Did you earn your Jam today?

I used to work with a colleague who before agreeing to do any piece of work would ask the group: “are we earning our jam with this”? They were not talking about the sweet product that you put on bread but more about: are we adding value to the company and the project by doing it. At first, I questioned what was the validity in asking questions like these when you are working in an approved project and have your set goals but as I soon learnt; there are many ways of reaching your end goal and which way you take is up to you. In this case, it was: which way do we go to add the most value to the organisation and to our project.

Value has always been a hot topic amongst project managers but it’s normally used in another sense, to discuss value for money or cost saving. I think it’s important to turn it around and instead ask: are we providing the most value to our organisation and to the project. As Project Managers we will always keep an eye on the final budget but there are also the considerations to be made that by being value orientated towards the final product, we can save money and effort in the entire project by working more efficiently.

What does looking for value mean in reality?

Looking for value in a project means critically analysing what you’re doing and seeing if there’s a better way that it could be done. An example being: You are managing the release of a new software and you need to manage the teams and get this done. One way to look at adding value is look at possible ways to innovate to deliver the end software using new technology or working styles to improve the quality of the code and thus the end product.

One of the core questions to ask would be exactly how the project could deliver what it needs and what’s the best way to do it? Instead of going through the motions and repeating the same steps, could we improve anything? Are we looking to make sure that we’re working efficiently and effectively?

Adding value to the organisation can be as simple as training juniors in a more cost-effective manner. I’ve done this recently with pair programming. You’d team up a more senior developer with a more junior developer so that they could learn quickly and get the job done. It worked out to save us a lot of time in the long run as our juniors understood what they needed to do and became proficient more quickly than if they were doing more basic tasks themselves. If you’re working in an organisation that does not work in an environment of looking for ‘constant’ improvement, I’d recommend implementing this in your project organisation. It could be introducing this at the end of every stage gate/lessons learned but it would ensure that you’re learning where improvements can be made and making them directly.

If you’ve not heard of it yet; I’d recommend looking into the improvement process of Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of constant improvement and understanding that all things can be improved. It’s used by a lot of companies to improve their processes and establish a better way of working. I’ve used it in my projects to look critically at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and seeing where improvements (no matter how small) can be made.


Image courtesy of: https://mt.kaizen.com/

Adding value as a Project Manager

Let’s talk about adding value personally. Are you making sure that you’re aligning with what you need as a Project Manager and are you making sure that you’re working the most effectively? Have you been looking at the improvements that you can make on a personal level? An example for increasing your value on a personal level could be as simple as looking at what you’re doing and seeing if you’re spending your time on the right things. Are you too busy being a ‘fire fighter’ and reacting to issues that occur or are you being proactive in looking at the changes that can be made.

I like to take some time every quarter to analyse what I’m currently spending my most effort on and if this is a valuable use of my time or not. If it’s not, then I look at what I can do to change it. This small activity takes less than an hour and has given me that chance of perspective and reflection that I was missing.

Using Scrum methodologies mean that you regularly spend time analysing improvements during the “Inspect and Adapt” phase. Some teams like to avoid this as they don’t see the value but I strongly encourage and coach my teams that this time is so valuable to ensure the success of our team and thus the project. It’s important to use all of the scrum events and not skip any to ‘save’ time.

Adding value should be something that you look at as a continuous activity rather than a ‘one-off’ thing that you do to just tick it off your to-do list.

So, did you earn your jam today?

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