We all do it, right? In fact when we are not doing it, we are most likely talking about doing it, more specifically how much more of it we have to do. But what exactly is Work? Is it a simple equation or is it more than that?
Work = Time + Effort
More recently, in our information age obsessed culture, we strive to not just complete work, but to be proficient at it. We as knowledge workers have to be proficient, we have to learn to execute more precisely, to eradicate waste, be energy efficient. This is how we come to think of work, not as something we produce, but as to how we perform it. It is not satisfactory to think of work as something we do, but something we need to excel at, to become better at, to improve. It is vital that as individuals we devote ourselves to thinking about how we do work, and less about how much of it we produce. Productivity should not matter to us personally, because productivity is no longer a goal for the individual worker.
What matters is the How and not the What. This is why we learn different types of business improvement models, like LEAN, Six-Sigma, Continuous Improvement, Efficiency, Quality Improvement, improve upon processes and products. If you are thinking, this does not make sense, because my business cares about productivity, and while this is true for the business, it should not be true for you personally.
For example, I once had a fellow project manager relate to me how they did not like how a particular computer programmer spent their time. The project manager was equating a programmer’s work as the amount of time they spent in front of a keyboard, writing code.
Work = Time
My response to the project manager was that we did not pay that person to write code, we paid them to solve technical problems with our system. I then pointed out that the programmer had years of accumulated knowledge and expertise, and just because they were not sitting in front of a computer, did not mean they were not thinking about how to solve our technical problems. It was more important to me, that the programmer provided their best solutions. If I really wanted a quick solution I knew that they could also provide this, but if schedule was not a problem, I always preferred to defer it until later. My advice to my fellow project manager was to manage the project, and not manage how other people do their work, because no one likes that and it does not produce better results.
In the case of project management, I see work as a series of never ending issues, which I run through my own personal system in order to attain resolution.
Work = [Problem = (Knowledge + Communication + Execution + Monitoring)]
Issues come up every day, they arrive through email, in person, by phone, text, via your boss, customer, and sometimes by your own assessment of your project. In projects, everything fits into a Scope, Schedule, Cost category, but issues usually span some combination of the three. The other great truth is that in life all problems are people problems, because a process is just a series of steps. It is people who either do not understand the process or are refusing to execute the process, so in the end you have to deal with the people problems first.
This is the hardest part about life. You have to communicate! Ask questions, if someone comes to you with a problem, what is it that they are trying to solve? We are incredibly bad at figuring out what people want from us, if we do not ask questions. Communicate… define the problem, get agreement on what would satisfy all parties, and agree on how to monitor the outcomes.
Run the problem through your own personal knowledge system. Many people start out at a job and rely on the company to provide training and if that company has good documentation and processes, this is the system that people end up using. Long term this is not a substitute for a personal system. What I mean by that is that you should be a life-long learner and build your own system for being organized, focused, and having a proper toolbox of skills. There are tools that can help: task managers, Microsoft OneNote & Outlook, etc… try them out, take an online class, take a seminar, find what works for you. Next learn how to take feedback, get a mentor, someone who can give you honest criticism and who you can ask questions. Self improvement: focus on what areas you need for your work, my suggestions: improve your communication skills, learn how to give great presentations, get to know your customers, understand the entire cycle of your business, volunteer to help your peers. Coming back to my previous computer programmer example: accumulate knowledge and expertise. All of this becomes your personal knowledge system in time.
Once you have run through all the possible ways to fix the problem and had the discussions with the necessary peers or teams, go and execute the fix, the changes, the solution.
Monitor and Learn:
Solving for X is not the end. You need to take the extra steps to see what the outcomes and perceptions are. You will find that getting feedback is often difficult, but it is important to learn about your mistakes and your successes. For example, one of my favorite tools is Microsoft Excel and though I depend on it, I have learned the hard way to always keep a backup of my original data, to triple check my final analysis, and if at all possible, to have someone else validate my results. The worse feeling in the world is knowing you made a mistake in Excel, five minutes after you have delivered your file. Always have a backup, always validate, always incorporate lessons learned.
Feedback can be as easy as three questions: How am I doing? What could I do better? What can I do different? If you are trying to improve your team, replace the “I” with “We” and keep asking the same questions after every problem resolution, or on a monthly basis. Most of all do not wait to the end of your project, as most people tend to forget what happened in the past.
Make Everyone Better
A famous basketball player once said that it is not enough to be a great player, you have to improve those around you in order to truly win the game. This applies in the work place more than ever.
Success is a measurement that can be shared.