Effective managers often make optimal use of time and attention to get the most bang for their buck. This habit often helps them build massive capacity to take on more and deliver more. They also instill this discipline in the organizations they manage. Everyone can learn this trait through practice and thoughtfulness.
This discipline of effective managers often boils down to an ability to say no. Saying no is something that most people have a hard time saying. But, your path to effectiveness starts by learning to say no.
When do you need to say no?
There are three places where great managers are quick to say no. First, no to marginal projects. Second, no to scope creep. And third, no to nurturing projects that have become irrelevant.
Sometimes, projects start in organizations without enough thought given to it. Such projects can start because someone has a hunch, or someone thinks it may be cool to do. Some projects begin because a marketing manager believes that a client request for a new feature may become popular in the market. When organizations lack the right processes, such marginal projects take up significant resources.
Many institutions allow the unfettered birth of new projects. Such organizations have an inbuilt DNA that makes the birth of new projects easy. Such companies also have themselves spread too thin. In such places, you need better stage gate mechanisms before new projects start.
Great managers ensure that their project birthing mechanism is tightly controlled. They ensure that the organization has enough checks and balances to have hurdles for the birth of a new project.
Effective managers understand the downsides of scope creep. That is why they maintain project scopes and guard them.
There is a logical reason for that. We have a limited number of hours in a day and limited budgets in organizations. And great management is about allocating resources in the best possible way. So when a project gets approval, it claims resource that prevents another potential project.
The moment project creep starts, the project crosses a line. The original promise of the project changes. It means the project is now asking for more resources while promising the same outcome. What people do not realize is that doing more often boils down to delivering less.
The path to massive managerial and organizational ineffectiveness often starts with scope creep.
Avoiding Scope Creep
There are two ways to avoid project creep. First, through initial contracting. Second by scope management.
Initial contracting of any project, internal or external, should include a scope creep clause. It must maintain that any scope creep will incur an extra charge. If this is not a part of your existing project management process or request for proposal templates, it may be an excellent place to start.
For internal projects, where a charge often does not exist, you need a second mechanism. It involves project creep management. The contacting for internal projects should include offsetting mechanism for resources. When the project needs more resources, the project manager should be required to release resources elsewhere.
The third place where great managers differ from good ones is in killing projects that are no longer needed. A project often starts when there is a legitimate need for it. But then the conditions change, and the project is no longer worthwhile. It may no longer be needed, or it may have become unprofitable. Such projects should be killed. Yet, killing a project is one of the hardest things to do. Great managers can do this while most others cannot.
Killing a project is generally harder than managing project birth or scope creep. Once a project is in place, and a team is working on it, it is almost impossible for that project to die on its own. The resources allocated to a project ensure the project survives. But things change. New information comes along. A project that made sense earlier no longer makes sense anymore. There are no organizational mechanisms that automatically kill a project that is no longer relevant. And thus it often boils down to managers to question whether a project is suitable anymore.
When not to say No?
Although highly effective managers are ruthless in the allocation of resources and time, they are also aware that this laser precision and desire for efficiency is not applicable everywhere.
One of the things where efficiency doesn’t apply is people management. That is where speed and efficiency become a liability. When it comes to people management, slow is fast. Understanding people, their issues, their context takes time for anyone. Persuading and inspiring people can take even longer. Trying to steamroll your way with people often doesn’t get the result you want.
So when it comes to people management, great managers do not try to become efficient. I have seen managers who will cancel another meeting because the person they were mentoring is distraught. They suddenly become patient in a meeting even when the previous meeting left them angry.
The art of saying no is also associated with knowing when to say no quickly and when not to be efficient and ruthless.
The Discipline of Effective Managers
Great managers are ruthless in managing resources and time. They are well aware of the implications of waste. Such managers ensure that a deliberate decision is involved before projects begin. They protect scope creep, and they quickly kill projects when they are no longer needed. At the same time, they know not to apply this precision with people. They do the exact opposite in people management where empathy rather than efficiency works best.