Archive for the ‘Project management’ Category

Five reasons to start delegating more today

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

It is a simple fact that I am terrible at delegating.

I have a very hard time giving work to someone else to complete. Even when I’m trying to think of tasks to delegate, when I am purposely trying to trim down my workload, I have trouble delegating.

But now I have a secret weapon.

Last week, on my company’s anniversary, I hired my first full-time employee. Cara doesn’t have an official job title yet, she is a jack-of-all-trades. I hired her because she is smart, flexible, likes variety, and because she is the best delegator I have ever met in my life.

Pointing finger delegatesCara takes delegating to a whole new level, not because she is lazy, but because she is efficient. She is willing to do anything if it has a purpose, but if it is useless busy work, she’ll be happy to explain why. If she’s working on a project that can be outsourced to someone else who is not fully occupied with work, she’ll demonstrate how that makes sense. She is also excellent at training other people (which is a big part of delegating). Cara is a master delegator.

In the one week since Cara’s worked with me, her delegation skills have already begun to transform my business. And watching her thought-processes has given me some really good insight into why every person in every business should start delegating more today.

1. Teaching a job to someone else shows you where there are holes in your logic or where you’re taking too many steps. As I’ve begun to explain process-oriented work to Cara, she asks me questions that point out unnecessary steps or reveal a better way to do things. Today I was explaining how to check something from the admin section of a Web site. To do so involves a separate URL, login information and instructions on how to access the data. That process works, but Cara asked why we couldn’t just find the information from the public Website. Turns out we could, and that saved us about 10 unnecessary steps. Just by explaining the steps and having someone ask a question, we saved time and streamlined a lengthy process.

2. Feeling like you have to do something is a lot of pressure; it’s easier to think more creatively when you aren’t stressed with looming projects. I have a to do list that stretches for pages in my notebook. There are many items on that list that have been there for months. They are always on that list, always in the back of my mind; projects that I need to tackle but haven’t been able to get to. If there is a project that has been on your to do list for more than two months, think about delegating it. You aren’t getting it done, so at least some progress will be made if you give it to someone else.

3. Giving away something old and established makes way for something new and innovative. I have a number of repetitive projects that take up a portion of my week every week. These things are always there; kind of like during college on the weekends when I could not ever relax because I knew that there was a book to read or a paper to write. By delegating those kinds of projects, your mind has more room to be creative and to spend time on less process-oriented problems.

4. Establishing processes allows you to delegate and to increase your output in multiples. It’s fairly obvious that it is much easier to outsource something if there is a process for how it gets done. By creating processes around work, and figuring out how to get other people to help do the work, there is another benefit – the total amount of work that you can get done increases exponentially. An good example is the human powered search engine Mahalo. The site employs Guides who help to create pages that can be searched. There is a process to creating those Mahalo pages, and by making sure that everyone who works on the site knows the process, the site can grow faster as new Guides are added.

5. Freeing up extra time will allow you to write that blog post that you’ve been putting off for a week (or longer). More time for other work is the most obvious reason to delegate.

(BONUS) 6. Believing that you are the only one that can do a task isn’t helpful for you and isn’t helpful for your business. And it’s probably not true. This is the most common protest made by over-achievers and perfectionists who think that they can do the work the best or the fastest or without any help. And this notion is dangerous because trying to run a business completely alone will not work. And in most cases, it’s better to get 80% of the work done at 80% skill level than 40% of the work done at 100% skill level. On top of this, it’s usually not true that no one else could do the work.

When this article first came out, I printed it out and tacked it to my bulletin board at work because of this section:

“Moving into any new position requires that you get rid of the stuff from your old position. This means delegating. It means getting over the idea that you were indispensable on any of your old teams. You can’t do you new job well if you’re still doing your old job.

Delegating your old job should take three days. You find people who are taking a step up when they accept pieces of your old job so that they are excited. You give them an explanation of how to do it and tell them where to go when they have questions.

You are going to tell me that one day is not enough, that you have a very complicated job. But think of it this way: If you died today, your job would be delegated in a couple of days.

Delegating is not enough, though. You have to stop caring. If you are no longer on a project because you got a promotion, then you have to stop obsessing about how the project is doing.”

I try to keep that advice in mind, but I’ve already admitted that it’s a challenge for me. If you’re bad at delegating, try these seven tips to becoming a better delegator. But whatever you do, start delegating more today.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

My greatest weakness

Monday, July 21st, 2008

WeaknessAnyone who tried to visit any page on this site since last Wednesday already knows what I am about to tell you – my blog has been down for five days. It’s back up now, working just fine, but it appears that the damage has been done. My good SEO ranking on some good terms has been lost, 1/4 of my readers have unsubscribed.

I just wanted to send a quick note out to all of you who have stuck with me through the downtime – thank you! And I’m sorry for the technical difficulties. The short explanation is that this blog is using a technology that one of my new businesses/applications is also using, and when the developers made a change to that application, they managed to take down my blog at the same time. It appears that everything is now fixed and working like it should, hopefully there won’t be any more issues.

This outage really brings to light what I think is my biggest weakness as an entrepreneur - I am not technical enough. I know a bit about technology, definitely enough to talk about it and to understand the concepts, a smattering of HTML. But I am not a “do-er” – and so, when things like this happen, I am at the mercy of others. This fact is hard to take.

I am honestly not sure what the solution to the problem is, either. As the president of my company, I shouldn’t be the one who is doing all the nitty gritty work – that would be a waste of time and resources. I also don’t have the time to go back to school and to take classes to learn all this stuff that I wish I already knew. I could regret my college major (maybe computer science would have been a better choice than English, no matter how much I loved reading those books), but then again, if I had majored in computer science, who knows where I would be now. Maybe the influences of Maya Angelou (On The Pulse of the Morning), Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison are part of what has inspired me to be the person I am today, to do what I am doing right now. And regrets aren’t helpful, anyway.

So I put my lack of technical expertise in the category of unavoidable things that suck. At least for now. And I try to use this weakness as a reminder that I can’t build this business on my own, that I need help and input from a wide variety of other people to be successful. And I breathe. Slowly.

Photo by solidstate

Stop scheduling meetings on Tuesdays and get to work

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I might be the last person to know this, but Tuesday is the most productive day of the week. I was alerted to this fact by this blog post, which pointed to some research by Robert Half International. But then when I went to dig in deeper, Tuesday-is-the-most-productive-day-ever was all over the Internet. 

This article says that in 2002, 1998 &1987 the data showed the same thing – Tuesday is the most productive day of the week at work.

Here’s a piece from 2002 talking about how Tuesday is the best day to get work done.

Tuesday biology bookAnd then there’s this 1994 book: Office Biology or Why Tuesday Is Your Most Productive Day and Other Relevant Facts for Survival in the Workplace. There is a whole book about how Tuesdays are so productive. How could I have missed this incredibly important fact for all these years?

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first. I wasn’t really sure that Tuesday was my go-to day of productivity. Then I was reading a post by Steve Rubel on his Micro Persuasion blog about becoming an expert, and in the post, Rubel included a chart of his Google Reader reading habits. And then it dawned on me that I should check my stats in Google Reader to see what they showed.

I typically read RSS feeds from Google Reader at about the same rate every day, with the exception of the weekends. Or so I thought! Here are my trends for the last 30 days:

Those big spikes? Those are Tuesdays!

Last 30 days

Here is the day of week chart:

Day of week chart 

And just for fun, here’s the time of day chart. Anyone who knows me well – or ever worked with me – will not be surprised at the early morning lull.

Time of day 

So what does all this mean? For me, it means that it’s time to take some deliberate action. If I am more produtive on Tuesdays, I’m going to be proactive about keeping that day as productive as possible. I am not going to schedule meetings on Tuesdays, for example, because meetings break up the flow of my day. And I plan to complete one major, sticky, important-but-difficult or important-but-boring project every Tuesday. I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

What do you think? And what do your *Trends* show? Is Tuesday your go-to day?

*If you use Google Reader, you can find this data by clicking the Trends link at the top of the left-hand navigation in Google Reader.

Good + Fast + Cheap

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

There are so many good things about starting a company. The freedom. The independence. The creativity that it brings out in me. The amazing things that I’m learning. But the one thing that is so incredibly frustrating is that I have to rely on part-time contractors to get anything done.

The last job that I was at, I worked with an incredible team of people. Technically, I guess they worked for me, but each of them was so good at what they all did that I really considered us to be a team with myself at the helm, giving directions and making sure that the company, the development, the product – that everything was moving in the right direction. Quickly. Efficiently. FAST.

Now, I am a solo act. I am still working as quickly as I ever have – probably more so because I’ve upped the amount I’m working to approximately 15 hours per day (all the statistics about how much you work when you’re self-employed are right, it turns out). But no matter how quickly I work, I am always waiting for someone else to get something done.

Let me be really quick to say that I am not blaming anyone for this situation – I am still working with an amazing group of people. It’s just that they are only contracted to work some (small) number of hours per month. I mean, I work more hours PER DAY than each of them work per month. This is the way it has to be, but it really tests my patience.

According to Chris, this situation is attributable to the Good Fast Cheap theory of business. OK, I don’t think that Good Fast Cheap is technically a business theory, I think it’s more a concept that designers use when working for clients to try to help them understand how they work, but it’s a reality with my company so far. Chris’ claim (and I think he’s right) is that you can pick two of the three – Good, Fast, Cheap – but you will have to forgo the third. In my case, I have picked good and cheap, but I have to let go of FAST.

This is really too bad, because fast is one of my favorites.

5 things you can learn about being a project manager by organizing a community service project

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Pink RibbonThis past weekend, I participated in a benefit walk to raise money for breast cancer research.
My team did the walk in honor of my grandma, so a large number of my family members and friends decided to participate. And although I can’t take credit for the idea, I did end up taking charge of most of the logistics and organization of the group. It turns out that you can learn a lot about project management by heading up a charity event and organizing a group of volunteers. So if you want to become a better manager, but don’t want to practice “on the job,” it might be worth the time to get a group of people together to do a good deed. In the process, you might find out the answers to these five questions:

·         Are you are an effective leader? – To be a leader, people need to follow you. By inviting people to participate in a community service event, you can gauge your ability to lead. If people are willing to give up their free time to participate in the event that you’re organizing, you’re likely going to be able to get your employees to help you with a work-related project. Granted, in a work situation, you’re paying people and they are required to follow you, but that issue is likely comparable to the loyalty that people feel to the cause that you’re working toward with your community service project. If you have trouble getting people to participate, however, don’t despair; you can learn how to be a better leader.

·         Are you able to organize deadlines and logistics? – This is one of the most important skills that a project manager needs to have (second only to having a complete understanding of the project that they are managing). Being able to keep track of all the details of a project is the key to finishing it successfully, and this type of project will give you experience organizing the details from registration to fundraising to the itinerary on the day of the event.

·         How good are you at communicating with a diverse group of people? – This was a big issue for me because I was organizing a group of family members of varied technology backgrounds and abilities, and I was organizing everything via e-mail and the Internet. Everyone had an e-mail address, but it really differed how much each person used e-mail and felt comfortable with that mode of communication. A community service project often brings together people of different backgrounds that are organized around a common cause, and will give you valuable experience in working with diverse groups of people, whether it is their technology or ethnic backgrounds that make them diverse.

·         Do you have the ability to get other people to help you? – I organized this event from 300 miles away, so I wasn’t at the family BBQs when much of the informal discussion happened. Some people who lived in town, however, kept me in the loop about what was talked about, and one person volunteered to help get a room for us to meet in afterward. A community service project will inspire many volunteers, and will teach you to take help when it’s offered – especially if the help that’s offered is with doing something that you can’t get done easily yourself.

·         Are you a creative problem-solver? – One of the problems with this event was that in order for my team to get the official t-shirts for the walk, we had to order them 45 days ahead of time. This was simply not possible as the majority of the team didn’t even register until 2-3 weeks before the event. My backup plan was to use a t-shirt guy that my husband knows – but his lead time was 30 days. In my desperation (I wish I could say “In my creativity!”), I headed to the Internet where I found a slew of online t-shirt providers that could ship customized t-shirts within 7 days (as long as I rushed the order). This completely alleviated the stress of trying to get this done before I was physically able to. Snafus like this one are bound to come up with any project that you manage, providing many opportunities to try to think creatively about the problem to come up with a solution that won’t take all of your time and will get the issue solved.



~ Today’s view: