The magic of knowing who is doing what

Knowing who is doing what is a prerequisite to implement change.

Picture by M. Hassan on Pixabay

Organisations will always try to evolve their business by enhancing, improving or widening their line of products, services, channels, by redesigning their processes or by starting complete new lines of business or partnerships. The way to implement those changes is to execute projects.

Projects are the vehicle to implement desired change. The theoretic process in which this plays out is actually quite simple: Management agrees and defines a desired future scenario for the company and launches a project get there.

So far so good but of course reality differs a bit.

First of all not all projects are being started from the desire of improving the business, many projects are being executed to fulfil new legal requirements and regulatory demands.
Secondly projects seem to be strongly group-living animals. They seem to love having many of their kind around 🙂

Usually management teams agree on a lot of stuff and there are a lot of legal demands, thus companies end up with a huge zoo of projects running in parallel.

What always made me wonder is the easiness in which new things are started. Adding one more project into the pipeline seems to be not much of a deal.


Everyone who ever worked in project management knows that by far not all projects end in time and with the expected result. Actually it’s totally the opposite, a frequent study from the Standish Group actually shows that only around 30% of all projects are completed with satisfying result.

Standish Group International

How come?
Are all project managers idiots and simply unable to get their job done?
I don’t think so.

In my experience one of the biggest mistakes organisations do, is trying to do too many things in parallel. Unclear priorities and an overwhelming number of activities in parallel is with absolute certainty the most typical mistake of all. So how to get around this problem.

I think the answer is two-fold:

First of all “More Focus” – which is related to good goal setting muscles which will be covered in the next upcoming post
And secondly “Knowing who is doing what” – not knowing the actual human capacity is recipe for disaster

Senior management wisdom

Some time ago I had the opportunity to meet some senior executive people from a financial institution who we were partnering with. This organisation was on a big transformation, they were on the road to become an agile organisation.

But the key insight which I took from that meeting, wasn’t related to agility. It was much simpler.

In that session we had a conversion on how they approached organisational change, how they planned and implemented their new organisational model and what lessons learned they experienced. We talked about mistakes, wrong assumptions and the really difficult things they faced to tackle their change.

In the middle of a modest not that surprising dialog, one of the senior C-Suite-Manager pointed out something which really hit me:

“Being honest, we as the Management team of our company said always YES to new projects. We nearly never said NO.

One more project – why not 🙂 let’s just give it a go! We always relied on our organisation to find a way to do it.

Now this is different, since we changed we know exactly who is in which team and which team is doing what. If a new idea comes up we need to decide what to stop or we simply need to hire a new additional team.

No more: Blind YES.

Understanding who is precisely doing what in your organisation is the key. We needed to know which teams were involved in which projects and who was doing all the BAU work. THIS was by far the hardest part of the all the work. You need to understand this to the last micro level of detail to be able to take the right decisions.”

Amazing! I think this is fully true.
Knowing who is doing what is a fundamental prerequisite to implement any change.

Human bottlenecks

Many organisations have no clear idea on who exactly is contributing to which project. As a result organisations often absolutely overload their teams and especially their key persons.

Typically organisations contain very special employees which by their expertise and or influence are required in nearly every project. These employees, even being absolute top-performers, end up being involved in 70-80% of all projects the organisation is running at a time. Of course some of these VIPs might be managers who can delegate some of their project task within their own team, but in any case each project involvement will absorb part of their time and focus.

Organisations where management just pushes more initiatives onto the teams with the expectation “they will just find a way…” create an organisational chaos and a culture of artificial progress.

The world of 2-speed-projects

A colleague of mine, a senior IT Manager, always referred to this situation as the world of normal- and fake-speed-projects:

There are ongoing projects where real activity and progress is happening (normal speed) and there are projects where due to lack of resources nothing, or more precise nearly nothing is happening (fake speed). Nearly nothing means that no real progress is made, but teams are faking progress artificially to make it look like things are under control.

This behaviour, although completely insane on the first view, is totally human.

Without a strong manager backing the team and stopping this nonsense by confronting the upper management there is no way out.

These situations cause tremendous stress in all teams involved and even worse, it strengthens management belief that their teams just magically find a way to get projects moving, thus they are reinforced to push even more projects into the organisation.

I think you don’t necessarily need to be agile to solve this. Simply make sure that you track the engagement of each individual employee in each and every project.

For sure easier said than done, but not doing anything is no good answer either. Just try it, get a list of all your projects and list everyone involved, from IT to Sales, to Product Management and Legal. Just list’em all.

You will be surprise, resource bottlenecks will become tremendously obvious.

Or even better, organise by teams. Teams are much easier to allocate. And constant teams are anyhow much more successful. Having a team with very little dependency to outside, having all it needs to get the job done, will be hell of a success machine.

Your promise to me

Please make me a promise. If you will become a senior manager someday, please recall this post the next time you and you senior fellows might be on the edge to decide another “YES, great project, let’s give it a go, they will find a way…

2 thoughts on “The magic of knowing who is doing what”

  1. Let me add the following: To better effectively change something in a given organization (a process, a product, a service ….) we need to overcome the temptation of underestimating the need of KNOWING what we are about to change. Most organizations and managers often know very poorly the “pieces” they want to change.
    Investing time and talent in understanding the “object” to be change yields a super impressive result. Better 80-20 Pareto approach than a scientific German analytical piece. Of course


Leave a Comment