How To Manage Projects

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You have the whole world at your fingertips, and if you want, you can get people to help you get work done, build systems and grow your business. The challenge is to be clear and manage projects with the desired outcomes articulated and identified.

It can sound obvious, but there are plenty of stories of unmet expectations and missed delivery. It’s why you can’t just hand off. You have to lead the whole way when you want a project meeting expectations.

Here are strategies to help you get projects done without the heartache:

  1. Define the requirements. Too many times, projects get started without true clarity. Spend the most energy being clear with the outcomes. Outline clearly what your software is supposed to do, how your machine is supposed to perform or your people are supposed to collaborate.
  2. Get the How. For those that are to deliver what you want, ask what their approach and strategy will be. Break down the work into a checklist of tasks that help you see the solution path. Set milestones for when you want updates. This way you have a feel for the progress.
  3. Review often. Daily updates are helpful to ensure you don’t get off track with expectations. You don’t have to micromanage. You just want to understand if there are any obstacles that would miss expectations, deadlines or the anticipated solution.
  4. Test the solution. When you have your project delivered, there are likely some nuances or gaps to how your solution will work in real life. Test quickly, give feedback and iterate.

If you work with employees or freelancers, they are executing based on the clarity and leadership you provide. I always assume that what’s in my head is not what’s in someone else’s head. So, the vigilance to keep communication flowing is critical. It keeps you from creating wasteful work.

The bigger the project, the more clarity has to be created and clarity is not free. It’s part of the hard work of getting things created in the real world.

Most People are Almost Fits at Best

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Business problems are largely people problems. And, in the same vein, business is people.

Yes, you can automate. That’s easier than dealing with people. Machines, software and automation follows rules, logic and functionality.

But people don’t fit what the job usually requires. They are almost fits at best. They don’t come in the specific shape, size, function and consistency your jobs require.

This is why it is critical to gauge a person’s preferences and strengths. At least you will start with an understanding of the likely behaviors and bents that you can come to expect to see.

If your business has critical roles to fill and a lot of risk for non-performance, then evaluating a person’s inclinations is a small investment. It’s costly to discover the nature in a person further down the road and realize the almost fit you were hoping for is not even a fit at all.

I am not sure people change much. Most people are characteristic. When you talk about your friends, you don’t see them becoming a 180 of themselves. They behave consistently. So it is with the talent you recruit and manage. There’s a latitude to their growth and change, but not something dramatic altogether.

When it comes to getting work done – sales made, projects out the door, ideas that stick, etc. – you can lose a lot of money and time if your team members don’t fit what’s required.

It’s painful. And it’s real. I’ve heard the story repeatedly from business owners.

Expect most people are almost fits at best. But test to see how misaligned they are for the requirements you objectively have for your business. Hope is a poor strategy. A little foresight, process and quantitative evaluation can go a long way towards seeing if you have a close enough fit vs. someone far off the mark.

Can you be a better hirer of talent?

Be a Person of Great Value

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How many caller id calls have you ignored? How many emails simply go unanswered?

We are all suffering from attention deficit and most people have to keep the noise out and focus just to survive and get what they think is important done.

If you are not a person of value in someone’s busy workday or life, then you are wasting their time and attention. And we have many ways to simply ignore what does not compel us to pay attention.

Deals get done with a lot of the important ingredients we know, but have to remain disciplined and focused on creating:

  • Attention. You have to matter.
  • Pain. What is it that your customer wants to improve or get rid of? What is it specifically?
  • Solutions. How do you make the pain go away or get resolved?
  • Conversations. Buying is largely done with human beings connecting and creating understanding and agreement. How many of these interactions are you having a day?
  • Value. You have to pay attention carefully and help people get what they want. Everyone’s different. Some people have kids. Others have health problems. Still others need a great networking connection.

Being a person of value means you are valuable. And you become valuable by continually growing personally. You know things that others can use. You apply your knowledge. You also know people that can help. You connect the dots and you proactively make connections.

When you start your days, say, “I will be a person of great value.”

Commit to being someone who gives continually.

And if you want to stay consistent, be sure to review the resource I share on using Gmail as a simple CRM. It can make your commitment happen day in and day out consistently with the people you want to be valuable towards.

Finding a Job That Fits You

Here’s a hard conversation to have. The reality of intelligence, stress tolerance and competence and how you fit in certain roles has an immense and real bearing on your success.

Great to listen to and what your belief system might be compared to reality, as Peterson talks about the political narratives which are both wrong, can keep you from success.

I like his advice to find the game where you are in the upper quartile. You don’t want to be lower and you don’t want to be at the top. Both have their consequences.

Furthermore, intelligence helps you win at the game of speed in this world of increased complexity. If you can see the answer before everyone, you have a major advantage.

If you haven’t quantified or understood your strengths and weaknesses, consider getting a strengths test done. It provides immense clarity on what fits you.

Play a game you can win and fit within. It’s a strategic choice.

Manage By Outcomes

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How do you know most of your work matters? There are probably a few things that matter to produce the outcomes important to an organization. Most work is simply effort and cost and does not produce meaningful results. You can see this with the ridiculing of office politics and people doing busy work in cartoons and TV shows.

If you are a manager, getting results starts with a system that focuses on outcomes. You have to be clear about what the key metrics that matter are. Then build your system to output those results.

It’s not easy because getting people doing what you need takes pig-headed determination. Furthermore, creating clarity is hard without clear strategy and vision. This often takes dialogue to get clear on what really matters to your business. Your attention and day-to-day is pulled by a ton of distractions and things that don’t matter.

If you’re not moving the needle lately, then think about how all the work that you and your team do contributes to the outcomes you want.

Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities. Or you have not refreshed your near term and long-term goals based on what you know today.

Anyone can work and be busy. But, getting the right things done requires taking pause and managing to the right priorities.

What outcomes are important to you now? Is your work set up to support those outcomes?

Do You Have Thousands of Emails in Your Inbox?

ZeroInbox Book for ProductivityI wrote the book, ZeroInbox, a few years ago to help business clients with a fundamental bottleneck in their workflow, their inbox.

I have trained executives, teams and workshop attendees on this methodology to increase speed, clarity and consistency in managing the relentless flow of email in business.

I think a lot of people simply give up because they feel overwhelmed and end up having thousands of emails in their inbox.

You miss a lot of opportunities, become unreliable, and bottleneck projects when you can’t manage your inbox effectively.

I would say that email is our work when it comes to knowledge work. It’s ubiquitous and a tool that each person knows how to use without extensive training in a specialized system like a CRM or ERP software tool.

And the better you can manage your inputs and outputs, the higher impact you can have getting things done.

Furthermore, you can take advantage of opportunities that you just can’t seem to get to or entertain because you are clear, ready and action-oriented.

When you are cluttered, it’s hard to make space for the bigger opportunities.

If you feel stressed or can’t seem to get on top of your email, then you have a process problem. It’s solvable. But you have to want to solve the problem.

Take a look at my productivity resource page to set up the process for your inbox and start the daily habit of speed, responsiveness and mise en place.

Peace of mind is possible. This is a fundamental piece of getting to the higher level good stuff in your work. Don’t let it get in the way.

Help, I’m Never Getting to the Important Work

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I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.

However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.

It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.

If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.

The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.

You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.

However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.

Are you getting the right things done consistently?

Why You Need a Knowledge Base

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Where does your knowledge reside?

When you are small, you can run and grow your business in your head. In the early days, it’s hard to think that you play many different roles because you do different jobs yourself. You can be the salesperson, accountant, marketer, product development manager, HR administrator and many other roles without calling these out as you move from task to task.

But, when your demand grows, you can’t do it all. You need more people to help grow the business and make your customers happy.

If you are under $1M, most of your effort should be on selling. If you are past $1M, you have to make the business work. Either way, your business is about knowledge. How things get done to create a customer and deliver your product or service consistently becomes harder when you scale up.

A knowledge base is a place that organizes the knowledge that’s in your head. It helps everyone on your team understand how to do their job clearly and interact with other people doing their respective jobs.

Furthermore, a knowledge base has the following benefits to growing a business:

1. Facilitates Onboarding and Training

It is a systematic way to help a new person get started and be productive in their hired job. It also provides professionalism, job satisfaction and clarity for new employees that could otherwise be disoriented, overwhelmed and frustrated in a new role.

2. Makes Information Sharing Efficient: 

A place that is structured and searchable makes it easy for your team members to get what they need, when they need it. If you have to keep answering the same question many times, rather than allowing people to find answers for themselves, you are the bottleneck in your business. It’s not a great use of time. Document it once and let it be consumed many times.

3. Increases the Value of Your Business

If you want to sell your business, what will you sell? Having systems that are clear and a methodology for growing easily and rapidly is extreme value to a buyer who wants to know how to operate the business. If you don’t have a knowledge base, then the information required to execute consistently is in your head. You can’t step out. You are the business.

4. Forces Clarity

How you do things now may change later. Having a system that is continually living and updated helps everyone stay clear for their own job. And information that is documented and does not make sense in context of your business goals or handoffs to other jobs can be debated, clarified and updated. You can push on refining your methodology as new realities emerge during business growth.

5. Helps You Lead

A large complaint of employees is that they see dysfunction from management or ineptitude. You can lead with clarity and conviction when your team sees commitment to systems, process and order. Furthermore, you can open up ideas and ways of doing things through continuous improvement to a knowledge base that should welcome better ideas and ways of executing from the people doing the work. Your leadership can center around knowledge rather than charisma. It takes the pressure off you and focuses it on business systems, where it should be.

Growing Your Business

The more people you get involved the more complexity you have to manage in your business. Clarity becomes a bottleneck to growing your business because you have to take time to explain, manage and oversee how things get done.

Furthermore, the jobs that have to get done are continually changing. You want the best ideas and approaches available and clear for everyone in a system that is repeatable and continually improving.

Here’s a resource to help you get started on building your knowledge base. It can help you start a critical piece to effectively growing your business.

Design for Quick Feedback

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

The great thing about business is that you can test ideas quickly to see if what you think or want to do is valuable. Small tests done quickly to get feedback from customers will go a long way towards pursuing or developing an idea further.

Yes, make a plan. Then try it out quickly to see if it resonates and creates interest and engagement.

Most things we see today are needed and businesses exist to give people what are known established needs. Things such as:

  • Car dealerships
  • Cleaning services
  • Grocery stores
  • Electronics stores
  • IT services
  • Banks

There is historical demand among the millions of people out there consuming such products and services.

If you are innovating on a new type of product or extending a concept, think about how to test your idea quickly by proposing and putting it in front of real customers. You can find out quickly via feedback how to further develop your idea or abandon it altogether.

The Egg of Columbus

Monument to the Egg of Columbus.

Yes, you could have done that after you have seen it done. We get that benefit today watching how people put together solutions by benchmarking what others do first.

The Egg of Columbus story where Columbus challenges his mocking critics to make an egg stand on its end highlights the perception of others’ success.

If you discover something and share it or bring a solution that was not readily apparent, it becomes common, likely underappreciated, knowledge.

I think humility all around helps a great deal. We benefit from seeing something done and using it in our work and life. Watch a Youtube video, research a topic or simply ask a neighbor how they did something. The insights can save you pain and time.

At the same time, you are contributing when you figure out and share your knowledge. Others can take a look at your creativity or determination and integrate it towards their pursuits.

Learning and sharing can save a great deal of cost when we are trying to do hard things. We should simply appreciate those that make the egg stand.