Category Archives: Planning Skills

Not Just a Picture

“We have to find a purpose that has us?” Rachel was confused. “I’m not sure I understand. We are trying to do strategic planning for 2020. I get that we have to define our purpose. I know that purpose will drive the rest of the plan. But you make it sound like that purpose has to be some powerful compelling force. We bake bread.”

“Exactly!” I said. “What kind of bread do you bake?”

“Well, we bake all kinds of bread.”

“So, why do you bake bread?”

“I don’t understand.” Rachel’s head was moving from side to side. She wasn’t disagreeing, but she was having difficulty with the question.

“Why do you bake bread?” I repeated.

“Because our customers buy it.”

“And, why do your customers buy it?”

“Well, bread is consumed at almost every meal in some form or another. People eat a lot of bread. It’s a comfort food.” Rachel was trying.

“Why is bread so important to people?”

“It’s just part of life, bread goes with everything. It’s universal. Around the world, all cultures eat bread. When people get together, they break bread. It’s almost a bond between people.”

“And do you bake quality bread?” I asked.

“The best,” Rachel smiled. “Hot out of the oven, warm, soft, drizzle a little honey on it, just the smell of it makes you feel good.”

“Rachel, you are on the right track. Somewhere in what you describe is purpose. Somewhere in there is vision. Somewhere in there is mission.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” she said. “In the hallway is our mission statement, only it’s just a picture, of a steaming loaf of bread emerging from an oven door.”

Or, Let It Sit on the Shelf

“Why do you think you never looked at your plan this past year?” I asked. Rachel was quite interested in making her 2020 plan different.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “It was almost like it didn’t matter. We could re-read it and talk about, but it didn’t seem to matter all that much.”

“That’s why purpose is so important. That’s why purpose is the first step. Purpose drives the rest of the plan. Without a well defined purpose, your plan will be uninteresting and sit on the shelf.”

“So, we really need to have a purpose,” Rachel was nodding, enthusiasm creeping across her face.

“No,” I said. Rachel’s face turned quizzical. “You don’t need to have a purpose. You need to find a purpose that has you. You need to find a purpose that has a hold on you so tight that you can’t stop thinking about it. You need to find a purpose that captures you. When you find that purpose, you won’t have any problem pulling your plan off the shelf and working it.

“Find a purpose that has you.”

The Future in Today

“But, what about today?” asked Kristen. “It’s great to think about the future, but I have to get stuff done today.”

“The anchor for the manager has to be some specific time point in the future. Every action we take only has meaning related to that future point in time. Call it planning, call it a milestone, call it a goal.

“You are right. You have to get stuff done today. Action occurs today. The role of the manager is to inspect that future time point and create today’s effective action. Here is the question. What is the destination, and what is the most effective action we can take, today, to get there?

SIP Planning

As Hurricane Dorian skirts the Florida coast, on its way north, I was privileged to observe a phenomenon in several companies, recently coined as SIP planning (Short Interval Planning). We can have an overall plan within what is known or highly likely, but in fluid situations, like hurricanes or projects, those plans have to be constantly reviewed and adjusted to changing circumstances.

So, use your favorite planning model, but look at it often, with your team for –

  • Changes in “known” facts.
  • Changes in assumptions.
  • Changes in timeline (hurricanes slow down, projects get delayed).
  • Changes in workforce (the important “who?”)
  • Changes in expectations.
  • Changes in intention.
  • Changes in supply chain.

You probably have your own list of things that can change. Stay safe during this hurricane.
—–
My thanks to Bernard Paul-Hus who introduced the concept of SIP planning.

The Schedule and Reality

Phillip stared at me. His blood pressure was up, though he appeared calm, but not like a deer in the headlights.

“So, we should teach our Project Managers to schedule?” he asked, knowing the answer was yes.

“Look. Phillip. Think about this. What is the most frequent problem a Project Manager has to deal with?”

Phillip didn’t hesitate. “The contractor calls up and wants to know how come something on the job site isn’t happening the way he expected it to.”

“And what happens then?”

“Well, the PM starts scrambling. He jumps on his radio to find out what happened to the crew or the materials or the equipment. It can get a little chaotic.”

“Why doesn’t the PM immediately go to the schedule to find out what is happening?”

“The schedule?” Phillip almost started laughing. “His schedule won’t tell him anything.”

I stopped, waited for ten long seconds. “And why won’t the schedule tell him what he needs to know.”

It was Phillip’s turn to wait. He was trying to craft a response, but the only thing that came out was the truth. “I guess we don’t take schedules seriously enough to train our PMs on how to create them and use them.”

“So, Phillip. Yes, you need to train them on how to put a schedule together.” Phillip nodded slowly in agreement. “And that’s not all. There’s more.”

It’s a Different Level of Work

As Phillip simmered, he finally blurted out, “But they should know how to schedule. How hard is that?”

“I don’t know, Phillip. How complicated are your scheduling logistics?” I asked.

“It’s just getting the materials and the people scheduled. How hard could it be.” Phillip was firm.

“What is the biggest problem they face in scheduling?”

Phillip thought for a minute, hoping to tell me there were never problems, but he knew better. “I guess the biggest problem is coordinating with the other subs on the job, to make sure their work is finished and the project is ready for the work we do. Since the subs don’t work for us, coordinating is sometimes difficult.”

“So, how do you train your PMs to deal with that?”

“Train ’em. They’re just supposed to know that they have to go check.” It was not a good answer and Phillip began to backpedal.

I pressed. “On the job, do materials ever get back-ordered? Does a crew member ever call in sick or a whole crew get reassigned to an emergency? Does the contractor ever change something without a change order? Does a piece of heavy equipment get delayed on another project and not show up? Does a dumpster load sometimes not get switched out in time. Does a code inspector sometimes not show up?

“Tell me, Phillip. How do you train your Project Managers to create and maintain schedules?”

Phillip hesitated. He knew any response would just sound like an excuse.

“Phillip, here is the critical factor. Actually doing the work is completely different from making sure the work gets done. It’s a different role in the company. It has its own skill set. You didn’t hire for it, you didn’t train for it, and, right now, it’s killing you.”

Scheduling as a Skill

Phillip was perplexed. “I explained it to them three times. They still don’t get it.” His emotion was a mixture of anger and bewilderment.

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“My project managers don’t seem to have the capability to understand. They have 4 or 5 years in the business. Technically, they know how to do the work. They just can’t seem to be able to get other people to perform, at least not on time and most of the time, not on budget.” As Phillip talked, he calmed down.

“Technically, they understand what needs to be done?” I confirm.

“Yes, but the technical skills almost seem unimportant, now.” Phillip shook his head.

“If it’s not technical skills, what is it?”

“It’s like, they can’t even fill out a schedule. Ryan is one of my PMs. I asked to see his weekly schedule. He was so proud, he had it right in his clipboard. It was dated three months ago, all scribbled up with new dates at the top. Three guys on the schedule don’t even work for us anymore.”

“So, one of the skills is the ability to put together a weekly schedule for the project workload, targets, people, materials and equipment?”

The look on Phillip’s face was somewhere between an epiphany and a nervous breakdown. I continued, “So, when you interview for new project managers, do you interview for their ability to schedule?”

He shook his face from side to side, “No, we usually interview for technical skills.”

“Do you think you might start interviewing for scheduling skills?”

A Strong Excuse to Procrastinate

“That was the missing link,” said Jeremy. He explained his meeting with Sylvia. As suggested, he went back to outline the list of next steps for the project he had assigned to her.

“Even Sylvia was relieved,” Jeremy explained. “She agreed. The reason she did not start the project was that she was never clear on what to do first, so she procrastinated. The simple process, to clarify the next steps made all the difference.”

“And how many steps in this project?” I asked.

“Five simple little steps. But until we laid them out, the project was going to sit until it was too late.”

“When will you follow-up on the five steps?”

“Friday, at 3:00pm. At least I learned that lesson, to calendar my follow-up meetings. We will see how she does.”

All in all, it was a good week.

Interim Checkpoints

Jeremy was standing when I got to the courtyard. “I think I got it figured out,” he said. “You were right. I can tell you exactly when that unfinished report will hit my desk. Next Tuesday, because it is due next Wednesday.”

“And so, sometime on Tuesday, your teammate will realize it won’t (can’t) be done, go ask your boss what he should do and your boss will say what?” I smiled.

“My boss will say, give it back to Jeremy and he will get it done.” Now, it was Jeremy’s turn to smile.

“Why are smiling? You were pretty upset last week when it happened to you.”

Jeremy cracked up. “I know. It’s weird. When you know it is going to happen, it’s funny, like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. You know the guy is going to smash into the wall and it’s funny.”

“So, what are you going to do differently, because next Tuesday, this will not be so funny?” I asked.

“Well, first I am going to set two follow-up meetings this week to make sure the project is kicked off and underway. Then next Monday, I will have a final follow-up meeting to get the last revision so I can review it on Tuesday. If we have a final touch-up, that will be okay. I guess it’s all in getting ahead of the curve.”

“You learned a valuable lesson about follow-up. It is the one place that most managers drop the ball and it is as simple as scheduling on your calendar.”

By Design

“I keep telling my team that we need to be proactive,” Lonnie said. He wasn’t defensive, but you could tell he wasn’t having any fun.

“So, tell me what happens?” I asked.

Lonnie shook his head. “It’s just day after day. The problems jump up. You know, it’s not like we don’t have a clue. We know what problems customers are going to have. Heck, we even know which customers are going to call us. We just don’t ever get ahead of the curve.”

“Lonnie, being reactive is easy. It doesn’t require any advance thinking, or planning, or anticipating. Being reactive just happens.

“Being proactive, however, requires an enormous amount of conscious thinking. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen. You have to make it happen by design.

“At the beginning of the day, I want you to gather your team together. Show them a list of the work you are doing for the day and for which customers. Then ask these two questions.
–What could go wrong today?
–What can we do to prevent that from going wrong?”

Lonnie smiled. “That’s it?” he asked.