Do you think that the knowledge workers on your project teams are more efficient and work better when they are motivated? Oh yea. How do you motivate and provide incentives to them? Do you provide monetary rewards based on performance? That is perhaps standard thinking. Here is a video from RSAnimate on what motivates and how to provide incentives to knowledge workers. You will find it very interesting.
A common fallacy that is so easy to hang on to is that any problem in our project work can be solved by throwing people at it. An important customer is not happy? Throw some good resources at it. The problem is that this is short-sided thinking, it creates inefficiencies (and thus costs), and it often produces rather than solves reactive and firefighting modes. Hence, the ping-pong effect - resources are moved from one hot project to the next. This is not good resource management.
There are several reasons for this:
People cannot simply jump to another process. There is a ramp-up period for them to learn the current environment, objectives, work, and issues with the new project. If this is standard practice, a good portion of a person's time is spent ramping-up instead of getting real work done.
Team synergy is destroyed. Team synergy is a great creator of efficiency, while constantly moving resources back and forth makes it difficult for people to work well and efficiently together.
People tend to be over-allocated when they are re-allocated. We take an optimistic view that even though James is working on a project, he can take on some more work to "help out the team" and solve this issue.
The projects that were pilfered suffer. All of the work that was put into these projects can be wasted, or there may be a significant amount of work put in to re-establish these projects once the focus can be restored to them. And by that time, these projects have become "hot problems" that now need resources re-allocated to them.
Good decisions that foster efficiency are rarely made in reaction mode.
Does that mean that we should never re-allocate resources? No, of course not. Things are not perfect, problems appear, and we need to deal with them. But...if you are routinely re-allocating resources to hot spots and from lower priority to higher priority projects, you have a real efficiency problem. You are wasting a lot of hours and $$.
If this is you, you are not alone. You can start to fix this situation by implementing (or fixing) some basic processes. Here are a couple places to start:
How projects are initiated in the first place (are they initiated with regard to current resource allocations, organizational workload, and importance to the organization).
How you determine which resources will be assigned to new projects in the first place.
How you monitor progress and discover issues before they become real problems.
How projects are planned. That's right, we're talking basic project management here that may not be fun or glamorous, but has to be done.
The good news? You are not alone - many organizations have efficiency and resource management problems, and they can be overcome. But it may be time to quit accepting the status quo and taking action to get better.
According to PM Solutions white paper, Resource Management and the PMO, 74.4% of organizations have a low resource management maturity level. Here are the top ten signs that you need to improve your own resource management practices:
10. Your process for assigning resources to projects consists of looking to see who happens to be in the hallway.
9. You figure out which resources have availability by who leaves the earliest at the end of the day.
8. You assume that anyone breathing has the skills to complete your task.
7. We have to plan out our projects? But we have a tool that does that.
6. Your training program for resources consists of yelling at them when they screw up.
5. You deal with resource contentions by flipping a coin.
4. Your key performance indicators (KPIs) consist of how often you have to flip a coin.
3. Your answer every time a critical task comes up: John can do that.
2. John has switched projects 10 times in the last 10 minutes.
1. You mean we are supposed to manage our resources?
This is another post from our sister blog, www.flyingintoprojectmanagement.com. This post derives specific lessons on implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs) that is an essential ingredient of driving efficiency in our organizations.
Inefficiency is a bad word today. We are focused on making our projects, teams, and organizations as efficient as possible, rooting out costly inefficiency and redundancy. Even areas of the government are starting to do this.
One of the primary areas of inefficiency is in our project teams - aka resource inefficiency. What makes our resources (people in this case) not operate at an optimal level? What causes them to work inefficiently? What do we need to solve to begin the process of good resource management? Here are three that I have discovered in my own experience:
Lack of clear objectives.
Our teams cannot operate efficiently without clear objectives on what they are supposed to accomplish. What are this week's / this month's / this quarter's / this year's objectives for the person and team? How do those tie into the overall organization's objectives?
This is not easy to do - it takes work to define those objectives. It takes constant review to make sure the objectives are in line with the organization's overall objectives. But without clear objectives, who knows what your resources will spend their best time on. And make sure you focus on the word "clear." It is something that is specific, easily articulated, easy to measure, and easy to assign?
Lack of reliable data.
As a manager, you cannot make decisions on resource allocations and assignments without solid data. Most people do not have data and so they have to make decisions based at least partially on guesswork. What are people working on now? What types of projects are the resources in our organization spending the majority of time? What types of tasks? Who is the most productive? What projects are taking the most resource effort? Which skills do we need now? 6 months from now?
This also is difficult to do - it is not easy to compile real data that is accurate, up to date, reliable, and clear. But without it, it is very difficult to make objective decisions, find inefficiencies and redundancies, and improve your teams. We will tackle this in a future post.
Lack of processes.
If there are no processes, inefficiency will take root. Count on it. If you do not have a process for initiating a new project, how do you know if the project should even be worked on, or that similar work is not already being done? If you do not have a process for assigning resources to a project, how do you know whether those resources are over allocated, have the right skills, or will have an impact on other projects and initiatives? How do you know you are using the right resources for the right work?
These certainly are not all possible reasons, but they are real causes. Where can you start if you know you have inefficiences and you need to tackle them? I would start with setting good objectives. You cannot be inefficient at what you do if you don't know what you really need to do. Then I would work on process. Stop flying by the seat of your pants and start implementing simple processes, one at a time, for basic functions like initiating new projects, assigning resources, reporting on projects, re-allocating resources, etc.
This is another interesting post from our sister blog - Flying into Project Management. This post goes into how organizational culture impacts project management excellence. As you read this, think about how organizational culture specifically impacts resource management and the performance of your resources and teams.
What?!? Why would we not try to accomplish much? After all, we are in the age of being as productive as possible right? I have been reminded of an important lesson recently, and that is the value of not trying to accomplish too much. This plays into getting the most out of your teams as well.
What happened? I got sucked into trying to do so many things that many days I failed to truly and completely accomplish a single one of them. Literally. I simply made a little progress on some of them. That means that primary initiatives were being worked on, but were not being done. As an example, I am looking back in my planner at all of the things that I wanted to get done on Tuesday, the 27th (a quiet day right?). There are many things on that list from directing a phone system cut over to working on a website cut over to planning new marketing initiatives to 3-4 other items. I didn't actually finish my goals for any of those. I allowed myself to get batted around between them. And that was on a quiet day.
Compare that to these last two weeks. I went back to prioritizing the one, maybe two things that I had to get done that day. That does not mean that I never did anything else, but it does mean that I made sure I accomplished that one (or two) things. Looking back, I have completed much more important work that has much more value for the company.
This is the same for my team. After the break, I simplified the list of goals for the week. Instead of having a number of items we are working, we focused on 1-2 priorities and got those done. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it works a lot better and provides clearer focus.
Did I already know this? Yes. But we always need to evaluate ourselves to see how we are doing and if we are unintentionally falling into a "productivity trap." I proved again to myself the time management principle that we accomplish much more by accomplishing less.
Check out this blog post in the Flying Into Project Management blog on Building Redundancy in Project Management and Project Teams. Note the comment about building skill redundancy in our project teams.
Distrust is a killer of productivity, efficiency, and team synergy. So how do we build trust in our teams and eliminate distrust? You cannot do good resource management and make your resources more productive and efficient without it. First of all, understand that there is no magical formula. You cannot create trust or demand trust or "implement" trust. Trust must be earned. There is no other way. So when we talk about building trust in our teams, we are really talking about how to earn trust and get others to earn trust. Here are 3 ways:
1. Set the example
If the leader is not trustworthy, you cannot build trust in your team. You have to set the example and model it through leadership. That means that you need to sincerely model trustworthy behavior:
Do what you say you are going to do.
Don't ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself (i.e. don't ask your team to work the weekend if you are unwilling to do so yourself).
Listen to the input of others.
Admit your mistakes and failures, and accept responsibility without blaming others.
Support your team, even when they are not in the room.
Take the time to connect with your team.
Don't even start with your project team until you can model trust yourself.
2. Accept adversity
We tend to shun adversity and confrontation, but that can be a trust-building opportunity. I remember working on a software development project with a new team over 10 years ago. For various reasons, it did not go well - there were some bugs in the software, it was new technology, etc. Afterwards, we sat down and discussed what went right and what we could have done better. We didn't throw each other under the bus. Guess what? The very next project we worked on together was enjoyable and successful.
How many sports teams have undergone adversity that made them stronger, closely knit, and successful in the end?
Adversity will happen, especially with new teams. Accept it. Embrace it. Use it as a learning experience. Don't quit. Don't throw people under the bus. Team members will remember when people stuck with them in the hard times.
3. Set clear expectations with accountability
Be clear as to what you expect from your team members. Communicate it often. And then hold them accountable for those expectations. Your best team members will become frustrated quickly if you either don't communicate your expectations, or you set them and don't hold anyone accountable for them. If you have expectations for behavior (i.e. you expect trust-building behavior) then set that as an expectation and hold people accountable when they behave differently (but be careful you are setting the example yourself!). If you have expectations for performance, make those clear, specific, and measurable, and hold people accountable for the results.
Over time, your team will trust what you say, that you are going to back up what you say, and that their fellow team members are going to deliver (because you are holding them accountable to do so).
There are books written on this subject, so we are just scratching the surface. Be sure and comment on what other ways you have experienced that both foster and kill trust in teams.
Sometimes we can do all of the right things to make our teams more efficient and working better together, and yet our efforts still seem to fail. We can implement excellent processes, put in place the right tools, execute good resource management, and still not make much progress. Often times there is an underlying insidious reason for this that must be addressed before any progress can be made. And that reason is distrust.
Distrust kills team synergy. It kills efficiency and productivity. It kills teams thinking outside of the box and setting their own desires aside to help their teammates succeed. And it has to be rooted out and addressed.
Aad Boot (yes, I spelled that right) wrote a blog post on this topic a couple of weeks ago. You can read it here. He deals with this issue, provides examples from his own experience, and provides questions to ask yourself. I came away from this post with the idea that distrust is often times due to a misunderstanding. It is not very often where someone is deliberately trying to sabotage us or do us harm. More often it is because we misunderstand someone's actions or intentions. Indeed, this has been true in my own experience.
I remember a situation where I was a consultant coming off of a client engagement with no new engagement to roll into. That was the job of a particular sales person in the office. Distrust of that person seeped into the consultant ranks. "He is not doing his job", "he doesn't care", and "he is more interested in finding work for other consultants than for us" became common themes that started to seep into my own consciousness. I eventually communicated with this sales person and quickly realized the angst they were experiencing because they had not been able to land more consulting work. This was right at the point of the tech bubble around 2000. They certainly were not deliberately being lazy, uncaring, or sabotaging our careers. Quite the contrary.
How quickly this can happen in our teams. A negative idea takes root and grows even when it has no basis in fact.
We as project leaders need to root this distrust out...as far as how, I'll save that for an upcoming post.