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Prioritized Procrastination August 8, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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It takes a strong will to resist the pull of procrastination.  We fall into the trap for various reasons, some conscious, many not.  It happens at work, at home, and most of all, at school.  Fear, anxiety, social and economic pressures, stress – all conspiring to put up mental blocks and false leads against our perceived potential failures – and successes.

If you are awake, you are probably procrastinating.  And this article by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting shows you just how insidious it can be.

We all have to-do lists.  Some are simple, some complex.  A typical project plan is a to-do list of sorts as well.  Everyone has their respective tasks and priorities.  But most projects and businesses also have their share of firefighting and reactionary management, silently wreaking havoc on the successful achievement of your goals.

Managers in particular face this battle nearly every day.  Especially at 24/7 operations that are so common in heavy industries like mining and materials processing, the first question on many managers’ minds is, “what happened last night?”  This sets every day up for potential failure.  Rather than addressing the pre-existing priorities, managers get sucked into the vortex of day-to-day reaction, moving farther and farther from their strategic goals.

Vaden’s tips come down to a few key questions when a new “priority” arises:

  • Was this activity on my primary to-do list when I arrived at work today?
  • Is this activity one of the key drivers of achieving success in my position?
  • Does this activity require my unique thought process?
  • Will this issue likely resolve itself without my intervention if I allow some time?
  • Is there another person on our team who is mostly capable of handling this?
  • Can the resolution of this issue wait until some point in the future without substantial repercussion?

As simple and straightforward as this list seems, these aren’t always easy questions to answer.  Also, like so many other choices, our inside voice can often ignore otherwise obvious signs to the right decision.  Hence, one of the best phrases in this article: objective accountability.

If you are having trouble focusing on those most critical tasks – the ones that provide direct, measurable value to your business – it may be wise to seek an objective opinion.  The key is not to necessarily look outside the organization, but at least outside your normal chain of authority.  Find someone that can not only provide a ruthless culling of your to-do list, but someone who will hold you accountable to stick to it once it’s done.

Business Safety March 25, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Civil engineers should be familiar with a construction site’s safety hazards. If not, perhaps they need to get out in the field more often; but that’s something for another time. One of the great challenges of construction — or its cousin, mining — is maintaining a “safety culture.” It is not hard to imagine that a roughneck crew of operators or miners (more…)

Getting Through the Groupthink October 22, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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“Groupthink”, or the vicious circle caused by a collection of like-minded individuals, has been around as long as there have been two sides to a story.  Apart from the fact that an organization can end up “breathing its own exhaust”, this phenomenon can affect even the simplest of decisions.

Many modern organizations manage by consensus, whereby the responsibility of the final decision rests with several people – which usually means that no one is responsible.  Such decision are often watered down and conservative – fine if your organization has the luxuries of time and money.  But when critical decisions must be made, there is precious little time for yes-men and conservatism.

While it may be difficult to break the group from its habit of “consensual sects”, it is possible to break the cycle of indecision that results.  Often, without a structured brainstorming session or some ground rules for developing ideas, such groups circle around and around (for hours) various pros and cons of a very limited range of alternatives – usually one or two.

Contrast this with a well-facilitated brainstorming in which ideas are gathered without regard for pros, cons, benefits, or value.  The goal is to develop alternatives, not rule them out – at least initially.  Simply having some concrete words written out can bring greater structure to the debate.  Sometimes, these decision-makers simply don’t know what they are looking for, but know it when the see it.

Next time your firm is struggling to find solutions to intractable problems, consider having someone facilitate a session, and see if some new ideas appear out of thin air.

Whatever Works August 4, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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It doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed by the myriad choices of software for project management, scheduling, budgeting, human resources, etc.  Though daunting, bear in mind that the computer is nothing more than a tool.  Just as you wouldn’t use a pipe wrench to fix a watch, it is up to you (with help if needed) to pick the best solution for your particular situation. (more…)

Expect Success June 22, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Congratulations are certainly in order for any business still surviving—if not thriving—now that some industry sectors have begun to level off and become less volatile. The government’s largesse doesn’t hurt either. Apparent success notwithstanding, most of the firms that I have spoken with recently are still “seeing how the next few months work out.” Unfortunately, this is counter to good business practices. In fact, those firms that have managed to make it this far must be doing something right, even if some simply do not know what it is. The best firms, however, have actively implemented decisions that are most likely to foster positive outcomes. Contrary to those that struggled through the last year, who wish they would have been better prepared for the downturn, the best managers are now making preparations to recover. Are you in this group? (more…)

Corporate Strategy May 10, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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There are numerous acronyms in the business world that represent various fads of productivity enhancement, corporate communication, and financial strategy. Many of us have probably learned about, implemented, or been affected by things such as ISO, TQM, QMS, or 6-Sigma. Most of these programs represent significant investments in time and human resources to maintain, which may be an impediment to many small engineering firms. However, one technique in particular can be a valuable addition to the corporate strategy: SWOT analysis. (more…)