Stop Chasing Squirrels

I have a friend Lynne who loves project management. Like all project managers, she has a system for how she tracks and manages projects. It shows a portfolio of projects with names, descriptions, status indicators, dates, etc. I like to think of it as an organized view of chaos. We talk often about improving project tracking and how we could view the data differently. Lynne is big on the living the saying to inspect what you expect. She likes to track attributes of a project that map to the expectations of management and other project stakeholders. 

One thing we noticed, is when the number of managed projects grows large, it becomes difficult to maintain scope, priority, and focus. I call this organizational entropy which is a measure of randomness and disorder in an organization when projects are started independently but require the same group of employees. It doesn’t take long for overlapping time frames and deadlines to create priority conflicts for employees who are assigned tasks by multiple project managers. 

A by-product of organizational entropy is active projects stalling or falling behind when a newer project receives more attention. This is a form of inventory waste and has hidden costs for an organization. What is the cost of the work expended on the stalled project with no value delivered to the customer (inventory holding costs)? What is the cost of a project work no longer needed or desired by a customer (inventory obsolescence)? What is the cost of asking project team members to context-switch to a different project (employee morale and engagement, project delays)?

I often review active projects and think about the reasons why some projects stall while others proceed.  I don’t know if ever solve anything, but it feels right to reflect, learn, and adjust. How else do we become a learning organization with continuous improvement? As much as possible, it is our job to keep employees focused on finishing what they start without stopping to start other tasks. Others call it one-piece flow, software sprint, or limiting work-in-process. I like the simple thought to finish what you start. 

Nehemiah had a good answer for staying focused. While he was rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem (a long long time ago), Sanballat and Geshem tried to interrupt the work. Nehemiah told them he was doing a great work and could not come down (chapter 6). He stayed focus on the value of the project and delivered results. 

Lynne told me once not be distracted by the squirrels in the office. Nehemiah ignored the squirrel he saw and finished the wall. Lynne’s advice promotes habits to finish more work and celebrate more successes. Nice! Go finish your great work. 

 Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Milestoned via creative commons