The Essentials of Initiative Management

To keep initiative work on track, you need a specific initiative management approach, one that’s different from the way you manage your operational work. Let’s take a look at the key elements of initiative management.

The first step is identifying the deliverables needed for a successful completion. What are the success criteria? What will you have to deliver to be able to say this initiative is successfully completed?

From those deliverables, you can then begin identifying the tasks that need to be completed to produce those deliverables. Once you have the tasks articulated, you can move to estimating the duration and number of resources for each task. Here’s where you start assigning people to tasks and determining how long it’s going to take to complete them.

Since some tasks have to be completed before others can start, sequencing puts the tasks in an order that accommodates those dependencies. With that information, you’ll be able to start scheduling tasks to a calendar start and finish date.

Next, you’ll need more detail on those deliverables that you’re going to produce. To get it, you have to go through a process of understanding customer requirements by interviewing people, asking questions about what they prefer and listening to different opinions.

Once you get started, you’ll find some tasks are taking longer than you’d estimated, which means other tasks will start late. This is why monitoring and taking corrective action is an important part of the work. When your schedule gets stretched out because of delays, you have to take steps to correct it or bring it in as close as possible to the estimate.

Finally, planning and monitoring resistance to change is critical. Even though most initiative work is designed to bring about change for the better, change is still change, and some people will struggle with it. They may not understand why they have to change, what the future will look like or whether they can really do it. For the initiative to be successful, not only does it need to be delivered based on requirements and within timeframes, it also has to be done in a way that helps minimize resistance to the change.

Dividing and Conquering the Initiative

How you schedule people to work on initiatives will be a major factor in whether the initiative succeeds. Because of the nature of operational work — it’s immediate and has to get done — it will always take precedence over initiative work. For this reason, you have to not only schedule time for people to work on the initiative, you have to keep operational and initiative work times separate. It can’t be, “Go do your regular job and do your initiative work, too.” This assumes people have all the time in the world leftover to do initiative work. If you pit the two against each other, initiative work will always lose out.

Plan weekly work scheduling with clearly separated times for initiative work. You might try allocating chunks of time by giving people specific half-days during the week (four dedicated, uninterrupted hours) to work only on the initiative. Or you might assign them to work exclusively on the initiative on specific days of the week. Either way, it has to be distinctly separated, and everyone needs to know about the schedule.

When you create a schedule like this, people will get into a routine that will become a habit, and that will make it easier for them not to get sucked back into operational work. They’ll also be in a much more peaceful mindset when working on operational work because they won’t be worried about when they’re going to be able to get their initiative work done. They’ll know they have the appropriate time to do it.

Test the Value of Initiative Management

If you’re questioning whether this is something you really need, try it out and see for yourself:

  • Investigate the seven essentials of initiative management above, and consider whether your people are doing this when they manage initiatives. Survey them if you’re not sure. And what about you? Are you doing it?
  • Look at your operational and initiative work, and notice the different characteristics of each. Pay particular attention to the differences in what it requires of the employee to work on them.
  • Try scheduling people’s work differently, either half-days or dedicated days where they’re exclusively devoted to initiative work. The important thing is to pick a schedule and be consistent.
  • If it works, make some permanent changes in how you do things.