Posts Tagged project workforce management

How successful companies speak and think has not really changed

It is easy to spot them, the companies that have started their decent. If you hear words like:

- We are still recovering from the recession; we cannot invest
- We only want to do the basics; we cannot afford to do more
- Our management team is cutting all costs; everything non-essential has to go

On the other hand, with companies on the rise you hear words like:

- We want to substantially increase productivity, we are ready to make the investment, what does it take?
- The basics are not enough. We want to do more. We want the most advanced tools so we can compete more effectively
- We want to leverage our existing investments but our management team is looking to invest in game changers
- What are some best practices you recommend?

Companies that take risks, make investments in good or bad times and stick with them all the way, and empower their employees to think about, find and implement game changers win. Those who start “restructuring”, “right-sizing”, “focusing on essentials only” “leave projects unfinished” don’t do very well.

Hundreds of prospects and customers later. The pattern is undeniable.

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The Recession Generation

In this Newsweek article http://www.newsweek.com/id/229959 the author explores the impact of the recent financial crisis, the new age of uncertainty, and severe economic downturn on employment and spending patterns.

Some key takeaways:

  • It’s no accident that the psychology of entire generations is shaped by the milieu in which they grew up; economic research tells us that our lifelong behaviors are determined in large part by the seismic events—good or bad—of our youth
  • Even one really tough year experienced in early adulthood is enough to fundamentally change people’s core values and behaviors
  • Recession babies not only invest more conservatively, they tend to make less money, choose safer jobs, and believe in wealth redistribution and more government intervention
  • This division between capital and labor and the permanently high unemployment that it seems to encourage not only depresses wages, it depresses people; a large body of research shows they tend to withdraw from their communities and societies after being laid off (their spooked neighbors, encouraged to work ever harder, do too)
  • Parental unemployment has huge negative consequences for children, making them more likely to fall behind in school, repeat grades, and exhibit anxiety disorders
  • The worry today, say Reich, Soros, and political scientists such as Harvard’s Robert Putnam, is that fearful, vulnerable people will become more easy prey for ugly class politics, being drawn, as Reich puts it, to “populist demagogues on either side of the political spectrum.”
  • Americans generally have a high tolerance for inequality. Yet that tolerance may wane as we enter a new age in which young graduates can’t expect to do better than their parents—and one in which Wall Street is perceived as being able to continue business as usual while Main Street struggles. “Americans are OK with inequality,” says Reich, who believes we are at a tipping point, “as long as they feel the system isn’t rigged.”

All this said, there are some glimmers of hope in the New Normal.

  • Post-crisis, consumers are putting a greater value on time spent with family and friends than on money (a good thing when there’s little of the latter around)
  • There’s also a glimmer of possibility that hard times might make us nicer to each other … simply thinking about money made subjects less sensitive to pain, and less likely to help each other or want to connect with strangers

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The Laws of Simplicity

In these prior blog posts:

Applying Occam’s Razor Principle to Product Design – Lessons learned from our Project Management Software design experiences

Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

I outlined how Occam’s Razor principle could apply to product design and IT investments. I recently stumbled on to the writings of John Maeda who has authored a book on the laws of simplicity. A summary of the laws can be found here:

http://lawsofsimplicity.com/category/keys?order=ASC

A review of the laws is a good refresher for anyone in charge of project management, new product development and software design. The last law states: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful. This is actually Occam’s principle which I described and provided some examples for in the above mentioned posts. In fact as John Maeda mentions in his book and on his website Occam’s principle is really an encapsulation of the first nine laws.

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The Unbundling of the Corporation

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times on the impact the credit crisis is having on corporate models.

Part of the article discusses the transformation of corporate structures:

  • Let’s try a different lens. How have past crises shaped management thinking and strategy? Innovation in management, after all, is adaptive. Management is not a science, like physics, with immutable laws and testable theories. Instead, management, at its best, is an intelligent response to outside forces, often disruptive ones.
  • Times of severe economic duress, management experts say, can serve to sharply accelerate trends already under way.
  • The technologies made it possible to monitor and coordinate business operations as never before. And the Depression made it imperative for managers to achieve efficient economies of scale to tap national markets, ensuring corporate survival amid a downward spiral in total demand.
  • A modern version of that kind of technology-aided shift in management practice and corporate organization could be in the offing, says John Hagel III, the co-director of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, a research arm of the consulting firm.
  • The sharp downturn, according to Mr. Hagel, will force companies to go beyond simple cost-cutting to take a hard look at the economics of their businesses. Most companies, he says, are actually bundles of three different businesses: infrastructure management, product and service development and commercialization, and customer relations.
  • The current crisis, Mr. Hagel says, opens the door to “an unbundling of the corporation” to achieve greater efficiency and profitability. The trend, he notes, is already exemplified by specialist companies that focus on particular infrastructure fields. In logistics, Mr. Hagel says, many companies farm out those chores to Federal Express and UPS; in call centers, he points to Convergys; and in contract manufacturing, to Flextronics.
  • .. look like an Internet-era rerun of the corporate transformation of the 1930s and ’40s. “We’re facing the potential to have that play out again — this time with digital infrastructures that allow companies to organize and manage their activities in new ways”

The un-boxing of the organization is a trend I alluded to in my Ten Predictions for Project Management Trends in 2009 (see #8 the rise of the project workforce).

The article also mentions how large companies are creating smaller almost independent organizations within the larger entity and smaller teams within their product and service development divisions (for example) because they have learned that innovation and progress is far more likely to occur with such small teams. A trend I also see over and over in every project I have been involved with in my entire career.

The second part of the article discusses how the economic crisis is redefining the role corporations have to play now that government has been forced to get so intimately involved in their oversight and bailout:

TODAY, the pendulum is swinging back to a model in which corporations will be regarded more as social organizations, whose obligations extend well beyond Wall Street, according to Rakesh Khurana, a professor at Harvard Business School.

It is truly remarkable how important transparency, accountability, and social responsibility have become. I would even venture to say that these metrics are becoming as important as profits and growth in assessing a company’s value and whether it is deemed to be a dependable partner or a worthwhile investment.

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Obama project management

Reporters and people alike have come to admire these distinct qualities in Obama: his generally calm and friendly demeanor, his message of respectful disagreement and yet cooperation, … trying to find common goals and rivals coming together to achieve these goals. Of course, all of this is quite a radical shift from the type of message we have seen from both sides of the political spectrum. So much of what Obama stands for (and hopefully will stand for throughout his presidency) can be applied to how we run our businesses, and projects.

Just like many of you, throughout my career, I have had my differences with some people. Whenever, I or any of my rivals chose to firmly disagree, argue, stand our ground or take a dogmatic position on an issue we all ended up losing somehow. This is specially true in any type of partnership. Hard ideological positions create nothing but obstruction, or worse destruction.

As an example, take the senator that single-handedly blocked the confirmation of Hillary Clinton on January 20th, knowing full well that she would be easily confirmed the next day whether he likes it or not. What is the point of obstructing and delaying what is an inevitable outcome? Instead, he could have simply stated his objections, understand that he has to work with this new team and get on with doing his job. Possibly spending some of that time and energy on the credit crisis instead. These are the politics of the future. As a friend of mine said, chances are when he runs for reelection he will be replaced by voters with someone who gets that this mindset change must occur.

So all of this got me thinking. How would Obama manage projects? I look forward to reading your thoughts on situations such as below and how you think an Obama type character would handle them.

- Dealing with a difficult customer: A customer that refuses to pay any invoices due because the project is late. The customer has changed project scope several times but does not think the scope changes are the root cause of the delays in achieving the milestones. He does not agree that the customer's team bares any responsibility whatsoever for the project's issues. The customer is absolutely convinced that his internal resources are doing a fine job and all the blame lies with your team.

Internal Politics: Your team and your projects are doing fine. So the "boss" and other project managers constantly raid your team for emergencies and try to take your resources away to fight fires. When you confront them they explain how urgent their issues are and how they absolutely have to "borrow" these resources. You know, of course, that it is only a matter of when not if that your projects will start to be yellow and red flagged as a result of these workforce planning (or lack there of)  issues.

How would an Obama-type leader handle these project management challenges?

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