|I believe a basic necessity for an organization is to understand how they are performing, and seek to improve their performance to counteract the basic attrition of the world. I've sold many bosses on this, but have had very low success in implementing it. How can I help organizations be more effective?
Here is how I think any organization of any size should be managed:
1. a strategy that clarifies the fundamental value proposition. The service we provide, and what we need to do to provide that service.
2. A roadmap that clarifies our priority projects. What do we need to accomplish or deliver, either in terms of work for our clients or internal development work, in order to provide our services. This roadmap can also be used to manage team workload - how much additional work can we take on, and when?
3. A project plan, showing all the tasks that need to be accomplished, when, and by whom, in order to be successful.
4. A weekly progress update, showing each project, the tasks that were completed last week, the tasks that need to be completed this week, and any conflicts, questions, issues, or struggles that should be supported by others on the team.
5. Competent note-taking, highlighting issues identified, assigned tasks and due dates, messaging that needs to be sent, events that need to be scheduled or attended. And, a periodic combing through of notes to identify what notes need to turn into tasks, and be incorporated into project plans.
6. A periodic brain dump, consisting of cleaning out every random "oh, I also should do XYZ" and getting it into the project plan and task list.
I enjoy the weekly check in with my supervisors, because it helps me be confident that I am doing the right thing in order to help myself and the organization be effective, and it makes me feel confident that my supervisor understands the quantity and quality of my work and has the opportunity to maximize my performance.
9 times out of 10, I prepare for my weekly check ins by preparing a list of each responsibility I have been assigned, the critical tasks that I am prioritizing and their status, as well as any notes about low-priority work that is not being accomplished.
I really think this is pretty basic. It seems so basic to me, and yet, I just don't feel like I've had a shining example of success:
Story one: the new team leader hires me and asks me to make a dashboard for the team. I work with the team to understand their workload, create a spreadsheet that shows each project with timelines, and the boss tells everyone to log into the spreadsheet and add updates before each weekly standup. No one does, so the boss tells me to go to them each week to get their updates. A few people do, but most folks say they can't really explain the status, and everything depends on upcoming meetings with other departments. Eventually, the boss stops asking me to work on the project.
Story two: the new team leader hires me, and asks me to help standardize the development process across the team. I do so, to much grumbling by both company veterans and new (but highly experienced) staff, who all say "it just won't work." The boss puts her weight behind the new process, which she helped design, and tells folks to make it work. They don't. Monday morning standups are led poorly by this boss, and projects are managed secretly by consultants who are afraid they will be punished for poor client feedback. They don't trust the new process will improve their work, and the boss doesn't trust in their capabilities to deliver.
Story three: I form a volunteer work organization to support LGBTQ coworkers in the workplace. we create a clear strategy of what we want the group to deliver, with key deliverables in the form of blog posts, interviews, presentations, and activities. We assign responsibility to various members of the volunteer organization, but those responsible rarely deliver or work on their projects. Participation starts to dwindle, eventually I transition leadership to another member and quit.
Story four: I join a neighborhood association board - not a group of neighbors who complain about lawn care, but a group that wants to make an impact in segregation, gentrification, community safety, and other progressive issues. I host a fantastic strategy session, where we clarify that there are basically two main objectives for the organization, and there is a short list of high-impact activities we could accomplish to start to move the needle. However, the other board members do not follow through on their commitments to lead those activities, instead engaging in "decision" conversations about whatever the topic of the day is - "we need to argue about if we should send a letter to the mayor on this recent political issue or not."
Story five: the neighborhood association hires an executive director. I clarify for her very clearly that she needs to complete tasks that support projects that fulfill our strategy. She does not fill out the spreadsheet, she does not prepare project summaries for meetings, she does not prioritize her work at the beginning of the week.
Story six: I am hired to provide 4-hours a week of project management services to a local self-employed magazine producer. His job is to convince local organizations and nonprofits to provide funds so the magazine can hire a journalist to provide issue-specific investigative reporting. He has 10,000 irons in the fire, and can't seem to get through the week. Very very talkative, probably struggling with ADHD more than he realizes (we've discussed this). I help him create a Kanban board, showing the status of each potential client, each potential story, and moving it through the stages of acquiring a contract. He did not work to prioritize his projects, putting everything as "top priority" and overwhelming himself. After almost a year of working for him, I am rarely asked to advise on project management, and now mostly draft up emails and do research for him.
Story seven: I am hired by a local housing consultant as his first employee, to do research and consulting, and eventually to take on the role of Chief of Staff once he gets the contracts he's working towards and staffs up. I host a strategy workshop with him, we identify a few priority projects, and assign tasks. He doesn't really focus on the tasks, and isn't really strict about how I spend my time. Lately, I've had to reduce my hours because the contracts he had expected to win were put on hold. I'm often surprised by news from him about work that is not happening, that has not been prioritized in our list.
Story eight: personal life. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish and do with my life. I have lists of them, I have it on a white board. But there is always some reason to not do them. I am too tired to build this, too poor to travel there, too distracted to meditate and journal.
Is there a common thread in these stories? Why are these people not working towards what they say they prioritize, what they have staked the success of their team, business, or personal life on? I've got all the tools I need to *manage* projects - but it seems so rare that people actually do the work to move projects forward. How come? Am I just being hired by people who don't realize that it's impossible? Is it the case that change only comes from within, and there's no point hiring someone to try to help improve performance? Is the idea of a team working like a well-oiled machine just fantasies, with no real teams working like that? Or, is it very standard in some industries and I am just in the wrong industry? Or, is it something about capitalism, where we all are vastly overpaid with not nearly enough to do, and project management forces accountability and punishment?
Or maybe it's that the motivation is missing? I've always had an incredibly strong internal motivation to overcome challenges so as to ward off "the bad thing" from happening - I'm quite a perfectionist and an optimist, which is a combination that makes me demand that we work today to achieve the best possible tomorrow.
So, what do you think? I'd love any advice or suggestions on how I might be thinking about things wrong, or how I might be working with the wrong people (with advice for how to find the right people), or other frameworks I could learn about and try to master.