CXO

Learning about yourself though your team's activity calendars

Monday came. Monday went. My team's

back up to two people this week, though they both have other

priorities at the moment. Which is, oddly enough, okay with me; I

agreed to reassign their time since the problem they now get to to

address caused the vast majority of our support calls. The team

might as well get a chance to do something about it, rather than just

let it beat them up.

In order to maximize our throughput,

though, I have to get organized. So I spent a goodly portion of last

week rebuilding our activity calendar, a six to eight week critical

path style document outlining what's going on, who needs to do what,

and when we want it completed (or at least mostly closed down). It

gives my team a good overview of what's coming up, lets me keep

things on track, and even helps the teams which interface with mine

understand what, and where, my priorities are. It's not a straight

jacket, though, just a snapshot of what we think will happen.

It occurred to me, though, that I might

want to check our actual throughput against my plans. So I pulled up

the last four activity calendars and compared what we've done against

what we accomplished. The first one had more activities than you

could shake a stick at. It was jam packed with action oriented

phrases, stretch goals, and more than a few idle pipe-dreams. The

next few toned down a bit, while my current one is busy but doesn't

have quite the same feel of “we can do anything!”

So, did I just give up? Did I decide we couldn't do anything in a reasonable time-frame?

No and no. I did not give up and I

certainly do not think my team contains a bunch of slackers who

accomplish nothing in a day. In fact, some people joke that my team

is the “hard work vertical”. It's not entirely untrue; we have a

lot to do and are short staffed to boot. Plus I do ask a lot from my

team. As a general rule they deliver, something which constantly

amazes me.

The change stems from something else.

You see, I long ago learned something which seems to elude the

writers of management text books. It's not a big truth but rather

one of those little obvious things which makes everything else work

better. Most of us even know it. We just don't talk about it too

much because no one wants to admit it.

Here it is. Not everyone is a

superstar. Most of us, myself included in fact, work hard and try to

enjoy what we do. It takes us time to figure things out. We need

help at times. Occasionally we can spend whole weeks working on

something which someone else, somewhere else, solved in fifteen

minutes. Sometimes, when we look at a new technology, it really just

doesn't make any sense whatsoever for the first few months.

By itself this truth doesn't mean much.

We all know most teams contain a goodly number of B players, some

over-hyped A players, and some C players we keep around as trade

goods. But when I combine it with my activity calendars and

planning, I get to something kind of interesting.

Looking over the progression of my

calendars, I can see my own learning curve with my team. At first I

built the activities without much understanding of what my team could

and could not do. Over the weeks and months I learned who could

process which tasks faster, who could solve what kinds of problems,

and who I needed to lay off of for a bit.

Building the activity calendars also

helps us keep prioritized. We all have way too much to do in any

given month. We cannot do it all. What we can do, though, is figure

out what will have the greatest impact and direct our work in that

direction. So long as we hit the high impact items, the rest of it

will probably fall into place.

Speaking of, its time to get back to

working on the next activity calendar. I want it to be ready next

month when things start to get back to normal.

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