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Strategy: Fat Cyclists And It's Not What You Do But What You Don't

In opinion / By Charles Christian / 28 September 2017

The summer vacation season is now well and truly over and it’s that time of the year when people return to work bursting with fresh ideas and new enthusiasms. In keeping with this spirit, I’ve been looking at some alternative approaches to traditional technology strategies and priorities…

We’ve all encountered situations where there are problems or delays with the processing of certain projects. The quick fix management frequently opts for is new technology. New PCs with the latest operating system and faster processors… swapping out older systems in favour of new software… new gadgets… In fact anything that is new and shiny.

But, then the same managers are surprised when their tech investments don’t deliver the returns they were expecting and all the old inefficiencies still remain. It’s a foible of human nature that we think new “stuff” is the key to success – and that the only thing holding us back are the things we don’t have.

You can see this demonstrated most clearly when it comes to our personal hobbies. If only I had the latest carbon-fibre golf clubs, my game would be so much better… If I had the latest designer running shoes I’d definitely go jogging more regularly. This message was brought home to me recently when I was reading about a semi-pro road cyclist. Someone had asked him if buying a lighter bike with streamlining and electronic gear shifting would give him improved performance.

“Hell no,” replied the semi-pro cyclist, “If I were you I wouldn’t waste my money on a lighter bike. You'd be a lot better off if you just lost 10 or 20 pounds in weight.” Harsh but true. And so it is with tech. Before you invest in new “stuff” see if you can improve your current position.

The formula I devised when I was doing consultancy work in the 1990s was PCTx2 or People – Process – Culture – Change – Training – Technology. If you don’t fix the first five at the outset then you tech investments will be wasted. To give an example from way back when actual lawyers were first starting to use computers, it doesn’t matter how whizzy a PC may be if the lawyer culture is that “only secretaries type at keyboards.”

No, seriously this is how the majority of lawyers used to think 25 years ago. Unfortunately improving the first five can often involve difficult and/or political awkward decisions (particularly when it involves law firm partners) whereas buying new tech just involves writing a cheque.

So what about what you don’t do? For the second part of this article, let’s consider prioritization. We all compile To-Do Lists – in fact many people buy special scheduler/planning diaries and/or software to do this. And the next day we can be found updating yesterday’s To-Do List, deleting all the tasks we completed, carrying-over all the ones we didn’t, and adding fresh projects to the list.

Depressing or what – and also, ironically, very time consuming when you could instead be getting on with tackling those projects. This is where the concept of the Not-Do List enters the picture whereby, given only a finite amount of time at your disposal, you identify both the projects you need to address AND the ones you can safely ignore.

Here are some candidates for the Not-Do List…

Email triage: Of course there are some emails that must be dealt with promptly, as well as those that either need forwarding-on or filing, but there are also a huge raft you can safely delete. And we are not just talking about pure spam here. Try removing yourself from all those distribution lists you’ve long ago forgotten why you ever subscribed to in the first place, as well as those email threads where you are copied-in (cc-d) but really don’t need to be. The fewer unnecessary emails to review and delete, the better – and the less “noise” to distract you from what actually matters.

Non-critical meetings: We’ve all attended meetings where we find ourselves thinking “Why am I here… we could have done this over the phone etc.” (Yes, I know the answer is often “to pander to the boss’s ego.”) Then there are all those “meetings about meetings”. And those routine meetings that drag on forever largely because everyone is distracted looking at the messages on their iPhones and tablets. At a conservative estimate, you should be able to cut half the meetings you currently attend. Try also the “standing-only” meeting where no chairs are provided – this can seriously reduce the length of meetings.

Micro-management: We all know the saying “If you want a job doing properly, do it yourself” but do you really need to dive in to personally tackle every problem? Can you not delegate? In fact don’t you have staff who are employed and trained to handle these type of issues. This is a manifestation of the “Call me indispensible” CIO-with-a-screwdriver phenomenon, which probably says more about the CIO’s feelings of insecurity than the problem at hand.

Status updates: Modern software is absolutely brilliant at churning out status updates and alerts on everything and anything. Just look at social media… ooh, someone I barely know on Facebook has just “liked” a picture of a meal someone else I barely know has just posted on their timeline.

That’s an extreme example but the same situation prevails with business software. Do you really need routine reports informing you projects are running smoothly? By all means have exception reporting alerting you to problems and projects that are over budget and/or behind schedule but otherwise opt-out of routine alerts and updates.

Once again, you are cutting out the “noise” that gets in the way of what you really need to put on your To-Do List and the stuff that doesn’t matter, which should be consigned to your Not-Do List.

Charles Christian

Charles Christian

Charles is a former barrister and Reuters correspondent turned writer and the founder of the Legal IT Insider newsletter, website and resource.

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