Project Management Thoughts

Streamlining the Vision – The Annual Battle of Goals vs. Calendar

Anne Hale, our Director of Client Services, snuck in this week’s post while Wes was out of town….

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that we are less than three weeks away from Christmas. The panic is beginning to take hold. The panic is real.

I know I’m not alone in this – and some people do take comfort in shared experiences. However collective panic sounds more like the beginning stages of a stampede – not something to seek solace in. But I digress.

As far as I can remember, Christmas has always occurred on December 25th. So you’d think that by this stage in life, I’d have the plan of attack on this season down. And the fact that I’m a project manager makes this situation a little embarrassing. But the Cobbler’s kids had no shoes, right?

The holidays aren’t the only source of panic this time of year. We frequently run into organizations that have end of year inventories and other calendar-driven tasks that are ticking up stress levels.

So how do we end up here every year?

We know that these tasks need to get done – but it seems like every year they get put off until the last minute. There is a variety of reasons that this may happen – such as:

Unpleasant – maybe the task is just a pain in the axx and no one really wants to do it until they absolutely have to

Unimportant – maybe other things are seemingly more important (or are also calendar-driven like this one, just earlier in the year)

Unrealistic – maybe, like pregnancy pains, the overall experience is forgotten and there’s a perception that it won’t take that long – so it can be done later

Action Expresses Priorities – Mahatma Gandhi

According to Gandhi (and my mother ~ if I miss a Sunday call) your actions identify your priorities. And, while I hate to admit it, it’s true. Whatever we give our attention to, in that moment, is apparently the most important thing that we can be doing with our time. Otherwise, why would be wasting that very limited commodity.

At this moment, you may be pausing for a little Netflix guilt. But remember that relaxation is a priority too.

Back to the pressing deadline – there are still things to be done. So at this stage in the calendar – there are four things that we can do: name the priorities, define what Done means, make a plan and then run with it.

Name It – What are the things that absolutely have to get done? Just like the holiday to-do list, end of year activity plans may have a lot of entries for things that are “want to haves” or “nice to haves” vs. absolutely “must have”. So you start there – what MUST be done. And, sometimes the easiest way to name these in your organization is by identifying everything that could have a legal, financial or career-defining consequence if it isn’t done on time. Hopefully, you have different evaluation criteria for your holiday to-do list…

Done is better than perfect – Sheryl Sandberg

Define It – What does DONE really mean? When you have a pressing deadline, Complete & Correct should be the end goal – not Perfection. If you have a year-end inventory deadline, make sure you know specifically what data is required by your Finance department (or whoever is mandating the activity). And make sure everyone involved understands these requirements too. Tight deadlines leave little room for do-overs.

Plan It – Once you know what your top priorities are, and what constitutes completion – you need to plan the work. For an Inventory activity, you need to define the parameters of the inventory (what’s included), educate and direct the team to conduct the inventory, give them the tools to do their work, send them out to conduct their inventory tasks, review the data that they return and then deliver the information.

Planning under a hard deadline requires some creativity. Each task that moves you to Done needs to be reviewed to make sure it is as efficient with time as possible. Sometimes that means adding more people to the effort. Sometimes it means bringing in an automated solution that can help your team get the job done more easily, quickly and accurately than manual approaches.

You only have so much time to get the job done without the legal / financial / career-defining consequences – so getting creative may be your best bet.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities  – Stephen Covey

Run It – You’ve turned the team loose on your plan, but it is important to keep a focused approach every step of the way. There are many distractions everyday – & they seem to multiple at the end of the year. When trying to triage everything that turns up, I’m frequently reminded of the Time Management Matrix from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The goal is to evaluate everything that comes in against defined priorities and then against Quadrant criteria. Sometimes it’s the only way to stay on track – and stay sane (although I have co-workers that would question the latter). I’m not perfect at this – and can also get distracted. It’s a skill that requires ongoing practice.

What gets measured gets improved  – Peter Drucker

Ideally, when all is said and done, the overall annual task is reviewed and the process is improved so that next year goes more smoothly and is done in a timely manner. So for Christmas 2018 – if I plan accordingly – handmade cards with an entertaining newsletter, personalized gifts and homemade cookies may come to fruition.

However this year, don’t be surprised if you get an e-card with an offer of take-out Chinese lunch.

It’s the thought that counts, right?



Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile asset inventory management and warehouse solutions. She manages our client engagements, works with Wes on sales and marketing and is absolutely no threat to Martha Stewart.