Sunday, October 05, 2014

Working Too Hard At Leadership And Planning

Listening to my new Brian Tracy book, I've been forced to confront some failings at work. I know where I want to take my team and product line and I know the steps to get there, but I don't use that to govern my daily actions.

Both Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy recommend making a daily list of prioritized tasks. What needs to get done today? Once in a while, I work on this and try to make a detailed, structured road map to go from where we are to where we want to go. I use that road map to figure out what to do today.

Unfortunately, the road map very quickly becomes useless - overcome by events. Pretty soon, I've got no plan and am going in to work and playing whack-a-mole with random tasks. Days become weeks become months and while important things have been done and there are no complaints from customers, we're not achieving the big, revolutionary goals I've set.

The problem is not in the individual road maps, it's their existence in the first place.

A flow chart for building a house. I argue that this is overkill.
Who cares what's on the road map 3 months from now? All you really need is to know what to do next. What should you be working on today?

In the case of building a house, as illustrated above, there are dependencies that require lots of planning, but in the case of my team at work, such things are obvious just from making a list of things that need to be done to achieve our goals.

Instead of taking the time to draw out complicated Gantt charts that show every phase of the project, I think it would be much better to make an unordered list of all the things that need to be done to achieve our goals. From that list, pick out the very few things you need to do right now. Once you've completed those things, you delete them from the list and pick out the next things that need to be done right now. If you discover new tasks to get to your desired end state, throw them on the list and don't worry about when they need to be done.

Since identifying what has to be done immediately is almost always the easiest part of drawing any road map, you've dramatically simplified the planning process and can knock out your daily list of tasks with minimal effort and time. When you go in to work, your daily task list is trivial to prepare.


Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

I use a planner with a week at a glance on one side and blank page on the other. The calendar side gets time-sensitive tasks. Others land on the blank side. This helps me visually prioritize.

K T Cat said...

Barb, thanks for the comment! I used to use one of those as well and have a box of them from the 90s that can tell me what I was doing every day. Unfortunately, my scope is larger than what can fit on a page these days, so the task lists have to be electronic. I think the size and complexity of the thing is what's throwing me off.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, you might look into Agile development, particularly for software development. It's a good way to break things into 2-4 week chunks and assign resources as well as prioritize tasks.

IlĂ­on said...

Delete MS Project, and any similar "project planner" from every computer in your shop. The problem with this sort of "planning" is that it quickly takes over ... and so, instead of working on the project, an inordinate amount of eveyone's time is spent "working" of the task planner.

tim eisele said...

Yes. The maxim "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" applies to a lot more things than combat. In my research projects, things found out near the beginning always radically change how it is going to come out in the end. So the level of detail in the planning may start out detailed and specific, but rapidly gets vague once we get beyond the first couple of "so what will we do if these experiments go this way, instead of that way?" points. I alway include in my schedule enough time to stop, tear everything up, and start over a couple of times, because that's how it always goes.

K T Cat said...

Thanks for all of the excellent comments!

I probably should have prefaced this post by saying I'm really good at logic, but I really hate chess. I find complicated, multi-layer things oppressive. Gantt charts are such things. Pouting, I avoid revisiting them and that's probably been the source of the whack-a-mole games.

Having said that, I can take a list of tasks and quickly pick out the one or two that need to be done right now, even taking into account the dependencies of later tasks.

The key to any technique is that it has to work for who you are.