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Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Proven Strategies to Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress


Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Proven Strategies to Increase Productivity and Decrease Stress

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Change Management is not easy. It is a painful process that requires the Project Manager to be both a warrior and a diplomat. You will need an arsenal of quality tools, and well honed soft skills to make it through managing a change with little or no collateral damage. I am sure you think I am exaggerating. Here’s why I am not:

1. You will have 3 factions to deal with:

A key group of stakeholders will think the change is vital to the success of the project (they may or may not be right) and will be unwilling to budge until the change is agreed upon and implemented.
Another group will have no capacity to absorb the change without additional funding and/or time.
Leadership. You are not likely to get more time. You may or may not get additional funding, but more funding is not likely to help without crashing the schedule anyway until new resources are brought up to speed.

It’s even more fun when the stakeholders who want the change are also leadership. I’m sure you’ve heard, “Just get it done” before.

2. Most people are naturally resistant to change:

Once headed in a particular direction, it’s at least irritating and often demoralizing to people who have to change direction or start over. Maintaining positive energy in the ranks is a challenge, especially if things keep changing.

3. Someone ultimately is going to be unhappy about the final decision.

In the end though, change is natural and will happen. You will be successful if:

You clearly set expectations about how change will be managed early in the project.
Decisions to make or not make a change are well informed decisions.

Key Strategies for Managing Change

Plan your butt off and define scope extremely well. Strong planning around solid scope definition is a key to minimizing unexpected change down the road.
Force quality requirements development. Don’t even think about design or engineering before you have a high level of confidence that requirements are solid and well understood. If you inherit requirements, make everyone review them and agree to them again before going too far into design. You will be pressured to run ahead because things will appear stagnant during requirements engineering. Trust me, stand your ground. It will pay off down the road.
Plan for change. It will happen regardless of how well you do 1-2 above. Developing a simple to follow process as part of your plan will help set the expectation for everyone and make it easy for you to act swiftly when the time comes.
Get the following key stakeholders to agree/sign-off on your project plan and requirements. This won’t always help when the rubber hits the road, but it does put everyone on a level playing field when that first change request comes in:
The Project Sponsor. This person will be like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to change depending on which faction has his/her ear. If you can at least get agreement for your change management process, you will minimize snap decisions that can de-rail your project.
Engineering/Development Managers. This group will be moderately resistant to change without additional time or funding. They will be protective of their teams and will push back on requiring their people to work additional hours. Assuring them that no decisions will be made without their input will keep them from assuming a defensive posture and help drive collaboration when the time comes.
Quality Assurance or Test Managers. This group always gets screwed when it comes to change. No wiggle room in the schedule often means shortening of the QA cycle. They know it, and are already on the defensive. Incorporating quality considerations into your change management process will enable this group to describe risks to quality when certain decisions are made. While this may not ultimately change the final decision, at least this group will have been at the table with a voice.

The Change Management Plan

This section of your project plan needs to include the following:

Clear criteria for when the change management process is required
Roles and responsibilities
A simple step by step procedure that includes how to perform these key steps:
Requesting the change
Impact assessment
Exploring alternatives
Making the final decision
Drafting the tactical plan to incorporate the change and get back on track

In addition, you will need to have standard templates/tools in place ahead of time to help manage the change when the time comes.

A Change Management form or template.
A SWORD Analysis (a future article)
A Change Management Log

Change Management Criteria

The change management process is required when a requested change will likely have any impact on project scope, increase in schedule, increase in cost, or degradation of quality.

Other texts may say that ANY impact to schedule or cost require the change management procedure to be executed. I personally disagree, but you can decide for yourself.

Roles and Responsibilities

Every project should have a predefined Change Control Board (CCB) that includes at least the Project Manager, Project Sponsor, Development/Engineering Managers, and QA/Test Managers.

Your projects may require additional roles. Here are some quick guidelines:

Roles should be included if they have resources assigned to the project, human resources, HW/SW resources, financial resources, etc.
Roles should be included if they are managing projects that have dependencies on your project, or vice versa.
Roles should be included if they have oversight across multiple related projects, i.e. Program Managers or Release Managers.

Each member of the CCB will have different responsibilities. Here are some examples:

Project Manager(s)

Document the change request
Manage the change request through the process
Facilitate the CCB meetings
Incorporate approved change requests into the project

Project Sponsor(s)

Attend CCB Meetings
Make final decision to approve or reject each change request

HR managers for resources assigned to projects and System managers managing systems impacted by your project

Perform Impact Assessments as requested
Attend CCB Meetings
Participate in implementation planning for approved change requests

Release/Program Managers

Drive Impact Assessment for dependent projects
Attend CCB meetings
Participate in implementation planning for approved change requests

Impact Assessment

This is the most important piece of managing a change request. A quality impact assessment will drive an informed decision and, when the change request is approved, will ensure smooth introduction of the change into the in-flight project. Do this well.

Each group/team represented in your project and dependent projects will need to complete an Impact Assessment. Simply put, this is an estimate of additional cost and/or duration that team will incur if the change is approved. This information is compiled from all teams and then brought to the Change Control Board meeting for discussion and decision.

Exploring Alternatives

Very often, a person requesting a change will be very focused on exactly what he/she wants for a solution, and will not clearly articulate what the problem is that needs to be solved. Because of this, you should always go through the exercise of exploring alternatives. A good branistorming exercise with key stakeholders almost always results in a creative solution that will result in less drama that the originally proposed solution. This is because everyone has had a chance to voice opinion, and will be more willing to compromise. Look for another article by me titled, “SWORD Analysis, SWOT with an Edge” where I discuss a great method for exploring alternatives.

Making the Final Decision

Now that you have all of the information compiled, the final decision is made. If you have done everything up to this point as described above, the decision is simply a formality. More often than not, the decision was already made during Exploring Alternatives. But in very rare cases, it’s not so simple. In cases like that, you will need to call upon your sponsor to make the final call.

Drafting the Tactical Plan

OK – so now you have an approved change request. The final step – implement the change. Simple? Not quite.

Think of a change as a small project within the project. As such, you will need to have a plan for how the change will be implemented. This plan should contain many of the sections of the project plan, but very simplified. Your plan to implement the change should be a single page document or less.

Here are the sections you will need:

Roles and Responsibilities
Tasks, including who is assigned, and when it is due
Status reporting plan – how people can expect to be notified of the progress

The Log

Finally, you will need to track the progress of all of your change requests so that you can manage several at once, as well as keeping everyone in the know about them. Your log should contain the following sections:

ID – Simple numbering suffices
Title – A short title describing the change
Description – a paragraph that describes the change in more detail
Requestor – The name of the person requesting the change
status – Requested, Assessed, Alternatives Explored, Accepted/Rejected, Implemented (if accepted)

Add more if you like, but these are the primary sections.

Phew! I know it seems like a lot, but trust me, you will need to get good at this. Strong change management skills are what will separate good project managers from great project managers.

Keep reading and I’ll keep writing!

Steve

Steve Yuhas is an accomplished project manager with a focus on efficient software engineering through data driven process improvement and simplification. He has applied his skills to a variety of industries, and has most recently begun some personal ventures like MarketCastle.com

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About six years ago, I came to a life-altering decision.

I was sick and tired of being…well…sick and tired.

Unable to sleep through the entire night because of fears of things left undone, unsaid, or forgotten, I’d drag myself through my days fueled by cup after cup of black coffee. My routine was to work 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., go home and cook dinner, kiss my husband, tuck my little girl into bed, grab my computer and work until midnight. I was so stressed out I didn’t even know I was stressed out. But to me it seemed “normal.”

This went on for years. Until the day my mother died at age 64.

Funny how something so profound can change the entire way you view the world. I decided life was way too short to spend it stressed out. I became a student of stress management strategies and used them to eventually heal myself.

Many of us live lives full of stress – from the moment we get up, to the time we go to bed (and just lay there staring at the ceiling).

Although we’d like to think stress simply resides in our minds, the fact is that stressful thoughts do damage to our bodies. Experts agree that stress is a factor in hundreds of diseases and illnesses – everything from strokes to Alzheimer’s to obesity can be caused or acerbated by stress.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, then it’s time to take back your life like I did. I’d like to share some of the stress management strategies I use and continue to use every day.

Find the Root Cause.

Managing the stress in your life starts first with identifying the sources of your stress. Some things are probably pretty easy to figure out – like unreasonable deadlines, or the death of someone close to you. Other things may not be so obvious and you may need to do some self-introspection to figure it out.

One thing to remember is that living in constant stress is not a normal state of being. In order to determine the sources of your stress, examine your habits, attitudes, and the excuses you make. Are you always making excuses to your spouse for having to work late? Do blame other people or events for your stress? These could be places to analyze as potential stressors.

Once you identify your stressors, you must then work to eliminate those stressors, or at least make them more manageable. The following tips should help you with this task.

Stop Procrastinating.

I have a rule I live by, and I encourage those I mentor to live by it as well. The rule is this:

Do what you most don’t want to do first.

It may not be the end-all cure for your procrastination, but it sure as heck will knock a dent in it. That’s because a lot of procrastination stems from the fact that we put off the things we dread. The more we dread it, the more we put it off. It’s human nature. However, by making a habit of doing the dreaded deed first, you set yourself free. You will start thinking of yourself as someone who can and will get things done. Soon your procrastination days will be over.

Minus the Mess.

Whether you believe it or not, cluttered, disorganized surroundings affect your mental state. Physical clutter reminds us – often subconsciously – that things need to be done that aren’t getting done, and that causes us more stress.

I have a close friend who recently decided to start clearing the clutter out of his life, and getting organized. He started with his office, throwing away, organizing – he saw surfaces he hadn’t seen in years! After he tackled this, he started on his garage. The more clutter he threw out and organized, the lighter his stress level and the clearer his thought patterns became. When you remove the physical clutter and you’ll eliminate the mental clutter, lowering your stress and raising your energy.

Have Faith.

Experts agree that people who believe in a power beyond themselves are generally less stressed. Attending church, fellowshipping with others of like faith, and nurturing one’s spiritual side have a calming and soothing effect on our minds.

Practice Extreme Self-Care.

It took me a while to figure out that unless I took care of myself, there would be little left of me to take care of others. Many people feel selfish when they start putting their needs ahead of others, but believe me, you have to do it.

Some of the things you must do to practice self-care from a physical standpoint include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, reducing caffeine and sugar, increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. One other thing…you must get enough sleep! People who don’t get enough sleep not only increase their stress levels, but studies show they decease their life expectancy.

Just as important as practicing physical self-care is practicing spiritual/emotional self-care. While the first feeds your body, the latter feeds your soul. Start by identifying five things you enjoy doing, but rarely get a chance to do. For example, my list would include reading a good book, going to a yoga class, getting a manicure, watching a great old movie, visiting my favorite coffee shop. Once you identify your top five (you can have more if you wish!), begin scheduling them into your daily calendar. It may be tough to carve out the time at first…you may need to start with one per week and work your way up. You’ll be surprised at how pampering yourself can make you feel cared for and less stressed.

Reframe the situation.

Much like reframing an old picture can give it new life, so can reframing the situations that cause us stress.

According to Dr. Don Colbert, author of The Seven Pillars of Health, the term reframing means learning to see the past, present and future in a positive light. It goes beyond “positive thinking,” however.

Reframing is a concept pioneered by psychologist Albert Ellis to help patients replace irrational thoughts with rational, realistic statements. Reframing calls upon a person to shift his focus away from his present point of view in order to “see” another person or situation from a different perspective. When negative thoughts pop up, Colbert and Ellis maintain that we should challenge and assess them, never accepting them at face value.

Do you ever find yourself dwelling on negative situations or thoughts? I know I did! Once I started reframing the situation from a positive slant, I no longer felt the need to relive those thoughts over and over in my head.

For example, instead of dwelling on the fact that you wrecked the car, reframe the situation by being thankful you weren’t hurt. Nearly every situation – even the most traumatic ones – can be reframed. This may sound simplistic, but by mastering the technique, you will get rid of a lot of unnecessary stress.

Breathe.

When we get stressed, we tend to breathe more quickly and shallowly. In turn, this causes us to become even more stressed. One way to counteract this is to take slow, deep, fulfilling breaths. Start by sitting up straight. Breathing through your nose, inhale from your stomach, allowing your breath to expand your stomach and move up through your lungs. Exhale in the opposite direction, letting the air flow through your nose from your lungs until your stomach is flattened and your lungs are emptied. As you inhale, inhale relaxation. As you exhale, exhale stress and tension. This works even better if you combine it with the Minute Meditation below:

Meditate for a Minute.

You don’t have to cultivate a long meditation practice to reap the benefits. Even a short, focused 60-second meditation can help de-stress your body and your mind. That’s because taking a moment to quiet your mind stops the forward momentum of anxiety and nervousness that can so quickly get away from us.

Three easy steps: 1) Relax. Scan your body and release any tight muscles, especially those muscles in your jaw, shoulders, and neck. Start from the top of your head and work your way down, releasing the muscles as you go. When you’re through, start your 60-second meditation by 2) Focusing your attention completely on each breath, each inhalation and exhalation. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing. Do this for one minute and 3) Wrap up by returning to awareness of your body and surroundings. Take one last deep breath and wiggle your fingers and toes, refreshed and ready.

I do this several times through out the day, especially when I need to jump-start my creative thought. I find regular practice works wonders for both my stress level and productivity.

Finding Balance.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to lead a balanced life, with time to do everything that is important to us – plus have the necessary energy to meet challenges and achieve our goals. Stress steals our joy, our peace of mind, and our dreams. My hope is that you use these stress management strategies to help you find balance and peace in your life.

Copyright 2009, BusinessBurrito.com. All rights reserved.

Donna Williams is the founder and creator of BusinessBurrito.com – a website dedicated to helping small businesses grow to their maximum potential. She is also a 25-year advertising / marketing executive, creative director, writer, and producer. Together, Donna and her husband currently own and co-own five small businesses. To learn more about Donna and read more of her articles, visit her website at

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