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Working hard is good – working S.M.A.R.T. is better

 

Outfit – Tailored Agile Solutions promotes a “back to basics” approach to Agile Project Management.

When one looks at the day-to-day work of a top level athlete, very rarely will one see the execution of very complicated drills and training routines – these will comprise of about 10 to 20% of the total volume of training.

For the most part, the experienced boxer will not be throwing 10 moves super-fast combos, but rather working proper form on simple combinations, paying attention to small details in his footwork; the Olympic shooter will not be firing at multiple targets trying to break speed or precision records, but painstakingly eliminating vices from his form, breathing and posture, reinforcing muscle memory with each shot cycle.

The everyday training sessions of the likes of Michael Phelps, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and others, could very well be called unimaginative and rather boring.

 

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Similarly, in today’s project management landscape, filled with multiple theories about anything and everything, from consumer psychology to human resource management and quality control – it´s very easy to lose track of the main goals of any given project, and the necessary steps to achieve them.

At Outfit – Tailored Agile Solutions, we believe that one of the keys to successful project management lies in the fundamentals, hence the suggestion that working hard is good (indispensable to say the least), but working S.M.A.R.T. lays the groundworks for success.

The S.M.A.R.T (Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; Time-Bound) approach is a conceptual tool, one we encourage our consultants to use every step of the way, when defining goals for their projects, discussing them with clients, or defining milestones for the production cycles.

 

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S – SPECIFIC

Avoid using broad categories and ballpark estimates when defining a goal – be as specific as you possibly can with the information available to you.

When the initial parameters are too loose – it´s very difficult to elaborate an effective roadmap to your milestones and quantify any real progress.

Example:

Wrong: “I´m going to quit smoking gradually – in the next three months, maybe”.

Right: “I´m going to reduce smoking to 2 cigarettes a day during one month; then one for the next month, and on the third I will smoke in only 3 out of seven weekdays”.

That’s why in our agile management approach, we divide our backlog in smaller and specific chunks of the overall project called sprints. In each sprint, we must be very specific and detailed about the results we must produce, to execute the proper acceptance tests and manage client expectations.

M – Measurable

Avoid using excessively subjective or abstract categories when structuring your objectives – neither the glass half empty or the glass half full approach are correct – the glass contains 220 cl of water is the right mindset.

Progress or allocation of resources should be measurable, easy to report and as free as possible from personal bias – clearly defined and measurable parameters are necessary to evaluate the extent to which a certain goal has been met.

Example:

Don´t say: I´m going on a diet to lose some weight before summer this year.

Do say: “I´m going to follow a calorie restriction and exercise program, geared towards losing 6 pounds over the course of the next 3 months, at an average rate of 2 pounds per month.”

Before the start of the project it would be advisable to discuss with the client a number of precisely measurable goals. It could be the increase of conversion rates, lead generation, or percentage of cost cutting involved with restructuring an administrative internal process. Only with measurable indicators can we make sure that there will be a return on investment.

A – Achievable

Management decisions should be based on realistic objectives – take some time to think about time constraints, budgetary and resources considerations, before setting a goal that just might be too hard to reach or leaves no margin for error, and make the necessary adjustments.

Example:

Don’t: “I just bought a book about running and decided I´m going to run my first marathon in about six months’ time.”

Do: “I´m going to start a 4 days a week training program and change my nutritional plan – in three months I´ll run a 10 K, and in the subsequent three I´ll try a half-marathon.”

Another example from software development is when project managers overlook the amount of precedent activities or constraints that impact the project execution, like external development dependencies or even the existence of too many stakeholders – with different agendas to manage.

It´s not realistic to think one can produce something within a given time frame, with a certain number of limited resources – without considering both the project and the client’s specific environment.

R – Relevant

Ask yourself: how relevant is this goal / action to my broader strategic objectives or how relevant is it related to my current situation? How does it fit in the big picture?

Even the most experienced project managers will sometimes overlook situations that require immediate attention; only to allocate time and other resources to other less crucial areas – because those areas are fonder to their hearts, the fact of dealing with the most pressing matters generates anguish, or some combination of both. Overlooking this aspect of the S.M.A.R.T. approach is often connected with the nasty habit of procrastination – which will receive undivided attention in a future blog post (if you´ll excuse the irony).

The perfect example could be the college student, that a week´s away from his final exams decides that´s the perfect time to organize his 3000 DVD´s collection by genre and date of film release – or the C.E.O. that decides to give his undivided attention to the production of a new packaging for one of the company´s products, leaving far more urgent matters to be resolved on the table.

T – Time-Bound

Goals will remain distant dreams until they are grounded by a clear timeframe.

The day-to-day crises that inevitably occur in every organization and in everybody´s personal life, associated with the almost universal tendency to procrastinate – will overtake the sternest of determinations in accomplishing an objective; unless deadlines are created that reinforce the manager´s and team member’s commitment to complete the necessary tasks to achieve that goal.

Again, a sense of realism is necessary – while it is imperative to establish time limits in order to create a sense of urgency, these should be realistic and take into account other factors such as resources available, possible contingencies and the team´s average production capabilities – many project management mistakes arise from overconfidence in the ability to comply with unrealistic deadlines or working with insufficient resources.

The S.M.A.R.T. method when it comes to setting objectives, whether professional or personal is what we might compare to the top athlete´s “back to basics” approach, where he lays down the foundations on which to build more complex motor skills – and thereby evolves in the sport.

In a world of ever-growing complexity and overwhelming information it is sometimes necessary to return to the proper fundamentals of decision making and goal-setting.

Think ahead. Think S.M.A.R.T.

 

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