Friday, October 24, 2008

SOFT and HARD factors

"Plans are less important than planning," Dale McConkey

"Objectives are not commands; they are commitments. They do not determine the future; they are means to mobilize resources and energies of an organization for the making of the future," Peter Drucker.

It has been a while since I made a post that wasn’t copy-pasting some other article. A lot of work, final year projects, assignment and co-curriculum activities. Don’t we all? Anyway, talking about co-curriculum activities, I was on a committee that was supposed to design a project for a student organization in UPM. I said supposed because the committee wasn’t moving much recently, at least I’m sure I’m not. And also a few weeks ago, I had a discussion with the president of this organization about a similar topic, which was how to improve the projects. Unfortunately, I haven’t made any suggestions or solutions. And so I went back home after the discussion feeling I owe them an answer, a good one at that too. But I had nothing in my brain, and I felt quite disappointed. However, my answer came a few days ago.

My answer came in the form of a lecture from my Operations Management Class. The topic on the day was about supply chain and logistics. He told us about how easy it was to manage supply chain with the invention of the internet, information technology and so many management models to help companies in this matter. But what was profound to me is he said, that even with all those technologies in place, a supply chain requires 3 ‘soft’ factors, which are: trust, commitment and communication. It had an impact on me, because I was spending hour learning about the topic, and then suddenly learnt that such things relied on 3 such simple things that weren’t part of any system that is in our syllabus. Only then I realized about that everything we are learning is ‘hard’ factors. So today, I will give an answer to my friend about how to improve projects with the perspective of these ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ factors.

Let us begin, it started with my statement that the project is having high expectations, and the experience of the member should be the ultimate priority and not exchange numbers. From there, me and my president friend about Organizing Committee (OC) Hierarchy, job descriptions and Education Plans; and they’re role as solutions to my statement. The core of the problem is about how we make sure that people would commit, not too much departmentalization, not making our members feel like they’re doing work, how to make members competent and contribute to the project.

However, a Hierarchy or chain of command, education plan, job descriptions are ‘hard factors’. They are the things you do to create ‘soft factors’ that you need to reach your objective. For example, you have a chain of command (hard factor), it is there so that the team can ‘work together and stop quarrelling’ (soft factor) because there is a leader. However, the solution I discussed with my president friend does not create ‘soft factors’ in solving the core problems that stated earlier. Having a hierarchy does not solve the problem of commitment, having education plans or any plans does not ensure that your OC follows it, and proper division of work through job description does not ensure that the member won’t feel like they’re doing work. But don’t get me wrong, all those steps are important and must be used; I’m just saying you’re digging too much in the wrong whole.

What is the solution? Remember the core problems stated above:

How we make sure that people would commit? How to make not too much departmentalization happen? How not to make our members feel like they’re doing work?

This is a matter of commitment, and because it is internal, it is the hardest to manipulate, however, we can make it reduce the motivation for members to leave by making reasons to stay. Bonding is the answer. Yes, I know, we’ve done this before, everyone tried. But where we lack is make it compulsory, consistent and impactful. Make it a JD of a leader, make it a culture, do anything as long you make it happen. I’m not talking about the occasional mamak. I’m talking about a day out like playing kites…Lol, or a game basketball. Make it personal, make it enjoyable. It can be as simple as inviting a few people out thru facebook. It can be integrated into the education plan. Hopefully, this will divert the stress when it is most, create a sense of belonging and purpose and serves an avenue to interact regardless of department. Oh yeah…that reminds me, the bonding suppose to solve departmentalization so don’t forget to ask everyone.

How to make members competent and contribute to the project?

An education plan is a must wherever, whenever and whoever it is. But your problem lies in the method of information sharing, and commitment to implement it. Bonding should solve the problem of commitment, should anyway. The best way is to have hands on tutoring, like when you learn to drive you need an instructor in the car, same also here, but only for the first few times. I know this requires more commitment which makes it harder. But again document (information management) can be utilized to support this, this is IM (information management), they are to support not to become teachers themselves.

But my solutions require more time or manpower, you might say. I say that our lacking in investing our resources this way has caused enormously in our failures. When I say failures, I’m saying about the difference between mediocre and great. Our projects are reasonably well, but there are always glitches and problems, right? This is the key to take it to next level. I believe, this is the 'foundation' that you said you wanted at the beginning of the your term. I understand that doing so will cause you not to set high expectation for your projects. Well, I understand. For your information, I will remain skeptical to high expectations until a detailed plan (and the assurance it will be followed) is given, or proven by actually doing it. Though I may remain skeptical, I will support it, after all, it is your project.

To end, I will say that these are the answers that I can come up with. The choices you will make upon reading this are yours and yours alone. I did not influence you, I intend not to by writing this neither post, nor do I intend you will be influence but I do expect you read it and ponder upon it, and respect it as the advice for which you sought me for. Like I have said before, you make the decisions, and as for me on the sidelines, is to give my support. I hope this would be sufficient in compensating for my inactiveness in the projects committee. That’s all for now.

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