Archive for category Good Books and Articles

The Importance of Taking Breaks

Here is an interesting article on the importance of taking breaks:

http://www.openforum.com/idea-hub/topics/the-world/article/break-through-by-taking-breaks-matthew-e-may

Some excerpts (although reading the entire article is definitely highly recommended):

Ever wonder why our best ideas come when we’re in the shower, driving, daydreaming, or sleeping?

When you look deeper into these ingeniously elegant solutions and brilliant flashes of insight you can see that they came at strange times and in random locations. They didn’t occur while actually working on the problem but after an intense, prolonged struggle with it followed by a break. A change of scene and time away seems to have played a part.

Most “creatives”—artists, musicians, writers, etc.—instinctively know that idea incubation involves seemingly unproductive times, but that those downtimes and timeouts are important ingredients of immensely productive and creative periods. But until fairly recently the how, when, and why of being kissed by the muse was something of a myth and mystery, explained only by serendipity.

New studies show that creative revelations tend to come when the mind is engaged in an activity unrelated to the issue at hand; pressure is not conducive to recombining knowledge in new and different ways, the defining mark of creativity.

While no one yet knows the exact process, there’s an important implication for all of us: putting pressure on ourselves to try and make our brains work harder, more intensely, or more quickly, may only slow down our ability to arrive at new insights. In other words, if you’re looking to engineer a breakthrough, it may only come through a break. Your brain needs the calm before its storm.

As one example, one of the best decisions we made at Tenrox was to shut the company down between Christmas and New Year’s. We do not schedule any internal or external project work, customer calls, visits or implementations during this time. Our professional services and support team is also asked to provide nothing more than essential services by a handful of people who are on call. We have done this for the last two years and it has been an incredible success. Our team returns to work well rested, creative, and fully reenergized. We very much encourage our team to take breaks and all their vacation time on a regular basis. Working hard without sufficient breaks and “off the grid” time leads to an unproductive uninspired team.

Would be great to hear your perspective and suggestions for taking breaks and how you apply this to your project teams.

, , , , , , ,

1 Comment

A Sincere Apology

In the fifteen years I have been with Tenrox I have seen two kinds of people managing businesses and running projects:

  • Type 1: A person who apologizes for his or her own mistakes and accepts the mistakes of others
  • Type 0: One who never says sorry, denies everything

Like most companies we have both types of people at Tenrox. Thankfully we have more type ones than zeros. Recently, there has been a huge surge in customer activity and we need everyone at Tenrox to be at the top of their game these days to try and serve every single one of our users.

A few days ago I had to talk to a type 0 project manager regarding some of the issues we have with his performance, the projects he manages, his overall approach to the challenges we have, and how important he is given the current resource crunch.

As usual, his automatic patterns kicked in. I got the “It is just your impression”, “but you don’t understand”, “no this is not true”, “you are wrong” … types of responses. This is a hard working person with good intentions and reasonable abilities. Unfortunately, his inability to take responsibility for any mistakes, wholeheartedly apologize for them, and his constant slippery denials virtually guarantee that he will always be nothing more than a second rate mediocre consultant or project manager, at best.

I sometimes call myself the Chief Mistake Officer at Tenrox followed by a list of my personal and professional mistakes just in the last twelve months to try and convey how important it is for everyone to take chances, innovate and get out of their comfort zone … but none of that is any good if we don’t have the capacity to sincerely apologize and to accept our mistakes.

Here is a very nice article on the power of apology: http://ccr.byu.edu/content/power-apology.
I hope more of our team members adopt this mindset.

No Comments

The 2009 Chaos Report – Is Project Success Really that Rare?

The Standish Group released its widely quoted report (available for purchase here) on project success in April 2009. The latest report is based on a survey of more than 300 organizations and 30 interviews. A summary of the findings is shown in the figure below.

SuccessRateGraph

The news is not very positive. According to this report the number of IT projects that failed has actually increased since 2006, successful projects are also alarmingly harder to find. Here is a far smaller and less official survey on software project success rates.

From our own experience and all the anecdotal evidence I have gathered projects are often late and over budget but they are mostly successful. In my opinion the Standish Group’s survey is overly pessimistic on the success rate of IT projects. I find nothing on the Internet that explains Standish Group’s survey approach or confirms these findings. It would be better if they provided more details as to how they assess project success and how they can backup their claim of a negative trend in worldwide IT project performance.

The report did not highlight any new reasons for the higher project failure rates. There are many more capable and highly qualified project managers today than in 2006, there are better tools, an abundance of easily accessible information on project management lifecycles and methodologies, and better collaboration between all project contributors/stakeholders. I simply cannot see how the end results can be this bad.

2 Comments

The difference is I

I am subscribed to a newsletter from Boaz Rauchwerger. He writes motivational and inspirational articles from time to time about situations he encounters and the people he meets. The difference is I is an amazingly positive and truly inspiring article I highly recommend to anyone going through some tough times which is most of us these days.

The difference is I

, , ,

No Comments

The Law of the Garbage Truck: A Lesson for Project Workforce Managers

I subscribe to a newsletter from the speaker and consultant Boaz Rauchwerger at BoazPower.com. He sent a story a few weeks ago that has stuck with me. The story is quoted in many places, and was originally written by David J. Pollay. You can read the entire story in Boaz’s newsletter here.

The story is entitle "The Law of the Garbage Truck." Pollay tells the story of how he witnessed a New York cab driver making the best out of somebody else’s bad behavior. Instead of taking on someone else’s garbage, this cab driver smiled and waved at a driver who almost caused an accident. Here’s a key excerpt:

Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.

When someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. You just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. You’ll be happy you did. So this was it: The "Law of the Garbage Truck." I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people: at work, at home, on the streets? It was that day I said; "I’m not going to do it anymore."

Project workforce managers can learn a lot from the "Law of the Garbage Truck." We see bad behavior, poor performance, and negative attitudes as we manage people and tasks. We have a choice: we can let garbage infect our projects and teams, or we can keep the garbage "in the truck," so to speak, and not dump it on ourselves or others. We can, in effect, smile and wave, and encourage our project workforce to continue to do its best.

How do you avoid garbage trucks? In a previous Blog I described some of the lessons we have learned: http://www.tenrox.com/blogs/talentontarget/index.php/2008/02/patterns-of-success-for-project-workforce-managers/.

No Comments

Rise of the Project Workforce: New Book Released in August

riseofprojectworkforce_lgI’m proud to announce that my new book, The Rise of the Project Workforce: Managing People and Projects in a Flat World, is now available for pre-ordering, in advance of its official release in August.

Please click here to order The Rise of the Project Workforce from Amazon.com.

This book is the culmination of a great deal of research and analysis to understand what is happening to today’s workforces.  In short, globalization, projectization, and rapid technology change are creating a “flat world” (a term coined by author Thomas Friedman) where projects and workforces must be managed in new ways.  Top-down, command and control, centrally managed departments are giving way to collaborative, project-driven, ad hoc, dispersed and outsourced project workforces: Workforce 2.0.

The book describes these trends in detail, and explains quite a few best practices for organizations who need to manage the project workforce effectively.

You can also read more about the book at www.projectworkforcebook.com.

We welcome your feedback on the book and the Project Workforce concept.

No Comments

New American Workforce: About Projects, Not Companies

A book that has caught our eye is The New American Workforce, by James O’Toole and Edward E. Lawler III. Its listed on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/New-American-Workplace-James-OToole/dp/1403969590/

Here is an excerpt from one of the reviews on Amazon:

Their not-so-startling conclusion is that the U.S. is attempting to implement tomorrow’s competitive strategies with yesterday’s managerial ideas and public policy infrastructure. Many U.S. companies trying to find a middle ground to serve the new global economy are shackled with an antiquated corporate mentality that does not keep skilled workers engaged in their careers or meet their aspirations.

I agree with this assessment of the current state of the U.S. workforce.  In fact, in the absence of an effective "middle ground" as mentioned above, we see that workers stay engaged by placing their loyalty with the project, not the company. They seek work that inspires them, and stay with a company based on its ability to roll them onto the next interesting and worthwhile project ("adventure").

Tom Peters put it another way:

Work and career is a succession of discrete “projects” strung together in consecutive stages of advancement and accomplishment.

We call this the "Hollywood Model." Whenever a Hollywood producer wants to make a movie, he or she assembles a team to make that movie: the director, screenwriter, actors, and so forth. When the movie is completed, that team disbands and moves on to other projects. Hollywood people don’t talk about production companies that they work for–instead they talk about the best movies they’ve worked on, and the best people they have worked with.

Perhaps there is a lesson in the "Hollywood Model", the business of show business, for ways in which companies can overcome this "antiquated corporate mentality."

No Comments

Automation Offers the Elegant Solution

In a blog post, consultant Kevan Hall (who specializes in speeding up complex companies) asks the question, are we drowning in cooperation? As an alternative to oceans of emails, endless meetings, micromanagement, and meaningless corporate values, he advocates smaller teams, more localized controls, and implementing faster and simpler ways of working: what others might call agility.

Certainly more agile business practices will continue to prevail in large organizations. But globalization and the increasing scopes of projects cause teams to span across geographies, with multiple currencies, languages, and cultures. Organizations are moving more towards a project-driven approach that requires broader teamwork and collaboration, for the sake of satisfying a large scope of work, meeting compliance requirements, streamlining enormous accounting problems, and allowing businesses to compete in global marketplaces.

Although we would love to see fewer emails and shorter meetings, we work with companies for whom avoiding the complexity is not the answer–these companies need elegant solutions to complex problems.

In his manifesto, “Elegant Solutions: Breakthrough Thinking the Toyota Way,” Matthew E.May writes:

Elegance is the simplicity found on the far side of complexity. An elegant solution is one in which the optimal outcome is achieved with the minimal expenditure of effort and expense.

We see the standardization of process as an elegant solution that is extremely effective. With Project Workforce Management, we can apply the most efficient best practices and enforce them through automation. Clearly define roles within the process (empower the workforce) and communication should become easier, help productivity and mitigate risk and issues, which will automatically cut down the number of meetings and emails.

No Comments

Process Improvement : Job No. 1 (the workforce management and project management perspective)

CIO Insight published an article, "The 30 Most Important IT Trends for 2007." For your convenience, we list the 30 trends below:

Strategy
1. Process improvement will be job No. 1
2. IT works on closing the sale
3. Companies make their Web sites more engaging
4. Customer service gets a tune-up
5. Companies put their mounds of data to work
6. Information governance gains momentum
7. CIOs strive to be strategic

Management
8. The division between IT and business will diminish
9. CIO compensation keeps climbing
10. IT organizations will keep growing
11. CIOs struggle to find business-savvy technologists
12. Outsourcing changes IT management
13. Outsourcing growth slows
14. Offshoring shifts from India
15. Companies invest in IT leadership
16. Demonstrating ROI will remain a struggle

Security and Risk
17. No abatement of IT security threats
18. Security concerns turn users away from Windows
19. Security morphs into risk management
20. Compliance achieves what government intended
21. Compliance spurs financial process improvement

Technology
22. The move to a new architecture marches on
23. Enterprise applications start losing their luster
24. Data quality demands attention
25. IT reluctantly embraces Web 2.0
26. IT innovation loses traction
27. Business process management services and software will frustrate users
28. For business intelligence, the best is yet to come
29. IT organizations start going green
30. Dissatisfaction with vendors is on the rise

In their blog, 180 Systems adds the following comment:

180 View – We also share the view that process improvement will be job No. 1. It’s interesting that process improvement shows up under security and risk [#21]. This makes sense to us. Compliance reviews are deemed a bitter poison by most companies and want them done as quickly/cheaply as possible or at least to provide some suggestions to improve business process.

In my view, compliance is like medicine that tastes bad but is good for you in the same way as getting more exercise and eating healthier food might be unpleasant but necessary for a long happy life. The process improvements brought about by compliance are the very improvements that will make a business more agile and competitive.

Therefore, process improvement—whether for compliance, or for the general "health" of the business—is an essential area for a company to invest, and we are glad to see it is regarded as the #1 trend for 2007.  A workflow-driven project workforce management system is the one of the best ways to achieve and maintain a consistent process improvement program.

1 Comment

Aberdeen Report: Agility is the Theme

A new survey and report from Aberdeen, “Beyond Time and Attendance: Agility Meets Efficiency in Workforce Management,” is now available, and is complimentary through the Tenrox-sponsored download site (through January 26, 2007). Download the Aberdeen Workforce Management report here.

Bottom line: Organizations with shift-based or project-based workers need the agility to handle unforeseen changes in labor supply and demand. Workforce Management (WFM) solutions have proven their value for organizations that have adopted them, delivering 25% to 450% ROI. Companies with WFM are clearly outperforming those without it.

Aberdeen’s survey of 243 companies found that 34% did not have any WFM system in place, and another 51% were only partially automated. This 85% sample represents organizations that are still thinking and executing in a pre-flat world, (read our post about the Flat World here), choosing Time and Attendance and Workforce Management solutions with limited to no project concepts; meaning project management and project staffing is not even part of their realm of thinking, yet.

The report finds that the most desired capabilities in Workforce Management are:

  1. Planning, Scheduling and tracking of multiple work types (29%)
  2. Prioritizing labor plans based on customer impact (29%)
  3. Allocating labor costs more accurately to projects, activities, or products (27%)

The report includes “Recommendations for Action” for companies at varying levels of maturity in WFM.  We highly recommend that anyone interested in Project Workforce Management read this report to optimize their WFM investment.  Download the complimentary Aberdeen Workforce Management report here.

1 Comment