Thursday, 20 December 2007

Drawing up a Personal Action Plan

Most readers probably visited here looking for a couple of tips for specific but minor problems they had encountered. I hope they will have found something useful, or at least got some pointers to possible solutions. But to stop there is to miss an opportunity. Transformational change requires commitment from the individual, and maybe you are at the point where you are ready to take that step. If so, this section will provide a template for a personal action plan, through which you will identify your goals, define a plan, and subsequently monitor your progress and review your plan. To do this I have developed what I call a Love/hate map.

It is interesting to look at the IFA’s CPD scheme of 2002, which covered similar territory (see the download forms and further information on the IFA Training CPD page. The focus there is on knowledge and experience, directly related to current or near-future work, rather than skills; it is improved skills that provide the best pay-off, and are more likely to be transferable in the future.

Stage 1: Preparation

Projects are usually planned in great detail, even if they are short and simple. This is in complete contrast to how those involved handle their career development, which is left to chance or whim. Obviously it isn’t possible to control which jobs fall vacant, or where and when, but it is possible to have a concept of what your next move is likely to be and what would be needed to succeed. But your career development is something worth investing some time in, so treat it seriously.

Before starting the actual process, it is worth exploring whether there is someone you can share it with. If so, this can make things much more productive and enjoyable. Choosing a buddy is difficult: they must be honest and tactful, as well as trustworthy. It is best is it is not your line manager: they will almost always find the switching of roles between boss and confidante too difficult to handle, especially if your long-term aim is to leave. But find a mentor if you can.

Then you’ll need a journal or file where you can assemble your thoughts, and copies of your cv, job descriptions, and organisational documentation. And some time, undisturbed: getting up early in the morning is a good approach.

Stage 2: Analysis

The first stage is to look at your current work and skills. It is easy to define a post in terms which become a shopping list of tasks, but this isn’t very productive. A much better idea is to draw up a Love / hate map.

Write a list of the ten aspects of your current post you feel most strongly about, with a one-word title. This may be a major functional element of your job, or a small task that excites a reaction (foreboding or anticipation). For example:

Meetings Negotiating with developers and curators
Lectures Formal public speaking
Admin Timesheets, expenses and order forms
Writing Writing publication text

It is quite likely that the things that bother or please you the most are 'soft' skills like interpersonal relations, which tend to fall through the gaps in job-focused training.

Go through the list putting between one and three ticks against those you enjoy, and crosses against those you dislike.

The next stage may require external input (where your buddy/mentor might help, or your last performance appraisal), since you now want to try to decide how effective you are at those tasks, independent of whether you like doing them. Assign ticks and crosses as before, with a different colour pen. (Note that the number of ticks is not crucial and it is pointless to obsess over precise measurement).

Draw a large cross on a piece of paper: label the righthand side “Tasks I love”, the lefthand side “Tasks I hate”; the upper half “Tasks I’m good at”, and the lower half “Tasks I’m bad at”.

Grid for Love/hate map

Now write onto the grid your ten tasks in the correct position.

Love/hate map showing tasks

This map by itself shouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t already know, but it may help you understand your strengths and weaknesses.

If the bottom left box is full and the top right box is empty, you are in the wrong job. You shouldn’t spend your time doing badly the tasks you hate.

You may be reassured about the tasks in the top left: you may worry about them but they are not damaging your performance.

The tasks in the lower half are the ones which need action. To prioritise them, you should now circle those tasks which are most central or frequent in your work.

Love/hate map showing frequent tasks

Any circled tasks in the bottom left box need to be looked at first; next would be circled tasks in the bottom right box.

This exercise is not dissimilar to other methods of analysis, except that by brining your feelings into the equation it makes the outcomes much more focused, because moving tasks out of the bottom left box will not only improve your output, it will also make you feel much better. The word ‘happiness’ is not much used in management theory, even though it is critical to performance.

Stage 3: Improving performance

Now you know which tasks need attention, you will have to explore ways to improve. This may be as simple as asking your manager or colleagues for advice or help, or reading a book or website; or it may involve formal study. Most managers leave the identification of training needs to the individual, and as long as you have a clear idea of what you want and how to get it, it shouldn’t be difficult to obtain their support. It is worth noting that even for the most expensive taught courses, the main expense is your time.

It is a good idea to draw up a timetable:

Aspect Current performance Priority Action needed Date
Admin Poor High Inhouse training by May 2008
Meetings Fair Medium Remote learning course by July 2008
Supervising Fair Low Inhouse training or formal course by Dec 2008

The timetable should also have a review date (6 months or a year in the future): write it here, and put it in your diary.

Stage 4: Future plans

It will be seen that the action plan has so far dealt with your current work, not the future. This is deliberate: people's instincts about the past and present are quite reliable; their guesses about the future are not. It is possible to use the map to assist in informing your future plan.

Think about your ideal next job; be as specific as possible ("a Project Officer doing watching briefs for a commercial unit", rather than a "Project Officer"). Find a job description of a similar post, and then compare how many of your 10 mapped aspects will be relevant. If they lie mainly in the love/do badly quadrant, you should seek training to address your performance. If they lie mainly in the hate half of the map, you should look for other possible posts with a better fit.

This can then be developed into a timetable as for Stage 3, with a review date.

If you feel that it is time to move on, you should also think about the sort of application an ideal candidate would submit: what qualifications? experience? skills? attitudes? This may well reveal gaps in the evidence you can provide, which you should try to address before you start applying in earnest.

Stage 5: Review

At regular intervals (the last day of the month, or payday, are good milestones), take five minutes to look at your action plan. Are you making progress? Have you changed your mind or found new areas to explore?

Soon enough, your review date will arrive. If you find that your attitudes have changed completely, re-start the process from Stage 1. If not, consider how far you have come. Discuss your plans with your training buddy. Unlike most conversations about people's so-called careers, this should turn out to be a positive and inspiring exercise.


It is easy for introspection to become daydreaming, and debate to become whinging. This action plan is intended to provide a structure which should clarify your goals; it contains no great insights, beyond the obvious one that people enjoy jobs which involve doing things they like and are good at.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Step 10: Look after junior staff

In Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2002/03 (table 58) (available from IFA > The Profession page), there is the sobering statistic that 25% of those aged 40-59 earned less than £18,000 per year. What this means is that low pay (low even by archaeological standards) is not a short-term problem for recent graduates. Somebody who graduated 15-35 years ago might still be at this grade. If you wish to retain your trained and experienced staff, you need to make sure they can actually afford to live on what you pay them.

Increasingly, though, money is not the only issue. Many other people manage on £18,000 per year. What is critical in the long term is the overall package that employment brings: issues like arrangements for travelling time, holidays, pension scheme, healthcare, and training, may be just as important to retaining staff.

The IFA has recognised that pay is not necessarily the biggest problem: it now expects employers to offer

• 37.5 hour average working week
• Employer pension contribution of 6%, subject to any reasonable qualifying period
• 20 days annual leave excluding statutory holidays
• Minimum sick leave allowance of 1 month on full pay, subject to any reasonable qualifying period

Step 10: how do you treat your staff?

Step 9: Take Health and Safety seriously

One of the areas where the influence of leadership by example is strongest is in Health and Safety. The construction industry used to accept that its workers would be injured or killed in the course of their work, and there are still issues to be addressed; hence the introduction of the Construction Skills Card Scheme.

Archaeologists tend to be lax about safety; partly this is an instinctive anti-establishment reaction, and partly it is a result of the history of archaeology. There was a time, not that long ago, when most excavations were on rural summer sites, where, once people had been told how to hold a spade, the most serious risks were alcoholic poisoning, STDs and scurvy from off-site activities.

Working alongside the redevelopment of a brownfield site isn't quite the same: once you have looked at the issues of chemical exposure, plant, groundwater, scaffolding, shoring, ladders, lighting, old services, sanitation, and security, maybe you can do some work if you have your PPE in place. In such a constrained environment, a team will take its lead from, well, its leader: if he/she obeys the restrictions, wears the clothes, insists on conformance, then they will do the same; if he/she only wears a hard hat when an inspection is due, so will they.

You might think that archaeologists who set such great store by being 'professional' would respect H&S as a matter of course; having a site team behaving like a rabble can hardly help their cause.

You might well think that.

Step 9: Do you take H&S seriously?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Step 8: Archaeology isn't just excavation

Everybody knows this, in theory. But if you listen to archaeologists talk about their work, they will describe their fieldwork as if it's the only thing that matters. And websites list in loving detail every site dug, with scant mention of the contractors' work on post-ex and publication.

Analysis, reporting, archiving are part of the process
If archaeologists have such problems acknowledging this, it is hardly surprising that non-archaeologists fail to appreciate it.

Uh-oh, we’ve got some finds

Digging is going to produce finds. To treat them as if they are some unforeseeable calamity is inexcusable. One of the major demerits of the 'roving contractor' is that they cannot develop any familiarity with local typologies and chronologies. A contractor from England working in south Wales once confidently identified a coin as Saxon and was taken aback at the doubt with which this was received; a little prior research would have revealed that Saxon coins are almost unknown in the region.

Unreported excavation isn’t archaeology, it is wilful destruction of the resource

Fieldwork that results in 'breathtaking discoveries that will transform our understanding' only raises the stakes higher in terms of eventual publication. If it's so important, produce the evidence.

To be fair, the discipline of work in the planning process has led to dramatic improvements in this area: even the least interesting projects will produce a basic factual account and a summary for the HER.

But there is another side to this question. Publication is important because it is supposed to add to knowledge. Excavators therefore have a duty as professionals to research previous work before they start a new excavation. Unfortunately many seem to believe that as long as they do their work properly they can ignore evidence from nearby, or rely on short summaries in the brief.

Excavators should read past reports before digging.

(based on Westheimer's Discovery - "A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library." - Frank H. Westheimer, chemistry professor; Runyon's corollary: "A couple of hours on the Internet can frequently save a couple of minutes in the library.")

Step 8a: Do you plan for the whole project?
Step 8b: Do you read enough before you dig?

Step 7: Don't overperform the spec

Most project specifications include a clause that says something like:

“A minimum of 10% of the area will be excavated to the base of the archaeological deposits.”

This is a gesture towards limiting the commitment of the contractor to dealing with all the archaeology on the site and defining a measurable task. Except, of course, that when you look at it, it doesn't provide any form of certainty to the contractor, since the 'base of the archaeological deposits' is unknowable in advance. (There is a separate point that quantifying archaeological work by depth or volume pays no attention to complexity.) It might be better to phrase it as 'to a depth of 1.2m or the base of the archaeological deposits, whichever is the least', and then all you need to argue about is what an archaeological deposit is: does a prehistoric peat deposit count? An interglacial gravel terrace?

But people write these things all the time. What doesn't happen is that when people get onto site they pay any attention. If this is you, and you have fulfilled that basic minimum, you need to ask yourself in earnest:

Why do more?

There may be a good reason, if the purpose of the project has not been met. If the specification cites the IFA Standard and Guidance for archaeological field evaluation (available as a pdf from IFA Codes and Standards page), and it probably does, then there is another criterion:

Purpose of field evaluation
The purpose of field evaluation is to gain information about the
archaeological resource within a given area or site (including its
presence or absence, character, extent, date, integrity, state of
preservation and quality), in order to make an assessment of its
in the appropriate context, leading to one or more of the
• the formulation of a strategy to ensure the recording,
preservation or management of the resource
• the formulation of a strategy to mitigate a threat to the
archaeological resource
• the formulation of a proposal for further archaeological
investigation within a programme of research
(emphasis added)

But even so those aims are limited: enough information to make an assessment of merit. Not all the archaeology, or all the archaeology exposed, or most of the archaeology exposed; enough of the archaeology.

When to stop:

• When you have met the quantification required
• When you have achieved the purpose of the work

Sounds simple. So why do people carry on? Because they want to do a good job, because their unit may not get any subsequent contract, because they are interested. True; laudable, even; but a luxury. Teams will argue that since their time is committed in any case they might as well carry on; but if the site closed early, they could be working on the report, and would not spending money on travel and plant.

However the project has been structured, overperforming costs somebody money. It might well be you. If the developer is paying for work done, then they are paying more than they should. If not, the contractor is spending its own money on unnecessary work. Some argue that since the work was overestimated (=overcosted), it does no harm, but that is only true if the occasions when it is underestimated do not incur losses.

Step 7: How often do you do more work than necessary?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Step 6: Costs and risks

• Who should be taking the risk?

The relationship between risk and profit in business is well established. Venture capitalists who support fledgeling enterprises whose success is uncertain reap the rewards when one of them takes off. Speculative investment of this kind is a highly specialised activity, restricted largely to those with sufficient spare cash to afford backing a run of losers without feeling the pinch. Most businesses are not aiming for the big kill; they are happy to make a small but regular surplus above their costs.

When a decorator is asked to price up re-painting a house, their uncertainty is quite limited: they may find that the cheapest paint is not available, and they overspend slightly on materials; or their painters are lazy, and they overspend on labour. But they can commit themselves to finishing the job for the price, being aware of the factors under they control they need to consider. The house's walls will not suddenly double in size after the quote was submitted.

Yet that is what archaeology does all the time. The level of certainty prior to excavation, even for fully evaluated sites, is set very low. Somebody is taking a big risk in signing up to deal with it (whatever may turn up). It could be argued quite strongly that if anybody is having to take such a risk, it should be the developer, who is in some sense a speculator, rather than the archaeological unit with limited margins and cash reserve.

Price for a completed project, or rate for work done?

Thus as a starting principle archaeologists should limit their exposure to uncertainty. The 'open book' model of simply charging for work done is much healthier all round. (It should be noted that it is even on average cheaper in the end, since the archaeological contractor does not need to load in allowances for possible but rare circumstances such as human remains or ships). But if you do get locked into providing a single price, don't explain, don't break it down. For all the client knows you may be a bunch of eccentric millionaires undertaking the work as occupational therapy, and the cost covers the caviar and champagne at tea break. But the more detail you provide the more they will haggle.

Mike Heaton has argued for much greater transparency in costing (see 'Costing the earth' in The Archaeologist 59 (2006), p. 34-5 (large pdf of No. 59 Word document available here ), in line, ironically with usual practice in the construction industry, whose expectations of competitive tendering archaeologists say they are meeting (see bad habits, PPG16 section).

Archaeology is expensive, but have you hired a plumber recently?

Sometimes developers will be shocked at the costs. But they shouldn't be. Everything costs a lot these days; anything that is labour intensive especially so. No building contractor would dream of moving tons of spoil by hand, because it would take too long and cost too much. In which case they should understand where the money is going.

Don’t cut corners in pricing

If you are, reluctantly, pricing for a whole job, be clear about the likely final cost. Trying to sweeten the pill by putting in contingency sums is a recipe for future trouble: who decides when these are triggered? If the answer is you, you may as well just say the total, and if you feel like it, at the end under-charge them. Not that that's a good idea, since you cannot recover overspends from other projects.

For most clients, certainty is more important than price

Archaeology is a headache. If the developer knows that it will go away at a specific time for a set amount they can stop worrying about it and just wait, chequebook in hand. Only the seriously mean or financially troubled will be desperate to shave off a little on a subcontractor cost. It's best to act as if the price is completely fixed.

Overheads are expected

If you quote day rates, quote them all in. Don't give a basic wage and then add in extras to cover holiday, tax, and admin. Even including overheads developers will be astonished at archaeologists' low pay. Cost all inputs: office support, attendance at meetings, senior staff visiting site, travel. If you weren't doing the project you wouldn't incur the cost, so this is legitimate.

Post-project review

This is the most important tip of all. Every project should end with a debriefing where lessons are learned: was it costed right? Which risks weren't allowed for? Where were the underspends: could they have been trimmed? Unless you actively review performance over time, the same mistakes will continue to recur.

Step 6: Are you costing projects realistically?
Who pays if you get things wrong?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Changes in management training

While archaeologists have in general avoided management training, there has been a quiet revolution in the nature of that training. In the 1980s, it was about processes and structures, decision making and critical path analysis. As such it was essentially mechanistic: problems were defined as administrative, technical or organisational issues.

This was fine as far as it went, but rather lacked the human dimension. In response to the disjuncture between the difficulties managers faced in the workplace and the solutions being offered, there emerged a spate of books like Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson's The One Minute Manager (1982) and Mark McCormack's What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive (1986) which addressed the reality of working better within a system that was effectively fixed.

The shift towards soft skills is now reflected in training. The key words now are empowerment, consensus building, and fostering creativity. The MBA course at Bath University includes ethics and action learning alongside its more conventional content. One result of this shift is a focus on the actor as agent, on how you personally influence outcomes. Therefore, rather than proposing the restructuring of organisations, the achievable objective is to change oneself. This may be defined very broadly, taking in improving personal effectiveness by using tools and promoting self-management, but also covers attitudes, beliefs and social skills.

It has been estimated that the balance between 'people work' and 'tasks' is something like:
Executives: 80% people; 20% tasks
Senior Managers: 65% people; 35% tasks
Middle Managers: 50% people; 50% tasks
Operatives: 15% people; 85% tasks
(Source: PSMW Leading for Wales Directory 07/08 [very large pdf])

Purely on this basis, middle managers who ignore the importance of interaction with people are going to fail.

It is interesting to see that the Archaeology Training Forum's Roles and Skills project (2002) identify core skills needed by archaeologists:

* Manage team (by talking to people)
* Manage projects (by talking to people)
* Manage and develop yourself
* Develop and promote the organisation (by talking to people)
* Resource and control finances

Thus personal development should not be seen as a matter of an individual's career progression: it lies at the centre of their professional performance.

I would recommend A manager’s guide to self-development by Mike Pedler, John Burgoyne and Tom Boydell, as an excellent place to start.

Excel cheatsheet

Excel is a powerful and flexible program; the Help area is also well-presented and tells you most things you need to know. Here's a few tips, though.

* Excel is NOT A DATABASE. It isn't. It doesn't pretend to be. It might look a bit like a data input form, but that is not the same thing. (It is common these days in interviews for people to mention Excel when you ask them about database experience). It does, however, have some clever text-handling properties, as well as dealing with figures.

* Problem: cell showing no data, just ########. This perplexes new users and looks fatal. It is completely harmless: this is displayed when the content for a cell is longer than the column width. Widen the column, and the data is shown. (There is a fairly good reason for this feature of the program: if you are showing financial data then you wouldn't want a column showing a deficit of £1003 when the figure was actually £100,300,000).

* Use 'Print selection' and define the area of interest unless you want pages of blank squares

* Use 'Hide columns' when you are working on two widely-separated groups of data (unfortunately this part of the program is not very well developed: an alternative is to copy the data to a new worksheet and delete the unwanted columns from there) (note also that copied and printed data will show Hidden columns) (for this reason it as well to think about the sequence of data elements when you are setting up your worksheet)

* To quickly sum a group of figures, highlight the area; the total is shown at the bottom righthand corner of the screen

* Entering repetitive data: enter the same data in two rows, then select those rows and a block of subsequent rows: it will be entered in all

* Be careful with column/cell properties: unless set to text then any leading zeroes will be dropped (eg an entry listing context "0096" will become "96"). If a column is set to text it will be displayed as entered, but mathematical functions will not work.

* The formula bar should be used for any calculation which may be needed more than once. It is possible to copy a formula into another cell. The default behaviour is if you have created formula "=sum(a2.a12)" in cell a13, to total the column, and then paste it into b13, it will automatically alter the formula to "=sum(b2.b12)". This is very useful but may cause problems if you lay out the data in an unusual way.

* The formula bar can also be used to assemble text strings (for example generating a series of urls by combining the elements: a_href=" | pagename.htm"/ | Page title text | /a using "=concatenate(a1.a12)" to create the string a_href=""/Page title text/a for each row).

* Make sure you save changes when you close the file; it is easy to discard them by mistake

* Excel data can be readily shared and imported into databases by saving as a .csv format file

Saturday, 1 December 2007


A bold title like '10 simple steps' demand some credibility from the speaker, if the audience is to believe, firstly, that these are the steps that are needed and, secondly, that they are indeed simple (they may be simpler to identify than to take, but that's another issue). So it is pertinent to review my experience, which will also explain the focus of my remarks on, specifically, evaluations. My pre-PPG16 career at Stanwick Roman villa, Dudley Castle, and Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens was conventionally archaeological; in 1991 I joined GGAT as a Project Officer, concentrating on desk-tops and evaluations, and in 1992 became Project Manager, responsible for costing and managing developer-funded work in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In 2003 I moved out of archaeological project management into generic project management, and have since delivered a series of projects for the National Library of Wales, including Archives Network Wales. I recognised at an early stage that project management wasn't archaeology, needing a different set of skills and attitudes, and I have sought out techniques and learning opportunities to equip me for the role including, most recently, the
Institute of Leadership and Management's Introductory Certificate in First Line Management and Public Service Management Wales Connect4Cymru leadership development course.

Not that this makes me an expert. I have undertaken no formal analysis or research; I have sent no questionnaires, conducted no surveys. What I present here are observations and anecdotes based on what I have encountered, at first, second or third-hand.

But I am not intending to lay down a set of rules that you should follow: I am hoping to ask some interesting questions for you to consider. Some may resonate with you, some may not.

Finally I should say that these are my individual opinions; others are available. It is not my intention to criticise or condemn (although sometimes it may sound like it is); I am aiming for dispassionate narrative. I should emphasise that my current and former employers and any other body with which I have been associated do not endorse my views.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Bad habits of archaeological managers and where they came from

Some of the stranger attitudes displayed by senior archaeological managers are inexplicable without some reference to the changing nature of archaeology as an activity and a business over the last 25 years. What I want to present is an alternative narrative of that change, highlighting the implications for the viewpoints of those involved.

1982: old-style Rescue

This is the first stage where I have direct experience. I started as a Volunteer. This status needs some explanation to younger readers. The archaeological bodies at the time used the term 'volunteer' as a legal manouvre, so that technically the site staff were not employees, and thus did not have to have things like NI, sick pay or holidays. It was just about possible to work full-time as a digger on the circuit of government-funded rescue digs around the UK, although it wasn't comfortable: the only accommodation provided was a campsite. This rigorous apprenticeship weeded out all but the fanatical would-be diggers. So summer excavations (in particular) had very large numbers of very poorly paid staff who would be expected to leave after a fairly short period.

Myth 1: It's not worth training people, you won't get the benefit

This sorry state is perhaps well-enough known. Less well-known is the other side of the coin: the supervisors and directors, in contrast, were quite well-paid, and enjoyed generous subsistence allowances. As a result, those diggers who did make it into their ranks suddenly enjoyed a transformed lifestyle.

Myth 2: You don't have to treat people well now, they will get rewarded later

The natural rhythm of the rescue year was an alternation of a short and intense period of excavation and then a quieter post-ex time for the core staff.

Myth 3: Don't let the diggers get near recording, they won't be around to analyse it

1986: MSC Schemes

The economic problems of the early 1980s led to the creation of Manpower Services Commission and its Community Programme, aimed at using the long-term unemployed to do some socially useful work. Archaeologists found that projects which would have attracted no other funding were suddenly viable; having large teams was a positive benefit. There were some downsides to this: the proportion of supervisory staff was limited to less than 1 in 10; the diggers, drawn from the local unemployed, were completely unskilled in archaeology, and were in some cases unwilling draftees.

One of the principles of the CP was that the staff had to paid the rate for the job; since council's didn't employ archaeologists, the nearest equivalent was chosen (unskilled manual staff). The paradox resulted in which experienced graduate diggers were being paid less than their MSC counterparts, who also enjoyed employment rights.

There were some very good results of this enforced contact with the general public. It sowed the seeds of the emphasis on outreach and education that eventually created the TV archaeology boom of the recent past. The certain knowledge that new staff were unfamiliar with the excavation process meant that induction and training were formalised. And the social background of archaeologists was diversified, as it was discovered that being a middle class graduate was not a necessary qualification.

But because of the structuring of the funding, anomalies in tasking arose. Anything that could be done by non-archaeological staff was effectively free. Anything that could only be done by archaeological staff unencumbered by people to supervise was almost impossible. Anything that involved spending money on equipment or external staff was severely restricted.

Most projects found themselves caught in a cycle of running an excavation team to provide the funding for some post-ex work on the previous excavation, and then needing a new excavation to fund ... and so on

Myth 4: Keep digging, never mind the post-ex

Restrictions on funding for specialists led to a healthy tradition of DIY finds work, and an unhealthy tradition of ignoring finds and environmental work completely.

Myth 5: Specialists? What do they know?

1989: PPG16 and contract archaeology

PPG16 was a shock to the established archaeological structures, the county archaeologists and the regional units. It is not surprising that it was met with suspicion and indeed outright hostility. It is unfortunate that the terms of debate, such as it was, took place in an information vacuum, in which nobody understood business or commercial practice.

The closest that county archaeologists had come to this within councils was the then-current process of floating off the direct labour departments as separate businesses, driven by CCT: Compulsory Competitive Tendering. Since this was what they had heard of, they assumed that the best, or perhaps only, way by which developers would procure services was by competitive tender, heedless of the few voices that pointed out that this was only appropriate when the task could be clearly specified and quantified in advance.

Myth 6: Competitive tendering is how business works

This is nonsense. Most archaeological evaluations fall well below the £25K threshold for public bodies to run an open tender; private bodies wouldn't think twice about using their preferred supplier for such a paltry sum.

There was also a paranoia about standards, or more particularly cowboys. I recall the baffling sight of archaeologists who had previously complained bitterly about the poor excavation standards, inadequate records, and nonexistent publication plans of their local unit desperately defending them against outsiders who might, well, ok, do the job, and write a report, but they weren't local.

Myth 7: Only the locals can do archaeology properly

The question then arose of how you can define good practice, now that it was something to worry about. The answer was to specify in minute detail the way to dig (even though in the past considerable freedom had been granted to excavators to select their own approach). A long and comprehensive brief was answered by a longer and more comprehensive specification. The fact that, prior to excavation, nobody knew what would turn up and how to deal with it when it did was simply ignored.

Myth 8: Specifying methods in advance ensures correct outcomes

Sadly the tendency towards long briefs has eroded the idea that somebody digging a site has a duty to familiarise themselves with the context of the site by reading about nearby sites, attending lectures and conferences, and talking to other archaeologists.

Myth 9: Archaeology is about digging, not understanding


The myths I have listed above emerged from the particular circumstances of the time. I have implied that many were recognisable as myths, or at best partial truths, at the time; but they certainly form poor insights into modern practice. But the senior archaeologists of today will have been exposed to those conditions in the past, and unless they have unlearned them they will still hold sway subconsciously.

This is an important point: it is only by trying to articulate the beliefs now that I have recognised their source; you would be hard pushed to get anyone to say any of these out loud, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't inform their thinking.

Keep this list to hand, and see how many myths you recognise a someone tells you why you don't need a finds budget, or you have to write a 20 page spec for a three-day evaluation, or you shouldn't worry about junior staff's employment conditions.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Step 3: Image

I have written before on my literary blog, A Few Words about the interaction between codes of dress and business in the realm of archaeology.

All across the country, favourite jumpers were consigned to bonfires or dog bedding, as the strange new world of short hair and clean clothes opened out. For the die-hards, it only took a couple of occasions on which their opinions or assistance were dismissed by busy businessmen because they looked like the people who cleaned the site toilets to recommend a change.

This was perhaps a simplistic view. What I struggled with was how to explain the culture of archaeological dress. Now I propose to follow a more roundabout route, going back to first principles: what is the function of clothing?

A recent study reported:

"… students indicated why an item of clothing they particularly valued was important to them, including perceived functional and mood-related benefits, but also clothes as means for expressing personal and social identity."

Jason Cox and Helga Dittmar, "The functions of clothes and clothing (dis)satisfaction: A gender analysis among British students" Journal of Consumer Policy 2-3 (1995) [text not available online to non-subscribers]

If you ask people about the clothes they choose to buy or wear, they will talk about aesthetics (they look good, or make the wearer look good, or feel nice), practicalities (keeps me warm, handy pockets), status (makes me look rich), and personal identity (expresses my personality). What they don't say is that it expresses their group identity.

For example, IT tekkies would consider themselves a fiercely independent and individualistic bunch who reject the norms of business fashion and wear what they, individually, want.

What then are we to make of a fashion range of geek chic like Cafe Press? It seems that, like skaters, Goths and punks before them, their individualism is expressed by wearing the same clothes as their friends.

This photograph of a group of countryside rangers and volunteers is interesting because only half of them are wearing a uniform. The others have adopted the green shirt and jeans as a form of protective coloration. Note that the only person wearing 'normal' clothes, in this context, appears as an outsider, clearly other than the rest.

I was at a large informal meeting of local government employees recently where one could immediately identify the biodiversity officers, because they wore fleeces, and the sustainability officers, because they wore woolly jumpers. People with similar interests do end up wearing similar clothes. Partly this might be explained by shared tastes, but it is also partly because we choose to dress like people we identify with. This is the power of clothes to express group identity.

However, like all such expressions, there is a price to pay. Signalling to your colleagues that you are like them also signals to others that you are different.

Time Team want to look like archaeologists.

Cornelius Holtorf quotes Mick Aston
as saying "we’re complete scruffbags but I don’t care. I’m not remotely interested in appearances, life’s too short for that”. But if you were a businessperson, would you trust them with thousands of pounds to deliver a critical part of your development?

Step 3: Are you creating the image you want?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Step 2: Labels

So we have seen in Step 1 that archaeologists are a little unclear about who they are and what they do. It is not surprising to find that this confusion extends to what they are called.

In Kenneth Aitchinson and Rachel Edwards' Archaeology Labour Market Intelligence: Profiling the Profession 2002-03 (2003) (available from IFA The Profession page), there is the sobering statement:

Details relating to 2348 archaeologists and support staff working in jobs with 428 different post titles were received. This represents one post title for every 5.5 individuals and indicates that there is little consistency in the use of post titles across the UK. This is a slight improvement on the situation reported for 1997/98, when there was one post title for every 4.7 individuals. (p. 38; emphasis added)

This situation has the important corollary that many archaeologists carrying out similar roles are called different things; it is resonable to suppose that many called the same thing are in fact fulfilling different roles. It is therefore hardly surprising that non-archaeologists are baffled by the hierarchy of personnel they encounter: it defies understanding. Can it really be the case that (on average) there are only five people in the UK who share the same role?

There are further difficulties which have arisen from changes in usage that have occurred outside archaeology. In the mid 90s, when the shift from 'field officer' post titles to 'project' titles was largely complete, there was a general agreement on the level of responsibility they implied:

* a project officer was, in archaeology, somewhere between a supervisor and field officer, in charge of a small team for fieldwork projects such as evaluations, writing the report

* a project manager was an office-based senior officer with overall responsibility for the project, among others, and costing and tracking the work

This is the situation outlined by my 1995 paper "Project management in a changing world: redesigning the pyramid", in M A Cooper, A Firth, J Carman and D Wheatley (eds.), 1995 Managing Archaeology (Routledge, London: EuroTAG series), 208-215, selections from which can be found on Google Scholar.

This arrangement was probably fairly comparable to project officers in other fields at the time, and is (as far as anyone can tell) still the basic distinction used in archaeology.

But in the outside world, the meaning of these terms have shifted. Project Officer these days is seen most frequently in the public and voluntary sectors, defining an entry-level post with limited freedom of action and no supervisory role; typical requirements will be a degree in something unrelated and generic office skills. Project Officers, as the name suggests, are hired and fired with their project lifecycle. It will be seen that this is some distance from the expectation of an archaeological Project Officer.

A parallel shift has occurred with Project Manager. While the term has always straddled the line between overseeing and undertaking projects, under systems like Prince2, the role of Project Manager has become fixed as the senior person involved in undertaking the work, reporting to the line manager (in Prince2 parlance the Project Director) from day to day and to the Project Board for strategy. Such project managers are brought into the project after it has been planned, costed and procured. These days project management has develoepd its own identity as a skill and in practice most PMs have little knowledge of the substance of the project they are responsible for. This is perhaps a point for archaeologists to ponder: would projects benefit if the administrative tasks were separated from the archaeological?

The demotion of Project Manager has left a gap for the senior role, the perosn with responsibility for devising and overseeing several projects and their managers. A term becoming common for this is Programme Manager.

Step 2: Review your current post titles.
Do they describe what the role is?
Do they give others the correct expectation of their seniority and experience?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Step 1: identity

The relationship between an archaeologist and their trowel is powerful. As Matt Lemke's collection of testimonies (in Trowels , in Assemblage 2 (1997), shows, the trowel is not a tool, it is almost an extension of the digger's self. I found myself as outraged by the person who kept several trowels as I would have been by a bigamist. Having-a-trowel is assumed to be identical to being-an-archaeologist.

Or see Chapter 4 of Matt Edgeworth's Act of Discovery: an ethnography of archaeological practice (pdf e-book), where (on p. 94), he says:

"A well-worn trowel is taken to symbolize the experience and skill of the digger ... Clearly it is not just a functional implement ... but also an object of significance in itself".

But what do you call an archaeologist who doesn't use a trowel? Here I think, is the explanation for the historic antipathy between diggers and people like geophysics, finds and environmental specialists, may appear on site but don't quite belong. That is perhaps a minor issue of politics; more important is the effect it has on the diggers as they progress through their careers.

It is common to meet senior managers who feel, and even say, that they belong on site, digging things up, and would do so if they could get all this management stuff out of the way. This is a recipe for disaster: any sane analysis of the skills and training that someone need as should be based on what their role is, not what they wished it was.

As a starting point, you could consider the following questions:

Do you excavate?
Do you record?
Do you analyse?
Do you interpret?
Do you administer?
Do you monitor?
Do you manage?
Do you enable?

You could then, if you wish, have a rather sterile debate about which activities were still 'real' archaeology, and which were not. More importantly, those who have drifted to the latter end of the list, in search of status, security, and power, must recognise that they are no longer directly involved in investigating the archaeological resource. Until they face up to this, a process which may well involve some mourning, they will fail at their new role, since they will place no value on managerial tasks, will be uninterested in fulfilling them efficiently, and will instead embroil themselves in interfering with the archaeological conduct of excavations at the slightest opportunity.

If, after careful thought, you realise that you are still at heart a digger, but your job title says manager, you will probably be happier and more effective if you change jobs. If you decide you want to be a manager, your should equip yourself for that role as best as you can.

Step 1: What is your current role?

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Step 5: Communication

Communicating with non-archaeologists is something that archaeologists are not, in fact, very good at. Talking archaeology at them, fine. But that isn't the same thing.

Don’t expect them to share your viewpoint
Don’t expect them to know your terminology
Do tell them how it affects them
Do give them bad news clearly



Some golden rules
• Consider your audience: what matter to them?
• Provide a clear message: don't tell them 'we don't really know'
• Avoid wishful thinking: don't say you might be finished next week if you won't
• Don’t get bogged down in detail: they don't care about feature 1099
• Check they understand: ask them; listen to the answers
• Don’t be misled by politeness: they may be humouring you

Step 5: How well do you communicate?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Step 4: Invest in training

A short argument for training:

• New roles need new skills
• Learning by trial and error involves trials and errors
• Invest in training
• Prioritise training needs

You might think this hardly worth saying, but there are many reasons why people are hostile to the idea that they might benefit from training.

There are a lot of tools out there, ranging in cost from expensive to free, that could have immediate results in efficiency: see for example Prince2, Microsoft Project, Getting Things Done, iGoogle.

Invest in tools not systems

It's easy to be tempted by the prestigious, complex, formal training opportunities; deciding which to pursue requires thought.

• How much more would you achieve if you spent 50% less time dealing with emails?
So look at Getting Things Done

• How often will you use the knowledge gained from a Palaeolithic rock art conference in Australia?
So unless you are a full-time specialist in rock art, don't go.

• Is your organisation ready to adopt Prince2 throughout?
If not, don't get Prince2 accredited.

Step 4a: Do you know everything already? If not, get some training.

Step 4b: Start with the tasks you spend the most time doing, or the ones you do worst

Isn't good management just common sense?

In general, of course it is.
But as Voltaire says "le sens commun est fort rare" (Common sense is very rare) (Dictionnaire Philosophique, 1764).

And in any case, there are some things which are counter-intuitive:

* if you have two tasks to do, start with the hard one
* if you are negotiating with two people, and one is argiung and the other is silent, it is the silent one that needs convincing
* do the most important thing not the most urgent

The arguments usually comes from those who would call themselves good managers, having learned the hard way. It's almost as if they think that telling people how to do it is cheating in some way.

The foundation of successful projects is management science, not rocket science.

iGoogle can change your life

I have never been a great fan of customisation. While others were merrily swapping their Windows wallpapers weekly, mine stayed default blue. The only gesture towards personalisation that I made was changing the homepage to Google, as soon as I realised that I visited it 10 times more often than any other. So when Google started to offer add-ons to their classic white screen by showing the small iGoogle option, I wasn't very interested at first: what could it deliver? I eventually had a look, in pursuit of an RSS feed reader (of which more later), and found a wealth of little tools which seemed useful and simple. Now I don't know how I coped before: I certainly wasted a lot more time, effort and nervous energy beforehand.

The process of signing up is straightforward: if you a or account you just need to log in, if not there's a minute's registration. You should be aware of the fact that you are giving Google even more information about your web activities. At present the worst they seem to threaten is showing you more targeted Google Ads, but it's worth thinking about.

You are then shown a list of possible features to add to your Google page, which could transform it into a virtual desktop.

Here's mine. You'll notice that I've left a fair amount of white space down the middle, but the content runs down further.

This is a deliberate trick; if you fill the screen with tools you will commit the fatal error of making the page slow to load. Similarly some tools are best kept rolled up to the taskbar if not needed. Here is my explanation of what I have chosen:

RSS feed

I don't read a lot of blogs, but spent a lot of time viisting them in turn to see whether anything new had been added, what RSS feeds are designed for. Although other feed utilities are available, Google Reader is the simplest I have found. Every time I use Google I can check to see which blogs have new posts. This can become a distraction; I have to be strict and say:
* use 'mark all as read' even if they're not (you can always go back to read them all at a quieter moment)
* exclude blogs which are updated more than a few times a week (otherwise the list will be overloaded): instead these are bookmarked and visited at leisure (if any)
* exclude blogs where comments are important (you don't see the comments in the feed)

Wikipedia search

One of the key benefits of Wikipedia is that it gives you infromation rather than trying to sell you things. I find Google searches for things like infromation about file formats frustrating because the first two npages of results are effectively commercials.


Much the same applies to email: if this were your main email account it would be swamped too quickly to keep track of. Gmail is in any case clunky and prone to freezing and would drive you mad if you used it much. It can be used in clever ways, though: it is a good way of transferring files around as attachments (so that a Powerpoint can be sent to a Gmail address and will be availabel at any conference venue with Internet access); it is also possible to copy all your emails to Gmail to act as a back-up store.


What's that doing here? I thought we were working. Yes, but: if you were going to read the daily cartoon anyway, this is a quicker way of getting there than the rather clumsy website interface.

Personal calendar and planner

Google has its own Calendar system but for some reason I couldn't get it to work. This is a simple alternative, which I use to block out days with meetings on. Logically I should take the plunge and abandon my paper diary, but every few days the calendar can't be reached. Having this on the desktop means that I can access it remotely, a trick not easy to replicate with the diary.

To-do list

This is perhaps the single most powerful yet simplest tool. Create a task by typing it in (carefully: the edit text option doesn't work); then assign it high, medium or low priority. You can change priority at any time. Once a task is complet, click on the X to delete it. I haven't completely abandoned paper lists for very short-term tasks (finished that day), but it is a good way to see at a glance the things that need doing beyond your current task. At one point I found the list getting longer and longer and more and more urgent, until I was spurred into delegating as the only way to deliver; having handed out the jobs to the team it was managebale once more.

I use two lists at the moment, for work and non-work activities; it would be possible to use one per project.

Some negatives

The documentation provided for the tools is minimal and unhelpful; you have to explore how to use them yourself. Many of them are buggy and slightly unreliable; some are slow (the calendar should be kept rolled up for this reason).

But iGoogle is the closest that anyone has yet come to bringing together all the tools you need to operate effectively; once set up, it feels like a rational and effective utility.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Does Getting Things Done get things done?

David Allen has developed personal effectiveness and productivity into a business, under the slogan "Getting Things Done". He provides a range of timesaving tips for efficient working, focusing particularly on habits of filing and storing data and prioritisation. If followed in full, GTD is not so much good practice and more a way of life, but many people find that adopting some of his techniques can transform their workrate and makes them feel that they are in control of their work rather than the other way around. There are expensive options to pursue this but a cheap place to start is the Penguin book.

You may find the relentless enthusiasm and optimism a little wearing in large doses, but you are bound to learn something useful along the way.

[fuller review here]

Using Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project is a sophisticated Office application that can be used to plan, estimate, and monitor projects, tasks, and resources. It is fairly cheap for a piece of business software (£400 or so), although licensing may be an issue (there is a free Project Viewer to allow others on the network read-only access).

Inputting the data into Project takes some time, and this investment is best rewarded if the program is used for the whole life cycle of the project, rather than just planning or implementation. It is possible to use multiple installations across a network to share information about resource availability (so that allocating the same person to work on two projects at the same time would raise a conflict flag, alerting users that action was needed).

The usefulness of the program decreases if it is only employed on a single project; it should not be seen as way of drawing Gantt charts. It can do that, but if that's all you want there are simpler options.

On a final point, this application is unlike most Office programs in requiring professional training to make much use of: trying to teach yourself to use it is hard.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

What is Prince2™ and should I be using it?

These are two separate questions, of course.

What is Prince2&#153?

Prince2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) was developed as a project management tool in UK government IT applications. It was then rolled out as a generic approach to project implementation, and has been taken up by many public bodies in the local government and HE sectors, as well as in business.
Prince2&#153 website

Essentially Prince2&#153 provides a structure and terminology to manage a project from initial identification through to completion with clearly defined stages and targets. There is an emphasis on explicit terms of reference and governance through Project Boards, intended to ensure that mission creep is prevented. As such it formalises good practice. Unfortunately its terminology is precise and counter-intuitive: a clear distinction is made, for example, between a task and a process. As a result, Prince2&#153-speak may be unintelligible to outsiders, although some phrases have gained wider currency, including:

  • management by exception focus on the things that are going wrong

  • lessons learned log this is where Prince2 projects report their mistakes

  • PID Project Initiation Document

  • Prince2&#153 practitioners can gain accredited qualifications; this process is fairly longwinded and expensive. Partly as a result, there has developed a distinct field of practice called PINO (Prince In Name Only) projects, where the broad terminology and structure is adopted but day-to-day implementation is less formalised.

    It has also been argued that much of the process is excessively timeconsuming and the key issue leading to past project failure is in fact lack of clarity and purpose from the client group.

    Should I be using it?

    The short answer is no, not least because the adoption of Prince2&#153 as a method has to be a decision taken at a corporate level. To implement elements of its process within an individual project is pointless and will almost certainly result in duplication of effort.

    Whetehr organisations should be adopting it is less clear. If they are to do so, they must commit themselves to getting their staff accredited and following through on the paperwork that will results.

    In practice, Prince2&#153 works best in organisations whose projects are:

  • partnerships between different bodies with equal power

  • long-term (2 years +)

  • delivered by a third party contractor

  • subject to frequent change of approach

  • closely defined at the planning stage

  • which suggests that archaeology is not its most fertile ground.

    However, it is worth picking out the key Prince2&#153 principles for what makes a project work:

  • define a management structure with clear terms of reference

  • define the level of autonomy you are giving the project manager

  • have a reporting schedule and distribution list for progress reports

  • record changes in plan, with reasons

  • record your mistakes and learn from them

  • This is part of the training theme: start here.

    Sunday, 18 November 2007

    Excuses to avoid training

    • I'm too busy to go on a time management course
    • I can’t afford to go on a finance course
    • I can't go on a leadership course when my team's morale is so low

    I've heard something like this a lot. I think it's partly a generational thing: when I was doing my degree in the 1980s, the courses seemed to be intended to provide everything you would ever need for your subsequent career, including directing excavations, which would have lain 20 years in the future for most students (or so it was thought at the time, before PPG16 was thought of). Of course, this creates problems in a chnaging world, but what happens when you encounter something new? You obviously hadn't been paying attention when this was covered in your degree.

    By the early 90s, the rhetoric had changed and everyone was being exhorted to follow lifelong learning, developing a portfolio career for several employers, and needing training doesn't necessarily signal weakness. There is a downside to this, though: what Caveat Lector calls the Training wheels culture, where any innovation is met with cries of 'I need training'. Archaeologists used to be largely self-taught in IT; although this may mean that we have gaps in knowledge, it also means that we are used to getting to grips with innovation by using it to do things.

    Reasons not to train

    There are, however, rational grounds for a reluctance to engage in training.


    Most skills are generic skills, but it helps if they are presented in a recognisable context. Management courses tend to be either business or public body focused, and it is not always easy to see their usefulness. I hadn't thought that "Negotiating" was a skill I would have much use for, but in fact I need it every day.

    Lack of corporate support

    If an employer is reluctant to support its staff in their pursuit of opportunities, it is easy for a vicious circle to develop where instant pay-offs are demanded: "You need to prove to me you've learned something useful", which is hardly conducive to a fruitful learning experience, and leads to a focus on nuts-and-bolts How To training when it may well be that personal development is the greater need.


    Finding time within a work programme is never easy. But training these days need not be a formal taught course: you could always do a distance learning modular course, or read a book. It's unreasonable for an employer to expect all training to take place in your own time, but you should be prepared to stretch a little.


    Some workplaces despise training. Some do not. If yours does, you're in for a long battle.

    Lack of interest

    Some people don't want to learn new things; they are happy where they are. Except they're not, of course. But even so, there's no point pushing people who aren't interested.

    Lack of information

    If it is left for would-be trainees to identify suitable opportunities, most will not.

    About this blog

    This blog provides a range of resources, links, and further discussion of the contents of my forthcoming paper "10 simple steps to better archaeological management" to be presented at the Archaeology in Britain Conference, March 2008.

    I've always thought there was something very strange about the whole process of disseminating knowledge through conference papers: an authority on a topic, with a wealth of information to share, spends days boiling it down to a twenty-minute presentation which the audience vaguely attends to, and then on occasion, the paper emerges in print in re-jigged and truncated form a couple of years later. And of course these days every talk has its Powerpoint, and every Powerpoint has its hyperlinks, for which the audience has to scribble down the urls in a way that they don't with web text. So I intend to use this blog to post bits of the talk as they develop, with working hyperlinks to sources and related materials, and also to reflect the adjustments and corrections that arise through the drafting process. And after the event it will continue to exist as an archive of what was said.


    All opinions presented here are those held by me, not my current or former employers or other bodies.