Category Archives: Project Management

The Business Face

Camouflage is one of nature’s basic techniques for ensuring the survival of species. Flatfish have the same colouring as the seabed where they dwell. Females of bird species which nest in vulnerable places tend to have less colourful plumage then their male counterparts, to conceal them from predators while they incubate their eggs. The pheasant is a good example of this. Stick insects resemble the foliage of the plants on which they live. There are hundreds, thousands of similar examples. Some animals and birds actually change colour depending on their surroundings. The Artic Fox is brown in summer and white in winter, to match the snow. The Ptarmigan, a type of grouse that inhabits the snowy arctic tundra, does the same. It is not only the famed Chameleon which changes colour to camouflage itself. To stand a chance of seeing a camouflaged creature, you have to look carefully, in the right places.

How is this reflected in the business world? Who uses camouflage techniques to conceal themselves? Many people at work put on their camouflaged ‘business face’. The face that nods agreement sometimes when they should really be shaking their head to disagree. The face that agrees with you when in the same room, but who spreads discontent, rumour and innuendo amongst friends and colleagues behind your back. The face that tells you what they think you want to hear.

This is especially true in times of change within the company. When processes are reviewed, waste of one form or another is almost always uncovered. This ‘waste’ will be all or part of some people’s daily roles within the company and they will become very uncomfortable if they think that their job is in jeopardy. When told of impending changes in their department they may smile and nod agreement with the proposals. Underneath, they may be very worried and can react in a number of ways:

  • They can decide that it is time they found a new job with a new company and so will start job hunting. The organisation may or may not wish to keep the employee and the follow up action will depend on this position. Ultimately, the employee’s actions will have a fairly ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • The employee may seek clarification from their line manager –’how will the changes affect me?’; ‘if my job goes, will I find another position within the company?’; ‘How much redundancy pay can I expect to get if my job goes?’, etc. If there is a likely to be a positive outcome and the employee finds a new position, this too will have a ‘passive’ effect on the proposed changes.
  • Alternatively, the employee may be a ‘blocker’, someone who reacts negatively to any change. They may start off with a camouflaged face but quickly come out in to the open. They may still nod in agreement in public, but will spread negative (and usually exaggerated) rumours about the implications of the changes amongst the other members of staff. These people have very ‘active’ (and negative) effect on the proposed changes and they can change the overall opinion of the workforce unless they are managed correctly and speedily.

The important point is to recognise that many people wear a disguise when at work. Understand this and its implications. Key to this is Communication, the topic covered in the next instalment of ‘Natural Processes’.

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Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to review processes and implement new IT Applications. If you would like to find out more, see www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk


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Planning to win

Stonechat

Stonechat

July in The New Forest and walking in the open forest is what summer evenings were made for. The sun is shining and the forest looks very different than it did six weeks ago, let alone six months ago. It’s a sea of green with bracken growing up to six feet high intermingled with gorse bushes. As Lucy (the dog) and I walk along, a strong twittering and chirping attracts our attention. The source of the agitated chirruping soon becomes apparent. Standing on the highest branch of a nearby gorse bush, a male Stonechat guards his nest. His equally agitated mate sits in a tree nearby, noisily encouraging us to move away. We move on and leave the birds to their solitude.

In the winter, it’s possible to walk anywhere in the open forest, apart from the boggy areas. In the summer, the ponies and visitors follow pre-defined paths through the bracken. You can still walk anywhere but it’s much more difficult to force your way through the bracken. It can be dangerous too as you can’t see where you’re walking – you wouldn’t want to tread on an adder!

We follow the well worn paths through the forest in same way that we follow the well worn plans that help us to manage our projects. How often so we stop and think about other ways of approaching our work? Just because it was done this way last time and the time before doesn’t make it right. Did we involve the right people – the people at the sharp end? Did we check the results of last year’s project? Was an evaluation of last year’s project ever written?

Take time to think about your plans and see if there might be a better way or at least a different way to reach the end goal. There almost certainly will be. Don’t make the mistake that just about every politician makes with depressing regularity – don’t fight the battles in this war with the strategy from the last war. Time moves on and the environment changes – ask the Polish Cavalry!

So think about looking for a new path but watch out for any adders along the way.

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Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk

Nipping it in the bud

Today I have been spraying weeds with weedkiller. Nettles, Docks, Buttercups, Thistles and Ragwort grow rapidly at this time of the year and if they aren’t kept under control, they will be covering the fields and there’ll soon be no grass left for the horses to eat. We have a backpack which holds 20 litres of diluted weedkiller – 20 litres of liquid is quite heavy when you have to lift it up behind you and strap it to your back! It’s a horrible job and one that I’ve been putting off for several weeks. The result of this prevarication is that some of the weeds are huge and they will require more than one dose of weedkiller to finish them off. So I’ve made the job harder and longer than it should have been.

The parallels in the workplace are obvious. When issues and problems arise, how often do we wait and see if they will resolve themselves? How often do we leave them and hope that they will be insignificant in the overall scheme of things? Do we avoid confrontation, which would resolve the matter, in favour of short term harmony?

In almost every instance that you can think of, it is better to deal with the problem early before it develops into something much worse. This is particularly true when managing projects and underlines the importance of both having an Issue Log, of some description and of aggressively managing the issues raised on it. Don’t assume that everyone is a diligent as you, so proactively ask your people to tell you their top three issues at any point in time. This should ensure that you are continually on top of the current issues within your project and you can head off any potential crises before they escalate.

Don’t leave it until you need to apply the weedkiller for the second time!

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Rob Horlock specialises in part time project management and in helping the commercial side of businesses to manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: info@ef-ef.co.uk If you’re looking for a new job – advice here: www.mynextrole.co.uk

Eight Jays

Spring has definitely arrived in The New Forest. Two days a go I heard the first cuckoo of the year (two, actually). Today I saw the first swallow. One swallow may not make a summer but if definitely points in the right direction.

This morning I took Lucy for an early morning walk up to Stagbury Hill, in The New Forest. Stagbury is surrounded by gorse covered open countryside dotted with trees and even though it has a trig point at the top, it is not terribly high. It is, though, high enough to look down on to the tops of the trees. As I looked out across the sea of yellow flowered gorse I noticed a pair of Jays fly in front and below me, landing in a nearby tree. Then a saw another flying to the same tree from a different direction, then another and another. In all, eight Jays flew to the same tree. Jays are very distinctive birds and are easily recognisable. Seen from above, they are very distinguishable by a white lower back which is not normally seen when in flight as the watcher is normally looking up at the flying bird, not down.

Seeing eight Jays together is quite a sight. Seeing them from above was very unusual and made me think about the way we view other aspects of our lives.

At work, how often do we get lost in the detail of what we’re doing and don’t take the time to stand outside of the project and view it from a more objective viewpoint? How would a third party observe our work? What would they see in ten seconds that we’ve missed, because we’re too close to it? (both figuratively and actually).

Do you take the time to take the ‘helicopter view’ of your work or are you continually fighting to hit the next deadline? Do you review your work from the standpoint of anything other than ‘did it meet its objectives?’ You may well have hit your objectives (or not … ) but was it the right piece of work to be doing in the first place? Could your time have been better spent elsewhere?

Make an effort to stand back and look at your work (and your home life) from a different angle – you might be surprised what you see!

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses with part time project management, review and map processes and improve individual and team working efficiencies. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

 

Up close or far away?

We went on an organised walk on Brownsea Island recently. Situated in the middle or Poole Harbour, the island was the site of Baden-Powells’ first scout camp in 1908. Today it is owned by The National Trust and is a nature reserve. The Red Squirrel thrives here as the more aggressive Grey variety, which has killed off most of the UK’s Red Squirrel population, has not made the watery crossing from the mainland.

Brownsea Island is also a major bird reserve and thousands of migrant birds which live on the shoreline overwinter here. If you’re interested, you can view the lagoon through the webcam. Species that may be seen include Godwits, Redshank, Greenshank, Little Egrets and the striking black and white Avocet with its upturned bill. On the day that we visited, there was a flock of about 200 Avocets, quite a sight. Watching from the anonymity of a ‘hide’, several pairs of binoculars were trained on the feeding Avocets and the other waders enjoying the winter sun on the lagoon. Binoculars, of course, bring the subject up close by magnifying the image. Viewed from the other end, by comparison, the subject appears to be far away. Without binoculars, much of the interesting detail within the scene unfolding before us would have been missed.

Back in the real world, how often do you check the detail of your work? You’re not a detail person? Many of us like to take the overview and leave the details to others to worry about. It is sometimes illuminating to take the binoculars to a particular area of work to check that the details are being covered. You may head off some nasty surprises!

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Local News:

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience
with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each
week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she
recalled – ‘He’d always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the
crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt
out ‘Heil Hitler.”
( Bournemouth Evening Echo) 

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects ands improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of your emarketing, particularly in the areas of working with agencies and turning prospects into customers. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk

All quiet in The New Forest

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the numbers of birds that I would expect to see on my walks in The New Forest. This morning I took Lucy (the dog) to the part of the forest where we usually go to get some exercise. We strolled along many of the same paths as usual, looked across at the same clearings as usual and jumped across the same ditches as usual. But today was different. The forest was eerily quiet and hardly any wildlife stirred. The only sounds disturbing the tranquillity came from the hum of the commuter traffic on the M27 and a ‘plane coming in to land at Southampton airport.

What had happened to change the picture so radically from a few days ago? Snow had happened! Unexpectedly (at least to us humans) the rain which had been forecast had turned to snow and the forest was covered in a white slushy blanket. Lucy loved it and chased around like a puppy. She was going back to a warm house- the wildlife living in the forest had all ‘hunkered down’ until the weather improved (which it did – by 2pm the sun was shining).

The birds and animals that live in the forest were all still there this morning, but all were quiet and out of sight.

When you manage a project, do you have phases when all is quiet and you assume all is well? That may be true, but equally, it may not. Something might be going badly wrong but people have buried their heads in the sand, hoping that the problem will go away. Unless you ask questions, you may not find out about the badly deteriorating situation until it’s too late. Or at least until the problem is worse than it might have been.

When all is quiet in your project team, don’t assume that all is well. Ask the pertinent questions. The Risks and Issues don’t go away but, like the wildlife in the snow, they may not surface for a while.

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It’s a funny thing:

– You never ever run out of salt.

– Old ladies can eat more than you think.

– There’s no panic like the panic you momentarily feel when you you’ve
gotten your hand or head stuck in something.

– No one knows the origins of their metal coat hangers.

– Despite constant warning you have never met anybody who has their arm
broken by a swan.

– The most painful household incident is wearing socks and stepping on an
upturned plug.

– People who don’t drive slam car doors too hard

– You’ve turned into your dad the day you put aside a thin piece of wood
to specifically stir paint with.

– Everyone had an uncle who tried to steal their nose.

– In every plate of chips there is a bad chip.

– Triangle sandwiches taste better than square ones.

– Beneath every floating balloon is a tearful child.

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Rob Horlock specialises in helping the commercial side of businesses to review and map processes, manage projects and improve individual and team working efficiencies. This also includes improving the effectiveness of emarketing, particularly aimed at marketing managers who use digital agencies. If you would like to find out more, see http://www.ef-ef.co.uk or email: rob@ef-ef.co.uk