Because it’s Friday: “Rebooted” by Sagar Arun and Rachel Kral

This video is a lovely comic swipe as the change from old school comic super-heros to the darker reboots of the same characters that we get at the cinema today:

Owl Guy, a retro comic book superhero, is suddenly introduced to his rebooted counterpart.

Have fun genre and cliche spotting.

We aren’t very good at balancing – The Tyranny of Fast, Good or Cheap.

In project management there’s a model known as the triple constraint or the iron triangle it says that the quality of something that you delivery is governed by a balancing of the scope, cost and schedule. If you want it fast then it will cost you more, or you need to reduce the scope that can delivered.

The same principle is summarised in an old axiom:

Fast, Cheap, and Good…pick two.

The big idea is that you need to balance out what you want because you can’t have it all.

In my experience, though, we aren’t very good at this balancing, we tend to be quite simple creatures and only have the ability to focus on one objective, this leads to tyranny by the one we choose over the other two. Most commonly it’s a tyranny of cost but increasingly increasingly I’m seeing a tyranny of schedule.

There is often little discussion about which one is the chosen one, it’s normally chosen subconsciously by the organisational culture or the commissioning part of the organisation. If the project is Finance driven then cost is chosen, if the project is needed by the production part of the business then the schedule is sometime chosen. Sometimes it’s clear that schedule has to be the chosen one, because something is required for a set date, but that’s not the norm.

As we live under the tyranny of one of these triple constraints we live in the expectation that the other two will come dancing along behind to join the party even though they are uninvited guests. We hope that cost and scope will be good enough as the schedule consumes our attention. We hope that the schedule and scope will fit as we focus in on the costs. Every now and then we turn around and create a new baseline making the triumvirate fit together, in theory, whilst continuing to give our attention to the chosen one. This process normally results in scope handing over pieces of its land to assuage the chosen one.

So how do we resolve this problem? Do we just need to pick a different constraint, hand the power over to a different tyrant and hope that they are better leaders? I’m not sure that any are better than the others, I’ve seen projects run with each as the chosen one and each of them miss out the other two, none of the constraints are very good collaborators. No, I think that the answer is to recognise that which ever gets chosen will become a tyrant, and that the way to deal with a tyrant is to limit their territory.  That’s one of the fundamental differences between Agile and Waterfall project approaches. In Agile the tyrants influence is limited by the sprint, once a sprint is finished you can hand the priority over to one of the other members of the triumvirate. The smaller chunks limit the grip of the chosen one. Having said that I’ve seen many Agile projects set up with the schedule as the tyrant. A sprint is, after all, defined as a unit of time within the schedule.

 

Because it’s Friday: “A Meaningful Journey | Balance” by Millican

I’ve gone a bit arty this week, but I’m not apologizing for it.

Sue and I love to swim in lakes and rivers and we are very fortunate that some of the best lake swimming in the UK is not very far away. If you follow my Instagram feed you’ll regularly see pictures of lakes just before or just after a swim. People regularly make comments about the madness of this venture, others express a desire to give it a go. Sue recently took seven others out into some open water and they loved it.

In this video from Millican, a Lake District based bag designer, Rachel Agnew explains some of the reason why she goes wild swimming:

If you want to know more about the video then see: In the Moment – Rachel Agnew.

Why Millican? Well that’s another story: Millican Dalton – The Spark and

Taking the Shortcut – It’s a Human Thing

There’s a path near to where I work, which is on the route to the local train station and local supermarket. There is a tarmac path which few people use, there’s also a short-cut path which saves the walker less than a few metres which everyone uses (unless it’s the winter when the shortcut gets muddy).

This situation is repeated in communities around the world.

I recently saw this picture of a pathway designed by someone who was clearly trying to create an aesthetic:

How long do you think it will be before the aesthetic will include lines between each of the bends? 🙂

It’s human to shortcut, we are fundamentally lazy so will do anything to optimise our experiences to take the shortest possible route. Yet, we continue to build systems and services in the expectation that people will go out of their way to do what we want them to do.

I work with a group of people whose job is to optimise processes, the people who oversee these processes are regularly surprised when people do the “bare minimum” to move the process from one phase into another phase. The accusation is that “They’re just ticking boxes.” The behaviour exhibited operators of these processes is completely understandable, why would anyone go around the wiggly lines when a straight-line shortcut is available? Building systems that expect people to behave in any other way is folly.

Sometimes the shortcuts are outright dangerous and in these situations we need to be explicit about the reason for the long-route, but we should expect people, in general, to prefer the shortcut. Yet, everywhere you look there are examples of systems and processes that expect people to behave in a way that isn’t natural.

Knowing that people are lazy and will take shortcuts doesn’t have to be a problem, quite often it’s an opportunity. The opportunity for process and system designers is to make them work in a way that doesn’t require shortcuts, or to provide alternatives that are better than the current shortcuts. If you can’t get people to use safe passwords then don’t put more and more barriers in people’s way, get rid of the passwords and find another way of authenticating people. If people only fill in the three mandatory pieces of information on your form ask yourself why the other questions are there and use the opportunity to get rid of them. If people don’t use the tools you buy for them to get the job done and use free ones instead, take the opportunity to move over to the free ones.

“Yeah, I am lazy. There’s no doubt about that.”

Usain Bolt

Taming My To-Do List Dread (and being productive at the same time)

To-Do lists make me shudder inside – after years of trying and numerous failed attempts I can barely stand to look at a to-do list, and yet, keeping everything in my head is exhausting (see linked post for more information).

So how do I stay productive and tame my to-do list dread?

I’ve discovered that my main issue with a to-do list is that they are useless for creating the framework of priority and importance, they don’t help me to see what is significant and what isn’t. A list of 50 items can be sorted and re-sorted by many different versions of priority and importance.

I have spent many hours sorting lists, when I am at my most determined, the items at the top of the list are those things that are clearly important and urgent, but I can make anything important and urgent and when I let my self control slip I will. There have been many times when the prioritisation of the list didn’t give me the answer I was hoping for so I just re-prioritise everything using a different criteria until it did. My integrity wouldn’t allow me to just pick the things I wanted to do, I needed to have some reason for doing those things, but they were often the flimsiest of reasons.

Remarkably, the things that I progress using this technique often turn out to be the things that were significant all along. There have been many time when the things that appear to be urgent and important just fall by the wayside and weren’t needed after all.

I’m not trying to claim some sixth-sense here, just the fallibility of a prioritised to-do list.

To-Do Lists v Productivity Planners

I don’t work from a to-do list anymore, I work from a productivity planner.

“A what?” I hear some of you say.

“A Productivity Planner.”

“What’s the difference?” you respond (don’t you?)

“I’m glad you asked – the primary difference is that framework of significance I’ve been talking about.”

This is the analogy I have in my head. Imagine that the things on your to-do list are each represented by a book that you need to read, and you have 1,000 books on the list. Sorting the books alphabetically is like sorting them by priority, you still have 1,000 books, they’ve just been sorted. You have to get a long way through the 1,000 books before you start to feel like you are making any progress at all. The problem with your progress is that it is one dimensional, all you are tracking is how far through the thousands of books have you got, it’s not showing you how much progress you have made in learning, or how close you are to be able to use that information productively, you’re just counting books. What makes this worse is that every time you turn around there will be another pile of books that will need sorting into the alphabetic ordering system. There is no chance that you will ever get from A-to-Z, it’s never going to happen, and why do you even need to go from A-to-Z? Why do you need to read every page in every book? What purpose is reading the books fulfilling?

To put it another way:

  • Why do you need to do all of the activities on your list?
  • Why do you need to complete every aspect of these activities?
  • What purpose is completing these activities fulfilling?

Productivity planners tend to take the questions above, but in reverse order:

  1. What’s my purpose? One of.
  2. What do I need my focus to be to fulfill my purpose? One of.
  3. What are my priorities for that focus? A few of, 5.
  4. What other tasks do I need to get done? Several of, but less than 8.

I find that this approach gives me a much more realistic plan of priorities and activities, many of which will get completed and others progressed.

My current productivity planner is the Panda one, but I have used others that follow a similar scheme. The people at Panda provide a PDF of their layouts so that you can try them out for size (I don’t seem to be able to buy an actual Panda planner in the UK, so printing out sheets is my only option). The Panda planner asks a few additional questions aimed at connecting you with the “why?”

  • I’m grateful for?
  • I’m excited about?
  • Exercise?

It also encourages an end of day review challenging me to think about today’s wins and one area to improve.

Of the 11 areas on the Panda Planner 7 of them are focussed on connecting with a framework of significance.

Switching from a pure to-do list to a productivity plan has tamed my dread of those horrendously long lists whilst helping me to maintain my productivity. There are still lots of things that don’t get done, but, hopefully, with the help of the plan, I’m spending my time doing the significant things.

PS: Another aspect of the various Productivity Planners that I’ve used is that they are on paper. I’ve used many apps, I’ve ever written blogs about them, but I keep coming back to paper, I suspect that there is a reason for that.

Add a Third Time-Zone to your Outlook Calendar

If you work in a multinational organisation and work across time zones then the latest build of Outlook for Windows (Version 1805 (Build 9330.2087)) has something that will make your life a little easier:

You can now view 3 time zones in your calendar 🙂

If you don’t work in a multinational world this probably sounds like a “so what”, but in my world this is excellent. I’m rarely in meetings with people from just one time-zone, it’s much more normal to be on a call with people from Europe, the US and India. This update allows me to see everyone’s time in the same view in my calendar.

You update the time zones via the calendar options:

Time-Zones-Calendar-Options.jpg

Add a label, pick a time-zone.

These will then appear in your calendar view with the labels defined:

Time-Zone-Calendar.jpg

It’s as simple as that, once you’ve got the update.

This time-zone visibility isn’t yet in the scheduling assistant when creating an appointment which would be great.

Knowing what time people are in isn’t just about scheduling though, people behave differently dependent upon the time of day. The person in India who has already done a long day’s work is going to respond differently to the American who hasn’t yet had enough caffeine. The dynamics of the meeting are different for the participants – one wants to get off the phone and finish their day, the other is just getting started and happy to chat. Quite often the European, in the middle, is wondering when they can get some lunch.