Archive for the ‘Information Skills.’ Category

Study: Multitasking, Information Overload, Bad For You

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
Study: Multitasking, Information Overload, Bad For You
Flickr Image: Mark Norman Francis

Modern life isn’t just rubbish, it’s potentially bad for you. Researchers at UCSF have found evidence that multitasking may actually impede short term memory, with the constant distractions offered by smartphones and social networks also spelling trouble for long term memory and overall mental performance.

(In support of the above, I’ve checked email since typing the last sentence, just in case something new happened that my multithreaded work routine might have missed.)

The recently-published study discovered that frequent multitaskers are actually worse at multitasking, because they’re more easily distracted by useless information – a result, the researchers believe, of their brains losing the ability to successfully filter out irrelevant data and stay on target. Scientists at UCSF claim that more research is needed before suggesting specific remedies to this problem, but agree that spending less time being distracted and more time concentrating on one thing at a time wouldn’t be a bad thing.

by Graeme Mcmillan.

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The Roman Room System

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The Roman Room technique, also known as the Method of Loci, is an ancient and effective way of remembering information where its structure is not important. As an example, it serves as the basis of one of the powerful mnemonic systems used to learn languages.

How to Use the Tool:

To use the technique, imagine a room that you know, such as your sitting room, bedroom, office or classroom. Within the room are objects. Associate images representing the information you want to remember with the objects in the room. To recall information, simply take a tour around the room in your mind, visualizing the known objects and their associated images.

The technique can be expanded by going into more detail, and keying information to be remembered to smaller objects. Alternatively you can open doors from your room into other rooms and use the objects in them as well. As you need them, you can build extensions to your rooms in your imagination, and fill them with objects that would logically be there.

You can use other rooms to store other categories of information.

There is no need to restrict this information to rooms: you could use a landscape or a town you know well, and populate it with memory images.

The Roman Room technique is just one way of representing your cognitive map of the information in an easily accessible way.

See the introduction to this chapter for information on how to enhance the images used for this technique.


For example, I can use my sitting room as a basis for the technique. In this room I have the following objects:

Table, lamp, sofa, large bookcase, small bookcase, CD rack, telephone, television, DVD player, chair, mirror, black and white photographs, etc.

I may want to remember a list of World War I war poets:

Rupert Brooke, G.K. Chesterton, Walter de la Mare, Robert Graves, Rudyard Kipling, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, W.B. Yates

I could visualize walking through my front door. Within this image, someone has painted a picture on it showing a scene from the Battle of the Somme. In the center of the picture is a man sitting in a trench writing in a dirty exercise book.

I walk into the sitting room, and look at the table. On the top is RUPERT the Bear sitting in a small BROOK (we do not need to worry about where the water goes in our imagination!) This codes for Rupert Brooke.

Someone seems to have done some moving: a CHEST has been left on the sofa. Some jeans (Alphabet System: G=Jeans) are hanging out of one drawer, and some cake has been left on the top (K=Cake). This codes for G K Chesterton.

The lamp has a small statuette of a brick WALL over which a female horse (MARE) is jumping. This codes for Walter de la Mare.

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The Journey System

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The journey method is a powerful, flexible and effective mnemonic based around the idea of remembering landmarks on a well-known journey. It combines the narrative flow of the Link Method and the structure and order of the Peg Systems into one very powerful system.

How to use the tool:

You use the Journey Method by associating information with landmarks on a journey that you know well. This could, for example, be your journey to work in the morning; the route you use to get to the front door when you get up; the route to visit your parents; or a tour around a holiday destination. Once you are familiar with the technique you may be able to create imaginary journeys that fix in your mind, and apply these.

To use this technique most effectively, it is often best to prepare the journey beforehand. In this way the landmarks are clear in your mind before you try to commit information to them. One of the ways of doing this is to write down all the landmarks that you can recall in order on a piece of paper. This allows you to fix these landmarks as the significant ones to be used in your mnemonic, separating them from others that you may notice as you get to know the route even better.

To remember a list of items, whether these are people, experiments, events or objects, all you need do is associate these things with the landmarks or stops on your journey.

This is an extremely effective method of remembering long lists of information. With a sufficiently long journey you could, for example, remember elements on the periodic table, lists of Kings and Presidents, geographical information, or the order of cards in a shuffled pack.

The system is extremely flexible: all you need do to remember many items is to remember a longer journey with more landmarks. To remember a short list, only use part of the route!

One advantage of this technique is that you can use it to work both backwards and forwards, and start anywhere within the route to retrieve information.

You can use the technique well with other mnemonics. This can be done either by building complex coding images at the stops on a journey, or by linking to other mnemonics at each stop. You could start other journeys at each landmark. Alternatively, you may use a peg system to organize lists of journeys, etc.


You may, as a simple example, want to remember something mundane like this shopping list:

Coffee, salad, vegetables, bread, kitchen paper, fish, chicken breasts, pork chops, soup, fruit, bath tub cleaner.

You could associate this list with a journey to a supermarket. Mnemonic images could be:

  1. Front door: spilt coffee grains on the doormat
  2. Rose bush in front garden: growing lettuce leaves and tomatoes around the roses
  3. Car: with potatoes, onions and cauliflower on the driver’s seat
  4. End of the road: an arch of French bread over the road
  5. Past garage: with its sign wrapped in kitchen roll
  6. Under railway bridge: from which haddock and cod are dangling by their tails
  7. Traffic lights: chickens squawking and flapping on top of lights
  8. Past church: in front of which a pig is doing karate, breaking boards
  9. Under office block: with a soup slick underneath: my car tires send up jets of tomato soup as I drive through it
  10. Past car park: with apples and oranges tumbling from the top level
  11. Supermarket car park: a filthy bath tub is parked in the space next to my car!

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The Alphabet Technique

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The Alphabet system is a peg memory technique similar to, but more sophisticated than, the Number/Rhyme system. It is a good method for remembering longer lists of items in a specific order, in such a way that you can tell if items are missing.

It works by associating images representing letters of the alphabet with images you create for the things to be remembered.

How to Use the Tool:

When you are creating images for the letters of the alphabet, create images phonetically, so that the sound of the first syllable of the word is the name of the letter. For example, you might represent the letter ‘k’ with the word ‘cake’.

Tony Buzan, in his book Use Your Perfect Memory, suggests using a system for creating vivid images that you can reconstruct if you forget them. He suggests taking the phonetic letter sound as the first consonant, and then, for the rest of the consonants in the word, using the first letters in alphabetical order that make a memorable word. For example for the letter ‘S’ (root ‘Es’) we would first see if any strong images presented themselves when we tried to create a word starting with ‘EsA’, ‘EsB’, ‘EsC’, ‘EsD’, ‘EsE’, etc.).

This approach has the advantage of producing an image that you can reconstruct if you forget it. You might, however, judge that this is an unnecessary complication of a relatively simple system. In any case it is best to select the strongest image that comes to mind and stick with it.

One image scheme is shown below:

A – Ace of spades
B – Bee
C – Sea
D – Diesel engine
E – Eel
F – Effluent
G – Jeans
H – H-Bomb, itch
I – Eye
J – Jade
K – Cake
L – Elephant
M – Empty
N – Entrance
O – Oboe
P – Pea
Q – Queue
R – Ark
S – Eskimo
T – Teapot
U – Unicycle
V – Vehicle
W – WC
X – X-Ray
Y – Wire
Z – Zulu

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful to you.

Once you have firmly visualised these images and have linked them to their root letters, you can associate them with information to be remembered.

See the introduction to this chapter to see how you can improve these pictures to help them stay clearly in your mind. Once you have mastered this technique you can multiply the it using the images described in the article on Expanding Memory Systems.


Continuing our mnemonic example of the names of philosophers, we will use the example of remembering a list of modern thinkers:

A – Ace – Freud – a crisp ACE being pulled out of a FRying pan (FRiED)
B – Bee – Chomsky – a BEE stinging a CHiMp and flying off into the SKY
C – Sea – Genette – a GENerator being lifted in a NET out of the SEA
D – Diesel – Derrida – a DaRing RIDer surfing on top of a DIESEL train
E – Eagle – Foucault – Bruce Lee fighting off an attacking EAGLE with kung
F – Effluent- Joyce – environmentalists JOYfully finding a plant by an
G – Jeans – Nietzche – a holey pair of JEANS with a kNEe showing through
H – H-Bomb – Kafka – a grey civil service CAFe being blown up by an H-Bomb

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The Number/Shape Mnemonic

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The Number/Shape system is very similar to the Number/Rhyme system. It is a very simple and effective way of remembering a list in a specific order. It is another example of a peg system based on pegword images.

How to use the tool:

The technique works by helping you to build up pictures in your mind, in which the numbers are represented by images shaped like the number. You can then associate these with the things you want to remember using striking images.

One image scheme is shown below:

  1. Candle, spear, stick
  2. Swan (beak, curved neck, body)
  3. Bifocal glasses, or part of a “love heart”
  4. Sail of a yacht
  5. A meat hook, a sea-horse facing right
  6. A golf club
  7. A cliff edge
  8. An egg timer
  9. A balloon with a string attached, flying freely
  10. A hole

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful to you.

As with the Number/Rhyme scheme, link these images to ones representing the things to be remembered.

In some cases these images may be more vivid than those in the number/rhyme scheme, and in other cases you may find the number/rhyme scheme more memorable. There is no reason why you cannot mix the most vivid images of each scheme together into your own compound scheme.


We can use a list of modern thinkers to illustrate the number/shape system:

  1. Spinoza – a large CANDLE wrapped around with someone’s SPINe
  2. Locke – a SWAN trying to pick a LOCK with its wing
  3. Hume – A HUMan child with BIFOCAL glasses
  4. Berkeley – A SAIL on top of a large hooked and spiked BURR in the LEE of a cliff
  5. Kant – a CAN of spam hanging from a meat HOOK
  6. Rousseau – a kangaROO SEWing with a GOLF CLUB
  7. Hegel – a crooked trader about to be pushed over a CLIFF, HaGgLing to try to avoid being hurt
  8. Kierkegaard – a large EGG TIMER containing captain KIRK and a GuARD from the starship enterprise, as time runs out
  9. Darwin – a BALLOON floating upwards, being blown fAR by the WINd
  10. Wittgenstein – a HOLE with a WITTy GENeral in it holding a STEIN of beer.

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The Number/Rhyme Mnemonic

Friday, March 11th, 2011

The Number/Rhyme technique is a very simple way of remembering lists in order.

It is an example of a peg system using – a system where information is ‘pegged’ to a known sequence (here the numbers one to ten) to create pegwords. By doing this you ensure that you do not forget any facts, as gaps in information are immediately obvious. It also makes remembering images easier as you always know part of the mnemonic images.

At a simple level you can use it to remember things such as a list of English Kings or American Presidents in their precise order. At a more advanced level it can be used, for example, to code lists of experiments to be recalled in a science exam.

How to use the Tool:

The technique works by helping you to build up pictures in your mind, in which you represent numbers by things that rhyme with the number. You can then link these pictures to images of the things to be remembered.

The usual rhyming scheme is:

  1. Bun
  2. Shoe
  3. Tree
  4. Paw
  5. Hive
  6. Bricks
  7. Heaven
  8. Gate
  9. Line
  10. Hen

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful.

Link these images to ones representing the things to be remembered. Often, the sillier the compound image, the more effectively you will remember it – see the introduction to this chapter to see how you can improve the image to help it stay clearly in your mind.


For example, you could remember a list of ten Greek philosophers as:

  1. Parmenides – a BUN topped with grated yellow PARMEsan cheese.
  2. Heraclitus – a SHOE worn by HERACLes (Greek Hercules) glowing with a bright LIghT.
  3. Empedocles – a TREE from which the M-shaped McDonald’s arches hang hooking up a bicycle PEDal.
  4. Democritus – a PAW print on the voting form of a DEMOCRaTic election.
  5. Protagoras – a bee HIVE being hit by an atomic PROTon.
  6. Socrates – BRICKS falling onto a SOCk (with a foot inside!) from a CRATe.
  7. Plato – a plate with angel’s wings flapping around a white cloud.
  8. Aristotle – a GATE being jumped by a bewigged French ARISTOcrat carrying a botTLE.
  9. Zeno – a LINE of ZEN Buddhists meditating.
  10. Epicurus – a flying HEN carrying an EPIdemic’s CURe.

Try either visualizing these images as suggested, or if you do not like them, come up with images of your own. Once you have done this, try writing down the names of the philosophers on a piece of paper. You should be able to do this by thinking of the number, then the part of the image associated with the number, and then the whole image. Finally you can decode the image to give you the name of the philosopher.

If the mnemonic has worked, you should not only recall the names of all the philosophers in the correct order, but should also be able to spot where you have left them out of the sequence. Try it – it’s easier than it sounds.

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The art of being well-informed

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Being well-informed is not the same as being a know-all. The former is about being able to ask intelligent questions in seminars, engage in debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and realise that two of your tutors are having an affair. The latter is about passing on information on all of these subjects to everyone you know, even if you are not entirely sure the information is true.

Also, being well-informed involves knowledge about lots of different things, while being a know-all can mean knowing all there is to know about an obscure period of Latvian history but not about how to tie your shoelaces.

So, one of the things to remember if you want to be well-informed is to be broad in your interests. Don’t spend every waking minute in libraries and lectures. Find time to talk to fellow students about books and talks they have attended, flick through a periodical analysing recent world events, or watch the final eviction on Celebrity Big Brother.

Attending a play or art exhibition, or even pondering the positives and negatives of Coolio may spark ideas useful to your topic of study, even if the connection isn’t immediately obvious. So keep an eye on arts and events listings, and don’t dismiss every invitation to socialise as a distraction.

Meanwhile, remember that it can be tricky to be on top of your subject if you’re always thinking about entirely different things, or watching reality TV. So do spend some of your time in libraries and lectures. And while you’re there, ask for advice about the most useful publications and online resources available in your subject.

Then, read. Start with all those bits of paper you were given at the beginning of term where you will find loads of useful information. Try reading emails from tutors, and comments on the bottom of assignments. You can make all sorts of interesting discoveries by simply casting your eyes over noticeboards and reading some of the posters stuck around the student union. It’s even worth reading things like your course handbook.

Then there are newspapers, magazines, websites. It is also worth joining the odd online discussion group in areas that interest you. Oh, and don’t forget to Twitter, or to check what your friends are up to on Facebook, although no more than five times an hour.

One danger with information-gathering is that it can become so addictive you never get around to doing anything with it. Remember that no one will realise how well-informed you are if you keep all the information to yourself.

by Harriet Swain.

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Knowledge Management

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Making the Most of Intellectual Assets:

Most of us need knowledge in some form to do our jobs well. Perhaps you need to understand how your customer database is designed, so that you can extract a particular report. Maybe you need to know the best way to get senior managers to approve a business case. Or perhaps, even, you need to know how your boss prefers to receive bad news, so that you can deliver this as painlessly as possible.

All of these things require specific knowledge. No matter what your job is, you need this knowledge if you’re going to do a good job.

This seems obvious, right?

But how does your organization HANDLE all of this knowledge? When you have a question, is it easy for you to find an answer, or do you have to search for hours or days to find what you need to know?

This is why knowledge management is so important. Knowledge management is the practice of organizing, storing, and sharing vital information, so that everyone can benefit from its use.

In this article, we’ll look at exactly what knowledge management is, and how you can start organizing knowledge within your own organization, thereby saving money and increase productivity.

Knowledge is ….

Words like “data,” “information,” and “knowledge” are often used interchangeably. But there are some important differences:

  • Data is a specific fact or figure, without any context. For example, the number 1,000 is a piece of data, as is the name Tom Smith. Without anything else to define them, these two items of data are meaningless.
  • Information is data that’s organized. So, pieces of information are “Tom Smith is a CEO” and “1,000 widgets.” We have more details, so now the data makes more sense to us.
  • Knowledge, then, builds on the information to give us context. Knowledge is “Tom Smith is the CEO of our company’s biggest competitor, and his company ships 1,000 widgets every hour.”

The key difference between knowledge and information is that knowledge gives us the power to take action. We can USE it.

There are also two different types of knowledge, explicit and tacit:

  • Explicit knowledge includes things that you can easily pass on to someone else by teaching it or putting it into a database or a book. Explaining your company’s safety protocols to a new team member is demonstrating explicit knowledge.
  • Tacit knowledge is less quantifiable. It’s when you know that your company’s best client won’t make a deal unless you go golfing with her – or when you know that your department’s most reliable supplier is the smallest one, but only if you place your order by the 15th of every month. This is knowledge that’s most often learned by experience. It’s the stuff you know, but don’t necessarily know that you know.

Benefits of knowledge management:

The major benefit of knowledge management is that information is easily shared between staff members, and that knowledge isn’t lost if someone goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves the company.

This can result in substantial savings to an organization’s bottom line. People are easily brought up to speed, and valuable knowledge assets are never lost (which means that you don’t lose time and money when people have to learn new information quickly).

Because ideas can be shared easily, knowledge management may also increase innovation and help create better customer relationships. And if the company has a global team, knowledge management can create a more powerful workforce when all of those different cultures are brought together to share assets.

Knowledge management gives staff members the knowledge they need to do their jobs better. This makes them more productive.


There are two different ways of managing knowledge: using technology-based systems, or using softer systems.

  • Technology-based systems – These can include a collaborative wiki, where everyone can add and edit information. Or, it can include programs or databases on the company’s intranet, with information organized so that everyone can access them.Any technology-based system will have challenges. For instance, who will manage the project? Who will keep the information up to date? How will people access the information?There’s no “one size fits all” approach here. Every company and culture is different.
  • Softer systems – These are things like specific actions or meetings that take place to share knowledge and help people connect with one another.Consider the following methods as part of your soft knowledge management systems:
    • Shadowing.
    • Mentoring.
    • Instant messaging and intranet forums.
    • Specific actions, like After Action Reviews after significant events, and Post-Implementation Reviews after a project has been completed.
    • Voluntary groups, also called communities of practice, that help team members doing the same thing in different areas to meet informally and share information.

Keep in mind that technology-based knowledge management systems are great at capturing explicit knowledge, but not so great at capturing tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is more often captured by softer systems, like the ones listed above.

This is why knowledge management approaches should try to use both approaches.

Some guides:

  • Identify tacit knowledge first – Many organizations find that identifying their team’s tacit knowledge is the biggest hurdle. If you implement a knowledge management system in your department or company, start with a brainstorming session with your team to get their ideas flowing on how to capture this.
  • Start with a small team – It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge that could be shared. Start with a small group, in one department, and grow from there. This will help you figure out what information you’d like to keep, and how you’d like to organize it.
  • Help staff feel comfortable about sharing knowledge – It might be hard to “sell” knowledge management to your team. After all, you’re asking them to share their hard-won knowledge and experience, the very things that make them valuable to the company. (This can be a powerful incentive for people not to share their knowledge!)Make knowledge sharing part of the company culture, and something that EVERYONE does. This will help make team members feel more comfortable about getting involved. And, consider bringing knowledge sharing into your formal approach to performance management, so that people are rewarded for sharing information freely.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your team to share information – Everyone is busy. If being part of a knowledge management program is difficult or time-consuming, people may not want to be involved. The easier it is for people to participate, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Plan for retiring team members – Retirement is a major reason why so many organizations are trying to quickly implement knowledge management systems right now. If you’re facing a baby-boomer generation that’s about to walk out of the door, it makes sense to start collecting their experience first.

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Overcoming Information Overload

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Strategies for managing information:

It begins as soon as you arrive at your office in the morning. You have 68 new emails in your inbox, a podcast waiting on your iPod, two trade publications that you really need to read, a pile of company memos to address – and your BlackBerry indicates that voicemails are waiting for you.

It’s going to be another ‘information overload’ day.

For most of us, days like this are a regular occurrence. We often feel as though we’re running to catch up with ourselves – because the information never stops.

You don’t need us to tell you that there’s lots and lots of irrelevant, outdated, and questionable information out there. Whether that information comes from the Internet, a magazine, or a co-worker, you need the ability to sort through it all and determine what you need to keep – and what you can throw away.

So, what do you do with all this information? When does it become too much? And how can you manage it all so that you can be informed and productive – and still have some free time at the end of the day for a personal life?

This article looks at strategies to sort and manage relevant information – so the information doesn’t end up managing you!

The ability to search for and find information you need, when you need it, is something that can be learned. And, since most information comes to you through the printed word, it’s helpful to use effective reading strategies to identify and select what you need.

Follow these steps to manage the volume of information you need to read:

  1. Define what you need to know – When faced with an information source, ask yourself what exactly you need to get out of it. Do this for things that you read regularly, such as RSS feeds, trade magazines, and newspapers. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be learning from a particular source, you may not need to read it.
  2. Decide how much you need to know – If you have a specific, definable reason for needing this information, how much of that information do you need? Are you reading just for general knowledge and awareness? Will this information help you make a decision? And can you ’skim’ it quickly, or do you need to read it carefully and thoroughly?
  3. Choose the most important points – Now that you know how to read it, use some strategies for picking out exactly what you need. For instance, newspaper articles usually provide the most important information at the very beginning. Magazines might have the most important points in the middle of an article.

Identifying good – and bad information can be difficult, especially online. Use these tips to identify reliable information quickly on the Internet:

  • Make sure the source is good – If the source is a well-known newspaper, magazine, or organization, then the information is probably good. Other sites, like blogs, can sometimes be less reliable.
  • Check the date – If you’re not sure about the source, check to see when the website, or webpage, was last updated.
  • Determine the author – Is the author identified? What are the author’s credentials? Does he or she have the education and experience to write with credibility on this topic? To find this information, look at the ‘About’ page, or the author’s byline.
  • Look for workable links – Are facts backed up with hyperlinks to original sources? Do the links work? In magazines or journals, there are often footnotes or a bibliography page to provide sources for specific facts.
  • Check the copyrights – Has this information been published elsewhere? One way to check for copyright infringement is to copy and paste a paragraph of text into a search engine, such as Google.

Managing email:

Many people complain about too much email. During the day, it can be a constant flow. We may feel pressured to deal with it in the evening, just so we don’t start work the next morning with 50 new messages, and another 50 that we haven’t answered from the day before.

So, how can we handle our email more efficiently? These tips can help:

  • Schedule email times – Set a schedule to check or download your email at certain times of day. Many experts say that two to three times per day is enough. Turn off your email pop-up reminders, and follow this schedule just as you would for meetings or appointments.
  • Skim and delete emails – When going through your email, do two skims – or quick reads – of your new messages. Immediately delete or file the messages you don’t need to answer.
  • Create a ‘response list’ – When you find something that needs a reply, quickly write it down on a response list (yes, use real paper!) After you do the first skim of your list of new emails, reply one at a time to the people on your response list.
  • Respond briefly and effectively – Two tips can help you reply to emails.
    1. Briefly repeat, at the beginning of your message, what you’re responding to. For example, if Jon asked you if he should reserve a hotel for the group’s next conference, reply to him like this:

      Jon, you asked me if you should reserve a hotel for the next conference. Yes. See if the Hampton is available.

      This way, Jon won’t have to look further down his original email message to remind himself what question you’re answering.

    2. Make sure your response is short and to the point.
  • Don’t necessarily respond to everything – Don’t feel pressured to reply to every email that you receive, especially from people who have a habit of sending you long messages that aren’t really relevant.
  • Schedule ‘no email’ times – This might sound impossible to some people, but think about scheduling times during the day when you ‘lock yourself out’ of your email. Set aside times when you simply don’t look at emails; perhaps even close the email program. This will give you some time to do actual work – without disruptions.Some technology companies use this strategy with their staff. They may have ‘Take a Break’ buttons on their email programs, or ‘No Email Fridays.’ Many workers love these approaches!

Limiting your Information:

If you’ve signed up for 30 RSS feeds, and you download multiple podcasts every day – in addition to all the emails and voicemails you receive – you’re probably trying to do too much. And this could hurt your productivity.

There’s often nothing wrong with limiting your information – in fact, it’s often a good thing. We live in a world that’s 24/7/365, and you can’t keep up with everything.

So, set limits for yourself. Decide that you’ll regularly read a few high-quality blogs or websites, or a few trade journals – and let the rest go.

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Post-Implementation Reviews

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Making Sure that What You Delivered Actually Works:

“Completing a project” is not the same thing as ending the project management process. Simply finishing doesn’t ensure that the organization benefits from the project’s outcome.

For example, after completing a year long project to establish a new quality management process for your organization, you want to make sure that what you set out to do was actually achieved. Your objective wasn’t to simply deliver a process – but rather, to deliver the process that addresses the specific business need you intended to meet. This is the real measure of success.

To make the most of the benefits that the project can deliver, however, you also need to check to see if further improvements will deliver still greater benefit.

You also need to ensure that the lessons learned during the project are not forgotten. You can more effectively design and execute future projects when you take advantage of lessons learned through experience of previous projects.

So how can you properly measure a project’s success, and work toward continuous improvement? This is where the process of Post-Implementation Review (PIR) is helpful. It helps you answer the following key questions:

  • Did the project fully solve the problem that it was designed to address?
  • Can we take things further, and deliver even bigger benefits?
  • What lessons did we learn that we can apply to future projects?

The PIR Process:

The key to a successful PIR is recognizing that the time spent on the project is just a small part of an ongoing time-line.

For people and organizations that will be working on similar projects in the future, it makes sense to learn as many lessons as possible, so that mistakes are not repeated in future projects.

And for organizations benefiting from the project, it makes sense to ensure that all desired benefits have been realized, and to understand what additional benefits can be achieved.

  • When to Review: A good time to start thinking about the Post Implementation Review is when members of the project team remember the most – shortly after the project has been delivered, and when most of the problems have been ironed-out. Start to list ideas and observations while they are still fresh in people’s minds.However, to adequately assess the quality of the implementation and complete this process, you’ll need to wait long enough for the changes caused by the project to truly take effect.There will probably be a period of adjustment before you can finally review the solution as it was intended to operate: you’ll likely need to overcome some of the usual resistance to change, hold people’s hands while they operate new systems, and eliminate technical problems that didn’t emerge when deliverables were tested. You should therefore typically allow a few weeks, or even a few months, before doing the full PIR. Where possible, allow for at least one, full, successful cycle of business before reviewing lessons learned.
  • What to Review: Here are some tips for conducting the PIR:
    • Ask for openness – Emphasize the importance of being open and honest in your assessment, and make sure that people aren’t in any way punished for being open.
    • Be objective – Describe what has happened in objective terms, and then focus on improvements.
    • Document success – Document practices and procedures that led to project successes, and make recommendations for applying them to similar future projects.
    • Look with hindsight – Pay attention to the “unknowns” (now known!) that may have increased implementation risks. Develop a way of looking out for these in future projects.
    • Be future-focused – Remember, the purpose is to focus on the future, not to assign blame for what happened in the past. This is not the time to focus on any one person or team.
    • Look at both positives and negatives – Identify positive as well as negative lessons.

When conducting the review, include the following activities:

    • Conduct a gap analysis.
      • Review the project charter to evaluate how closely the project results match the original objectives.
      • Review the expected deliverables (including documentation) and ensure either that these have been delivered to an acceptable level of quality, or that an acceptable substitute is in place.
      • If there are gaps, how will these be closed?
    • Determine whether the project goals were achieved.
      • Is the deliverable functioning as expected?
      • Are error rates low enough, and is it fit for purpose?
      • Is it functioning well, and in a way that will adjust smoothly to future operating demands?
      • Are users adequately trained and supported? And are there sufficiently enough confident, skilled people in place?
      • Are the necessary controls and systems in place, and are they working properly?
      • What routine activities are needed to support the project’s success?
      • If there are problems here, how will these be addressed?
      • How does the end result compare with the original project plan, in terms of quality, schedule and budget?
    • Determine the satisfaction of stakeholders.
      • Were the end users’ needs met?
      • Is the project sponsor satisfied?
      • What are the effects on the client or end user?
      • If key individuals aren’t satisfied, how should this be addressed?
    • Determine the project’s costs and benefits.
      • What were the final costs?
      • What will it cost to operate the solution?
      • What will it cost to support the solution in the future?
      • How do the costs compare with the benefits achieved?
      • If the project hasn’t delivered a sufficiently large return, how can this be improved?
    • Identify areas of further development.
      • Have all of the expected benefits been achieved? If not, what is needed to achieve them?
      • Are there opportunities for further training and coaching that will maximize results?
      • Could you make further changes, which would deliver even more value?
      • Are there any other additional benefits that can be achieved?
    • Identify lessons learned.
      • How well were the projects deliverables assessed, and how well were timescales and costs assessed?
      • What went wrong, why did these things go wrong, and how could these problems be avoided next time?
      • What went well, and needs to be learned from?
      • Report findings and recommendations.
        • What have you learned from this review?
        • Do you need corrective activity to get the benefits you want?
        • What lessons have you learned that need to be carried forward to future projects?
        • Does this project naturally lead on to future projects, which will build on the success and benefits already achieved?
    • How to Review: As you perform the post-implementation review, certain methods and practices will help you obtain the best possible information:
      • Define the scope of the review beforehand -The last thing you want to do is to create a political problem. Given the number of people often involved in a project, it’s easy to hurt someone’s feelings when reviewing the project’s success. Clarify your objectives for the review, and make your intentions clear – this will better ensure that people share their experiences openly and honestly. Then make absolutely sure that you stick to these intentions, and that people’s egos aren’t unnecessarily bruised by the process!
      • Review key documents – Gather together the key project documents. This will help you assess the project planning process, as well as the actual benefits achieved through the project.
      • Consider using independent reviewers – Where possible, use outside people in your review process to get an objective, unclouded view of the project. Some people recommend using only independent people in the review, however, you can learn a lot from the perspectives of those who were directly involved in the project – this is why the best strategy is probably to have a balance.
      • Use appropriate data collection – Collect information in the most appropriate way, for example, by using interviews and surveys. Also, test the deliverable yourself, to make sure you get firsthand information.
      • Deliver appropriate reports – Report your findings, and publicize the results. Remember that the PIR is designed to help project managers conduct more effective projects in the future, as well as to measure and optimize the benefits of the specific project being reviewed.
      • Present recommendations – Present the detailed recommendations to the organization and the project leaders, as well as to customers and other stakeholders. Include as many people as necessary so that you keep – and apply – the best-practice information in the future.

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