Time Management Thoughts (from the past!)

Recently, I started consulting on a regular basis, and I am now feeling all of my time management skills put to the test.  I have always prided myself on good time management and good organizational skills, and I’m constantly tweaking my tools and process to optimize efficiency (yes, I am a self-repairing robot).  I am, in fact, an unapologetic “devotee” of David Allen and the “Getting Things Done” way of organizing and working. (Yes – it does look like a self help book, and yes, he does talk about reducing stress in your life, but it is extremely practical… I digress).  While working through a whole new set of processes for my consulting business, I ran across an old Powerpoint Deck that I put together a couple years ago for some time management training for my team.  Some of it is “loosely” based on GTD, and in order to get a glimpse of the “GTD way” you can take a look at the GTD Workflow Chart to understand a bit.I was managing a medium sized team, and it was a mix of a lot of different backgrounds — some music industry, some technology, some a little of both, some with a lot of experience, some not so much – you get the idea. The biggest productivity problems we had seemed, in many cases, to stem from some very core prioritization and work-flow issues.

Experience had taught me that as management, you simply can’t force people into “your way” of organization — especially in a rapid moving tech start-up environment.  People have to adapt to their own style and their own natural rhythm.  So, what I tried to do was formulate some really simple, non-preachy,  ideas around every day decisions that, in aggregate, eventually add up to all of the work we do.   There is definitely a good amount of “GTD” influence in here, but I tried to keep it light, simple, and more of a “guiding principle” kind of methodology instead of a “system”. You’ll even notice a fair amount of tongue in cheek in there — I was poking fun at myself for teaching “productivity”. Let me know what you think!  I’ll be posting some other interesting stuff about my experience with GTD soon.

Theory, Yes, Grand Theory of Product, No

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A very good post and some really interesting insight, IMO, from The Heretech a few weeks ago about A Grand Theory of PM and its useless pursuit (also cross-posted here at Forrester Blog) .  I couldn’t agree more, in that the information economy we live is is just too complex and dynamic to try and nail down solid “truths” about product creation.  In fact, I advocate for methods and process that are, in themselves, designed to be MORE dynamic than the products we develop and not less, as is the case now.  If you think about it, the moment you create an MRD, it is probably out of date — there is already a new competitor, a new social networking dynamic, a new API, or a new technology that either you don’t know about or don’t yet understand.  Tom Grant’s opening salvo says it all:

When you’re start working in an unexplored field of study, such as PM in the technology industry, it’s tempting to propose the Grand Theory Of Everything (GTOE). It’s also the worst possible time to develop a GTOE.

I do, however, believe that “theory”, as a general  tool is very important, not so much for  “explanatory power“, but as guiding principle, analytical aid, and in a sense, an intellectual “port in a storm” when things get really complex and decision making becomes very hard.  I have been threatening for some time now to begin writing about my views on how economic theory (specifically modern micro-economic theory) is an excellent aid in product creation and decision making (its coming, really), and Tom alludes to the sociologic Middle Range Theory as a theoretical guiding principle, which I think is a good and relevant theoretical framework for PM work.  Theory has to be part of a PM’s tool box, and that theory, frankly, should come from a wide and not a narrow area of knowledge. Ultimately, if one can turn to Thorstein Veblen or Elinor Ostrom for inspiration rather than chasing down an arbitrary goal set for clicks on a new feature, then I think one’s decision making might end up more consistent and oriented towards the long run and quality outcomes (of course, selling that kind of thinking across the organization might be tough). Start-ups and small, fast-moving companies don’t really have th time or the resources to be drawing on a ton of empiricism for their decision-making.  Yes, we all need to measure certain things and use the empirical data to make decisions, but we have to be realistic about what we can measure, and more importantly, what real decision producing meaning we can glean from the data. Tom also points to the problem with lots of arduous up-front research:

If someone can figure out why even the most meticulously written and reviewed requirements don’t stop some tech companies from making products that their users don’t like or can’t understand, that’s a big contribution to our little field of study

Indeed, Tom. I am actually going to take a stab at this, but even if I’m not successful, I firmly believe that the era of the 20 page MRD was dead at least 5 years ago. We aren’t philosophers, us PM types, but can certainly use their wisdom from time to time.