involved’, get involved only if you answer ‘yes’ to both those questions
  10. And now on to email, lovely, lovely email – the features and functions of Outlook are many but I personally feel this leads to many forms of abuse
    1. Firstly I would say don’t just save it – edit it – filter it – summarise it – store it, and don’t store it in Outlook, put the essence of what the email is about somewhere else for later reference. Typically I have less than 20 emails in total in Outlook at any time, but I get a lot of emails each day. By keeping the list low it is easy to see new mails coming and to deal with them almost immediately, I never feel overwhelmed this way.
    2. Many people will disagree with me regarding emails but I personally find that ‘If you have to scroll you have lost control’ so you can forget all your fancy email rules and filters and the like, I would say just deal with them and move on.
    3. And do yourself and everyone else a favour, don’t copy people just because you feel like it, don’t create ever growing distributions lists, do remove people from email lists if you can (why reply to all every time – it is not necessary), don’t use blind copy, do remove email trails that are unimportant, and don’t copy yourself on emails (if you do feel you need that sort of audit trail you are probably screwed anyway)
    4. Last but not least, if you have to forward something to someone, think about it twice, read the entire email trail carefully, and then think about it on last time before pressing the ‘send’ button. Email is great, but use it wisely.

Communicate the communication plan

Every project should have a communication plan in place. Make sure that everyone knows what this plan is and how they should be contributing to it.

Also, validate its effectiveness on a regular basis, if it needs amending do so – and let everyone know.

Reporting is not communicating

Another well known project management law, Cohn’s law, sums this up so well. The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing’.

Putting together fantastically accurate and detailed reports and sending them to anyone and everyone, is most definitely not communicating. They won’t be read, no one has the time or interest to do this, and they won’t be valued and worse, when they do contain project critical information, they will be ignored. You are wasting your time.

Conclusion

The would be ‘lazy’ project manager should think very, very carefully about what they need to communicate and how they need to communicate it and why they are communicating what they are communicating.

Remember, the general guidance is that some 70-80% of a project manager’s time will be spent in communicating. That is 70-80% of your time!

So, if you play the productive lazy game at all, and you only apply it in one area of project management then apply it here, in communication. Save some of that 70-80% of your time by applying productive rules to all of your communication and you will see the benefit very quickly.

You will be able to successfully communicate what you need to in an easier way and leave yourself free to focus on all of the other aspects of project management, or even perhaps take it easy for a few moments – you deserve it!

[1] One of the best ways to improve your performance as a PM is to hear how the best already do it.

Imagine having access to the top project managers from organizations and industries around the world. Imagine uncovering what they do, how they approach their challenges, and what they know. This book gets you inside the minds of these top managers and shares their practices, their attitudes, and their secrets.

 

This groundbreaking work is based on The Alpha Study, a landmark survey of over 5,000 project managers and stakeholders. ISBN: 0972967338 http://www.velociteach.com/books/alpha.aspx

[2] Communication is the process whereby information is imparted by a sender to a receiver via a medium. Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality. There are auditory means, such as speaking, singing and sometimes tone of voice, and nonverbal, physical means, such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch, eye contact, or the use of writing. Communication is defined as a process by which we assign and convey meaning in an attempt to create shared understanding. This process requires a vast repertoire of skills in intrapersonal and interpersonal processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating.

 

Peter Taylor is the author of two best-selling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

In the last 4 years he has focused on writing and lecturing with over 200 presentations around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.

Posted on: June 17, 2016 07:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The F Word

No I am not getting all ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and aggressive but rather reflective on a presentation I delivered earlier on this year – titled ‘The F-Word’.

Well you can’t accuse me of not going for the attention grabbing headlines in my blog articles Actually the ‘F-Word’ I want to talk about is not the one you may be thinking of…

The conference theme I presented under was in fact ‘Fight, Flight or Freeze’ and this is what inspired me to consider these responses and validate that they were aligned to the spirit of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’.

There are actually 4 responses to a stress situation, or imminent danger event:

  • Freeze
  • Flight
  • Fight
  • Fawn

The fourth was named by Pete Walker, a therapist who said ‘I have named it the fawn response...the fourth ‘f’ in the fight/flight/ freeze/fawn repertoire of instinctive responses to trauma. Fawn, according to Webster’s, means: to act servilely; cringe and flatter’.

To explain this further to my audience I used a mammoth v caveman situation back in pre-history, the dawn of the would-be Lazy Project Manager/Caveman/Hunter.

Ug, let us call our caveman Ug for the sake of a name, was pretty fed up. He went out each day to hunt for food for his family and tribe members and each day, after many hours, he would return home with a small mammal of some sort and each day his family and tribe members would consume the food and demand more for tomorrow. And so the next day Ug would have to do it all over again. No rest. No time to himself.

And yet, budding deep inside Ug was the makings of a ‘Lazy’ (in a good way) man.

One day, as he gazed down across the plains from the cliff side where he and his family and tribe lived in the caves he stared at the herd of mammoth wandering around and eating. It suddenly came to him – if he could kill a mammoth his family, tribe and pretty much anyone else that might wander past the caves at meal times would eat for days and days and he, Ug, could take a well-earned rest.

And so Ug hatched a plan to kill a mammoth. To be honest it wasn’t a good plan but it was his plan and the next day saw Ug action his less than well thought through plan by striding down the hillside with a large stone club in one hand a large spear in the other. He headed directly for the first mammoth and with a loud war cry that attracted the attention of all of Ug’s family and friends, not to mention the attention of all of the mammoths nearby, Ug hurled his club at the head of the mammoth. The club flew through the air and bounced on the mammoth’s large hairy skull.

This resulted in two things. One that Ug now only had one weapon left, the spear, and two Ug had the full and undivided attention of the rather large mammoth with the three metre length tusks, 8 tonnes of body weight, and a minor headache. Ug moved on to stage two of his unfortunately unimpressive plan and threw the spear at the same mammoth, again with a mighty war cry. Up on the hillside his family members cheered (hopefully) at Ug’s bravery.

This then resulted in only one thing that really mattered. Ug was facing a charging mammoth of significant size coming at him at impressive speed and he now had only four options:

  • Freeze – not so good in this case as the mammoth is in front of Ug and heading his way (at speed and with a real purpose)
  • Fawn – you rarely want to pet a mammoth in any situation and this was definitely a ‘situation’ that petting was inappropriate
  • Fight – well Ug better have quite a few friends with a lot more weapons willing to join in the fight really fast and in reality these were all still up on the hillside loudly discussing the situation Ug had managed to get himself in to
  • Flight – sounds the most sensible in this situation, live to ‘FFFF’ another day!

History will allow us to fast-forward some months and see Ug, the now truly ‘Lazy Project Manager’, with a significantly improved plan born out of vivid personal experience overseeing an organised activity with all of the male tribe members driving a mammoth isolated from the herd towards a pre-selected cliff edge to fall to certain death ready for the hunters to recover the body.

Fast-forward a few hours from that and we can see Ug and all of his family members feasting on roasted mammoth and Ug looking forward to a few weeks rest and relaxation before his next hunting trip – hunting smarter and not harder!

Flight in this case was the right choice but there is another F-Word that Ug should have considered before that almost fateful first attempt at mammoth hunting.

Now let’s meet Nigel, Nigel has a body – lots of it, inside and out and Nigel is in ‘a situation’ – what happens to Nigel’s body? (Warning – this is the science bit)

A reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the hypothalamus. The initial reaction is followed by activation of the pituitary gland and secretion of the hormone ACTH. The adrenal gland is activated almost simultaneously and releases the neurotransmitter epinephrine. The release of chemical messengers results in the production of the hormone cortisol, which increases blood pressure, blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system. The initial response and subsequent reactions are triggered in an effort to create a boost of energy. This boost of energy is activated by epinephrine binding to liver cells and the subsequent production of glucose. Additionally, the circulation of cortisol functions to turn fatty acids into available energy, which:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action
  • Paling or flushing, or alternating between both
  • Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
  • General effect on the sphincters of the body
  • Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
  • Liberation of metabolic energy sources for muscular action
  • Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
  • Inhibition of the lacrimal gland (responsible for tear production and salivation)
  • Dilation of pupil
  • Relaxation of bladder
  • Inhibition of erection
  • Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing)
  • Tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision)
  • Disinhibition of spinal reflexes
  • Shaking

Do you recognise any of this?

I certainly do. I ran a significant project in the early days of my project management career and, to put it simply, I made myself pretty ill as a result. I was so focused and so involved in well ‘everything’ that I suffered from stress both during and after the project ended. I did neither myself nor the project any good acting this way.

There are many negative effects of stress:

  • Physiological effects
    • Headaches
    • Muscle tension and pain
    • Chest pain
    • Fatigue
    • Changes in sex drive
    • Upset stomach
    • Problems with sleeping
    • Urinary problems
  • Psychological effects
    • Anxiety
    • Restlessness
    • Lack of motivation or focus
    • Irritability or anger
    • Depression
  • Behavioral effects
    • Over-eating or under-eating
    • Drug or alcohol abuse
    • Social withdrawal

Stress is, in the short-term, a good thing in that those instinctive responses to trauma kick in and we move in to survival mode rapidly and go for our selected ‘F’ response but stress in anything but the short-term is a bad thing, as I found out to my own personal cost. But I learnt from the experience and this led me to the revised behaviour that forms the basis of The Lazy Project Manager - just like Ug I learnt from the bad experience and changed the way I acted.

And there is more - It has to do with the ‘fight or flight"’ gland in our brain, the amygdala mentioned earlier. As it turns out, this little gland has significant implications for project communications. When the amygdala ‘takes over’ in a ‘fight or flight’ situation we almost instantly lose the ability to do three things:

  • Empathize
  • Reason
  • Listen

Given how crucial those three things are to productive and constructive communications (both personal and professional!) then we need to be pragmatic and realistic about our communications whenever we are angry or very stressed. Specifically, we might need to give ourselves a ‘time out’ by not sending that email, or making that phone call, or continuing a heated ‘discussion’ with our significant other or our work colleague.

One last piece of advice – there is a real risk with regards to the ‘Fight’ syndrome option. Used successfully in one situation there is a real possibility of a future addiction to this option in the next situation and the one after that and so on. You face a tough situation and select fight mode, as a result you win the day or get want you want – you feel great! And so you respond the same next time around and there is no longer a possibility for any other response and this doesn’t make for a good project manager (or person).

And so on the real ‘F-Word’, the one I want to talk about, the one that our caveman friend Ug should have used, the fifth ‘F’.

This F-Word is ‘Foresight’ – the greatest strength a project manager has is to be prepared. I was given some great advice when I started out from my manager and that was ‘No surprises’ – he said that he would support me in all situations as long as he was pre-warned by me. He didn’t expect me to be perfect and he knew there would be problems at times but as long as I was the one telling him about the issue or challenge first he was confident that I was in control but if someone else told him first then I perhaps wasn’t.

So ‘No surprises’ is a good motto for all project managers. And that is where ‘Productive Laziness’ comes in – working smarter and not harder – being well prepared and therefore being capable of dealing with anything.

Go forward use the F-Word wisely and have foresight!

 

Posted on: August 05, 2015 07:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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