Sunday, February 21, 2010

A lesson from Undercover Boss

Have you had a chance to see this show?  It is on CBS and has CEO's go undercover in their organization to get a sense of what it is like on the front lines.  The messages have been amazing.

The lesson that I get from the show is to never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and participate at the ground level.  This gives the unique perspective that many lose touch with.  We all have many ideas on how to run an organization or improve operations.  If we are lucky enough to set policies and make key decisions for a company, we rarely get to see the impact.  We also forget at times how each job is an important factor in how the overall organization runs.

Key Executives from organizations such as Waste Management and 7-11 are participating in this show and learning lessons that change their behaviors.  They see first hand how their policies are being carried out.  For instance, Larry O'Donnell, President of Waste Management, was very focused on efficiencies.  He wanted to ensure that everyone was a productive as possible.  Then he saw how one of the plants were carrying out his effeciencies.  They were docking double the amount of time they were late back from lunch.  This was something he did not anticipate.

Joe De Pinto, CEO of 7-11 saw how their charitable plans were not being followed.  A fantastic idea that was lacking in execution.  He also was taken aback by the people that really made the operation tick.  It is a lesson we should all learn.  When is the last time we truly walked a mile in someone else's shoes?  When is the last time we saw the impact of a decision?

For project sponsor's out there, when is the last time you really understood the impacts of the cost, schedule, and quality triangle?  If you are not sure, maybe it is time for you to become the undercover boss.

No day but today,


Friday, February 12, 2010

You have three choices...

This will be a short post, but it was on my mind.

I was completing my seminar with an organization and I received a question that I get often:

"What if none of this stuff works? What if the organization refuses?"

Unfortunately, there are really only three choices.

1) Persevere - You can work with the organization and continue to educate and be a positive force in changing the overall culture. If you truly follow the process of making emotional conversation unemotional (documented in my book) then through perseverance, will, and success, the culture WILL change. I have watched it occur over and over again.

2) Accept - If you feel that nothing you try will ever make a difference, then accept it for what it is. In essence, quit whining about it! ;)

3) Move On - If you feel that you can't persevere or accepting the results is not your style, then the only choice left is to leave the organization. I know that it can be difficult in these times, but if you can't live with the culture and do not have the perseverance to change it, then it is your only other option.

Understanding the three choices and being resolute on which one fits you and your situation can go a long way in making the first step. Once the decision is made (and of course, I will often choose #1) then you can focus on making the difference.

I promised it would be short!

No day but today,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

But We Still Get to Work.........

I recently did a speech in Austin, TX.  One of the individuals attending asked a great question and I have thought about it ever since.

For those of you that have seen me, I often use an example of variance in estimates by asking someone how long it takes them to get to work.  Usually, it is between 300-500% variance.  I then explain that it is something that we do every day, but we have a wide variance.  If we have a variance on a known activity, how can we possibly select a date in the future on something that we have never done and be accurate? 

Someone in the audience raised their hand and said, "Yet, we still get to work on time.  If not, we would be fired!"  A great observation.  My response to it was that there is a wide acceptance of being late due to unforeseen circumstances.  However, I have thought about the question further and wanted to expand the answer.

First, there are several adjustments when we start a new job.  We may leave really early to ensure that we are at work on time and then slowly leave later and later until we settle on the right time.  There are also times where we can't leave any earlier due to having to leave a child at daycare or other circumstances.  In almost all cases, we come to an agreement with ourselves and our employer about what is and is not acceptable.

Second, there is acceptance of things beyond our control.  If there is a major accident on the highway and someone is not to work on time, the assumption is that they are caught in traffic.  In fact, many people will defend the missing person with this excuse without truly knowing the cause.  If the daycare opened late, the employee simply apologizes when they do get to work.

Third, the number of times early and late generally fall within the probability distribution that people estimate.  When you ask them how long it takes to get to work, their first response will follow the most likely distribution plus or minus a standard deviation.

Therefore, the case still stands.  If we can't guarantee how long it takes us to get to work, even though some of us have done it thousands of times because there are just things beyond our control, then how can we ask several people to perform tasks they may have never done before and be able to guarantee a date and time of being finished?

The point of all of this is that project manager's dates of completion are only our best guess or estimation.  We have a tremendous toolset available to help select the date, yet we are still predicting the unknown.  If we could guarantee the date, then we are in the wrong business.  Maybe we should have been stockbrokers!  Just a thought.....

No Day But Today,