The 21st Century Management Toolbox

The endgame is to handle an increasing amount of infomration and change efficiently.

If you’ve been feeling that it’s been harder and harder to keep up, you’re right. According to American futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, the timeframe during which changes in technology occur is speeding up exponentially. According to his law of Accelerating Returns, “the 21st century will see almost a thousand times more technological change than its predecessor.” He predicts the equivalent of 20,000 years of technological progress taking place during this century.

Staying on top of projects and information will require managers to consider new tools, as well as fresh thinking about current tools. The endgame is to handle an increasing amount of information and change efficiently. In project management terms, that’s “critical chain project management”—a way to plan and manage projects that focuses on the physical and human resources needed to handle tasks and projects—despite the flood of technology, information and change.

Here are some tools and solutions to consider if you’re at the end of your rope about your “critical chain:”

Phone management: The proliferation of phone numbers—office, home, landline and cell—can be dizzying, but there are services that offer a variety of ways to manage phone overload. Some will provide one number that will deliver calls from all your phones, and some offer users the option of setting the number to ring at your hotel when you’re on the road.

A collaborative space: Good project management is a function of collaboration and communication. A wiki is a fast and easy to use online collaborative workspace. There are many types of wiki setup software, and most are open source and free. The Cheetah Learning wiki is a central hub for our work, where we coordinate our projects and processes and store data and information. We’ve reduced our e-mail load and our paper consumption with our wiki. Other companies use wikis to capture various initiatives for their departments. Department heads can have a central place to remain in touch with each other’s projects and status.

A project agreement: A well crafted project agreement will always keep projects on target, on time and on budget. Defining a project at the beginning is critical; the project agreement provides a foundation on which to build, and a reference point for progress.
A project management scorecard for tracking results: Cheetah Learning uses an online project management scorecard we developed that looks at three kinds of performance: business, project and project team. The scorecard gives a comprehensive look at all three dimensions, providing information on where and how teams can improve with accountability and measurement criteria.

E-mail management: Most experts agree that e-mail can be a huge time drain for managers and staff alike. I became more productive when I stopped checking my e-mail first thing and focused on my action items list. I also turned off my automatic e-mail checking feature. I chose two times during the day to check my e-mail. I also recommend taking a refresher course in how to use whatever e-mail package your company uses. It’s helpful to see how filters, file folders, e-mail blocking and other tools can be used to control the e-mail box, instead of letting it control you.

Paper management: Compliance with regulatory issues does not necessarily have to drive the proliferation of paper documents. Scanning in documents and moving to electronic files (with a good electronic resources management system) can save time and money ordinarily spent creating and storing paper documents. A good electronic tracking system to locate electronic records will save time and money in the event a record must be located for financial, legal, tax or regulatory purposes.

Knowing when to stop: The most important element for anyone’s 21st century tool box is the “off” switch. It’s important to know when to stop. Not every new advancement is right for every business. Twitter and other social media platforms can be used for work purposes only if the information communicated is urgent, time sensitive and can be condensed into 140 characters. If a business communication meets those thresholds, fine. But if not, save Twitter for the personal messages to friends and family. Or better yet, tell them yourself, in person, over lunch.

Michelle LaBrosse is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the “Cheetah Success Series” and a keynote speaker and industry thought leader. E-mail her at
marketing@cheetahlearning.com.