Monthly Archives: August 2007


Personal Effort – The 80% rule

Three weeks ago I was moaning about all the changes going on around me and my apparent inability to manage them all. Well, yesterday I was at a reception when someone came up to me and asked me how I relaxed? "What do you mean?", I asked. "Well" he said, "with all your activities, projects and all the other stuff I read about you, I wondered how you ever relaxed?" My answer was kind of scary – “I am not sure” I said. “Perhaps by listening to music?” he asked. “Or possibly by riding your motorcycle?” he continued.

Anyway the really interesting part of the conversation came next, when he said, “Harley I use the 80% rule. I only ever work at a maximum of 80% of my personal capacity, this always leaves me with 20% left over.” It was a reception, after all and I like to always remain polite but in an earlier conversation I had learnt that he worked for the Belgian railways, the NMBS.

Railway workers, the whole world over, have never given me the impression of ever having to work that hard, but I might be wrong? I know they certainly did when they were being built, but how are they managed today? I know the quality of service of the Beligan railways never ceases to impress me, they are mostly on time and the carriages are generally very clean and comfortable (compared with the UK) but....

But then I got to thinking… How does he know what his limit is? An Army Sergeant Major will push his recruits to their limits, he knows how much to expect from his soldiers. If one collapses, another will take their place. But how does someone who works for the NMBS know what 80% represents, have they ever been pushed to their limit and beyond? Then I got to thinking; What are my limits?

One of my colleagues said last week that his wife complains that he is always trying to get two days work into one day, from where I am standing, compared to many of his colleagues, I think that most days he manages it.

So if you ever come across the 80% personal effort rule – bin it! Go for 100% every time. This is not just for work, it even applies to leisure and pleasure. And when you finally decide to have some time off for complete relaxation, apply the 100% rule too. Do nothing, absolutely nothing! Feeding yourself (spoon to mouth, glass to lips) dressing, washing, that’s it in my book – nothing more. Perhaps take the effort to select an artist on your MP3 player, but even that I find an exhausting exercise, having to decide Bach or Brahms, Sinatra or Santana.

PS (there is nothing more irritating than people asking for 200%, that really get’s my goat)!

2016-11-17T08:26:00+00:000 Comments

Project Data File Structures – What’s the perfect structure?

I want to design a template file / folder structure that can be used for all and every kind of project. The idea is that for each client or project, a standard file structure will be used. Logically it would have a folder for each stage of the project for example:

Business Requirements
Solution Strategy
Business Case
Solution Design
Development / Implementation
Handover / Go Live

Under each stage there could be all sorts of sub file structures. The idea is to use this folder structure on a special file share software system that allows project colleagues to gain access to the data from wherever they are, regardless of the hardware they are using. It will not be a slow web based system, but a system that gives everyone a ‘local’ copy that synchronizes and updates the central information, seamlessly.

The question I have for my blog readers is: Have you ever used ‘the perfect’ file structure and if you have, have you any tips for me, before it becomes hard coded?

2016-11-17T08:26:00+00:001 Comment

The CEO ’s Dilemma

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will almost certainly know by now that on the 14th. of September 2007, my book 'Making a Difference' will finally be launched onto the market. For this week’s blog I have decided to share with you a section from the end of Step 2 in the book ‘The CEO’s Dilemma', exactly as it appears in the book. You may also know that as from the 14th. of September onwards you will be able publish your own solution to the dilemma directly on the book’s website. By doing so you could also win some great prizes, including admission onto the Vlerick Management School’s course ‘Mastering Interim Management’ (worth wore than 4150Euro’s + VAT), or an Acer TravelMate Laptop computer and many other prizes (the website will have more details on or around the 14th.). For now you simply need to know that your answer (or advice, however you like to call it) must not be longer than 500 words.

Because I am in a generous mood, I have one additional bonus for my blog readers: If, when you have read the dilemma, you would like to ask a question directly to either David the CEO, or John the Sales Director, or Peter the Production Director, or Samantha the Marketing Director, or indeed to Matthew the CEO’s bank manager, you may do so by using the comments section of the blog. You will receive an answer….

'The CEO's Dilemma'

David, the CEO of an electric lighting manufacturer, saw that year on year his profitability and sales were falling behind, to the extent that urgent action had to be taken. He was losing market share and at this rate his business would go bankrupt in less than 18 months. So David called his senior managers into his office one by one and asked each of them the same question.

First he asked John, his loyal sales director: “You’ve worked with us for fifteen years, why do you think it is that in the last five years our results have become steadily worse?” The sales manager thought it over and said: “The problem is that the market is changing faster than we are – we have been too slow to adapt. Our range of lighting is far too limited; we need more models, more colors, we need to offer our distributors a complete product range so they don’t look elsewhere. We have to become their sole supplier, so we don’t lose so many deals to outsiders.”

The CEO then called in Peter, the production director, and asked him the question. Peter replied: “The problem is that we have been adding more and more products to our range. We now have so many varieties of every type and color, that our production costs are running too high, because the production runs are too short and uneconomical. The solution is simple: cut all the models that are not selling well and reduce the number of colors and varieties for the others. In short, trim down our catalogue and offer only what is economical to manufacture. We may lose some business, but we’ll become far more profitable.”

Next the CEO called in his youngest board member. “Samantha, as Director responsible for marketing what do you suggest we do to turn around our worsening financial results?” “That‘s easy”, she answered, “Go up market, go direct. We have become too remote, our product range is too narrow and old-fashioned. The production department cripples us by telling us that things can’t be done! Our customers know what they want, we just need to offer it to them at a price they are prepared to pay. So what we should do is shut down our production, source all the lighting products globally, and re-brand them with designer labels endorsed by celebrities. We keep in touch with our end customers by opening showrooms in strategic locations, staffed with trendily dressed lighting consultants, and we cut out the distributors by selling directly on the Internet.”

Lastly the CEO spoke with his bank manager, Matthew. He had known him for twenty years and they had built the business together, the bank having provided the loans for starting up and subsequently met their financing needs, whether for production equipment or new offices. Matthew suggested: “If I were you David, I would complete the modernization program we have so often discussed. After all it’s been more than ten years since you last purchased new machinery. The machines you have are no longer as efficient as they could be. Without new equipment, you can never become as cost-efficient as your Asian competitors.”

The CEO went home for the weekend and reviewed the four basic arguments that his advisors had put forward. Each of them was so confident of his or her approach, that they had all guaranteed sure-fire results. But which way should he turn? He made a single PowerPoint slide summarizing each of the four key arguments. Much to the annoyance of his wife, he pinned it to the wall beside the bed so that he could focus on it before going to sleep. He told her that it could mean life or death to the business, and that the quality of their retirement years depended on it. Although she wanted to help him she could only say: “David, go to sleep. In the morning everything will be much clearer, and you will work it out.” Sure enough, the next morning David woke up and came to a decision.

2016-11-17T08:26:00+00:0022 Comments

Coping with Stress – Don’t do as I do, do as I say

There must be thousands of self help books on how best to handle stress, and, in a way, the mere process of reading them is probably therapeutic in itself. But although I, as a manager, am reasonably good at identifying stress in others and to helping them keep a balance, I find it so much harder for myself.

Luckily, for my clients, the times I become stressed are mostly in my private life or when trying to balance work and leisure. An example: I find it so hard to accept that a builder can simply get away with following their own planning and begin working somewhere else, before their work for me is completed, simply disregarding any agreement or promise that may have been made.

During contracts, even running the most intensive and complex projects, I can always find ways of keeping my personal stress levels under control. My first student job (working in a very busy restaurant) taught me that when everything is beginning to pile up and there is no end insight to the chaos, to simply focus on the thought that a calm period is just around the corner. It is there but not yet in view.

Someone once told me that when you are in the middle of a crisis, you should imagine the situation like the passing by of an island on a boat. Soon you will be watching it gradually disappear into the horizon behind you. It is hanging on to the notion that it will pass that often gives us the strength to carry on and to calm our minds sufficiently so that we can think more clearly.

As I say in my book: 'Making a Difference':

‘Observe someone in a stressful situation, such as a live interview or a television
quiz show where everyone can see them make a fool of themselves. If we assume that to qualify they had to pass a series of preliminary selection rounds, why is it that for many contestants, their otherwise quick and sharp brains become so slow and muddled? When posed the question why was Schubert’s 8th Symphony called ‘The Unfinished’? It seems that such a simple question, asked under stressful conditions, can raise all manner of ridiculous answers from otherwise intelligent, well-educated people.

However for some of us, no sooner have we gone through one crisis point we are immediately faced by another and then another. Or even multiple crisis points, all converging at the same time. This is often because we become so accustomed to taking on challenges and solving problems, that we forget that we need to take on less and learn to say ‘no’, once in a while!

You maybe wondering why I raise this subject this week? Well perhaps its because I have the builders in at home, and my peaceful zen inspired living room is looking like a Chinese laundry, there are people drilling holes in the ceiling and dragging water pipes through the bedroom, scope creep has entered the project like never experienced in my professional life, and it’s hot and the ready mix concrete is going hard, while there is still a debate going on as to where the foundations should be!

I think how can this happen to me, after all, I am a professional project manager? But there is nothing you can learn that truly adequately prepares you for handling builders, domestic suppliers and family members that come up with new and ever more challenging projects in ever reducing timelines!

End note:
The good news is, writing this blog has helped a bit, the blood pressure levels are finally receding! Have a good week and don’t let yourself get wound up unnecessarily, especially over things that you simply have no control over (like builders, family demands and the weather) ;-)

2016-11-17T08:26:01+00:000 Comments