PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.
We first heard it in the early 00s—Executives and Managers saying, “We’ll just have to do more with less.” Well-intended at first, for some it became a poor alternative to managing effectively. In some situations the statement can be temporarily true. In most cases, those who proclaim and perpetuate this excuse are practicing malfeasance. This is not an appropriate way to manage a workgroup, department or enterprise; they are demonstrating their failure to manage.
What triggers this commentary is a recent workshop I performed for a customer I have worked with for over 29 years. I have seen them flex, grow, improve, and cut back, all in response to market conditions, and the shape of their business, They are astute in their sense of coming business pressures. I did discuss the dangers of the “more with less” message with Executives and Managers 8 years ago, in an Executive Overview. With just a few exceptions, they have fortunately not fallen into that “More With Less” trap during this latest downturn. But in my recent sessions in this industry-leading business, I detected something sinister and terrifying.
Employees I encountered demonstrate strong loyalty to the organization. They show a sense of strong rapport up and down the chain of command. But, I detected some individual contributors, project managers and managers alike who are overwhelmed and exhausted. Many have prided themselves on the quality and efficiency of their work. Some must now decide which essential project results they must eliminate or reduce. Or, which project double-checks to push into post-project support. For some, it is which internal customers to choose to fail to respond to. I have seen this death spiral before.
A Jobless Recovery
I think many organizations are facing this dilemma. This is, in part because of the uncertainty in the US, between politics, consumer spending, and a high unemployment rate. They see the threat of possible hyperinflation, and the unknowns in the next set of policy decisions that will affect their business. These concerns are a root cause of this Jobless Recovery, as businesses are afraid to add staff to meet current demands. So instead, they continue to manage increasing business with existing, or remaining staff. And even when they are not using the tired “more with less” mantra, that is what it looks like to their employees. If you think this only affects project success, this affects the operations side even more than the projects side of the business.
How To Honestly Do More With Less
In the early 2000s, we starting hearing the “More With Less” mantra with increasing frequency. We put together a presentation, aimed at Managers and Executives, about “Doing More With Less.” With that presentation, we made a number of assertions, including this one: most managers who proclaim the need to do more with less see this reward: much less with less. In other words, they were killing efficiency and effectiveness, overworking already exhausted team members. They damaged morale, negatively affecting the quality of the organization’s results, and damaging the organization’s reputation. I’m not sure that is the more they were after.
We went on to coach Managers in the ways they really can do more with less. Interestingly, our Successful Project Climate guidelines remain the best way to measurably do more with less—on a sustaining basis. Because sustainability has been a recent theme in project management, it makes sense to apply it to managing Projects:
- Prioritize better, then staff fewer current projects appropriately. Complete each one better, faster and at lower cost, rather than fragmenting talent across too many projects.
- Place team members full-time on large projects, at least half-time on medium ones (see The Successful Project Profile here at our website).
- Eliminate project and ready response priority conflicts.
- Eliminate, deflect or defer unnecessary interruptions in project work.
- Position Managers to “carry the water” for the team, pushing barriers out of the way. Thus, they demonstrate that the organization works for the team, rather than vice-versa.
- Measure and manage both effort and results, and recognize and reward achievements.
These actions are nothing more than what competent Managers of Project Managers and their teams have done all along. But they are even more important in difficult times. Those who have attended our workshops understand that teams can perhaps, at peak, produce 10%-20% more results. Managers, Sponsors, internal Customers and Executives have the power to improve performance by 2x–4x in individual projects. Now that is an honest and measurable way of Doing More With Less.
If that last part sounds a bit familiar, it is because of the way we orient our PRO initiative, the Performance Rated Organization standard. It directly helps organizations assess, understand, and achieve the above performance improvements. And, in my experience, if you think your organization is already great, here is good news for you: In my experience, the better you are already, the easier to achieve the outrageous improvement ratios cited above. Now, instead of trying to do more with less, you can afford to Do Way More With a Bit More.