Yesterday, I was coaching someone through some project management issues. They are a team leader and the team was not delivering their individual (parts of the) work on time. Combine that with the fact that this team leader was balancing a number of projects at the same time, they were getting stressed about priorities and delivery.
I found myself using one of my favorite quotes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” In order to manage larger efforts (projects and the like), it’s best to break it down into more manageable pieces, and then attack each one individually. I like to do the breakdown in outline form in MS-Word; I can easily rearrange things as I think through the steps. Then, I prioritize the ‘pieces’ in the order that points to the end goal. Assigning a time commitment to each step helps me pace myself and not be concerned about the ones I am not working on at that moment.
Another one that comes to mind is, “When you are up to your rear in alligators, you can lose sight of the objective (that is) to drain the swamp.” This one points to the fact that we have to be sure that we are working on the original objective, and not being distracted by the momentum, interruptions, and distractions that come from project management. I practice, and coach, “Outcome-based Management”. Define the desired outcome and work backwards through the steps required to achieve the desired outcome. From step one, manage each one individually and ensure your work is pointing to the end goal.
“If you are not the lead (sled) dog, the view never changes.” is one I like for keeping my mind on the fact that if I am appointed to a leadership position, or volunteer in that capacity, that if I don’t exercise that leadership, “…the view never changes.” Most often used in a competitive environment, like sales achievement, I like this quote to remind myself of the importance to lead the team down the right path and listen for direction from the person (or market condition) calling the cadence.
As we finished our discussion together, I asked her to take some time for herself. Retreat to a quiet place and take five minutes to escape the din of the job at hand. I told her that doing so may afford her an opportunity to regroup her thoughts, set new priorities, and see the workload in a more manageable state. I reminded her that in her position as a team leader, it would not be wise (or fair) to accept the majority of the work to be done. If her team members were faltering, help them get back on-track, but don’t clean up their work or do it for them. As I once read, “A manager is the ‘what and when’ of the organization, not the ‘how’”.