Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security


Every project manager should be performing a pre-mortem

ManagementEdward KiledjianComment

As a business leader, I have participated in and managed hundreds of post-mortem reviews for projects and deals. It is a sound strategy to identify the elements that failed or that could be optimized/

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana

But what if you could gain all of the benefits of this activity before the initiative fails thus potentially saving it? A pre-mortem (or premortem) basically is a role playing game where participants assume the project has already failed and then determine why it failed and how failure could have been prevented. 

Why this works

Issues rarely "just happen". Typically there are warning signals that show up prior to any failure. Typically these are:

  • You know you are not undertaking the required maintenance which will likely lead to failure (project monitoring, follow-ups, etc)
  • You can "feel" the project deviating from its core purpose
  • You start noticing "out of the ordinary" or unexpected results 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Instead of retrospectively looking at why the project failed, why not take the time to foresee what could go wrong and fix it?

The best way is to invite a core group of knowledgeable experts and ask them to imagine the project failing then lead the group to identify possible preventative measures. It sounds easy because it is.

The Pre-Mortem Process

Step 1 - Doom and Gloom

Lock up your key people in a room and ask them to imagine every possible way the project could fail. Big or small it should be written down individually on a sheet of paper. Remind the team that no failure is too big or too small. Every issue should be started with "what if"

  • What if the supplier doesn't deliver the part
  • What if the supplier goes out of business
  • What if the price of the part shoots up significantly
  • What if...
  • what if...
  • what if... 

As a moderator, your role is to ensure everyone spends this time thinking about problems and not solutions. No judgement and no logical thought. We don't want participants making risk judgements to eliminate possible failures. 

Step 2 - Prioritization

Share all of the failure possibilities with the participants and narrow down the list to the top 10, top 20 or whatever other number you are comfortable with. For most projects, I typically like top 10 lists. For more critical or larger projects, I may go to a top 25 list.

When reviewing the list (collectively), remind the participants that there are really 3 things to consider in this step

  1. Choose failures whose realization will have a severe and catastrophic impact on the project. 
  2. Choose failures who are likely to happen. There could be some debate but the threat of a comet hitting your datacenter could probably be crossed off the list.
  3. Choose failures that are in your span of control. Some failures are outside of your control and cannot be mitigated by you. Chuck those out.

Step 3 - Solutioning 

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
— Abraham Lincoln

If the first 2 steps where done properly and diligently then this last step should be fairly easy and straightforward. Assigned the final problems to owners and each owner must:

  • Come up with a plan to prevent the failure from occurring
  • Come up with a backup plan in case prevention doesn't work

The final step is to ensure every action item is given an owner and a due date. These should be tracked as part of the master project plan and reported on weekly.

Why working from home may harm your career

Management, OrganizationEdward KiledjianComment

When you hear about non-traditional work arrangements, you probably think about a hot tech startup where employees come to work on Segways wearing Hawaiian shirts but most companies now offer some type of non-traditional work arrangement. The most common is flex time and work from home. These arrangements benefit the employees & employer.

The employee gets a comfortable home work environment that is distraction free and saves dozens of travel hours. The employer gets a more productive employee and considerably reduced secondary costs (office, phone, internet, etc).

Although Work From Home is mutually beneficial, research has shown that it does have one major negative repercussion: a negative perception of those using these non-traditional arrangements (particularly Work from Home). It seems these employees aren’t given the same amount of credit as the traditional office bound employees. This seems to be a natural (sometimes unconscious) bias suspecting that employees who are not in the office are not working “as hard” or “as long”  as their traditional counterparts. 

A university study entitled “Why Showing Your Face Matters” found that employees working with non-traditional arrangements typically receive lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than the office bound control group. These negative impacts exist even if the remote employees work harder and longer than the control.

If you are an employee working from home, there are steps you can take to improve your situation:

  • Stay In touch – Stay in constant communication with colleagues, customers and supervisors. Regularly email, Instant Message and call. By always staying available and in touch, people understand that you are “actually working”
  • Get face time – Make it a point to periodically come into the office and when there, use this time to meet with your boss and do visible work you can’t do from home.
  • Build alliances – Identify influential people (working from the office) that can help your cause by being supporters. Keep these people update about what you are working on. These people can be excellent references during peer reviews (for evaluations).
  • Prove your dedication – Work from home employees tend to start working earlier and finish later (since there is no commute time). Highlight this fact by sending emails or leaving voicemails during these extended periods. Think of these as tangible proof of your dedication.

As an organizational leader that has managed thousands of remote employees, I hope the above recommendations help you and your career. These are proven strategies that work and I recommend you take them seriously.

Lenovo CEO distributes his $3M bonus to employees

ManagementEdward KiledjianComment

Most tech company CEOs are accustomed to receiving large multimillion dollar salaries just for showing up to work. In extreme cases, some CEOs have received huge paydays while their company tittered on the brink of bankruptcy and employees faced huge layoffs.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Yang Yanqing, CEO of the very successful Lenovo, decided to breakup his $3M supplemental performance bonus into 10,000 small chunks and award it to his lower level employees (line workers, assistants, etc).

This is a fantastic show of loyalty to his employees.


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To to handle interruptions at work

Economy, Management, Motivation, Organization, Strategy, Team building, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian2 Comments

With the economic realities we have been living with since 2008, companies are forcing employees to do more with less. Not only are companies asking employees to be more creative and use less resources, they are also asking less employees to do more work.

An interruption is anything that distracts you from the primary task at hand. Common workplace distractions are emails, phone calls, drop-in meetings, etc

This means that most people you talk to, working in a corporate environment, have too much to do and not enough time. This means a small number of daily interruptions can have a huge impact on your productivity.

I wrote an article about MAC OS Lion January 2011 and one of the note in it said :

The Research The truth is that when we attempt to multi-task, we become much less effective. Modern cognitive research clearly demonstrates that when people multi-task, they perform less work and miss information. Researchers discovered that re-orienting yourself to the task at hand, after a distraction, takes 10-15 minutes. Quantifiably, performance for multi-taskers can drop as much as 40% along with a marked degradation of memory and creativity.

The reality is that you cannot completely get rid of distractions. They are a natural part of your work life, the key is to managing them efficiently.

You cannot improve that which you cannot measure

Having managed large operational groups for some multinationals, there is a mantra I repeat to most of my managers. You cannot improve that which you cannot measure. Before you start panicking about how many interruptions you have to deal with on a daily basis, make an objective inventory. Using a simple sheet of paper and a pencil, write down at least the following information (each time you are interrupted):

  • Date / Time
  • Duration of interruption
  • Who interrupted you
  • Why they interrupted you (the subject)
  • Was the interruption worthwhile?

I recommend you log interruptions for at least 2-3 weeks before you conduct your first review. At the end of your first logging period, it's time to make the data sing. First determine which interruptions were worthwhile and valid. Are they coming from a particular person or group? Do they concern a particular topic? Determine if you can stop these interruptions by making time for these topics or people as planned events in your calendar. You can then inform people to keep these issues until the planned meetings.

You will most likely have interruptions that were not worthwhile and you have to address these. Talk to the people in question and explain why you believe they were not valid and how they should address these in the future. Coaching is the key here. It is useful to explain how these interruptions impact your productivity.

Voicemail is your friend

Most people I talk to at work don’t know how to configure their phone to send calls straight to voicemail. Now is a great time to find out. I’ll wait here while you go and ask the question to a colleague or support person.

If you are working on a tight deadline or simply need some uninterrupted time, send calls straight to voicemail. I recommend you change your voicemail greeting every morning so callers know you are in. Your voicemail message should mention that you are busy and will be checking your messages sporadically during the day.

Do not disturb sign

 Whether you work in an office or cubicle, people may drop by unexpectedly and demand an audience. Most of the time, you should you the log method but there may be times when your work is too important and you just can’t afford the interruption. For these times, I recommend you create a notice printed sign that says you are working on something important and would appreciate not being disturbed.

Hand this sign just before people come into view so they do not break your concentration. Explain to your team that you expect them to comply with the sign when they see it because it is only up when absolutely necessary. People generally understand and will comply.

Reserve some available time

  1. If you are a manager or team lead then a good habit is to reserve some “general availability time” in your calendar. There is no magic rule of how much time or how often. You should reserve as much time as needed but no more. Share these windows of opportunity with your various stakeholders and ask them to leverage these when they need your attention.
  2. There are people that you interact with on a regular basis. These are people for whom you should have dedicated reserved time in your calendar.


Hopefully you found some good ideas to help you be productive. Feel free to send me comments, questions or ideas.

The Getting Things Done (GTD) Weekly Review Process

Evernote, Management, Organization, PersonalBrain, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian1 Comment

As a GTD fan, I have read the book, listened to the 10CD audio seminar,  read the articles on GTD Times and subscribed to David Allen’s audio blog. In all of these mediums, one of the key messages that seems to come up over and over, is the requirement to do the weekly review.  What would happen to your car if you never changed the oil? The car would get sluggish and eventually the engine would die. Same thing for GTD. You need to review your system and fine-tune it weekly otherwise it will die a horrible death.

Example of why it’s important

  • When I get in the execution zone, I start completing one task after another, after another. This means that I sometimes complete tasks and forget to mark them as complete in my system. This also means that some of my projects may be without their Next Action Item, which is bad in the world of GTD.
  • Even though I try to diligently capture everything in my inbox, I sometimes forget and end up with to-dos in my head. The weekly review is a great time to clean out my head.
  • Just like my oil change example, without proper maintenance and care, your GTD system will eventually become crusty and no longer applicable. Keep it relevant by constantly maintaining it during your weekly review.
  • Mental nirvana. I get a feeling of calm control when I realize that everything is in my system and being tracked properly. Even if my system is perfect and well maintained, there are mental benefits to doing the weekly review and realizing everything is capture and your life is in control.

How much time does it take?

There is no magic rule of thumb here. It should take as much time as you need but no more. Some of my weekly reviews take 30 minutes and others can take upwards of 2 hours. It all depends on how much action I had that week and how I managed to maintain my system on a daily basis.

I’m convinced, what do I do?

This is a question even experienced GTD practitioners need a refresher on from time to time. It is super simple.

When I sit down for my weekly review, here is my process:

  • I do a brain dump and make sure I “empty” out my mental to do list.
  • I ensure my emails are brought to zero and captured in my inbox
  • I ensure my voicemails are all listened to and captured in my inbox
  • I ensure my physical papers are all reviewed and captured in my inbox as appropriate
  • I now process my inbox and bring it to zero
  • I go through my calendar for the last 2-3 weekly and check if I missed any open loops. You will be surprised how many times this reminds me of things I may have forgotten.
  • I go through my calendar for the 2-3 upcoming weeks, and determine if all of my open loops have been captured
  • I then go through each of my lists and context to ensure the items are valid. Did I complete something and forget to mark it as such? Do I have a project with no next actions? Did someone owe me an item from the Waiting for list?

How do I do it?

My weekly review is planned in my calendar every Friday afternoon for 2 hours. For me it is a hard coded obligation. There are times when other activities become a bigger priority and I cancel my weekly review but this is the exception more than the rule. I never skip more than 1 review in a row and the next review (after a skip) will likely take double the time.

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