Value maximization – grabbing high-value work

Creating as much value as possible is one of the core principles here at LiteBreeze.

Systemic underdelegation

The excerpt below is from a book written by Harvard professor David Maister, who has spent decades advising professional services firms on how to become better. The term “senior” includes anyone higher up in the organizational structure as well as clients. “Juniors” is a relative term; an APL is junior to a PL.

System underdelegation focuses on a single bad habit that reduces profitability, adversely affects motivation and morale, reduces a firm’s competitive capabilities, and in addition prevents senior professionals from spending more time with complex challenges, clients and investing in the future of the firm. This bad habit is called systemic underdelegation.

Imagine that a questionnaire was sent to each and every professional in your firm, top-to-bottom, asking the following single question: What percentage of your professional work time is spent doing things that a more junior person could do, if we got organized and trained the junior to handle it with quality?

My research shows that, for the typical professional service firm, the firmwide average is frequently as high as 40 or 50 percent, and sometimes more. This is equivalent to saying that, of the firm’s entire productive capacity, 40 or 50 percent is consumed with a higher-priced person performing a lower-value task. Obviously, this is not a wonderful situation. If one examined a manufacturing company and discovered that, of all the resources used to produce the company’s output, some 40 or 50 percent were more expensive than necessary to achieve the same level of quality, one would be tempted to use words like “inefficient,” “unproductive,” “wasteful.” The same words, I believe, can be applied to most firms’ methods of operation. Internal excerpt.

 

Why you should be attentive to value-creation

As a developer, designer or QA you create value through the applications that you develop every day, and the service quality that you provide. The more value that you provide, the more clients are willing to pay. Similarly, administrators and recruiters create value in their daily work.

You can boost your value-creation further by avoiding systemic underdelegation and by grabbing as high-value tasks as you can possibly handle with quality.

Avoiding underdelegation is not only important for LiteBreeze. The value that you add is the single most important factor in your appraisal.

Grab high-value tasks – the essentials

Eliminate all upward delegation

Upward delegation is when you delegate a task that you actually can handle yourself to a more senior person. This is often unintentional. You may not have thought hard enough about if there is something more you can do before reporting to a senior. Or you may feel that only your senior can handle, or is allowed handle, certain work.

Most of the specific examples below are actually variations of preventing upward delegation. Avoiding upward delegation is how you can combat systemic underdelegation and boost the value that you add to the organization.

Ensure adherence to our principles

Contemplate our principles as often as you can: how can you better apply the core concepts? Do you follow all practical examples given in the principles? What feedback does your colleagues receive and can you improve in similar situations?

The principles are instructions, and if you don’t follow them then high-value senior resources need to be wasted to make sure that you do. Work actively on your appraisal document in between appraisal meetings to minimize nonconformity with principles.

Push things forward

Push things forward as independently as you can, and as far as you can. Present solutions using clear communication and with as few number of communication exchanges as possible.

Take it upon yourself to handle tasks on your own accord. Don’t state problems without also suggesting solutions. You may feel that only your senior can handle, or is allowed handle, certain work.

Don’t be afraid to take initiative, even if this means making some mistakes in the beginning. It’s often more valuable to take action than being overly careful and constantly asking seniors for advice.

Follow instructions and minimize mistakes

Before you deliver something, carefully double-check that you haven’t made any mistakes or missed any instruction. Follow instructions to the point to avoid that the other party has to report an issue twice and follow up. This may seem obvious, but many times you may just want to deliver fast which may cause you to inadvertently overlook issues.

Of course, all of us sometimes forget an instruction, but aiming for perfection when it comes to instructions is one of the easiest ways to gain seniors’ trust. By following instructions to the point and double checking your deliverables carefully, you add value and build rapport:

  1. You save valuable time from the other party.
  2. The other party will trust you and your work, and not feel the need to double-check your work in the future.
  3. The other party will feel that you respect their time and instructions, resulting in satisfaction and rapport.
  4. The other party will give you more complex work in the future, giving you a chance to fastrack your career.

Instructions are not only given in direct emails but also indirectly through feedback documents (yours and others), guidelines and routines.

It’s natural that a few mistakes will slip through here and there, but it’s a serious matter if: a) a large percentage of instructions are missed b) important instructions are missed c) you repetitively fail to follow similar type of instructions.

Think twice before asking seniors

Perhaps you sometimes ask a senior how to solve a problem too soon, instead of doing a more thorough analysis of your own? If you do ask a senior, suggest a solution at the same time. Put forward the best solution to the problem that you can come to think. It’s a good learning exercise and allows your senior to coach you.

If you feel the need to discuss with a senior and your questions are not urgent: wait till you have a list of several points to discuss, then email a request for a meeting so that the senior’s time can be efficiently used and to reduce the interruption factor.

Coordinate and seek help from the least senior first

If you need to gather information, coordinate or need help it’s often better that you ask a colleague with lower or the same seniority as you to start with, and thereafter ask a senior if you couldn’t get a satisfactory result.

Clear information to form basis for decisions

If you need to delegate decision-making upward then provide detailed yet concise information to serve as basis for the decision (beslutsunderlag). The senior should be able to take a well-informed decision quickly. The senior shouldn’t need to look up old emails, articles, links, transcripts, charts, PDFs – whatever it may be – before taking the decision. Beslutsunderlag is an appropriate Swedish word in this case, that I yet haven’t found a good translation of.

Consolidate everything in one simple report, include your suggestions and try to make it as easy as possible for seniors to take a good decision. The goal should be that the senior just needs to reply “Proceed!”. You are now saving much valuable time!

Work full-time

Ensure value-added by working full-time:

  1. As fixed costs are high, the marginal value of each extra hour is high. So consistently putting in a full 8 hours instead of 6.5 hours will have a big impact on the value you add. If you work for a paying client, you would probably help generate 4 times higher surplus by working 100% instead of 80%. Same principle applies for non-billed staff: the marginal value of Project Director, recruiters and admins can be very high as well.
  2. Seniors often expect you to be available the whole working day. Service quality might be negatively affected if you’re not there when the client/senior needs you.
  3. Once a client has approved a project they need fast progress and our work plans usually assumes that you put in 8 hours daily.
  4. If you want to be in a leading position you need to be a role model to new recruits and juniors.

Take initiative

Take initiative to do things that you know needs to be done. A small and simple example would be to prepare for your appraisal around the time that your next hike should take effect. Then inform the relevant senior when you are ready, instead of waiting for a reminder from your senior.

Help the company grow

We’re always looking for great talent and great new clients. Please help us grow:

  1. Keep your salary updated on Glassdoor.
  2. Refer friends and ex-colleagues. Anonymous referrals of passing acquaintances are valuable.
  3. Like our social media posts. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Instagram. If you can share important posts, even better.
  4. Give us positive ratings on Google Business, Glassdoor, Facebook.
  5. Add a unique text review on Google, Glassdoor, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can use the same text for all. On LinkedIn it can be posted as a personal reference on David’s profile (and we will reciprocate) as companies can’t be rated yet.

Around 1000 people see our 5 star Google rating every month. Several acquaintances, candidates and even clients have mentioned that they saw our online ratings. These ratings win us clients and talent.

Grab high-value tasks – higher-value examples

If seniors have entrusted you with senior responsibilities, or you feel that you can take on more senior responsibilities, then please grab the following kind of tasks.

Grab work from seniors

What are your immediate seniors spending time on and can you help them by taking over some of that work while ensuring a similar level of quality? Scrutinize their PTOs (staff panel) and todo lists.

Delegate

The more senior you are, or strive to be, the more aggressively you should delegate. Don’t just delegate; verify quality and coach. Delegation is how the company grows, and it is crucial if you strive to add value by growing your own team.

Delegate tasks to colleagues who are out of client work. Delegate the simplest tasks in your to do list to your juniors, as long as that junior can perform the task with quality (with a bit of help of course).

Coaching

Help your colleagues to grow through coaching. Ensuring your juniors’ performance, and doing so for an increasing number of colleagues, is a sure way of getting promoted.

Build authority through content marketing

Build yourself and LiteBreeze authority within your field through content marketing.

Grow your team

Grow your team. Can you retain your client long-term, make the client more profitable, coach your existing team – then ask the PD for more permanent resources.

Tasks that technical staff should grab

If you are a developer, designer or QA you can grab the following tasks:

Increase billed hours

Keep billed hours high. As a developer you can’t entirely control your clients’ demand, especially if you’re not very senior, but there is always action you can take:

  1. The higher quality services you deliver, the more keen your clients will be on assigning you work. So follow principles and feedback IBNLT delivering valuable features, user-friendliness and high service quality.
  2. Work full-time. If you’re out of billable work, working full-time is still valuable.
  3. Be aware of your key figures such as BOFT (Billed hours Of Full-Time benchmark) through the Single Time Overview (staff panel link).
  4. Plan well. Keep a list of approved lower priority tasks and valuable suggestions. Be aware of the planned completion date, be transparent about that with the client and coordinate with PLs for new project assignments.

If you’re about to become idle, proactively switch priorities to getting new client work approved, both for the short and long term. Here are some examples, ordered by highest impact and lowest effort:

  1. Be transparent with the client about the problems of idle time.
  2. What might your existing clients need done? Suggest truly smart features for all your recent/existing clients.
  3. Can you start on features that the client was interested in earlier?
  4. How can you improve, and prove your eagerness to do the same to clients, by letting your seniors request brutally honest feedback from your clients?
  5. Suggest improvements to: code, security, load tests, unit tests, mobile compatibility etc.
  6. Consider pushing for a Dedicated Minimum Hours clause to reduce future erratic demand.
  7. Revisit the project to-do continuously to avoid future slumps in demand.

If you’ve done all the above and you still seem to run out of client work, then email relevant seniors with as great advance as possible.  Include your own assumptions about backup tasks.

Client work has the highest priority but there are other valuable tasks:

  1. Prepare for your next appraisal.
  2. Prepare and improve content marketing: your projects’ case studies, developer profiles of yourself and juniors, articles.
  3. Coach your juniors.
  4. Assist with new leads: prepare estimates, work plans, wireframes, interviews and interview training.
  5. Training on highly relevant technologies that we are sure to use in future. However, don’t get stuck with spending too much time on training; always prioritize gaining billable client work.

BOFT of top seniors might be lower due to the time they spend on unbilled tasks like leads, content marketing and certain coaching tasks.

Prepare case studies

Prepare case studies of your projects for our portfolio.

 

Prepare smart feature suggestions

Prepare smart feature suggestions so that we can generate value for clients with minimal involvement from their side. It’s a good sign if a client continuously gives you more work and it’s an even greater sign if you are able to generate so much business from a client that it allows you to grow your project team by adding additional developers.

Handle prospective clients

Project estimation, webcam meetings, smart feature suggestions, identification and improvement of relevant case studies and developer profiles etc.

Tremendous cumulative effects

Even if you can grab just a smaller task, that can have tremendous cumulative effects: a junior developer who can maintain a work plan and case study on their own would free up a senior who instead can present a great proposal to a prospective high-value client.

The time eventually saved from me can be put into very high-value tasks that I cannot easily delegate such as:

  1. working on marketing efforts that allow us to find great clients and talented new recruits
  2. meeting potential but reluctant high-value clients and great talent
  3. develop recruitment tests
  4. negotiating higher rates that we all benefit from: ensuring that we charge the fair and high rates deserved for the value that we provide
  5. designing better systems and processes

So when everyone focuses on value maximization the company is allowed to grow in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

High-Impact Low-Effort tasks

Prioritize tasks that have the Highest Impact but require the Lowest Effort (HILE). A HILE task is “low-hanging fruit”. Evaluate what is most valuable and how long you will need to complete it when you move over to your next task. Prioritize your work accordingly, and you will be a lot more productive over time. Make time for work that matters.

Once you are done with your top HILE tasks, a new HILE task might have come up, resulting in that low-prio tasks may stay unfinished in your todo list for months. This is totally fine, and often such low-prio tasks can be delegated to juniors at some point of time. Don’t “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel”.

Just because a senior emails you a task it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to do it immediately; if it’s a low-prio task it’s enough to acknowledge it and adding it to your todo list.

An administrative HILE task could be spending five minutes on phoning a client about a large unpaid invoice instead of book keeping. For recruiters it could be convincing a reluctant but high-potential hire or encouraging positive social media reviews before calling low-potential candidates.

The examples below are applicable for technical staff.

Focus on the core process where end users will spend most of their time. Before developing time-consuming, complex and non-urgent features the core process must be user-friendly and neatly designed. An example would be fixing a sign up process before moving on to say developing an admin report. A bug in the core process is obviously more HILE than a rarely used report that very few end users have access to.

Deliver incrementally instead of keeping a bunch of features on your local machine that each is 90% complete. Finish one feature 100% and upload it so the client can reap the benefits early. Even if it doesn’t allow end users to start using the application, at least QA and seniors can start the QA process and thus reduce the timeframe needed to launch.