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C-Level Managers - the Firefighters – Part I

Why C-Level manager spend 80% of their time firefighting, and inherently, spend only 20% on strategy and execution?

Personal comment:

I am a big fan of Pareto, and you will notice in this and my future posts extensive reference to this principle, just so we are all on the same page, here is a short definition of the principle:

“The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes, roughly, 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes”.

Back to our question in hand…

Working closely for years with C-Level managers in a diverse variety of industries and organizations, I couldn’t help noticing a repetitive behavior:

C-Level managers, unfortunately, spend much more time than they wish to, firefighting.

They spend most of their time fixing ad hoc issues, mitigating and identifying (nu-planned) risks, aligning with stakeholders, resolve conflicts and more.

One would think that this is the definition of any manager, however, I’ve came to learn they would like better focusing on what was formally defined as a C-Level manager: define strategy, lead transversely, effective problem resolution, efficient decision making, resources efficiency and more.

C-Level definition

C-Level comes from the titles of top executives, which typically start with the letter “C”.

- The C-Level represents the most senior executives of an organization.

- Members of the C-Level possess significant business experience and a strong strategic mindset, capable of making high-quality decisions, managing conflict, and are adaptable.

The C-Level is the most influential group of individuals in an organization. To become part of the C-Level, significant business experience and leadership skills are required. C-Level members play a strategic role within an organization and are expected to make tough decisions that impact the business’ vision.

There are many management style, and it will be elaborated on my next post: “What is your management style?”

Organizations’ deliveries

Regardless of the management style, the C-level position, nor the knowledge area of the organization: most companies deliver projects and programs, regardless of if it’s a commodity, a product, or a service. Every C-level manager needs to manage, delegate, resolve conflicts, be a role model, be a visionary, and most important – make decisions to efficiently deliver results!

Let’s start with what is a Project and how do we manage a project.

A project is a set of tasks that must be completed in order to arrive at a particular goal or outcome.

The PMBOK define 10 Project Management Knowledge Areas:

1. Integration

2. Scope

3. Time

4. Cost

5. Quality

6. Human Resource

7. Communications

8. Risk

9. Procurement

10. Stakeholders

In a utopian world all these areas are properly planned, managed, and executed by the project manager and the team, aggregated in a proper manner to a program or a portfolio overview, and overseen by the C-level manager.

In reality: not so much…

In this post, I decided to focus on the 80/20 of causes, to my opinion, for this dis-utopian reality.

To my opinion the main 2 reasons, that may cause 80% of the firefighting of managers lies in risk management and risk management (other reasons will be discussed in my next post “What is your management style?”).

Risks management

When planning a project, and later in the execution phase, we need to identify known and unknown risks, analyze the probability and severity, agree on witch of the risks we will have a mitigation plan in place, which will have a prevention plan and witch will just be noted (i.e. earthquake: in some projects we must have a mitigation plan and some others we don’t, however – it can’t be prevented 😊 …).

Sometimes, risks are not properly defined, for example: a risk stated as “the milestone will be delayed by 3 weeks”, is not the risk if during these 3 weeks (that may be 9 months from now) there is a big exhibition, and marketing division intent presenting the solution vs. competition, sometimes these exhibitions occur once or twice a year, missing that window of opportunity for the company as a whole has a much bigger implications than missing a timeline.

Proposed resolution: risk management should be thought and have Lessons Learned / Postmortem Process, for each and every risk coming through/managed in the organization for future improvement. Lessons learned can never be done as a disciplinary tool, it can never have personal implications, and must always take place within 2 weeks of the incident.

All lessons learned should be documented and kept as one of the organizations’ most important tool and process.

Once done properly in the organization, with time, dealing with risks will be much less stressful, unexpected, and unplanned, and may significantly improve time management of a C-Level manager.

Decision making – it’s not about the tool…

A dashboard is a visual of wide, complex, and multi-layers subjects that can be presented from a simple board with sticky notes, up to complex BI and PPM high-end tools.

These days every time information is gathered together and presented in a table / a graph / else – it’s “a dashboard”, my problem is with “garbage in – garbage out”.

Although a dashboard can be used extensively, when it comes to C-Level managers we need the dashboards to be a DECISION-MAKING support mean, regardless of the actual tool that is used to analyze the information.

Dashboards must be presented regardless of the issue in hand: a specific project, a portfolio, a program, a risk or an event. In order to make a fact-based decision, may the issue be, it has to take in account cross-disciplines, cross-processes, cross-resources, and cross-skills, and address the issue stand alone as well as a part of the whole.

A dashboard must have a very simple front-end and be very easy to understand, however the back-end will be very detailed, facts based, multi-layered and support more than one alternative, in order to back up the questions and decision in hand.

C-Level managers need to know and understand the problem statement, the potential resolutions, alternatives, pros and cons, risks and implications, once all the information is presented in a clear simple way, the manager can request to elaborate one or more issues, request additional investigations or information, or make a fact based decision. Here go: decision making tool.

When a tool like that is available, the manager will feel confident making decisions and have the buy in of all stakeholders.

The next post will discuss management styles and more recommendations on how to reduce the time C-Level managers spend firefighting.

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