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Author: Richard Lannon

4 Ways to Improve Your Productivity by Creating SOP for Repeatable Tasks

This week I was privileged to have a coffee with a senior technology partner from Myers Norris Penny, a consulting firm that provides customized services, advice and strategies for small- to mid-range businesses in Canada.

During our conversation, I mentioned that I believed professionals should create standard operating procedures (SOP) for all repeatable tasks, even if they are small. But, I think it all starts with understanding and answering some important questions, such as: What is your time worth? What can you get off your plate? How should you create a SOP? Who will do the work?

My Time is Worth Something

Over fifteen years ago I received an invitation to my preferred future. In other words, I was released from my duties in a major organization due to a demerger. As part of my package, I was enlisted in Right Management’s Career Transition Program. That turned out to be a great experience. I decided that I wanted to create my own consulting firm and focus on being a combination Practice/Thought Leader. One of the exercises we did was to determine what my time was worth and what to bill clients? The consultant I worked with had a spreadsheet for calculating your value (look me up and email me for a copy). If you are an employee, the simple method would be to add salary + benefits + seat costs divided by 2,000 hours per year. You would also need to make an adjustment for vacation, weekends and holiday time. A basic result without adjustment might be ([$120,000 + $25,000 + $15,000]/2000) = $80.00 per hour. Based on your hourly value, should you be engaged in basic, repeatable tasks in your work? If yes—because it’s your job—then fine. But if you are being asked to provide more value, then you need to shift your thinking to high-value activities and delegate low-value activities. This is especially important for independent professionals for whom hourly numbers would be higher and therefore different. You need to understand what your time is worth so you can make informed decisions about the tasks you do. This leads to the next point.

Know What to Get Off Your Plate

This is a tough one. We all get married to the work we enjoy and are good at. But that does not mean you should be doing it. Maybe you like technology and enjoy posting blogs and updating your WordPress site. That could take up to 2 or 3 hours of your week. Or maybe you are a former bookkeeper and know how to use Quickbooks and like doing your own accounting. You could be the go-to person for editing at your work. Articles come in, and you edit them and put them in order. You have a schedule to keep too. But without a consistent effort and SOP, things fall through the cracks that impact other people’s lives. I’m guilty of this one. It is easy to do tasks that you know how to do. It is harder to know when you should no longer be doing them and give them to someone else.

A business associate and friend of mine, Mark Leblanc, talks about knowing your High-Value Activities and Your Low-Value Activities. He says to focus on your HVAs and delegate or outsource your LVA. Through using a combination of knowing your value and listing repeatable tasks, you can quickly determine what you should delegate and outsource. For example, I write and publish a bi-weekly, professional blog. If I break the tasks down based on value, time, deadlines and future commitments is worth, you can quickly see that after the article is written, an editor edits it, an assistant publishes it, and a social media person promotes it. After publishing the article, it goes into a two-week cycle re-publish where a team, who gets paid, does their things. All repeatable tasks that are set to a specific publishing schedule need to be followed to ensure consistent delivery and that audiences’ expectations are met.

My point here is, as a professional, it makes no sense for me to be engaging in all the activities from point A to Z. As much as I like playing with my blog site and updating things, it is a low-value activity that is better managed by other resources so that I can focus on high-value activities. So, the question is, what are the low-value activities and tasks that you are engaged in, which someone else could be doing for you? Make a list.

Create Your TASK SOP

Once you know what your blind spots or low-value activities are, then it is time to write a tasked-based SOP for it. Consider using a consistent title format like: SOP Activity to Task – Publishing Bi-weekly Blog or SOP Activity to Task – Bookkeeping or SOP Activity to Task – Status Meeting Preparation. Whatever the SOP, be consistent in your titling. Consider using Word or Excel. I use Word. I might make the jump to GoogleDocs soon. Create a simple table that has four columns, and include the following information: Task, Who, Due and Notes. The number of rows will depend on the number of tasks that have to be performed on a regular basis. The due date and time are extremely important because they impact all other tasks.

So, if I use publishing a bi-weekly blog as the example, I would start with the primary publishing dates, the secondary publishing dates, submission deadline and work backward. Tasks would include: researching and writing the blog (author), content reviewing (1st editor), copyediting (2nd editor), submitting (virtual assistant – VA), article reviewing (publication editor), graphic selecting (graphics person), blog posting (social media person), social media promoting (social media person), etc. I think you get the picture now.

You may not have people you can assign tasks to. That is not what is initially important. The important thing is, you have taken the time to write out the tasks and to think about what is needed to accomplish the tasks, so the work gets done on time and budget with the least amount of negative, future impact. Now you need to consider your options for getting everything done through other people. This is especially true if you are seeking to optimize your most valuable asset: time.

In-sourcing and Out-sourcing

There I wrote those words used in the hallways of corporations and businesses all over the world. You can add a word ‘task’ in and call it task-sourcing. Maybe you prefer the word “delegation” instead. Basically, that is what we are talking about. I do think in your professional it comes down to what you can and cannot do. For this section, I am speaking to a mix of employees, contractors, and consultants whom task-sourcing is an option.

For the contractor and consultant, maybe you can be put into the same grouping. I do not see contractors as consultants. There is a distinction between operational contracting and fractional consulting engagements. But this article is not about that topic. For our purpose, independent contractors and consultants should be task-sourcing low-value activities to third-parties, such as basic administration, book-keeping, editing and posting internet stuff. You can have a family member or a virtual assistant do those tasks for you. Even report editing could go to someone else. All you need to do is to build your team. There are many options available. For example, UpWork and Fiverr can work for you. I have used these services to create a team of people to handle basic tasks and to follow standard operating procedures that are based on very specific deadlines. I do pay the team that I have created. From time to time I have had to terminate a relationship due to poor performance, so I just hire a new resource quickly. So, for the independent involved in business analysis work, there is no excuse for having a poor back office. Especially when what you do impacts the business, revenue and costs of other people or the organization you represent.

If you are an employee working for a company, then you need to learn some basic delegation and negotiation skills. But first, get your SOP done. That is where it starts. As mentioned above, start the process by outlining the tasks and identifying the role to take care of the task. Then chat with your team leader about the SOP, provide options to create efficiency. Your team leader might have some ideas as to how to rearrange work, so you are focused on high-value activities.

If you are a leader, then you should look to your team, discuss the SOP and determine who can do what and for what reason, and the required outcome. Answering why is going to be super important. If you are a professional, then you need to have a meeting with your leader to discuss the SOP you created and to talk about who will do what and for what reason they will be done and the outcomes.

Some years ago, I ran a workshop on Coaching and Delegation for Project Managers and Business Analysts Who Lead. In that workshop, we did an exercise called the Delegation Card Game, which is about knowing what it is you are delegating, why you’re delegating, and the required outcome. You delegate with intent. If you are going to SOP your tasks, you will need to delegate with intent. The Delegation Card Game can be found on my website’s free resources.

Final Thoughts

This was an important blog to write and share. It comes from my frustration of putting systems in place to optimize my time and ensure I am not engaged in activities that are tasked-based; things that other people could be doing for me. I cannot always use my time effectively. Things change, teams change, new people get added, and adjustments need to be made. We all live in that world where achieving that perfect balance between valuing activities and getting jobs done, can be a battle. I do believe that through knowing what you are worth and what to get off your plate and creating a standard operating procedure and in-sourcing/outsourcing (delegation) of tasks, you will become focused on higher-value activities. Good luck.

Remember: do your best, invest in the success of others, and make your journey count. Richard

Roles, Responsibilities, and Skills – Project Managers and Business Analysts meets Business Analysis (clarify your perspective)

It still amazes me, after 14 years of speaking, teaching and writing about Business Analysis I still get this question:

“What is the difference between a Business Analyst and a Project Manager?”

I was teaching a Fundamentals of Business Analysis program for Project Managers when this question was raised. Since the program was focused more on Project Managers, we are using the Project Management Institutes (PMI), Business Analysis for Practitioners: A Practice Guide as a reference.

Related Article: Diving Into Unofficial Roles & Responsibilities Of The Business Analyst

So here I am with 47 of my new closest best friends having a dialogue about the role and responsibility differences in these professions. The simple answer to this question is the Project Manager is responsible for the beginning, middle and end of a project with initiation, planning, execution and closure whereas the Business Analyst is concerned with the end product and business solution making sure the requirements are met for the key stakeholders.

Here’s the thing: the question being asked is about titles and positions but does not actually ask about roles and responsibilities. For example, as a Director of Operations, you would have the title and a position. In a traditional organization, you might even think you have some authority rights, which in today’s rapid business climate is a bit passé. As Director, you would take on certain roles and responsibilities beyond the position sitting on committees, running initiatives (projects) and even doing Business Analysis work. Maybe at a different level, but you would be.
In reality, Business Analysis can be performed by anyone tasked with understanding the business problem, business opportunity, potential business solutions, implementation of a potential business solution, and measuring project, program or strategic initiative results. So really, Business Analysis is done at all levels and across all departments (strategic, tactical and operational) within a specific context. It gets messy when you seek to place traditional structures around Business Analysis through titles and positions. Unfortunately, a lot of organizations have no choice but to put Business Analysis or at least the

Business Analyst in a box.

Some time ago I was hired as a Program Consultant by a Director of Enterprise Services and the CIO of a large resource company to get ITSM on the strategic agenda of the organization. It meant as a Program Consultant I had to put on a senior Business Analysis hat and get three distinct organizations (utilities, gas, and oil) in two continents to agree ITSM was a good investment for everyone. This was a pure bottom-up initiative where Project Managers would not have been involved since the initiative was not yet approved and funded. The key stakeholders were middle and senior management. Therefore, there was nothing yet to implement. I truly love these kinds of initiatives. Discover if something is a good idea and then, maybe, we’ll bring in the Project Managers.

The program analysis required me to use the soft and hard skills of Business Analysis to determine if service management was a good idea. That meant an assessment and one-on-one interviews with key people to discover their challenges, get their thinking on potential solutions and what the benefits would be before even mentioning the potential solution domain, ITSM. It took 4 to 6 weeks to do.

I reported back to my Sponsor and CIO with a discussion and recommendation we engage key stakeholders from each organization to discuss their maturity levels, what they would like to achieve, the benefits and a develop a set of 6 key recommendations for the executive team. My sponsor approved the next phase of the initiative to work towards building consensus among the management team and the best course of action.

To make a long story short 6 to 8 months later, we got the initiative to the business case stage and presented a business case to the executives and board of directors for approval. From a business standpoint, it made sense to proceed with the initiatives since there was a huge opportunity to standardize and share support services across three distinct organizations. Upon approval, Project Management kicked in. The Project Managers prepared their plans for execution while intermediate to junior Business Analysts joined the team to further flesh out the detailed requirements. In this case, senior Business Analysts started the process, and other Business Analysts completed the process downstream.

In this scenario, for the initiative to get ITSM on the agenda of the organization, I was called a Program Lead and Consultant. The title relevancy allowed me to be categorized within an organization so I could carry out my sponsor’s mandate. From a role and responsibility skill set, I used Project Management and Business Analysis expertise needed to get the job done. For the phase one initiative, we had a project charter and Business Analysis charter blended. This set the boundaries for the evaluation work to be done.
We developed a requirements management plan and a communication plan to ensure we had a path to follow and a means to communicate what we were doing. There was a summary of findings and status meetings, financial evaluations, business case development, and not to mention the one-on-one meetings, interviews, and group facilitations sessions. If you love Business Analysis and Project Management blending at the senior levels, this was a consultant’s dream, a real enterprise initiative working at the senior management and executive levels.

Over the course of my career, I have been a senior consultant and senior Project Manager running small and large scale projects for organizations. The interesting thing is that I have always had to use the Business Analysis skill set in Project Management. I have also been a Business Analyst. In my junior years, I did small Project Management work to get things done.

The big change I have seen is really the change in titles. For me, Project Management has been reasonably stable since the mid 90’s. Business Analysis, on the other hand, has not. I recall a time when I was called a CSR (client service representative). I came to work one day, and I was told my title had been changed to Business Systems Analyst and Coordinator. My job didn’t change at all nor did my pay. Eventually, someone asked me what I did. I told them, and they said, “Oh you’re a Business Analyst.”
Business Analysis is all over an organization. It is not the rightful domain of any one department, group or individual. It is a role, a skill set, and crossing over boundaries to better understand the business need and to come up with creative strategic business solutions to challenging situations. This is a significant difference when it comes to Project Management work of getting it done. Organizations will find Business Analysis being used on agile teams, with process and systems analysts, product managers and owners, Project Managers, requirement managers and a whole host of other places.

I do believe in the importance of advancements in creativity and strategic Business Analysis thinking and abilities. Business intelligent and artificial intelligent will strip away the fibers of traditional thinking, titling and wage structures. Pure talented Business Analysts will rise to the top of a number of organizations where building business brainpower is rewarded. The professional who is willing to master the application of the Business Analysis skill set will rule the future business kingdom while everyone one else will still asking, what just happened. The Business Analyst will already know the answer.
Final Thought – It is not often I write this kind of article, walking the fine divide and complexities of the Business Analyst versus Project Manager’s work. When you are locked in a room with 47 people, and they are all asking the question regarding the difference between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst. What are you supposed to say? Really it comes down to the size of the organization and the many hats you wear. Maybe, the Project Manager asks, is it done yet, and the Business Analyst asks, what solution options are available. The reality is both title professions use the Business Analysis skill-set. You just need to choose which side fits you more naturally.

I suggest you dig deeper and look at the skill set you need to develop for success in your business, career, and life and you will see there is a bit of Business Analysis in all of us. Good Luck.

Remember; do your best, invest in the success of others, make your journey count, Richard.

8 Things You Must do Better to Make Better Decisions

I have been thinking lately about what it takes to make decisions. Just recently I was presented with a situation where some major decisions will need to be made.

Ones that impact changes in business and careers focus and could mean going into a whole new direction. So you have to make the best decision with the information at hand for your organization. From that perspective I think there are eight things you must do to make better decisions.

1. Invest in decision making skills.

This is something that holds true today as it did ten years ago or more. I see this as a foundational skill that people need to learn, practice and apply. There are many approaches or methodologies that can be applied in the decision making process whether you are a traditional organization, project based, a committee environment or driven by the board of directors. Often the fundamentals of decision making are missing. Look at the environment and create an appropriate decision making structure.

2. Create time to think ahead.

Time, time and more time is something we don’t have. It has become a luxury that most people can’t afford. Yet making good decisions requires time to reflect and look at the road ahead. What if you are considering changing careers and decide to go in a whole new direction? This is a big decision. This applies to a business venture also. Change and transformation are difficult to do on a whim, often you are required to think and plan ahead. But don’t over think long term plans as things change around you quickly.

3. Know who you serve.

This is an important point to answer. I know a lot of business leaders and professionals who I am completely confident in their ability to get the job done, to move forward and make things happen. But, they lack an important insight and clarity of who they serve. Decision making is a whole lot easier if you know who you serve whether it is a specific target market, an organization or something else. I think it provides opportunities to make mindful decisions and improve innovation and creativity in solving problems due to clarity and focus. It does not matter if you upset the market because you know who you serve.

4. Question everything, especially the business.

I often get asked how I would approach a specific problem. I am in a meeting and someone sets up a scenario and wants to know my approach. Any good business analyst, trainer or consultant will know the basics; define the problem, evaluation solutions, implement the approved solution, and measure the results. Part of the process is to question the business model. Recently I had this happen in a meeting with an executive director. I was presented with a question and responded but within that response I placed questions to better understand the business model of this organization.

Turns out they are looking for a change and the business model is suspect. It is always good to question, even when answering.

5. We can all think in a straight line.

Straight line or linear thinking is the a, b, c, of decision making. With so many organizations talking about innovation, creativity and being intentional I wonder what’s the point. There are many theories about what approach you should take. I still think the best approach to decision making and initiative integration is a mix between predictive and adaptive planning. These two approaches provide the best of both worlds, and when blended, often provide an organization an approach that works beyond the mere linear.

6. Create a story around decisions.

Life is a story and you write it yourself. With every decision there is a story that comes from people discussions, thinking, making assumptions, determining impact and communicating the decision. Wouldn’t it be great if you could create a decision narrative that is beyond the old boring business report? People want to be part of the decision story that makes a difference thus bridging organization gaps. You should create decision making stories.

7. We are all moving at the speed of a click.

Over decades my career has been part of the professional consulting and service economy which has accelerated at lightning speed in recent years. When I look at the professions’ value stream I think we need to make better decisions around the downstream business environment. Clients no longer just order or buy stuff they engage now in a very different way where it becomes difficult to determine the ROI on business activities. Margins wither as the need to provide valuable free content increases making business decisions a challenge to make. No matter the business you are in, the accelerated service economy is impacting your business.

8. Find a tool, reduce your risk and get costs under control.

The strategic business analyst looks at the past, present and future of a strategic plan and approach and use financial analysis of NPV, IRR and ROI within your business case. But it is important to go further and look at risk with uncertainty analysis. This is something that I learned over time from various economic adjustments (ie: dot com bubble burst, corporate and accounting scandals, subprime mortgages issue, and resource industry collapse) I think uncertainty needs to be determined better. Business intelligence and uncertainty reducing tools can be used to assist in this analysis. My point, the business analyst can play an important part in helping organizations make decisions through embracing uncertainty analysis approaches and tools to help deal effectively with unpredictable times.

Final Thoughts

Big decisions are tough to make, especially when you have invested so much time and effort on your business or focus area. When you work in a space where you are building skills and helping businesses define their future, you start to realize that there are certain truths that exist. One truth, everybody wants to survive and be around a long time. The second truth, that there is always a purpose that needs to be achieved. Third truth, good decisions and core competencies take you a long way to creating a profitable future thus achieving the first two truths.

11 Steps to Being a Leader-Delegator in this Crazy World

Recently I spoke at a Project Management Institute event on “Time Management and Productivity through Delegation”. We could have called the speech; Being a Leader-Delegator in this Crazy World. I think that is what is being asked of professionals anyway.

During the presentation, I clearly stated that I believed that time management is dead. It has been taken out by that which was to make us more efficient – communication technology advancement. 

We have too many time and productivity invaders in our lives, as we are constantly bombarded by our connections, linkages, and need to know what is happening right now. Click and our focus has gone in a new direction. Down the rabbit hole we go. So, if time management is dead then what has to take its place? The choice is obviously discipline, self-discipline!

As a word that often causes personal discomfort, self-discipline appears in various forms, such as perseverance, restraint, endurance, thinking before acting, finishing what you started, and as the ability to carry out one’s decisions and plans, in spite of inconvenience, hardships or obstacles.

This is a heck of a definition for the leader-delegator to live up to. It means that you must embrace at least the following 11 items to be successful. 

  1. Take a candid look at who you are and get clear on your strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, you quickly need to learn to leverage your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. This is not always easy to do as it is a leadership skill that you need to develop.
  2. Recognize that the only things you can manage are activities and tasks. This means you need to know where you spend your time. A time audit will help you find the inefficiencies and understand that doing a task does not mean it’s important. 
  3. Use a productivity matrix to determine what is urgent but not important for you to be doing. This does mean that it is important for someone else to be doing. Those items you can let go and delegate. This is an important concept for the leader-delegator to master. 
  4. Embrace productive thinking model as a basis for better delegation. This means you will need to think better through asking key questions. 
  5. School your team in being a team. In today’s business community, the only way to survive is to behave like a school of fish that comes together to protect itself. Great leaders know this simple principle. That there are just too many stakeholders wanting to feed on your time. The stronger your team, the better you all survive. 
  6. Know the productivity cycle of your team and the individuals on it. Everyone has a productivity cycle that flows throughout the day. Leverage that cycle with things that matter so your teams will create better solutions. 
  7. Do not take on anyone else’s monkey (issues). Someone will always want to give you their monkey. You meet this person in the hallway. They tell you their story. You look at your watch and notice you are now 15 minutes late for your meeting. They end the discussion with, “I am glad you will look into this for me”. They feel relieved. Just like that, you own their monkey. That is, you own their issue. Your job is to give that monkey right back. Good leader-delegators learn this skill. 
  8. Create a delegation plan. You need one to survive. I use a standard matrix. Initiatives across the top and common activities along the side. I place two names in every box. One is the primary, and the other is to be mentored by the primary. That way I always have a backup, and we are developing people. It is a simple matrix, but it works. 
  9. Create remind yourself notes to not do something. Put your name on it at the top, write the note and sign it. For example, Brad – Don’t do this yourself! – Signed Brad. If you create reminders for the things you should do, then you can create reminders for the things you shouldn’t do. 
  10. Build your delegation coaching skills. It is imperative for building teams as a leader and surviving the delegation negotiation cycle that you will experience as you commit to releasing yourself of unimportant items that are important for other people to be oing. See point number three.
  11. Learn the ten levels of delegation that you can use and apply to the people around you. The levels of delegation free you from trying to figure it out yourself. Through a simple process, you can identify what needs to be done and assign the activity or task appropriately.

There is a lot for the leader-delegator to master in our world. Time management hasn’t changed much over the decades, but the skills to survive and thrive have. The place to start is to be a master of you, making productive choices and then building the skills needed to be a leader-delegator.

Four Steps to Align Your Organization to its Strategic Plan

Often we want all the moving parts to connect together in our business. We want everything and everybody rowing in the same direction together. This is not always easy to accomplish.

In today’s competitive climate with global competition we need to break down internal barriers and align the strategic thinking and goals and objectives of our departments.

The starting point is to ensure that you have developed the key strategic vision and mission along with our strategic agenda items. Once that is complete alignment planning as part of the strategic planning process can be embraced. 

Alignment planning as part of your strategic planning initiative seeks to accomplish three main objectives:

  • ensure strong connection among the organization’s mission and its operational resources
  • fine tune departmental goals and objectives and discover implementation gaps
  • address issues that may exist around internal efficiencies and effectiveness.

There are generally four steps to the Alignment Planning Process for the strategic planning team to engage in. These include:

  1. Outline the organization’s mission, programs, resources, and needed support areas
  2. Identify what’s working well and what needs to be adjusted
  3. Identify how these adjustments should be made and determine the best approach
  4. Include the adjustments as strategies in the strategic plan and roadmap with an alignment path

The challenge with the Alignment Planning is that you require a solid model to follow prior to applying it. You must have gone through a proper strategic planning approach to ensure your have identified and defined the direction of the organization.

If that work is done then you can benefit from bringing your strategic plans to the department and management level. You can engage them in the process of aligning the organization. Your management can help you engage the employees to avoid disconnects between your business strategy and operational reality. The final objective is to link the strategic and operations to establish employee commitment and motivation.

Alignment planning is part of the overall process when making plans for your organization. It is important that you embrace the need to establish business alignment.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.