Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Organizational Multi-tasking

I had the opportunity to talk to Sanjeev Gupta, the CEO of Realization last week. His company is applying the principles of Critical Chain to help companies out.

We talked about multi-tasking; one of my favorite topics. I often think of multi-tasking at the personal level. If I have one of my developers working on 2 different tasks at once, they are less efficient at both and loss time to context switching. Sanjeev pointed out the organizations multi-task as well, something I don't think about as often, but in hindsight, have observed frequently.

This situation occurs when organizations are trying to run to many projects at once. Teams are getting pulled back and forth; again resulting in all the projects coming in later than they could if a more focused approach was taken. Sanjeev often recommends to clients that they cut back on the number of active projects going at one time. It made me think of Kanban, but at an organizational level; you pick the most important project and get it completely done before starting the next.

The other part of effective delivery from Sanjeev's perspective is ensuring everyone knows the priority of the work at a task level. This is the project manager's job to drive this message. So instead of having a complex project plan with resources assigned to multiple tasks (with no priority), you provide each resource a prioritized task list and have them focus on the highest priority first. Just like having a prioritized product backlog.

So does everyone on your team understand the priorities? Do you find them working on tasks that may not be so important? At an organizational level, does everyone understand the priority of the projects?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Importance of Design

In A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink sites 6 key areas that will help us master right-brained thinking; Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. I plan on going into each of these, starting with design.

One example given in the book is when school children are asked if they are artist. In first grade, everyone says yes, only a few say yes in third grade, and none by sixth grade. As the education process evolves, we teach our children to focus on left-brain thinking and the creative side is pushed out.

However, the need for good design is growing. I'm a fan of Apple products. I watched yesterday as a colleague opened a new iPod Touch. Even the packaging was well designed. Apple knows that enough people are willing to pay extra for good design to make them successful.

So how does design play into a project manager's life. Do you prepare a lot of PowerPoint presentations? Have you read one of the books on good PowerPoint design such as Presentation Zen or slide:ology? A well designed presentation will go farther in communicating your point than a poorly designed set of slides will.

There are other areas where design can play into your role as a PM. If you're delivering any kind of product, you should be thinking about design. Even if someone else is responsible for that aspect, you should still know what good design is. Even the way you're team's workspace is designed can impact their productivity.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Moving to the Right

I'm currently reading Daniel Pink's latest book, A Whole New Mind, Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World. The book is based on the premise that just like manufacturing jobs went overseas, so to are the more analytic tasks associated with our left-brain; things like computer programming or accounting. So in order to succeed in this coming age, we have to tap into our right brain; the creative, holistic, intuitive side.

Pink sites three reasons for this change; abundance, Asia, and Automation. Abundance can be seen be going to the local Target store; affordable designer products down every aisle, from clothes to kitchen utensils. In the US, there are more cars than registered drivers; no shortage there.

Asia of course refers to the cheaper labor available to perform those left-brain tasks overseas, whether it be India, China, or the Philippines. These countries are producing plenty of people that can perform these tasks, though it isn't limited to just Asia. Eastern Europe, South America and other countries with low labor rates/cost of living are jumping in. According to one survey, one out of four IT jobs will be offshored by the end of this year.

Automation is the final factor. Computers can do work that people performed not that long ago; from playing chess to doing your taxes, to even programming computers. Think about the act of creating a legal document. You no longer need a lawyer, you can tab into a web site for much cheaper today.

The answer for us is to evolve, learn to use our more creative side to help us succeed. So in a project context, it's no longer good enough to make sure the programmers are producing software that meets the requirements. We need to become engaged with our customers in order to create something more. Pink talks about high concept and high touch. High concept can involve detecting patterns or combining what may appear to be unrelated ideas in order to create a unique solution. High touch involves understanding the subtlety of human interaction.

In my next post, I'll explore some ways that Pink discusses to move in this new direction. For now, ask yourself these questions about your work; 1) can someone overseas do it? or 2) can it be done by a computer? If the answer to either is yes, you need to start thinking about your future.