Off Target

When Target came to Canada in 2011, not only were consumers surprised that the retailer opened up over one hundred stores across the country, but so was the business community. To do such a “big bang” approach, you either know what you’re doing or you’re taking a major risk. Unfortunately for Target, its major risk did not pay off.

Target’s biggest failing was in not piloting its entry to Canada with one or two stores before launching full scale. Any project manager worth their trade will tell you that starting small and building up when it makes sense to do so is the best guarantee of success.

In addition to missing the mark with their full-scale roll-out across Canada, Target missed out on the basics of operations management. For one thing, their demand forecasting appears to have been a dismal failure. If they had forecast properly, they would have learned that Canadians preferred the U.S.-type Target stores and not reincarnations of Zellers.

Target also missed out on strategic capacity planning as well as facility layout design. Their inventory systems management was absent, to say the least. This also speaks to their lack of adequate supply chain management. When inventory is scant (as it was at Canadian Target stores), one might reasonably presume that the retailer was using some type of customized just-in-time fulfillment. However, this, too, appears to not have been part of Target’s strategy.

A material requirements planning or enterprise resource planning software would have helped Target manage its stocks and stores. However, we can see that even if Target had such a system, it, too, failed them.

And what about quality? Quality and price are generally prominent factors for consumers. Integrating quality into every element of an operation allows an organization to reduce its prices while still remaining profitable. Clearly, quality does not appear to have been a high priority for Target.

While one can hypothesize about Target’s demise in Canada, it provides little comfort to Target employees. As well, the company itself is now targeted (pardon the pun) as a losing venture:  At least, in Canada.

One thing is certain, though: Target really did miss its mark!

Types of Clients

Let’s face it. There are clients and then there are clients. The great clients (or customers) are those that are ready, willing, and able to work with experts to achieve organizational efficiencies.

And then there are clients who fall short on anything from initial meeting to following through with an expert’s recommendations – these latter clients are wasting not only the expert’s time, but their own, as well.

As experts in our various fields of work, we have all run into a variety of clients. Here are some of the more common types – if you’re a client, maybe you see yourself in one or more of these descriptions: 

Bargainers. These clients want everything you’re proposing, but they can’t pay for it. Or maybe they’re doing the project “under the table,” and don’t want to ask the “real boss” to pay for it. Solution: If the client does not have the money for the full project scope, downgrade the scope – phase the project into manageable chunks.

Naysayers. These clients just can’t believe the project will take six months to complete. Certainly they can do it in a fraction of the time. Solution: Explain why the project will take as long as it will (perhaps a timeline depicting steps is helpful here); if the client does not believe you, suggest a mix of internal and external resources to complete the project faster. Client is still a non-believer? Walk away.

Stealth Implementers. They insist that no one else from their organization needs to be involved in the project. Just do it. Solution: Stress (and demonstrate with examples) how involving others in the organization will greatly enhance the success of this project as well as change management when implementation occurs. 

Self-Made Experts. These clients believe they can do exactly what you’re proposing without you, so why are you charging them so much? Why don’t you just tell them the steps that you would take and then leave them to it? Solution: Walk away.

Call 9-1-1. These clients think everything is an emergency. They need your proposal “yesterday” and the work is required within the next month. However, when you give them your proposal, you don’t hear from them for six weeks. Solution: Develop a project timetable and meet each deadline. Build in “slack” time for all steps involving client input.

Weekend Schmeekend. This is the client that sends you e-mail at all hours of the day and night. Weekends are for working. There is no such thing as work-life balance. Solution: Say no when appropriate. Just because the client works all hours does not mean everyone else needs to, as well!

Committee Monger. The client who believes everything needs to be decided by committee. The end result? Everything gets decided by committee, no one takes responsibility for decisions, and decisions take much longer. Solution: Ensure that there is one “point” person (typically a Project Champion) that will sign-off on all deliverables.

Wordsmithers. You know the ones that review your work and almost re-write the entire content? Solution: Set a time limit for review and stress that only key content requires review. Provide an example. Or hand out the report ahead of time and then convene as a group to review the feedback.

In the end, it’s up to the expert to determine whether they are able to work with the client. If the decision is to fire the client, provide them with the name of another expert – even if it is a competitor. You’ll be glad you did!

Thriving or Surviving?

What is your worst case scenario? What will you do if: (a) you are unable to prevent it from happening, or (b) you are unable to mitigate the outfall from its actual occurrence?

What if the worst possible thing happens during your project, in your company, in your life? What will you do if you cannot prevent the thing you thought you could prevent?

It’s true. Sometimes even the best thought-out plans and prepared-for scenarios are beyond our control.

Many organizations create risk management strategies and hope to never use them. Some even go beyond planning and simulate risks to test their risk mitigation strategies. But imagine an environmental, financial, or other disaster that is beyond your or your risk management strategy’s control. The risk blows up your project or your organization.

What happens next is the difference between surviving and thriving.

An organization that survives will patch up the outfall from the risk and continue business with a limp, hoping to get back to pre-risk operations.

An organization that thrives will look beyond the risk, reinventing itself to become a stronger, better service provider. In short, companies that thrive are lean to begin with and are able to bounce back stronger than ever

Many companies anticipate and identify challenges and opportunities in any project. That is a typical first step. However, moving beyond the first step involves change—and change is difficult. For one thing, agile companies (those that thrive) do not have an emotional attachment to the corporate status quo. They are not in love with their product or service. In fact, the less emotionally attached the corporation is to its products, processes, services, etc., the easier it is to change and become a thriving organization.

A thriving enterprise reinvents itself frequently. It not only looks forward five, 10, 15 or more years down the road, but it continuously adjusts its products, processes, and services to meet the approaching challenges and opportunities. In fact, a thriving organization learns to “fail forward” to thrive. That is, developing a perspective around change, challenges and opportunities that are relentlessly solution focused enables organizations to thrive.

Like love and respect for a family, revisiting and remembering the past is good, but not if it stalls your future. Organizations that pre-emptively make the necessary hard decisions, will not only sustain their future, but will thrive in doing so.

Preventing Projects from Going Sideways

Your project is humming along when, without warning, the scope expands. In the consulting world, this may or may not be a good thing. Within organizations, however, scope creep can be a real problem—usually hurting the bottom line.

The secret to controlling scope creep is to control it from day one of the project. This means ensuring that you thoroughly understand the project’s deliverables and carefully tracking that all efforts go into only those deliverables. As soon as you notice work being done outside of the scope, stop the project. Examine why things are off track and work on re-focusing the project.

To help you successfully control your project’s scope, follow these five rules.

  1. Understand the project. Before writing the project charter, make sure you understand (really understand) the project’s deliverables. Ask for and make sure you get all the information you need to understand the project.
  2. Build a Gantt chart complete with time and resources. Understanding the tasks involved in the project is critical to writing the project charter. This includes anticipated timelines and resources for each task. A Gantt chart can be a powerful tool for visualizing the project’s work requirements at a glance.
  3. Write the project charter. With Gantt chart in hand, you can now write the project charter. The charter should include relevant information that both you and the team can use to manage the project. This includes: definition of the project scope (what is and is not included in the project – be specific), project assumptions, project objectives and deliverables, project organizational scope, project timeframe, project team and other stakeholders, risk management strategies, project communication plan, and a project change management plan.
  4. Work on the project based on the approved project charter.
  5. Manage project changes using the strategies outlined in the project charter.

A final word: Expect that there will be scope creep. Sometimes projects evolve into bigger undertakings as they progress. This is not a problem as long as you manage the change effectively. Refer to your project charter for appropriate change management measures. This includes obtaining necessary approvals and adjusting your timelines and resources before continuing with the project.

By keeping everyone informed about project progress on a regular (usually monthly) basis, potential changes or problems can be caught early and the project adjusted, accordingly.

Here’s to your project’s success!

Tradition and Productivity

In the acclaimed Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the main character, Tevye, explains his society’s traditions in the song “Tradition.” The song juxtaposes village life to a world that is changing all around them.

In many respects, struggles faced in today’s organizations may be rooted in difficulty in letting go of tradition—an inability to change.

Consider that the world’s most successful organizations have one thing in common: they are able to adapt quickly to change. Aside from the fact that the top 20 companies in the world are all in the field of technology, this in itself is telling—companies that have embraced technology are the companies that continue to lead in both earnings and productivity.

To improve performance and productivity, companies use technology and its related gadgets, but if the technology does not provide useful information to the user and the organization as a whole, its usefulness is limiting. Technological tools must be able to provide information about performance in both directions. Let me give you an example.

Some companies implemented a web-based time sheet manager that includes two measures of productivity on projects—one for the employee and the other for their team. While the system encourages productivity, it only measures performance one-way—the way the organization has determined correct.

In this example, time sheet measures provide what the organization is looking for, but what is missing is employee input. Meeting targets is one thing, but did the employee agree to the targets in the first place? Are the targets realistic? How has meeting the targets impacted employee wellbeing? These and other considerations need to be incorporated within performance measures to not only improve on performance measures, but to improve on the activities that comprise productivity.

The approach described is typical of many organizations. It is, by all accounts, traditional and one-way—company to employee.

Company demands for maximum productivity needs to be coupled with meeting employee demands. This includes understanding the individual and their work as well as understanding what the individual needs to get their work done. In other words, companies need to listen to their employees before developing systems. This is especially true in today’s economy where Generation X and Generation Y have already displaced the Baby Boomers in the workforce.

Successful organizations need to change their systems and processes to meet the needs of the “what’s in it for me” generation (X) as well as the Gen Y kids who are very technology-wise and “immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches.”

The tradition carried into the workplace by Baby Boomers no longer meets the needs of organizations. Insisting on maintaining practices started in the 20th Century is not a tradition that will benefit 21st Century companies. The successful organizations of the 21st Century will want to work with their individual employees to learn how to accomplish more for the benefit of both employees and the organization.

Dimensions of Change

Are you and your organization productive and efficient? Most people say that they and their organization are both. However, I have found this not to be the case in many organizations.  

At a recent process and value stream mapping exercise, staff expressed a desire to change their operations for the better and acknowledged that they had many process issues that needed “fixing.” However, they were confused about how they or the organization should proceed. They were also frustrated, indicating that their busy schedules would hamper change. This organization is not atypical in its reaction to change.

In managing organization-wide change, researchers have identified six elements that must be in place for change to be successful. If any of the elements is missing, successful change will not occur. Here is how these elements impact organizational change:

  1. If there is no vision, there is confusion.
  2. If there are insufficient skills, there is anxiety.
  3. If there are no incentives, there is resistance.
  4. If there are insufficient resources, there is frustration.
  5. If there is no action plan, there are false starts.
  6. If there is no collegiality, there is isolation.

When an organization has a vision, it focuses on achieving the vision. Whether it is through strategic, business, or service plans, the vision must be clear and it must be communicated to all staff. And it must be understood. When the vision is understood, the organization’s goals and objectives are clear.

Insufficient skills to meet the organization’s strategy are a key component in change. If skills are lacking, staff will feel anxious about their roles. When anxiety is present, inefficiency and poor productivity are also present. Provide training, coaching, and counseling to ensure that staff have the necessary skills to do their jobs.

Incentives are very important for motivating staff to change. Both financial and non-financial rewards can be equally effective at stimulating change. Examples of financial rewards include fair compensation, bonuses for work performance, or relocation support and housing. Non-financial incentives may include a quality culture, public recognition and awards, study leave, and mentoring in the work place, to name only a few.

Resources are another important factor in successful change. Simply stated, if there are insufficient resources to make change happen, then change will either not occur or will be slow to occur. Depending on the organization’s desire for change, resources must be ample, so that staff do not become discouraged with the pace of change.

Sometimes organizations forget about the importance of having action plans in place to guide change. Having an action (or implementation) plan provides everyone with a “road map” to change. In short, it allows all those involved in the change process to know exactly what is expected, who is responsible, and the timeline and process for achieving tasks to effect change.

And don’t forget about collegiality. It’s much nicer to work with colleagues with whom you share mutual respect than it is to endure hostility. Organizations need to ensure that their staff are well suited to the culture and that the culture promotes collegiality.

Managing change is not an easy task, especially if the change involves a large-scale project, but if all of the dimensions of change are in place, successful change can be a certainty.

Accelerating Project Success

Ahh…the project. Who among us has never had to do one? No matter what line of work we’re in, we all have at one time and/or another engaged in projects. Anything from planning an event such as a small dinner gathering to building infrastructure like bridges and highways comes under the purview of a project. But did you know that the success of projects is determined in large part by the amount and quality of project planning?

The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines a project plan as “a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control.” However, there are many occasions when a “formal, approved document” may seem over-the-top (e.g., dinner party planning). But no matter the size of the project, having some type of documentation to guide you through execution is recommended.

Consider this. Successful projects can typically be traced back to planning work that can take up to 80% of the project manager’s (and others’) time. What, you ask? When do they have time to actually execute the plan? You may be surprised to learn that the process of planning projects touches all nine areas of project knowledge control areas, whereas the execution process covers only five areas. In fact, of the five project processes (initiation, planning, execution, control, and closing), only initiation and closing have less steps than execution.

How do you make sure you have a fool-proof project plan? Here are five considerations:

  1. Define the purpose. Why are you doing the project in the first place? If you don’t know why, then you won’t know how to plan for the project, either. Knowing the purpose will help you define what success looks and feels like for the project.
  2. Allow freedom to happen, but don’t lose control. Identify what needs to be in place (e.g., policies, procedures, standards) to ensure project success. Then put this in place and trust your project team to move the project forward.
  3. Engage your team. Use brainstorming to fill in the gaps in your plan. Mind mapping used during brainstorming allows everyone to “see” the gaps and makes them easier to fill. A picture is worth more than a thousand words.
  4. Write the plan. Organize your plan in a logical sequence so that both left-brain and right-brain people will be able to glean understanding. Use a simple “at a glance” template and add detail in an appendix. Below is a template that I really like. It captures the “define-measure-analyze-improve-control” principles from Lean.
  5. Make decisions. As you implement your project plan, regularly keep checking the plan. Modify the plan during implementation, as necessary. Remember, plans are just that – plans. They serve as a guide in the process. Adjustments can and should be made to fit the reality of implementation.

Your complete project plan will include assumptions and decisions about the project as well as the project’s estimated (and approved) scope, cost, and schedule. Another advantage to having a project plan is that it helps to facilitate communication among stakeholders – they don’t need to guess about the project, since all the details are written in the plan. And that in itself can be counted as a successful outcome of your project!

It’s Not My Responsibility

When I need to facilitate a meeting, I arrive early to set up the meeting room to create a positive environment for the participants. When I leave, I make sure the room is tidy for the next facilitator. However, even if I use the same meeting room several times a week, each time I arrive, the room is in disarray. Why does this reoccur? The simple reason is: Because no ONE person is in charge.

When an organization does not take the time to identify and assign responsibility for every task, right down to details such as who is in charge of meeting room cleanliness or putting dishes into a dishwasher, it wastes time and creates confusion and frustration for its employees. The key to undoing this confusion is communication. Communicate and clarify roles and responsibilities for everything; and I do mean EVERYTHING. Here are some examples where time can be wasted when responsibilities are not clear.

  1. A task will not get done if two people think that the other is responsible for doing the task. To ensure there is clarity, check with the other person to confirm that he/she is responsible for the task. Better yet, management needs to communicate the responsibility and clarify this directly with the person(s) to whom they have delegated the task.
  2. If two people think they’re both responsible for a task, the task will get done twice (or perhaps not at all). As in example 1 above, communication is the key to ensuring that this timewaster does not occur.
  3. If one person is assigned a task, but others who need to involved in the task are not aware of this assignment, the others may not cooperate. Think about projects. If resources are assigned to projects, but those resources (employees) are not aware they are to complete tasks on the project, the tasks will not get done. Again, communication is key. Assemble all those who need to be involved in the work and communicate and delegate responsibilities. Then clarify directly with the resources that they understand and will undertake their responsibilities.
  4. What occurs when more than one person is in charge? Confusion and, perhaps, conflicting instructions. This is similar to example 2 except that in this case, the task may get done differently twice.

If the above situations sound familiar, then get clarity about your role and what responsibility and authority you have for a given task. Never assume that someone else is in charge or that you are in charge. Overlapping or confused responsibilities serve only to waste time.

Just Thinking About It Won’t Get You There

One of the things that I’ve discovered is that many people are great at planning–thinking about how to change processes or things to produce better outcomes. However, when it comes to reducing their plans to projects or actionable tasks, they get stuck. If you tend to fall in this group, spending your days thinking about what you need to get done, but never seem to launch out of thinking mode, then read on. I’ve got good news for you in the form of lists and schedules.

Actionable lists can help you define your projects and move you from thinking about what needs to get done to working on identifying tasks that will get you there. Lists provide visual cues and reminders to do the work. Having said this, just writing things down and being reminded to do them won’t get you there, either. What if you forget to look at your list regularly? This is where schedules can help.

Schedules keep you on track. When you know what needs doing (from your action list), use your calendar (I use my email calendar) to schedule time into your day (every day) for every single thing that needs to be done. Think of a schedule as a reminder of your action list.

When scheduling work on a project, try to schedule the same type of work at the same time of day. For example, if you need to provide a project update report to your boss, schedule it for the same time each week (or day) as the case may be. This provides consistency in work and you are more apt to do this task if it occurs at roughly the same time. The nice thing about scheduling consistently is that the more you do the same thing at the same time, there is a point at which you won’t need to look at your schedule to be reminded to do the work.

When working on tasks, work in short bursts. Typically, we tend to be very focused for either the first 20 or last 20 minutes of our tasks. If you can focus intently on your work for those 20 minutes and then take a break (look away from your work–perhaps look out the window, make a phone call, review your email, anything other than the task you are working on), you will be more productive than if you slogged at the task for hours. Using this short burst method, you will also develop better quality work.

For difficult tasks, schedule them during times of the day when you are most alert. If you’re high energy in the morning, then work on your difficult tasks in the morning and leave your afternoons for other tasks that allow greater flexibility in deadlines.

What’s on your action list this month? A better question may be: where is your list? Is your list physically (or electronically) written in a place where you can easily find it? Or are you thinking about it? Remember to dump that list from your mind to create action items that can be scheduled. This is your stepping stone to success, no matter what you’re working on.

Working to Death

A recent reader survey shows that British Columbia’s business professionals are working long hours, trending to near 70-hour work weeks. If you’re in this group, you’re setting yourself up for serious health and safety problems, most of which stem from sleep deprivation. In addition to these concerns, working long hours is counterproductive and does more damage to your organization than you might think.

The more you work, the less efficient you become. This results in more waste and less productivity. If the cycle continues, the end result can range from absenteeism due to stress and sickness to accidents on the job and even to death. One of the best ways to get yourself off the cycle of overwork is to pay attention to your work when you’re at work. Become efficient and productive during your regular working hours and you’ll never again need to put in regular overtime.

Here are ten things you can do right now to improve your productivity – i.e., do more in less time:

  1. Eliminate your physical and electronic clutter. Both are wastes that inhibit your performance. A clean office with sparse décor and no stacks and piles of stuff is more conducive to productivity.
  2. Zone in on your work. Organize your work items in zones based on how frequently you access or need an item. For example, if you use a paper cutter only once a month, there is no need for it to be in your office (zone 1).
  3. Move email out of your inbox daily. At the end of the day, your inbox should contain ZERO items – each email you open must be handled immediately. Use the B-F-A-T rule. After you open an email, read it and then B-bring it forward (if further action is required), F-file it (no action is required), A-act on it immediately (if a short response will do), or T-delete (toss) it.
  4. Prioritize tomorrow’s activities the day before. Then work on your priorities as scheduled. Stick to your schedule.
  5. Stop procrastinating at work. Socializing and playing computer games while at work only adds to your workload. Get help for procrastination – it could be as simple as taking a day off to refresh and recharge.
  6. Don’t ignore overwhelm. Figure out why you’re overwhelmed, resolve your issues, and move forward. If you’re constantly overwhelmed with work, maybe you’re in the wrong job.
  7. Think before you act. Productive people spend a lot of time thinking about and planning how to accomplish tasks before they actually do them. This helps prevent re-doing work.
  8. Configure your office space. The most efficient office space is a U-shape. It enables efficient workflow, saving you time. Better yet, ask your boss to consider an open space design for the entire organization. It will help improve your creativity and productivity.
  9. Use project management skills for big projects. If you’re new to project task estimating, take a best-guess at how long a task will take and then multiply that time by three to get a true timeframe.
  10. Use standards and procedures. If your organization does not have standards and procedures for EVERYTHING that needs to get done, then you are spending more time on tasks than necessary.

Implementing these ten tips will help you decrease your hours at the office, so you have more time to spend with family and friends doing the things you love. And at the end of the day, you owe it to yourself and to your employer to return to work mentally refreshed the next day.