Post and plan...

by Scosby Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This is a simple concept. One I learned from my past life in financial services. So here is a free lesson on how to manage those death march projects we seem to end up in too often.

These simple concepts translate well to any type of work and help one manage the complexity and uncertainty of large, overwhelming projects. Of course, there are no magic bullets in life but we certainly have options available to help mitigate the potential for burnout and even catastrophic meltdowns!

  • Track your hours
    • If someone tells me they don't have enough time in the day, I always ask them to print out a sheet of paper with a slot for every 15 minutes of their workday. Simply record what you did those last 15 minutes throughout your day for an entire week. You'll be surprise how much time you will "magically" find, despite your best efforts to work hard.
  • Take notes throughout the day
    • Rarely does one remember what caused a diversion in concentration, or the reasoning for any given action, after the fact. By taking notes, not only does your liklihood of remembering greatly increase but you now have a record. For example, "Bob walked into my office and mentioned Client XYZ is hopping mad about the new Widget b.c. it's not compatible with product ABC". Combine this with the technique above to have an accurate record of distractions, which can prove useful later when you tell your boss why things aren't as far along in the project.
  • At the end of each day, post!
    • This means record your actionable items. This can vary across industries, for example, in financial services the important number was how many appointments were scheduled for the next 5 days. In development, this is typically your assigned coding tasks' completion percentage. Regardless, take 5 minutes to gather your notes and hours and then update your tasks AT THE END OF THE DAY. This is paramount to success. Why? Let's assume you had a bad day. By posting at the end of the day, you are free to start with a clean slate the next morning. In fact, you should really forget about the current day immediately and start focusing on your mental pep talk to attack the next day supercharged and ready to run through brick walls to get the job done. Jim Collins calls this "Unwavering Faith" in his tremendous book "Good To Great" and this is just the kind of attitude to adopt.

If you find yourself not doing all of the above, or if you're on a team that doesn't practice all of the above, one day you will most likely find yourself waking up on the scheduled completion day for the project only to discover that you're actually just 40% done, have no idea how long it took to complete anything up to your current progress, and can give no accurate estimate as to a completion date. So you respond, "another week or two" and when that time passes you again wake up on the scheduled completion day and discover your actual progress, again have no idea how long anything took, and again can give no accurate estimate for a completion date. This cycle will continue project after project and usually results in angst all around, severly delayed projects and/or severly impaired functionality, poor quality, and possibly worse implications for your professional future!

Utimately, a little bit of planning and posting at the end of the day requires a small time investment but helps you avoid sleepless nights when that scheduled completion day arrives and you're no where near done. After all, you'll be able to pull out your logs, quickly review your notes and mention all the little details which ate up time and the productivity gaps during the project which resulted in the delay...although, if you were practing this all along, then you really wouldn't be surprising anyone since you'd have known well in advance that the timeline needed adjustments. See how much better this cycle makes you feel? It's always a better position to be in, especially when you have empirical data backing up your reasoning.

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