Is ‘Pradmin’ filling your day

20th July 2020

Project work involves a whole range of different activities and there never seems to be a lack of tasks vying for our attention.  There are activities that are seen as exciting and glamorous, like facilitating a crucial workshop.  There are others that are important but perhaps less glamorous, like filling in a timesheet (ah, how we all love timesheets).  On top of this there are the various and ubiquitous channels of communication that allow collaboration in today’s digital era: email, Slack, WhatsApp, texts and many other besides.  When you have 117 unanswered e-mails, 27 missed calls and hundreds of other notifications on your phone and laptop it can be hard to know where to start.

It would be unrealistic of us to think that we can focus purely on the seemingly ‘glamorous’ tasks.  A two-hour workshop might take four or more hours of preparation and planning.  Administration and logistical work can be just as important, but often goes on under the radar.  In fact, if we examined our workday clinically, we’d probably find that there’s quite a lot of project admin—or ‘Pradmin’—lurking in our to do lists.

What constitutes Pradmin varies a lot depending on context, but could include things like status reporting, pasting data into project logs, administrative meetings, preparing presentation decks and much more besides. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Pradmin, and it often serves an important function; however in a world where organisations are seeking to do more with less we ought to take the opportunity to put a mirror up to our own practices.  Change projects often seek to change the way that operational teams work by improving processes and technology.  Shouldn’t we apply the same skills to examine and improve the way that we work?

‘Because we’ve always done it that way’

If you’ve ever worked on a process improvement initiative, you have probably come across situations where nobody really knows why a particular task is done.  The only explanation offered might be “because we’ve always done it that way…”.  As practitioners of change this becomes a prompt for us to probe further, to find out whether it’s actually necessary at all. Maybe the task was historically useful but is now redundant.  One thing better than improving work is to stop doing unnecessary work altogether!

The same logic is true for the work that we do as change practitioners. Projects often involve a plethora of reporting obligations.  Reporting is an important tool for project control and governance, however I suspect many of us have slavishly completed status reports that are never or rarely read.  If we step back this seems crazy; if the reports aren’t being read then either they aren’t needed or we’re somehow not engaging the recipients sufficiently.  Imagine twenty people spending half an hour a week filling in reports that are never read.  That’s ten hours effort a week.  Forty hours effort a month.  What would your project achieve with that extra time?

Much in the same way as we examine and transform the work of others, we should be prepared to examine our own practices.  We ought to ask “Is this necessary? Is there a better and more effective way of achieving this aim?”.  If we ask why the reports are needed, we might discover a desire for communication of progress. This being the case perhaps a ‘report by exception’ process could be adopted. With a trusted and high-performance team, surely it’s better to reduce admin, set tolerances, and report only if those tolerances are likely to be breached?

We might also consider technology used.  So often organisations fall back to using spreadsheets for just about everything.  Risk management is an essential part of managing a project, but the mechanical maintenance of a master spreadsheet with seemingly hundreds of columns is a distraction.  In some situations lower-tech alternatives might be appropriate (such as cards on a wall); in others higher-tech collaborative tools might be more effective.

Conclusion: Getting to the ‘why’

Some Pradmin is valuable and necessary, but we should be bold and ask why it is necessary.  We should ask what it is aiming to achieve.  In doing so we can cultivate a conversation around whether there are better ways of achieving the same outcome with less effort.  We should look internally and constantly look to improve our own craft, in the same way that we look to transform the work of others.  This will free up time and enable us to respond more quickly to the needs and demands of our stakeholders.

 

by Adrian Reed, Business Analysis Expert