Job Skills—Time Management

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Hello. I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I’m here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we’re talking about time and resource management.

Everyone has to find a way to manage their time and get things done, whether that’s in their personal life or in their work life. But project leaders are tasked with managing time at the organizational level—which means they have to get multiple teams to deliver specific results on schedule.

They have to help teams work more productively. And they have to keep teams across the organization working at full capacity—but without wearing those people out.

Tegan Jones

Yeah, you don’t want to be so focused on increasing productivity that you end up exhausting your teams. That’s very counterintuitive. But it does make sense why leaders are so focused on increasing operational efficiency. 

You know, how efficient teams are really determines how much an organization can get done in a week, or a month or a year. It determines how much progress they can make towards achieving their strategic goals. So it wasn’t really surprising to me to see that 40 percent of IT leaders say the top initiatives driving IT investment right now are focused on increasing operational efficiency. And I saw that stat in CIO’s 2019 State of the CIO report. 

To give you some context, this priority was tied with increasing cybersecurity protections. So, incredibly important for these people.

Stephen W. Maye

Tegan, you make a great point about the link between efficiency and executing strategy. But how do they ensure their teams are actually delivering on strategy? I mean, it’s really no help if people are doing great work, but they aren’t doing the right work. Otherwise you could end up with the business version of, “The bad news is, we’re lost, but the good news is, we’re making great time.”

Tegan Jones

[laughs] Right?

Stephen W. Maye

And when you think about how quickly strategies and priorities can change today, especially in regard to technology, IT leaders really have no choice but to be pretty hands-on in this department.

Tegan Jones

And that is how they seem to feel about it, at least according to the CIO survey. It found that just under half of IT leaders say they spend a significant amount of time aligning IT initiatives to business goals. And again this priority ranked just slightly lower than security management. So I think that it speaks to a real need for leaders to stay engaged with their project teams, informed about where people are spending their time and really keeping everyone moving forward towards those strategic outcomes.

Stephen W. Maye

And this is a topic I recently discussed with Marcio Amadeu, the senior project portfolio manager for Nestlé USA. Marcio manages the IT project portfolio for Nestlé’s biggest market, where it operates 79 manufacturing facilities across 38 states. And he talked about what it takes to make sure the organization is committing the right resources to the right projects across the board.

Tegan Jones

That’s also something we’re going to hear a little bit about from Michael Janzen, who is the PMO director for MedStar Health. MedStar is an organization that owns and operates hospitals in the Maryland and Washington D.C. area. 

And Michael talked about what it takes to manage competing requests for resources so that everyone is prioritizing the work that’s going to get them closer to meeting their strategic goals. 

Stephen W. Maye

But first we’re going to hear from Kiersten Huddleston, program manager at Salesforce in Seattle. Kiersten offered some great tips for reducing distractions and boosting productivity on project teams. Let’s go to her now.

[musical transition]
Kiersten Huddleston

I think the biggest thing as program managers that we can do is to align with all of the external stakeholders that are going to have asks of the team and work with them to create a backlog of requests.

I know one tool that I used to get around this was hosting a standing call where everyone that would have any kind of ask of my team can join, and we can transparently discuss anything that’s going to be coming up in the next month and the next quarter and work with them to sort of prioritize what makes sense for the team to work on and then what doesn’t. 

Another thing we did is blocking heads-down time. For us it’s called a blitz. But blocking out time on people’s calendars where their phone is turned down. They are not looking at their Gchats, or their pings or their emails, and they can just be heads down for that set amount of time every day or every week, whatever the cadence is. We saw a really big uptick in productivity around that.

I think the best thing you can do is make it a part of your culture and make it a competition. People love a good competition and setting aside time for all teams across the floor where everyone has visibility to see everyone is focusing on the same thing, and then making that competitive side of it come to life with giving out extra time off, or we call them spiffs where you give out a small bonus on the spot. You can incentivize the team with things like that to really get them motivated to utilize the heads-down time and be fully in it and present in the moment.

So, the other thing I would note is that when you create a team culture that values excellence and exceeding goals that really helps the team drive itself instead of as a program manager constantly checking in and making sure that we’re hitting our milestones. 

When they have a culture that’s preset that encourages them and rewards them for striving for excellence, for completing milestones early then that’s when we see teams that are performing really well.

If there is someone that’s new that’s starting day one and they notice everyone around them has their phone out and they’re on Gchat or they’re on Facebook on the side, that sort of sets the standard of what’s okay and what’s not okay. Creating different standards that raise the bar I think really help with that.

And it helps create a culture of excellence where people aren’t on their phones and they aren’t on social media. Because when you look around and see that half of your team is distracted or is working on something that’s maybe not work-related, it can be challenging to get your head back in the game and be heads down working on the task at hand.

[musical transition]
Stephen W. Maye

Digital distractions can really be a serious drain on productivity. I mean, personally I have two phones. And if I enabled more alerts or stopped what I was doing every time one of my devices made a sound, I would never really focus or go deep on the work in front of me.

Tegan Jones

I do think it’s something that all of us struggle with, especially in the digital age. But it’s not always just about putting down the phone. I recently saw a survey from the online learning company Udemi that tried to define and measure the impact of distractions on productivity.

And according to its 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, 70 percent of workers in the U.S. say that they feel distracted when they’re on the job. And 16 percent say they’re distracted almost all the time. 

And while personal devices are a top distraction for younger workers, chatty co-workers and office noise were actually the highest ranking distractors overall.

Stephen W. Maye

You know, we’ve seen a big move toward these open office spaces that offer a lot of flexibility for teams. And I could see how this lack of structure, the lack of physical doors and walls, could also create a lot of distractions if the space isn’t managed well. And it seems like Kiersten’s tips about blitzes and heads-down time could really help in those kind of environments.

Tegan Jones

Yeah, I think so, too. And I think it’s really important for leaders to try to be proactive and address this issue because distractions can be a major morale killer. You know the survey I mentioned before found that roughly 1 in 3 employees likes their jobs less when they find themselves in a distracting workplace. 

And when there are fewer distractions, organizations see big benefits. So, for instance, 75 percent of employees say that they’re more productive, 57 percent say that they’re more motivated, and 49 percent say they’re overall happier at work. 

Stephen W. Maye

But beyond managing personal distractions, I think leaders need to limit the impact of work-related interruptions if they want teams to be as productive as possible. If meeting invites or change requests keep coming through, it becomes really tough for team members to make progress on priority projects.

Tegan Jones

To get some advice on how to avoid that situation, we spoke to Michael Janzen, who is the PMO director for MedStar Health in Washington D.C. 

Our contributing editor Matt Schur has the full story. So let’s go to him now. 

[musical transition]
Matt Schur

How do you measure productivity? For some, it’s about how much you get done in a day. But to really deliver on strategy, Michael Janzen says you should put quality over quantity. 

Michael Janzen

We resource our strategic initiatives first. So some people kind of refer to this as putting the big rocks in the bucket first so that you don’t fill up the bucket with a lot of the small things, and then you don’t have the resources or the funding to do the large things. Once our priority strategic initiatives are resourced, then we look for what resources are left over, and what we can ultimately accomplish with them. 

Matt Schur 

But not everything is a strategic initiative. So when it comes to resourcing day-to-day projects, Janzen works to keep teams focused on the big picture needs of the business. 

Michael Janzen

Although our strategic initiatives are prioritized, most of the projects that fall under this level are not. We focus on projects that are funded, within the current fiscal year. Beyond that, we basically work in a first in, first out method. Unfortunately, this can lead to projects that have strong business sponsors or the squeaky wheel syndrome, or whoever screams the loudest getting to the front of the line. And ultimately, what we try to do is just manage customer expectations. 

Matt Schur

When projects are competing for resources, Janzen reaches out to the business sponsor—or the customer—to see what’s driving the deadline.

Michael Janzen

You know, every project is important to the person that is trying to make things happen. But what they don’t understand is how many projects that we have going on at a given time, and that we’ve allocated resources across a lot of different projects. And really, what it is, is it’s trying to understand from that customer’s perspective is what’s driving that constraint date. Or why this needs to be done. You know, what’s the urgency that’s here? 

Matt Schur

Many times, there is no urgency. People just want to get things done. In those situations, Janzen works with stakeholders and project managers to level-set their priorities—and keep everyone focused on strategic goals.

Michael Janzen

So many people are running around doing so many different things, and all of a sudden something pops up, and they expect so many people in the organization just to drop everything they’re doing and turn and focus on this. And a lot of what I tend to do is kind of calm people down and really get them to understand what is the sense of urgency here? And let them really kind of focus on the big picture of MedStar and all that we have going on. And they start to understand, this is a cog in the wheel. You know, it’s not driving the whole organization. That we understand something is important to you and we’ll do the best we can to make that happen. But it just doesn’t make it go to the top of the list, just because it slipped through the cracks, and now it’s important to you.

[musical transition]
Stephen W. Maye 

Squeaky wheel syndrome can really throw a team—or even an entire organization—off track if it isn’t kept in check. 

Tegan Jones

Yeah, and if the person asking for something is really influential or has a lot of authority in the organization, it can be tough to avoid that situation. 

But I do think it’s important to create a culture where team members feel comfortable pushing back if they’re getting conflicting messages about priorities or what they should be working on on any given day. 

Stephen W. Maye

Agreed. And I think that starts with helping teams understand the organization’s strategic priorities so they can avoid getting pulled in the wrong direction. This is something I heard from Marcio Amadeu, who is the senior project portfolio manager for Nestlé USA, based in Arlington, Virginia. He talked about how data helps Nestlé find areas where teams may not be performing at full capacity so that he and other leaders can help refocus their time.

Tegan Jones

I’ll be really interested to hear what kind of data he’s looking at and how he actually uses that information to make changes on the ground. So, let’s go to that now.

[musical transition]
Stephen W. Maye

Marcio, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. So many of us today feel like we have so much going on that trying to manage time effectively becomes not just a nice to have but becomes really a core skill for being effective in our work. So I was eager to have this conversation. Thank you for being on.

Marcio Amadeu

It’s a pleasure to be here, I’m honored, and I hope to contribute to the podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Absolutely. So let’s jump right in. Tell me about your role at Nestlé, particularly what type of project portfolio do you manage?

Marcio Amadeu

So I am a project portfolio manager in Nestlé USA, so I manage the portfolio of IT projects. Nestlé USA is the biggest Nestlé market in the world. We have 300 locations in the United States, and we employ 48,000 people in the United States. And the main objective of project portfolio management is basically to define and deliver the portfolio of projects, and align with the business strategy. 

Stephen W. Maye

That’s such an important theme, and we hear it often. This idea of ensuring that our projects are aligned to the strategy and delivering key strategic outcomes. So in your case, if you take that broader organizational perspective, how do you ensure that your teams are prioritizing the most important projects?

Marcio Amadeu

Well, I think the most important thing is to understand the business strategies, right? And we say here that we need to do the right projects before we do the projects right. By understanding these business priorities, and focusing on the right projects, we have the team focused, and they know what they have to do, they know what they have to deliver.

Stephen W. Maye

Say more about that. How do you ensure that these teams have both the capability and the capacity to actually do that? To actually tackle high-priority projects effectively and efficiently.

Marcio Amadeu

Well, we have regular meetings. We have demand and capacity planning. So we look at the resources, we know their capacity, we know the demand against these projects. We know where the resources are working. We also look at the actuals, so we make sure that the teams are booking time, so we can also make sure that our estimates are correct. So we run reports, right? We have to rely on data on that. And we use those data to speak to the team leads, to the people managers, to address this, if we have time management problems, for example. Like people not working as they should or working more than they should. But we have to rely on data on that, and make sure that the demand and the capacity is always being looked at.

Stephen W. Maye

So with so much going on, I’m sure you have a lot of data points to draw from. What are the big time management challenges that you see project teams struggling with?

Marcio Amadeu

Well, I think excessive workload. And I think you guys heard about the deal with Starbucks. Nestlé has purchased the right to sell coffee products under the Starbucks brand. This deal with Starbucks shuffled the whole portfolio of projects. We had to restructure, reprioritize, reorganize our teams. So I think workload is a problem, right. Sometimes one project takes priority over another project and could impact sustain, for example. When we talk about IT, we’re basically saying that sustain is keeping the lights on. So it’s quite critical that we look at that, and we try to avoid this excessive workload. I think that’s to me the biggest challenge that the companies face today. It’s probably in all companies.

Stephen W. Maye

So as you see people that are experiencing this very heavy workload, which is often true in large, complex companies—even in much smaller companies today—what is the company able to do, or what are you able to do in your role, to help people respond to that more effectively?

Marcio Amadeu

I think the project manager and the PMO team, they have to sense the vibe of the teams. They have to understand, we always have the CIOs screaming down our necks, and we have to deliver, we have the pressure. But sometime a break is needed. Something that I used to do was, for example, in special events. Create events like testing your whole scenario to deploy something big. Making sure that the logistics are there, that the rooms have computers with big screens, food, good food, drinks, snacks.

And that should keep at least the team motivated to—even facing fatigue, and heavy workload—they have something to motivate them to continue to deliver.  

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, excellent, excellent. How do you deal with the need for project and program managers to juggle multiple projects, and to do that more efficiently?

Marcio Amadeu

I think it’s hard to find a good balance. Sizing projects is important, to avoid having a project manager managing multiple complex projects. I would say that weekly status report is the regular opportunity for the project manager to ask for help when things are not going so well. A yellow status can just basically raise a flag and say I need help, I’m managing too much, and I need to escalate something. 

Stephen W. Maye

I’m interested in how you’ve created an environment where that is okay. There are many environments where people don’t feel like they can do that. So how have you made that safe? How have you made that okay?

Marcio Amadeu

We are always afraid to fail. But I was lucky to have an environment with good leaders. And saying that we could raise a flag. It’s better to basically say that it’s yellow, we need help, than to say it’s green and then we could impact a go-live ahead of us. So I think it’s important to change the mindset and basically say, you guys have to report what is the reality, and then we can help. And leadership is there to help and remove the blockers that these project managers may find. 

Stephen W. Maye

So we know that when we have a large, complex program—and it doesn’t even have to be that large—we’re going to have many, many dependencies. We’re going to have dependencies within projects, across projects, and even between portfolios. And as those dependencies come to bear, it can create situations where teams or subteams are essentially waiting. And that of course can create a time crunch. So how do you make sure that you don’t end up with teams waiting because of those dependencies?

Marcio Amadeu

I think that’s a great question, and I would say that it reinforces the importance of time management. Because within this period, I would expect that the resources are booking time against other things, other priorities or day-to-day activities. We manage here the full capacity, so we also want to see the resources doing something that is not a project activity. And we’ve reviewed those numbers, and it could be that we may need to adjust a certain estimate for a specific project, knowing that in that period, we are waiting for something else, and we may reshuffle the priority and reshuffle the resources. So we do review that demand capacity, or the actuals, versus the demand to adjust the teams and try to avoid that down time. 

Stephen W. Maye

So I hear you saying that we can’t entirely avoid the stall or the delay, but we certainly need to know how to use those teams effectively during those delays. So we plan for it, and we understand what they’re going to be working on. To your point, what they’re going to be booking time against, when they do have those somewhat inevitable delays because of the complex dependencies.

Marcio Amadeu

That’s a perfect statement. In IT, we work with different technologies. Some new technologies. We often don’t know what the technology is bringing. It may bring new challenges. And we, yeah, it may happen that we need some time to fix some stuff. And yes, we need to basically reshuffle the resources and wait for something to be delivered. 

Stephen W. Maye

With so many distractions today, and many of these of course are digital distractions—and some of them are even work-related digital distractions—how do you get teams to stay focused on the task at hand, with so many things competing for their attention?

Marcio Amadeu

Yeah, we have to break the habit of using emails and instant messaging too much. To me personally, they are huge distractions. And we have to start using technology in our favor. And there’s a lot of tools out there that helps us connect more effectively, or a simple phone call could be much more effective than emails back and forth. It takes at least 15 minutes of doing something to get our brain focused. And breaking that concentration would require 15 more minutes. So that’s 30 minutes already, in vain, that you lost right there, just by receiving an email or receiving a pop. I think we have to use technology in our favor, I would say.

Stephen W. Maye

I have one more question for you before we cut you loose. So, if you think about this broad category of efficiency and of time management, and of course within the context of project and portfolio and program management. If you were going to give only one piece of advice, what is the best piece of time management advice that you can give to a portfolio manager or program manager or project manager?

Marcio Amadeu

It is important to show the value of time management. People see this activity as a no value added, and pure admin. People leave to the end of the month to start booking time. I think what I’ve been doing, I’ve been showing the value of it throughout the process, throughout showing good estimates, good plan, good actuals. I show what I look at, and people understand the big picture and why they should book time. I think showing the value of time management to people is crucial to get this embedded into the culture of the organization. 

Stephen W. Maye

So demonstrate the value of good time management. And with that. Marcio Amadeu, project portfolio manager at Nestlé in Arlington, Virginia has the last word. Marcio, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for being on the show.

Marcio Amadeu

My pleasure. Thank you. 

Narrator

Thank you for listening to Projectified™ with PMI. If you liked this episode, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. We’d love your feedback, so please leave a rating or review.