Keep the Big in “The Big Picture”

I am writing this missive on an airplane as I fly out to begin my week’s activities. Fortunately it’s a relatively short flight; Chicago to New York, and we are on time! When I consider how busy most people are, in particular operating executives, directors and senior managers, it is easy to see how you can be inundated with so much information that you lose sight of what is really important.

In other words, you take the Big out of The Big Picture, and concentrate on whichever minutiae come your way. It seems like no decision can be made, no initiative started; literally nothing can be done without our own input. As a result you dash from one meeting to the next, try and catch up with endless lists of e-mail and are mesmerized by your electronic devices long into the night. Is there a way out?

If you need to find time to focus and keep your eye on the Big Picture, it helps if you know what you need to focus on and have the processes in place to bring you the right information. You must also rely on capable people who are able to make decisions and work independently and communicate effectively with those people.

I believe that the first question to ask is what is really important? The exact answer to that question will depend on your position, company, industry and other variables. However, there are other questions that you can ask to help narrow down what is really important to you.

What about your company and your position is important to know in order to judge what is going on? Knowing your company’s strategy and what that strategy is trying to accomplish is a good place to start (see my previous posting “A Simple Strategy”). Are you focused on the actions that will create the most value according to your value drivers? Are you paying attention to the measured results that your value drivers require? By paying attention to the value drivers that your strategy requires your attention will be in the right place, both on your company and on external factors like your competition and industry.

Secondly, does your company have processes in place to facilitate the accurate and timely sharing of information? I say accurate because in today’s world, it is completely possible to lack the proper information you need to operate while being overwhelmed with trivia that are not important. For some ideas on how to determine what good processes are, see my previous posting “Is Your Company Truly Agile?”

Next, consider the people that are working for you. It goes without saying that you want to have good people working for you. Just as important is: do you give them responsibility commensurate with their position and experience to make decisions and do what they need to do? In other words, do your people know what you expect, and have the knowledge and experience to perform without being micromanaged? Do you let them work without micro-managing them?

You may also want to look at your own communication skills. Do you remember the childhood game where you have a line of children, and the first child whispers a secret in the next child’s ear? If you had a line of ten children what the last child reported was never even close the starting message. How often do you ask for feedback to see if your directions are well understood by those performing under your leadership? It might be quite revealing to ask!

The keys to managing do not need to be complex: it takes the right processes, the right people and the right messages properly communicated to free you up to see the Big Picture.

One thought on “Keep the Big in “The Big Picture”

  1. Jennifer Jelinek

    I think ‘The Big Picture” is a problem for most project managers and to a lesser degree program mangers due to the expectations set for those positions. Project managers in particular are expected to have answers to a wide variety of questions at a granular level at any given time. This is often expected of dates and budgets which require PMs to provide exact numbers at the drop of a hat (I’ve been there).

    I think this drives PMs to be insanely detail oriented and entirely dependent on their teams to hit strategic marks. This works if the team has done the projects before and is motivated to make things work however, the PM should be the driving force and personally, I don’t believe this is a sustainable model.

    I was very lucky and married a “big picture” person. He is an Enterprise Architecture Strategist. However, the bane of his existence these days is project mangers. By working with my big picture husband I have merged my details with a more a strategic planning outlook for project management. It has made me a more successful PM and by far a more desired one by the technical teams since I no longer drown them in insignificant details and focus on the items that will make us successful. However, I do find that I have more trouble fitting in with the PM community at large that is most interested in process and documentation. Now, I see process as a means to project success and documentation as a way to pass audit and ensure success for future projects. Documentation for the sake of documentation seems to miss the big picture entirely.

    Possibly, being a “big picture” PM is the road less traveled.

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