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4 Signs to Pull Over and Stop a Project – Voices on Project Management.

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The End of Winter…Perhaps? A Lesson in Extremes

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I live in the Chicago area, which means that along with corrupt politicians I am plagued with cold winters, hot summers, and not much time in between.  For those of you that have been keeping up with the national weather this winter you have noticed that the entire United States has been through quite a bit of a cold snap.  Chicago had to deal with actual temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (I didn’t make a mistake, that is a negative sign).  It the summer we will undoubtedly have a week of highs that will reach, if not breach, triple digits.  That is a 120 degree swing!

We can cope with these changes because they are gradual.  Yesterday was 50 degrees and it felt like a wonderful summer day to me.  Everything is relative.  If you peppered 100-degree days in with -20-degree days it would be miserable (not that they aren’t by themselves).  However, the gradual changes makes for a more tolerable extreme.

The caution I am giving here is the analogy of the frog in the pot of boiling water: put a frog in boiling water and he will jump out, but put him in warm water and slowly boil it and he will stay in and not notice the difference.

If you are in a working environment where the pot has slowly started to boil, how can you tell?  Have you ever worked with the people that say “we have always done it like that”?  Those are the folks that started in cool water and have reached a boil and don’t know it.  Extremes can sneak up on us if the change is slow.   And these extremes aren’t limited to processes or equipment, they can be related to culture and working relationships as well.

So how can you make sure you are not in hot water?

  1. Benchmarking.  If you can, benchmark your industry and see where you sit.  Don’t give yourself excuses either, if you are at the bottom, so be it.  Get better.
  2. Long-term trending.  See if you can get trends from the last decade.  Don’t look at the last few years as they may be too small of a sample size (Have you seen the stock market daily chart versus the 3-year?  One is not necessarily and indicator of the other.)
  3. New-hire assessments.  Use your new people as thermometers to gauge your water temperature.  Have them write honest one-month, three-month and six-month essays about your organization.  Make them anonymous so that they can be completely truthful.  They are the frogs that just entered the pot.  They can tell you if the water is too hot.
  4. The Right KPIs.  Make sure they are the right KPIs (read here).  It is not always easy to tell if you have the right one, but looking at these trends versus your standard can help.  You should always evaluate your standard, too.

Those 50-degree days seem great in the winter, but they seem downright cold in the summer.  Make sure you are using the right thermometer when you gauge the temperature.  A point-of-reference is necessary to understand your true situation.

Leading Operational Change

 

Coins-300x199

I read an interesting post on maintenancephoenix.com about change management and reactive vs proactive maintenance.  The article, by Ricky Smith, was thought-provoking.  He talks about culture change in the organization and how to determine if you are in a reactive or proactive organization.

As leaders, regardless of department or function, it is our duty to create and build the right culture.  Below are 5 tips on how to do this in an operational setting.

  1. Set the expectation.  It seems easy, but it isn’t.  Expectations must be realistic.  That is not so simple.  It takes a bit of educated guessing and self-temperment.  Often, as leaders, we expect others to be as capable or more so than ourselves.  That is not always the case.  Don’t underestimate the ability of people, but don’t set the bar so high as to create discouragement.  Remember that there is a limiting factor to the progress that can be made, find that and then set the pace.
  2. Create the game plan.  Here is strategy.  Don’t confuse strategy with goals.  Strategy is the route that you plan to get to the destination.  Jim Collins has had some great books and one of the lines that has stuck with me is the “20-Mile March” from his book Great by Choice.  Pick your march.
  3. Don’t be a flavor of the month.  You can’t be a fad (read more here).  Once this happens you lose all credibility.  Trying to recover from a lackluster start is just as bad as never starting.  Don’t let up and keep your strategy in view.  Even when times get rough, continue your march to make sure that you can gain what is needed.  If you said you would shut down the line once a week for maintenance, do it…even if the schedule is tight.  It will be worth it in the long run.
  4. Get the team on board.  Make sure your teams are supporting the change.  There can’t be any undercutting of the program behind closed doors.  Encourage your team to vent to you if they are frustrated with where the change is going, but make sure they don’t vent to anyone else.  The team must have a united front everywhere in the organization.  If not, this is poison to the change process.  It is painful to do it, but you may have to cut loose those that aren’t supporting your culture change.  One rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.
  5. Celebrate success.  Celebrate your accomplishments.  As milestones are achieved, make sure that people know you are proud of them.  Don’t celebrate if you don’t succeed something, that makes it superficial when you do celebrate for just cause.  Culture change is a long road and these celebrations keep people motivated along the way.

Change is never easy.  In any organization where deadlines and customer demands are put before everything else, you can never accomplish your own goals.  We tell people that they need time for themselves, so do companies.  Treat your company right and your customers will notice.

Survival of the Most Adaptable

be like water

I read an interesting blog post about the responsibilities of companies to change their views of the phrase “survival of the fittest”.  This article is about corporate social responsibility and the ways that we interact with nature.  While I think it is a great post, I would like to talk about the same concept, but on a level that is more for the manufacturing middle-management folks.

Let’s interpret the phrase “survival of the fittest” to be “the best at adapting”.  In business that means flexibility, versatility, and nimbleness.  But how can we influence these factors when we are a cog in the big business machine?

  1. Strategic development of a process model that allows for smaller runs and higher flexibility.  As an Operations Leader, you have the ability to influence how you design your department.  Most companies are looking for the big runs, fewer changeovers, and highest volume.  But what if you could create a section of your department that is specialized at small runs, reduced inventory, and high-speed turnaround?  Could you provide a service to customers at a premium?  Could you handle frequent changeovers as a matter of course?  Check out QRM.  This methodology might be able to help you get started with something.
  2. Stop focusing on reducing changeover time and start focusing on eliminating minor stops.  Let’s look at a typical production line.  If you run a product for 16 hours with equipment speeds of 20 cases/minute you should see 19,200 cases at the end of that time.  But it takes you 20 hours to run that amount.  Then you have to perform a 2-hour changeover to the next product.  Most companies want to reduce changeover time because that is downtime where you are making zero units.  But the changeover has to happen.  Even if you cut the changeover time in half you only saved 1 hour.  But it took you an extra 4 hours to run the product.  Cut that in half and you save 2 hours.  Minor stops on a line can result in huge hits on efficiency.  Quicker runs equal more capacity for new volume.
  3. Slow down to speed up.  It sounds like taboo, but Maintenance groups will tell you that if you run your car at 9000 rpm you won’t get as far as if you run it at 3000 rpm.  But that is exactly what we do to our production equipment.  We run it to the max and shorten its life and Mean-Time Between Failure (MTBF).  This not only increases downtime and Maintenance costs, but it also reduces the machine’s availability for more volume.  Conduct a constraint analysis on your line and set the limiting machine to at least 10% below its maximum rate.  You will see a smoother run and a more predictable life of the equipment.  Remember, it is about cases out of the door, not units per minute off of the filler.
  4. Set goals for management and supervisors that reward flexibility.  It is a difficult thing to do, but try setting department KPIs around how you manage the department, not how much volume you push through the door.  You may have to create a set of KPIs that you track internally and still publish the ones that upper management wants to see.  Think about how the behaviors of your team will benefit your business and create metrics around those behaviors.  It will take some thought, but you will have a better performing system out of the deal.

Project Management Gone Awry

mistakes

One of the nice things about being American is that the government always gives us an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.  It doesn’t matter your political views, government is messed up.

So with the latest fiasco with Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act, if you prefer…but Obamacare is so much easier to say) we can see how the website rollout was a poorly managed project.  Let’s do some inferring and see why.

A project is really about syncing three things: Scope, Quality, Time.  Let’s look at how these things are interconnected and how we can make sure we observe some basic understanding of what to do.

The scope must not have been well defined for the website since the major issue was that too many people were trying to log on at once.  This should have been projected as a risk during the definition portion of the project and a mitigation strategy designed.  Now, I am not a web designer or network engineer, so please forgive the errors I may state and feel free to correct me if you have knowledge in these areas.

The system should have been designed to manage the peaks of the users.  The traffic should have been projected and then doubled.  I know that some of the States had their own systems and that needed to be factored in as well.  But there are mathematicians that can help with the statistics.  There are design criteria for the servers and workflow processes.  Some users could have been given a “sorry” message rather than having their information lost when applying for healthcare.

Obviously, the timeline was not reasonable since the website clearly wasn’t ready.  This should have been a pushback to the White House.  Another option would be to cut back the scope or quality of the site, but since that was probably not a good option, they should have delayed the start.

In the political environment, you have to pay attention to what is promised to the people.  The web site designers should have been regularly communicating with the President (their Sponsor) who in turn is communicating to the people (the Stakeholders).  The President and system designers should have been on the same page with timing, capability, and expectations so that everyone understood what was going to happen.  If it would have been stated that the site could only handle so many users, it would have been better received when there were issues and the corrections could have happened immediately.

Lessons…

  • Clearly understand your objectives and create a comprehensive scope.
  • Listen to your Sponsor.
  • Predict the needs of the users.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

As with Leadership, Project Management boils down to communication.  Communication of expectations, progress, and reality.  We all want an optimist to lead, but reality has to be part of what is communicated.  People can tell the difference between hope and reality if you give them the information to distinguish between the two.

Fraudulent Leadership

pointing-fingers

Have you ever been in over your head?  There are times when we are put into situations that we are not prepared to handle.  It is how we respond to these challenges that either affirms our leadership skills or exposes us for the phonies we truly are.  Which are you?

Phonies

  1. Hide their faults.
  2. Compensate for inadequacies through intimidation.
  3. Stop trying.
  4. Forget how to learn.
  5. Treat others as underlings.
  6. Pretend to know everything about everything.
  7. Think they are the most important person in the room.

Leaders

  1. Talk about their fears with trusted friends.
  2. Seek advice from mentors, coaches, and peers.
  3. Surround themselves with people who know more than they do.
  4. Set goals, personal and professional, to close gaps.
  5. Build bridges and tear down walls to expose weaknesses within themselves.
  6. Find something to learn every day.
  7. Focus on people, not power.

It’s okay to be in over your head.  If you are never in the deep end you won’t learn how to swim.  A little panic can be a great motivator.  Use it, don’t be paralyzed by it.  People will respect you more when you can admit you need help.  It is better for you and the team to acknowledge your shortfalls and try to work on them.

How to Make Anger Your Ally

angerWe all get angry…even great leaders…especially great leaders.

Anger is a symptom of passion.  However, just like a fever is a symptom of the flu, the symptom must be put into check or else it can be just as damaging.  So how do we turn anger into a powerful motivator, not just for us, but for our teams as well?

  1. Understand that being angry is not bad.  Don’t be ashamed of it.  If you are angry that something is not going right it just means that you care about the outcome.  If you don’t get angry anymore then you need to change your profession because you have stopped caring.
  2. Don’t make it personal.  You can be angry for a lot of reasons, but don’t make it a personal attack.  This is true at work and at home.  Say, “I am angry because you said you would have the project finished by January and now we are going to slip customer deadlines,” not “I am angry because you are a procrastinator.”  You have just attacked the character of someone, and that lowers morale.
  3. Explain your anger.  If anger just shows up out of nowhere, it can be scary.  Make sure that people understand why you are angry and how it can be fixed and, in the future, avoided.  At least people will get where you are coming from and hopefully they can relate.
  4. Be consistent with anger.  Don’t let something slide and say it is okay when it really grinds your gears.  Tell them about it.  You don’t have to be boiling mad before you show your dislike for a behavior or bad habit.  It may even keep you from popping your top.
  5. Don’t apologize for being angry.  You can apologize for your actions because of your anger, but not for being angry.  “I’m sorry I raised my voice” is completely acceptable, but “I’m sorry I was upset with you for losing that account” is not.  You should be upset and you have every right to be, but you could have acted differently about it.  Understand the difference between emotion and action. 
  6. Build emotional bank accounts all of the time.  I know this analogy is out there and overplayed, but it is a good one.  Making emotional deposits all of time will allow you to slip every now and then and not lose credibility with people.  You stay friends with people even after they get mad at you because they are good people and you just had a spat.  It is the same at the office.

These six pointers are just a start.  Understand that bottling your anger is a poor decision.  Controlling your responses to your anger is where the money is.  Making anger your comrade-in-arms is a process that will take much time, effort and self-patience.  Good luck!

Let me know what you think about anger and how it has affected your professional life.

Constructing a Team from Scratch

bricks

We talk a lot about leading teams, but what about building them?  There may be several situations where you need to build a team from nothing; a new department, a new project, restructuring.  Below are some pointers on how to build successful teams when you don’t have a platform from where to launch. 

  1. Don’t think about who, think about why.  Structure your team based on the talents and skills you need.  Many people fall into the trap of thinking about the people that are close to them or may be in a similar role already.  You need to think about the talents that will make your team successful before you start fitting people into the role.
  2. Imagine even workloads and staff for it.  It is difficult when you put together a team and create roles and then one person is doing all of the work.  If you need three people in similar roles because of workload then staff appropriately.
  3. Don’t forget the soft skills.  We get hung up on the technical stuff. However, things like “being a team player”, “easy to talk to”, and “a caring person” are just as (if not more) important.  These traits will define the character of your team.
  4. Don’t take on too much yourself.  It is typical to see a leader that will take on so much of the work that they don’t have the time to lead.  Don’t forget what your job is and make sure you give yourself the time and resources to do it.
  5. Don’t think in terms of dollars but in terms of production.  Let the dollars come in to play only after you have created a team that can get the output you need.  Budget is important, but so is not selling yourself short before you even get started.
  6. Place in people you can trust.  Trust is a two way street.  People need to trust you as a leader, but you need to trust people so that you can let them do what they are good at.  Remember, technical skills can usually be taught so plan on doing that at first with really good people to work with.

The above is not intended to be an all-inclusive list, but more of a rough map and thinking points.  I would be interested in your thoughts, so leave a reply if you get the chance.