jim@millikenproject.com

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Confidence


          Confidence is optional.
          You’re confident when you are absolutely sure that what you’re doing will work. That’s true of all of us. When we’ve worked out all the kinks and gotten the routine down, we have no doubt that whatever it is will come out exactly as we intended.
          The trick is to have that conviction when none of those factors are present. How can I be sure I’m going to succeed when there are all kinds of problems I don’t know how to solve, when I’ve never done this before – or worse, when I’ve tried it a couple of times and failed?
          Just to add to the description: What if everyone tells me it won’t work, can’t work, will never work?

          What kind of fool just sails ahead, serene in the certainty of success, when everything points to failure? We’ve seen people do that, and suffer painfully public pratfalls.
          Maybe, once in a great while, we’ve seen such carefree people succeed without suffering any apparent pain. Not often, and we might have suspected that they were just as surprised as anyone. Was that confident competence . . . or just dumb luck?
            More directly important to us project managers are those who sweat and claw and fight, staggering and persisting their way to success, no matter what. These are people who get knocked back and knocked down, and just keep coming.
          Is this noble commitment or foolish stubbornness? Who cares? It works.

          People who do this can pay a heavy price, in the exhaustion of their personal stock of emotion, mental balance and even physical strength and endurance. They may not sleep well, eat properly or exercise enough. Their health can suffer significantly. This is not really a good way of life.
          Equally important can be the toll on their relationships, personal and professional.
When you work long hours and focus your attention on overcoming difficult workplace challenges, you don’t have a lot of time for the wife or husband and kids. Or much else for yourself as a person. Where does this go?
Similarly, when you’re stressed and overworked on the job, you simply can’t devote the proper time and attention to listening, explaining and collaborating. Things go downhill.
You can make it in such demanding circumstances, but you tend to become more driven than confident. There’s a difference, and it’s a very obvious one. Not good.

True confidence, on the other hand, is made up of competence in performance combined with contentment in attitude. I believe it is a state that can be consciously sought and gradually built – both the external skills/practices and the internal attitudes/feelings.
          Amazing discoveries can result from the candid and thoughtful consideration of one’s own habits and assumptions. You might find that the barriers are only in your mind, and the possibilities are breathtakingly at hand.
          You thought you just couldn’t deal with conflict. You might discover that you can focus on mutual rewards without distraction from  overblown and uncontrolled emotion. Not only can you arrive at an adult agreement, but you can win the admiration of combatants and onlookers. It depends upon movements of the mind that are fully within your control.

          And you can be persistent in follow-through where you never have been before. You slow it down. You apply your mind, judgment and experience instead of allowing your feelings and unthinking reactions to divert you.
You focus your thinking on the logical steps along the way, making it specific and do-able in your mind, instead of thinking about all the reasons why it’s a pain and/or all the things you’d rather be doing instead.
You can purposefully design and implement a program of logic to command your behavior in situations of demand and stress. You can train patience into your previously impulsive behavior.
You can install a little red light in your mind to warn you when anxiety or fear is rising, so you can immediately kick in your personal problem-management process. It works.       

          So confidence indeed is optional. It takes some work. But the payoff can be lifelong, and incredibly worthwhile.

         
          

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Precious Resource

      Management 101 defines the manager’s job with stark simplicity: to get the highest possible value in the shortest possible time at the lowest possible cost . . . for the longest possible period of time.
Nothing to it. Just get out your calculator and organize an efficient investment of resources, then implement, monitor, adjust.
If it were that simple, of course, there would be no need for expensive managers. Just resources, planners and monitors. Here’s how it would work:
At its simplest, the list of resources is a short one:

                  TIME

                  MONEY

                  PEOPLE

                  EVERYTHING ELSE (Facilities, materials, etc.)

Time is the most rigid of the resources.
Everybody has the same amount of it. It just ticks away, one second at a time, sixty seconds per minute, sixty minutes per hour.
Einstein theorized that time becomes flexible as one nears the speed of light, but since few of us work at that rate, Einsteinian time is not an issue.
In reality, time is a great tool for measuring the investment of the other resources against results, and that’s it. It is a tool for making value decisions, but otherwise contributes nothing. A deadline’s value is in what a person or group can accomplish by a given moment. The people action is what’s important.

Money is the universal resource.
Everything can be converted into a cost. If you have enough money, you can buy whatever you can absorb of any other resource.
The People resource, for example, can be calculated in terms of “fully loaded labor cost.” That means a person’s salary and fringes plus the person’s proportionate share of cost of the organization’s common amenities: the building, insurance, air conditioning, marketing, etc.
If everyone in a company were of exactly the same value to the organization, you could divide its total cost of operation for a week by the number of employes. That would tell you how much each employe was costing the company, and therefore how much value that worker should provide for the company to break even on employing that person.
Things aren’t that simple in the workplace, but you get the idea. Money makes everything else possible, but has no intrinsic value of its own.

Let’s skip to Everything Else.
Here you can have construction materials, computer databases, office furniture, whatever. None of it does anything but sit there (costing money and probably deteriorating) without the wise use of it by human beings.
Information can be vitally important, in a Project or other activity, but only if it is known, understood and properly employed by people.
The “everything else” category is the one that, in general, can be replaced or substituted for by other resources. For example, if you have enough time you can swing an old-fashioned hammer instead of using an air-operated nailer. If you have enough money you can buy more raw materials.

The People resource is the central and most meaningful of the resources. Without it, the other resources have no meaning. They don’t do anything.
Under weak management, the people involved in getting things done are seen as the “adapter” in the scheme of things When you run out of time, make people donate time by working extra hours. Withhold overtime, and you save money, too.
If the Project suddenly hits an unexpected problem or picks up some added requirements, you can’t afford to bust the budget or miss the deadline – so you push the people harder.
In a properly planned Project or other activity, the human resource is not an adapter. The people who staff the Project have been carefully “estimated” to fit the requirements by devoting reasonable time to the effort. The result has been defined, and all the resources – including the human one – have been organized to get it done. Again in simple terms, the overall “investment” can be represented in a formula:

      Time + $$$ + Everything Else x Human Effort = Outcome

                                          T + $ + E x H = O

Time is added, along with Money and Everything Else. The role of Human Effort is that of a catalytic multiplier employing the other resources to achieve the planned Outcome.
If something happens, say the deadline is suddenly moved up to hit a window of opportunity in the marketplace, something has been subtracted from the T.
Logic – or good management – says O will be proportionately reduced, unless a sufficient increase is made in one of the other elements on the lefthand side of the equation.
Instead, what frequently happens is a greater burden is placed on the less-measurable human resource. Can’t you hear it now? “Let’s just take a few of these people sitting around drinking coffee and get another few minutes of work a day out of each of them.” Bingo! Problem solved.
You do that a few times – and it can work over the short term if the people care about the organization and believe in the Project – and you wear the human resource down. Its productivity declines. People get tired and uninspired. You miss the deadline (time), run over budget (money) and still have a poorer result (Outcome).

 So the substitution of human effort for other resources is of very limited value, and in fact usually is negative.
And, of course, if the enthusiasm was not there to begin with, there was not even a short-term gain.
However, the biggest price paid for such mismanagement is the effect it has on the people. They learn to distrust managers and their plans. They learn to protect themselves. They play the game as survivors, placing no value on courage, commitment or extra effort. You won’t get them back.
In short, you have blown the most precious resource.