All organizations operate in a limited resource environment. There is always more work that can be done than there are resources to do it. And, given our current economic conditions, this is even truer today. Denying or ignoring this fact sets off a chain reaction in organizations.
Executives at the top need better business results so they push on middle level managers to produce more. Middle level managers say yes to more projects because they don’t want to appear unresponsive to business needs. These decisions then lead to more projects being launched which in turn heighten work demands on folks who actually do the work.
With this, projects start slipping because people in the trenches have too much to do. Then pressure comes from on high, and of course, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Not that the squeaky wheels are the highest priority ones, they are just the loudest or most noticed ones. So now there’s a good chance the projects with the most potential to bring about business results are receiving the least attention. It’s madness.
In this situation there are only three options for organizations. Hire more resources, make the current resources more efficient, or launch fewer projects. As I said earlier, there is always more work that can be done and if acquiring more resources was an option most organizations would have hired them already. So that leaves us with either becoming more efficient in the way employees work or working on fewer projects.
Inside every manager is some level of belief that their employees are not working as hard as they can. Some are very trusting of their employees but still have this thought in the back of their mind even though it may be very small. Some managers are very distrusting and overwhelmingly believe their employees are sandbagging. No one really knows the truth; and, they only have intuition guiding them. Pushing employees past what they say they can accomplish within a specified period of time is one way to increase efficiency, but it is exactly what brings on the madness described above.
A better way to increase efficiency is to invest in skill training and engage in process improvement initiatives. Yes, this will cause efficiency to decrease at first but then you’ll reap the rewards and surge past where you started. Regardless, if you don’t do anything, you can’t magically think greater efficiencies will appear.
When it comes to working on fewer projects this action often feels defeating. You know what needs to be accomplished to make your company more competitive and if you can’t do it, you feel as though you are going to lose the fight. While these feelings are real the end result is never that dramatic. Take the time to prioritize the importance of each project against your strategic plans. First, number them 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. Next, start with the highest priority project and then add the next priority, making sure you get buy-in on what work can be accomplished during that period of time. Then, when you reach your work capacity limit draw a line and stop adding projects until you gain more capacity. Employees will feel better and be more capable of surges in effort when they are required to make a deadline.
The symptoms of exceeding the capacity of your resources are easy to see; however, fixing the problem is hard to do. It requires restraint and investment. No one said management is easy.