Efficiency and project management

Project management is supposed to improve the efficiency, productivity, and outcomes in companies and organizations. There are many tools for project management, web based, desktop based, tablet based. They follow different types of project management: agile, waterfall, scrum, and critical path just to name a few. Then there are different types of projects are you executing a planned product launch, or performing analysis, or exploratory research for a new direction. You also have different project managers with different personalities. So even with all these different factors the final goal does not change, successful completion of the project according to the criteria that you have set out. So, with all these different options how do you determine the most efficient path?

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

It is important to recognize that even though we all may have certain biases towards certain project management processes that there is not one-size fits all. Different personalities, different organizations, and different products and services means that we must be open to using all different types of project management to be successful as often as possible.

The Project Management Institute recommends implementing Organizational Project Management which is a corporation wide system for implementing and figuring out the correct project management process for each project. This might be a bit out of reach for the individual or smaller organizations with less resources. I think a good first step is to honestly asses the project managers strengths and contrast them with the needed skills for the particular project. If you find that there is a good cross between the skills needed and available then moving on and assessing the type of project and deliverables to determine the type and platform needed. Here are good assessments of different types of projects and project management types. Once you have familiarized yourself with the different options you will be able to properly assess the needs and implement the most efficient project management tool for your projects.

What is your favorite project management type and what kind of projects is it good for? Let me know below in the comments.

Good leadership = efficiency

There are a few posts out there about how to be a good leader and how to improve your efficiency and effectiveness as a leader. But I would like to make the statement that I think good and humane leadership equals better companywide efficiency. It is an interesting pattern that you see when you look for articles and tips about how to be a good leader you will find topics that will be similar to those you find in posts about:

Having a workplace with lower employee turnover is a more efficient organization. It is better for employee morale and the bottom line of the company. Training new employees costs the company time and money. Posts about this emphasizes things like respect, emotional intelligence, sharing vision, give and receive feedback, build trust, ask them what they want to do, autonomy, praise and recognize contributions, employee friendly policies, and good and open communication.

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Photo by Mikes Photos from Pexels

Having a motivated and engaged workplace is a more productive and efficient workplace. The articles suggest things like supportive leadership, communication, recognize and reward, create a positive environment, employee empowerment.

Improving company culture, efficiency, and productivity all have similar suggestions, improve communication, recognize and reward, positive workplace environment, supportive leadership.

All the things listed above improve the workplace and the organization for the better. What is interesting is how the same things that are listed for improving the workplace and organization have similar themes as how to be a good leader like, be passionate = share your vision, listen and communicate = good and open communication, positive attitude = positive workplace, encourage people to contribute = employee empowerment, offer rewards and recognition = praise and recognize contributions. A workplace and organization that is functional and efficient will be as good as it’s leader

A productive and efficient organization will be a reflection of the leadership and vice versa I think that is why the advice given for the topics listed above and how to be a good leader follow a similar theme.

Comment below and tell me what would you work on first as a leader and employee?

Efficiency and procrastination

Efficiency and procrastination are two different sides of the same coin. If you didn’t procrastinate so much you wouldn’t need to be so efficient (I say this to myself often enough). I have not yet found a tried and true way to eliminate procrastination from my life I go through periods where I am not able to pull back enough time to get things done or spend time with my loved ones because I have let procrastination creep too far into my life. Those are the points in my life at which I sit myself down and reset. I look at what tools I am not using and why I stopped using them. I evaluate whether it was the tool or me and maybe a bit of both. If the tool is too onerous to use even if I have devoted time to setting it up then it is not likely I will continue using it. I tend to procrastinate more on tasks that the consequences only effect me. If someone else would be detrimentally effected by my procrastination I will most likely not procrastinate, so work is generally safe.

The author of xkcd drew a comic outlining how he revamped his computer to prevent additional procrastination.

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Let Go by xkcd

I think my procrastination is why I was initially drawn to efficiency. I had wasted time so I had to become efficient in how I executed tasks. At some point I started to be efficient for the sake of itself not just because I had to. However, I can fall back into bad habits that force me to reevaluate. No one wants to admit to being a habitual procrastinator but I would postulate that efficiency came about because of the habitual procrastinator that still had the drive to be successful. This article by Stacey Marone at Asian Efficiency talks about how being productive is not a natural occurrence that being productive is hard work and takes time to develop. Adam Grant in his book Originals talks about how deliberate procrastination can improve certain kind of work. By letting the ideas percolate in the back of your mind you allow them time to mature into better versions. That is not to be used as an excuse to procrastinate on everything though some tasks just need to get done they don’t need to mature.

“Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.”
― Adam M. GrantOriginals: How Nonconformists Move the World

An often quoted adage is Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Though some use this to enable their procrastination they put off a task till the last minute saying that if I only have an hour left to complete the task it’ll only take an hour. This could lead to less than quality work though if you miss calculated the time for the task. I think the better way to apply Parkinson’s Law and be more efficient is by using it to realistically evaluating the time the task needs and executing it before the last hour available to ensure that you have completed quality work and then you can use Adam Grant’s procrastination creativity improvement and let the work hangout and see if you mind comes up with any last minute improvements.

How do you combine procrastination and efficiency? Let me know below in the comments.

Ticktock-Time Management

Time management and efficiency are natural partners. One of the main themes in time management blogs, articles, and post is efficient effectiveness. The sources of time management tips, posts, and books abound. People are constantly trying to optimize how they use their time. Time is a precious commodity and a massive industry.

  • How can I spend more time with my loved ones?
  • How can I get more work done?
  • How can I learn more skills?
  • How can I get more naps with my dogs in day?

If this article is correct that we are actually only productive 2 hours and 53 minutes out of each work day that means we really do need all these time management tips to get our work done. What could we do if we doubled that estimate?

Part of the reason I try to improve my efficiency is so that I do have more time. arrows-background-black-and-white-745365I want to be effective and a productive member of society but I also want more time to experience what life has to offer. Time management is an effective tool whichever method you choose to employee to get more time. I use a combination of different tools while at work and at home. I don’t have recommendations because I think it is something that needs to be customized for each individual and their situation. I highly recommend experimenting with different methods till you find a system that works for you. Don’t get discouraged because you try out some cool new method and you aren’t able to make it work for you and your situation. This is not a case of one size fits all like one of those horrible ponchos that keep coming back into fashion.

Time management is a practice in efficiency and all those sources that I mentioned above are trying to give us the gift of more time.

Comment below and tell me what you would do with that gift.

Organization Structure and efficiency

Organizational structure dictates many things about how a company runs and there a few different types of organization structures.

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Ultimate hierarchy

I think of the organizational structure as a spectrum with two ends. On one end, you have the traditional hierarchy and on the other you have the flat structure and within this spectrum you have everything in between. You have traditional companies like banks that are firmly on the hierarchical side and then companies like Valve that are on the flat side. I have worked in companies that have the more traditional hierarchical structure and ones that aim to be flat-ish.

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Flat-ish

I would recommend this set of articles here for a detailed explanation of spectrum of organization structures.

To me part of what keeps a company running efficiently are the systems and processes that it has in place. These systems should be designed with the organizational structure in mind. There are a few articles out there that express the opinion that a flatter company structure is better and will be more successful. I believe that for this to be true those companies must have robust processes and systems in place that manage how the organization functions. I think a poorly designed process or system can be propped up by a hierarchical organizational structure.

For example, say you have a quality issue in a hierarchical organization, the issue will be passed up the chain of command. The structure will support and help the quality assurance process and the communication process. If the same quality issue came up in a flat company there would need to be clearly design procedure in place to deal with the reporting and resolution of the issue. However, in the flat company the issue could possibly be resolved quicker because the resolution might not need to go through the same amount of people as in a hierarchical organization to get to the person needed to find the solution. Meaning that with a robust procedure in place that a flat organization would be more efficient. But a flat organization with weak or poorly designed procedures could quickly find itself floundering while a hierarchical organization might be able to survive the weak procedures. I am not making a value judgment about either type but more coveting the efficiency that could be had with a well-supported flat organization.

Tell me in the comments if you think organization structure can help efficiency, am I on the right track?

Scotland is fun efficiency!

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Scotland last week and it was amazing! I highly recommend Scotland in the shoulder season.

Map of Scotland

I did not expect to find efficiency as an underlying theme. I planned the trip in what I think was an effective and efficient manner. I set up the hotels in areas that were the most efficient for the activities that we wanted to do and transportation to be the most efficient use of time. I planned the trip using the tools like Google sheets and Wunderlist. So, even though I planned the trip in an efficient manner I did not expect it to keep popping up on the trip.

There are the obvious efficiencies that come about because of how long the area has populated with a large population density. This long-term use of resources has forced the people too become efficient. They have put this into practice for a long time in multiple ways. My favorite gruesome efficiency quote was from our Mercat Tours guide Mark in Edinburgh where he talked about how the Edinburgh government revamped its hanging technique so that they could make the process more efficient and effective so they could get more people “served”. The Real Mary King’s Close is an excellent example of efficiency. Whole entire neighborhood built in a small area one top of the other. The tour guide made the observation that Edinburgh built the building up higher because of the geography and because “they hated to waste space”. In modern day Edinburgh we saw that efficiency in work in the shops that used all their vertical space for stock freeing up floor space and in how the local train station was run the platforms assigned right before the boarding time to avoid congestion on the platforms. While driving around Scotland we saw the efficiency in use of land by how narrow the roads were, they didn’t waste any space on shoulders, and efficiency in time in how they employed roundabouts. I know people are very opinionated about roundabouts but by not having as many red lights and being able to stay in motion I felt like I was moving from point to point more efficiently.

Scotland is proud of its whiskey as it should be. They have been making the golden elixir since before 1494 when it was first mentioned. Because they have been at it for so long and had limited resources they are quite efficient in their production. The barrels are used multiple times and the raw materials are sourced locally which is always more efficient in time and transportation costs. During the whiskey tours and tastings, the guide talked about how they have improved and implemented automation to improve their efficiencies over the years.

It was a genuine pleasure to see Scotland and talk with the locals the added bonus was when they talked about efficiency with no prompting from me I promise.

What efficiencies have you seen or experienced on other countries? Comment below and tell me about them.

Efficiency = disruptive

The business world is always on the lookout for the next disruptive technology. Disruptive is defined as innovative or groundbreaking. Why are these technologies groundbreaking? Usually because they have found a different way of doing something that was more efficient than the traditional methods. Uber made it more efficient to get a ride. Dropbox made it more efficient to store stuff in the cloud. Airbnb made a more efficient use of empty rooms in the house. Blockchain made a more efficient use of distributed ledger technologies. SpaceX is looking for a more efficient path to space travel. Stripe made paying other more efficient. Slack made team communication more efficient. There are many examples and I would say that if you haven’t picked up on what I think is the common theme then you probably stopped reading this post caused I have bored you with my efficiency worship.

The technologies I listed above are all consider unicorns and they are many posts

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Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash

dedicated to them along with figuring out the formula they used to be the next unicorn. I will leave that part to the experts because what interests me is this societal urge to bring efficiency to the masses. I believe that if you asked most people what was compelling about each of these companies or any new disruptive company they are not going to list efficiency. It is all about perspective. But I believe it is also a bit about appearance efficiency is boring and does not make a compelling pitch story. What efficiency means to me is time and money savings and that is a compelling pitch that new disruptive companies can make.

Social media unicorns can even be seen in this perspective. They enabled the efficient building of a communities and peer to peer global communication. If those platforms were not efficient or user friendly they probably would not have been widely adopted. So I guess if I was going to look for the next disruptive technology I would be looking at how it made whatever industry it was in more efficient and effective.

Comment below and tell me what industry you think will be the next disruptive technology. I think distributed ledger technologies but I am biased.

Efficient and effective communication.

Remember the adults in Charlie Brown animations? “Wah wah wah” is all you would ever hear. Do you ever feel like that is happening in real life? All you are hearing is “wah

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Wah Wah Wah Picture Credit

wah” or all other people are hearing is “wah wah”? I know I am guilty of doing the first not paying attention when someone is talking to me and I know the second happens often enough. Effective communication is hard, efficient communication even harder. There are whole businesses and industries built on trying to improve communication.

Since the beginning we have worked to improve how we communicate. We have tools and people that help us communicate team chat apps like Slack, various video chat apps like Skype, self-help books, and therapists. We have companies that determine it important enough to have C-level position dedicated to it, CCOs.

 

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Quick history of communication. Picture Credit

Communication is nuanced and depends much upon the people involved. I have in my personal life and in business made what I thought were very clear statements that left no room for interpretation that were not what I had intended when they were communicated back to me. I am not placing blame I am trying to demonstrate how hard it is to communicate effectively.

I work with wonderful smart people, and some of them I have spent 4+ years with. You would think that with the respect we have for each other and the time together that we would clearly communicate with each other. We have had hour long meetings where we summarize at the end and discover that take away for each person differ slightly. What we then do is re-summarize the salient details and get everyone on the same page. We all have different learning styles and communication styles which means that it took us a little while to figure out that we were not all taking the same information/message, but once we figured it out we were able to mitigate the effects. We use a few other techniques like written summaries of meetings along with the verbal.

So how do we continuously improve our communication? We need to acknowledge a few items first.

  • Our communication with people will always be colored by the person on the receiving end.
  • Communication is a compromise between what you are trying to communicate and what the receiver is hearing.
  • Neither party is wrong just misunderstood

After you acknowledge the above you have already started down the path of more efficient communication.

There are many wonderful experts out there that specialize in helping people communicate in their personal lives and professional. The people will be able to help you develop the skills you want in a more efficient and effective manner than I. Here are a few to get you started. Remember efficiency in all things is a work in progress have patience with yourself and others.

Reach out and communicate. Comment below and tell me how you have made your communication more effective.

How being effective and efficient has improved my personal life(Part 2)

 

The disclaimer and background from my last post still apply, nothing has changed!

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Dresser from Red Chair

We live in a small house with a big dog that thinks they are tiny and a small dog that thinks they are huge. This means we have to be diligent about how we organize our stuff. Organization needs to be natural, if it is a pain to put something away then it is just going to sit on the nearest flat surface until we have company showing up and we need to make the place look presentable. It has been a long process to figure out what felt natural and the develop our efficient process around that. There are some things that are gimmies like keys in a bowl by the front door but there were some things like bike backpacks that we had to figure out the best space for them that also meant we didn’t have to dig them out of a drawer or closet to use or put away. Sitting down and taking the time to figure out what we actually needed very accessible versus slightly accessible involved a few conversations and configurations. First because we used some items less than we thought and we as a couple do not always have the same needs and priorities.With our current configuration and furniture, we are as optimized as we will probably get without getting different furniture. Getting different furniture is part of the future plan and I have made a Quickplan for the house that has all the rooms and outside in it with the different optimizations in it. This Quickplan helps us prioritize the projects we want to do and see the dependencies and budget for each room. We have a dresser from Aaryn Walker’s Red Chair that we use as our front entry table because it gives us more space to store stuff. The dog’s leashes, poo bags, scarfs, hat, gloves, and shopping bags all go in this area because those are the things we have found we grab on the way out the door. We have digitized most of our music to free up that space and just kept the vinyl. We have done this in most of the rooms over time putting the often-used items in the easiest to access places. There are sites that specialize in post about how to organize your house and one of the ones that I love is The Spruce.

For our internal organization we use a few tools, and if the truth be told I am the one who runs those tools while my partner is the one who did most of the work in the last post. I think it works out to be fair. The tools we use to share the chores is Wunderlist. We have also determined that I would much rather do the dishes than laundry and that my partner is better at the laundry. By splitting the chores based on what each of us doesn’t mind doing we have found that we are more effective and efficient at the chores. To maintain a schedule we use a shared calendar, we currently use iCal but I change from product to product looking for one that will fulfill all our needs, which since Sunrise got bought I haven’t really found one.

What I would say is a take away from this post is that it takes time to get organized and doing it organically will help you find the path of least resistance. Don’t worry if you try someone’s method for organizing your home so that you are more efficient and it doesn’t work for you, try another one until you find one that fits you.

Comment below and tell me how you have organically organized your home.

How being effective and efficient has improved my personal life.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert, perform any of the below processes or task perfectly, and I know different life circumstances will make some of the items I am about to talk about easier or harder. This post is merely meant to show how I have managed to claw back some time in my own life by implementing certain efficient and effective standard operating procedures(SOPs) and physical changes.

Quick background: I share a house with my significant other and two dogs, that is of average size when it was built in the 1940’s. We have what may be considered an above average amount of toys for the different hobbies we enjoy and way too many dog beds. For us this means that we have done a certain amount of optimizing to the physical infrastructure of the house, we are in progress on optimizing our furniture to make the most effective use of space, and if we make the mistake of not immediately putting stuff away the house will quickly look like a hurricane passed through recently.

This post will concentrate on the physical changes we have made to our home so far and why I think they are important.

We live in a small space and we have too many fun things that we want to do. By taking the time to better organize the physical infrastructure in our home and lives we are able to spend more quality doing what we want and less time trying to find the stuff that might be necessary for the fun times. Even though we invest a certain amount of time and money into our projects I believe this is a good investment because of the time we get back later but being more efficient.

I know there are people out there who make a living at helping you organize your home and it seems like the Europeans have some amazing small home storage systems but what follows is what we were able to do ourselves with our budget and skill set. We made four main changes to the physical infrastructure of the house that were to make better use of the space.(closet, basement, crawl space, and bike hanger) The closets: we added an additional hanging rod to our front entry closet to be able to store more coats, we would like to add built in cubbies for additional storage of shoes in that closet. The bedroom room closet, from a downloaded set of plans we made our own built in closet system which gave us 1/3 more hanging space and floor to ceiling cubbies, the second bedroom closet is next on the list for this treatment. The pantry got similar treatment to the bedroom closet the old shelves ripped out and new stronger deeper adjustable ones were put in. The closet projects were all undertaken at different times each took about one full weekend to complete though sometimes the actual timeline was longer due to taking breaks to go have fun, and for materials each cost under $250. Doing these as we had time and money made it less overwhelming for novices to undertake, plus liberal dosing of wine and whiskey. The closet remodel I like the best is the pantry that has made the biggest difference for me. Being able to see what we have in stock and easily access the ingredients has a big impact on our big cooking days.

We have a basement that is partially finished and is partial crawlspace. For most people, the crawlspace is just a nice spider collecting space. For us it is a clean usable storage space. My partner in crime and life found an amazing way to convert the space. He lined it with thick vinyl type material sealed the seams and then built a carpeted platform. So, we are able to store and organize all of our seasonal and seldom used items which frees up the rest of our basement space, garage space, and closet space which is so valuable to us. We still need to finish installing lights in the area to make accessing it even easier. Having our seasonal stuff easy to access yet out of the way makes the traditional decorating for the holidays more efficient and when we switch from our summer to winter sports it is an easy and efficient switch over.

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Crawlspace: The suitcases get used the most so they are near the front.

The garage is a work in progress but has one of my favorite projects. My above-mentioned partner has a bike problem. He doesn’t think he has a bike problem but since we have a one car garage it is a space problem. He made this hanging bike rack that has allowed us to store ten bikes that are all different types in the width of a one car garage and in a manner that you do not have to remove one to get to another. The bike rack is all DIY and made from parts that we obtained at the local hardware store. A long track and several barn door hangers with homemade hooks for the bikes.

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Garage: Big bikes, little bikes, fast bikes, slow bikes.

If you are thinking about attempting any projects that can improve your physical infrastructure the best piece of advice I can give is to go with good enough. If you are a novice it will be hard to get the cuts perfect and for a closet where no one will really see it I think it is better to have a cut that is a little wobbly and not waste the money on more materials as long as the build is solid.

If you have any questions about how we planned out these projects or where we got the ideas or plans please contact me. Also if you have any tips to share with me I would love to hear them comment below.

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