Tag Archives: plan

Test Your Assumptions

Library projects often focus a lot on risks as this is often what stakeholders are most concerned about. But it is also good to test assumptions.

How do risks differ from assumptions?

Risks are the likelihood that something will or will not happen. They are measured by their probability (what is the likelihood that this event will occur?) and impact (what impact will it have if it does occur?). For example, it is unlikely that this piece of equipment will malfunction but if it does it will have a huge impact on the success of the project.

An assumption is something we take for granted. It is something we often cannot establish as true but is more than likely to be true. If it isn’t true, then a plan needs to be in place to manage the risk of this.

We can rate assumptions but we need to use a different set of parameters. There are three key parameters for assumptions.

  • Confidence. How sure are we that the assumption is true?
  • Lead time. How long before we can prove or disprove the assumption?
  • Impact. If the assumption proves incorrect, how much rework is involved?

One issue that I encountered at the beginning of a collection relocation project was an assumption that the floor we were moving the collection onto could carry the weight of the collection, ie the new weight would be within its load-bearing capacity. This was a reasonable assumption as libraries are often built with high load-bearing capacity floors.

So with the assumption stated in the project charter, it was the library management’s responsibility to test whether this assumption was true or not. After discussions with facilities management and the engineering faculty it was determined that there was no record of the load-bearing capacity and to get this would cost at least $3000. A cost the library wasn’t prepared to bear for this project.

So what were we to do? What would you do?

We decided to incorporate an evaluation of the collection into the project. We would determine which resources were not being used, and see if we could reduce the size of the collection so there was no additional weight on the floor and eliminate the risk of the floor collapsing altogether.

This didn’t change our project charter. But it did alter how we were going to achieve it. If we hadn’t challenged this assumption, we would more than likely have accepted it as fact, which could have resulted in dire consequences!

Assumptions are often so obvious that we overlook them. However they can have the same devastating impact on your projects as risks. Are you testing your assumptions in your library projects?

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 19  June 2012.

Provide And Pray

Earlier this year I listened to a podcast from The Engaging Brand about a new book called “The Social Organisation:  How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees“. One memorable aspect of this podcast was the reference to a practice that the authors referred to as “provide and pray”.

“…provide the technology and pray that something good happens with it. And we found…[this approach] failed 90% of the time.” (Show 368 – The Social Organisation podcast, The Engaging Brand, 14 January 2012, 7:07)

I’ve experienced this in libraries too. When I was working at Manukau Libraries (a long time ago!) we provided access to EPIC databases and prayed that our staff and our communities would use them. A year later the statistics showed database usage was abysmal and that our prayers were not answered to the degree we had hoped. So the next year we worked on changing that by providing easy, fun, quick and repeated training to library staff on the delights of EPIC and how it can be used in everyday library interactions. And when we analysed the usage statistics the next year we saw that these efforts had paid off. We also noticed staff enthusiastically participating in training year after year.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been providing ereader training to staff from a number of public libraries on behalf of APLM and I’ve noticed that many libraries have been providing ereaders to staff and praying that they’ll take them home and become familiar with them. Unfortunately training shows that this hasn’t happened to the extent, or with the degree of success, that many library managers may have hoped.

And just last week LIANZA expressed surprise that there had been a low uptake in their upcoming advocacy workshops especially as advocacy has been a hot topic of discussion across library sectors both in New Zealand and internationally. I too was disappointed but not really surprised because once again it’s the ‘provide and pray’ practice at work again.

We make assumptions that by providing access to technology or professional development that library staff will somehow become confident and capable, or jump at the chance to learn something that they know is important. Evidence shows that these assumptions are not often true. We need to stop making assumptions and start proactively promoting, guiding and providing training in a way that is meaningful enough to motivate library staff to participate.

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 27 March 2012.

Other articles that may interest you:

  Thank you Sally for a really useful learning experience and I appreciated the very personal and individual ways we were treated” says Carol Brandenburg, Content Selection & Acquisitions (non-Serials) Coordinator, Lincoln University Library in commenting on The Cheat’s Guide to Project Management.

Stressed By The Summer Reading Programme?

It’s that time again for public libraries. If you’re not full swing into organising your next Summer Reading Programme you soon will be.

Although I haven’t had hands-on experience with a summer reading programme, I couldn’t help but notice a few things when I was working in a public library*:

  • It’s not an enviable job. Meetings, minutes, emails and phone calls – who loves these, really? Then there is the extra work these generate…
  • The leadup to the Summer Reading Programme is often more stressful than the programme itself. Everyone has their own ideas as to how the programme should be organised and feels the need to share these, repeatedly.
  • The Summer Reading Programme impacts on everyone in the library. All training and new activities are put on hold during summer because the library is too under-resourced to undertake anything else at the same time.

And I’ve also noticed that unfortunately and predictably, stress and conflict are inevitable because:

  • By its very nature the Summer Reading Programme requires balancing the diverse needs and requirements of many people – children’s librarians, branch managers, children and their parents, to name a few.
  • As the Coordinator of the Summer Reading Programme you have limited power. You can’t make someone do what they said they were going to do because they don’t report to you. You are the meat in the middle of the sandwich and you’re easily squished.
  • As the Coordinator of the Summer Reading Programme you spend a lot of time trying to get buy-in, consensus, and tasks completed. If it doesn’t happen, you end up doing it yourself because who else can you delegate to? Plus juggling time off for staff in the branches is a whole ‘nother story…

But don’t despair just yet. Although conflict is inevitable, the number one source of conflict is ambiguity.

Ambiguity doesn't paralyze workers; it makes them
insecure and stirs them up. Competent employees,
when faced with ambiguity, will do what they are most
comfortable doing in order to feel as if they are
contributing something appropriate. Doing something,
whether it's helpful or not, makes us feel good.

And the beauty is…ambiguity can be minimised…with a plan. A plan doesn’t need to be perfect because you can tweak it as you go. A planned approach not only helps reduce confusion but it also:

  1. Provides guidance and confidence to all those involved in organising the Summer Reading Programme regardless of their experience and skills.
  2. Enhances the likelihood of quickly and cost-effectively producing a Summer Reading Programme that satisfies our most demanding branch managers, parents or childrens’ librarians. Using a planned approach gives them confidence that you will deliver.
  3. Ensures consistency. Expectations can be managed, promises kept in-check, surprises avoided, and people held accountable.

Stressing about the Summer Reading Programme isn’t going to make it any easier. Make a plan and use it. Or email me and let’s talk it over.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail – Benjamin Franklin

* These are my observations from when I worked for Manukau Libraries for nearly six years (now part of Auckland Libraries). They may not be a accurate depiction of what occurs in other libraries. I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below or via email.

Other articles that may interest you:

What Does Success Look Like?

Last week I read a post by Australian Information Professional Alisa Howlett about how her definition of success has changed over time and sometimes the path is not as well defined as it used to be. Alisa’s post got me thinking about success in another way – from a project perspective.

A successful project solves a problem to the delight of the customer (whether that’s the boss, client or end-user). So, if this is all that is required, why does it seem so difficult to do? What stops us from consistently delivering successful projects? KPMG attempted to uncover the answer to just that question.

In August 2010, KPMG conducted a project management survey with nearly 100 New Zealand organisations. The aim was to learn how businesses were using project management to deliver results.

What they found was that 70% of New Zealand companies had experienced at least one project failure over the last 12 months and that the top four causes of project failure were:

  1. Changes to what was included in the project
  2. People and other resources stretched too thinly
  3. Unrealistic deadlines and
  4. Unclear objectives.

In my view, these four reasons for project failure are derivatives of the same root cause – a lack of clarity around what success looks like. Often this is because we’re so hyped up about the project that all we want to do is get stuck in and figure things out as we go along. As fun as it may be to manage projects in an ad-hoc, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants manner, it is not the most effective way to manage successful projects.

Having a blueprint to follow for every project you undertake alleviates stress, optimises productivity and reduces misunderstanding, confusion and conflict. A map also helps you achieve better results because you know where you are going, and what you need to do to get there.

As I said earlier, projects are simply about solving problems and therefore the first point on the project management map is identify the problem that needs to be solved, why it needs to be solved, and what you hope to achieve by fixing it. In other words, be clear about what success will look like.

For example, at one tertiary library someone had the idea to combine the reference and lending desk into one. A good idea – because according to the head honcho it would broaden the skill base of all staff. According to the person creating the rosters it would make life easier And according to the staff it would mean they’d spend less time on desk shifts. But what was the problem this solution was trying to solve and what did the library hope to achieve by fixing it?

The success of the project will differ depending on the problem you are trying to address. Imagine how different the project would be if the problem was assumed to be poor staff skills rather than the need to move desks to make more space.

So the next time you’re asked to do a project, don’t just jump straight in to getting it done. Take a moment to ask your manager the following:

  • What is the problem you hope to solve?
  • How will you know when this project is finished?
  • How will you know that this project has been successful (rather than just completed)?

Asking these questions will enable you to sift through the Tyranny of the Urgent and focus on the Priority of the Important.  If you don’t ask you won’t find out until it’s too late.

Other articles that may interest you:

Indian Takeaway: One Man’s Attempt To Cook His Way Home (Book Review)

Title: Indian Takeaway: One Man’s Attempt To Cook His Way Home
Hardeep Singh Kohli

Verdict: Hilarious and superbly written. A must read.
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Similar to: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell.

See which libraries in New Zealand have Indian Takeaway and Julie and Julia.

I’m a foodie with a fascination of Indian food, going so far as two Indian cooking classes, and regular attempts to make my own roti and dal. I’ve also got a soft spot for the author, Hardeep Singh Kohli, so my review is likely to be slightly biased.

I first encountered Kohli via the 2006 UK Celebrity MasterChef TV series. A quietly-spoken, colourful man with a wicked self-deprecating humour, which comes across so well in this book.

A Glaswegian Indian Sikh who feels he doesn’t quite belong, goes searching for his identity in India, cooking (with various degrees of success) quintessential British food for those he meets.

“But suddenly I am meek, compromising, and irresolute. I can’t cook a plate of stovies in a five-star hotel for an internationally trained chef and his team. It would be mental. How could I possibly convey to them the myriad reasons for what is effectively a plate of carbohydrate-heavy brown sludge that tastes of comfort? I can’t do it.” p. 51.

Hilarious and superbly written. A must read.

Getting Important Stuff Done

It’s been ages since my last post. I’m an organised person and I like lists. But I haven’t been organised enough to find time to write a blog post on a regular basis. And this has been annoying me.

So this week I made an effort to change that. I’ve decided not to try harder, but to try something different (for me anyway).

My latest attempt involves using Google tasks in my calendar to schedule the “important but non-urgent” stuff. Like replying to emails from people I don’t know, that are most likely to be useful in the future but aren’t right now. Like phoning the bank to sort out those pesky transaction maintenance charges. And, like writing a blog post. So, this week I tried it out.

All emails I received had to be dealt with immediately upon reading them (usually only twice a day) or added as a task to be done at another time. My task on Sunday is to write a post – read other blogs, decide what to write about etc, and most importantly getting it done – not sweat about what to write. It’s taken me a couple of hours to get this far (mostly because I have a lot of reading to catch up on), but I’ve found a whole swag of things that I’ve found interesting and will share with you in my next posts.

This plan could work!

So, how much time are you spending getting the important but non-urgent stuff done?