A New Year’s Resolution? The Pomodoro Technique

Writing this at the beginning of January 2016, I thought it might be useful to see if I could adopt a new technique to help me with my resolution to be more productive and use my time better. Yes, there are lots of different techniques, to-do lists of all varieties, zero in-boxes, more exercise, better eating, etc, but I thought I would try out the Pomodoro technique.

So, what is the Pomodoro technique? It was originally developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. In summary, it uses a timer to divide your time into 25 minute sessions called ‘pomodoro’, or italian for tomato. After each session, you take a five minute break. After four 25 minute sessions, you take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes.

Pomodo Cycle

One Pomodo Cycle

Research has shown that being tied to your desk for hours without a break can be detrimental to your health, so not only does this technique increase productivity, it can also benefit your health if you move around at each break.

In addition to the health benefit commented on above, there are other benefits:

  • Using it to break tasks down into shorter, highly focussed work sessions helps you to manage your time more effectively, and makes large projects seem less overwhelming;
  • It encourages you to minimise distractions and discourages multi-tasking and procrastination;
  • Regular short breaks improve concentration, which also increases productivity levels;
  • Frequent short breaks also give your mind a chance to assimilate information, allowing for more ‘light bulb’ moments and creativity;
  • Taking time to rest and recharge throughout the day also allows you to pace yourself, helping you feel less tired in the afternoon;
  • It is simple and easy to implement, and does not require much ‘specialist’ equipment.

As with all things, there are some cons:

  • This technique might not suit everyone. The short breaks might prove distracting, especially if the work is really flowing;
  • You may work in an environment where there are frequent distractions and interruptions from colleagues or customers;
  • The apparent inflexibility of the technique may have a negative impact on productivity.

To use the Pomodoro technique, follow these five simple steps:

  1. Check your schedule, look at your to-do list or action programme, and estimate how long each task should take you, in terms of Pomodori (i.e. 25 minute sessions). Timetable the tasks so that they fit in with your schedule. Don’t forget to include both the 5 minute breaks and the longer breaks;
  2. Set the timer (this can be anything from a kitchen timer [as in Cirillo’s original tomato shaped one] to an on-line one, or one from App stores. Make your commitment to only work on the task at hand, minimise interruptions (shutting office door, turning off phone/email, etc);
  3. Work on the task and only the designated task. Devote all your attention to it and do not allow yourself to get distracted. Jot any occurring thoughts down in a notepad to look at later. If you complete your task early, use the remaining time to do any short tasks needed;
  4. Take a short break. Get away from your desk, stretch your legs, get a drink, etc. Don’t do anything which requires much thought;
  5. Continue your work sessions and after the fourth pomodoro, take a longer break. In the longer break, again, do not do anything work related. read a book, go for a walk, have a snack, etc.

It is worthwhile experimenting with the length of the pomodoro and also how many to have before a longer break. This can also change between morning and afternoon, but it will only work well if you adapt the timings to suit you.

So, only time will tell how successful the technique is form. Suffice it to say, I have got this post written using it!

 

What is Responsibility Charting (RACI)

Responsibility charting is a technique to assist in the identification of different roles and responsibilities attached to different key activities. It is a visual tool which is intended to reduce ambiguity, duplication,confusion and clarify potential areas of conflict.

RACI stands for the different roles, as follows:

Picture1

To complete a RACI matrix, you need to:

  1. List all the tasks, activities and decisions that are being worked on;
  2. List all the functions of the people involved;
  3. Create a matrix from the two lists made (see below)
  4. Now plot the RACI for each task. Indicate who is accountable, responsible, needs to be consulted and informed.
  5. Check the RACI for each task:
    1. there must be only one person who is accountable;
    2. there must be at least one person who is responsible;
    3. there do not need to be any persons to be consulted or informed.
  6. Now analyse the RACI matrix. Do this by analysing the roles that each function have been assigned:
    1. Does one person or function have too many responsibilities?
    2. Does one person or function have too many, or all the ‘A’s?
    3. Is any one person or function involved in every task?
  7. Communicate the matrix to all involved persons, and keep it updated.

RACIMatrix

Obviously, the method can be adopted depending upon the processes and culture of the organisation involved. Furthermore, when preparing the list of tasks, activities, etc, it is worthwhile:

  • Avoiding obvious and generic activities, and be more specific;
  • Beginning each activity or decision with a good action verb (examples include: conduct; operate; schedule; write; update; develop; decide; authorise, etc);
  • When an action verb implies a judgement or decision (for example, evaluate, monitor, inspect, review) add a phrase to indicate the primary outcome;
  • Activities and decisions should be short, concise and apply to a role or need, not to a specific person.

There are a number of variants, some of which are listed below:

  • ARCI – merely rearranging the letters to give more prominence to accountability, can give rise to amusement due to pronunciation if soft c.
  • RASCI or RASIC – the addition of a ‘supportive’ role, identifying those who provide resources and assistance to the ‘R’s.
  • RACI-V – the addition of a ‘verifies’ role, ensuring that any necessary checks are carried outside the team.
  • CAIRO – the addition of an ‘omitted’ role, or outside the loop. Used to designate those who you specifically wish to exclude.
  • PACSI – P – perform, the person carrying out the activity; A – accountable, the person ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable; C – control, the person reviewing the result of the activity. Will have power of veto; S – suggest, the person consulted to give non-binding advice based upon recognised expertise; I – informed.
  • RASI – dropping the consulted, and replacing with the supportive role.
  • RACIQ – the addition of ‘Q’, quality review – checking whether the product meets quality standards.
  • RACI-VS – the addition of a verifies role, and also ‘S’, the signatory, the person who approves the verify decision and authorises the hand-off.
  • DACI – D – a single driver of the overall project; A – approver, those who approve decisions and are responsible if the project fails; C – contributors, those responsible for the deliverables; I – the informed.
  • RAPID – R – recommender, gathers information and proposes a course of action; A – agree, formal approval of a recommendation; P – perform, he role which is accountable for the execution or implementation of the decision; I – input, the provider of relevant information; D – decide, the person who is ultimately accountable for making the final decision.
  • RATSI – R – responsibility, the person who is in charge of making sure the work is done; A – authority, the person with the final decision; T – task, the person who actually does the work; S – support, the person who provides support; I – informed, the person who needs to be informed that the work has started.

 

 

 

 

50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (Part 2)

50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (Part 2)

Last week’s post looked at the first 25 ways to foster a culture of innovation. This post lists the concluding 25.

  •  26. Don’t focus on growth. Growth is a product of successful innovation. Focus on the process of becoming adept at taking ideas from the generation stage to the marketplace.
  • 27. Make customers your innovation partners, while realizing that customers are often limited to incremental innovations, not breakthrough ones.
  • 28. Understand that the best innovations are initiated by individuals acting on their own at the periphery of your organization. Don’t make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts. Build flexibility into your design. Think “self-organizing” innovation, not “command and control” innovation.
  • 29. Find new ways to capture learnings throughout your organization and new ways to share these learnings with everyone. Use real-life stories to transfer the learnings.
  • 30. Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don’t connect or collaborate with each other.
  • 31. Develop a process of trying out new concepts quickly and on the cheap. Learn quickly what’s working and what’s not.
  • 32. Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
  • 33. Before reaching closure on any course of action, seek alternatives. Make it a discipline to seek the idea after the “best” idea emerges.
  • 34. Know that attacking costs as a root problem solves nothing. Unreasonable costs are almost always a sign of more profound problems (e.g. inefficient structures, processes or training).
  • 35. A great source of new ideas are people that are new to the company. Get new hires together and tap their brainpower and imagination.
  • 36. Get customer feedback before committing resources to a product’s development.
  • 37. Seek diversity of viewpoints. Get people together across functions. A diversity of views sparks more than conflict — it sparks innovation.
  • 38. Invite outside partners early on when exploring new opportunities. Find ways for your company to partner with others and actively share ideas, technologies, and other capabilities.
  • 39. Avoid extreme time pressures.
  • 40. Don’t make the center of your efforts to help people be more creative a physical “creativity center.” Fold your innovation resources into your business units.
  • 41. Don’t make innovation the responsibility of a few. Make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee with performance goals for each and every functional area.
  • 42. Give your people specific, compelling, and measurable innovation goals.
  • 43. Try to get as much buy-in and support from senior leadership as you can while realizing that true change NEVER starts at the top. How often does the revolution start with the King?
  • 44. Realize that “resource allocation” is the last bastion of Soviet-style central planning. Think of new innovation opportunities as “resource attractors.”
  • 45. Pay particular attention to alignment. Ensure that the interests and actions of all employees are directed toward key company goals, so that any employee will recognize and respond positively to a potentially useful idea.
  • 46. Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.
  • 47. Do your best to ensure that linear processes give way to networks of collaboration.
  • 48. Remove whatever organizational obstacles are in the way of people communicating bold, new ideas to top management.
  • 49. Systematize. Find problems (not only with products, but with processes, customer service, and business models) and solve them.
  • 50. Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.

 

50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (Part 1)

50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (Part 1)

 

As your organization continues rebounding from the financial meltdown, here are 50 ways to ensure that it becomes increasingly conducive to ongoing innovation. Commit to a few of these today and make some magic. Your next step?

  • 1. Remember that innovation requires no fixed rules or templates — only guiding principles. Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act.
  • 2. Wherever you can, whenever you can, always drive fear out of the workplace. Fear is “Public Enemy #1” of an innovative culture.
  • 3. Have more fun. If you’re not having fun (or at least enjoying the process) something is off.
  • 4. Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs.
  • 5. Make new mistakes.
  • 6. As far as the future is concerned, don’t speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.
  • 7. Increase the visual stimuli of your organization’s physical space. Replace gray and white walls with color. Add inspiring photos and art, especially visuals that inspire people to think differently. Reconfigure space whenever possible.
  • 8. Help people broaden their perspective by creating diverse teams and rotating employees into new projects — especially ones they are fascinated by.
  • 9. Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
  • 10. Ensure a high level of personal freedom and trust. Provide more time for people to pursue new ideas and innovations.
  • 11. Encourage everyone to communicate. Provide user-friendly systems to make this happen.
  • 12. Instead of seeing creativity training as a way to pour knowledge into people’s heads, see it as a way to grind new glasses for people so they can see the world in a different way.
  • 13. Learn to tolerate ambiguity and cope with soft data. It is impossible to get all the facts about anything. “Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts,” said Einstein.
  • 14. Embrace and celebrate failure. 50 to 70 per cent of all new product innovations fail at even the most successful companies. The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success — it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.
  • 15. Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.
  • 16. When you’re promoting innovation in-house, always promote the benefits of a new idea or project, not the features.
  • 17. Don’t focus so much on taking risks, per se, but on taking the risks OUT of big and bold ideas.
  • 18. Encourage people to get out of their offices and silos. Encourage people to meet informally, one-on-one, and in small groups.
  • 19. Think long term. Since the average successful “spin-off” takes about 7.5 years, the commitment to innovation initiatives need to be well beyond “next quarter.”
  • 20. Create a portfolio of opportunities: short-term, long-term, incremental, and discontinuous. Just like an investment portfolio, balance is critical.
  • 21. Involve as many people as you can in the development of your innovation initiative so you get upfront buy-in. This is the “go-slow now to go-fast later” approach.
  • 22. Improve the way brainstorming sessions and meetings are facilitated in your organization. Create higher standards and practices.
  • 23. Make sure people are working on the right issues. Identify specific business challenges to focus on. Be able to frame these issues as questions that start with the words, “How can we?”
  • 24. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least six times.
  • 25. Select and install idea management software for your intranet. (Or, if you’ve got an intranet and certain directories available to everyone, set up your own idea depository/database and make it as interactive as you want).

Part 2 with the second 25 ways to foster a culture of innovation will be posted next week.

Using the Cultural Web in an Innovation Context

Using the Cultural Web in an Innovation Context

My previous two posts have introduced the cultural web, and how it can be used to analyse corporate culture and looked at different questions which can be asked when applying the web. This post takes the discussion of the web a stage further and considers how it can be used in an innovation context.

Overall, there are three steps to using it in such a context:

  1. Determine the current cultural web – how well does the existing culture support innovation?
  2. Identify a ‘desired’ cultural web that supports innovation more effectively.
  3. Determine the changes necessary and how they can be achieved.

The previous posts have discussed the constituents of the cultural web, and the elements which need to be analysed, so they will not be repeated here.

To help identify a ‘desired’ cultural web that supports innovation more effectively, the following comments should be considered:

Organisational structures. Four different best practices can be identified for organisational structures to promote innovation: market orientation; frequent reorganisations; autonomous teams; and innovation managers. Aligning organisations to markets is a common and effective practice. Autonomous teams can be the best way of dealing with radical innovations, which cannot efficiently be developed within the existing organisation and processes.

Power structures. Cross-functional awareness is a powerful tool. This can be achieved by placements in different parts of an organisation to foster a greater understanding of the organisation and its products.

Symbols. Communication, both internal and external, needs to have an innovation focus and can demonstrate a fundamental understanding of innovation. Displays of product and service innovation can be powerful ways to make innovation highly visible. Outstanding individual contributions can be recognised through plaques and certificates that are visible in the workplace and act as symbols of innovation.

Stories. Innovative leaders reshape old stories and inspire the future.

Routines and rituals. Both of these can be used to support innovation through both promoting ideas for new products, service and process improvements, and tolerating mistakes, or ‘celebrating failure’.

Control systems. Mechanisms must exist that enable employees to suggest ideas and obtain the resources to investigate them further. Processes for portfolio management and prioritisation are also critical. Processes for corporate and individual performance metrics and reward and recognition must be set up, which need to be transparent and readily understood.

Once the first two steps have been completed, it is relatively easy to assess what changes are needed. However, do not underestimate the potential resistance to change which might exist, or indeed expect it to be quick and smooth.

 

 

Cultural Web – Questions and Types of Culture

Cultural Web – Questions, and Types of Culture

Last week I introduced the cultural web, and suggested that I would review some useful questions which can be asked for each ‘circle’. I will then review four basic culture types.

As a reminder, here is the cultural web, as introduced last week:

Image of the cultural web

Useful Questions: the cultural web

Here are some useful questions to ask when using the cultural web:

Stories:

  • What core beliefs do stories reflect?
  • How pervasive are these beliefs (through levels)?
  • Do stories relate to:
    • strengths or weaknesses?
    • Successes or failures?
    • Conformity or mavericks?
  • Who are the heroes and villains?
  • What norms do the mavericks deviate from?

Symbols:

  • Are there particular symbols which denote the organisation?
  • What status symbols are there?
  • What language and jargon are used?
  • What aspects of strategy are highlighted in publicity?

Power structures:

  • How is power distributed in the organisation?
  • What are the core beliefs of the leadership?
  • How strongly held are these beliefs (idealists or pragmatists)?
  • Where are the main blockages to change?

Organisational structures:

  • How mechanistic/organic are the structures?
  • How flat/hierarchical are the structures?
  • How formal/informal are the structures?
  • Do structures encourage collaboration or competition?
  • What types of power structure do they support?

Control systems:

  • What is most closely controlled/monitored?
  • Is emphasis on reward or punishment?
  • Are controls related to history or current strategies?
  • Are there many/few controls?

Routines and rituals:

  • Which routines are emphasised?
  • Which would look odd if changed?
  • What behaviour do routines encourage?
  • What are the key rituals?
  • What core beliefs do they reflect?
  • What do training programmes emphasise?
  • How easy are rituals/routines to change?

Overall:

  • What do the answers to these questions suggest are the (four) fundamental assumptions that are the paradigm?
  • How would you characterise the dominant culture?
  • How easy is this to change?

4 Different Culture Types

There are four main culture types:

  1. The power culture – the organisation revolves around, and is dominated by one individual or small group. Strategic change is likely to be fast or slow depending on the management style of the leader;
  2. The role culture – this organisation relies on committees, structures, logic and analysis. There is a small group of senior managers who make the final decisions, but they rely on procedures, systems and clearly defined rules of communication. Strategic change is likely to be slow and methodical.
  3. The task culture – the organisation is geared to tackling identified projects or tasks. Work is undertaken in teams that are flexible and tackle identified issues. The teams are likely to be multi-disciplinary and adaptable to each situation. Strategic change will depend upon the circumstances but may be fast where this is needed.
  4. The personal culture – the individual works and exists purely for him/herself. The organisation is tolerated as the way to structure and order the environment for certain useful purposes, but the prime area of interest is the individual. Strategic change can be instant, where the individual decides that it is in his/her interest to make such a move.

Three important qualifications

In examining the four main types of organisational culture, there are three important qualifications:

  1. Organisations change over time. Therefore, an analysis may need to be reassessed after some years;
  2. Several types of culture usually exist in the same organisation. It may even be necessary to determine whether different types of culture are appropriate for different parts of the organisation;
  3. Different cultures may predominate, depending upon the headquarters and ownership of the company.

This post takes the analysis of an organisation using the cultural web a stage further by outlining some useful questions which can be asked for each of the ‘circles’. It concludes with an outline of four different types of culture that might exist.

What is the Cultural Web?

What is the Cultural Web?

In business, we are constantly talking and thinking about the culture of the organisation. This post looks at what we mean by ‘culture’ and particularly, how it can be analysed and understood by reference to the cultural web.

Organisational Culture

Schein defines organisational culture as the ‘basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic taken-for-granted fashion an organisation’s view of itself and its environment’. It is about the collective behaviours in an organisation. It tends to consist of four layers.

Culture in four layers

Values – often easy to identify within an organisation as they tend to be written  down as statements about the organisation’s mission, objectives or strategies. They can often be vague.

Beliefs – are more specific, but still are evident from corporate statements.

Behaviours – these are the day-to-day way in which the organisation operates. These include work routines and organisational structure.

Taken-for-granted assumptions – are the core of an organisation’s culture. They are often difficult to identify and explain. They are often referred to as the organisational paradigm, where the paradigm is the set of assumptions held in common and taken for granted. They represent collective experience without which, members of the organisation would have to ‘reinvent their world’ for different circumstances that they face.

Trying to understand the culture at all these levels is clearly important, but is not straightforward.

The Cultural Web

The cultural web is a representation of the taken-for-granted assumptions, or paradigm, of an organisation and the physical manifestations of organisational culture.

The Cultural Web

The routine behaviours that members of the organisation display both internally and towards those outside the organisation make up ‘the way we do things around here’ on a day-to-day basis. It may provide a distinctive organisational competence, but can also represent a taken-for-grantedness which can be difficult to change.

The rituals of the organisational life are particular activities or special events through which the organisation emphasises what is particularly important and reinforces ‘the way we do things around here’.

The stories told by members of the organisation to each other, to outsiders, etc, embed the present in its organisational history and also highlight important events and personalities. They tend to cover successes, disasters, heroes, villains and mavericks.

Symbols such as logos, offices, cars and titles can be a shorthand representation of the nature of the organisation.

Power structures are also likely to influence the key assumptions. The most powerful groupings are likely to be closely associated with the core assumptions and beliefs.

The control systems. measurements and reward systems emphasise what is important to monitor in the organisation. Reward systems are important influences on behaviours, but can also prove to be a barrier to success of new strategies.

Organisational structure is likely to reflect power and show important roles and relationships. Formal, hierarchical, mechanistic structures may emphasise that strategy is the province of top managers and everyone else is ‘working to orders’. Highly devolved structures may signify that collaboration is less important than competition, for example.

The paradigm of the organisation encapsulates and reinforces the behaviours observed in the other elements of the cultural web.

So What?

This post outlines organisational culture and the cultural web. Next week’s post will look at some useful questions which can be asked when using the cultural web, together with four types of culture.