Reducing time wasted…
…in meetings, waiting for meetings, reporting and collaboration… if you’re not, that’s fantastic, just skip this bit!
But in the real world most of us are responsible to somebody. If you’re employed, it’s probably your boss and the other stakeholders in your projects. If you’re self-employed it’s the people you’re on contract to, and so on. But not all stakeholders are created equal.
Taking the AIR philosophy of applying grounded logic to the problem, take a moment to look at this graph.
On the vertical axis you’ve got a measure of how influential people are for any given project at any given time. I’ve called it Power on the graph for convenience but it’s only really power for people at the top of that axis.
On the horizontal axis, there is a measure of how interested people are in any given project at any given time.
One of the biggest time-wasters we’ve come across, in complicated organisations or relationships particularly, is that unless we think about it long and hard, we tend to assume everyone is in Quadrant One — they’re both interested in our project and influential in terms of it’s success. Importantly, people will move from one Quadrant to another as the project moves on but for now, let's work on one project at one moment in time until we've got the idea clear in our heads.
Exercise: draw that graph and think of a project you’re working on, as it stands at the moment. Then think of all the people who are involved and jot their initials on the graph in the appropriate place. Be brutal and honest. For example, most people tend to put their direct boss in Quadrant One, but is that really true? The chances are he or she is probably quite influential (for example they hold the budget or can even cancel the whole project) but are they reallllllly all that interested on a day-to-day basis? Usually they're not as interested as we like to think (and pretend) they are.
What really matters to many bosses etc is a combination of this:
- is the project on time and likely to stay so?
- is the project on budget and likely to stay so?
If the answer to both of those questions is Yes they're happy. They don't need more detail – and in fact they probably won't thank you for giving them more information – it takes them time and energy take it on board. If that's the case for your boss – or anyone else – does that really justify them being in the top right Quadrant? Wouldn't everyone's life be easier if you thought of them as being in Quadrant Two – the top left?
Exercise: looking at how to save time, think about how differently you could treat the people in each of the four Quadrants. For example, people in Quadrant One might need a full report, but people in Quadrant Two might just need a three line email reassuring them that the answer to the two questions above is still “Yes’. If people are in the bottom left hand corner, why are you wasting your time involving them? And if they’re in the bottom right hand corner why are you spending time consulting them and listing to their opinions? Logically all you need to do with these people is keep them informed.
An important note
This exercise is best done 'in the abstract'… that is, without thinking of specific people and circumstances. That's because as soon as you think about real people your thinking starts to become less clear and you take on board too much history, such as how much you like them and how in awe of them you are etc.
Don’t forget that people can (and should!) move around the quadrants at each change in the status of a project. You should do a quick version of this assessment at the start of each key stage in a project.
…here’s a shocking but obvious thought: the number of people in Quadrant One should not increase as time goes on for a project! Why? Because once someone’s area of expertise is no longer relevant, by definition they move down the vertical axis!
Here's a two-and-a-bit-minute case study.
Parting thoughts: this approach will save you time in two ways.
- the first is the obvious one of you not having to spend time with pole who’re not important to the current state of a project.
- the second one is just as useful but works over a longer time span… because you no longer have to include everyone in your decision-making and consultations etc, you should be able to arrange meetings much more quickly, get things approved more quickly and so on.
In other words, not only will your active time on a project decrease by a hard-core application of this tool, but the elapsed time a project runs for can be reduced very considerably!