Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

The above alliterative heading is almost true to its original, but I've toned it down to accord with what is appropriate on this blog.

Last post I asked if you were reactive or proactive and promised to discuss a management and planning tool that helped me run a business and computing department at a large Technical and Further Education College in Queensland, Australia.

As head of department, I had seven full-time and 23 part-time teachers. I can't remember how many students, possibly two or three hundred. Students attended day classes Monday to Friday and evening classes Monday to Thursday and fitted into about 10 major courses eg, Associate Diploma of Accounting, Certificate in Business Administration, Certificate in Management, Associate Diploma of Computing etc.

I was wholly responsible for planning, organising, leading and controlling my department with very limited clerical support. The tasks included:
  1. Preparing advertising media, informational materials and accepting subsequent applications for enrolment
  2. Interviewing some students pre-enrolment
  3. Planning what subjects would be offered in what courses each semester
  4. Allocating teachers to subjects
  5. Hiring part-time teachers and approving and overseeing their salary payments and performance
  6. Booking suitable classrooms
  7. Allocating students to classrooms and thus teachers
  8. Quality control of instructional media and examination papers
  9. Planning subjects for the semester
  10. Organising examination and assessment schedules
  11. Reporting monthly to the department regarding statistics
  12. Many more associated tasks like dealing with disciplinary matters, answering questions from students, parents and teachers
I used a number of Gantt Charts to plan and execute the whole department activities. I had Gantt Charts for:
  1. Each course that showed the subjects, examination dates, teachers' names
  2. Classrooms booked for each subject
  3. Each teacher's workload
Everywhere I went, I carried a rolled up group of Gantt Charts. If someone stopped me in a hallway and asked where Mary Bloggs was teaching, I could look on my charts and see whether she was teaching and if so, where, with what group of students, in what room and during what period.

Every morning I'd look at the Gantt Charts so that I'd know what subjects were being taught where, by whom and with what groups of students. Just over half way through a semester, I'd begin making the Gantt Charts for the next semester so that weeks before it started, I'd know exactly what was going to happen.

Remember, Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. My department ran like a Swiss watch, unlike a couple of others that lurched from crisis to crisis as the department heads fought fires that were preventable. Room clashes because they had neglected to book a room, teachers without a full teaching load because they had forgotten to program them for the full semester.

My whole working life was organised and run using Gantt Charts, one of the most useful tools I have used.

If you haven't a clue what a Gantt Chart is and haven't followed one of the links above, click here and read my previous post about Gantt Charts. You may find they are something that will make your working life much easier and more efficient.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Are You Reactive or Proactive?

Longer ago than I like to remember I attended evening college to complete a management certificate. It was the beginning of a long period of educational self-improvement to compensate for not having studied earlier. 

I was 30, a police officer, husband, and father of two children, one only weeks old.

My instructor was a practising manager in the Queensland Railways. He was a likeable guy with a good sense of humour and a very good grasp of management theory. I loved attending his lectures.

I did three semesters (16 weeks each) of management and found it intriguing because everything I learned made sense; planning - organising - leading - controlling/monitoring were the key features of management.

As I progressed, I could see what was wrong with the management of the police force in which I worked - in my opinion at least. There were too many people promoted from the ranks who may have been very good police officers, but none had any idea about the principles of management. They learned on-the-job from people who were often inept or at least, not management trained.

Much of what we did was Reactive, commonly known as "fire-fighting".  A problem arose and then senior managers would go into crisis mode trying to find a solution that was legally and politically acceptable. Of course, it was often intended to protect them from career damage as well.

Management is all about being Proactive - planning and organising to avoid crises and the consequent need for fire-fighting. While nobody can predict with 100% certainly all the crises that will eventuate, it is possible to predict at least some and avoid them by good planning.

For example, progressive maintenance programs are intended to do just that, avoid equipment failures that are costly and inconvenient at the time they occur, perhaps holding up production and costing a firm millions in lost production.

Identifying evolving issues that could eventually worsen is another proactive activity.

When I took on my first management role, I had an opportunity to implement some of the management theory I had learned. At that stage of my development, Management by Objectives was the prevailing favourite. Then came Management by Walking Around and every five years or so another would pop up.

All the favourites were parts of the overall Planning - Organising - Leading and Controlling. The term controlling eventually gave way to the more acceptable "monitoring".

Management theory and practice hasn't changed all that much since I first began studying it. Later, at university, I learnt more of the same and as I gained higher management levels in my career, I became comfortable with a style of management that I thought suited me.

Now that I'm retired, I have no real need to manage much at all, although I still try to be proactive in what I do rather than be reactive.

Your Turn
Write a comment and tell us about your experience being managed by others or managing others. Are they/you reactive or proactive?


PS: Next post I'll discuss the management tool that helped me run a department in a large educational institution.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Challenges of Typography

When I went to school I learned to touch type at 60 words per minute. Next to reading, writing, and mathematics, it was without a doubt, the most useful skill I learned. It's a skill I'm using now, over five decades later.

Typing, like most skills we learn, has rules. One of those rules was to always insert two spaces after a full stop (double space rule). I could never understand the logic behind it, but we are conditioned from childhood to accept rules, so I accepted it and applied it when producing typewritten documents.

Much later, I became a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) teacher and my specialty in business and computing saw me teaching students to type using manual and electronic typewriters. A large part of learning to type is typography, the style and appearance of printed matter.

All the typographical manuals we had access to insisted on two spaces after a period, so that's what I taught.

When our colleges moved to word processing, the old typographical procedures came with us. The double space rule continued.

Later I taught the evolving desktop publishing programs such as Pagemaker, Ventura, PublishIt! and others. They gave us a far greater range of typographical elements, but the double space rule survived.

Throughout the years, various discussions occurred about whether the double space rule was necessary. It often occurred between teaching staff during our lunch breaks. There were the die-hards like me who insisted that was how it was done; there were those who said it was nonsense. The debate rolled on.

One day, long after I had ended my teaching career, I simply decided not to apply the double space rule. It seemed it had been unnecessary for as long as I could remember. It didn't make any difference to my ability to read. It seemed that it had been as silly an element of typography as placing a figure after a written number eg, "seven (7)" that some people had been clinging to for years as if readers were too stupid to understand the words that depicted numbers.

Today, I read an article by Angela Chen in The Verge that reminded me how often I have read about or discussed the double space issue. It brought back many fond memories of the teachers with whom I had taught typewriting and typography. It reminded me that some things never fall into the dustbin of history, even ideas that make no sense.

Where do you stand on the double space rule? Read Angela Chen's article and send us a comment. We'd love to hear from you.