When it comes to how I think about projects, the two words that I have always used to define my approach are efficiency and effectiveness. These ideas have been a major focus of my style for over a decade and were born of the idea of how can we do this better?
To make sure we are all on the same page, I have provided a brief summary of how I define both concepts.
- Efficiency: The reduction of wasted work/effort to the greatest degree possible.
- Effectiveness: Ensuring that the desired result is achieved to the greatest degree possible.
I recently had to describe my approach and it made me think to actually write it out for a blog post. My goal was to clearly define the process for myself, but also create a framework for others to use if they find it useful. It should be noted that I am writing this as if I was coming into a project already in place, but the process also holds true when creating something from the ground up.
- Workflow: To fully understand how something is being done, I like to start by putting together a workflow diagram to visualize the process. In order to put together an accurate workflow, I try to interview anyone who impacts the process being undertaken. My goal is to cover two key ideas – the current state and ideal state. The current state provides an understanding of what they do now and the ideal state allows them to provide suggestions for doing it better. Getting ideal state information from those who do the work is – to me – the lowest hanging fruit you can get for ideas to improve a process. Once all of this is compiled, a clear workflow diagram can be put together. If not, that means I need to either interview more people or a real problem has been identified. With a workflow diagram in hand, it is helpful to then observe the actual work going on to make sure the map is accurate. If it is not, amend as needed, but also note why there were any discrepancies.
- Hierarchy and Reporting Structure: In addition to the workflow, understanding the organization’s hierarchy and reporting structure also plays a key role in efficiency and effectiveness. The two are not always the same and do not necessarily need to be – it can vary greatly depending on the circumstances and organizational structure. However, it is important they are logically laid out in an organized format for the benefit of that organization. The movie Office Space perfectly highlights the issue of when this is not the case.
- Process Improvement: Once these items have been mapped out – based on the current state questions – I look to see if there are any obvious improvements to be made. I have worked with a lot of groups that do not look at this regularly, so old and new processes get merged over time, and inefficiencies can get overlooked. I then start looking at the ideal state information and examples of how those actually involved in the process think it can be improved. I also bring my own experience to bear to find other areas for improvement.
- People: People are a huge factor when it comes to increasing efficiency and effectiveness. The right people have to be on the team and motivation needs to be kept high. This allows for the two factors to be kept consistent and at a high level. The wrong people – and by wrong people I mean those with the wrong attitude – can quickly derail the situation.
- Innovative (Spirit of Innovation): Going along with people, a general spirit of innovation must be present. This means having the policies and procedures in place, as well as a culture, where people know they can voice ideas or concerns, and that they will be heard and their comments appreciated. To me, that is the most basic element of innovation. Higher-order levels of innovation can certainly be put in place though, such as everyone spending 10% of their time on their own projects and/or working to improve an area of operation – but that is a different story. All of these require intentional decisions by an organization’s leadership.
- Bringing It All Together: Finally, there is making sure everything comes together well – an organization’s secret sauce. There are a lot of articles written about excellent companies, but it is difficult to copy their success. Case and point, the book Built to Last by Jim Collins – a book that made a big impact on me early in my career – is not a checklist of items to form a successful company. There has to be something else. Each group must find its own secret sauce to make their organization work efficiently and effectively. However, when everything does sync up, it can be very special.
As I regularly mention, I am a process guy, so it helps me to have this all laid out. However, I want to emphasize the point that this process changes slightly every time I do it because of the unique nature of each project. When looking to do this on your own, always be ready to adapt and adjust to your unique situation.
What are the things your organization does to keep efficiency and effectiveness at a high level?
We are in a unique time and life today seems a lot different than it did just a few short weeks or months ago. One of those changes is that the entire country – almost overnight – made a push for folks to work from home.
While I normally work from home throughout the week, also having my wife at home was a glimpse into what many are going through right now – trying to work from home for the first time. This can be a difficult transition and it is not made easier when people may also have to take care of kids or other factors that take up their time.
However, this ‘new normal’ will likely be here to stay throughout the rest of March, April, and likely May – at least. Since we all have to figure out how to make it work, I thought about what we can do to make the most of our time. There are alternatives to solely focusing on watching every video on the internet…
- Education: There are a number of free resources for taking classes online – even more within the last week. This is a great opportunity to learn something new. Anyone want to go to Harvard?
- Certifications: This could also be a way to look into something that will give you the edge. It could be a great opportunity to find the right certification for you.
- Resume: Even if you are not currently looking for a job or think you will be in the near future, there is no downside to having an up-to-date resume. The same goes for making sure your LinkedIn profile is in top-notch shape.
- Fitness: Take care of yourself! I will try not to get on a soapbox here, but nothing is stopping (most) anyone from taking a walk or run outside. Can’t get to the gym? You Are Your Own Gym is the way to go.
- Spirituality: This will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. However you view spirituality, take a moment to get centered, be thankful for what you have, and focus on what is most important.
- Friends: We can all take the time to email, text, call, video call, FaceTime, group chat, online hangout, or whatever your flavor may be. This will be just as fulfilling to you as the person or people you connect with.
It is time to put down the remote and get some work done…
What are some ways you have tried to be productive during the quarantine?
Strategy has been a major topic for me over the past few weeks. I am working to finalize my company’s midyear strategy update and also facilitated a career strategy session for a group of military spouses. Working on both projects at once helped me to look at strategy from different perspectives.
I look at strategy as the plan of action that gets me from where I am now to my ultimate goal(s). It is a fluid process that can – and will – change on a regular basis, but a well laid out plan helps to keep me prepared for when those changes happen.
My process has come together through years of practice – with trial and error helping to make refinements. Before getting started, it is important that you understand where you want to go – your goal. Without knowing this, developing a strategy is not the best use of your time.
- To get started in developing a strategy, I like to know as much information as possible. This means doing a lot of research and asking a lot of questions. Below are examples of the types of questions I ask myself.
- Is what I want to do feasible? This is an important question because if the circumstances will not allow you to find success, it is best to know early and move on.
- Understand the why of the goal. What is the background of the project? Why is this the specific goal? What is the purpose?
- What are the specific items I need to research?
- What are the hurdles that I will likely face?
- What are the resources I will need?
- Who are the people I should speak to in order to learn more or receive help?
- What are others doing?
- What are the built-in milestones?
- Once I have completed the initial research, I revisit the question of whether the goal is feasible.
- After moving on from the research phase, I create my checklist of action items. This also includes adding in the built-in milestones. I try to make this as detailed as possible to prevent missing a step. For me, multiple steps also help with motivation as checking items off a list keeps pushing me forward.
- With my checklist in hand, I begin putting due dates in that keep me on target. Without deadlines, it is harder to prioritize all of the projects on my plate. It is also the motivation to do a little extra work each day.
- Another important aspect of the timeline is making sure that I do not get stuck in the “now” mentality. This means avoiding the feeling of having to do everything at once. I try to separate items into three categories:
- Things that have to be done immediately (today, tomorrow, this week)
- What needs to be done once the initial elements are completed
- The last items to be completed
- Throughout the creation and implementation process, I prepare myself to be flexible and adapt as things change. A single change will affect the entire plan, but having the plan is what helps me review, revise and then move forward.
Once I put all of the elements together, I like to review and game out the entire scenario. That helps me to tweak things, research anything new that has come up, and fully understand what needs to be done. Then it is time to get to work!
What are elements of the strategy process that help you put together your plan? Please list them in a comment below.
I recently spoke on a panel regarding my career and how living overseas has impacted my options. During my preparation, and referenced in my speech, I thought about how volunteering is a big aspect of my life. The idea of giving back is a core value of mine that was instilled in me from a young age by my parents and was further solidified as a lifelong obligation once I became a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. While giving to others and the community is an important aspect of life, personal benefits can and should be taken away from those experiences. Following the panel discussion, I spoke with several individuals about leveraging that volunteer experience to specifically add value to one’s career.
There are tangible benefits that come with volunteering. I have written about this idea before, but now I want to get into greater detail. Below is a breakdown of the business/career related benefits I have witnessed and/or received through volunteering:
- Interpersonal skills: With each new organization and event, volunteering exposes you to a variety of people along all measures of diversity. Being able to effectively communication and build relationships in this capacity is excellent practice for speaking to customers and coworkers.
- Networking: Along with interpersonal skills, the same people you come into contact with offer a great opportunity to share what you do and learn about them. These are connections that you would not have otherwise made and likely vary from your current network.
- Time management: Adding time commitments to your schedule forces you to review how you spend that time. This is great practice for when work becomes more hectic due to increased responsibilities. Managing your time effectively requires practice.
- Leadership: This is one of the best potential benefits from volunteering. Overall, I think leading a volunteer group can often times be more difficult than a work group because many of the same incentives for individuals to follow through are not there; such as not receiving a paycheck.
- Management: Effectively managing and organizing is a great takeaway and helpful because it is often done with a limited budget.
- Motivation: With no pay, new ways to motivate people must be found. Positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way, but the small things like recognizing others and creating small wins can help keep the ball rolling.
- Delegation: Being able to delegate and follow-up with people on different projects or aspects of projects is great practice for the workplace. It is about finding the balance between allowing someone the freedom to own their work and not letting deadlines fall by the wayside.
- Recruitment: Bringing in new people is an important aspect of volunteering, especially when looking for leaders. Seeking out the right people with the right skills at the right time is an important aspect of both the work world and for volunteers.
- Business Development: Whenever someone has had to do fundraising as a volunteer, it is quite similar to conducting business development for a company. You have to try to find individuals and companies with a connection and lead them down a path towards “making a sale.” There are clear differences in the two ideas, but the strategy behind them is quite similar.
- Problem solving: When volunteering, problem solving is often one of the most important skills to have across all levels of involvement because the solutions usually require a high level of creativity.
These are real benefits that can be taken away from volunteering. Taking on a leadership role only increases the opportunities. Using one’s skills when volunteering is a great way to give back and learn something new along the way.
Please share a time where you were able to use volunteer experience to benefit your career in a comment below.
Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level. It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.
I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.
- Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
- Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
- Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.
Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.
Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.