Get More Done in Less Time: Learning From Crises

When are you most productive? If you are like most people I know the answer is easy, when you really need to be. Most of us have great examples of crises and other urgent situations, where folks pull together and get more done.

And yet, at other times, lots of stuff seems to get in the way. And we look at each other with the common question, “how can I get more done?”

We Use The Time We Have

 

It’s human nature. When we have time,, we use it.

Most projects take at least the time allotted. Most conference calls finish just-in-time. When is the last time you saw a BAU project expedited–because it was possible?

We know this as Parkinson’s law, work expands to fill the time allotted. Nothing is expedited when things are moving along as planned, because it doesn’t need to be.

What Can We Learn from a Crises?

One the other hand, in a time of crises, the time allotted is zero, so everything is expedited. There is something urgent that must be fixed. Suddenly, the normal protocols disappear and work happens fast.

There’s a lot to be learned about execution from a crises. At times of natural disasters, blackouts, and other unthinkable crises, teams pull together and execute in ways they never thought possible. Creative solutions emerge from seemingly nowhere, “impossible” deadlines are exceeded, and competitors collaborate for the greater good, Organizations and teams execute with an efficiency they never thought possible.

Why? What good can we learn from these undesired times?

Here’s a list of what I’ve seen first hand over the years, and observed and followed in other people’s fantastic stories of execution in a time of crises.

How They Get More Done

  • Everyone becomes energized around a common mission
  • Decisions normally made by committee, are made on the fly
  • People work extraordinary hours, and feel enlivened by their contribution
  • IT and other complex projects that normally require substantial planning are expedited and done in Herculean time frames
  • Communication becomes paramount: people talk frequently
  • Decision makers roll-up their sleeves to help, and the experts rise to positions of power
  • Standard protocols soften, and people support one another
  • Companies collaborate for the greater good
  • No one touches Powerpoint until the post-mortem
  • …???

Of course, we can’t live on an adrenaline rush all the time. And, fast decisions can also have downsides. On the other hand

 

Post-Mortem of Success: Questions that Drive Sustained Results

Most great project managers know that it’s important to do a post-mortem after any major undertaking. In my experience, a post-mortem is much more likely to occur when something went terribly wrong. I have heard (and said) in the heat of frustration, “we just need to get through this now, but afterwards we need a very careful post-mortem.”

In this funny and insightful post, Lee Cash, shares the challenges with a traditional post-mortem and how to overcome some of them, The postmortem: what it is and how to survive one.

Postmortem: noun:

  1. An examination and dissection of a dead body to determine cause of death or the changes produced by disease
  2. Discussion of an event after it has occurred
  3. A blame fest where, if you’re not careful, you get attributed with everything that’s wrong in the world

In essence, post-mortems are an attempt to review a recent calamity that has befallen the business with the noble intention of isolating the offending causes and making sure they never happen again. The practice nearly always takes the format of a face-to-face meeting (if possible) and involves all of the key players who had a role in the “hiccup”, and hence why you’re all now sitting in a room waiting for the fireworks to happen.

The post-mortem seems less urgent after an over-whelming success. Most of us just celebrate, and then merrily race off to fight our next crises, or build our next remedial action plan.

Why Do a Post-Mortem of Success?

I recently had a celebratory conversation with a leader who was experiencing some fantastic results after months of challenges and struggling metrics. This was turnaround at it’s finest. I was delighted with the progress and wanted to recognize him. We did all that and then, I asked, “what is working and why?”
That’s where we got stumped.
He had theories, I had theories the truth is, so many action plans and efforts had been applied to the problem, we were unsure of which were contributing to the solution.
A bit scary was it the entire cocktail?
How do we isolate the variables?
How would we sustain the progress if we didn’t understand what had worked?
How could the lessons be applied to other areas of the business if we didn’t understand them?

How to Approach a Success Post-Mortem

We decided a deliberate approach was in order. Yup, I ended that celebratory meeting by giving the guy more work. Why, because I believe in the long-run it will save everyone time.

He’s spending time…

  • considering and discussing. what were the expected outcomes of the various interventions?
  • observing: what behaviors have actually changed?
  • measuring: doing deeper dives into the analytics to look for patterns of improvement
  • listening: to folks about what feels better now and why?

Taking the time to understand what is working may be even more vital than learning from our failures.