One of the first books I read that talked about agile principles was Kaizen by Masaaki Imai. It discussed the Japanese cultural concept of continuous improvement in both our personal lives and our work. If we are always thinking about how we can be a better person, do a better job, arrange our living and working spaces better, and how to help others be better, we can have a profoundly beneficial affect on everything around us.
One method to motivate someone, whether that someone is yourself or somebody else, is to offer a reward. There has been a lot of research that shows that extrinsic rewards, such as increases in pay, bonuses, or expensive gifts, have a limited ability to motivate somebody. But that doesn’t mean that rewards are entirely ineffective.
In my last article, I talked about the art of prioritization. I think those are good first steps to take when prioritizing your list, but it can be helpful to bring some objectivity to your prioritization as well. In this article, I’m going to share a couple of the calculations that we use to prioritize tasks mathematically.
Unless you are dealing with a pretty big job, taking these steps probably isn’t necessary. But if you are struggling to figure out which task to do first, using these methods can help.
The first thing to do is to make a list of all of the things you need to get done. I typically start with a checklist, making note (in no particular order) of everything I need to accomplish. Once I have a list of tasks, I can start prioritizing, and then add in additional tasks as I think of them. Invariably, while I’m reflecting on what I need to do and when I need to do it, I always think of additional things that need done. This could quickly get overwhelming, but by keeping my list organized and thinking through the best approach for getting things done, I can manage my tasks.
We were in the fanciest board room I have had the pleasure to sit in. Two large TVs took up one wall with a Crestron unit inset to their right. The large and beautiful table had electronics wired into it as well, and it comfortably sat 15 people. I had a slideshow up on the TVs and was talking through portfolio management and forecasting when the vice president in attendance said, “But none of this matters. There’s no way to estimate accurately. It’s all just made up.”
I was stunned. I literally got a degree in the science of project management. Developments in estimating project complexity and size over the last forty years have resulted in reasonably accurate estimation that lets us predict delivery times well. But she didn’t know that.
And that’s fine. I let it pass, because in the moment it didn’t matter, and I can build estimation into their project later. For now, I want to share with you a few tips for how to estimate accurately.
But first, a magic trick
Here is the magical trick that all pros use when estimating.
They don’t do it themselves.
You may be familiar with project management, but what can portfolio management do for your company? In a project-based organization, where you take in clients and work and provide either a good or a service, a good portfolio manager is going to align all of the work done within your organization so it supports the mission of the organization, and they’re going to select projects that further that mission and reject projects that don’t support it. In this article, I’m going to provide a couple of examples of this to help provide context, both from the IT service industry and the manufacturing perspective, and then give you some tips on managing your company’s portfolio.
I’m not a good student. This came as a shock to my high school graduating class, many of whom assumed I was valedictorian when I actually ranked somewhere in the 40s. I lost my scholarship after my freshman year of college due to a combination of bad professors, working too much, and not knowing how to study. And as I began work on my master’s degree, I realized something new about hard work and good grades.
It isn’t worth it. When I was younger, I got mediocre grades because I didn’t care. I cared a lot about learning, but I didn’t feel the need to jump through hoops to prove what I knew. During my post-graduate work, I had a new reason, which was that working hard to get a better grade simply didn’t buy me anything.
The more I study project management, agile, and work in this industry, the more convinced I am that failing fast is the only way to make healthy progress. We delude ourselves when we create detailed project plans with 1-2 year horizons and try to lock everything down with quantitative analysis, or anecdotal experience, or optimistic chutzpah. I am beginning to think that large batch and long-term planning like this is 100% doomed to failure.
As Helmuth von Moltke said, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” In this case, the enemy is reality, and the plan is our attempt to combat the chaos inherent in our world.