Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 4;   January 27, 2016: Virtual Clutter: II

Virtual Clutter: II

by

Thorough de-cluttering at work involves more than organizing equipment and those piles of documents that tend to accumulate so mysteriously. We must also address the countless non-physical entities that make work life so complicated — the virtual clutter.
Artist's conception of an asteroid belt around the star Vega

Artist's conception of an asteroid belt around the star Vega. The clutter we've already observed within our solar system would create problems for high-speed (near-light-speed) interplanetary travel, because the travel itself would lead to collisions with the interplanetary clutter. Clutter in the space between stars is much less dense, but nonetheless problematic, because vehicular speeds for practical transit times would necessarily be much higher. In any case, moving quickly through space can be trouble because of the clutter that permeates space.

So it is in most organizations. Moving anything — a new initiative, a new hire, a new policy, a new product idea — moving anything rapidly through the virtual clutter of a typical large organization is challenging. If it's possible at all, it can require severe compromise to the integrity of the initiative, or an accumulation of political debts that burden the initiative's champions.

Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The cost of virtual clutter is surprisingly high because most virtual clutter is outside our awareness, and because we don't track its costs. For example, switching between medical insurance plans is typically a complicated process that requires spending company time consulting with Human Resources. De-cluttering this process would reduce costs, but since we don't track those costs, we can only estimate the savings.

The savings from de-cluttering any one process is probably small, but in a typical enterprise, there are hundreds of cost sources traceable to virtual clutter. In Part I, we examined some enterprise-scale sources of virtual clutter. Let's now examine virtual clutter occurring at the team and group level.

Meeting agendas
Agenda clutter causes us to overrun meeting times, or to deal with important items superficially. Agenda clutter also causes cluttered attendee lists. To execute a cluttered agenda, we require attendance by some who have little to contribute to most of the agenda. Since we don't know the exact time when when we need these people, they mostly just sit and wait.
That's why cluttered agendas lead to cluttered calendars, which make meetings difficult to schedule, creating delays in product development and elevating enterprise costs.
Project portfolios
Project portfolios tend to grow organically, rather than by design. Portfolio clutter, or incoherence, can manifest itself as resource contention, effort duplication, failure to exploit deliverables of other projects, failure to exploit lessons learned, and so on.
Coherent The most prolific source of email inbox
clutter is likely that we send too many
messages to too many people who have
too little interest in their content
portfolios "make sense." They exploit commonality of both resources and technologies. They have themes that span both inputs and outputs of portfolio projects.
Library clutter
Some organizations still have libraries for employees to use in their work. In these libraries, book clutter (physical or electronic) consists of all those items few people have ever read or even referred to. Some items are so outdated that they're worthless. In most organizations, "User's Guide for Word 2.0" probably is an example of clutter. If anyone ever needs that information, they can get it from the Web.
Eliminating library clutter requires some content expertise many librarians might lack. The populations served by libraries can help with de-cluttering.
Email messages
The most prolific source of email inbox clutter is likely that we send too many messages to too many people who have too little interest in their content. Some of the problem is cultural, some is due to the similarity of the commands "Reply" and "Reply All," and some is due to the difficulty of learning how to direct our email clients to filter and file messages automatically.
Coordinated action is likely required. Organizations that train their people in the properly focused use of email can gain some control of the email torrent.

Noticing virtual clutter is difficult. It takes practice. When you find a piece of clutter, ask "How did it come to be here?" and "If I remove it, what can I do to prevent its return or replacement?" First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Patterns of Conflict Escalation: I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenFaQkgVxTWgHPGuGrner@ChacVsntEKqIKOSMLbesoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Time is moneyTaming the Time Card
Filling out time cards may seem maddeningly trivial, but the data they collect can be critically important to project managers. Why is it so important? And what does an effective, yet minimally intrusive time reporting system look like?
Horns of a dilemmaChoices for Widening Choices
Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
Six kids on a PlayPumpThe Questions Not Asked
Often, the path to forward progress is open and waiting, but we don't recognize it, or we convince ourselves it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.
The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
Industrial robots assembling automobilesUnnecessary Boring Work: I
Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind hereComing July 26: Strategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option. Available here and by RSS on July 26.
Srinivasa RamanujanAnd on August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenaWBHoGYGtEVgrkwener@ChacZCIhbdsmZeIADHEcoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.