Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Get them on the list and they will sort themselves

When it isn't clear what people should be working on, start by making lists of what they are working on.

I don't remember if it was Beetle Bailey or Yossarian (Catch-220 who worked out that if you carried a clipboard and a pencil, people assumed you were doing something and left you alone to do whatever you wanted, or nothing at all.  Today's equivalent would be striding the halls peering at a smartphone and barking  into it from time to time. We're all so busy that it seems to be an imposition to stop anybody long enough to ask them what it is exactly that they are so busy doing.

And, just as importantly, what they are not doing that they should be doing.

Frequent complaints include:
  • We're so busy doing operations, we don't have time to work on projects
  • I'm allocated to so many projects I can't get any work done on any of them
  • We don't have enough people to do everything
  • Everything is priority one - until another number one comes along, and then both of them are priority one
Maybe these claims are even true.  Before PPFM has had the chance to become effective, people have difficulty expressing why they are so busy, or what it is that they are so busy on.

Don't fall into the trap of defining a multitude of tasks that go into supporting operational needs.  As lists, they can go on forever. While any of the events on them may be the focus for a day or two, but the reality is that most of the events do not occur at all, or occupy a small part of the overall time available.  Only the overall manager of the actual operational tasks we are discussing should have any interest in this.  For everyone else, there's a level of effort.  We don't know what the specific tasks will be in any given time period, but we do know that pretty consistently xx percent of my workforce is involved with keeping alive whatever functions it is that the group manages.  Treat that as ONE activity, and decide how much effort is going into it on a percentage basis.

Now get these folks to list out for you every non-operations "project' they are involved with.  It may be surprising how long that list can be.  Or it may be really short, or at least it may be missing all of the priorities you thought you assigned..  Either way, most of the time it turns out to be a very revealing exercise.

Without your having to issue any instructions at all, self-corrections will begin.  Transparency is a beautiful thing. For most people.  Of course, some people will resent having their little shell game exposed.  Be prepared for that.

Shameless plug: you can read more about how this works in Let It Simmer:

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