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Discard at your own risk


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7 important management practices that a surprising number of managers ignore

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Discard at your own risk

  1. 1. DISCARD AT YOUR OWN RISK 7 important management practices that a surprising number of managers ignore Vincent H. O’Neil Risk Manager / Writer
  2. 2. Introduction <ul><li>“ All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.” </li></ul><ul><li>This quotation refers to an episode in ancient Greece where an old man was looking for a seat in a packed Olympic stadium. Delegations of young men from several city-states ignored him as he went by, not wishing to give up their spots. When the old man reached the Spartan delegation, they rose as one and offered him their places. The old man then made the famous pronouncement about the difference between knowing what is right and actually doing it. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Introduction (cont’d) <ul><li>This presentation covers a similar theme: </li></ul><ul><li>Many well-known management practices are unwisely discarded for reasons ranging from time constraints to perceived inconvenience. </li></ul><ul><li>That choice is almost always a mistake, and it can have long-term negative effects on individuals, teams, and entire organizations. </li></ul>
  4. 4. 1. Conduct In-Progress Reviews <ul><li>The term “in-progress review” (hereafter referred to as an “IPR”) refers to a formal assessment of a project’s status. </li></ul><ul><li>It is a vital assessment of progress to date, difficulties encountered and anticipated, and the tasks that remain. </li></ul><ul><li>Depending on the scope and duration of the project, it can be repeated many times. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Conduct In-Progress Reviews (cont’d) <ul><li>The IPR brings together a representative of every agency involved and key decision-makers. </li></ul><ul><li>It is almost always a mistake to conduct IPRs that don’t include the key players: Decision-makers have a nasty habit of asking a question that only the missing manager can answer. </li></ul><ul><li>Likewise, conducting an IPR without the decision-makers can lead to the identification of a problem without the means to solve it. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Conduct In-Progress Reviews (cont’d) <ul><li>As a minimum, the IPR: </li></ul><ul><li>Restates the purpose and / or goals of the project </li></ul><ul><li>Assesses the current status of the project and its different elements </li></ul><ul><li>Reviews the remaining portions of the project and their schedule for completion, </li></ul><ul><li>Discusses problems encountered and anticipated </li></ul><ul><li>Examines the plans by which those remaining elements are to be finished </li></ul>
  7. 7. Conduct In-Progress Reviews (cont’d) <ul><li>The IPR serves many purposes, but chief among these are: </li></ul><ul><li>Ensuring that goals and responsibilities are clearly understood </li></ul><ul><li>Resolving disagreements between and among the agencies involved </li></ul><ul><li>Anticipating difficulties including, but not limited to, logistical shortfalls, inaccurate time estimates, and misunderstood responsibilities </li></ul><ul><li>Adjusting the plan, the schedule, and assignments if necessary </li></ul>
  8. 8. Conduct In-Progress Reviews (cont’d) <ul><li>Key rules of IPRs: </li></ul><ul><li>Schedule them throughout the project, right from the start until the very end </li></ul><ul><li>Include as many of the players as possible, but as a minimum a representative of every agency involved and all key decision-makers </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t let them get cancelled—they’re merely postponed until the earliest available make-up date </li></ul><ul><li>Document the results and disseminate them (this creates a record of all decisions and can even prevent decision-makers from shifting or adding objectives to a project at a late date) </li></ul>
  9. 9. 2. Include Blank Space in Your Planning <ul><li>Most managers have learned some kind of a planning process for long-term projects. </li></ul><ul><li>The tendency is to place successive tasks nose-to-tail right up to the deadline. </li></ul>Project Start Project Deadline 3 weeks 6 weeks Task One Task Two Task Three
  10. 10. Include Blank Space in Your Planning (cont’d) <ul><li>Unexpected events can quickly consume any “wiggle room” factored into a project plan. </li></ul><ul><li>With no blank spaces inserted, any task that is running over its allotted time will affect the steps that follow it. </li></ul>Project Start Project Deadline 3 weeks 6 weeks Task One Task Two Task Three
  11. 11. Include Blank Space in Your Planning (cont’d) <ul><li>Blank spaces intentionally worked into a project schedule allow managers to consider improvements, whether mandated from above or suggested from below. If left unused, these spaces allow for a review of the work to date or the tasks just completed, which can ward off unpleasant discoveries later in the project’s life. </li></ul>Project Start Project Deadline 3 weeks Task One Task Two Task Three Initial Review Intermediate Review 3 weeks Final Review Presentation 3 weeks Note that the individual tasks retain their three-week timeframes, necessitating an extension of the overall timeline
  12. 12. Include Blank Space in Your Planning (cont’d) <ul><li>Build extra time into separate tasks or phases </li></ul><ul><li>Insert blank spaces in the plan between those tasks or phases </li></ul><ul><li>Insert extra time prior to the deadline for a final review of the product </li></ul><ul><li>Remember that any changes to the product made during the final review will necessitate yet another final review </li></ul>
  13. 13. 3. Close the Loop in All Things <ul><li>“ Closing the Loop” is a piece of business jargon that has numerous applications, but in this case it means to follow up on everything we do: </li></ul><ul><li>Ensuring that communications have reached their intended recipient and been understood </li></ul><ul><li>Collecting feedback from clients, customers, and business partners </li></ul><ul><li>Conducting After Action Reviews on our own activities </li></ul><ul><li>Testing our own systems (and personnel) to ensure they are performing to standard </li></ul>
  14. 14. Close the Loop in All Things (cont’d) <ul><li>Ideally: </li></ul><ul><li>Workplace recipients of everything from an email to a phone message should acknowledge receipt of that communication and indicate their understanding of it </li></ul><ul><li>Feedback collection should be an ongoing effort, with everyone from clients to business partners </li></ul><ul><li>Every task or project should have a post-operative assessment, known in some industries as an After Action Review or AAR </li></ul><ul><li>Systems and personnel should be tested on a frequent basis to ensure that both are performing to standard </li></ul>
  15. 15. Close the Loop in All Things (cont’d) <ul><li>Communications: The consequences of a missed or misunderstood directive span the gamut from costly delays to lost revenue. </li></ul><ul><li>As a bare minimum, every employee in a business should be trained and required to acknowledge receipt of any communication requiring further action </li></ul><ul><li>Managers should be trained to check with the recipients of those communications to ensure they fully understood the action required </li></ul><ul><li>On a higher level, non-essential mass communications should be kept to a minimum because they frequently waste valuable work time and can even cause important communications to become lost in the chatter </li></ul>
  16. 16. Close the Loop in All Things (cont’d) <ul><li>Feedback: The opinions of clients, customers, end users, and business partners provide indicators of performance and opportunities for improvement </li></ul><ul><li>A dedicated collection effort should be established to solicit these opinions </li></ul><ul><li>Managers should be trained and required to collect the opinions of their subordinates and business partners </li></ul><ul><li>A system for recording, analyzing, and disseminating this information should be established, with requirements for its frequent use and an institutionalized discussion of the conclusions reached </li></ul>
  17. 17. Close the Loop in All Things (cont’d) <ul><li>After Action Reviews : AARs create valuable analysis in that they allow business units to assess their recent activities to identify both strengths and weaknesses. </li></ul><ul><li>Managers should be trained in the conduct of AARs, to include the participation of business partners from agencies outside the managers’ areas of operation </li></ul><ul><li>The AAR should not be a one-way discussion; subordinates should be encouraged to give their views and to raise issues </li></ul><ul><li>Managers should be required to document the conduct of AARs and to disseminate the resulting information in formal presentations to their peers and more senior management </li></ul>
  18. 18. Close the Loop in All Things (cont’d) <ul><li>Testing: This is the only way to actively determine if systems and personnel are performing to standard. </li></ul><ul><li>Internal audits of departments and teams should be conducted on a regular basis, sometimes with no notice </li></ul><ul><li>Where applicable, test cases should be introduced into a system or workflow and monitored to determine if the resulting actions are in accordance with standards </li></ul>
  19. 19. 4. Ask “What if THIS Happens?” <ul><li>In the field of management, one of the key questions is: “What don’t we know?” </li></ul><ul><li>This refers to potential events and outcomes that have never even been considered. </li></ul><ul><li>While it’s impossible to imagine every threat to a system or a business, one way to identify unknown hazards is to ask, “What if THIS happens?” </li></ul>
  20. 20. Ask “What if THIS Happens?” (cont’d) <ul><li>Train managers to examine the potential ramifications of their decisions, and to go beyond the obvious </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t trust computer models and simulations to cover everything </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t assume that another department is conducting all the necessary analysis in a specified area </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t rely too much on historical data; just because something never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t </li></ul><ul><li>Create high-level teams to ask the outlandish questions, and invite outside experts and your own clients to ask, </li></ul><ul><li>“ What if THIS happens?” </li></ul>
  21. 21. 5. Understand the Data <ul><li>Our increasingly technological world leans heavily on data, which can be of great use if the information itself is dependable and the analysis of that information yields a logical result. </li></ul><ul><li>Unfortunately, business decisions are often based on a narrow range of indices, and it is not uncommon for the decision-makers to lack a complete understanding of that data. </li></ul>
  22. 22. Understand the Data (cont’d) <ul><li>Only use data you can explain, and require anyone furnishing you with data to explain how the raw information was collected, processed, and analyzed </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t accept or repeat half-baked explanations; if you can’t follow the details all the way through the analysis may be faulty </li></ul><ul><li>People being asked to do something based on analyzed data have a right to know how that analysis was conducted—and to doubt that data if it can’t be explained </li></ul><ul><li>Remember that we sometimes find errors when we force the experts to describe their processes, just as we find out what we don’t know about our own jobs when we try to teach them to others </li></ul>
  23. 23. 6. Don’t Have a Rule You Don’t Enforce <ul><li>When confronted by a burdensome rule that no one can explain, many people are tempted to ignore that rule. </li></ul><ul><li>Managers sometimes take this a step further, actually authorizing subordinates to ignore a rule once they have complained about it long enough. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Don’t Have a Rule You Don’t Enforce (cont’d) <ul><li>Ignoring a rule is an extremely dangerous solution because it sends the message that every rule is subject to individual interpretation. </li></ul><ul><li>It also calls into question the entire system of rules, policies, and regulations surrounding a business, and can lead to a wholesale rejection of rules that employees find in any way difficult. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Don’t Have a Rule You Don’t Enforce (cont’d) <ul><li>Ideally, the rules and regulations under which a business operates should come under periodic review to ensure that outdated requirements are removed or adjusted. </li></ul><ul><li>No one should have to deal with a burdensome requirement that seems to have no point—and maintaining such questionable directives can cause overworked employees to throw their hands up and start cutting corners wherever they see fit. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Don’t Have a Rule You Don’t Enforce (cont’d) <ul><li>Create a mechanism for challenging questionable rules </li></ul><ul><li>If the rule or regulation comes from outside the organization, at the very least obtain an explanation of the rule’s purpose </li></ul><ul><li>Publicize the results of these challenges: If the rule remains in place, explain why, and if it has been removed or adjusted make sure everyone knows the appeal mechanism works </li></ul><ul><li>Train everyone to understand that simply ignoring a burdensome rule is not acceptable—it can leave the organization open to unforeseen ramifications, or it can send the message that all rules are subject to individual interpretation </li></ul>
  27. 27. 7. Recognize When You’re Not the Decision-maker <ul><li>Managers at every level want the work they supervise to be the best it can be. </li></ul><ul><li>While this is a laudable concept, it can lead to a lot of extra effort, and even wasted time, when the manager correcting the work-in-progress isn’t the final judge. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Recognize When You’re Not the Decision-maker (cont’d) <ul><li>Fine-tuning a project that will ultimately be adjudicated by higher-level managers can turn out to be a waste of valuable time. </li></ul><ul><li>It is much better to get an acceptable product to the decision-maker quickly than to provide a polished item that may be just as subject to change—but with much less time to make those changes. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Recognize When You’re Not the Decision-maker (cont’d) <ul><li>Getting an acceptable product to the decision-maker quickly will leave more time for any changes that may be required </li></ul><ul><li>Remember that managers whose subordinates have voiced opposition to excessive fine-tuning may find themselves embarrassed when a senior manager proves those needlessly-overworked subordinates to be right </li></ul>
  30. 30. Discard at Your Own Risk <ul><li>Conclusions: </li></ul><ul><li>The “time-saving” decision to discard a proven method can have the opposite effect </li></ul><ul><li>Managers are often aware that they are choosing to discard important practices, but do so anyway </li></ul><ul><li>Employees usually expect to follow sound project management principles, and their morale suffers when they are prevented from doing so </li></ul>
  31. 31. Discard at Your Own Risk <ul><li>ABOUT THE AUTHOR: </li></ul><ul><li>Vincent H. O’Neil is a graduate of West Point and The Fletcher School, and has been involved in some kind of risk management throughout his career. </li></ul><ul><li>He is currently working as a private risk consultant, a public speaker, and published novelist. </li></ul><ul><li>He can be contacted through his writing website, </li></ul>
  32. 32. Discard at Your Own Risk <ul><li>ABOUT THE PRESENTATION: </li></ul><ul><li>The original 12-page paper, which goes into this topic in much greater detail, is available on at the following link: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>