Getting Things Done – Managing Tasks and Projects

“Too much to do, too little time!” is a cry that we hear more and more often recently.  When you’re trying to tackle a dozen projects, a hundred initiatives and a thousand “to do” tasks, it can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to even make a start.

So here’s a “quick and dirty” way to make sense of it all.

  1. Make a list – a full list. The first step is to face up to the challenge and list out all of the projects, tasks, initiatives and “to do’s”. It might look like a long list but don’t be put off – this is the first step towards regaining control.
  2. Split the list into two – “Tasks” and “Projects”. Tasks are things you know how to tackle, don’t take up a lot of resource and can be achieved in a few days. Projects are things that take longer, maybe need some research or data collection, and involve more people.
  3. Take the “Tasks” and prioritise them using an “Ease and Effect” grid. Start with the tasks that are Easy to implement and have the highest Effect or Impact. Then tackle the tasks that are Easy to implement and have a medium Effect. Put these tasks into an Action Plan and track progress using “traffic lights” (also known as RAG – Red, Amber, Green) – Red items haven’t yet been tackled, Amber items are those currently being tackled and Green items have been successfully completed.
  4. Translate the Projects onto a simple timeline or “Gantt Chart”. Split the timeline into three – (a) items to be tackled in the next 12 weeks, (b) items to be tackled in the following 12 months, (c) items to be tackled in the following year. Agree who will be accountable for each of the projects and set realistic start and finish dates.

That’s it! Yes it’s rough and ready but it’s the quickest, most effective way to regain control of “too much stuff” – try it!

And if you need some help to manage and deliver some of those projects, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com.

The Number Twelve Motivator – “In the last year I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow”

Continuous Improvement applies as much to people as it does to organisations. Yet many organisations fail to understand this and to act on it. As a result, people tend to under-perform and hence the organisations they work for also tend to under-perform.

Effective Leaders understand how to get more from their people. Almost always, they challenge people to do better. And critically, they provide people with the right training, coaching, and support to achive those challenges.

Here are just a few of the many, many ways to help people to learn and grow:

Best Practice: providing opportunities to see what good looks like – perhaps in a completely different industry, sector or environment.

Peer learning: providing opportunities to work alongside colleagues from other departments or organisations

Secondment: typically a short-term transfer to another department or organisation. Maybe a one-year sabbatical?

Delegation: often a simple but very effective way to develop employees. Just make sure that you pass on some of the good stuff, not just the drudge work!

Training and Coaching: often, one of the best wayw to really understand something is to teach it to others.

Projects: typically, important long-term activities, often “above and beyond” the day job. Great for team-building too!

Just a few examples but not only do these approaches help to motivate the individual concerned, they can also provide huge benefits for the employee’s colleagues, for their boss and for their organisation. Try it!

… and if you’d like some help in developing your employees – and perhaps to create yuor own learning organisation – please contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com.

The Number Eleven Motivator – “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress”

This one really gets to the core of workplace motivation, since it covers some of our basic human needs –

  • the need to have objectives and goals – something to aim for
  • the need to feel that we’re making progress towards achieivng our goals
  • the need for regular feedback, to help us keep on track

Without these – aither at work or in our personal lives – it’s easy to drift and to lose motivation. Remember – “You are happy to the extent that you are in pursuit of worthy goals”.

Effective Leaders get to know their people and make the effort – however busy they are – for regular one-to-one discussions with each of them. Formally, this might be done every six months through an appraisal and review system, but more frequent one-to-one sessions (at least monthly) are perhaps even nore important.

Regular, honest, constructive feedback is vital to individual performance and motivation. In fact, most of us would rather have negative feedback than no feedback at all.

As well as reviewing performance against objectives, it’s also an opportunity to talk about career progression and to ensure that the employee’s idea of their future trajectory is realistic and generally fits with the needs of the organisation. In simple terms, we might benefit from some fast track superstars but most organisations also need a fair number of “steady Eddy’s” – committed, reliable people who always turn up on time and just get the job done.

… if you’d like to know more about objective-setting, effective feedback that works, appraisal, performance management or any other apsects of practical workplace leadership, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.con

The Number Ten Motivator – “I have a best friend at work”

Maybe this is the only one of the Top 12 Motivators that isn’t always simple and easy to address in the workplace. In fact, one of the difficult challenges for first time managers is having to accept that they shouldn’t aim to be “everyone’s friend” at the expense of getting the job done.

That said, there are at least three things that we can aim to provide in the workplace:

  1. For new starters, a designated “buddy” who will be available for the first few days and weeks to help them find their way around. “Hold their hands until they find their feet” as one of my colleagues once put it!
  2. For the “rising stars” (and the owner or Chief Exec) an experienced mentor who can act as a sounding board and ask the right questions
  3. Regular, honest face-to-face feedback – providing in an open, professional manner some of the benefits of a “critical friend”. In other words, being prepared to challenge and to question, in the long-term interests of the other person.

So maybe we can’t literally be, or provide, a “best friend” at work, but there’s a lot that we can do in an organisation to provide many of the positive benefits of a “best friend”. And it’s also a great motivator for those taking on the role of the buddy, the mentor and the “Critical Friend”!

The Number Nine Motivator – “My fellow employees are committed to doing quality work”

When we’re surrounded by people who strive to do well, we’re often encouraged to up our own game. And the opposite is also true – if those around us don’t care about how good of a job they do, and set themselves low standards, then the rest of the team will often sink to the same low standards.

People give of their best when they’re challenged and supported. And no one was ever inspired by the prospect of being average, or “just see what you can do”.

That’s why it’s so important for Leaders at all levels in an organisation to have high expectations of their teams, and to tackle any examples of poor performance.

So maybe it’s time for you to set some stretch targets – agree one or two BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), expect excellence, give team members the support they need to achieve, and tackle poor performance immediately – it’s often contagious!

… and if you need some help with achieving a “One Best Way” culture or you want to know how easy it can be to manage employee’s performance, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

Housekeeping or 5S – which one is it?

Maybe it’s just me but I’m regularly disappointed when people who should know better confuse the two. So here’s my little rant:

Unless you work in a very well-run hotel, please don’t pretend that “Housekeeping” is anything like 5S – it isn’t!

And if you’re doing 5S properly please don’t undermine it by calling it Housekeeping!

At worst, Housekeeping is a one-off tidy-up. At best it’s a standardised regular tidy-up that gets checked. Don’t get me wrong – it can be very effective and in some environments it might be all that’s needed.

5S on the other hand (sometimes also called 5C or CANDO) is a disciplined, systematic approach to workplace organisation. It uses simple visual management to

  • increase efficiency
  • minimise wasted time and effort
  • encourage team-work
  • establish “One Best Way”
  • instil discipline
  • continuously improve

So here’s a little challenge for you – have a close look at your business and each workplace within it, and then

  • if you’re at an early stage, decide if basic Housekeeping is all that you need (being tidy and looking good), or if you need to invest time and effort to reap the full benefits of 5S
  • if you think you’re already doing 5S, take an honest look at the list above and check how many of those benefits you’re currently achieving. If there are any gaps, maybe it’s time to reinvigorate your approach to 5S and raise your game

And if you’d like some advice, training and hands-on help to implement and sustain 5S, please contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com or call (UK) 01325 328855.

The Number Eight Motivator – “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important”

It’s easy to become sceptical about Vision, Mission Statements and the like adorning the walls in Reception, but working for an organisation that does worthwhile work that you believe in or identify with, is increasingly important.

We need to feel that what we do has some purpose and meaning, and we’ve probably heard the truism that “We are happy to the extent that we are in pursuit of worthy goals”

Hoshin Planning (Policy Deployment) is a very structured way of addressing this. Put simply, the idea is to cascade an organisation’s goals – by discussion and agreement – through every level of its hierarchy. Although it appears simple it often takes years to introduce the approach effectively. Done well though, everyone can see how the projects that they are working on fit into the “big picture”.

More easily, a good employee appraisal system should help translate the organisation’s goals into objectives, targets and measures for key staff.

Even more simply, regular one-to-one sessions where employees agree objectives and receive regular feedback, can be a great way of ensuring that employees understand how and why what they’re doing fits into the “big picture” and why it’s important.

Whatever technique we use though, we need to help employees understand that their work is important and valuable and that it contributes to a worthwhile goal. From a Leadership perspective we need employees to understand not just “what” they need to do and “how”, but also – and most importantly – “why”. Speaker and author Simon Sinek explains this in his “Start with Why” Ted Talk on YouTube.

… and if you’d like some help to find the “Why” in your own manufacturing business, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

The Number Seven Motivator – “At work my opinions seem to count”

In the age of smartphones, 24/7 email and social media it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by communications. Employees can feel it’s difficult to make themselves heard, and managers can struggle to hear people above the continuous “white noise” of messages. As a result, frustration increases, motivation drops and stress levels rise.

That’s when a simple technique – “Ease and Effect” – cuts through the noise, engages employees, makes managers’ jobs easier and quickly gets the best ideas turned into actions.

“Ease and Effect” sessions are one of the simplest, most effective ways to give employees a voice, to translate good ideas into action, and to sustain your Continuous Improvement activities.

It’s often best to start with a small workgroup – perhaps five to ten people – and be specific about the areas that you’d like to tackle. Give the team a week or two to identify problems and wastes (think of “The Seven Visible Wastes”), then bring them back together for a short brainstorming session.

Ask the team to rate each idea as to how Easy it would be to implement (Easy, Medium or Difficult) and how effective it would be (High, Medium or Low effect). Start with the “Easy, High” ideas to get some quick wins, then move onto the “Easy, Medium” and finally the “Medium, High”. Keep track of progress and see how quickly motivation rises and performance improves!

… and if you’d like some practical help to implement “Ease and Effect” in your manufacturing business, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

The Number Six Motivator – “There is someone at work who encourages my development”

Take an active interest in helping your employees to develop – you’ll boost their skills and their motivation!

Most of us like to feel that we’re making some progress in our lives and our careers. We want to keep our minds active and we want to believe that tomorrow we’ll be more knowledgeable, more skilled or more adept than we are today. And most of us feel happier when we’ve got something to aim for – “We feel happy to the extent that we are in pursuit of worthy goals”…

Ultimately we’re each responsible for our own career progression and development but it can be difficult to do it all on our own. And that’s particularly true if we’re not sure what skills we might need in the future.

Larger organisations may have HR staff with active “talent management programmes” who provide career counselling, well-planned training and development opportunities, and the like. But for smaller organisations there’s often very little help or it falls to the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager and often is low on their list of priorities.

An alternative approach is to provide access to a mentor or “career buddy” elsewhere in the organisation – ideally a more experienced manager that the employee doesn’t directly report to.  They will have an idea of the roles that are likely to be required in the future, and can guide their mentees towards how best to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to fill those roles. It’s also a great way of helping more experienced staff find new ways to make use of that experience. Try it!

… and if you want effective, bespoke training and development for your manufacturing employees, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

 

The Number Five Motivator – “My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person”

We all like to feel that we’re doing something worthwhile, that what we do is important and that we’d be missed if we weren’t there.

But at work it’s sometimes easy to feel that we’re a small cog in a very big machine; that our efforts are insignificant and go unnoticed. Ultimately this might lead us to feel that it’s not worth making an effort, and hence we can become disinterested and demotivated.

One of the challenges for every leader – at all levels in the organisation – is to treat everyone fairly and equally, whilst at the same time treating each person as an individual. It’s helpful to get to know each person, and to find out “what makes them tick”. We don’t expect to delve into every aspect of our employee’s personal lives but it can be helpful if we have an idea of what else is going on in their world, particularly if we can celebrate some successes and help them over the odd bump in the road. Having an idea of – and perhaps recognising in the workplace – key events like Birthdays – can also help. And where we can, taking a long-term view and helping folk to balance the rewards and challenges of work and home increases employees’ sense of security and welfare, which is good for them and good for the organisation.

Acknowledging people every time that you see them is also incredibly simple but very important. Even if it’s a simple nod of the head and a “hello there” or “good morning”. Better still if you get to know everyone’s names. If you’re the senior leader in the organisation, it’s incredibly powerful – and well appreciated – if you can do this. I’ve known examples of business leaders, head teachers and politicians who make a point of learning every one of hundreds – or even thousands – of names. Try it!