Tag Archives: Rob Horlock

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

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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

Recession Survival – lessons from nature

Many parts of the world regularly suffer from drought and famine and the local people and wildlife adopt well rehearsed strategies in order to survive:

  • They use their resources sparingly
  • They may migrate to regions which have more abundance. The annual migration of the wildebeest in Africa is one of best known examples of this.
  • They understand and anticipate the side effects. These may range from an increase in disease or plagues of mosquitoes and locusts, to a rise in food prices (exacerbating the situation) and on to land degradation, bush fires and ultimately, social conflict and widespread death and destruction
  • They adapt, as best they can, to their new, temporary environment
  • They take advantage of unexpected opportunities – crocodiles and lions wait in ambush for the migrating wildebeest
  • Outside agencies attempt to alleviate the problems or at least, reduce the effects – Aid Agencies and other NGOs offer food and shelter in the worst effected regions.

As the Economic Recession continues, what lessons can we, in the business world, learn from the natural world?

  • They use their resources sparingly – This lesson has obviously been learned by most of us. Spending is down (which is, of course, deepening the recession), many people are overpaying their mortgages every month and credit card debt is being paid off faster than before. ‘Eating In’ is the new ‘Going Out’ and the large supermarkets and take away chains are the main beneficiaries. In the workplace, budgets are being cut and we are all asked to ‘do more with less’.
  • They may migrate to regions which have more abundance – Many people will look around for a new job, either at home or abroad. Whilst vacancies are more limited at the moment, those of us working in IT with strong transferable skills are better placed than most to take advantage of new opportunities.
  • They understand and anticipate the side effects – The side effects, of course, include redundancies, and longer working hours for those who survive the cull. Personal relationships may suffer as a result of this and you must recognise if this is becoming an issue in your own relationships, both at work and (more importantly) at home.
  • They adapt, as best they can, to their new, temporary environment – this point is absolutely key to your survival during this recession. Here are some thoughts for your consideration:

    1. Network

    Make sure you get to know as many managers as possible in your organisation and make sure they know who you are. This means getting outside of the IT department!

    2. Operate above your payscale

    Offer suggestions to your boss, offer to make presentations at departmental meetings. Take the initiative and start (or carry on) doing things that your boss should be doing but for which you can take responsibility.

    3. Make yourself indispensable

    Help your line manager as much as you can. If you’ve moved around in the IT department, help those who are currently working in an area where you’ve worked previously (without annoying them, of course).

    If you know people in other departments of the organisation, spend time with them and understand their issues – can the IT department help them to overcome these?

    4. Go the extra mile

    If your line manager asks you to help him/her prepare for a board meeting, for example, go the extra mile and prepare some presentation slides too. They may not be the finished article but it’s much easier to finesse something that already exists than to start with a blank piece of paper.

    5. Socialise with your colleagues

    Integrate with your colleagues. Go for a drink after work. Get involved in societies and clubs. You never know who you might meet and the deeper you dig yourself into the fabric of the organisation, the more difficult it becomes to do without you.

  • They take advantage of unexpected opportunities – If your line manager leaves, for whatever reason, you may find yourself running the team in a ‘holding capacity’. Take the initiative and do more than just ‘hold the fort’. Make your own decisions and add your own stamp to the team. In times of recession, it is more likely that you will be offered the job permanently, if you show promise, rather than recruiting externally.

    Budget cuts may also offer opportunities for you to develop skills which are currently under-utilised. Perhaps you know some html or java but don’t use it at work because web development is outsourced. Offer to help with support and development – you never know where it may lead.

  • Outside agencies attempt to alleviate the problems or at least, reduce the effects – In the business world, the government(s) is responsible for tackling the recession. They do this in a number of ways. Currently, interest rates are extremely low. If you have a mortgage that’s not on a fixed rate, overpay your monthly payments. You will be pleasantly surprised how this affects the length of your mortgage term. If you are on a fixed rate mortgage, check out how much you will pay in redemption fees to move to a Tracker mortgage. This may be worth your while.

    Haggle! If you’re buying something over and above the usual weekly shopping, ask for a deal. You’ll often get something off the price – it all helps!

There are many survival lessons to be learned from the natural world and a whole lot more that apply in our world. The most important lesson of all is that in YOUR life, it’s up to YOU – Nobody’s going to do it for you!

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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

 

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

McKinsey recommend IT investment for efficiency gains

Executives are anxious to trim spending. Yet a McKinsey survey shows that judicious IT investments can generate short- and medium-term revenue and efficiency gains that greatly exceed the savings from traditional cost-cutting efforts. The key is to have business and IT executives jointly take an end-to-end look at business processes and scan for opportunities such as improving the customer experience, reducing revenue leakage, and improving operating leverage.

Read the full article here:

http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/newsletters/chartfocus/2009_02.htm

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 your 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