Finding Focus for your Plans.

I am indebted to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog

Stephen Covey in his benchmark book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that we should always put first things first.  On the face of it that is almost a truism but the question is, how often, in reality, do we achieve that desirable outcome?

There is the well circulated story of the supposedly well-organised manager. He was asked: did he have a to-do list?

He did, he said, and went to his trusty laptop to demonstrate.  There was a total of 72 items on the list ranging from “Contact the bank to discuss the overdraft as requested” to “Clean the car”.

He was pressed to disclose how many of these items he thought that he would actually complete. He said that there were so many that he never seemed to achieve any of them.  In any case, he went on, day to day things get in the way and the list just got longer.

What a waste of time and effort.  It has been wisely said that rather than have a to-do list we should have a NOT to-do list and in his case the first item on that should be stop doing a to-do list.

The caveat is of course that unless the to-do list is valuable, achievable and realistic then it is worthless.

It can all be resolved by some discipline in two respects; (1) To restrict the to-do list to no more than three items and (2) To set the priorities on the list and not to divert except in exceptional circumstances.

The reason for a list of three items is a function of immediacy of memory. Three items can be recalled very easily and adding further items can start to clog the memory.  Additionally it is far easier to set priorities.

If this is too extreme consider a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a work and workflow visualization tool that enables you to optimize the flow of your work.

All the items on the list need to be focused to the benefit of the business and lead to a defined and specified outcome.

If these simple rules are not followed then the likelihood is that items of little or no value can intrude and get in the way of what is really significant.

The really important feature is to set your priorities.  Look at what you are planning to do, define each item in whatever terms you decide are relevant to the success of the business and then decide the priorities on each item.   Don’t change unless something exceptional merits the change.

Moreover, keep to the priorities that you have set.  We can be so easily distracted by the day-to-day happenings in the business that very often the really significant things take a back seat not by design but by happenstance.

There is no doubt that it demands self-discipline. If these priorities are so important to the future of the your organisation then nothing should get in the way of fulfilling them.

The natural concomitant of this discipline is the essential need to have a team to whom you can and do delegate in the safe knowledge that they can be trusted implicitly to perform.

Ask yourself the key CSI questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to be?
  • How am I going to get there?
  • How will I know I’ve arrived?
  • How do I maintain my improvement momentum?

Alongside these one can consider the personal self-searching questions that will help you get that “to do” list down to a manageable and productive size:

  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What should I STOP doing?

Happy planning!

Project Management Made Plain

The new Kingsway Business Park is taking shape in the land that lays beyond the bottom of my garden. The activity of the last three months has been the preparatory work for the new Asda frozen food distribution centre which is absolutely enormous. Janice & I have watched with interest the road-building and the tarmac and pipe-laying that’s been going on – only to realise that all of this was for the fourteen (at the last count) portable buildings to house the site management for the rest of the project.

Despite the travails of Rochdale weather, these guys have it pretty easy. The ancient Egyptians built enormous structures in a relatively short timescale. To complicate matters further for them, the process was continually subject to the changing demands of the Pharaoh; the weather; diseases; and wars.

How did they get millions of stones to the right place and make sure that tens of thousands of people worked as efficiently and effectively as possible? Obviously this didn’t just happen all by itself. They could not have been done it without effective project management.

These days we have well-proven practical methodologies like PRINCE2® to help us. It provides Project Managers with an excellent process for ensuring a project starts sensibly; is controlled throughout; and is delivered successfully. And yet, I am continually surprised by how many people find project management such a difficult concept to comprehend. I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve always felt that project management is just structured common sense – then again, that’s how I view ITIL.

So when we decided to develop our own PRINCE2 material, I was really pleased and supportive of the approach that my trainers wanted to adopt – no PowerPoint!
Using practical exercises instead of the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation, Sysop students work through a series of facilitated and very logical case-studies which enable them to understand PRINCE2® in a much more effective and practical way. By the end of the course they have developed their own reference book crammed with the project templates that they have developed – an invaluable reference guide back in the workplace.

Even Richard Pharro, CEO of APMG was impressed. He said: “It is encouraging to see Accredited Training Organisations making the learning experience of delegates as exciting as possible. Learning in a way which enables students to utilise their practical experience when they get back to the office will help them become more effective project managers. I am confident the Sysop workshops will be very popular.”

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