Monthly Archives: June 2012

I’ll get by with a little help from my friends

We all have times when the mountain of work we have to seems impossible, or we have a big event approaching us at warp speed and getting faster, or that exam/presentation/performance is coming at us with a vengeance. Conventional wisdom tells us to roll our sleeves up, get our heads down and work like crazy. So we do. We lock ourselves away in our office, the library, our bedroom, the garden shed – wherever we can be undisturbed by those annoying people and just get ON with it.

And this is almost exactly the wrong thing to do. Withdrawing in this way reduces the social contacts that we have and this makes us unhappy, which affects our performance and increases our stress levels. That makes the challenge even harder for us, so we withdraw more and so spiral down into despair and even depression.

The best thing to do when you are challenged is to reach out to those close to you and get their help and support. Just having a gossip with them will lighten your mood. Yes, it’s true, sharing your views on X-Factor or Strictly actually makes you happier. The better your social contacts, the happier you are. That makes you less stressed and leads to innovation, creativity and motivation. Which are kind of handy when you are facing a major challenge.

Ah, the wisdom of Joe Cocker. At least I think that’s what he was saying.


What’s the cost of getting it right?

We often try to make sure we get things right. We spend huge amount of time agonising over details, getting the OK from others, making sure it’s just so. In large organisations, this shows itself as detailed business plans and product specifications, complicated procedures and sign-offs, exhaustive management reports. And lots and lots of meetings.

But you don’t know if it’s right until you give it to the customer. No matter how much stuff you do beforehand, the moment is truth is still the moment of truth. They’re not interested in your blood, sweat and tears. They either love it or hate it. End of. (Or they don’t care, which is worse).

Why not get to that key moment as soon as possible? Stop worrying about getting it right and see if you can get it wrong as early as you can. Then change it and go again.

We hugely over-estimate the cost of getting it wrong. But we give barely a thought to all the time and effort we spend (trying) to get it right.

(Note: Making sure it’s right is not the same as making sure it’s correct. This is not an excuse to put out sloppy work.)

Clarity & communication are the keys

Getting things done is about running successful projects. The keys to this are clarity and communication.

Clarity about the vision, what the desired outcome is, what it is we’re trying to achieve.Clarity about who’s in the team, what their skills and responsibilities are. Clarity about what been agreed, who’s doing what, by when. Clarity about what’s been done – and what hasn’t. Clarity about what the dependencies are, what the critical path is, what the risks are. Clarity about where we are. Clarity about how we will know we’ve succeeded.

Communication is the lifeblood of any good project. It should flow between the team members like blood flows between the vital organs of the body, carrying the oxygen of information, ideas and encouragement. It has to extend outside the team as well. Upwards to the projects sponsors, out to the intended beneficiaries, and also to friends and supporters. Communication is everyone’s responsibility, and the should do it continuously. And with clarity, obviously.

Clarity and communication are the yin and yang of getting things done.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

So, here we are, scouring the internet for the latest formula for success. Working into the wee small hours to finish that project and dragging ourselves up in the morning for that breakfast meeting. Cutting corners on our fitness, neglecting our personal relationships, dropping all the stuff we like doing so we can put everything into our job, career, business. Working like crazy to be successful. Why? Because when we’re successful, we’ll be happy, won’t we?

Guess what? Seems we’ve all got it completely the wrong way around. In his book “The Happiness Advantage”, Harvard lecturer Shawn Achor explains how his studies show that it is happiness that leads to success. Be happy, and success will come right along. In fact, striving incredibly hard to be a success is totally self-defeating, guaranteed to end in misery and failure.

You heard it here first. What are you doing still reading this? You should be messing around having fun somewhere or you’ll never get to the top.

If you really don’t believe me (and if you’re reading this bit, you don’t) find out from the man himself here

Terminological inexactitude No.1 – Change Management

An occasional series on phrases we use that imply the opposite of what we intend

Change is disruptive, unruly, unpredictable, uncomfortable, uncontrollable. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, that’s just the way it is. It’s part of life. The idea of managing it is ridiculous, but it gives us a sense of control and deceive ourselves that we have mastery over events. However, by focusing on control it is emphasising the negative side of change. Change is not just necessary, it is inevitable and it is how we develop as people, as businesses and as society. So why do we imply it is negative every time we refer to it in business?

I remember doing geography at school, which I loved (I still bore my family by pointing out geographical features and getting all emotional over truncated spurs), and we spent some time studying rivers. When there is a change in the angle of fall in a river due, for example, to local ground movement or a fall in sea level, it is called a ‘rejuvenation’. The river increases in rate of flow, becomes much more dynamic and powerful, and begins to affect the geography around it rather than the other way around.

I wonder how more successful ‘change management programmes’ would be if we called them ‘rejuvenation programmes’.

Are you a Homerun Hoper?

“Draw Something” is the latest smartphone game sensation, with its creators, OMGpop, snapped up by Zynga for $183 million. It’s the hottest app of the year and now everyone’s trying to write the next ‘Draw Something’.

But should they?

This wasn’t the first app that OMGpop had written. It was their 36th. Now, some may say it’s a reward for their perseverance. I say they got lucky. They were lucky they didn’t run out of money. Or run out of time. Or run out of energy.

OK, they hit a home run and are now basking in the glory. I don’t begrudge them their success. But what if the ‘home run’ had been the 50th attempt? And they couldn’t last out that long? Would they now be darlings of the digerati? Or just another bunch of disillusioned programmers in boring day jobs?

If your strategy is to keep swinging until you hit a home run, I wish you luck.

You’ll need it.

Building your railroad

When you are developing a service you go through a series of trials to make sure it really works and can do enough of what the customer wants. Proof-of-concept, alpha and beta trials, pre-production, soft-launch – there’s a number of ways to work through this to get ready for market. Today, the received wisdom is to get it into the hands of users as soon as you can, and continue to develop based on their feedback until it’s ready to go out into the big wide world.

Ah yes, the real world where time frames have to be met and money has to be made. Often we don’t have the luxury of endless iterations until perfection is achieved, we have to go with what we’ve got, warts and all. Or we don’t have the money to build everything so it’s robust and infinitely scalable from Day One. That often means compromises, chewing-gum and string solutions rather than proper systems and processes. This is normally OK as long as the core elements are robust. And as long as you don’t have too many customers.

So, you launch a system that’s not quite ready and can’t scale. Well, probably the main platform will but some of the support processes, which are based on bits of paper, excel spreadsheets and lots of Virtual Assistants, won’t. As soon as you get too successful, they will fall over and you’ll have lots of unhappy customers. Or probably, lots of unhappy would-be customers, which is worse (trust me, I’ve been there).

It’s not ideal but it is manageable. The important thing is to know when the flakier parts of the system are likely to fall over and how you are going to replace them. That means having plans with costs and timescales. Then you can monitor the load across the system and prioritise action on those parts that are getting close to the max, so you switch them out before they fail.

It’s a bit like building a railroad, you only need enough track down for the train to travel the next day. As long as it’s built when the locomotive comes along, you’re fine.