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Archives for May 11, 2018

Epic Photos, Personal and Career Lessons from my (solo) motorcycle ride across North America

Author: Yussef Hafez (2018)

Last year, I took a break from work — a long one — traveling over 31,000 kilometers through 30 cities across North America and over 100 days on a motorcycle – alone.  I left my home in Toronto and headed across Canada, up to Alaska, down to Arizona, across to Louisiana, and back up to Toronto – with a few extended stops in between.  It was epic in every sense of the word.  Let me tell you, in that time I had come to see the connection between travelling solo and work.

Though I enjoyed it immensely, travelling on my own, like any life path you choose, had its trade-offs.  On the plus side, I was the master of my own schedule; I saw what I wanted to see, did what I wanted to do and stayed as long as I wanted to stay.  I decided where to sleep, what to eat and which direction to go.  But traveling solo, for all its inherent freedoms, also entails some hardships. I missed having someone to share in the adventures, or relive the actions of the day with.  I lived and could have died by my own sword, so to speak.

I realize now, that travelling solo provided experiences, lessons and personal skills that are also invaluable at work — experiences I had not learned in a boardroom.  Here’s what my epic road trip taught me.

Seek The Counsel of Others

Taking stock of your skills and experience or lack thereof may be a sobering task, but understanding what you can and can’t do on a solo trip is imperative.  I wanted to camp at many of the gorgeous national parks this continent had to offer, and as you can imagine, there is limited space on a motorcycle to pack for a 100+ day road trip.  I needed to educate myself on solo camping, so I enlisted the help of those more knowledgeable than I.  The result meant, I only brought the equipment necessary (tent, sleeping bag, stove, camera and laptop), eschewed the unnecessary pieces (like a portable camping kitchen sink? Really? I wouldn’t need one?), and after a few great nights under the stars, gained the confidence I needed.  And the reward was more than worth it.

After a self-assessment, seek out those that have greater experience and leverage their expertise.  In the workplace, finding those that can further a project based on their experience and skill set is a must.

Change Is Inevitable

Although I planned every detail of my trip, things still went awry from time to time. Having a solid plan still requires flexibility in order to adjust and embrace unforeseen circumstances – this adaptability can set you up for success when you least expect it.  Like the time I passed up the chance to stay at a hotel and instead slept under a gas station canopy — in a camp chair, wearing a mosquito net and rain suit.  Why?  Because my bike was low on gas and the station (the only one for another 150 km) was closed until 7 am.   Predictably I slept little, but I awoke that morning to have one of the best diner breakfasts ever!

Successfully adapting to change builds your resilience.  Creating successful personal experiences from unfortunate situations is something you will draw upon – to remind yourself that you have the courage and ability to overcome adversity and succeed (and thanks to my mosquito net) relatively unscathed.

Pay Attention to the Little Things

Big picture thinking is necessary, sure.  In many cases avoiding the ‘weeds’ can really maintain your sanity, while at the same time allowing you to focus on the destination.  But, when you’re on your own, pay attention to the details since there’s no one else to do it for you.  As you execute on the day–to-day of your job, you have the dual role of maintaining the course (big picture thinking) while requiring the occasional dive into the weeds (seeing the detail) — for the details make up the big picture, and it’s imperative to understand both.  Had I missed the little clues along the Merced River, I’d never have found the small trail that led me to capture this beautiful shot of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

There were times along the trip, like in the Yukon, where I appreciated having packed my telephoto. It was comforting to see that this fella was otherwise occupied, when I happened upon him in Brooks Falls, Alaska.

Ignite the Fire Within

Taking time off to indulge in your passions outside of work can reignite your passion for work.  Unplugging the phone, disabling email notifications, and truly embracing your passions, can leave you more energized and focused when you do return to work.  It can stimulate how you approach things, and change your perspective — thereby making you a more effective contributor.

My trip allowed me to merge two of my passions into one. My love of photography and my motorcycle collided here with the Milky Way backdrop in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

And – mine was magnificent!

Having survived this incredible solo experience, and happily back at work for the next while, the only decision I have now is – where to go next?

For the complete story, click to see my photography for more inspiration:

Alaska Volume 1

Alaska Volume 2

 

It’s Not Rocket Science: Teamwork Takeaways From An Aviation Consulting Internship

teamwork-takeaways


In June of 2016, having just finished my second year of Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, I donned my best guess at ‘business casual’ and went in for the first day of my engineering internship on an aviation consulting team. I was already apprehensive about my lack of knowledge with respect to aviation, which wasn’t helped by the fact that everyone on this team had completed at least as many degrees as I had years of university.  When my supervisor (a literal rocket scientist) told me I’d be ‘fine’, I took it with a grain of salt.

The months that followed taught me a lot about myself, teamwork and about the professional world. Here are 3 takeaways that have stuck with me since then:

Embrace Simplicity, Trust Yourself to Learn

The project I was focused on over the ensuing 3 months centred around optimizing an airport’s existing resources in order to delay a $500 million expansion project for as long as possible. To do this, we had to use projected flight data to simulate future flight schedules. This analysis incorporated accounting for each flight’s size, point of origin, destination, wingspan, passenger capacity, loading and unloading durations, and a host of other factors.

This was a typical problem that many clients faced and outsourced due to its apparent complexity and multifaceted nature. I felt quite overwhelmed when I was first presented with a flight schedule for a large municipal airport. Seeing this, my supervisor smiled a little and told me to “keep it simple, focus on what you understand, and clear away the complicated stuff for later.”

I did just that, only accounting for a small number of variables in my initial analysis, and asked for feedback often over the following weeks. Slowly, and then all at once, I got into the swing of things and was able to make decisions with the data that would have mystified me at the start of the internship. I wasn’t great off the bat, but because the people around me trusted me to learn and improve, I was able to pick up on what I was missing and start doing meaningful and impactful work.

When Others Flail, Leaders Emerge

From my first day on the job, I could tell that the team had a great deal of respect for its leader (let’s call him James), but I couldn’t put my finger on why. He wasn’t the hardest worker on the team, he didn’t make fewer mistakes than everyone else, he hadn’t been there the longest, and he very openly spent at least an hour a day following every form of professional soccer on the planet. Sure, James was smart and personable, but so was everyone else on the team. Maybe James worked hard, but so did everyone else. I kept wondering about this, and then crunch time hit.

Suddenly, our team of 8 had to do the work of 20. Everyone started putting in 12 hour days. Tension started to build, and for the first time, the possibility of not delivering the work on time loomed. Bags appeared under eyes, voices were raised, tempers flared, and as this storm threatened to sink the ship, it was James who got it to shore.

What came across to me as a nonchalant style of leadership revealed itself to be focused and selfless. When everyone else was losing their minds, James was always cool, collected, calm and considerate. He focused not on activity but on results, he made sure to take care of the members of his team when they forgot to do so, and he redirected any fire from the company or from clients to himself, all to allow his team to deliver valuable work on time.

In a word, James was thoughtful, at a time when everyone else was finding it hard to be. He showed me that a true leader is toughest when the chips are down, and his example has been one I’ve recalled many times since.

Remove Blockers First

Twice a week, no matter how busy it got, the team had a meeting to discuss one specific thing: ‘blockers’. We would say openly, without judgement, what (if anything) was preventing us from working as we’d like to, and what could someone else do to remove said blocker. Barring any previously scheduled client-facing priorities, we would prioritize removing these blockers.

On the surface, this activity resolved situations that force you to wait on someone else to perform a trivial action before you can continue with your task. We’ve all been there – if only they would check their email and just forward you that file, or if only they would take 5 minutes to review this document that you’ve spent 3 days on so that you can publish it – then your productivity would be so much higher, right? Focusing on eliminating obstacles removed that communication gunk that clogged our pipes and increased our effectiveness. It also served what was perhaps an even more important function: building trust.

Taking time twice a week to commit to actions that helped each other was a big part of what made this team as tight-knit and effective as it was. Even when my teammates were inadvertently blocking progress, knowing that we were on the same side and had each other’s best interests at heart let us resolve issues quickly. Everyone on the team could trust that the person beside them was working for the betterment of the organization and the achievement of a higher goal. This simple (but by no means easy) practice turned 8 individuals into one of the most effective teams I’ve ever been a part of, and completely changed what I see as value-added work.

Over a year later, and having absolutely nailed ‘business casual’ since then (if I do say so myself), I’ve learned to embrace simplicity, to stay calm under pressure, and that working together to remove blockers will make me a more confident and effective leader, professional, and teammate. If nothing else, I can confidently say one thing about whatever I tackle next: at least it’s not rocket science.

 

The 3 Ingredients to Instituting a Cultural Epidemic in Your Organization

Organizations can learn from “Inception”, “The Tipping Point” and “The Speed of Trust”

We’ve written about a few negative things organizations do in our recent blog articles, like our three-part series on “How to Fail at Communication”.  In this one, we take an alternative, more prescriptive approach and lay out an idea that’s worked for us many times over within organizations.  It combines three things that I personally like:

  1. The movie “Inception” (2010, Christopher Nolan)
  2. The book “The Tipping Point” (2000, Malcolm Gladwell)
  3. The book “The Speed of Trust” (2006, Stephen M.R. Covey)

These three things at first glance may not seem to fit together.  But, let’s look closer – and note that you don’t have to have watched or read any of these to get it.

As a consulting organization, we realize a significant number of experiences per unit time within a large variety of organizations – we are exposed to fantastic cultures, acceptable cultures and bad cultures.  We can see the patterns and attributes that relate to great cultures, and the absence of those in bad cultures.  However, it doesn’t require a Ph.D. to detect when you’re in a bad culture – you can feel it.  So, how can one begin to change the tide?  While this may seem oversimplified, there are three key ingredients needed to get started.

1. Acknowledge action must be taken and begin “Inception”

If you Google the word “entropy”, you will get a much better definition than I can give you, however, the premise is this: over time, and as a general law of energy, systems naturally lose energy.  I won’t bore you with the specifics, but scientists see this repeatedly in nature.

Organizations operate in the same way – if you don’t inject positive energy into a negative culture, it will continue to deteriorate.  The rate at which it deteriorates depends on a variety of factors, but once you recognize there is a negative culture, you must acknowledge that an action MUST be taken to offset entropy.

In Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award-winning film “Inception”, the premise is that one can “hack” someone else’s mind.  You can implant an idea into someone’s subconscious via a dream. That one simple idea can be so outrageously powerful, it can result in actions that lead to different outcomes in their lives and the lives of others.  While this notion is romanticized by Hollywood and for the sake of a film, I think there is merit in examining its utility in organizational dynamics.

We’ve seen “ideas” in organizations take rise from the bottom of the ranks, not in some top-down cultural movement sponsored by the CEO.  We’ve seen simple ideas and cultural tenants move rapidly from the hourly line worker and spread like wildfire through the organization.  Alternatively, we’ve seen the most well-thought-out, dramatic, and expensive top-down cultural turnarounds fall flat on their faces, in some cases creating an even worse culture than what existed previously.

So, the notion of inception is this – even the smallest of ideas, from the lowest in the hierarchy, can spread like wildfire throughout an organization.  Another word that can describe a phenomenon such as this, although normally used in a negative connotation, is ‘epidemic’.

2. Institute an epidemic

In Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling novel, “The Tipping Point”, Gladwell introduces the notion of an epidemic as something that can be architected with the right recipe.  He goes on to describe epidemic-like phenomena such as the dramatic rise in sales for a particular type of shoe, or how videos go viral and spread like wildfire over the internet.  These epidemics seemed to possess similar traits:

  1. The law of the few– The 80/20 rule (or the Pareto Rule), something many of us are familiar with, states that often a small number of things account for the largest change or effect. You don’t need thousands of people to introduce your epidemic, you only need the right few.
  2. The stickiness factor– Just because you have the right people or vehicles carrying your epidemic doesn’t mean your idea will “stick”. Those elements that stick may not be apparent at first but will attack human beings at the conscious and subconscious level.  They are deeply personal and relatable and possess a profoundly memorable quality.
  3. The power of context– Consider the environment your organization is currently in, its surroundings, and the external socioeconomic influences.  These are all critical factors to consider before instituting an epidemic.  A change that would spread in the 1950s may not be appropriate or even relevant in today’s age.

Once you have the right message for your epidemic (according to the traits above), you will then need to address who will carry the news of this impending epidemic.  Gladwell goes on to describe the three types of carriers you’ll likely need:

  • Connectors – These people are connected to everyone and will spread the message.  We all know there are a few people in every organization that know everyone, know everything, probably gossip, and are at the epicentre of what’s going on in the company.
  • Mavens – These are the people the Connectors go to to find out more about the idea.  Mavens will dive deep into the idea to understand everything there is to be known about it.  They pay attention to detail and immerse themselves in this activity.
  • Salesman – These are people that will convince the Connectors and the rest of the organization when they need convincing.  They are persuasive types that thrive on the success of changing someone’s opinion or perspective.

These three carriers, if drawn in a Venn diagram, will likely need to intersect strongly and serve as the militia of individuals to carry your message downstream.  Therefore, we draw a conclusion about patterns and attributes that relate to great cultures, and the absence of those in bad cultures.

3. Pay attention to trust

Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust”, is the final piece to this puzzle.  It adds in a multiplier effect to this epidemic equation, which relates to the ripple effect the notion of “trust” undertakes.  Does your organization trust itself?

Covey goes on to describe trust as a series of ripples with the epicentre starting with self, branching out to relationships, then organizational, then market, and finally societal.  This forms a ‘quasi-trust’ hierarchy.

If you don’t trust yourself and struggle with trust in your relationships, then how can those relationships (the three types of carriers in this case) trust you?  How can the organization trust your relationships to carry the correct message?  Alternatively, if you trust yourself and your relationships but the organization doesn’t trust itself, either via a series of failed cultural improvements, failed turnarounds or leadership turnover, can the epidemic spread quickly?

These are not ‘cut and dry’ situations in most organizations.  We have seen many iterations where organizations experience ‘trust’ breakdowns.  Most ride on an organization’s inability to trust itself and the people within.  We’ve also seen dramatic improvements to organizational cultures simply by getting an organization to adhere to a set of ground rules that work to build trust.  No fancy consulting, strategic plans or statistical models here; simply focus on establishing trust and adhere to basic commitments.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve thought through and deployed your perfectly crafted epidemic, the final step is to monitor carefully to learn how this idea or change spreads through the organization.  Did it work?  Or, did it get stuck somewhere?  Observe its path, understand the bottlenecks, choose when to re-engineer the message, utilize different carriers, or focus on building trust.  This final step will ultimately help your intended idea or message to multiply.

An idea is like a virus, it is resilient, and often highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.

— Inception, 2010.

 

8 Business Lessons Learned from Mountaineering


Author: Matt Knarsten (2018)

Check out my TEDx Talk Here!

Mountaineering is the sport of climbing mountains. It could also be known as slow walking uphill while not feeling very well, coupled with extended periods of intense boredom, often interrupted by moments of sheer terror. You might think there is very little sense in mountaineering, but there is one thing that binds this community together and what all mountaineers seek: ADVENTURE!

I began mountaineering seven years ago, through the New Zealand Alpine Club and have been climbing in North and South America, Europe and New Zealand, having just completed my most recent 19-day adventure on the highest mountain in North America, ‘Denali’ in Alaska.

So why bother listen to a guy that climbs a bunch of mountains?

While I have successfully summited several mountains, there have been plenty of unsuccessful attempts as well.  It is true what they say – you learn from your mistakes. The mountains are a real-world training ground where making wrong decisions can lead to injury or death. This makes mountaineering an effective, yet ultimately unforgiving, teacher. There are many lessons that can be learned from the mountains and some of the best examples are the parallels that mountaineering shares with the business world.

Lesson #1: Preparation is everything, the plan is nothing

Most plans are useless as soon as they are put in motion. The real value of the original plan is the preparation of defining the goal or the outcome we desire to clarify the destination. When embarking on a big trip, it’s important to break down the climb into realistic steps. This is helpful for planning the trip (i.e. food, fuel and equipment requirements) and shifting the goal from being daunting to manageable. Similarly, you would not be able to execute a project without breaking it down to tasks and assessing required and available resources.

Ambition is great for business leaders, but remember that your team needs to be able to execute the vision. Mt Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington State at 4,392m. On both occasions, we got turned around because of poor and aggressive planning on my part and not assessing the whole teams strengths and weaknesses effectively, especially with regards to fitness and comfort with exposure.

Assessing the whole team for their strengths and weaknesses should be done early, as it is vital to be aware in your team’s expertise gaps and bridge these before you set off on your adventure. Whether the gaps lie in experience, technical knowledge or fitness, having upfront open and honest conversations about this sets your team up for success.

Lesson #2: Bigger isn’t always better

Aconcagua

Expedition style is an approach to mountaineering that is very similar to the way that a lot of businesses are run today. It’s a powerful way to climb mountains, but it’s also very expensive, very inefficient and not particularly effective at adapting to changing conditions (e.g. weather). They are big teams, typically guided, and have a large reliance upon fixed infrastructure. You get told what clothing to bring by your guide, you’re provided your equipment, your food is cooked for you and water boiled, your daily activities are predetermined and any change in this schedule results in a potential failed summit attempt similar to expedition style, businesses that operate in this manner can be robust, but tend to suffer from bureaucratic processes and hierarchies, chronic inefficiencies, slow response times to change, and have a tendency to fail when significant unexpected events occur.

Another approach is alpine style or light and fast. These are small teams that carry only what is needed for the climb. The focus shifts from a siege mentality of “attacking” the mountain to a light and fast approach to the summit. Alpine style has many similarities to lean and agile project management as it is highly collaborative with no structural hierarchy and no central leader. Instead there is shared decision making responsibility; You are in a constant feedback loop because you’re the one making decisions, learning from your mistakes and 100% accountable. It’s an empowering approach to mountaineering.

Lesson #3: Surround yourself with people who are better than you

Teamwork is the ability to work together towards a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.

  • Teamwork produces results – It’s almost impossible to climb many mountains without a team. Mountaineers need to trust their life with their team and know when to ask for help. Similarly, in business, don’t feel too proud to ask for help when you need it. It’s a team that makes an organization successful, not individuals
  • Seek people that ooze positive energy – You’re going to need optimistic people around you during the tough times when your reserves are running low
  • Like your team – You’re going to be stuck together for a long time!

In Alaska, having a strong team is crucial. It’s one of the coldest places on earth with tons of objective danger all around you. Around this point on the Kahiltna Glacier a lot of people fell into crevasses while we were on the mountain, with one chap even needing the US army to assist in his rescue. At one point when we were crossing a crevasse, the area around one team member collapsed so we were all grateful of our capable team members.

Lesson #4: Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing

Mt. Victoria

In the mountains, you are constantly exposed to danger (both objective and subjective hazards). This makes effective risk management the most important part of any trip.

It all starts with risk awareness. You’ve got to know your environment and constantly scan it. This is the same in business where your company is going to be in grave danger if you fail to identify threats and move quickly.

The next step is risk mitigation. Do the groundwork first and make sure you don’t take unnecessary risk. While you need to take risks in business, there is no point in going about it foolhardily. Before you take any risk, make sure you’ve done the homework first and have a support system to help prop you up if the risk doesn’t pay off. When you’re in the mountains, that means setting camps, having accessible emergency equipment and taking necessary precautions. Only after establishing a sound infrastructure, should you be comfortable about taking risks.

Lesson #5: S**t happens, deal with it

The distinguishing mark of true adventures, is that it is often no fun at all while you’re on one. The example that springs to mind in this instance is a crevasse fall I had while crossing the Bonar Glacier when attempting to climb Mt Aspiring in New Zealand in 2010. It had snowed a lot the night before and my climbing mate and I were inexperienced. We were roped up with me leading and all of the crevasses were covered over when I was swallowed by a crevasse. I ended up falling about 10 metres before landing on a ledge, which saved us from both disappearing into the crevasse. It took us about 3 hours to get me out and then we ran out of time to get back to the hut so we ended up sleeping out that night.

  • Don’t let go – You typically find that your mind gives up before your body does
  • When things go wrong – stay positive. See it as character building and an opportunity to develop your resilience. It’s how you handle yourself after something goes wrong that counts
  • “Just keep going” – When something doesn’t go to plan, pick yourself up, remove yourself from danger, regroup and then keep moving forward

It’s the same in business. You will experience all sorts of setbacks, but you should not let it get you down. Stagnancy is not an option. Keep working hard and moving towards your destination. Even baby steps count towards achieving your vision.

Lesson #6: Seize the day and put the least possible trust in tomorrow

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take” – Lewis Carroll

Aoraki Mount Cook

Seizing opportunities before they are gone is the only way you can reach the summit of some mountains. You have to take advantage of weather windows, particularly on mountain ranges that experience severe weather conditions, there may only be a few days a year that you can feasibly have a crack at the summit. The same is in business where if you don’t take up an opportunity, a competitor will and you’ll be left in their wake.

Commit – Reaching the top is a collection of steps. Sometimes the first step is the hardest when you know there are thousands of steps to go and it’s dark and freezing outside your tent. That’s why it’s so important to break your trip and days down into small, manageable increments and it’s the same in business with any large project. It would be daunting to embark on a business transformation project looking at it holistically, but broken down into small projects or functional groups and then further into project steps and milestones, makes it achievable and easier to commit and take that first step.

Pico de Orizaba, Mexico

Lesson #7: It’s not about the summit, it’s about the journey to get there

The most fulfilling moments I have had when climbing, is not reaching the summit. It is when you are faced with some unforeseen challenge and you turn to your climbing partner with one of the most important of management questions: Now what?

Sometimes you must go backwards to go forwards – acclimatizing to big mountains thin air is a long and frustrating but necessary process to have a shot at reaching the summit. Climbers will typically climb from Basecamp up to Camp 1 and then come back down to Basecamp to sleep, before moving up to Camp 1.

“Failure” is always an option – know when to step back. Sometimes you’re turned around by weather, insufficient preparation, accidents or a team member unable to continue. It is simply not safe for you to continue climbing. Recently, Everest has a success rate of roughly 50%. So out of approximately 1,300 people that spend 2 months trying to climb Everest this year, only 641 people made it to the top. While we tend to reward people with perfect track records, sometimes it’s the people who stumbled and have taken risks that have the most to offer an organization. It’s important to give yourself and others room to fail. Often, those who have never failed have not pushed themselves enough.

Learn from your mistakes and enjoy the journey – Good judgment comes from experience.

Experience comes from bad judgment. 

Lesson #8: If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough

Denali, AlaskaDream big – It’s a cliche, but it’s true. You are going to need a deep level of commitment to reach the summit of

your mountain and overcome the obstacles you face in business.

Passion wins – Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Your business needs passionate employees to be successful.

Focus on the “why” – Focus on forging a path that will take you to where you really want to go instead of chasing someone else’s goal.

Believe in your mission – You need to believe in the value of your mission and fiercely embrace it. It is the strength of your belief that generates the unshakable commitment you will possess to achieving these missions.

Nothing in this world that’s worth having comes easy

Now before you head out to the hills for your business education, it is important for you to know the three rules of mountaineering to prepare you for what lies ahead:

  1. It’s always further than it looks
  2. It’s always taller than it looks
  3. And it’s always harder than it looks

But that’s what makes it so rewarding!

Happy climbing!

 

Leaders have 3 options when work is piling up

confusion and business career

 

You and your business are running the gamut, and are drowning in work.  Naturally, the company has some problems that come up, and leadership decides small projects are needed to fix these problems.  However, these are placed on FTE’s that already have day jobs, over utilized resources, or under-performing team members and often do not truly resolve the issue. And, if these occur in multiple departments, silos begin to form and your organization heads down the path of inefficient or duplicate improvement activities. Piling additional work on an individual means that they are being spread too thin, without being able to deliver quality work.

Somehow, the finances are starting to reveal a problem and you react.  You gather your team and have a productive meeting discussing action items. You feel confident in your team’s capabilities to resolve the issue.

However, time passes and no resolution.

So ask yourself:

Did you balance the existing priorities with this new one?

Often, the honest answer is no.  And if you didn’t ask what priorities exist, or your team did not ask you to prioritize all the projects for them, then there is the risk of project priorities falling out of view.  Some items are half complete, and the investment in these projects are never fully realized.

This problem exists across several businesses, and in nearly every department including Human Resources, Operations and Supply Chain. So, what is there to do when priorities start piling up?

Leaders have 3 options to choose from:

  1. Initiate open communication and an integrated view of projects and manage it yourself
  2. Bring in outside help
  3. Do nothing
  1. Initiate open communication and an integrated view of projects and manage it yourself

Having a holistic view through a PMO (program management office) can help track projects and priorities and give feedback as to where resources are required. However, without open communication and feedback, this may not solve all your problems.

Unfortunately:

  • 50% of PMOs close within three years (Association for Project Management)
  • Since 2008, the correlated PMO implementation failure rate is over 50% (Gartner Project Manager, 2014)
  • Only 40% of projects met schedule, budget, and quality goals (IBM Change Management Survey of 1500 execs)

Therefore, encourage your team to vocalize concerns and burn-out. Bring them together and set the stage for open and direct conversation, and see what projects each of them have going on.  That way, if they are swamped or stuck, you can proactively answer these questions. It is also an excellent check-in to look at the dependencies of the projects- waiting for data, technology or decisions.

Then, bring other leaders in a room together and lead a precise discussion with the outcome of knowing project priorities, timelines and expectations for each department.

Using an ‘urgency-importance matrix’ facilitate such decisions. Remind everyone at the beginning of the meeting what the organizational goals and objectives are, to ensure alignment.

  1. Bring in outside help

If your organization has so many priorities that there is often a lost sense of direction, and lack of clarity of what is going on in each department, then it might make sense to bring in an objective, outside advisory voice.

Yes, advisors are a more expensive option, but if they are selected properly, the outside advisor plays facilitator with a purpose of doing what is best for the company.  These outside advisors most likely pay for themselves through precise organizational direction, avoiding lag time or inefficient rework, focused next steps, kicking off the team quickly and moving forward fast.  In addition, they know how to strategically question and view projects in the company, provide updates on what is truly going on, and use masterful communication to increase visibility of current objectives.

Whereas managers and leadership can do this on their own, there can be a lack of organizational trust between internal personnel, with conversations that are not open, honest or direct. The benefit of external parties is that they can more easily cross functional lines.

  1. Do nothing

Realistically, doing nothing about enterprise prioritization is the path commonly taken.  The company can decide to do nothing right from the beginning and just hope things pan out without taking a hard hit. Other times, we see companies going through the motion to prioritize, but do so in a silo, and still create rework or other inefficiencies. That’s when the frustration reaches a point that organizations give up.

Well, what happens when you do nothing to prioritize enterprise projects?  Here are some consequences typically seen:

  • Business priorities are not completed on time
  • Your team feels mismanaged, or unmanaged
  • Delayed realization of investments

As a leader, you need to step up and lead. There are times where “Do Nothing” is the right answer, but unless you are doing something about prioritizing projects, you won’t know what tasks to reduce resources for or drop altogether.

The choice is yours

Quite simply put, too much is being asked to get done well. In fact, you need to ask yourself if you have the capacity to establish a project prioritization process because it is not an overnight change. A lot of support is needed within the organization and this isn’t fast nor easy. As mentioned before, there are three options that have their own advantages and disadvantages. As a leader, you will need to assess your situation from various facets to determine which option makes the most sense to keep you moving forward both effectively and efficiently. And remember, choosing not to decide is in fact a decision and a reflection of your leadership style… so no pressure, choose wisely.