Problems, Problems

This morning I was thinking about the nature of problems, so, of course, I googled: “nature of problems”. What I found was this great blog post by Frank Chimero. It resonated with my own thoughts. (I am always amazed by what you can find just by looking.)

The post highlights four common mistakes we often make when considering problems:

  1. We forget that there are two kinds of problems.
  2. Aspects of problems are a little bit concrete and a little bit squishy, and we mistake one for the other.
  3. We think there are solutions when there are none.
  4. We forget that our responses to problems create more problems.

Essentially all of what he says rings true with my own experience. I might add another mistake that I see:

  • We tend to confuse symptoms with problems, and thus waste time addressing symptoms instead of underlying problems.

My take away from this is that we tend to not spend enough time understanding and articulating problems in our rush to reach solutions. Finding a better way to talk about problems, is a problem worth solving.

Project Design for an Agile Workplace

Approaching the Agile Workplace

They were saying it 20 years ago, and it is more true today than it was then, “The only thing that is constant is change, and the rate of change is accelerating.” Some of the changes we have seen since the 1990′s include:

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  • Software-as-a-Service
  • Agile Development
  • Remote/Distributed Workforce
  • Reorganizations too numerous to count

All of these changes are leading to the Agile Workplace, a working environment that can quickly transition in response to the needs of the market. We are not there yet, as there are still too many vestiges of hierarchical infrastructure, top-down command and control, and ego driven agendas within most organizations.

One element that is embedded in most organizations today that does support the shift to an agile workplace is the project centric approach to work. Essentially every organization in existence operates with a project mentality in one aspect or another. Projects done well can enable rapid change, but projects done poorly are merely extensions of the burdensome bureaucracies that sidetrack innovation and deflate effective operations. So the question becomes, how do we design projects that support the agile workplace?

Project Design is about Process

Project management is first and foremost about communication, making sure that the right person has the right information at the right time. The difficult part is being able to identify:

  • Who is the right person?
  • What is the right information?
  • When is the right time?

And to compound the situation, no single person ever knows the answer to all of these questions. The most common approach to alleviating this problem is to gather all the information into a project charter and project plan, and make it available to the project team. But then other questions arise, where did that information come from, did all stakeholders have input, is it current? Too often assumptions are made that lead to problems downstream. For example: a project manager may assume that the project sponsor queried all the stakeholders prior to generating the project mandate. Or the project team may assume that the root problem identified has been tied to a prioritized business need.

Explicit and open statements should drive the project forward, not assumptions. Similarly the process for generating project information needs to be open, and subject to feedback from all stakeholders.

In order for project information to be effective, not only must the content be readily accessible, but also the process and context behind the content must be transparent. When all the information about a project is available and everyone can see the roadmap for how that information was generated, only then do you have the basis for an agile project and thereby an agile workplace.

The bottom line is that the success of a project is dependent on the way you design the systems and processes that support the project. 

Mind The Gap

Most organizations I encounter possess a huge gap. That is the gap between concept and execution. Everyone loves to create the big idea, the grand plan and they want to get moving on it ASAP. Failure to “mind the gap” inevitably leads to failure of the initiative.Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 10.27.13 AM

So what is in this Gap? We all know what needs to be done:

  • Document the current environment
  • Identify root problems
  • State your objectives
  • Create your plan for execution

The problem is that we rush through this part and/or don’t involve enough stakeholders. Frequently a preconceived solution is already in mind, which precludes any opportunity to be sure you are solving the correct problem. Filling this gap effectively is essential to the success of any initiative.

After years of working in the area of major organizational initiatives, I can say that the place I provide the most value is in Minding the Gap.

There are two parts to doing this well. First is creating a solid charter. The second is creating a thorough stakeholder map. Each task is seemingly simple on the surface. In fact each activity requires unique skills to do them well. The underlying theme in both activities is creating a transparent and dynamic conversation. Only through this process of proposal and feedback can all the issues be surfaced and dealt with before the tactical work begins.

This is what I do, and it just so happens this is the position I am currently looking for. As of today ( January 30, 2014) I am available for full-time or contract work to help organizations “Mind the Gap”.

Kotter – Accelerate

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I just finished reading John Kotter’s HBR article Accelerate! If you are interested in how to build an organization for success in the 21st century, this is a must read. The basic content in the article will be published as a book  in the spring of 2014. I suggest reading this now and getting ahead of the curve.

This is an evolution on his previous landmark work “Leading Change”. It incorporates what he has learned from his 15 years of delivering the “Kotter Methodology”.

One of my favorite quotes:

People have been writing for 50 years about unleashing human potential and directing the energy to big business challenges. But who, outside the world of start-ups, has succeeded? So few do because they’re working within a system that basically asks most people to shut up, take orders, and do their jobs in a repetitive way.

So much of what he says resonates with my own experience. It is about openness, transparency, and trust; but structured in a way as to not loose focus on the intent and direction of the organization.

Until further notice the organizational “dual operating system”  is becoming my new way of thinking. The article is free to read if you register on the site.

Curation as a Key Competency

Last month I wrote a post that stated “content curation must become a core competency”. I want to expand on that a bit, and point you to a related post that Euan Semple put up last week, Curatorship. In it Euan says:

This process of curating stuff that appeals to you allows you to be found by people who share your interests. This helps start relationships and build networks. This is how you get to do interesting things with interesting people.

In essence, curation is a way to tell your story. By highlighting and commenting on content that you find interesting or compelling, you are letting others see inside your head. Writing to tell your own story is difficult and time consuming, and the truth is that most of us do not take the time to do it. (My own sporadic entries in this blog bear witness to that.) Curation on the other hand is easier and typically an enjoyable experience, and it yields much the same endpoint as writing your own narrative.

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Now for the best part. When you curate content, you are making the online world a better place. Your stamp of approval on content makes it inherently more interesting to those that care about your opinion. In the workplace this process becomes invaluable, as good content is surfaced, and bad content drifts to the bottom of the stack, where  it belongs.

Connected organizations will thrive on being able to surface the best ideas, and curation is the best path to that end. Organizations that do not see curation as a key competency will eventually drift to the bottom of the stack…

Keeping Notes

One of my eternal quests is to find a way to keep track of my notes, tasks, etc.  I have tried, in varying degrees, GTD, mobile apps, Evernote … the list goes on.

So here is a new one, Bullet Journal. It is analog, it uses the old fashioned blank page bound notebook. Really it is about a set of standard notations and a consistent approach to linking items and pages together.

Bullet Journal

I can’t decide if I an ready to sacrifice a new Moleskine to it yet. Here is a video that describes it in more detail:

3 Tenets of the Connected Organization

diversityIn the past 15 years the Internet has given rise to the Connected Generation. Realtime opinion and information is globally available. The dynamics of personal interactions are changing.

Organizations are just beginning to understand and make this same shift in a way that will lead to increased effectiveness, beyond mere efficiency. For organizations to leverage the connectedness inherent in the world today, they will have to internalize three essential tenets of operation.

  • Diversity combined with empathy is the gateway to innovation.
  • Content curation must become a core competency for everyone.
  • There must be a separation of responsibility between stewardship of resources and strategic budget allocation. Or another way of saying it, those responsible for making markets and meeting customer needs, should not also have responsibility for the welfare and development of the organization’s resources, but instead must solicit for those resources on an as needed basis.

Each of these ideas will be addressed further in independent posts.

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