Jan 29, 2010

Managing emails

A critical issue for many of us wanting to improve  individual productivity is how we manage emails . . . e mail on the move ( smart phones etc) ,their sheer volume etc, force many of us to spend significant time (actually a large part of our work time) just processing emails( processing =reading,replying,acting..)

Here is a short list of what can make a difference, based on an analysis of what multiple experts have to say
  • Open your email software only during specific times ..Allocate specific times of the day when you would respond to emails
  • Attempt NOT to process any email twice. Here are some choices that you can do with an email you receive
    • If it is just for information, read and delete/file
    • If needs to be acted on by some else please forward.
      • Please use TASKS or email reminders ( I am assuming you are using Microsoft Outlook) so that due dates and reminders are automatically set
      • Do the same even if it requires action by you
  • Clean up mailing lists you subscribe to
    • Subscribe to digests as much as possible
    • Establish rules to move these mails to specified folders
    • Allot specific time to read/circulate/delete
    • Review list periodically to take chaning interests and focus into account
  • Establish mechanisms that will allow you to retreive quickly
    • A systematic folder structure
    • Use folder names starting with a numerical ( 0,1, 1.1 etc) to create a hierarchy for filing
    • If possible establish a good search engine to index and search your mail ( e.g. google desk top)
  • Analyse email habits and patterns ( heard of a tool called xobni)
  • Ensure that you show discipline in sending out email
    • Have a clear subject line
    • Put in appropriate tags and reminders so that the recepient knows ( for information/for action..)
Inbox zero
Provides some interesting insights on email productivity

Do you have any best practices that you want to share?

Jan 25, 2010

A bias for action

As my organization went through a crisis and I saw a lot of churn, I have been trying to find out,"What can make a difference ?"

I have found some answers with Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal in their book "A Bias for Action" (Penguin Portfolio 2004) . The authors talk about managerial effectiveness and attribute effectiveness ( and getting out of crisis) to how managers approach their job.Heike and Ghoshal classify managers based on their energy and focus into 4 quadrants ( see figure).They reach a conclusion that only about 10% of managers work pruposefully to get important work done;and those are the people who can bring energy and focus to their jobs.The authors define energy as vigour fueled by immense personal commitment and involvement.Focus is defined as energy channeled towards a specific outcome.The authors go on to say with examples that managers with extraordinary energy and focus essentially make things happen.

The book goes on to provide tips to marshal energy and develop focus.These include
  • finding once goal
  • clearing negativity and leveraging strong emotions
  • visualizing the intention
  • Making a personnel commitment etc
In all, a thought provoking read..

Jan 23, 2010

Is quantifying the benefits of improvement important?

I have been involved in what is be called 'model based' process improvement for a very long time.ISO 9000,14000,CMM,eSCM,ITIL...I keep getting asked about the benefits obtain-able from implementing these standards.Is knowing the benefits from implementation important? If some one else got a certain set of benefits does that mean that every one else will?

I have noticed that when it comes to implementation,organizations ( and teams and management responsible for implementation) fall in 2 categories
  • Those who believe with conviction that implementation of these frameworks have benefits ( Who asks for return of investment on belief in God ?)
  • and those who keep asking on what benefits ,how,when etc?
Though I am still struggle to provide a clear answer to the question 'what benefits? ( it depends/you get what you want..) I am increasingly convinced that, for the change initiative to be succesful, the improvements need to be driven with clear,tangible benefits in mind .

It probably has to do with the burning platform theory that John Kotter has, but establishing upfront goals for any improvement journey is critical for success. These goals cannot be related to process maturity (improve process maturity from 3 to 3.5 or related to certifications),but have to be related to tangible benefits that an organization needs to achieve ( reduced costs,improved speed,improved quality etc)

At a later point we will discuss what are issues in attempting to establish these goals

Jan 21, 2010

My personal change management check list

Here is my check list of issues I think lead to failure of many an improvement initiative
  • Have you defined the change in terms of improvements and outcomes that the organization can understand?
  • Have you identified a named “sponsor” for the project ?
  • How are you going to keep the sponsor engaged for the project?
  • Have you selected the right project team?
  • How do you keep the project team engaged and motivated to undertake the project?
  • Have you decided the right project implementation approach?
  • What channels have you provided to surface and then manage resistance?
  • What mechanisms have you established to reinforce change?

Improving a consulting organization

As you can see from the mandate I set for myself with the blog, the third area of focus of this blog is on improving my own organization. As some of you know, I anchor a small consulting team .Many of the conventional,transactional process improvement approaches,some how,just don't seem able to work with my team.

Thomas H. Davenport in his book "Thinking for a Living' provides some interesting insights on what works and what does not in improving knowledge work

What does not work
  • Top down reengineering
  • Scripting : (An expert lay out a script for others to use)
  • Computer mediated processes for everyone
  • Treating all knowledge workers in the same way
Distributed in the book are some directions on what works ( and I agree :-))
  • Use of powerpacks ( a compilation of outstanding proposals, presentations, compettitive information, models,specialised tools and a variety of other relevant business resources)
  • Adoption of agile methods :Replace detailed process flows with examples,ready to use tools,templates (e.g a checklist to gather role specific information in an interview),promote a highly iterative work flow,build straw-man's early,develop a culture of urgency etc
  • Understand that certain parts of knowledge work can be process-ified and that enables knowledge workers to focus creativity on the difficult parts
  • An appropriate technology support tuned to the level of 'rule based' decision making,which probably means google's desktop search running on a dump of information is probably what a consultant wants !
More to follow..

Jan 9, 2010

Review of Kotter's 'a sense of urgency'

Taking a diversion from the focus on self improvement, here is a note on another related area;enabling changes in organizations. An important recent addition around literature on Change Management has been 'a sense of urgency' by John P.Kotter.(2008, HBR Business Press). Kotter is known for eight steps for succesful large scale change ;
  1. Increase urgency
  2. Build the guiding team
  3. Get the vision right
  4. Communicate for buy-in
  5. Empower action
  6. Create short term wins
  7. Don't let up
  8. Make change stick
Kotter builds on the first step 'Increase Urgency' to write a practical book .Kotter first talks about complacency ( as a product of perceived success) and also about a false sense of urgency(activity vs productivity).He then goes on to describe one strategy and four tactics to increase true urgency
  • aim for the heart ( and not just the mind)
and 4 tactics
  • Bring the outside in (reconnect the outside and the inside)
  • Behave with urgency every day(demonstrate your sense of urgency)
  • Find opportunity in crises(crisis as friends)
  • Deal with the NoNos (remove and neutralise all urgency killers)
The book goes on to provide practical 'to do' approaches and illustrative cases for all of the above. The stories around behaving with urgency every day are in some ways an eye opener.We will talk about some of the tactics in subsequent notes

A must read for any one involved in enabling organizational change in some manner