Most of the people I talk to say 2010 will be a good year for their company. Many tell me “2010 is the year to make money.” Some say it optimistically, some with a tinge of fear, as in “or else.” This fear-laden optimism implies that this may not be a great year for employees. Companies still aren’t hiring. Management seems to be afraid of making a commitment on more cost until they get some better indication that 2010 won’t be another 2009. They fear too much uncertainty. You, as the employee, are likely to face the year without much help.
You have your objectives. Hopefully, they’re SMART objectives: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely. Hopefully your goals help your boss, your business unit, and your company achieve their goals. Now what? What’s in your way of achieving those objectives?
You have done the initial steps. You have prioritized the objectives based on the value they bring to the organization and to you. You are focused on the top two or three objectives, and willing to abandon the others if necessary. Where necessary you have broken down large objectives into small steps with individual time goals. For each objective, you know who the stakeholders are: the people who are relying on you to complete your objective, your customers, and the people who you are relying on to complete your objective, your suppliers.
In my experience, obstacles fall into two main categories: distractions and surprises.
Distractions are those things that don’t really help you achieve your goals but take time. Surprises are things that happen instead of what you wanted to have happen.
Some common distractions:
- Your manager wants a weekly report of what you do. He doesn’t actually read it, but somebody combines a bunch of them to go up to the next level of management, who doesn’t read them either. I’ve tried some common tactics: forget to send it (one time that worked for 3 months), or just send last week’s with a new date. If those don’t work, my advice is to keep it short and focused on accomplishments towards your objectives and what you want your manager to do to help. If you spend more than 5 minutes on it you are probably just throwing time away.
- Some new VP comes in and wants to know what you do, and your boss wants either a single slide with 20 things on it, or 20 slides going into ridiculous detail. In my experience, it is best to focus on three things: what you are responsible for, what your objectives are, and what help you need to achieve those objectives.
The goal is these cases is to make your boss part of the solution.
Other distractions are things like client problems, or requests for help from others. Look at each of those distractions in terms of its priority to the organization relative to your objectives, and to the potential impact to your stakeholders. Sometimes it is worth doing something solely to keep a stakeholder happy. Often it is appropriate to just say “no.” Do so politely. Explain why. Be prepared to explain why to your boss.
Most surprises fit into two piles: one of your suppliers didn’t finish his task on time, or one of your customers doesn’t like your result. There is also the possibility that you just didn’t achieve one of your goals. I had a software development manager who told me 6 weeks before a major new product release that the product would be delayed by a year. I’ve had a client tell me that he no longer needed the custom product he ordered the day I delivered it.
What went wrong? A total lack of good communications with my stakeholders. I didn’t know that the product would be delayed because I didn’t talk to my supplier. I didn’t know that my customer’s needs had changed because I hadn’t asked.
Talk to your stakeholders often. Depending on the complexity of the program, you may want to also talk to your supplier’s stakeholders, or your customer’s stakeholders. It is a lot easier to react early than late. If downstream you will need another organization’s help, keep them informed on your progress and any changes in the schedule. That makes their lives easier, and makes them more likely to strive to support you.
Expect change. If things aren’t changing, its time to have a serious conversation with your stakeholders. In all likelihood, one of them is so busy trying to deal with change that she hasn’t taken the time to tell you about it yet. Plan for change. If your objectives were set up based on the hope that nothing would change and nothing would go wrong, you will fail.
The last word: “Perfection is the enemy of the good” (usually attributed to Voltaire). Strive for good enough. Strive for what satisfies your customer’s requirements, but no more. Watch your suppliers, especially in technology. The engineers will always try to get one more feature, or tweak some interface, or …. Make sure you understand the real requirements from your customer, and make sure your suppliers understand also.
Keep your sense of humor.