Skip to main content

Tag: Methodologies

The Rhinoceros In The Room (Risk Analysis and How to Tame Your “Unicorn”)

Imagine going to the pet rescue organization in your town to get a new pet, and you look at several adorable dogs and cats, and then the staff person says, “Well, there’s one that we’re not sure we’re going to be able to find a home for. Would you like to see him?”

You’re there to help make a rescue and get a new furry friend, so you say, “Of course!”

The staff member takes you to the end of the row, where there’s an enormous pen with a rhino inside.

You say, “That’s a rhinoceros!” as though the staff person didn’t know that already.

They say, “Yeah! He has a horn. They make great pets because they always go to the bathroom in the same place.” (This is true, by the way.)

You say, “Yeeaaaah…but he weighs 6,500 lbs., has a horn, and can run 30mph.” (This is also true.)

They say, “But they go to the bathroom in the same place every time. Think of how much easier that is than cleaning up after a dog!”

 

It’s a comical episode, but we often do the same thing in risk analysis. The temptation is to come into risk analysis with pre-conceived notions, or even just so intent on committing to the project as is we’re unaware that’s not a unicorn staring us down. Consequently, we discuss how an Australian Shepherd can get bad hips late in life but forget that a rhino can destroy your house by turning around when you call his name.

So, let’s talk about how to recognize the rhinoceros in the room.

 

Overview

Risk analysis is the process of identifying, assessing, and prioritizing potential obstacles or stoppers before they derail your project. It involves a meticulous examination of what could possibly go wrong, the likelihood of such events, the potential impact of those worst-case scenarios, and the strategies for mitigation. We must foresee the unforeseen, prepare for the unpredictable, and make sure that a project is not merely feasible, but in the worst case will not harm business continuity or exceed allowable energy or resource expenditures.

Without a comprehensive risk analysis, projects can easily miss deadlines, overshoot the budget, suffer severe scope creep, or otherwise hinder not just the project in question but the business as a whole. The consequences can range from mild setbacks to catastrophic failures, affecting not just the project but also team morale and organizational reputation.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Methodology

Identification:

The first step is recognizing that a rhino, for all its intriguing attributes, poses certain…ahem, “challenges” as a pet. Brainstorm and list all risks, as absurd or unlikely as they may seem.

 

Assessment:

Next, evaluate each risk based on its likelihood and potential impact. It is truly critical that you measure both sides of the equation; A potential problem that has little impact, like a few users needing help installing new software, probably doesn’t warrant a four-hour meeting and approval from the board of directors before proceeding. Conversely, an unlikely problem with severe consequences, like the credit card system going down on Black Friday, absolutely needs mitigation before proceeding. This is where quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques come into play, understanding the nuance of each risk.

 

Mitigation Strategies:

Finally, develop strategies to manage the risks that warrant attention before proceeding. This could involve anything from contingency planning to risk transfer mechanisms, all aimed at reducing the likelihood of risks or minimizing their impact should they materialize. In the worst case, at least assign a risk owner to keep an eye on a potential risk so nothing sneaks by you.

 

Conclusion:

The discipline of risk analysis in project management is about foresight and preparation. Balance your desire for a pet against the wreckage that overgrown unicorn can bring to your life. Equal parts caution and courage, pragmatism and progress, and dreams and dependability. By thoroughly analyzing risks, your projects are more likely to succeed, and you might even be able to sleep better.

Risk analysis is not just a task; it’s a mindset, a culture, and a practice that distinguishes successful projects from pet rhinos.

7 Powerful Time Management Tips For 2024

Your greatest asset is your earning ability. Your greatest resource is your time. -Brian Tracy

 

Speaking of time, it is the only thing I suppose every professional can’t get enough of.

“I didn’t get time”, is the one thing that we have both used and heard a gazillion times in both our professional and personal lives. And with only 20% of people feeling their workload under control, the importance becomes even more pronounced.

However, I acknowledge that controlling every minute of your life is impossible for every individual. But for every leader in a position, the essence of effective time management remains unbeatable.

 

If you’re finding managing time hard, I’ve got the solution.

Just be with me in this whole journey and let me take you through the time management tips for getting work done smart and not hard.

But before delving straight into effective strategies for time management, let’s first understand what time management is.

 

What is Time Management?

Time management is the process of exercising ways to get supreme control over the time spent on specific tasks and activities. The basic goal is to get more done in less time without wasting any second.

Good time management is an act of increasing efficiency and productivity.  And that too, without undergoing an extensive ordeal of stress and overwhelmness. It is a strategic approach to getting tasks executed successfully while meeting deadlines.

 

7 Tips for Effective Time Management

1.    Stay Organized

Keeping both your physical and digital workspace organized is the most prominent factor that minimizes clutter and saves you an extra hour.

Piled-up papers, overloaded email boxes, and scattered files stretch the reins of time unnecessarily, costing you precious minutes. And the frustration that comes with it is another barrier that hinders you from focusing on what matters.

 

2.    Understand Priorities

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities. – Stephen Covey

While allocating tasks or setting up a to-do list, make sure to do your priority evaluation based on importance and not urgency. This way you curate a schedule that aligns with your goals. However, I acknowledge the unpredictability of unforeseen instances. The moments where you’ll have to pay immediate attention to a task, ruling the urgency meter.

 

3.    Create an Effective Daily Plan

Plan it out. Be it your workflow or daily schedule, invest a good amount of time mapping it out. When you have a clear roadmap to your tasks, you do not waste a major chunk of your workday figuring out what to do next.

You will surely realize how creating a plan is more valuable than navigating cluelessly. This way you prop up your hold on productivity and let the show running in no time.

 

4.    Set Clear Goals

Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell

Set for your team and yourself a clear set of goals – both short and long-term. Establishing a clear sense of purpose contributes to the probability of achieving the goals in a specific time frame. You can define your objectives using the SMART method –  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

5.    Delegate Tasks

This is the most important and strategic part to be executed on a leader’s part. Delegating tasks without being mindful of the team’s strengths, capacities, and availability, results in counterproductivity.

While you may sometimes feel the urge to step into their shoes and get things done yourself, doing so may impede efficiency and stop you from leveraging the strength of your team members.

 

6.    Eliminate Distractions

From endless meetings and texting co-workers to browsing social media and web browsers, these distractions can significantly impact productivity at work. Identifying these time thieves is the first step to freeing your time from unnecessary interruptions and staying focused.

 

7.    Utilize Technology and Tools

Getting yourself familiar with the available technological advancements to ease out your load is the way to level up your time management game. These tools make things easy for you without requiring you to go through major training.

With a good time management tool like ProofHub, you are putting yourself and your team at great advantage. From staying on top of your task’s progress to streamlined communication and collaboration,  these tools bring everything to your radar.

 

How to Improve Time Management Skills?

Here are some brilliant ways of exercising good time management skills:

 

●     Practice the Pomodoro Technique

This method is ideal for avoiding burnout. It entails breaking your entire work into intervals, called Pomodoro. This means dedicating 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a short break of 5 minutes. After completing a set of intervals, you can take a longer break (20-30 minutes) to maintain your focus.

 

●     Use a Calendar

Calendars are no longer limited to marking the specialized dates with a pen. You can use modern digital calendars to schedule tasks and deadlines. You can even set reminders for important dates and events to stay on track.

 

●     Time Blocking

It is a time management method to divide your entire day into blocks. Where you dedicate a specific task or group of tasks to each block. This way you maintain focus on a concrete schedule, instead of keeping things open-ended.

 

●     Pareto Principle

The 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle aids in identifying the 20% impactful tasks that contribute to 80% of your goals or results. These tasks are the most impactful and effective and should be prioritized in your workflow.

 

●     Evaluate and Adjust

Never forget to reflect on your time management strategies and other business operations. Identify what works in your favour and what doesn’t for maintaining efficiency. After you have gathered all the insights, make the adjustments accordingly.

 

Good Time Management is a Gradual Process

There is no single hack or magic wand that can help you become a master in managing time overnight. Even if you are low-key at it right now, do not lose your hope. After all,  it is a continuous cycle of failing, learning, and executing.

By being aware of your shortcomings and adaptable to changes, you can develop these skills in yourself and optimize your productivity standards. Stay persistent and you will be successful in achieving excellence in your professional pursuit.

Working Hard, But Not Too Hard!

Working hard is applying a high level of effort, being consistently focused, productive and effective, applying emotional, physical, and intellectual energy. Working hard is rewarding, it leads to personal and organizational success.

Some people say, “Work smarter, not harder.” But working hard is not the opposite of working smart. The two go together. Working smart makes working hard more effective. Working hard without working smart leads to working too hard.

Working “too hard” causes fatigue and burn out, it reduces performance, challenges relationships, creates a cycle of emotional reactions like anger and depression. Challenging work becomes too hard when it can’t be sustained. Sustained challenging work, physical or mental, requires sufficient reward, rest, relaxation, and recovery.

 

Subjectivity

What does it mean to work “too hard”? With two people doing the same work, one might find it too hard and the other too easy.

Some years ago, I managed a project that had a tight time deadline (don’t they all?). We were a core team of six people including myself, all in our late 20’s to early 30’s. For the last month of the project, we were working late into the night, coming in early in the morning, and occasionally doing all night work sessions. We had pretty much cut off our social and family connections for the duration. The work was engaging, state of the art, and creative. The reward was both financially, emotionally, and intellectually rewarding. Team members had bonded, and it often felt as if we were reading one another’s thoughts. We were in Flow. When the project ended, we were both ready for a rest and sad that it was over.

Some family members and friends thought we were working too hard. For us it was a thrilling ride. It’s very subjective. Observers may or may not have an accurate perception of how hard a worker is working in any role as a performer, manager, or executive.

 

Objective Criteria

We can bring some useful objectivity to the question of what working too hard means by defining the characteristic conditions of “too hard”, to overwork, really means.

Working too hard means there is imbalance among the factors – hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Symptoms

Overwork is a principal cause of burnout. In my article Burnout: What It Is and How to Avoid it,[1] I identified the symptoms of – “exhaustion, disengagement, and reduced effectiveness.

  • Exhaustion is loss of energy and fatigue. It occurs when there is too much stress caused by unhealthy performance demands (chronic overwork). It can be a short-term experience following an intensive physical, emotional, or mental activity. Short-term exhaustion can be treated by moderating performance demands and taking rest and recovery time. If it goes untreated and becomes chronic, burnout follows.
  • Disengagement is affected by a sense of not being cared for by leadership and of the futility of the work. People lose a psychological connection to their work. Involvement and enthusiasm suffer. Performers, whether executives, managers, or staff, just put in their time instead of being actively engaged in their work. self-worth suffers. They become cynical and either engage in unnecessary conflict or withdraw to avoid engaging in meaningful debates.
  • Reduced effectiveness is tied to both exhaustion and lack of engagement. With tiredness, less involvement and enthusiasm, performers become less productive and less effective. That results in greater stress as performance goals become more difficult to achieve. Greater stress feeds exhaustion and lack of engagement.”

For observers, becoming disengaged with friends and family is perceived as a symptom of overwork. It may be, depending on how persistent it is, and whether overwork is the cause or work is being used as an escape from challenging relationships.

Symptoms are the most objective criteria available. It is up to each of us to be aware of our feelings and energy levels to decide if we are experiencing the symptoms of overwork.

 

Self-awareness

“Self-awareness is the ability to “step back” and observe yourself objectively to know your behavior, motivations, feelings, values, and desires. It is knowing your personality and the way you display it in your life.”[2]

Your self-awareness enables you to see whether you are working too hard and if you are, why you are doing it.

 

Doing Something About It

You can do three things about working too hard. 1) You can avoid it, 2) you can correct the imbalance among hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition to stop doing it, or 3) you can continue and suffer the consequences.

You avoid it by establishing a healthy work-life balance. You stop it by identifying the imbalance and correcting it by adjusting your attitude and behavior.

 

For example, you can balance rest and recovery with working on challenging work for long hours, and intensively. That kind of work is often necessary and can be sustained if there is time for rest and recovery.

A supportive work environment, with space for quiet time, and workspaces designed for the kind of work being performed to provide comfort and ease enables breaks and eliminates unnecessary stress.

Healthy relationships, including the ability to manage conflict and expectations, remove unnecessary stress and enable intensive effort.

 

Mental attitude is a key factor. If you believe you are working to hard, you will act as if you were. If you believe that you are working hard and are ok with it, you will be most effective.

If your personal situation is creating the imbalance because of workaholism or anxiety about not working hard enough, you are faced with the task of addressing these causes.

 

If your work situation does not give you the ability to improve imbalance, you are faced with the challenge of making the changes that will protect your health and effectiveness. That may mean taking the risks of standing up to your boss and changing jobs.

[1] https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/burnout-what-it-is-and-how-to-avoid-it/

[2] Pitagorsky, George, “Self-Awareness a Critical Capability for Project Managers”, https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/self-awareness-a-critical-capability-for-project-managers-d23/

Healthy Goals, Psychology, and Performance Assessment

A reader reported that the “Motivation: Intentions, Goals and Plans” chapter of my book, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, triggered memories and painful feelings about performance reviews.

 

That set me to thinking that the cause of much of the trouble with performance assessment as a part of performance management was psychology and mindset about criticism, coupled with organizational and personal resistance to addressing those issues.

A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that

“Performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”[1]

 

My reader, a financial professional with a decades long career, reexperienced anxiety about being found deficient, reinforcing her need for perfection and acceptance by others, highlighting weakness and imperfection. Embarrassment, financial, and career consequences, circled in her mind.

As a result, she was triggered by the thought of setting goals and objectives. In her experience they were often unrealistic and rigid.

Others report a sense that they are being evaluated without adequate objective criteria and by people who are biased and, in some cases, unqualified, unprepared, or uninterested. Often the goals and objectives, even those set by the individual performer, are rigid and not adjusted when conditions change.

 

The Benefits of Performance Reviews

But let’s not just jettison performance goals, objectives, and assessments. Let’s make the best of them, to use them for personal growth and organizational success.

The HBR authors reported that at Facebook “a survey of more than 300 people found that “87% of people wanted to keep performance ratings.”[2]

They realized the need for candid feedback to give employees a sense of where they stand in the eyes of their organization and what they need to improve, and to give the organization knowledge of employee performance to support training, compensation, and hiring decisions.

Add to that the benefits, clarity of purpose and direction, which come from establishing rational expectations in the form of goals and objectives.

 

What Gets in The Way?

But something gets in the way. Not every organization is as wise as Facebook about optimizing their performance assessment process, including setting, and adjusting goals.

When I look at the issue from a project management perspective, I see three predominant causes of unskillful performance assessment: lack of clear goals and objectives, psychological/mindset issues, and poor process.

In this article we home in on the psychological issues and how they impact and are impacted by the other causes.

 

Psychology, Mindset, and Performance

There has been resistance to addressing psychological issues in the workplace. But we do well to be aware of these issues because individual psychology influences behavior and behavior influences performance and relationships.

The interplay among individual psychological tendencies and mindsets, cultural and organizational norms, and self-awareness influences performance and makes for a complex system. In a complex system change anywhere can have an impact everywhere.

For example, a project team member may make decisions influenced by fear of upsetting the functional manager who will give her the next review. Another performer may avoid committing to goals and objectives to avoid imagined failure. A project team may be reluctant to commit to objectives they feel are unrealistic and that they will be evaluated against regardless of changes to any number of conditions

 

In our projects, we see that factors like

  • Individual anxiety and perfectionism,
  • cultural norms,
  • performance processes
  • attitudes regarding success and failure,
  • communication and relationship capabilities,
  • levels of emotional and social intelligence, and
  • organizational support levels evidenced by allocating sufficient time and attention and adjusting objectives as conditions change,

all contribute to the success or failure of performance assessments and performance management.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Skillful Performance management

Awareness of and sensitivity to psychological and cultural tendencies enables skillful performance management.

In projects, performance reviews are not limited to individual performers. We assess performance on individual projects and the performance across multiple projects of individuals, project teams, departments, and organizations.

Performance management should be treated like a program with each assessment of a project. Intentions, goals, and values drive performance. When we evaluate the effectiveness of performance management these elements must be considered. If we never evaluate the effectiveness of the program, it is likely to be ineffective. And that leads to less-than-optimal performance overall.

 

The intention of performance management is to improve and optimize performance while creating a work environment in which performers at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy feel safe and have a sense that the process is fair and objective. Values: effectiveness, kindness, candor, self-reflection, emotional intelligence.

The goal is to enable clarity regarding performance effectiveness through a process of performance reviews which include the assessment of the factors beyond individual behaviors that contribute to achieving optimal performance.

Objectives are to regularly assess the performance of individuals, projects, teams, and organizations to identify opportunities for improvement based upon pre-established criteria and to make decisions regarding the need for training, deciding who will be compensated at what levels, who will and will not be retained, and what organizational, management, cultural, and environmental changes are needed to achieve optimal performance.

 

Optimal Performance

If the intention and goal is to achieve optimal performance, then we must know what optimal performance means. It means performing as best as possible given current conditions where performance is measured by the ability to achieve desired results – satisfied clients, profits, clean air, healthy and happy executives, managers, and staff.

 

Next Steps

To move from the general to the specific you need an action plan for your situation. Consider each of these:

  • Identify a responsible party for performance management – and it can’t be ‘everybody’ even though everyone and every team is responsible for their performance
  • Educate the staff at all levels regarding the intent of performance assessment and the reality of psychological, emotional, and cultural influences
  • Set a baseline for optimal performance – objective and realistic criteria that are agreed upon by those whose performance will be measured
  • Assess your current performance management process – get feedback from the staff, assess against industry benchmarks
  • Refine the process as needed
  • Be open to continuous improvement based on ongoing assessment of both performance management and individual and project performance.

[1] Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Adam Grant, Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet, Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2016/11/lets-not-kill-performance-evaluations-yet#:~:text=People%20want%20to%20know%20where,recognize%20and%20reward%20top%20performance.
[2] Ibid

Looking Back and Looking Forward to Improve

There are many New Year celebrations – Tet, Rosh Ha Shona, and more. Why not make every day the beginning of a new year?

But now we are here celebrating the Western solar new year. We are reminded to enjoy the moment, reflect on the past and visualize a healthier, happier, more productive, and peaceful future.

 

Time to Reflect and Plan

Now is a traditional time for looking back, remembering the past, and looking forward, resolving to make a “better” future. In project management this is quality improvement through assessment, control, improvement planning, and follow through.

As individuals, we make resolutions to improve by giving up bad habits and cultivating positive behavior. We resolve to stop overeating or drinking and to exercise more, or to take that course that will lead to a new career, or to be kinder and more understanding and patient.

But many resolutions last a short time because we don’t follow through.

On a team or organizational level, do you make resolutions and follow through with them? Do you reflect and plan as a normal ongoing process, or is it a once-a-year event?

 

Quality Management

Among project management’s principles is assuring quality by critically assessing performance and planning to improve. Dr Deming’s PDCA cycle: Plan, Do, Check, and Act is one way of looking at the improvement process.

Reflect and resolve once a year and you are certain to miss a lot of opportunities to improve performance and wellness. Build PDCA into your normal way of doing whatever you do and you will reap the benefits of an ever-improvising process.

 

Learn

This article reinforces the message of my October article, “Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance, “Learn from experience. Set aside time for reflection, learning, and making the intention to perfect the way you live and work.”

Improvement is cyclical. It is ongoing. It continues as long as the target process or product lasts. The target process may be your own project management process or a new process resulting from a project. Here the focus is on the project management process.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

PDCA

The PDCA cycle is an improvement model that uses a scientific method:

  • Plan – propose a change,
  • Do – implement it,
  • Check – measure to see if the intended goals are achieved,
  • Act – decide whether to adjust by taking appropriate action in another cycle, or to standardize and stabilize the new process.

You decide to standardize and stabilize changes to your process when you have achieved planned benefits. Then you start a new cycle based on your new standard.

 

The Standard

You may or may not have a standard to start with.

When a new process is being designed and implemented the standard is a set of expectations. For example, you expect to complete 90% percent of projects within 10% of the original planned time and budget.

If you have done performance measurement you may know that your current standard is 40% of your projects meeting that expectation. If you do not have an objective sense of your past performance, you are at a disadvantage, but all is not lost. Chances are there is a subjective sense that you are not satisfying stakeholder expectations. Too many projects are delivered late and overbudget.

Part of planning is to set an expectation, a standard or benchmark to use as a target. You determine your goals and set the standard for measuring or checking the effects of your efforts. Research to determine if your goals are realistic. Make sure you are setting a realistic expectation about how long it will take to achieve your goals. Assess risks.

 

Plan to Achieve Goals

With realistic goals in mind, you plan the way you will meet them. To do that well, you have a decision to make. Will you refine your existing process or start from a blank slate?

How unstable and undefined is the current process? Is documenting it worth the effort or is it more effective to find a good model and adapt it to your current conditions.

In the realm of project management, don’t try to invent a brand-new process. You would be reinventing the wheel. Instead, take the time and effort to find a suitable model or models for the kind of projects you perform. If you have multiple project types you may need multiple defined processes, some agile, some more structured.

 

Cause Analysis

Look back to see why you are not meeting stakeholder expectations. Sep back and candidly assess causes. Are schedules and budgets dictated from above or are they the result of actual planning based on expected resources and conditions? Are projects initiated without regard of their impact on ongoing operations and other projects? Are estimators and/or performers in need of training or better tools or both?

Looking back at causes and on the state of the current process often causes conflict and resistance. Performers and project managers may be attached to the way they have been operating.

For example, they may be happy not to have to follow a defined process. They may not have knowledge of or may be in denial regarding the perceptions of stakeholders. They may be threatened by criticism and resistant to change.

Tread carefully to manage change in a way that engages and motivates the people who will have to go through the transition and live with the new process.

 

Do

This is where follow through comes in. Educate, train, and implement change. Treat it as you would with any project, with care to support the people involved.

 

Check and Act

Realize that the new or changed process is not complete until you have checked to see if goals have been met. This is quality control and testing.

If you have done it well, the planning has left a standard, a benchmark, to measure against to determine if your efforts have achieved what you intended. Check often during the life of the improvement process.

Based on your findings decide and act. You may decide to continue, with or without changes to your goals, methods, or both. Or you may decide to stop, standardize, and stabilize the process.

Standardizing and stabilizing the process does not mean that your improvement work is done. You have just set a new standard against which to measure performance and go into a new PDCA cycle.

If you have done the improvement job well, future changes will be tweaks rather than major changes, though as new technologies like AI are introduced, more radical changes may be needed.

 

It is always a new year. Look back at what you have done, how successful it has been, and what you can do to make it better. Look forward to plan check and act.

 


Related articles:

Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance.
 https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/learn-from-the-past-to-perfect-performance/#:~:text=To%20optimize%20performance%2C%20learn%20from,intentions%2C%20performance%2C%20and%20goals
The Key to Performance Improvement: Candid Performance Assessment
https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/the-key-to-performance-improvement-candid-perfromance-assessment/
Achieving Quality Performance and Results
https://www.projecttimes.com/articles/achieving-quality-performance-and-results/