Category Archives: Planning Skills

Running One Project Different from Ten Projects

“So, Roger. I want you to think about something. You did well on the first project we gave you. So we gave you another project. That means two projects,” I explained. “You were doing so well, we gave you a third project and a fourth project. With a fifth project, you are beginning to struggle. You short cut the planning, your schedules are breaking down and things are being forgotten.”

“I guess I didn’t realize,” Roger started. “You see, I have been keeping all that stuff in my head. I am pretty smart, have a good short term memory, so keeping track of the details for one or two projects is pretty easy. The more you gave me to do, the more I had to start writing things down. It’s a different way of keeping track of things for me. I used to just remember.”

“Roger, I want you to think about this. I am not going assign you more projects right now, but if I did, if I assigned you five more projects on top of the five projects you already have, what would you have to do differently to manage all of that detail?”

“I would probably have to put in some overtime,” Roger replied.

“No overtime. What would you have to do differently to accomplish ten projects in the same time that you now run five projects?”

Yes, Managerial Execution Like a Dictator

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

Question:
Can you talk about the difference between a dictatorial management approach and a collaborative management approach?

Response:
Execute like a dictator!

No kidding.  Execution often requires precision sequences of skilled behavior.  Execute like a dictator.

But to be effective at execution (like a dictator) requires two things.

  • Collaborative planning
  • Practice (perfect practice)

So, there is a time for collaboration and a time for explicit direction.  And effective explicit direction does not (cannot) occur without collaboration in planning.

In football, collaborative planning is called skull practice.  Off the field, in a room, no pads and no football.  The group assembles around a chalkboard (whiteboard) and there are fierce discussions about problems and solutions, roles and assignments.  At the end, even if there is disagreement among the players, they still pull together.  People will support a world they help to create.

Skull practice is followed by perfect practice on the field, hours of it.

But, during the game, work instructions are short, often shouted,  There is no time in the moment of execution to discuss who is going to carry the ball.  But, effective execution only works when it is preceded by collaborative planning and perfect practice.

 

All This Work, Wasn’t For Them

“What was the major benefit of this exercise?” I asked. For the past week, we had been planning intensive. Every meeting with every company was about their plan for the year. It was over. The confetti was on the floor and all the marching bands had gone home.

Last week, I met with three different groups, each group member presenting their plan they had worked so hard to create. The groups had ripped them apart and put them back together.

I was packing my flipchart. Emily was hanging around. I stopped packing and asked her again, “What was the major benefit of this exercise?”

“You know, at first, I thought I was preparing this plan to show my group how smart I was, how I had everything together. Everything was geared toward this meeting, but now that it’s over, I realize, all this work wasn’t for them.”

“No, it wasn’t,” I confirmed.

“It was for me. It was for me to get my head straight for the year.” Emily smiled and tucked her plan under her arm. “Gotta, go. Gotta go, get’er done.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Make Me a Promise, and Keep It

“Where’s the beef?” Marilyn shouted.

Paul was standing at the front. For the past ten minutes, he had been explaining his plan for the year. At the end of his presentation, I broke the group into four teams of three. Each team had two minutes to prepare three questions. His presentation had been nice.

“Where’s the beef?” repeated Marilyn. “You say, this year, you are going to try to become the premier service provider in the tri-county area, by exceeding the expectations of your customers. But I don’t know what that means. It sounds like the same thing your competitor is saying. It’s all fluff, meaningless. If I was your customer, (and, by the way, I am), and you told me that, I would think you are full of crap.

“If you are going to exceed my expectations, I want you to define your service level. How long will it take for you to respond on-site? To what specifications will the work be done? What kind of written guarantee will you sign? Will I pay exactly what you quoted on the phone for the work?

“Get specific. If you want to become the premier provider, you can’t just say it; you have to get specific about your level of service. You don’t have to exceed my expectations. Just make me a promise and keep it.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Calling an Audible on Every Play?

“So, it’s January 10, and you are all assembled here to present your plans for the year. First, I want you to know how unique this is. Most organizations, in spite of the push for planning, are still in the writing process and will likely never finish their plan. This means they will continue to run their companies without any strategic direction.”

This is my speech today to an executive group assembled for the sole purpose of grilling each other about their 2013 Business Plans.

“These companies will be subject to the whims of the marketplace. They will react as best they can without a plan. It’s like calling an audible on the football field for every play of the game. Without a plan, you can’t exploit a market, wear down a competitor, take market share, open a new line, create a new department, establish a new branch. You can’t do any of those things calling audibles.

“It’s ten days into the new year and you know what you want. Today, you will likely get beat up by this executive group. Tomorrow, you will be ready to present this plan to your teams back at the office. You are ready to be a more effective leader.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off January 25. Pre-registration is now open.

Not Sophisticated, but Effective

“It seems we just get so busy that we forget to have follow-up meetings about our annual plan,” said Joyce. “We get busy, and before you know it, summer’s almost gone.”

“Do you have a 2013 calendar?” I asked.

“Well, yes, I think I have three.”

“Well, pick the one you are going to use this year and call a meeting,” I said. “And tell everyone to bring their calendars. This is not a very sophisticated management skill, but it works every time. Right, now, while your annual plan is fresh on everyone’s mind, schedule your follow-up meetings.

  • April – half day to review first quarter.
  • July – half day to review second quarter.
  • October – half day to review third quarter.

“Get them on the calendar, now, so as time marches on, those dates are already protected.

“Schedule one to two full days in December to review the fourth quarter and to finalize plans for 2014. That’s it. Now, you have a follow-up plan in place. You will get busy, that’s why you have to schedule this stuff, now.”

Our online program, Hiring Talent 2013, kicks off on January 25. Pre-registration is open now.

Clarity

“What do you think is stopping you from creating a plan for this year?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Dawson. “Sometimes, it seems like just an exercise that we go through every year. You know, it’s January, we have to have a plan.”

“I don’t think you know what you want,” I challenged.

“That’s not true!!! I know what I want. We have a new product we are trying to get out of the ground and a new branch we want to open in the north part of the state. There is a new market we want to go after by repackaging one of our existing services. There is a lot of stuff we want to do.”

“Good,” I said. “Now, draw 3 pictures for me, one for the new product, one for the new branch and one for the new market.”

Have you written down your action plan for 2013? What is the benefit of writing it down?

Creating Goal Visibility

“Goals. Who needs ‘em?” asked Yolanda. “Every year, I set some goals. It’s kind of like my New Year’s Resolutions. By the end of February, I can’t even remember what they were.”

“Oh? So, tell me about your resolution for this year.” Yolanda looked a bit uncomfortable.

“Well, I haven’t exactly worked it out, yet. Until I am sure, I would rather not go blabbing it around.”

“Have you thought, perhaps, that’s why your New Year’s resolution never works?”

“What do you mean?”

“Yolanda, your New Year’s resolution never works, because you never committed to it. You never clearly defined it. Did you ever write it down?” Yolanda was silent. “Here is the management skill. Goals work just like New Year’s resolutions. If you really want to make a change, write it down. Then say it to yourself out loud. Then say it out loud in front of a group of people. And if you really want to make it stick, give that group permission to hold you accountable for the goal. Take that written goal and post it somewhere public, where you see it every day, where others see it every day. You can start with a 3×5 card taped to your mirror.”

What is your resolution this year? What major thing do you want to achieve? Have you written it down? Have you shared it with your team? I am curious. What do you do to keep your goals visible throughout the year?

Planning Perfect

Last year, they spent $12,000 on a planning consultant to help them put together a business plan that included Carl’s division. Since it was delivered, last February, only three people have even looked at it. No wonder Carl was reluctant when I asked for this year’s plan.

“Why the sad face?” I asked.

“Planning is one of those management skills that I always seem to put off,” Carl replied.

“Carl, at the end of this year, do you want your division to be exactly as it is, now?”

“No way, there are several things I would like to change.”

“Good. Carl, here are some questions for you:

How can you design those changes so they are well thought-out?

How can you communicate your ideas clearly to other people?

How can you bring people together to discuss your ideas so they have a better chance of getting done?”

Carl thought for a minute, then finally spoke. “I guess I should write down my ideas, to make sure they are clear in my own mind, then I can send them around to the other people on my team.”

“Would you like a small planning template to help you get started?” I asked. Carl’s eyes got wide as his head moved up and down.

If you would like a copy of the template I am sending to Carl, just ask.

How Long Have You Been Working This Late?

It was 6:30p when I stopped by Miguel’s office. “What’s up?” I asked.

Miguel picked his eyes up off the paper, holding his place on the schedule with a ballpoint pen. “Just going over tomorrow. It’s going to be another big day. Three special orders to get out the door.”

“Where is everyone, why are you still here?”

“Oh, we shut down at 4:30p. My crew is up with the chickens, tomorrow we start at 6:30a. I run a staggered shift. The first guys get the day started, then we’re full strength by 7:30a. The first wave is off by 3:30p, while the second wave picks up the pieces for the day.”

“Why are you still here?” I repeated.

“Well, there is just a bunch of little things that have to be done each day. Sort of out of control, huh? This won’t last forever. My schedule is getting better.”

“How long have you been working this late?”

“Gosh, ever since I became the supervisor, I guess. But it’s going to get better, soon.” Miguel looked optimistic.

I didn’t believe him.