Monday, February 13, 2017

Is Your Work Process Making or Breaking You?

By Barbara A. Preston

We adopt all kinds of processes for “getting in the zone” and performing our best work.

  • My colleague Lorrell Winston sat on the edge of her seat, rapidly tapping her keyboard. A lit cigarette continuously dangled from her lips, smoke streaming into her squinted eyes. Hyper-focused on her computer screen, her expression registered either fear or euphoria, charged with adrenaline from her last-minute panic and reinforced with nicotine.

Part of Lorrell's work process included having a lit cigarette
in her mouth. She could not work without smoking.

  • Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote “On the Road” in three weeks, with the help of amphetamines, typing it almost nonstop on a 120-foot roll of paper. NPR Reporter Andrea Shea noted: “Kerouac typed about 100 words a minute, and replacing regular sheets of paper in his typewriter just interrupted his flow – thus the scroll.”
  • Yoshiro Nakamatsu, who invented the floppy disk, almost drowns himself. Apparently, “the closer he is to death, the more creative he gets,” according to a FastCompany Reporter Rachel Gillett. The inventor dives underwater and stays there until he attains ideas to make his inventions work.
These are examples of work processes that worked for these people. Yet, I feel compelled to add this sentence: The author disclaims liability for any personal injury, property, or other damage of any nature whatsoever, resulting from the application of any suggestions in this document.

All Work Is a Process

We all have a process, whether by default or design. Do you know yours?

I never really thought much about work processes until I became a consultant for Merck. The pharmaceutical giant had a process for most things. At least the Information Technology area did, and that’s were I worked for about six years as an internal communications lead.

Time is such a limited commodity in today’s work place. I feel many professionals do not have time to think about how they, or their employees, best work. As a communications director at Rutgers, I was basically a “seat of my pants” operation, stretched to the limit, trying to keep up with rapid technology changes and understaffed. I planned what I could, and tried my best to keep up with the work.

But at Merck, one of my jobs was to improve a learning program as part of an internal communications strategy to help employees to:
  • Adopt Better Ways of Working
  • Implement Innovation in Everyday Work
  • Apply global company processes to ensure quality work, meet strict government and legal compliance and regulatory requirements, and to get more done with less.
Corporations are always looking for ways to stay competitive in a constantly changing digital world, and to justify jobs — whether as an employee or consultant. I found myself in a race against tight deadlines to draft and implement a strategy to communicate and teach Merck employees how to work with outsourced providers, how to govern and measure work performed by suppliers and partners, and how to build continuous improvement into processes.

While at Merck, I had also worked for the IT Center of Excellence (IT COE) organization communicating best work practices and promoting the adoption of the Project Management Institute’s global standard project management processes.

Docendo Discimus, or “the best way to learn, is to teach”

Merck subject matter experts provided the expertise for course materials, and spoke at live webinars repeated around the clock for colleagues in Asia-Pacific, Europe / Middle East / Africa, and North America time zones. I took their brilliant ideas and know-how and presented the information in interactive-online classes, step-by-step guidelines, articles, internal websites, and videos.

If you would look at my resume, you would see a “communications and marketing” person. But, in working with the IT Supplier, Management, and Governance experts and the COE to teach business, process, and IT skills, I too have learned much. And it has changed me, in a good way.

Process is now fascinating to me, and here is why:
  • We have an incredibly short time on this planet, if you really think about it. We do not have time to waste.
  • For most of my working life I have been a full-time head-of-household single parent while simultaneously holding high level, well paid but demanding jobs. I’ve managed people, projects, budgets, marketing plans, and large corporate communications strategies. I had no family living close by to help me, and no week on, week off parenting schedule or free weekends. I’m not complaining, just pointing out how crucial it has been to find a balance in life.
  • Poor work processes and habits are not sustainable. At best, you will burn out or develop serious health problems.

Now I think a lot about how I can work smarter

I recently earned a Lean Six Sigma Green belt and a project manager certification, both from Rutgers University. I also read a lot to learn how successful people work. One book I highly recommend is Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. (2014)

In her book, Huffington reinforces much of what I learned at Merck, and have been implementing in my work. She is a strong advocate of project-based work, strategic planning, and building in metrics and tools to keep her projects under budget, to produce high quality work, and to implement timelines and keeping to deadlines.

“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work instead of the quality of time we put in.” — Arianna Huffington
Another great resource is the Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). This 600-page book provides guidelines for managing individual projects and its related processes.

While the PMBOK guide has grown from an IT and Manufacturing background, I have found it especially applicable to Communications and Marketing – which are now heavily invested in the digital age. I began my career on the “content” side of things, but have increasingly had to learn and implement technology and evaluate best platforms for blogging, websites, video, podcasts, workflows, and more.

PMBOK is an awesome guide. It is helping me to navigate my projects and to apply and try new metrics in my work. It’s nice to have, and to be aware of, the repeatable series of steps and activities when approaching a job in a project-based environment.

Whether producing a product, or providing a service for a customer, either as an employee or a consultant for an organization, the PMBOK guide provides best practice processes for individuals, but also in combinations of working with other people, with machines, tools, techniques, materials, and improvements – all in a defined series of steps or actions.

In future blog posts, I will continue exploring work processes and suggest ways to apply these to communications and marketing projects. I will embrace change, since the best work processes are open to continuous improvement.

As Ben Franklin said:  “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

What is your work process?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so that we may learn from each other.

About the author:

Barbara A. Preston, owner of Preston Strategic Communications, is an award winning communications and marketing consultant. She has worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; and The Lawrenceville School. She has performed consulting work for Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and the Mary Jacobs Library Branch of the Somerset County Library System. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic City Press; The Princeton Packet; The U.S. 1 Newspaper; and in CIO Today.

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