Out of Overload

A Guide for Technical Managers

Chapter 4
Multiple Missions

Types of Vision

Managing Multiple Missions
Profile Your Missions
Five Steps for Coordinating Missions

Todayís marketplace aggravates overload situations with its endless hype of technical advances. The wild scream for new products creates a frenzied environment with multiple missions and a ratís nest of conflicting goals.

Handling this barrage of demands requires a cool head with clear vision and focused missions.

Types of Vision

Keeping a broad overview prepares you for opportunity and gives you a jump on the future. Technical people frequently find themselves in the right place at the right time, but seldom are they prepared to take advantage of it.

Three types of overview/vision predominate:

1. Work missions / projects
2. Personal motivators
3. Vague ideas.

These areas represent the amount of thought you give to work, personal, and ideas concepts. The periods may be formal planning sessions, or daydreaming on the way home. They are your attempt to make sense of your situation at the next level of organization.

For example:

Tony figured his planning was low in the idea area:

95% work.
4.8% personal.
.2% new ideas.


Anne felt her work dominated:

99.5% work.
.4% personal.
.1% new ideas.

Although a 30/30/30 mix might appear to be the most balanced split, it's not practical and may not even be ideal. Work is demanding, and it pays the rent. It makes sense that your work situation receives the bulk of your visionary effort. Letís assume that 80/10/10% (work/personal/ideas) is possible.

Remember, this percent deals with visionary time. Itís not a percent of total work during the day. The goal is to reserve mental time for expansion and new ideas. Donít worry about actually finding time for doing the activity you uncover -- thatís a scheduling exercise. The objective is to engage your mind on a wider set of visions.

80% Work

The 80% work focus allows you to focus on business planning. This reserves time to organize how that 40 - 60 hour block of your week will unfold. With improvements in handling multiple missions, 80% should be adequate.

10% Personal

Focusing 10% of your planning on personal issues doesnít mean taking longer for lunch or buying a new suit. It involves taking stock of your special interests and inclinations. These are the activities that put a spring in your step and make the day pleasurable.

For example:

Bob didnít know how to answer questions on Personal Vision. He was barely hanging on. No...he was losing ground. The international section was in disarray; the outsourcing effort was over budget; and recruiters were picking off his staff like fish in a barrel. He had zero time and energy for Personal Vision.

Donít feel bad if youíve answered "none" to the question on time allocated for personal interests. If youíve been in overload for any length of time, your personal focus may have atrophied. When breaking free fifteen minutes early to pick up the laundry seems like a fun event, you need better balance in your work week.

Ironically, when you're in overload, you can lose touch with how much you enjoy your work. Without this enjoyment factor, your stress is a greater, and your sense of overload increases.

10% Ideas

Itís rare for anyone in overload to pay much attention to ideas that pop up. Having time for a second cup of coffee at breakfast is difficult enough. To pause and contemplate a passing thought doesnít fit with being in overload.

Unfortunately, pots of gold are hidden in those half-baked ideas. They are the seeds of insight that lead to breakthroughs and innovative products. Capturing and nurturing these ideas, however minor they may seem, can point you to larger opportunities.

Even negative new ideas are an asset. Getting a sense that a project is going sour can lead to a proactive response. Pulling the plug early might prevent a tremendous waste of resources.

When planning, be aware when the personal and ideas "visions" surface. Itís easy to let work oriented goals overwhelm them. Make an effort to keep the 80/10/10 breakdown alive. Whenever possible, ask yourself, "Is there a personal or creative idea hidden in this?"

Managing Multiple Missions

Please donít skip this. Missions play an important role in helping you out of overload.

Many technical people will see the word "Mission" and flip to another section. The word conjures up memories of the corporate "Mission Statement," which theyíve come to know as self-serving, misleading, and a bad joke throughout the company. When questioned about the company mission statement, employees respond with an anger and a vehemence that makes you pause. Those in the trenches want to believe -- itís their sweat and effort on the line everyday. It hurts that the company mission statement is a joke.

If you want the saddest and funniest mix of twisted humor, open up a rewrite of the corporate mission statement to all the workers. Before long, they canít resist telling it like it is.

For example:

"...Above all else, we will maintain a state-of-art furniture police, thermostat guards, and dress code monitors."

"...weíre cheap, and it shows."

"...We just want to be 15th. We are quite happy with a 1% market share."

"...We strive to be a miracle company. We want to lead the industry without test equipment and on PCís that any five year old would reject."

If missions are a bad joke to you, please set your opinion aside for a few moments.

Clear, farsighted missions counter overload by providing the framework for multiple projects and goals. Without a clear understanding of your missions, you can end up going in all directions at once.

The more complex your situation, the more mission organization will help. Youíll juggle resources better and prevent distorted goal setting.

Profile Your Missions

A solid mission must be genuine, have the right scope, and have a personal appeal.

1. Genuine

A mission must be truthful. Begin by writing down a detailed, concrete outcome. Be realistic, this is no place for good intentions that wonít be backed up by action.

A genuine mission is often quite personal. Even when organizing pure company matters, the real forces and motivation are personal. "To rise up the corporate ranks," may be the driving force behind a new product design. Thatís exactly as it should be, however, you may want to keep these personal mission statements out of the formal planning documents.

Because genuine missions are personal, you may want to keep your personal planning documents at home. Itís too easy to leave a notebook behind after a hectic meeting. This means maintaining a book for personal missions and one for work goals and ideas.

For example:

Bill had a strange smirk on his face. "Is this yours?" he asked. "I found it in the conference room." Ed turned red. He didnít like being moved to offices near the reception desk. He had sketched out a list of countermeasures, including slowing down the network and even resigning. "Yes, thanks," he squeaked out. Good thing Bill was friend enough to return it.

Keeping some information at home violates the central reference principle, but the image of having your personal visions read aloud by the guys in the lunch room does not stir happy thoughts.

Genuine missions mobilize your energies and get your creative forces going.

2. Scope

Make the mission attainable. If itís too large, it has no meaning. Most statements of "lead the industry..." are unrealistic and far too broad.

This does not mean limit your aspirations. Seeing a doctor ease someoneís pain can stir a vision that lasts through years of science classes, medical school, and well into practice.

Intermediate missions provide better guidance than general, more visionary mission statements. For example, "getting into medical school" will shape and focus your immediate efforts more than "want to be a doctor." Your desire to be a doctor is more of a vision, whereas getting into medical school is a concrete mission.

Just as missions can be too large, they can be too small. Passing the chemistry exam is too narrow to be a mission. It falls into the goal category. Missions must be broad enough to organize groups of goals.

3. Appeal

The ideal mission should come alive for you. This is more than being genuine, itís emotional. The mission should connect to your heart.

For example:

Ed tried to get behind the "Hit the growth projections" mission that had come down from above, but it left him flat. Simply considering the idea slowed him down. Determined not to just trudge along, Ed came up with his own mission: "To become known as an innovator in the prefab industry."

His tasks and responsibilities stayed the same, but with this personal mission, he had one heck of a lot more energy.

This can be a tall order. It can take time to cut through the years of phony missions and uncover your core motivations and visions.

Because itís difficult to settle on the perfect mission right off the bat, the missionís initial appeal may be less than stirring. Be patient. As you shape and refine a mission, it can move closer to your heart.

Multiple Missions

The ability to coordinate multiple missions is a key factor in handling overload.

Most individuals in overload juggle a variety of missions. If the missions are coordinated, they lead to collaboration and efficiency. If theyíre not organized, they lead to opposing actions, low accomplishments, and frustration.

For example:

Bob felt like he was dead in the water. From 7:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night he was busy going in one direction and then another. Every minute. He felt competent, but it seemed like nothing ever got done.

The frustration of conflicting missions can cripple your initiative. The more effort you put into one, the more pressure you get from the others. And the chances for conflict abound: long term vs short term, sales vs engineering, sound design vs quick response.

Five steps to coordinate your missions:

1. List your current missions. Having them on paper makes them concrete and makes omissions more obvious.

For example:

Tonyís first missions list:

- Stabilize the new product lines.
- Keep his career moving forward.
- Properly staff the department.

After a little consideration he added:

- Improve his math skills.
- Hit the schedules for the next two releases.

2. Review each mission for clean traits. Is it genuine, within scope, and appealing?

For example:

Tony took a second look at his missions:

- Stabilize the new product lines.

a. This seemed genuine to him.
b. It limited the scope to new products and was broad enough to enclose a mix of goals.
c. Was it appealing? Well, he thought that might be the wrong word, but yes, he felt a sense of pride and personal commitment to these new products.

- Keep his career moving forward.

a. It was certainly genuine.
b. Maybe the whole career theme was too general. He decided to change it to: Keep my skills from becoming obsolete.
c. Yes, this appealed to him personally.

- Properly staff the department.

a. This seemed genuine to him.
b. It seemed broad enough to handle a couple of action plans.
c. Was it appealing? Absolutely. It would free up his time.

- Improve his math skills.

a. This seemed genuine.
b. On second thought, the scope of "math skills" struck Tony as too large. He changed it to: Learn enough finite math to handle our forecasting models.
c. Was it appealing? Yes.

- Hit the schedules for the next two releases.

a. This was genuine.
b. Focusing on two releases seemed a little too narrow. Tony expanded this to: Establish credibility on delivery commitments.
c. For some reason, this mission wasnít very appealing. It conflicted with one he hadnít mentioned: Be responsive to others' difficulties. He added that one to the list.

- Be responsive to others difficulties.

a. It felt genuine.
b. The scope seemed okay.
c. Similar to the mission on scheduling, Tony felt this had an inherent conflict.

After the rework, Tonyís missions were:

- Stabilize the new product lines.
- Keep my skills from becoming obsolete.
- Properly staff the department.
- Learn enough finite math to handle our forecasting models.
- Establish credibility on delivery commitments.
- Be responsive and supportive to others' difficulties.

In reviewing Tonyís mission profiles, several characteristics stand out. First, the fact that each mission was rated as genuine on the first attempt, portrays Tony as direct and relatively free of sub-agendas. He later confessed that he wanted to include: To expand to an increasingly responsible position in the company. However, it struck him as pompous and reminiscent of a phony interview answer.

Tony demonstrated an ability to narrow in on the right scope very quickly. His experience evaluating projects was showing.

3. Mark the missions that really jump out at you.

For example:

In Tonyís case, he marked:

- * Stabilize the new product lines.
- * Keep my skills from becoming obsolete.
- Properly staff the department.
- * Learn enough finite math to handle our forecasting models.
- Establish credibility on delivery commitments.
- Be responsive to others' difficulties.

4. Group and consolidate the results. Examine the lists for patterns.

For example:

Tony noticed that the skills and math learning mission were similar. He combined them into: Keep my skills current. He also realized that only the first two missions really stirred him to action. He wanted to get started on each. The others just stared back at him.

- * Stabilize the new product lines.
- * Keep my skills current.

- Properly staff the department.
- Establish credibility on delivery commitments.
- Be responsive to othersí difficulties.

5. Delay the need to resolve conflicting missions. Start going forward on the ones that are clear and energizing.

For example:

In Tonyís case, this meant focusing on:

- Stabilize the new product lines.
- Keep my skills current.

Does this mean youíre a bad person because youíre cutting back on tasks that might be important to someone else? No. It means you are organizing your efforts to put high energy, important areas first.

It is much easier to pick out hot items than it is to eliminate bad choices. Even the largest time wasters and money drains have some reason not to be rejected. Donít spend time trying to reject a borderline mission. Focus on the good choices.

Will you still spend time on activities you'd rather ignore? Sure, but the other 95% will be right on track.

For example:

Tony tried to put the concept into his own terms. He asked, "So, does this mean I should throw myself wholeheartedly into the important areas and drag my feet the rest of the time?"

The answer is, well...yes. It may not sound like a phrase for your resume, but youíre in overload. Something has to give, and it may well be those entangled missions that are going nowhere anyway. The high energy projects will get done, and the questionable areas will be ignored.

For example:

For Tony, improving the new products helped calm the customers, and many of the other concerns just took care of themselves. Since his knowledge base was also improving, the groupís technical decisions required less rework.

If your target projects have the vision and scope that they should, the fact that theyíre progressing should have a positive impact on every other part of the organization.

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