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.