This is a guest post from Peter Taylor bearing the title of The Lazy Project Manager and running the site under the same name.
What is productive laziness
‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.’ Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988)
By advocating being a ‘lazy’ project manager I do not intend that we should all do absolutely nothing. I am not saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the project hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon. That would obviously be plain stupid and would result in an extremely short career in project management, in fact probably a very short career full stop!
Lazy does not mean Stupid. No I really mean that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.
Science behind the laziness – being focused
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that for many phenomena 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes. The idea has rule-of-thumb application in many places, but it’s also commonly misused, for example, it is a misuse to state that a solution to a problem ‘fits the 80-20 rule’ just because it fits 80% of the cases; it must be implied that this solution requires only 20% of the resources needed to solve all cases.
The principle was in fact suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran and it was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of property in Italy was owned by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.
So ‘20% of clients may be responsible for 80% of sales volume’. This can be evaluated and is likely to be roughly right, and can be helpful in future decision making. The Pareto Principle also applies to a variety of more mundane matters: one might guess approximately that we wear our 20% most favoured clothes about 80% of the time, perhaps we spend 80% of the time with 20% of our acquaintances and so on.
The Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule can and should be used by every smart but lazy person in their daily life. The value of the Pareto Principle for a project manager is that it reminds you to focus on the 20 percent that matters.
Woody Allen once said ‘80% of success is showing up’, I’m not so sure about that, I have seen projects where there was a physical project manager around but you would never have believed that looking at the project progress, or lack of progress.
No, better I believe to appreciate that of the things you do during your day, only 20 percent really matter. Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results.
So, you should identify and focus on those things during your working day.
Science behind the laziness – being smart
It’s no good just being lazy; you have to be better than lazy, you have to be lazy in a very smart way.
Productive Laziness is not just about being lazy, it requires something more and that is a powerful and magical combination of laziness and intelligence. Smart lazy people have a real edge over others in society and are most suited to leadership roles in organizations.
This theory has existed for many years and applied in a number of interesting ways. One of the most famous of these was in the Prussian Army.
Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800 – 1891) was a German Generalfeldmarschall. The chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years, he is widely regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter half of the 1800s, and the creator of a new, more modern method, of directing armies in the field.
In 1857 Helmuth Moltke was given the position Chief of the Prussian Großer Generalstab (military staff), a position he held for the next 30 years. As soon as he gained the position he went to work making changes to the strategic and tactical methods of the Prussian army; changes in armament and in means of communication; changes in the training of staff officers; and changes to the method for the mobilization of the army. He also instituted a formal study of European politics in connection with the plans for campaigns which might become necessary. In short, he rapidly put into place the features of a modern General Staff.
Moltke had a particular insight to and approach to categorising his officer corps, something which lives on to this day within many armed forces, and something which can apply to all forms of leadership.
If you consider the two ranges of individual characteristics, those that go from diligent through to lazy, and those that go from non-smart through to smart (yes I am being politically correct here) then you end up with the four character types in the diagram above.
General von Moltke divided his officer corps into these four distinct types, depending on their mental and physical characteristics. He ended up with (and he never had to be politically correct being born in the 19th century and being chief of the Prussian army) type A: mentally dull and physically lazy, type B: mentally bright and physically energetic, type C: mentally dull and physically energetic, and type D: mentally bright and physically lazy.
Type ‘A’ officers, who were mentally dull and physically lazy, were given simple, repetitive, and unchallenging tasks to perform. They had reached their career peak in the army. That said, if you left them alone then they might just come up with a good idea one day, if not then they won’t cause you any problems either.
Type ‘B’ officers who were mentally bright and physically energetic were considered to be obsessed with micromanagement and would, as a result, be poor leaders. Promotion was possible over a period of time but not to the status of commanding officer of the German General Staff. These officers were best at making sure orders were carried out and thoughtfully addressing all the detail.
Type ‘C’ officers who were mentally dull but physically energetic were considered to be somewhat dangerous. To Moltke, they were officers who would require constant supervision, which was an unacceptable overhead and distraction, and because they would potentially create problems faster than could be managed, these officers were considered too much trouble and were dismissed. No career there then!
Which brings us to type ‘D’ officers; these were the mentally bright and yet physically lazy officers who Moltke felt could and should take the highest levels of command. This
type of officer was both smart enough to see what needed to be done but was also motivated by inherent laziness to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what was required. Put in a more positive way they would know how to be successful through the most efficient deployment of effort.
So, smart lazy people have a real edge over others and are most suited to leadership roles in organizations. The Lazy Project Manager is all about applying these principles in the delivery and management of projects. It is assumed that you are not stupid so you are already on the right-hand side of the diagram, what you now need to do is hone your lazy skills in order to rise to the top right hand side of the diagram. Do this and not only will your projects be more successful, you will also be seen as successful and a safe pair of hands for future leadership roles.
All in a Fun Day’s Work
Taking it all a little less seriously can be good for your project health.
‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’ Douglas Adams (Author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’)
You have to laugh; well I think you have to laugh.
Without a little bit of fun in every project then the project world can be a dark and depressing place.
Setting a professional but fun structure for your project can really be beneficial for when the problems start to rise up to challenge your plan of perfectness. And problems will inevitably arise.
In the years I have done many things to encourage team bonding, lighten the darker moments of project hell, and diffuse difficult project related situations. I have even accepted the full and complete blame for every problem, issue and challenge to a project in front of a room full of project team members, before walking outside and firing myself (in a loud voice, well voices – one mine and one me pretending to be my boss). The net result was a diffused situation, where it had previously been extremely confrontational between teams and individuals.
Done well this does not damage your status or authority but can actually be a very positive act in people seeing you a human being, and not just a project manager, and thereafter wanting to share a smile and a laugh with you during the day.
It is just the same in that hotbed of confrontation, the home!
Try looking at one of your children when they are in a really bad mood. Look them in the eye, with a serious face, and point a finger at them and say’ Don’t laugh! Don’t you dare laugh! If you laugh you will go straight to the naughty stair!’. I bet at the very least you will get a smile out of them.
My family finds that, even in the most stressed out, aggressive, emotional and ‘in your face’ moments, if you can make the opposition (and I use that term loosely) laugh then the war is soon over.
It is hard to kill someone when you are laughing.
Well I guess that is true except for some of the more extreme psychopathic types (‘No, I expect you to die Mr Bond’ … cue maniacal laughter).
Applying the ‘Productive Lazy’ approach
Start with a smile and a joke
A Project Manager and her principal architect and her chief analyst were having a lunch time stroll along the beach, as you do, when they happened upon a small brass lamp lying on the sand. Eagerly they grabbed the lamp and rubbed it and, of course, as in every fairytale, the giant genie appeared in a puff of magic smoke.
‘I am the genie of the lamp’ he proclaimed ‘and I will grant you three wishes’
He paused, as if noting for the first time that there were in fact three people staring at him.
‘As there are three of you then you will have to share the traditional three wishes. Each of you will be granted one wish each. Who’s first?’ he asked.
The ever eager principal architect did not hesitate a second. ‘I wish that I was on a tropical island with sun, sand, clear blue water and palm trees, oh and with a group of nubile girls delivering endless cocktails.’
‘No problem’ said the Genie, and with a quick flash and a puff of smoke the architect disappeared.
‘Wow’ said the chief analyst ‘I wish I was in fast and expensive sports car driving through the mountains to my magnificent villa overlooking the Mediterranean, where I will drink champagne and eat caviar’.
‘Easy’ said the Genie, and with another quick flash and another puff of smoke the analyst disappeared as well.
‘And what is your wish?’ commanded the genie to the project manager.
‘Simple’ she replied ‘I want those other two back at their desks by 1:30 prompt!’
Make fun part of your project
We all know about the team phases, ‘forming – storming – norming – performing – mourning’ – if you don’t there is plenty of information on the topic out there in ‘Google-land’.
Now I would suggest that to have a little bit of fun can really help calm the nerves during the storming phase when team conflict and competition can be high; it should be indoctrinated in to the norming phase as the team develops their working rules and processes; and finally, during the performing phase I am convinced of the value of fun in keeping the team at peak performance.
Here’s a few ideas:
Working with a Canadian colleague we used to put ‘secret’ fun messages in presentations that we each gave. This allowed us to have a laugh or two, and in fact challenged us to put more and more difficult words and phrases in to business presentations without anyone else spotting something odd was going on. I extended this to a full project team once. No one knew that the others were in the ‘game’, everybody thought it was just them and me. It was very amusing. The meeting had a great feeling about it, everyone was happy and smiling. And yes, it was very productive.
You can do things like ‘It’s Friday’ the one day of the week when the team care share ‘funnies’ through email . This is good because it limits to a degree such emails to one day of the week and it should also make the team consider what is appropriate for general sharing rather than just sharing everything.
My current team all enjoy many happy moments, once a year, when we ‘talk like a pirate’ on, honestly, ‘Talk like a Pirate’ day. Check it out.
And here is my favourite ‘ice breaker’:
Place the group you have in to small teams of 4 or 5 ideally, any more and it gets a little difficult.
A flipchart or whiteboard is needed for each team (or at least a piece of flipchart sheet).
Get one person in each team to draw a large circle in the middle of each sheet and then draw a line out from that circle for each member of the team (so team of 4 = 4 lines).
Now ask the teams to discuss amongst themselves and identify:
• Three things that they have in common
• One thing that is unique to them
Allow them five minutes to do this, and try to guide them away from really easy things like football, beer, work, shopping etc.
ten minutes for this and when everyone is done get the groups to remain standing and ask one person from each team explain the team’s results – for fun see if the other teams can guess the unique things.
This process avoids the creeping death introductions around the table and gets the group relaxed and knowing a little more about each other, it is surprising what you will find out about your colleagues in a very short time that you didn’t know before. I guarantee the results will be the topic of conversation at the next coffee break.
Practice safe fun
Obviously it has to be acceptable fun – don’t want to be ‘pc’ here but do be careful – think carefully about your team members, does your fun equal other people’s fun?
Also bear in mind there are times to have fun and times to be serious, you and your team must understand the parameters of this. And there maybe members of the project team who just don’t want to have fun, make sure that they are not excluded or isolated from the rest of the team.
Make you fun smart fun
Now, when you have this whole ‘work hard but have some fun’ project underway the smart, and by that I of course mean ‘productively lazy’ project managers, will sit back in the comfy chair and let their project team self-generate the fun working atmosphere.
Done right you will have set the acceptable parameters for fun in your project, both in content and in extent, and you will have engendered that spirit amongst your project team to the point where, one day, when you are the one on a low, they will make come up and make you smile.
End with a laugh and a wave
A man in a hot air balloon was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted another woman below. He descended a little bit more and shouted:
‘Excuse me madam, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am’
The woman replied: ‘You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above alkali desert scrub habitat, 2.7 miles west of the Colorado River near one of the remnant populations and spawning grounds of the razorback sucker.’
‘You must be a biologist’ said the balloonist.
‘I am’ replied the woman. ‘How did you know?’
‘Well’ answered the balloonist ‘everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far.’
The woman below responded ‘You must be a project manager.’
‘I am’ replied the balloonist ‘but how did you know?’
‘Well,’ said the woman ‘you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise to someone that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow it’s now my fault!’
Have fun on your projects.
‘And no Mr Bond, I expect you to laugh’
A project manager’s tale of self humiliation
There was a time when I cared what others thought about me but that time has mostly passed; I still care a little of course.
I think a significant turning point came a few years ago, not too many years ago come to think of it, when I was working on a global program within my own company. The program was simple in its concept – develop a standard project management methodology, train everybody in that methodology, and then make sure that everyone used the methodology all of the time.
Parts one and two (develop and train) were not without their challenges but were achieved within 12 months, which was pretty good going. Part three proved to be the really difficult part. We met with not resistance as such but more apathy and a general mood of ‘just smile politely and they will eventually leave us alone to carry on as we have always done’. Adoption rates were low and we were failing.
We had many (many) discussions, workshops, conference calls, brainstorming sessions and the like to try and work out what could be done to drive adoption that much faster. And all these ideas pretty much fell in to two camps – the incentive category (or carrot) and the punishment category (stick).
One aspect of working on a global project was that conference calls, amongst the team, were often held at unusually early or late calls, and on one of these late long calls I finally had had enough.
As the conversation went around and around the carrot and stick, stick and carrot, all carrot and no stick, all stick and no carrot options I suddenly stated ‘ What we actually need is the Giant Killer Carrot of Death’.
‘Oh we’d pay to see that’ came the general response and so, two weeks later, and having secured a suitable costume I was outside my house having my photograph taken in a giant bright orange and green carrot costume (I was very surprised when I contacted a large fancy dress costume hirers and requested a vegetable outfit. They listed a quite impressive list of options of both the vegetable and fruit variety).
And so it came to pass that the Giant Killer Carrot of Death began his (do carrots have a gender?) reign of driving adoption in the methodology.
I really don’t think that the whole root vegetable thing helped in any way with the future adoption levels of the methodology but it certainly made the team laugh and gave them all a great introduction to many conversations, meetings and presentations after that (with the highest ‘laugh’ factor being the ones where they did this when I was also in the room):
‘Have you seen Peter dressed as a carrot?’
I like to think I made a few people’s working day a little lighter.
It was all in day’s fun, that’s for sure .
About the Author:
Despite his title of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, Peter Taylor is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers: latterly as Head of Projects at a global supplier of performance system solutions, and currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach. He is also the author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ book (Infinite Ideas 2009) – for more information – www.thelazyprojectmanager.com – you can also subscribe to a series of free podcasts on iTunes (The Lazy Project Manager).