Finding Balance and Focus – Dependability Planning


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When asked to describe a colleague or friend have you noticed how often “dependable” is an attribute you mention?  I don’t think I’m alone in saying, if someone is not dependable there’s a low probability they are still a close friend or colleague.

Dependability isn’t an inherent trait.  It’s one we learn, often through paying the price when we haven’t anticipated what could happen if we didn’t develop a dependability plan.

We all know people who charge down the path of life without this type of planning. Unfortunately, when one unexpected event occurs it snowballs, picking up steam as one issue after another piles on until there are consequences.  After a while these folks seem as if they’re going through life with a cloud over their heads and before long they’ve earned a reputation for not being dependable.

Every one of us has had to be away from work or home unexpectedly, or been delayed for one reason or another.  We prevent this from becoming the rule, rather than the exception, when we take the time to develop dependability plans.

The standards for professional dependability is based upon our position and the commitments we make.  For example, in my line of work, I’m required to be where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be there – which is often at a client site in another city – the first thing Monday morning.

My planning considers the events that are beyond my control for each step of the journey.  Therefore I:

  • Arrange transportation to the airport early enough to compensate for a traffic delay.
  • Arrive at the airport early enough to be able to mitigate the situation if there’s a long security line or a last minute gate change.
  • Reduce the risk of a flight cancellation by not booking a flight that is the last flight of the night.

Although this might seem overkill, I’ve found that mitigating the risks not only reduces my stress level, it’s essential to my professional reputation that I am dependable.

The same holds true for our personal lives.  The proverbial “had to work late and missed the important family event”, over time erodes the trust those of who depend upon us when we’ve made a commitment to be there.  After many years of disappointing those who were important to me I might have finally learned that in my personal life it’s so much better to under-commit and over-deliver … a concept we’re all familiar with professionally, but seldom seem to use professionally.

In my family on birthday’s we honor each person with a gift, selected from a wish list we each keep of something that would delight us, or a special dinner or event.  My oldest son had a show he wanted to see and mentioned what a wonderful birthday event it would be.  I gently reminded him I was working in a city whose weather pattern made my arriving home each weekend, unpredictable.  He understood immediately.

The beauty of this is the weekend the show is in town if I make it in on time, and there are still tickets available, and he has no other plans, I can surprise him at the last minute.  This would make the experience much more exciting, and I’ve eliminated the possibility that I’ll disappoint him.   By promising less, I might be able to give him more.

Dependability is more than just showing up, however, it’s showing up prepared and doing what you say you’ll do when you say you’re going to do it.   It’s having your part of the annual report drafted ahead of time so you can continue to improve upon it, making certain your monthly status report is prepared and proofed before it’s due, it’s checking the connection before the important conference call, and not needing to be constantly reminded.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching more than one talented executive miss a promotion or sabotage his career by missing a deadline.  These problems could have easily been prevented by not procrastinating until the last minute.

Procrastinating affects our personal lives as well.  Calling our friend the day after his birthday, not picking up our significant other’s suit from the cleaners, not keeping up with our mail or our budget … all of these have consequences, none of them favorable.

Working to become dependable when we’ve let things get out of control is tough.  It’s the proverbial, “One step at a time.”   If you’re in this situation stop right now and make a list of the things you can get done today to get out of this cycle.  Now do those things, but keep the list. At the end of the day review the list and separate those things that are one-time and those things that are recurring.

Our goal should be to make routine those tasks that are recurring to ensure we get them done and find ways to significantly reduce the time it takes to complete them.  For example if every week you need to go to the grocery store, ATM, cleaners, and get gas for your car, find places that are on the way home from work, select the day you’ll do those things on your way home from work and knock them out.

Sometimes slowing down the lag time and frequency when we respond slows down the amount of input we receive that requires a response.  EMAIL, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all react to the cadence of our responses.  By slowing down our responses, but being consistent about when we’ll respond, we can buy back some valuable time.  We aren’t obligated to comment on yet another funny cat video, although it’s fun to, but not at the expense of what we really care about.

Being reliable involves a dozen little choices every day..  The payoff comes when we have an emergency that prevents us from meeting a commitment.  When we’ve been consistent in being dependable we’re got enough stock of goodwill to weather the proverbial storm.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Finding Balance and Focus


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A colleague of mind recently shared an article on LinkedIn.  Written by John Eades the article, The People You Should Lead For, includes the Dale Partridge quote, “Success at work without success at home, isn’t success at all.”

As executives, we’re the leaders who have the ability insure the corporate culture we create in our organization promotes that concept.  We have to “walk the walk” in order to demonstrate what that means and to insure our own lives reflect those expectations.

Over the next six weeks this blog will explore methods for finding balance and focus between our personal and professional lives.

Setting Expectations. 

At each stage of our careers, our personal lives and the lives of our families, we have different requirements for how we spend our time.  Understanding those requirements to determine how to manage our time so we can be successful is a first step.  Discussing this with our significant other and family, then listening to what they need, is the next.

Setting expectations with those we work with is also essential because unless we develop a shared definition of success, both at home and at work, we run the risk of our best never being good enough.

Wisdom in developing those agreements goes a long way toward supporting our good intentions.  Negotiating for one night a week to work late or bring work home can help insure success and demonstrates a level of commitment at work.  Committing to being home in time to help prepare and enjoy a family dinner, or participate in family activities on the remaining nights, goes a long way to promoting family harmony.

Once we broker agreements, both at work and at home, we need to honor those commitments.  Scoring a home run at work and missing dinner, if that was the commitment, sets up the potential for hurt feelings and resentment.  Conversely, missing an important deadline at work while going out to lunch and leaving on time every day sets a poor example that can cause the people we work with to see us as undependable.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Achieving the Stated Purpose and Driving Results


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We all know the tools and practices that, when used, make meetings effective; however, when we’re meeting with the same people day after day and year after year, the overhead associated with preparing for and following up on every meeting can feel like wasted time.

However, as someone who’s made a living coaching executive teams to meet stretch goals – I observed that every executive team who consistently used the following tools and practices (either before or after a consulting engagement) achieved, if not exceeded their goals.

Agenda:  Every meeting should have an agenda –even if it’s a recurring meeting and the agenda is written on a white board.  The agenda should include the purpose for the meeting, what topics will be covered, who’s responsible for each, a review of action items, and a brief time at the end of the meeting to assess the meeting’s efficacy.

The act of preparing an agenda allows the leader or facilitator the opportunity to organize the material prior to the meeting and think through the specifics.  Distributing the agenda prior to the meeting allows and implies that each attendee know the purpose of the meeting and what they’re responsible for presenting or discussing.

Time:  Meetings that start and end at the top of the hour typically insure that those attendees who have a meeting in the next time slot are late.  A simple remedy is scheduling meetings to start at the top of the hour but limiting meetings to 50 minutes instead of an hour.

Because meetings can consume so much time, many companies have implemented a block of time each day that’s meeting free to allow their employees a full block of time each day to focus on their particular task at hand.   Other companies have gone even further and designated a day each week and made it meeting free.

Intuitively, either of these practices should improve productivity as they reduce the need for employees to multitask.  Most of what’s been written, however, focuses on a resultant improvement in employee morale – in many companies a desired outcome.

Metrics:  There should be a metric or set of metrics that drives the focus of every meeting.

This is the practice that, when implemented in a company where it previously hadn’t been used, gets the most pushback but also gets the most dramatic results.

Often the pushback comes from a previous experience when the metrics used didn’t directly tie activities to results.  Many companies get so enamored with metrics that they take on a life of their own.  What started out as a great idea can result in page after page of metrics that are expensive and time consuming to produce.

The Goal,  (Eli Goldratt, Green River Press, 1984)  written in 1984 about the principles of manufacturing the basic premise is that the goal of every business is to make money.

Using Eli’s premise, any meeting whose purpose is to ensure the business makes money can be measured.  The weekly Chief Operating Officer’s staff meeting can review cost of goods sold, on-time deliveries, and cost of poor quality.  The Vice President of Sales staff meeting reports year to date sales against plan.  Even the Planning Committee for the Christmas party can review employee attendance to turnover, year over year, against venues and types of parties.

Action Items:  Every action item, to whom it’s assigned and a commitment date for completion should be captured at each meeting.  Each meeting should also include a review of the open action items.  When an action item is closed, a brief description of the resolution should be entered either in the minutes or in an actions complete register.

Score:  At the end of each meeting, each attendee (except the facilitator) should be asked to provide a score.  That score should be published in the meeting minutes for that meeting.

The responsibility of scoring a meeting forces each of us to weigh in on what we’re doing well and where we can improve as a team.  When we’re not asked our opinion we can leave a meeting with an idea for improving a lingering annoyance unspoken.

The leader or facilitator of the team should consider those comments and look for opportunities to incorporate the suggestions into future meetings.

One of the most telling comments that demonstrates this phenomenon is one that’s sometimes used as a criticism of consultants: “You haven’t told me anything I didn’t know.”

What’s so telling about that comment is that, many times a consultant is telling you what you already knew because, for some reason, the leader of the team didn’t address a known issue or a team member didn’t speak up and ask that the issue be addressed.

Minutes:  Minutes should be published for every meeting by the end of the day the meeting takes place.  Minutes don’t need to be elaborate or time consuming to prepare.  All that’s really necessary is who attended, what decisions were made, the meeting score and comments.  The updated action item list should be included with the minutes.

Taking a few extra minutes to draft an agenda for the next meeting and including it with the distribution of the minutes allows team members to review the proposed agenda and provide input setting up a cycle of improvement for subsequent meetings.

There are other tools and practices in place in most organizations that help insure meetings are effective and organizational goals are met but this is the set that seems to be the predictor for accomplishing stretch goals.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.

Establishing the Right Meeting Order and Times


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The order and times of our recurring meetings is as important as the content of our meetings.

A client I was working with had a meeting every morning with the senior people responsible for completing a complex software project.  The workday began at 7:00 AM so the meeting was scheduled for 8:00 to give the people attending “The Breakfast Club” time to clear EMAILS and check in with their teams to complete what had been done the day before.

At this meeting each morning the team reviewed progress against plan and often made decisions to temporarily move engineers from one team to another or to give a team priority on the testing system.

Meanwhile the engineers were heads down working on the direction that had come out of the meeting the day before.  When “The Breakfast Club” adjourned, typically about 9:30, the new direction would be provided, often negating the work that had been done by several hundred people in the first several hours of each day.

By changing that meeting to occur only once a week and at the end of the workday, they immediately increased the velocity of their progress and reduced rework significantly.   It also reduced the amount of time first level managers, a critical success factor in software development, were in meetings.

This is by no means an uncommon phenomenon.  In most organizations at least 10% of the recurring meetings are held at a time that’s suboptimal.

Fortunately, this is easily remedied – at least when reviewing just our meetings.  It takes little effort to plot them out, define the inputs and outputs and ensure the information flows in a coherent manner through all of our meetings.

It takes a synchronized effort when completing this exercise for an executive team or for a department, but the benefits far exceed the effort required, particularly when the meetings of multiple levels of an organization are synchronized.

If you’ve ever been sitting in a meeting wishing the information you’ve just been provided had been available in your last meeting or before you’d made a decision that you might have reconsidered if this information had been available you can identify with the need to establish the right meeting order and times.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.


Reduce Your Time in Meetings by Establishing the Right Set of Meetings


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For more than twenty years I’ve been a road warrior.  You can find me most Sunday afternoons boarding a plane to ensure I can be at my client’s site first thing Monday morning.  Friday afternoons I fly home for a fast paced weekend, largely focused on doing the basic chores and errands necessary to keep my life running smoothly and carving out time to spend with my family.

Between engagements I catch up with my friends, take a class, go to the gym, write, and reengage with the professional, civic, and charitable organizations I support.  Since my calendar is completely open when I come off the road, I quickly make commitments with my family for regular dinners each week.  I sign up for a yoga and a Zumba class.  I make plans every Wednesday with a networking group.  Not surprisingly, it typically takes me less than six weeks to find I have over committed, leaving absolutely no time for myself.

This is the same phenomena that happens to most executives.  When we start a new position we have an open calendar.  As we settle into the role we start adding recurring meetings to our calendar.  Just like our personal lives, soon we find our calendars so full we have no time to work on what’s important.

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002) puts meetings into four categories and offers sound advice about each:

  1. Daily Check-In: This is a 5 – 15 minute stand-up meeting with our direct reports or with project teams.   Each person takes a minute or two to tell their colleagues what they accomplished since they met the previous day and what they intend to accomplish today.           

This process, also called short-interval management, or short interval scheduling, was long the “secret sauce” of management consultants.  They learned that if they had each individual in a team report out what they intended to accomplish each day, there was a higher probability they’d make their commitment.

  1. Staff Meeting: This is a 30-45 minute weekly meeting with our direct reports.  He recommends holding it around a conference table and starting the meeting by going around the room, giving each person 30 seconds to tell what they’re working on or what they’re thinking about.  

He goes on to say, this should be followed by a review of where the team is against their goals and the tactics to ensure those goals are achieved.  I’ve found that developing and reviewing a weekly dashboard to be the most effective method of objectively reviewing progress against goals.

  1. Big Topics/Strategic Topics: These are ad hoc meetings scheduled to work on specific projects or topics.

These are the meetings that drive he cadence of a company’s “grow” or “improve” the business initiatives.  Because these meetings are usually attended by project teams representing multiple functional areas who may have not previously worked together it’s essential that the leader or facilitator be experienced in leading this type of meeting. 

  1. Quarterly Review: This meeting, held quarterly, is a full review of the business performance, strategy, and major initiatives. 

5.  I would add to his set a Weekly Meeting with each direct report.  This meeting should be held at the same time each week.  The agenda should be flexible as the purpose of this meeting is to allow each of your direct reports “face” time with the boss.

Each type of meeting has a different set of requirements and norms   For example, the agenda for a Daily Check-In meeting is usually written on a white board or piece of butcher block paper, agendas for weekly meetings are typically the same week over week, and agendas for Big Topics/Strategic Topics are based upon where the team is in the process.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.

Leveraging Fortune 500 Meeting Behaviors


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I’ve heard it said that most of an executive’s work is done in meetings.  In fact, many executives I’ve worked with spend the preponderance of their day in meetings, leaving little time for anything else.

Because so much time is spent in meetings, making the concerted effort to ensure we have effective meeting practices in place is a good investment and is completely within the control of the organization’s leadership.   When reviewing the meeting behaviors in their organization leaders can borrow from common meeting behaviors prevalent in many Fortune 500 companies.

I like to ask my clients what behaviors they would expect and not expect to see if they were observing the executive team of a Fortune 100 company as they participate in a meeting.   Typical responses include:

  1. Everyone would know the purpose of the meeting and arrive prepared. No one would offer any excuses for not being prepared.
  2. Electronic devices would be off during the meeting (except for those used by individuals presenting or serving as recorders). There’s no such thing as multi-tasking during a meeting.  We just aren’t wired to listen to dialogue, pay attention to the body language of not only the speaker – but other team members, and observe and participate in an interchange, while checking our EMAIL or sending a text.  When we’re engaged in other activities, we have temporarily tuned out to what’s going on in the meeting.
  3. The meeting would start and end on time. Time has a value in every organization.  I have found in some organizations an effective approach is to calculate the “cost” of each meeting.
  4. There would be no sidebar conversations and people wouldn’t interrupt each other. People at this level have a low tolerance for rudeness.
  5. People could disagree without being disagreeable. In fact there would be the expectation that team members would see issues differently.
  6. There would be no personal attacks. These are people who’ve learned to work together and who respect each other.  They would critique ideas, not people.
  7. They would have an established process for reigning in conversations that were not pertinent to the topic at hand. One that is popular is the “Three Knock Rule.”  When someone goes off topic or gets lost in the weeds any other team member can quietly knock on the table three times.  Because the whole team has agreed to this signal there are no hard feelings when it’s enacted.
  8. They would achieve what they came to the meeting to accomplish. They’d be focused on achieving the results and not on grandstanding.
  9. They would expect every meeting to have an agenda, a record of important decisions, and an action item list. Fulfilling these basic expectations is what allows a team to make progress and not have to go over the same information in subsequent meetings.

There are dozens more expectations teams list when doing this exercise, but these are the most common.  Because this discussion is framed as a theoretical case even the most dysfunctional team can have this discussion and take the next step of defining and adopting a set of behavioral rules that will serve them.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.

Optimizing Product Development: An Agreed Upon Gating Process


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In the too recent past I worked with a company who operated in stovepipes.  Although the had a talented executive leadership team they didn’t have in place a gating process that forced them to validate each project against its return on investment and marketability at each gate.  Once a project was approved the project management and product development organization set off to design and produce the project.  Each organization operated autonomously with little shared communication.  As a result the company produced a beautiful new jet that met all of the operational requirements at a cost that the market wouldn’t support.  After years of effort and millions of dollars the company declared bankruptcy and their assets were purchased by their competitors.

A agreed upon gating process that validates the progress of the project, whether it is meeting the functional requirements, and checks in on the competitive environment can go a long way toward mitigating the risk associated with long-term projects.

A gating process includes a set of project phases with a gate at the end of each phase.  What occurs during each phase and the criteria for going through each gate typically varies by the size or complexity of the project.

It has been argued that processes that support rapid deployment and multiple iterations are more effective for some product development environments.  I have found that those processes are indeed congruent with a gating process as long as the iterations occur within the boundaries of a gate.

Depending upon what business we’re in, our phases and gates will be different, but the following are often found, regardless of industry.  

  • Discovery Phase 

The Discovery Phase begins when some event occurs that is of interest to the company or someone in the company.  It could be that notice has been received by Sales that a request for proposal is being released for a product or service offered by the company.  Perhaps Engineering has discovered a new method of attaching Part A to Part B that has the potential to increase the strength of the finished product.  It might be that the organization has grown to the extent that Human Resources wants to review and analyze available Human Resource Support systems because the current system no longer supports the organization.

The sponsoring department assembles a charter, preliminary business case, or some type of predefined document describing what they want to explore and why, who they need to help explore it, and how it supports the organization’s strategic objectives or solves an operational issue.  They include their assessment of the score the project would receive when ranked against the weighted set of criteria.

They get on the agenda for the next Governance Meeting and present the project to the Governance Team.  If the resources are available and there is nothing ranked higher, they receive approval for a specific amount of time and capital to complete the Discovery Phase.

The Discovery Team completes their assessment, their estimate of the Return on Investment and Rate of Return, and determines what resources and funding will be needed, for how long for the Concept Phase.  This will be presented to the Governance Team who either closes the project, approves it to go through the gate to the Concept Phase, or places it on hold and inactive until resources are available. 

  • Concept Phase 

The Discovery Phase and Concept Phase are often combined for small projects, projects of short duration, or initiatives that require acknowledgement to an outside party by a certain time that the company will be participating in them.

The Project Team updates the project charter adding the purpose of the team, how they will function, and a clear definition of the project scope.

The team develops a business case that should include a competitive analysis, if appropriate, and a high level project plan for the project.   The business case should also include a model or description of the services to be provided and the performance specifications that must be met.  

  • Design Phase 

The design for the product or service and the plan for how it will be tested is completed during this phase.  Definition of the training required and how it will  be delivered to operate the product or use the service is also designed.

During this phase building a prototype of the product or service allows the design team to test those elements of the design that currently exist and defines features that need further design.

Outside suppliers for products or services are identified and design agreements are put in place.  An engineering or design bill of materials is established to insure all required parts are procured and accounted for.

Preliminary facility requirements are identified and options considered.

The schedule continues to mature throughout this phase as the detailed steps for development, through the end of the project are further defined.

The team prepares for and conducts a preliminary design review with the Governance Team to confirm the preliminary design will meet the performance requirements and achieve the return on investment.

Governance Team members representing functional areas confirm that their organizations are aligned with the effort.

If the design review shows the team has completed all design requirements, there are resources available for development, there is every expectation the return on investment is achievable, the progress moves through the gate to the Development Phase. 

  • Development Phase 

During this phase, development of the product or service is completed and a set of operational test articles are constructed and tested.

The product or service documentation is completed. Any outside certification authorities are provided with the required documentation and test results.

Additional supplier agreements or modifications to existing agreements are executed and product lead times are researched.  The development bill of materials is updated.

Preliminary production planning and the basic production line layout is completed.  Facility requirements are fully completed.  Tooling required for production is designed, fabricated, and installed.

Any training required is identified, and developed, if necessary.  Training that can be conducted during this phase is completed.

The team prepares for and conducts the critical design review with Governance Team representatives to confirm the product or service meets the performance requirements.

Governance Team members representing functional areas confirm that their organizations are aligned with the effort and prepared to support the product. 

  • Pilot Phase

The Pilot Phase is most applicable to products and services who will be transitioning from a test environment to a production environment.

Although the project team will have included functional representation from manufacturing and/or operations, the Pilot Phase is the opportunity for the organization responsible for delivering the final product or service to the customer validates the final design and finalizes the necessary replicable processes and procedures.

The manufacturing planning for the production build includes a description of every step in the process and what parts or components are needed for each step.  From this the production schedule is finalized.

This is also the phase where the development bill of materials transitions to a production bill of material that includes lead times for every purchased part or service.

The pilot articles  can be produced as a stall build or in a  model office, or can use the actual production line or initial site.

As the pilot proceeds, team members accountable for  performing the functions in a production environment  identify issues with the build, training, and documentation and correct them prior to the transition to production.

At the completion of the Pilot Phase and based upon the results of the Pilot, project team members responsible for sales, marketing, customer service, and aftermarket support, finalize their processes and prepare to introduce the product to the marketplace.

  • Production/Implementation Phase 

In the Production/Implementation Phase the product or service begins the process of bringing production or operations up to rate.  Personnel and parts are in place to support productions.  Opportunities are sought to smooth out production as experience is gained.

Any tooling changes or additional tooling that is required is ordered or fabricated.  Standard operating procedures are brought up to date and communicated.  Final training is completed.

Plans and resources are put in place to address any customer issues and collect customer feedback.

Metrics are in place and reviewed on a regular basis to monitor production/operations.

  • Commercialization Phase

Most gating processes do not include a Commercialization Phase, and until the opportunities of this Phase were pointed out by a wise client, I’d never considered how beneficial it could be.

In most organizations, once the project is in production, the project team proceeds immediately to the Close Out Phase, collects lessons learned and is released back to their department or deployed onto another project.  As a result, improvements that could be identified and made by the experienced cross-functional team for the product or service they just completed, are delayed or never happen at all.

One purpose of this phase is to correct any problems causing production issues, operational errors, or work-arounds, and implement any obvious production or operational improvements.

A second purpose of this phase is to ensure that the product is fully integrated into the set of products the organization offers.

The third purpose of this phase is to decompose the product into its components and insert the components into the organization’s design, product, and documentation libraries.

This last purpose, when practiced, is what allows organizations to further reduce their product development time and become increasingly more competitive, yet is often overlooked, particularly in organizations that have grown through acquisition.

  • Close Out Phase

The Close-Out Phase is used to validate whether the project met its objectives in terms of performance, cost, schedule, and marketability.

Plans to address any remaining risks should be established and the results monitored as part of normal operations from this point forward.

The project team should participate in a lessons learned session and use those learnings to update processes and methods to allow the organization the benefits of those lessons learned.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.

Focusing Our “Grow the Business” Initiatives: Portfolio Management


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Last week we talked about Governance as the first tool to use to align our “Grow the Business Initiatives”.

The second tool for optimizing our business is a Portfolio Management Process.  Our portfolio of projects can be thought of just as we think of our financial portfolio.  Part of our portfolio is an investment in our future, part is insurance against potential unfortunate events, and part is necessary to cover our day to day needs or “just to keep the lights on”.

There are two steps to setting up a Portfolio Management Process:  A Process and Method for Ranking Projects and a Resource Rationalization Process.  Let’s explore each in more detail.

  1. A Process and Method for Ranking Projects

A set of criteria every project can be measured and ranked against should be developed and agreed upon by the Governance Team.  Typical criteria for ranking include whether a project:

  • Increases Revenue or Margin
  • Improves Customer Satisfaction
  • Improves Safety
  • Improves Quality
  • Improves Manufacturability
  • Improves Productivity
  • Reduces Risk
  • Reduces Overhead
  • Addresses Obsolescence

All of the active projects in the company should be ranked against the weighted set of criteria and a prioritized list should be developed as the starting point of the organization’s Project Portfolio 

2.  Resource Rationalization Process 

Resource rationalization is a process that allows us to determine what percentage of time our employees are spending in their “run the business activities” and who has available time to help us to pursue “grow the business opportunities.”

At many companies there are systems in place for employees to enter how they’ve spent their time.  It goes without saying that most employees will account for the amount of time they spend at work with no slack time.  For these systems to account for that behavior we should insure that both routine activities and projects can be selected when employees are reporting their time   This approach, over time, provides us with a picture of how much “grow the business time” is really available. because when a project is completed we can readily determine the average amount of time each member of the project team was allocating to that project and make the assumption the same amount of time is now available to work on another next project.

Of course, availability isn’t the only criteria that must be considered when allocating individual resources to a project.  The functional skillset and the level of expertise should also be considered.  Many organizations use project management software that allows them to build and manage their resource pool so they can determine if and when resources will be available.

If no such system is in place but there’s an automated payroll system, that’s a good place to extract the names of the employees, often by department and skillset, then work with the leadership of each department to determine who’s spending what percent of their time on what project.

If we’re doing this exercise for the first time it’s not unusual to find there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hours every week being expended on dozens of projects that have little visibility at the executive level.  More often than not, this is an indicator of a healthy organizational culture with committed employees who are working to grow the business.

Communicating to our organizations that our intent is to harness and focus that energy so the organization can support those projects that are most important is essential to avoid demoralizing those who have shown initiative.

When we have to put a worthy project on hold because there aren’t resources with the required skill set available to complete the project, we need to communicate, particularly to the people who have invested time and energy in that  project, that the project is still in the approved  portfolio awaiting resources.

When enough resources of the correct skillset are not allocated to each active project, it creates resource churn.  We’ve all been in the position where we had multiple projects or activities to complete.  The time it takes to move from one activity to the next and remind ourselves where we left off is unproductive time.  The more projects or activities we try to work on the higher the amount of unproductive time.

This is where the Governance Team begins to make their real impact.  Suspending projects that are  not resourced, based on the priority set by the team, increases the velocity of the active projects, providing a higher level of predictability of when those projects will be complete.

Focusing Our “Grow and/or Improve the Business” Initiatives: Governance


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In most companies, every area has ongoing initiatives whose purpose is to grow or improve the business.  Unless there’s a process for vetting these activities few ever achieve the projected results.

This is particularly true for initiatives that cross departmental or functional boundaries.  Because improvement opportunities typically require some level of change, they must have commitment across the affected parts of the organization in order to be successful.

While this can significantly improve the probability of success, ensuring the organization is fully aligned on what initiatives are the highest priority, assuring those initiatives have the resources they need, and monitoring the progress of the portfolio of initiatives improves the probability of success even more.

A Project Governance Team, comprised of the leadership of the organization and representing each functional area, business unit, and general administration can serve this purpose.  This team governs how the organization spends its discretionary time and helps bring clarity to what otherwise is chaos.

The team’s effectiveness is greatly improved if there’s a facilitator who does the heavy lifting for the team.  An effective facilitator schedules the meetings, develops the agenda, manages the cadence of the meeting, documents decisions, produces and publishes minutes, captures and follows up on action items.  He develops drafts, or straw models, of the processes and tools the team uses, significantly reducing the amount of time the senior executives spend in meetings.

Having the facilitator produce drafts of the processes (project review, gating process, resource rationalization, project prioritization) and tools (charter, business case, agenda, minutes, action log) that will be used prior to the meeting when they are to be discussed, allows the team to focus on content rather than on format.

The first order of business for the team is to develop a charter that states the shared vision of the purpose, responsibilities, process, and tools they’re going to use.  Charters typically contain:

  • Purpose
  • Scope
  • Metrics
  • Membership
  • Schedule

The next step is to establish the baseline of active projects by collecting the set of initiatives the organization is currently pursuing and having each project sponsor develop a standard business case that includes:

  • A Description of the Project
  • The Purpose of the Project
  • A Competitive or Market Analysis (if Relevant)
  • The Cost of the Project
  • The Return on Investment
  • The Resources Required
  • The Project Schedule
  • The Current Status of the Project

A set day and time for the meeting establishes the cadence for the team, improves participation, and drives the team’s progress.  Often early in the team’s lifecycle the team will want to meet weekly to complete the start-up activities and review each of the projects.

Once that initial phase is complete, the team can transition to meeting less frequently.  Setting up a weekly schedule for the same day and time each week in advance, then cancelling the meeting if there are no agenda items, affords team members the opportunity to work independently during that timeslot when there is no meeting.

Setting up this team and putting in place a process to optimize the “Grow or Improve the Business” resources an organization has available can help insure the organization is aligned and that the initiatives it supports will be successful.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.


Focusing Our “Grow and/or Improve the Business” Initiatives


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Most of us already have too many active “grow and/or improve the business” initiatives to be able to focus on bringing the really important ones to fruition efficiently.  These initiatives can be projects that we’re doing to improve our productivity, projects to add a new product or feature to our set of offerings, or sales pursuits of new markets or customers.

Recently I was working with the executive team of a successful company with a reputation for bringing innovative product features to market.  We were hard at work prioritizing the more than fifty active initiatives that each required the investment of scarce engineering resources and capital.

This process included drawing the line between those that would remain active and those that would be placed on hold.  As you can imagine, the discussion became heated as the champions campaigned for projects in which they had a vested interest.

The team was finally able to agree on the set of projects whose completion would bring in the revenue boost they were seeking, and, once completed, free up the resources necessary to be able to complete many of the partially completed projects.

However, this didn’t happen until the team realized that it’s not how many projects you have going on, but how many you complete that has a positive effect on the bottom line.  Trying to do them all at once, particularly if the projects are using shared resources of any type, delays completion of the projects and subsequently the receipt of associated revenue.

Having too many ongoing projects also adds risk that we’ll miss an early warning sign that there’s an issue that needs to be dealt with or, when we detect an issue, we won’t have the organizational bandwidth to develop the best solution.

There are three components to put in place to align the organization on how they will spend the resources they have available to grow or improve the business:

  • A Chartered and Facilitated Governance Team that Operates on a Regular Cadence: A team who understands the importance of aligning the initiatives across the organization and facilitation of that team.
  • A Portfolio Management Process: A process for determining which projects will be sanctioned, how they should be ranked, and how resources will be allocated.
  • A Gating Process: A standard process for completing projects and ensuring they’re supported throughout the organization.

Over the next several weeks we’ll explore each of these components in detail.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in early 2017.