I confess! I love to organize things. I get a tremendous sense of accomplishment and calm when things are in their place, under control and easily found. I like to know where we’re going and how we’re getting there. Sure, a psychologist might have some concern over the thrill I get from organizing, but I’m willing to face the music – I simply love to put things in their places.
In order to leverage digital collaboration and transform the way you work, you must first be organized.
My neurotic need to categorize, list and plan plays well into my profession as a Document Management / Collaboration expert. Companies ask for help getting control over their content, and I’m only too happy to help. To help lead others to the ‘organizational light’, I’ve identified 8 core elements I use to bring order to the disorganized. I’ll describe each below, and will use the deployment of a corporate software solution as an example to help illustrate each point.
Setting up the Scenario: Software solution deployment
Let's say we are going to deploy some new software within your company and it must be deployed by year end. Multiple departments will use the solution and some education is going to be required. An old system is going to be turned off, so we’ll have to migrate some content from the old to new system. Okay, let's get organized!
Think of how difficult it would be to complete a puzzle without the picture or box cover. I shudder to think of it. All organization begins with a goal or picture of what success looks like. It could be defined by numbers or other quantifiable metrics, or by statements relating to feelings, finished states or other results that people can connect with. Regardless, clarity on your overall intention is the first step to getting organized.
In our software deployment example, we define our intention with a set of statements that help us see the finished state. Some examples might include:
- Software XYZ is being used in production by the Marketing, Sales, HR and Accounting departments by Dec 31st
- All department members have been trained and certified on system usage.
- System ABC has been turned off, content has been deleted and the contract formally terminated.
There are, of course, many sub-tasks required to achieve this end-state, but the final ‘picture’ is described in a complete enough manner that all team members involved in the project know what success looks like.
If you were going to drive across the country to attend a U2 concert, you’d be clear that seeing the concert is the goal. Your priorities, however, may include learning how to drive, obtaining a car and purchasing a concert ticket. These are the major elements that are critical to achieving your vision. Moreover, there is a logical order to these elements, and it’s important that you identify and rank order them.
In our software example, we need to assemble a project team, procure the software, create an implementation plan, establish a training strategy and ensure communication is provided to all affected parties throughout the project. Without these aspects coming to fruition, we simply will not achieve our goal.
Plans are not usually difficult for people – everyone is quick to jump into planning when they start new things (just don’t forget the first 2 steps – Intention and Priorities!). However, the difference between a good plan and a bad plan is not only the difference between success and failure, it’s the difference between resource & time efficiency, cost minimization and community alignment. Clearly laying out the What, Who and When in the proper order is a skill, but it will provide the treasure map you need to get where you want to go.
A detailed project plan will be created for our software deployment. First the stage-gates and milestones will be laid out, and the numerous tasks will be identified below each. People and teams will be assigned to complete each task by specific times. The plan will evolve as new information is gained, but the plan is the song sheet everyone will be singing from.
Who doesn’t love a good list?! If you do only one thing to become more organized in your life, create a list. Capture what you need to do. Jot down what’s stressing you out. Lists can be used as reminders, plans, to-do’s or even as a way to keep track of your friends, assets and/or food preferences. They are the best way to create a visual of what’s on your mind, and provide a venue to sort things out.
Our software deployment will use lists for many things. We’ll track our tasks in a list, and we’ll have another list for any issues we’re encountering. A project risks list will keep us aware of potential pitfalls, and people’s availability for training will be tracked in yet another list.
Whether you’re organizing a garage or closet, a bookshelf or spice rack, placing ‘like with like’ is a human trait. We create piles of the similar and assemble groups to bring order to disorganized. When I was a kid I loved sorting my Halloween candy into stacks of specific chocolate bars, suckers and licorice. The concept of grouping takes thousands of individual items and minimizes them into a relatable number of piles. We do it every time we fold our laundry, put away our groceries and stack our poker chips.
The best example of buckets in our software example is the documents we’re managing. We’ll group our documents into categories such as Project Management, Technical, Legal, Training and Financial. We’ll share some of this information with the whole team, and keep other buckets restricted to senior team members (such as Legal and Financial).
If you can remember everything, and have a constant sense of what time it is, you don’t need timers…but if you’re a human being, you do. Timers are your helpful assistant that tap you on the shoulder and remind you to pick up your kid on time, to renew that 3 year old contract that expires in 90 days and to call your best friend on his birthday. We increase our capacity and contributions because we send messages to ourselves in the future to remind us of things that are important.
Our software project will be full of timers. Our tasks will have alerts set to ensure we’re aware of deadlines. As key documents change, notifications will be sent to alert those who need to know. Invites not responded to, test plans not passed, risks and issues added to lists will all have alerts triggered to ensure the project team knows where they stand and what needs to be completed. Timers will get the right people into the right training room and will remind our CEO to send an endorsement email at project launch.
From the beginning of time humans have looked for the patterns that will make life better. Where do the animals drink water (for hunting)? What clothes are the kids wearing (for popularity)? How do stocks respond to certain news (for investing)? Patterns and processes allow us to pursue the best paths we know, ensure compliance and order as well as often dramatically increase our capacity (because we don’t need to creatively think our way through everything, we just need to follow the process already established). It also becomes possible for us to measure our progress when we’re aware of the process we’re following.
A software project uses processes for spending money (PO approvals), paying bills (processing invoices), submitting change requests, booking people’s time and even testing the software and training people. Consistency within a high volume environment is important, especially given that our software team isn’t only working on this project.
We make so few decisions in isolation these days. We are a collaborative being now, working hand in hand with other people to achieve our goals. A key aspect of getting – AND STAYING – organized is keeping everyone on the same page. Knowing who we need to work with, and having the ability to communicate with them not only produces better results, it’s a heck of lot more fun.
Our software deployment requires a ton of communication. On a daily basis our implementation team will be making decisions that other members of the team need to know about. Our end-users need to be kept informed, as well as asked for their advice. Our project sponsors and leaders need to know how the project is going, and how they can help. Decision lists, discussion boards, email correspondence, chat sessions, scheduled and unscheduled meetings and formal documents will all be utilized to ensure everyone’s rowing in the same direction.
As we build towards moving our office-based workforce towards new ways of working, it’s critical that people are organized enough to leverage the technologies and tool sets we put in front of them. A proficient understanding of the above organizing skills will position each team member to better utilize the tools, and more importantly, to contribute their expertise to any given objective.
So where do we go from here? Stay with me, we’re building towards how technology supports all of this, but the core tenants of organization had to be understood first. Next, we’ll be working to place these organizational pieces into a setting where we can work with our team mates in a new way. Digital collaboration – working together in an electronic medium – will be our next topic. Talk to you soon!