For explaining the project management basics, I would like to rephrase the rather ineffective business mantra of 'Doing more with less’ (read also exposing-the-myth).
In this phrase, the word ‘doing’ confirms that, in many operational and project environments we see people tend to be very focused on ‘activities’ instead of ‘deliverables’. Apparently people too easily mistake ‘Being busy with something’ (activity) for ‘Creating value’ (useful deliverable). But these are definitely not the same concepts and shouldn’t be mixed up.
Deliverable Versus Activity
The key difference between a deliverable and an activity is, that a deliverable is tangible, it’s a result, an end-state. Obtaining that result adds value to the project. An activity however, describes what we are doing. It seems like a minor detail but it creates a completely different mindset! (See deliverable-vs-activity.)
People And Their Fundamental Orientation And Behavior
For gaining a better understanding about what drives people to being so obsessed with ‘activities’ when trying to organize work, we may look into some ancient and fundamental insight’s which the Bhagavad Gita provides us with, when speaking about people and their fundamental orientation and behavior. It divides them in 4 different groups:
- Time-oriented people
- Activity-oriented people
- Goal-oriented people
- Vision-oriented people
Time-oriented people are ensuring they don’t ‘lose time’, being busy every minute!
These people can be easily recognized; their working days are fully scheduled for every possible minute and they race from one meeting to the other, while doing two (or even more!) things at the same time; busy, busy, busy, like a dog chasing its tail…
Activity-oriented people are focused on doing things, making sure they’re not idle!
While they are working on something they are already looking for the next thing to do. They like to grab new tasks while still working on the other. However the results (deliverables) of all their activities are not as important as just the fact of being active. Grab something to do, perform your tasks, drop it in the in-tray of the next one in line and move on…
Goal-oriented people are focused on achieving results for realizing their goal.
They act much more strategic and carefully think through a start-to-end plan. Because of that they tend to be better managers of their own and other people’s time and efforts. They ensure that the necessary people are delivering the right results at the right time, and they even ensure taking sufficient time to create the necessary deliverables for supporting just that!
Vision-oriented people, finally, even go beyond goals and focus on the higher purpose, the long term, their inspiration and the framework for all strategic planning. They articulate their dreams and hopes and constantly remind themselves and their environment of what they are trying to build.
'Doing More With Less' Obsession
Now getting back to the key question I started with: Why are most people so obsessed with ‘doing more with less’?
Operational environments tend to be very keen on achieving maximum efficiency, by ensuring that every possible minute of every employee is used to the limit and no-one is idle. The efficiency focus combines the first two orientations (Time and Activity) in these organizations and because of that it typically reinforces that mindset with the stakeholders involved. But never try to reinforce this orientation in project environments! Projects are definitely not routine tasks in a ‘production-line’ context. Projects definitely need a Goal oriented mindset.
The Time and Activity orientation can work for rather simple and routine tasks, which can be easily done and switched from and to, when you have just a moment to spare. As such it seems a very sound approach in the production-line type of environments, especially in times of crisis, and again, it aligns perfectly with the ‘Doing more with less’ obsession! But only to a limited extend. If not, by overdoing the ‘efficiency focus’, driven by the ‘Doing more with less’ mantra, it may become a goal in itself. It no longer serves as a means for creating better ways for the realization of goals. A friend of me once stated: "The concept of Time prevents everything happening at the same time…!” So let’s appreciate that and prevent Time becoming a goal in itself; of course the same goes for Activity as well.
Maintaining A Results (Deliverable) Oriented Approach
In conclusion, while keeping an eye on efficiency, our focus should be on the aspect of effectiveness. The difference between efficient and effective, is that efficiency refers to how well you do something (time and activity oriented, doing things right), whereas effectiveness refers to how useful it is (much more goal and vision oriented, doing the right things). With the above in mind I therefore rephrased the very one-sided business mantra to a more holistic one: ‘More deliverables with less!’ I believe it’s a much better one, not only for project environments. It will support us in maintaining a results (deliverable) oriented approach in our projects. It also provides for a better balance between and integration of effectiveness and efficiency. Efficiency is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, in our priority setting, effectiveness should come first. For ensuring your effectiveness and success as a project manager, a deliverable based project management plan is your first step ….and as such a tangible project management deliverable as well!
I wish you effective projects!
Want some help on being effective? You can always reach me by email.
Photo by rajkumar1220