Are you consistently biting off more than you can chew? Wondering how you and your capacity management ability are ever going to catch up or get ahead?
One of my favourite questions I like to ask CEO’s is: “how many business improvement projects do you currently have running in your organization and what capacity do you think that is consuming across the business?” Capacity that whilst no doubt providing exciting growth challenges and opportunities for incumbents, it also distracts them from meeting or exceeding the expectations of their job and their clients as well as often creating significant stress in order for them to “stay on top”.
Do you know how many of them aren’t actually aware of how many such initiatives they have on the go and what capacity is bound by them?
The Difference Between The Classroom and The Office
I recently facilitated a workshop for a client on the back of two days of them having developed some very worthwhile and necessary new organizational and process change initiatives vital to them maintaining and managing their growth. You could still feel the energy and excitement these new initiatives generated for everyone in the room.
It’s a little like when you have been in a great training session, inspired by what you’ve learned in a very supportive environment and where you feel that you are “ready to take on the world”. We’ve all been there, right?
And then you hit your desk again the next working day….
The Appetite for Capacity Management
I learned a German saying as a kid: “der Appetit kommt beim Essen”, which translates (somewhat badly I might add) to: “your appetite arrives when you start eating”. That never really made logical sense to me as I always felt that you ate when you were hungry and not the other way around…. (Maybe it was my mum’s way of getting a reticent kid to eat, who knows?)
However, I have witnessed some of that to be true in some of the typical workshop scenarios outlined above.
I’m sure you will agree with me that there is no shortage of great ideas that feed off great ideas in such improvement initiatives workshops, right? The creative juices get flowing and the team really gets going. This is where a great initiative starts to engender an energy of its own and enthusiastic momentum is built. And often we end up with substantially more scope than originally intended.
Each individual endeavour looks and feels great and the promise of productivity or savings or revenue growth is most compelling. The workshop probably also does some justice to recognize how that or those initiative(s) might affect others or itself be affected by others.
But how often does this energy inflate the importance of that project or initiative and result in the “we need the best people available to make sure this is successful”?
However, I have learned that there is a potentially great risk to see these in isolation of “the bigger picture” of what else is happening across the organization.
With other words, it isn’t that hard to engender a really great appetite for improvement or change. And on its own, each initiative appears so compelling, doesn’t it? Very rarely have I found that anyone challenges the organization’s ability to resource and deliver this next project in the overall light of everything else it has on its plate.
Providing And Managing The Capacity
This is where “the rubber meets the road, in my opinion. This is where my above introductory question to the CEO’s is intended to challenge them.
Whilst we used to have “business as usual” kept distinct from “projects”, it appears to me in today’s non -stop management of change to stay ahead competitively in any organization that projects have become business as usual.
They are here to stay. I’ll go so far as to suggest that it is an area many organizations do insufficient justice to, namely assuring they have the best project management governance and skilled resources available to them to help them to keep improving as a matter of course.
I believe that the awareness of each, but more importantly the collective of all initiatives across an organisation is a most important leadership mechanism unfortunately a lot of leaders ignore or do insufficient justice to.
Have you also found that it is usually the “best people” show up again and again in most of these projects? My experience is that it can sometimes become an issue that their Visibility becomes more important to them than delivering their expected results (and the number of projects sometimes used as an excuse). There is also the very real issue of “burnout”.
I believe that those companies that do this really well are very good at balancing project and business as usual capacity across their organization by either:
- engaging more people (albeit through the right justification)
- and/or using contract resources
- or specialist organizations to help.
They either back fill the capacity of the people they seconded onto a project, or contract resources into the project or both.
From a knowledge management and retention as well as continuity perspective, the first appears to be the best way to me, as the long term employees hold on to the skills and experience and retain them within the organization. However that comes at the price of the longer term employment liability.
Whereas the contractor takes it out of the door with them, their expense can be more finitely managed. However, one reason why specialist services providers in this project space are so valuable is because they are aware of such knowledge management risks and today pro-actively help the organization document and retain that knowledge.
In my experience there is also a further longer term aspect to consider here though. The inevitable pendulum of economic good times and bad will impact this, often quite severely. When economics become tight, of course the management will need to “tighten the organizations belt” – including the control of its appetite. Often this is where quick savings are found by “letting the contractors go”. In my experience what is often forgotten is the impact on the overall project portfolio that is underway. CEO’s need to be sure that they also remember to “let go” the projects, if the resources have been adjusted down. This is where we often experience “selective hearing” they can be so notorious for.
Introducing The New Initiative
Not everyone is capable of “selling” the new changes ahead of the new initiatives being announced and communicated. People start challenging them if they aren’t properly introduced and an awful lot of energy can often be attached to preventing anything new.
One of the most important parts of any new initiative is the timing and means by which it is announced and introduced. We are so often still enthralled by having gotten to the end of a usually crammed workshop agenda that his is often forgotten and so a great opportunity is missed to assure it “hits the ground running”. In my experience, this is one of the first areas where we forget to allocate the right capacity to follow the appetite.
Also, staff, tired by ongoing “rightsizing” that often results in them “copping” the work their “downsized” colleagues used to do, increases the risk of rendering them cynical and un-enthused. Why? Because they have seen and recognized the lack of resource planning that is usually disregarded in the new initiative enthusiasm.
Whether you are an employee, a contractor or a leader in an organization, may I suggest that you do a quick scan across the organization you work for, with or lead to see how well your organization manages the balance between its appetite and its capacity?
If you are an employee or contractor, perhaps you’ll read my blogs: Are you a “Fetch” Person? and Managing Up from which I hope you realize how much “power” you can actually engender to help make this work better in your company.
If you are a leader, I hope this article has served its purpose to raise your awareness of an area very easily forgotten, but with very real consequences, both good and bad, depending on whether you “see it or not”.
What if you could?