Archive for category flat world

The No Collar Workplace

Here is an interesting article that examines the types of personalities that can excel at working remotely or from a home office. These are the main takeaways:

Duff assumed it would be the quants, introverts, and reclusive types who would thrive in a virtual work situation. After all, they’re the ones who keep their heads burrowed in their cubicles. But it turns out it’s the extroverts — the office gabbers, the life of the break-room party — who thrive in the land of virtual work. Left on their own, these types of employees are the ones who work closely with clients, chum around with colleagues, and talk it up with bosses. They stay connected no matter where they are.

Shy, disorganized types are better kept in-house. The office environment is more forgiving of the scatterbrained; its structures help provide external reinforcement — as in your comrade popping his head into your office to remind you that you are late for the meeting (again). There’s also something to be said for the social interactions of an office environment. It doesn’t require much to keep up basic relationships when you are physically at work.

Duff also thought that mobile workers would tend to be seat-of-the-pants types. Again, the opposite turned out to be true. “Mobile workers are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts,” he says. “They have to be on top of their game the whole time.”

Based on our experiences with remote offices and employees I mostly agree with these findings. Here are a few of our own best practices for remote workers:

  • The best remote workers are people you have worked with in a physical office. The longer you have worked with them the more likely it is for the remote relationship to be a successful one. Of course, the above criteria still applies. If this person is a disorganized introvert then going remote will only make matters worse.
  • Do not hire someone who has always worked from the office as a first time remote worker. This is too much of an adjustment for anyone. A more gradual approach to going full remote (let’s say two days a week to start) is much more likely to succeed.
  • Invest a lot of time in nurturing the remote relationship. We assume too much when we work with others, especially those we do not see. Taking the time to talk to them frequently, asking them how it’s going, and finding opportunities to connect with them virtually and in person goes a long way in making the relationship successful.
  • It takes a village to go remote. You have to make sure that remote workers have the collaboration from everyone in the main office and access to the information they need to feel connected and get their work done. For example, if you are having Internet issues in the main office or any major pending announcements, your IT and HR personnel should immediately notify all remote workers of such events. After the fact is too late. Every event is an opportunity to build trust and enhance communication. Lack of such updates actually alienates people and hurts their trust in you and the organization they work for.

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One-Tunnel Communication in Project Workforce Management

I enjoyed this blog post on the Lighthouse Consulting blog, originally written by author Larry Wilson, entitled, "The Two-Tunnel Trap." Wilson tells the story of engineers digging a tunnel through a mountain: one team on one side, and one team on the other, with the objective to meet squarely in the middle. If successful, these teams will dig one continuous tunnel–but if not, they will dig two tunnels leading into the middle of the mountain.

Wilson prescribes a formula of "simple, familiar, and dramatic" to help people avoid two-tunnel communications. For regular speaking or writing, this is a winning formula for communicating new ideas. And for the business communications that we generate in our project-based work, I add "organized" to the list.

By "organized," I mean "ordered and structured in a fashion that allows team members to find what they seek." Without organization, teams have no platform for sorting through or communicating the many events and messages that are part of a project. This requirement is easy to grasp, but difficult to deliver without one centralized system. I emphasize "one" because multiple systems are like multiple tunnels into the mountain.

In the extreme, multiple disconnected systems result in a MESS (meetings, email, and spreadsheets) that is (to use Larry Wilson’s words) neither simple, nor is it familiar to all users–although the results can be dramatic in that they lead to chaos and drama in the workplace.

Even in our own company, we have seen many tunnels into the mountain. When each manager used to attend a status meeting with his or her own spreadsheet of project information, costs and revenue, each group was able to show success and profit. However, in the aggregate, when you look at the consolidated picture it was never as rosy as the individual managers had painted it with their spreadsheets. It was amazing how people could interpret and manipulate the data. As a customer put it: "Many business executives and project managers are experts at the movement of costs, but not the reduction of them."

This is just an example of how one centralized project workforce management system enables the members of a team to dig one, and only one, tunnel through the mountain. A unified platform is the key to avoiding slow (or fast) death by manipulated spreadsheets; and making sure that communication–in the sense that we communicate in business–connects people on all sides.

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Wanted – Growth Opportunities

Jim Carroll, Futurist, and Trends and innovation Expert, who delivered the keynote at the Tenrox User Conference in the fall, has published a new document on his web site, entitled "Where’s the Growth?" This is a good read for project managers who are taking charge of their own careers and seek to keep their careers on the leading edge, even in the "economic downturn" that so many experts are forecasting.

Carroll outlines a number of industries and ideas that point toward growth in the coming months and years. Whether the economic indicators point upwards or downwards, the skills for survival in a flat world remain the same.  They include the ability to learn new things, and to adapt to the ideas and skills where there is growth.

I continue to recommend that today’s professionals should commit to projects and not to companies, even though a recession might tempt us to focus on the promise of a steady paycheck. The real "steady paycheck" comes from your ability to deliver successful projects, not from your reliance on any one company. It makes sense to stay where you are as long as the projects you work on truly challenge you and make you more competitive.

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Tough Times Ahead: Opportunities for the Project Workforce?

There is more and more news about the coming economic downturn.  Here are just a couple of examples:

  • In the Workforce Management online magazine’s blogs, Ed Frauenheim writes about "Smarter Belt Tightening." He foresees that companies who have implemented better systems for recruiting and retaining top talent will have more data, and therefore better outcomes, when they have to downsize. in the months ahead.  They will be able to hand-pick top performers instead of making blanket cuts that eliminate the talent they need along with the talent they don’t.
  • On Computerworld’s Management blog, Bruce A. Stewart lists some tips in his post, "Tough times mean tough choices for CIOs." The tough choices include cutting waste, buying only what you need, and smarter project prioritization; he states:

Don’t do something just to appease your peers. IT executives often say that IT is the only group that sees the whole enterprise. But how many CIOs actually turn down their peers’ requests for new projects by saying, "That’s not in the interests of the corporation at this time"? Your actions should show that you really do see the whole company, and the big picture, just as your CEO would.

Smart workers in this economy will manage their own talent entrepreneurially, as I described in Seven Survival Skills for the Flat World. When layoffs come, the most valuable workers, theoretically, will be retained because the decision makers will have better information at their fingertips. However, when project workers are laid off, they will be smart to approach the job market with the same entrepreneurial spirit.  Look for good projects where you can build your skills–don’t merely look for job security, because it is becoming a thing of the past in the flat world.

Smart workers in the "project market" (as opposed to the "job market") should also be advised to look for agile companies who use Project Workforce Management. Look for companies who follow the market and then seek talent to fill market needs–not companies who look for work for their current, probably stagnant, workforce to keep them and the company "busy".

Smart companies in this economy will benefit from Project Workforce Management now more than ever: to streamline the costs of doing business, keep projects on course, and manage effective workflows, just to name a few. Moreover, as Bruce A. Stewart alludes to project prioritization and selection in the excerpt above, smart companies will do the right projects. This, too, requires them to look to the markets and be ready for change.

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Scarcity of PMs: Good News for Ambitious Project Workforce Managers

A recent article in PM Network, the PMI’s monthly magazine ("The Great Talent Shortage," January 2008, by Tom Sullivan), in addition to a recent post on the PM Hut blog ("Good Project Managers are hard to find," January 29, by Harley Lovegrove) remind us of what we have been hearing for a while: the talent crisis is coming. These articles, specifically point to a shortage of qualified project managers.

Some people see a growing popularity and widespread acceptance of project managers, as evidenced by the large number of PMP (Project Management Professional) training programs. While this might be an overall trend, I still see within many companies a resistance to making project management an enterprise-wide priority (which I have written about in Rise of the Project Workforce).

In the PM Hut blog post, Harley Lovegrove states that companies in Brussels (where he is located) are having trouble finding qualified PMs. Then he writes:

However I am concerned that although we are experiencing a shortage of high quality PM’s at the moment, the rates are only OK. There is no such thing as a hungry PM … but they are not going to get rich either, especially if the market takes a downturn.

The PM Network article describes scenarios in which PMs can get hefty salaries–if they have good experience, and industry expertise in addition to PM savvy. The article explains that some of the feeling of "shortage" may be due to companies’ unwillingness or inability to train from within–and a general impatience to find the right person, right now.

So, for the relatively young PM generalist, the rates might only be "OK," even in the face of a "shortage" of very highly qualified and specialized project managers.

I urge young project managers to think entrepreneurially, as I described in Seven Survival Skills for the Flat World.  Recent news and observations still bear out the need for PMs to develop their skills and specializations, learn cutting edge tools, and always improve their own marketability.

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Rise of the Project Workforce, Chapter 1: The World is Flat, Again

In this series of blog posts, we will summarize each chapter of the book, Rise of the Project Workforce, and highlight a few key take-aways from that chapter. These posts will make it easy for me to refer back to key ideas in subsequent posts, and provide an online "landing page" for these concepts.

We are at a strategic inflection point in the ways that we work, compete and win–these require a new approach that is no longer suited to large, hierarchical organizations. In what author Thomas Friedman calls the "flat world," the best talent for a task might be anywhere in the world. He writes, “More people than ever…collaborate and compete in real time with more other people, on more different kinds of work, from more different corners of the planet, and on a more equal footing than at any previous time in the history of the world.”

Globalization has given rise to flatter, more agile teams that take on more discrete projects and make decisions locally. The Internet and faster computing technologies have enabled this phenomenon. Hierarchies are flattened, and enterprises are fragmented through outsourcing. Meanwhile, increasing regulatory scrutiny requires these flattened, fragmented teams to carefully assign, track, and manage the accountability for the work being done.

In this flat world, businesses need solutions to rapidly increasing problems, such as: the inability to get actionable business information while there is still time to take action; the inability to measure productivity; the inability to make sense out of massive pools of disconnected and sometimes conflicting business data; and the inability for teams to collaborate and share knowledge with one another.

Enter Project Workforce Management–designed to enable progress in a flat world. Project Workforce Management, by necessity, combines human capital management, project management, business process management, and cost/revenue accounting into a synthesized solution that meets the challenges of a flat world:

  • Project Workforce Management helps design and oversee business processes, while it provides real-time visibility into areas including cost accounting, productivity analysis, budget-vs.-actual comparisons, utilization, and profitability.
  • Because change is a constant, it enables managers and teams to manage changing and fluid processes while change is occurring.
  • It enables work to be broken down to accommodate the many units, teams, cost centers and individuals in today’s flattened organizations.
  • It is an interactive environment for real-time tracking and analysis of project workforce data.

Moreover, Project Workforce Management is a workflow platform that allows mangers to model project, workforce, and financial processes, represent those processes graphically, and then automate those processes.

Project Workforce Management encompasses and integrates:

  • Time and expense tracking
  • Cost and revenue accounting
  • Workforce planning
  • Project planning
  • Project process management
  • Analytics

While traditional business management systems perpetuate silos of information and narrow departmental views, Project Workforce Management brings together talent, work, and finances into one system that provides a common vantage point for decision makers, provides real-time views of business operations, and supports more accurate decision making. It enables the cooperation and collaboration that must occur in a flat world.

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How to Stop Being Busy and Become Productive in a Flat World

A recent article by Margaret Heffernan, on Fast Company’s Talent & Careers center, is entitled: Creativity is in the Detail, and Everywhere…. She makes an interesting observation that it is now creativity and innovation that is starting to eclipse globalization as a top concern of businesses.  Organizations wonder: how will we come up with the next big idea?

Heffernan disputes the myths that creativity is limited to a few gifted people, or that it only comes naturally and can’t be taught. She tells a story about a business leader who "threw away his Blackberry and went walking across New England for three weeks," and found a profound source of creativity int he process.

He was surprised to discover that his journey became more meaningful when he stopped worrying so much about his destination, and simply relished the journey. It may sound too philosophical for some, but with so much talk about how we reach our business destinations, I believe there is some value in paying attention to how we arrive there.

Heffernan asks: "Are we sometimes (perhaps even all the time) too focused on getting
work done to extract any value from the experience of doing it?" I have asked myself the same question. In my own experience, the more I focus on accomplishing the details of work, the less meaningful work I get accomplished.

I happened to address this question during a recorded interview to The Student Operated Press:

What key quality would you say that all successful people share?

I think in terms of management and executives, I think executives that are too busy are probably not very successful. In my case, the more time I spend with our employees, the more time I spend with our customers, the more time I spend with partners, talking, discussing, eating, or just spending time on my own, figuring out where the company can be more successful, the more successful I am.

The more time I spend doing things micromanaging or following up on little things, and being extremely busy from very early morning until late at night, the less successful the company is.

One of my biggest jobs as a CEO is to be a model to project workforce managers at all levels of my organization. I do this by allowing our people and teams to do their jobs, and paying attention to the success of our common journey.

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Project Management by Email: A Fatal Assumption

I sent this message by email to several of my colleagues and direct reports. Perhaps it is ironic to send it in an email, but I am also blogging it here, repeating it in person, calling people on the phone…and so on.

How do people win an election? Or get promoted? Or get an article or book published?
How do people get a placement for a new high tech product pitch in a major IT magazine?
How do musicians get their music listened to by a famous studio?
How do we win new deals and new customers?
How does a country get approval to host the next Olympics?
How does a new budget for new spending get approved?
How does a customer agree to be a reference?
How does a customer approve a press release, a video clip or a case study?
How does any other person on this planet, who has other things to do (and his or her own personal challenges to deal with), take the time to actually listen to you and take care of what you need done?

Do you think sending an email means you are done?

You have to…send emails…call people…talk to them…explain why what you ask is important…brainstorm on how you can work together to get things done…escalate to their managers if you are not getting anywhere with them…go to lunch with them…call them…send them a thank you card…buy them a gift…call them again…take them to breakfast…send them another email…call them again…attend a meeting they are at…sell the idea to their manager…call them on their cell…call them at home…email them again…follow up with their manager…send them another gift…

Think of creative ways to help them succeed in their jobs so that in return they will help you do yours.
Do them a few favors and see if you can get some favors too!
Think hard about what you would do if you were them.
How would you be motivated to do what you need them to do?

And do the above a thousand times over.

Persistence, communication, persuasion, negotiation and finesse, all combined, a thousand times over, will get you what you need to get the job done.

Sending an email, waiting for months, pretending like you did your part (when deep inside you know the truth) and then saying "I failed because I was ignored" is simply fooling yourself.

If it really matters to you, then own it, push for it, be timely, be creative, and assume nothing.

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The Top 10% of the Project Workforce: We Can’t All Be Superstars

Do you believe that you are one of the top 10% performers in your workplace? 90% of us do.

A recent poll in BusinessWeek (view the slide show that accompanies this article) reveals an alarming disconnect between our own perceptions of our performance and statistical reality. While only 1 in 10 of us can actually be "top 10%" performers, 9 out of 10 us believe we are. Our self-confidence is much greater than our actual performance.

Poll: Are you one of the top 10% of performers in your company?

Percent of Employees Answering Yes
Companies greater than 1000 employees: 83%
Middle Managers: 84%
Female: 89%
Overall: 90%
Male: 91%
Age 65+: 93%
Companies with under 50 employees: 96%
Executives: 97%

This gap in perception highlights a problem: a lack of regular, consistent performance reviews. When managers are not specific in their communications with workers, then workers do not know how well they actually perform within their organizations.

The other side of this story is that, clearly, not all workers can be superstars. In fact, the "ditch diggers" of an organization–perhaps those in the middle percentiles–are the real backbone of a project workforce because they simply get work done.

This poll also highlights an opportunity. If workers could apply their confidence to a career that is a good fit, a career that leverages their strengths, this gap between performance and perception could be reduced. In a post titled "Seven Survival Skills for the Flat World," I recommended ways that workers can increase their value in a world where jobs are being outsourced and internal competition is intensifying.

For project workers who want to survive in the flat world, I recommend a "reality check" to understand where you rank in performance. Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you are not a top 10% performer, because too few can be. Build skills, take advantage of your own strengths, and prove value through consistent performance in the project workforce.

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Your Real Life is Here and Now

I recently came across this wonderful quote from Bette Howland:

For a long time it seemed to me that real life was about to begin, but there was always some obstacle in the way. Something had to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

- Bette Howland

I am so guilty of this myself. We all have personal and business challenges to deal with on a daily basis. It’s important to not let life pass us by just waiting for that one moment of perfection when we have no more worries, no more debt, no more challenges so we can start our "real life"… as this quote suggests there will always be something we will worry about and some challenge we have to overcome.

With that, my wish for the holidays is that we enjoy and appreciate the life we have here and now–unfinished business, and all.

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