Monday, August 11, 2008

Tension Elasticity: A Management Framework for small teams

Not PMP, PRICE II, ITIS. I work with small teams and the most simple framework is something not for managers but to make team members self manage themselves. Hence the idea needs to be in the term and not in an explanation for terms. The framework is simple. Every project and team members goes through 3 phases:
  1. Concern Phase,
  2. Breath Easy phase and
  3. Elongation phase
What you need to do is bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase all the time.
Why is this a framework and what worth is it to say what every one knows. The importance is in the "tension" inherent in the phases. As long as you maintain the "tension" to "breath easy" phase, the project will always be a good place to work giving you lot of experience. Why it does not seem to be worth given a consideration is that the "tension" is never realized.

When the customer raises a concern, we firefight till customer cools down or till the customer forgets "Temporarily" about the project. We never move the project and do things that get us back to "Breath Easy" ways of doing work. Mostly we move into "calm" phase than "easy" phase. The more you breath easy the more sustainable the project team will be and more satisfied your employees would be.

Hmm, how do you know that you "breath easy" and not "calm" phase ? The answer is in delegation. Are you dispensable in whatever your role on the project demands you today ? Can you get a fresh recruit, share the hard coded files, documents, explain the work in a couple of hours and relax googling for the rest of day ? If yes, the project is in "Breath Easy" phase. Which can be judged by the fact that the scalability and bottle necks are non-existent on the project.

When are you in concern phase ? It happens at all stages in project.
  1. Whenever you are sure there is an impending fire that you are allowing to subside with time.
  2. It could be a seemingly simple comment that customer would have made, that you took it lightly.
  3. It could mean a request that potentially, without analysis looks good to deliver, but consumes more time than anticipated,
  4. Could be a feature, you have no experience with that you theoretically think is possible, something the team considers as a value add while the basic needs of the project are still not delivered while you press for delivery of value add first, etc.
  5. You can always feel, that you are in concern phase, if you do not get a systems view of the work, be it lack of information, time, resources, experience, expertise, support, tools, etc.
Elongation phase should then be same as concern phase - rite? Yes, as far as tension is concerned, it is in same league and you need to move in to "Breath Easy" phase fast. However, elongation phase is more painful than mind mapping a concern phase. In Elongation phase you need to manage reality and perception differences as well. In a recent project, I totally believed the customer is taking more time, while we deliver as per the last 3 month old project plan asking for the turnaround time dates. However in last sales interaction, I got the feedback that 'damage is already done'. Well, to bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase, we are trying to complete them to the satisfaction, while another "breath easy" option is to to write off the small amount based on the reality or facts submitted to client.

Fundamentally, elongation phase starts when there is a miss from deadlines and scope. When value add becomes a priority, and many times I falter this principle not to entertain them till the scope is closed.

Any ideas on how to "Breath Easy" often in project teams?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Instruments as Weapons

Any task requires instruments. Software is one. Transport is another. Document is the evergreen, must have, all purpose instrument for reference.

Whenever you use anything, have you thought, how they are channelized? How they can be used for best benefits. Be it a bag, for a seemingly simple task of carrying vegetables.

Weapons are instruments that serve the purpose they are created for. Use and Misuse is the same. The pedestal they reach is always on a target. Missing the real target they hit another target. Isn't that the reason why they are so powerful, dreaded, lot of committees, safeguards, efforts go in creation, maintenance and securing them. Isn't the same effort goes in using them at the time they are required. Even diffusing a weapon before it is put to work, has lot of tension and precision to disarm them COMPLETELY.

The point is, if we take weapons as a benchmark for all instruments, then in simplest plane, they need to exhibit the following character:

1. Purpose: All instruments should have one purpose. Instruments in e-Learning content could be Video, Animation, Graphics, Text, Polls, Surveys, FAQ's, Glossary, etc. If you want to use them in your project, then you need to define their single purpose channel used in the course. For example,

Video: Seeing an action is easy to imitate. Do we imitate voices in radio more than actions of heroes TV or Movies? Providing videos give more answers and aid in easy comprehension.

Animation: Kids love illustrated motion than real motion. Seeing my daughter, I realize that illustrated motion (Animation) gets more attention to details, with fun, than real action. Using the same analogy, I suggest use of animation for providing low level details along with action for better application.

2. Precision: While instruments are created with purpose, their execution determines their effectiveness. Using instruments at their appropriate place gives the precision of a weapon, that can be used in a good place for best intent. For example,

Video: Executing a video has multiple challenges. First, feature a model, if you want a diversion. We recently saw a video explaining a product demo, and half the attention went in noticing the mis-act sequences of the lead. When a normal person needs to be the lead/host, just get a close up. I may be a best actor when my wife is around, but cannot do the same in front of the camera. The strain of getting the body language correct and relishable by the viewer is beyond normal man bounds. We recently saw a video with key top people explaining the values - at times, I need to admit, the actions were funny.

Second, Zoom slowly. There is no hurry to reach the destination. A little bit of action, suspense, aids better comprehension than focussing on the object and holding the camera as if it is a still picture.

One more for this post, cover multiple angles: A video is a movie format of delivery. To ensure precision of the intent, use its potential to give better views than normal eye can perceive in normal circumstances. Can you now understand, why fight sequences are captured in angles, that overwhelm you or there is so much attention on camera man as the director?

3. Preciseness: When precision can acquire its purpose is the timing when it is used. In content design, animation initially is always felt more entertaining than concluding a module.the results. While concluding a module, a little bit of action is better refreshing and leads to a continuation action than a passive conclusion. Recently, we started showing the learning objectives as a static screen while the summary slide acts as a recap and option for user to comment on the learning. Will keep you posted on the results.

4. Passion: One of the elements I missed in my last post, Execution Attributes is passion. There is a reason. Reason is, execution involves things that need not be liked by you. As a practice lead, I detest testing. But in a small team, where the function is managed internally, I need to do it. To do it properly, I cannot bring passion with me; but I need to bring focus, discipline and course correction to do the job right.

The case of instruments is different. Execution, timing and creation purpose requires passion to bind them all together. When you find an instrument, not living up to expectations, then passion will be missed block. Either preciseness will miss what precision and purpose want to achieve or preciseness and precision will miss the purpose for which the instrument is designated.

5. Pointers: In olden days, instruments always had a mental model towards sharpness, pointed objects with a target object in reference plane.Example, sharpening a saw to cut a tree, to have a sharpened pencil to draw a thin line, a sharp dart to indicate target attack and sharpness to hit the target. In India, it is always bow and arrow that are used for pointers to mean target and sharpness to hit it hard.

Ensure your instruments have enough pointers. Simply put, is the instrument used with right set of references. References could mean users too. Are users familiar with animations, polls, surveys, assessments? In one of the recent projects, I learnt this lesson. Good instruments cannot be used everywhere when the pointers are blank and blunt. For the customer, polls, surveys as instruments were not aimed at them and their target audience. So utilizing them without a pointer would result in vaccum zone. Isn't that a great insult to the instrument itself.

So use instruments where they are capable of making an impact.

Like weapons, instruments should boom with sound, visual and match them in their functional effects. Videos should have music, sound and matching action, while animations should have music,visual effects and attention to detail,while glossary should have letters, words, definition along with pictorial depiction of their meaning for better attention and knowledge reference.

Did you read the related post for knowing what instruments can do for you?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Execution Attributes

Man, being essentially active, must find in activity his joy, as well as his beauty and glory; and labor, like everything else that is good, is its own reward.--WHIPPLE.

While ideation, strategies, process formulation, vision documents are various forms of expression/desire, it is execution that gives credibility to these forms. May be why news is relied upon for movements/momentum while results are relied upon for decisions/commitments.

Execution is a commitment to achieve the expression/desire.
To do so, execution teaches you 3 most important things that any sacrifice is worth.

1. Focus
2. Discipline
3. Course Correction.

Out of the 3 characteristics, the 3rd point is the most mis-understood/ missed term. There needs to be focus on tasks at hand and at the sight in future; Discipline to commit in good faith to a decision or a majority view point. However, the earliest warning signs must wake you up for a course correction.

In my experience, course correction is the missing characteristic in otherwise success stories, that went down even with focus and discipline. This also applies to few of my mentors whom I learnt the tricks from.

The easiest way to take course correction is to leave a trail of numbers that can inform you about the pitfalls when looking back. With little PROPER introspection, future path can be visualized with focus and discipline. The path can be course corrective in nature as well. This can save you time, efforts and remove "fear of failure" from your hearts.

Hence execution is not about having work that I need to do, but doing work that needs to be done. Get it Done. Have a happy execution for the rest of your life.

How do you get Focus, Discipline, Course Correction in style? I will share my formulas in next few post.

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