One of the common “Headscratchers” we encounter
is “How can I find the time to be more proactive?”. I call bologna on “find the time”. Being Proactive saves time, saves redo’s, saves money, and more. What we’ve found is that the problem really isn’t about finding the time but understanding what proactive really means and how to do it.
Being Proactive does require you to Think
, something that many of us try to avoid. We’d rather just react.
Being Proactive means
understanding what’s coming down the pike and doing a little planning to prevent a bigger issue and crises later. For example; Forest fire prevention sometimes means having a controlled burn, which diminishes the frequency of having to fight an out of control fire. You change the oil in your car “proactively” so the engine doesn't overheat and forcing you to stop. Not everything needs to be proactive. Sometimes it’s appropriate to have the confidence that when something arises you’ll have the ability to manage it without being in crises mode, or without a significant delay or expenditure.
Before you assume you don’t have the time to be proactive
, consider these four components and how much time, energy, money and aggravation you will save by looking into these;
Scouting, Dependencies, Lead Time and Critical Path.
: Scouting is about Discovery. In the early days of exploration, people didn’t just get in their wagons and venture forth. They sent a scout to look ahead for dangers and the best path to travel. Before you move your whole family to another city, you might make a trip or two to scout out possible places to live. Before a company upgrades everyone’s computer to a new operating system, they’ll upgrade a few machines and run a trial to ensure everything will work. When a restaurant chain wants to change the menu, they don’t roll it out to 7,500 franchises at once but implement a trial at only a few restaurants to gage the acceptance and discover any issues that might arise.
These are examples of undertaking a discovery phase to learn what you don’t know. This part of being proactive helps prevent surprises down the road. Sending a “Scout”, or running a trial, or looking at technical feasibility, or just doing a little research, allows you to understand issues that might arise during a future implementation.
– This drives the order of things. If you’re going to make a campfire, you need to find the wood before you light the match. Understanding the dependencies determines what must be completed before other activities. Simply put, if activity B depends upon finishing activity A, but you start activity B, without having finished activity A, then things come to a stop. If you’re going to paint a room, and the walls in the room have holes and damage to them, you’d better repair the wall before you start to paint. When dependencies are not understood and discovered on the fly, it will most likely negatively affect the goal, thus generating a time crunch, a crises, or having people just sitting around waiting for the dependency to get finished.
– When we are dependent on someone or something else, we don’t often realize that the request might not be serviced right away. If you’re working on repairing some piece of equipment and you estimate that it will take two hours, but the part you will need takes three days to order and deliver, then although the job will only take two hours, there’s a three day lead time before you can start. If you know this in advance, you might order the part while you’re working on something else. Some things have very long lead times. Ordering custom furniture for example … can take months. Knowing this, you don’t first start looking for that new custom sofa one week before you need it. If you’re going to hire a new employee and want them to be productive on day one, knowing the lead time to order and receive a computer and supplies will ensure that these things arrive before that new employee starts.
Project managers understand what “Critical Path” is and often use critical path analysis and tools to manage a project schedule, delegation of work, and sequencing of tasks. For the rest of us, Critical Path is the order of tasks that produce the least amount of time that something can be accomplished. It is calculated by adding up the longest duration tasks that must be sequenced (have dependencies).
A simple example “project” is for two people preparing dinner. The items on the list might be; (a) go shopping for food; (b) prepare food; (c) boil water; (d) pre-heat oven; (e) set table; (f) cook food. The critical path would be, buy food, prepare food, then cook food. The other items; boil water, pre-heat oven, set table can be done by another person during the time you are spending on the critical path items, therefore do not affect the schedule.
Four Critical Thinking Questions to be Proactive:
Asking these four questions will go a long way to be proactive, and you'll save a lot of time too.
1. What do we have to discover (scout out) to give us confidence that we understand important pieces of this initiative?
2. What pieces of this initiative are dependent upon other pieces, i.e. what must come before another?
3. What are the lead times for the important pieces of this initiative?
4. Given what we’ve discovered by scouting, our understanding of the dependencies, and the lead times involved, what items are in the critical path to accomplish the goal? These are the ones we need to keep a close watch on.
It is misguided to think that being proactive takes a lot of time. If we’re honest with ourselves we’ll realize that most often, it’s not about time, but about the work required to think. You don’t have to do this with every task and every item. With just a little scouting and understanding of some of the dependencies, lead time and critical path items, you’ll most certainly reap a huge benefit.