The workers today manage more stuff - literally, documents, email, phone calls, other people, projects, money - not to mention family and outside interests - than any generation ever. Just look at the gradual slump into greater and greater management responsibility over history:
- Cavemen had to keep the fires going, bring home fresh meat and avoid dying. That's about all they had to manage
- As civilization matured, and people started working together and trading goods and services, they
had to manage themselves, their employees, their business partners, goods, services and money,
in addition to bringing home the bacon and keeping the homeplace warm and dry
- We in our infinitely more sophisticated lifestyle attempt to manage everything - in fact it seems
all I do every day is manage stuff - people, processes, money, expectations, relationships, etc
But that's why we get paid the big bucks.
But as our responsibilities and the number of things we have to manage have increased, have our tools and capabilities increased correspondingly? My thinking suggests that our challenges greatly outweigh the tools and processes to manage them. This means we need to take a hard look at the science and techniques we have available to us to manage stuff - and frankly boil it all down to what's important.
The first and most important aspect to managing anything - and I mean anything - is to manage expectations. I know you probably thought I was going to suggest more education or a new web-based application, but my history suggests that managing expectations is much more powerful.
What this means is setting the goals correctly up-front, defining the scope and the constraints of any task or resource, and constantly re-assessing where you are as you proceed through the task or process. What you are attempting to do through managing expectations is to keep your customer fully informed. By fully informed I mean of the positive things that are happening, the not so positive things you are rectifying, and you are constantly shaping how they view the status and outcome of the project. By doing all of this expectation management, you are keeping your customer's expectations in line with what you can deliver. Expectation management requires you to understand how to read your customer and determine what they expect, how realistic their expectations are, and how to reset those expectations. Being a good manager means being able to help shape other people's expectations and expected outcomes, sometimes even their realities.
The second most important aspect to successfully managing anything is to manage scope. Scope and expectations are somewhat intertwined. Managing scope means clearly and effectively defining the outlines of the deliverable or result, and holding those outlines or deliverables as steady as possible. Every project or task is subject to change. Scope can change as well - but as a manager, as scope changes one of two things has to happen - either you get more resources to account for an increase in scope, or your scope increases in one area and decreases in another area to account for the change in scope but no change in resources. This is where scope and expectations overlap - 9 women can't make a baby in one month. Good managers establish a solid scope and expect to change the scope, but commiserate with the resources and timeframes.
The third most important aspect to successfully managing anything is to manage information. Our tasks and projects today require data and information as inputs, and generate information as outputs. Often we even need information to help make sense of the project or to support or filter our data. Managing data means being able to determine what it is you have - raw data, "hard" data, soft data, "information" - which I define as data presented with analysis or in a context, opinion, experience and other forms of information. What types of information do you have? What emphasis should you give each type of data or information? How should the information be used? Good managers know what data and information they need, how to get that data, how to use the data and what the data means.
There are a couple of other factors that I think make people successful managing anything. I'll address those as a part two later.