Many of us work in increasingly complex environments but how can you survive (let alone flourish) when you are buried under an avalanche of emails and often contradictory information from different parts of the business?
There is no golden bullet, but the ideas below may be able to help:
VISUALISE WORKFLOWS: This is particularly useful if your job requires a lot of operational detail and working with others in a team to build something like a website. Kanban is a very simple technique, originally invented for the Japanese car industry but now adopted by many in digital.
The essence is simplicity itself: divide every big job (launching a website for example) into discrete tasks and then track these in three columns; backlog, doing and done. The only real rule is that you never have too much stuff in the doing column – when a task is complete and moved over to ‘done’, drag another in from the backlog. I’ve tracked product launches for a team of content managers across 40+ websites with 500 tasks and Kanban offered an invaluable visual clue as to how much was done, how much needed to be done, and who was doing what.
Essential reading: http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/personal-kanban-101/
Online Kanban board: http://www.agilezen.com/
USE CHECKLISTS – EXTERNALISE YOUR TO-DO LIST: You may be a bright cookie but you can’t store everything in your head – trying to do so will cause underlying stress and you will forget stuff.
If you have to undertake complex tasks write a checklist! Atu Gawande’s fantastic book, The Checklist Manifesto recounts how the first flight of the B-17 bomber resulted in a fatal crash because the plane was much more complex to fly than anything that came before it. The test pilot had bags of experience but couldn’t keep up with the demands of what he needed to do to get the new plane into the air. The subsequent introduction of the checklist meant that only a few years later comparatively ‘green’ pilots were flying the plane everyday in combat missions over Europe.
You can’t be expected to remember everything and you shouldn’t try – let the checklist take the strain.
HIT IT WITH THE SIMPLICITY STICK: Apple before Steve jobs returned in 1997 had a plethora of products catering for every conceivable customer; a few years after his return the company had a ruthlessly simplified range of wildly successful products.
Ken Segall’s excellent book ‘Insanely Simple’ describes how Steve wielded ‘The Simple Stick’ in everything from meetings (small groups of smart people and no ‘mercy invites’) to naming conventions for products.
Making something simple is much harder than making it more complicated: where can you wield the simple stick in your business?
ESTABLISH AN ISLAND OF SANITY: You can’t remake your business overnight but you can make your bit of it better. Where do you have the power and autonomy to improve things?
GET PEOPLE OFF EMAIL: The best teams I’ve worked in have an established and agreed workflow and a tool such as JIRA that enables that workflow. An overly email-orientated culture can be hugely destructive to a business as doesn’t encourage transparency and it’s too easy for conversations and information to get silo-ed. The start-up that invents a social media tool for business that enables big corporates to network and communicate in a very human and natural way will make an absolute mint!
Affecting change can take a long time so don’t get downhearted…just know that improving how people work together will be the single most important thing you will do to benefit the company that you work for. If you have any suggestions let us know in the comments!