Monday, 8 December 2008

The power of the self-talk

Modesty and self-deprecation are instinctive and engrained, even in managers. This may be particularly true in Britain, where being proud of something is considered to run perilously close to being conceited or arrogant, but it probably universal. Less universal, though, is the inability to take a compliment. I think it is reasonable that when somebody has decided to praise you, you are allowed to say " thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the talk", not "aw shucks, it was nothing". Reasonable, yes, but easy to do, no.

But perhaps social self-doubt has its role in preserving relationships; unfortunately it often is mirrored by internal self-doubt, the monologue that says "this meeting's going to be hard, you're never very good at this, see, what did I tell you?, it'll be worse next time ...". As a result, it's all too easy to lose sight of the things you can do well, and to miss the chance to bask for a while in the satisfaction of achievement. For a course I was on recently we had to spend five minutes writing in our journals about three things we were good at. It really was hard to break out of the bonds of modesty, and felt completely unnatural. It was very useful, though, to remind us that, yes, we were ok, we weren't necessarily in crisis mode all the time. I cannot remember the last time I had thought along these lines, looking at the positives; self-criticism is a hard habit to break (not that it doesn't have its place, but it's unhealthy as the only mode of thought).

My suggested adaptation is this: write down three headings:
* a skill you have, something you are good at
* your greatest achievement
* the event or person that has changed you most

Think for a minute, then write soemthing down for each heading. You're not deciding your answers for ever; maybe tomorrow you'd choose other examples. What you should be doing is 1, reminding yourself what is important to you and how you have been effective; and 2, practising positive self-analysis that should assist you in understanding your own motivation, values and goals.

It sound silly, but it works.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Should project managers be optimists?

[This question arose from an office discussion about targets and programming]

The short answer: probably.

The longer answer: maybe not, not completely. But a project manager needs to be optimistic about the project, and to believe that it is worth doing and is achievable. If they don't believe that, they will be unable to convince anyone else; and they will find it hard to come up with the tenacity, flexibility and single-minded purpose that is needed to drag a reluctant project to a successful conclusion.

And they need to have faith in the ability of their team to learn and grow. There's no point planning a project team by assigning the roles to experienced specialists, only to discover that when it's time to start none are available. What can you do? Give up, or gather the best team you can and fill the gaps by improvisation.

They also need to be risk-takers. All worthwhile projects involve substantial risk, vene if it's just the risk to reputation that would follow from failure and the opportunity cost of other things that could have been done instead. The exclusion of all risk would make projects impossible to start. Good risk-takers are hard to find, of course; you don't want to mistake blind insensibility to danger for courage.

At a practical level, pessimism can be useful too: if there are important deadlines, best to look at progress with a negative attitude. But pessimism is often accompanied by despair: project managers have to believe that their actions can make a difference, that the world is perfectable, that salvation can be grasped.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Coping with the crunch: hard times are coming

It isn't yet clear whether we are currently going through an adjustment, a correction, a downturn, or a recession, but what is clear is that the good times are over for development. In this post I want to highlight some of the likely effects of a worsening economic climate on the practice of archaeology in the UK.

1 Less development means less archaeology. Housing is the first sector to be hit, but that will have a knock-on effect on infrastructure schemes and minerals; a poor economy will reduce the appetite for shop and industrial constructions; government income will fall and so capital projects will be curtailed. There will be fewer developments, and those that do go ahead will pay much more attention to marginal costs: it may be worthwhile reconfiguring a design to avoid triggering expensive archaeological mitigation works. 'Bonus' aspects of work like educational, display or publication will come under pressure if they are not a core planning requirement. Competition between archaeological contractors will increase, with a focus on price as the determinant.

2 Developers are exposed. Some will fail. Projects with phased programmes may see later phases stalled or abandoned. If they run out of money, some archaeological contractors won't get paid. Some companies will go bankrupt.

3 Archaeological employment will get harder. One way or another, a significant proportion of the current archaeological workforce will become surplus to requirements. The job marketplace will be full of people trying to get on board the surviving companies. In general, mobility of employment will increase, and as a result companies will draw back from long-term training and investment in staff development.

4 Curators will become laxer. When different planning authorities feel that they are competing against their neighbours to attract the few developers with money to invest in the local economy, they will be reluctant to 'put them off' by stringent conditions; the result will be a Dutch auction where L.A.s try to minimise the entry costs.

To summarise, if you're not worried you're not paying attention. The economic downturn threatens to wipe out many of the advances in commercial archaeological practice, if the profession lets it, and we know how good it is at looking after its interests.

But what can you do? I think the key first step is to reconsider the extent to which the interests of you and your employer coincide. How likely is it that in five years time, the company will still exists, and you will still be working for it?

How to protect your career

Get accredited. Get round to joining the IFA, or upgrading your membership. Go on accredited training courses. You need to have a portfolio of qualifications and experience that will make sense to other companies. This may mean you have to spend your own money. Do so.

Get noticed. Talk at conferences. Go to conferences and talk to other participants. Write articles for The Archaeologist, CBA Newsletter etc. Join the regional IFA group and go to meetings. This may mean you have to invest your own time. Do so.

Get ready to go. Think about other employers: what would you like your next job to be? Are there loose ends (old projects, publications) that you need to sort out? Update your cv and your CPD log. Get in touch with contacts elsewhere.

Pay attention. Listen out for economic forecasts, business news; check your company's financial statements. If you can jump ship three months before it all goes wrong, you'll be able to choose where you end up. If not, not.

How to protect your company

Prevention is better than cure, and the safest and best way to weather a recession is to ensure that your employer survives intact.

Deliver for your clients. On time, on cost, on quality. At least it won't be your fault if it all goes wrong. Just hope they've got another project coming along soon.

Don't exceed the task. Either by overperfoming the spec or by undertaking work in advance of formal instruction. Anything you do that doesn't get paid for is a cost the company will have to bear, if it can.

Be competitive. It's hard to insist on quality if others are charging less, but in the long run, there is only room for one cheap and cheerful bargain contractor. If that isn't going to be you, stick to quality.

Don't be proud. If another contractor wins a dig in your own office car park, live with it rather than revise your costing to make sure you do the work. If the work isn't making you money, it's a bad thing to be doing it.

Don't be sentimental. Managers have to sack people. It's their job. Keeping people on without paid work for them to do is a path to certain disaster: the company will fold and everyone will be out of a job.

Reduce waste. Try to minimise machine hire costs, travel, consumables, cabin hire ... the less money spent on these, the more there is for wages.

And in general:

keep positive!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

What not to say at a client meeting


Your unit's evaluation has revealed well-preserved stratigraphy on the development site; there is a real possibility that the archaeological impact of the proposal will be enough for the application to be refused. So what should you say? Or more to the point, not say?

Well at least we managed to resolve the question of when the Town Ditch was finally filled in.

They don't care. It's not their job to care, and they don't. You're not there to sell archaeology; you're there to advise your clients. Even if you've spent the last ten years worrying about exactly this issue, now is not the time to say so. Tell you client, instead, that the evaluation has performed its function but has left them with a possible problem.

Perhaps you could get Professor Withington to comment?

Well, yes, if you want them to think that you don't know what you're doing or what you've found. Most developers will at some point have come across a local professor with no understanding of the planning process and an axe to grind (hydrology, bats, electromagnetism) and they will hardly jump for joy at the suggestion. It is in any case a bad move: the credibility of 'authorities' in a public forum may dissolve under astute questioning ("When did you last consult the SMR?" is a good one), and for all you know he has been writing mad letters to the council since the Thatcher era. Even if you do think he may have something to say, he should be YOUR advisor, not your clients. If he is advising your clients, what are they paying you for?

The archaeology is too precious: you'll have to re-think.

Sometimes you do have to say this. But under the present framework, it's up to the planners to say this, not you, most of the time. The judgement of whether preservation by record is an appropriate response is always a finely balanced one.

I'm sure you'll get permission

Don't say this unless you really are sure. Your clients are used to the vagaries of the planning process, and ill-advised certainty at this point brings potential liability (they may go around taking up options on leases on the basis that the development will be going ahead).

What you should say

Provide a forward plan: what's next? Meeting the case officer's a good place to start.
Look at contingency plans.
Suggest changes to design to minimise risk and cost.

Above all: be the advisor they want: be clear, well informed, judicial, and open.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Commercial archaeology and the ethics of development

"These are my principles - and if you don't like them, well, I have others" - Groucho Marx.

Archaeologists have a very strong ethical sense. Despite what Indiana Jones and Bonekickers imply, it's not about the fame or the treasure: it's about the Knowledge. Having signed up to the disinterested service of knowledge, archaeologists are hypercritical of any of their colleagues who appears to be swayed by other concerns. It is hardly surprising, then, that the development of commercial archaeology has involved some self-analysis, soul-searching and mud-slinging. Especially the mud-slinging: it is slightly bewildering to see the debate about the merits of the IfA as a professional body which seems to judge its performance solely on its ability to police and punish those whose practice falls below the required standard. It is important, granted, but there are other things to consider.

I have commented on the impact of PPG16 in the UK on archaeological attitudes before: the present, over-prescriptive, over-curated, arrangements for developer-funded work can be seen as a response to the deep distrust of a situation where financial or other pressure might push excavators into misrepresenting their findings.

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to

Humbert Wolfe

Irish archaeology is now in the process of commercialisation, and this has led to similar issues being raised. Maggie Ronayne has published a lengthy paper (pdf) in the journal Public Archaeology reflecting on the archaeological response to the M3 motorway and its effect on Tara and other sites. Her argument can be summarised as: an inadequate supervisory framework for the archaeological investigation, put in place by metaphorically and literally corrupt politicians, and implemented by metaphorically corrupt government archaeologists, led to fieldwork of varying standards by well-meaning individual archaeologists whose results were watered down to ensure that the development proceeded as intended. Specifically she draws on the experience of her sister, who was a licensee for part of the evaluation (p. 121), who hoped that if enough important archaeology were to be found on the route "it might stop the motorway".

Similar statements have been made about the Thornborough Henges, the Rose Theatre, and the A34 Newbury bypass. They are based on a misconception of the role of the archaeologist in assessing impact. The archaeologist is being asked to determine what the imopact might be, by characterising the nature of the archaeological resource affected, and assigning a value of significance to that resource and the level of impact. The conclusion of a study may be (as it was with the M3 initial desk-based assessment) that the proposal would have major impacts on very important archaeological sites. But that is not to say that the development should proceed. The relative weighting given to archaeology alongside other factors (such as economic benefits, ecology, and employment) is not an archaeological question: it is a question for the wider community, society, or their appointed or elected representatives. Ronayne argues that the local community's wishes were ignored: that is a democratic deficit, not an archaeological one.

The question most often arises at the field evaluation stage, when developers ask nervously "Is it important? Nationally important? Will it be Scheduled?": to which the answer is usually "Yes, maybe, no". The recent news that 20% of Scheduled Monuments are already at risk suggests that even if the answer to the last question is "Yes" there may be wiggle room. In many ways it would be easier to manage the resource coherently if protection were more draconian: it would certainly be easier to advise clients if the position were clearer. PPG16 starts form the point that preservation in situ is the preferred option; preservation by record may be an acceptable alternative. This results in the paradoxical situation where mediocre archaeology found on development sites is carefully protected while sites like Stonehenge are dug up by students as part of a media exercise.

It remains the case that the ascription of value is the most important and most contentious part of any evaluation exercise. It is generally poor tactics for a developer to seek to underplay the archaeological value affected, since it calls into question the validity of the evaluation exercise: it is much better to say "yes, it's important, I realise that: this is what I want to do about it". Which is not to say that there aren't silly developers who think that they can override any concerns by shouting loud enough or relying on political pressure. Although there have been attempts to systematise the assignment of value, it remains a highly individual and subjective process; it is common, for example, for 'sexy' archaeology (Roman and Bronze Age) to be scored higher than industrial and recent sites.

It is best for commercial archaeologists to see themselves as barristers for their clients: sometimes you have to tell them to plead guilty.

Update: Moore Group blog on Ronayne and the M3

Buy 10 simple steps: the book

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Saturday, 14 June 2008

Getting Things Done: review

Coping with chaos without losing your way
Martin Locock

Title: Getting Things Done
How to achieve stress-free productivity
Author: David Allen
Publisher: Piatkus
Price: £10.99
ISBN: 978-0-7499-2264-1

Most management gurus sound a little detached from the reality of the modern workplace, at best providing some evangelical zeal to revive the fire of inspiration in their readers. David Allen isn't like that: he connects with managers' actual concerns: too many tasks and too little time, piles of papers awaiting action, and lists of thing to do that never get ticked off because of interruptions. He argues that your effectiveness as a decision-maker is undermined by the worry and guilt arising from these 'open loops' (incomplete commitments), and his solution is to transfer this load onto paper, where you can see it and manage it. It's a bit more complex than that, but in essence he says that skills of filing and listing lie at the heart of coping with a large and changing workload without stress.

It is refreshing to see a set of rules that embody instinctive truths: the two minute rule that says if it will take less than two minutes to deal with, do it now, and the 'waiting for' file for tasks which cannot progress until someone else has done something, and which can therefore be ignored for now. There are also refreshing hints like: don't just write in your diary 'phone Jean': write her number as well so you don't have to search for it.

This is an enjoyable and inspiring book for anybody who feels that constant change and competing demands for attention have left them lost and ineffective.

[This will appear in Catalyst, Summer 2008]

Buy the book from Amazon

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

IFA conference presentation

Here is the Powerpoint I will be talking through next week at the Annual Conference for Archaeologists in Swansea as part of the Managing Archaeology session sponsored by English Heritage.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Why do good Project Officers make bad Project Managers?

In my Redesigning the pyramid paper I argued that the role of Project Officer was the hardest job in archaeology, owing to the punishing combination of archaeological, supervisory, administrative, legal, and managerial responsibilities, combined with stress, travel, isolation and weather. That is still true, and therefore the aim of the parent organisation should be provide all possible support to assist them.

You might think that somebody who can cope successfully with the Project Officer role would therefore be well-equipped to take on a managerial role with a significant office-based element to the work. It doesn't seem to work that way: often they find the role unrewarding, difficult, tedious, and even more stressful. Partly this may be because the Project Officer has been impelled upwards by a desire for job security, money or status, rather than a desire to become a manager as such. But partly it may be because being a Project Officer is an apprenticeship that teaches some unhelpful lessons.

The Myers-Briggs personality Type Indicator is a widely-used tool to identify the different approaches that people have towards life in general and work in particuler. It has been criticised but remains in use mainly because it is simple and is felt to reflect some real differences within the workforce.

I have devised the following exercise with a similar intent. below are listed a series of pairs of concepts, and you should choose one from each pair that you prefer on the grounds that it is important or easy or something you handle well.

List A < = > List B
Improvisation < = > Planning
Pragmatic < = > Principled
Short-term < = > Long-term
Completion < = > Sustainability
Risk tolerant < = > Risk averse
Innovation < = > Maintenance
Flexible < = > Programmed

If you have a background in successful project work, you are likely to have chosen answer A in most or all cases; the B answers sound at best irrelevant and sometimes actively negative. This is a natural result of the tunnel vision that project work encourages: focus on delivering the key targets to the exclusion of all else is (in that context) exactly what is required. But managers are expected to take a broader view: there are times when a project has to take a hit for the benefit of the organisation a a whole. Improvisational responses may, with the side-effect of exhaustion and panic, deliver successful management, but in the long term (aha!) a more structured and considered planned approach is needed. It is sometimes said that the job of managers is to tell their staff things they don't want to hear; there will be a tension between the managers' priorities and those of others. The conflict between 'site' and 'HQ' that seems an unavoidable part of archaeology reflects this: the Project Officer will want three more days to finish sampling, while being told to close the site so the team can move on to the next site and the invoices can go in.

So part of becoming a manager involves re-orientating your attitudes towards the interests of the organisation as a whole rather than your team and your projects. It is hardly surprising that this takes time: some senior managers never quite get there

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Annotated book list

A Manager's Guide to Self Development by Mike Pedler, John Burgoyne, and Tom Boydell
Buy it from Amazon

Primers on a wide range of activities and tools, framed within a programme of self assessment and review. Although the chapters contain example exercises, the further reading recommended will be needed to pursue a topic in earnest; it is an excellent way to get a feel for the issues as an introduction.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan Pease and Barbara Pease
Buy it from Amazon

Although presented in a chatty and populist format, this contains a lot of interesting insights into non-verbal communication. Many of their explanations for the origins of behaviour are derived from simplistic evolutionary and sociobiological determinism, but this does not devalue their observation and analysis.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Buy it from Amazon

Discussed elsewhere: but in summary, well worth buying. I have carried it around with me for months, telling anyone who'll listen about the almost magical powers of the Two Minute Rule (if something takes less than 2 minutes, do it straight away; if not, put it on the list), the Waiting For list (tasks which you can take no action on until someone else does something, and which, therefore, there is no point you thinking about), Next Actions (listing not a big nebulous project like 'buy a house' but the immediate next step, like 'go to an estate agent'), and Agendas (places to note down things you need to say to people when you think of them). It really will change your life, leaving your mind clear to think and your time free to do stuff, not organise stuff.

[fuller review here]

The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
Buy it from Amazon

Simple, painless to read advice intended mainly for people managers in offices. The three secrets of the One Minute Manager are setting and agreeing goals, praising good performance, and reprimanding poor performance, within the context of a one minute conversation. A good reminder that leaving people to get on with their work is not the best approach.

Managing Archaeology edited by M A Cooper, A Firth, J Carman and D Wheatley
Buy it from Amazon

Collected papers from sessions on management and archaeology from the TAG 1992 and IFA 1993 conferences. Includes case studies from English Heritage, MOLAS and GGAT, but half the volume is concerned with archaeological resource management and related issues, so there is less emphasis on project management than might be expected.

... and finally
10 simple steps to better archaeological management by Martin Locock

The book of the blog: details here.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Good and bad Powerpoint

There are people who hate Powerpoint because it leads to boring talks (see Death by Powerpoint). I think it's more likely that boring talkers lead to boring talks, but certainly getting the best from it as a presentation medium takes a bit of work.

Is Powerpoint the right format? Why not just talk? Or use slides? Do you have time to put it together? If you're in a hurry, concentrate on deciding what you're going to say, not what it looks like.

Some people like to write out a talk in full and then read it out. This is less effective than a well-executed extempore talk, but much better than a bad one. If you are nervous, read. Reading a text is skill: the key rules are to slow down, leave spaces, leave room for asides that occur to you at the time, and make sure that it is written as a talk: pompous prose sounds terrible when read out.

Almost all talks end up too long. Ideally your planned presentation should run for 75% of the time you have been given: this will allow you to add stuff as you go along. There is a persistent belief that a talk that runs for 40 minutes when practised the night before can magically turn into a 20 minute talk on the day. It can't. If you don't want to run out of time halfway through your second point, you will need to prune the introduction drastically.

If you are going to use Powerpoint, you need to think about delivery. One of the reasons that Powerpoint presentations end up dull is because the speaker talks to the screen with their back to the audience, or sits at the side or the back of the hall. This means that they lose eye contact with their audience and cannot project their voices. You should (if given the choice) stand at the front, facing the audience, to one side of the screen, so that you can see people and they can see you. Be careful if you turn towards the screen or move away from a microphone, because you won't be heard. Your posture should be relaxed so that your voice can resonate, rather than stiff. If you have the slightest inclination to nervously jangle your keys or coins while you talk, it is a good idea to empty your pockets beforehand.

Use F5 Slideshow and the space bar to advance: if you use the mouse you will be trying to use that rather than paying attention to the audience.

I have compiled some advice on content in a Powerpoint Go to Slideshare to see the presentation.

This link might work too:

Sources for sign generators:
Sign generator (book covers)
RedKen (alphabet soup)
Hetemeel (Einstein)
Atom Smasher (computer error messages)
ImageGenerator (MS Office paperclip)

Powerpoint when well-used can be a very effective tool, so it's worth spending some time on.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Copyright for archaeologists

I am still not a lawyer.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good advice on copyright from The Intellectual Property Office.

Ways of managing your Intellectual Property Rights issues

1. Head in the sand

"We don't have any IPR issues because we're just doing research"
"We redraw the OS base maps so we don't have to worry"
"We've never really thought about it"

If you're not worried about IPR then you're not paying attention.
If you are creating or using text, images or data, on paper or electronically, you have IPR issues: maybe you just don't know it yet.

2. Hope for the best

"Nobody's ever complained"
"It's good advertising for them anyway"
"We don't sell our reports commercially"
"It's out of print"

In many ways this is a worse position than the first one: you sort of know that there is an issue and you shouldn't really be doing what you are doing, but can't be bothered to do it properly. IPR litigation is a growth industry; rights holders employ teams of lawyers whose sole job is to track down and fine hapless misusers. Do you feel lucky? Are you sure?

Some clarity about copyright

"My reports are research so I can include copies of maps" WRONG

Copyright law changed in 2003 to amend the old phrasing which allowed copying for 'private study or research': it became explicitly limited to non-commercial research.

‘Commercial’ is a broader term than ‘profit-making’. ‘Commercial’ is in practice synonymous with ‘directly or indirectly income-generating’. It is also clear that the purpose at the time the request for a copy is made is what is important and so some genuinely unforeseen income at a much later date is not relevant to the question. Your intention at the time must be unambiguously non-commercial.
When deciding whether or not something is commercial or non-commercial, is it the proposed use of the copies or the nature of the requesting organisation that is the decisive factor?
As mentioned above, the purpose for which the copies are required is the decisive factor. This will mean that non-profit institutions will need to obtain permission for some copying ...

Copyright Licensing Agency notes on changes to UK Copyright Law

You should still be able to obtain copies of maps for your own use, but if you are paid for putting the report together, by any mechanism, you will need a licence from the copyright holder to include them.

"If it's submitted as part of the planning process the report is in the public domain" HALF WRONG

There are two different meanings to the term 'public domain'. There is a general meaning of 'not confidential', 'open to public scrutiny'; this is true, of course. The planning process is a public process, and reports will be available. Even where report commissioners seek to control access, public bodies may well under FOI or the Environmenatl Information Regulations have to provide access to them. But this is access, to view and read, not to copy. The second meaning, of 'not copyright protected', is a US legal concept which has no direct application in the UK.

"Information wants to be free" DEBATABLE

Information users certainly want data to be free, but then they would say that. Users are in no position to dictate. The question that has to be asked is whether the information creators want it to be free. They have invested time and resources into creating it; they may feel that, having been paid by someone once, they can release it to the benefit of the world. Or not.

It is interesting to note that the most vociferous advocates of 'free' data are HERs wanting to collect the reports submitted to them into a digital treasure trove, yet they are the ones who are most restrictive about what people can do with their data. (see for example the recent Data Protecion Act thread on HER Forum).

It's an estate map from the 19th century: it can't be in copyright. HALF RIGHT

Old manuscript maps probably are out of copyright (although 70 years after the death of the creator might catch some young surveyor's work in the 1880s), unless they were transcribed later (in the 1930s). But if they are held in an archive, you will also need permission to reproduce the photographic image of the map, which may still be in copyright. If it has been published since 1945 it may be out of copyright: photographic copyright is complicated.

I bought an old postcard, so I own the copyright. WRONG

No you don't. It may be out of copyright, but if it's in copyright, having a copy of it confers no rights on you.

Crown copyright means it's public. WRONG

Crown copyright means that its protection runs for 50 years.

I write the report for my unit. It's my copyright HALF RIGHT

Copyright belongs in the first instance to the creator. Unless, that is, you were doing the creating as part of your employment, in which case it is automatically transferred to them (good contracts of employment say so explicitly). There is a slight grey area if you created say a popular guidebook in your own time based on data from your day job. Freelance workers would hold the copyright and would have to explicitly transfer it to the commissioner if they wanted to own it.

One unexplored complexity is that copyright duration is determined by the creator's death date, even if they no longer hold the copyright. Good record keeping long into the future is a necessity to allow rights to be managed.

It may not be my copyright, but I still have moral rights RIGHT

The main moral rights (which are inalienable and held by the creator (only)) are attribution and protection from derogatory treatment. Attribution is the right to be identified as the author; this right must be asserted. Protection from derogatory treatment provides some recourse for uses which are contrary to the creator's wishes. The case law fro this is weak and contradictory.

Joint copyright solves problems. WRONG

Joint copyright (between several authors or between an author and a publisher) makes problems, because the permission of ALL owners is needed to allow re-use.

I can use a photo from a book because it's a good advert so people will buy it WRONG

It may be a good advert. But nobody appointed you as their agent, and you will not get anywhere by arguing you did it for their benefit, when you should have been asking. Politely. With your chequebook out.

I've traced off the OS map, but the new map is mine. WRONG

If it is derived from OS data, it's still theirs. Only if you can demonstrate not only that you could create an equivalent image using no OS data, but actually did so, are you safe.

OS data is public data: I've paid already in my taxes. WRONG

The Ordnance Survey is self-funding: its survey work on behalf of the government and everybody else is paid for by its licensing and products.


This is for general information purposes and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice. You should seek specific legal advice in relation to any particular matter.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Contract law for archaeologists

I am not a lawyer.

I am not a lawyer, but.

I am not a lawyer, but I have spent many unhappy hours drafting, negotiating and finalising contracts, and dealing with the fallout when disputes arise.

And that is the point, of course: with a healthy relationship between the parties, the contract can be signed and forgotten about. There is a temptation for people who have had problematic projects in the past to add on clauses to attempt to pre-empt issues. But there is no correlation (in my experience) between the length and complexity of the contract, the scale and nature of the project, and the eventual satifactoriness of the outcome: small simple projects with long contracts have ended in interminable correspondence and court actions, while big complex projects agreed by exchange of letters have turned out fine.

At one stage the IFA issued a model contract for archaeological work but it proved hard to implement in practice, because developers would shrink at a 30 page document of dense and complex provisions which they couldn't understand, let alone agree, which (it turned out) contained some decidedly unusual arrangements for stewardship of the finds (ownership was handed to the excavators). This model contract is no longer publicised.

It is much better for a contract to reflect the desired substance of the agreement sought. It need not be written in complex language (in fact it need not be written at all, although as Sam Goldwyn said, a verbal [meaning oral] contract isn't worth the paper it's written on). It is worth emphasising that contracts are supposed to be a tool to provide clarity and certainty, and should be drafted with that in mind.

What is a contract?

A contract is an agreement which can be enforced by the courts. Most contract law practice in the UK is covered by common law rather than statute.

There are three necessary elements to a contract:

offer and acceptance (some evidence that the parties have agreed)

consideration (the goods or services and payments to be exchanged (in UK common law a contract must involve an exchange not just a transfer from one party to the other))

an intention to create legal relations (some evidence that the parties wanted to be bound by the contract)

If one of the parties breaches the contract by failing to perform their duties, teh courts can require them to do so. Until recently it was arguable whether any interested parties who were not signatories to the contract could enforce its provisions, but they now can unless the contract explicitly prevents them (Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.

Whose contract?

The choice of contract has to be agreed. This can lead to long arguments if both parties have standard contracts they use; eventually somebody has to give in. Some terms (covering copyright, for example) may not be negotiable and the signatory wil have to decide whether to enter into an agreement which does not reflect their preferred arrangements.

If there is no contract, or no agreeable contract, a simple one can be devised. The disadvantage of this is that the wording may be loose and open to interpretation and some important issues may not be covered. On the other hand, interpretation will be based on what a 'reasonable man [sic]' would have understood by the terms.

Key requirements to a new contract are:

Defining the parties

Particular care is needed when delaing with agents and shell companies: in general the landowner should be the signatory.


Define the tasks , goods and services to be supplied.

Obligations of supplier

State the delivery and acceptance arrangements and any quality thresholds.


The programme should be described. This should be broad enough to allow the agreement to cover works even if delayed for some time; otherwise the terms of the contact may not cover them.


The payment arrangements, and any stage payments and invoice payment period should be stated (rather than included as a unilateral statement on an invoice form). VAT should be explicitly covered.

Terms and conditions

If you have standard terms, they can be written into the contract to form part of it. If both parties do this, it will be necessary to check carefully to see whether there are any provisions in conflict. Note that the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 provides some protection for a party who accepts the other's standard terms.


Somebody sufficiently senior to commit the orginsiation should sign; care is needed with parties who are not landowners. There is no need to sign at the same time. Two copies should be signed, one retained by each party.


Any documentation cited in the contract should be appended as a schedule: this eliminates any doubt about versions.

Contracts and business relationships

Having a clear contract can be seen as a form of deterrence: it shouldn't be needed because it's there. It may take some time to finalise a contract, but you should NEVER start work without some form of instruction to proceed. Archaeologists are helpful people and will want to get on with the work, especially if they have made arrangements for plant and staffing for a particular date. But if you start before the client says so, you are labelling yourself as a naif who can be exploited at will.

Similarly if the client disputes an invoice you must be prepared to suspend work until it is resolved, even if this causes you considerable inconvenience.

On a positive note, you should remember that the primary duty of care your organisation owes is to your client, who should be the first, not the last, to hear of your results (even if, according to the IFA Code of Approved Practice for the Regulation of Contractual Arrangements, your personal primary duty is to the archaeological resource).

This is for general information purposes and is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice. You should seek specific legal advice in relation to any particular matter.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Failing projects 3: saving your own project

The previous section dealt with saving a project from outside. But what if it's your project, and you're beginning to recognise the warning signs?

Don't panic, act

or rather

Don't act, think

Have you really got a problem? It is notoriously difficult to predict how much longer an excavation will take. The best way to visualise the timescale is to think that if you stopped digging now, and all you did was record, sample, and close down the site, how many weeks would it take? If your project is in any sort of trouble and nearly halfway through, the answer is likely to be "most of the remaining time". Which means that, unless something dramatic changes, you have very limited scope for further excavation if it is to be dealt with properly. And so the answer is "Yes- you have really got a problem".

This may be a deeply troubling revelation; on the other hand, you should take some comfort in the fact that maybe you can do something about it.

Am I to blame?

The honest answer is "perhaps", but that's not important right now. It may be that the tasking and resources were so mismatched that equating the two was completely impossible. That's not your fault (unless you did the estimating). Or it may be that you were treating the stratigraphy carefully hoping that there would be time to deal with the whole sequence that way. It may be you were unlucky with the weather. But whatever it was, just leave it. The important thing is how you react now; delivering projects when it's easy is easy; it's the hard stuff that's hard to do.

If at first you don't succeed, review your success criteria

Re-read the spec and brief to remind yourself what the key interests are and what you are committed to delivering. You may find that a problematic recent feature can be ignored, or left in situ. Or that full excavation is not expected. There are a lot of clauses about variations and unexpected discoveries which may provide a way out.


If you can't deliver the narrowly-defined success criteria, you'll need to negotiate with your client and curator. Complete honesty is vital to this process: in most circumstances an extension can be agreed, but if the site still ins't finished then you will be stuck.

Pass the buck

Your managers are paid more than you, because they are responsible for your projects among others. Most of the time this is a hands-off role that involves them in little more than tracking and the occasional flying visit. But their most important role is when things go wrong: they are the cavalry. Call them. Tell them you're stuck and need help. If they understand their job, you will find that it ceases to be your problem and has become a company problem.

Tell your team

Keep your staff informed as the strategy changes, explaining the thinking behind it. Do NOT blame it all on head office or the developer or the curator. You should present it as your plan. If you can't do this then you shouldn't be on site any longer: go on holiday. There will inevitably be objections about whether it is proper to depart from conventional archaeological practice. Face them head on.

Don't spread despair

One definition of leadership is "transference of emotion".* What emotion will you be transferring to your team? If you spend your time bemoaning the past, criticising your bosses, and doubting whether the work can be finished, they will end up too depressed to work effectively. The role of the field officer always involves the difficult balancing act of representing the office to the site team and the site to the office staff. This becomes even harder when projects start to go wrong. But don't give in and stay positive.

My indecision is final**

Even the best people need to be told what to do. The worst, even more so. You should expect to be asked at regular intervals all through the day, every day, what needs doing next, how, who by. If you're not being asked that doesn't mean that you're safe. It probably means people are choosing themselves, and they are probably unaware of the wider picture. Nothing destroys a team's morale quicker than uncertainty at the centre (even making wrong decisions is better). If you find yourself saying "I'll have to think about it" more than twice in a day, you need to do some planning. The best solution in the short term is to spend half an hour in the evening, at home in peace and quiet, making a list of the next tasks to follow completion of the current ones. Then if inspiration fails, use the list. All of a sudden it will look like you know what you're doing.


"The fundamental task of leaders... is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance a reservoir of positivity that unleashes the best in people." Publisher's Weekly review of Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee.

My Indecision is Final by Jake Eberts is an account of the death of the British film industry.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Failing projects 2: How to save a failing project

This section is written under the assumption that you are the office-based manager of a project team led by a field officer and the project appears to be failing. If you are the field officer, see part 3.

Houston, we've got a problem

The first step you need to take it to recognise that there is a serious problem. Accept it. If you spend all your time complaining that it isn't going as planned, you will not be in a positive enough state to drive through any improvement.

We are where we are

If saving projects was easy, none would fail. There are losses; some will be irrecoverable; not all outcomes will be achieved. You should be thinking about damage limitation: what are the key outcomes? How could we get there from here? It is important to remember that whatever you plan, it will probably have to be delivered by the existing team, the team which is already performing poorly. If they have taken 50% of the time and resources to do only 40% of the work, you have two problems: there's 60% of the work still to do, and at the current rate that will take 75% of the available time.

Do something now

Every week of underperforming creates a bigger problem to be addressed. Minor changes early on may do as much as drastic actions later.

"Do" and "Don't"

Don't tell them it's easy

There is no point saying that you could do it quicker or better, or somebody else could. They are finding it hard; unless you are intending to actually do the work yourself, the fact that you could do it standing on your head is irrelevant.

Don't apportion blame: leave the autopsy until the patient is dead

There is a time and place to work out what went wrong. Surrounded by frazzled staff who have been quietly panicking about how it is going isn't one of them. Save it for the post-project review, which will usually conclude that decisions were made with the best intentions in the circumstances as they appeared at the time.

The review may well show that the problems were caused by a combination of bad research, bad planning, overoptimistic costing, remote management, bad luck and bad weather, as well as project implementation. Often such problems only become obvious at the fieldwork stage, but that doesn't mean that's what caused them.

But even if it is true that the fault lies with the field team, who are no doubt demoralised and unmotivated, telling them this is hardly likely to inspire them.

Don't tidy up

You could clean up the cabins and tool stores and make the site look a bit smarter. But it won't help: although a dirty site is a symptom of a failing team, the obverse isn't true. The problems with the team need to be addressed if anything is going to change.

Don't work overtime and weekends

The extra work done won't compensate for the administrative and logistical problems caused, and productively in core hours will suffer.

Maybe send people on holiday

This will be good for them, and good for the site, since it provides a break which will alter the team dynamics. It's actually a good plan to include a break in projects on purpose: the need to hand over to someone else is a very good discipline.

Maybe replace the field officer

This might seem the obvious solution, but it is fraught with difficulties. For a start, it seems to personalise the issue into a matter of their competence. It will probably irreversibly damage their working relationships in the future. And it will be resented by the staff (paradoxically, this is true even if they have spent the last month complaining about how useless they are), the staff you are hoping to lead forward to success.

Maybe provide more staff or more time

Again this may seem an obvious solution. But throwing more resources into the mix will have little effect unless the fundamental problems are addressed; in no time any new staff will have gone native and be just as unproductive as the rest. And adding a few weeks to the project may be felt to be extending the prison sentence.

Even if this doesn't happen, there's likely to be friction between old and new staff, especially if the new members have been labelled as 'the ones who are coming to sort it out'.

Do make hard decisions

In general, problems arise because people defer hard decisions, rather than because they choose wrong. But archaeologists will be understandably reluctant to depart from accepted methodology. If you are going to abandon stone-by-stone planning, the decision should be made by the senior archaeologist involved, after careful thought. The team may well be reluctant: it is important to explain to them the rationale, not just the outcome.

Do support your field officer

Help them by smoothing any practical issues, listening to their views, respecting their opinions. And make sure you are available and visit site often: long distance management only works when projects are running well.

Do talk to the team

Give them information about the background to the project, what your priorities are, and how they fit in. They should be made to feel part of the company, even if they are only there for a single site.

Do listen to the team

You never know, you might learn something.

Redesigning the pyramid: archaeological management 10 years ago

Martin Locock "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), pp. 208-215.

Click on an image to see a bigger version.

Copyright Martin Locock. Published here under the Creative Commons Attribution/ Non commercial / Share alike licence.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Failing projects: 1 - identification

So how do you spot a failing project?

Although this question is framed as if it were about the project, it is really about the project team. Some projects will fail because they are too big, too complex, or too under-resourced to achieve their aims despite the best efforts of a fully functioning team. Here the issue is rather: how do you spot when a project threatens to fail even though it should succeed?

Teams are astonishing flexible and powerful. Humans are by nature social animals; if you put people in a room and give them a task they will become a team. As Big Brother has shown, this may not be a pleasant or wholly positive process: the missing element in the House is leadership. Most failing teams reflect a failure of leadership. There are a lot of warning signs indicating that such failure is imminent.

Site visit to a failing project

  • Workers will be focused on specific tasks or areas, reluctant to share equipment or lend staff

What this reflects is a lack of belief in the project as a whole. It isn't necessarily a conscious effort to avoid blame.

  • Untidy tool store, site and cabins

People feel too busy or too tired to do anything that isn't their direct responsibility: it's easier just to leave the rubbish on the chair or put the tools away dirty.

  • Minor accidents, incorrect or incomplete records

People who feel under pressure won't have their usual air of calm competence.

  • Minor sickness, lateness and slowness

One of the prime motivators is feeling that you can't let your team down by not playing your part: so these symptoms reflect that the central identity of the team is weak.

  • Poor morale and working relationships

Arguments are to be expected when people work together, but in normal circumstances they would be brief and soon forgotten. One common phenomenon is the developemnt of a strong site v office antipathy where senior managers are seen as the enemy.

It will be apparent that 10 minutes of wandering around the site and talking to a couple of the team will probably be enough to assess these warning signs. It should perhaps be emphasised that although it is often said that conditions like the weather or the nature of the work are responsible for poor morale, this isn't true: an enthused team will cope with an adverse situation positively.

Talking to the team leader (Project Officer/ Project Manager)

The team leader will be aiming to deliver a successful project completed on time. They will normally do their best to avoid admitting to uncertainty. Phrases such as "I'm not sure ...", "I don't know ... "and "I can't decide ... " should be taken as red flags that they have reached the point where they are no longer able to take effective decisions. This is usually because they feel swamped by the work to be done and therefore cannot plan ahead. Another warning phrase is the reponse, when asked for the likely completion date for a task, is "As long as it takes"or "I can't tell". This is not because people should be able to predict the future accurately, but rather because it's telling you they haven't even got a plan for how it might work out.

When people get to this state they cannot prioritise effectively, but more importantly they cannot direct the team, who will sense whether their leader has a grasp on the project.

Action is needed ... but what? See part 2.

Transform your company with "10 simple steps"

The project management skills of your company’s staff are critical to its success. Improving them will have an immediate impact on project delivery and reliability as well as on motivation. Most generic management training is expensive and hard to apply to the specifics of the archaeological sector, and employers are sceptical of its direct benefits.

The one-day workshop, 10 simple steps to better archaeological management , is different. Aimed at senior and middle managers in archaeological organisations, it provides a mixture of practical tips, analysis of current practice, and opportunities for discussion and reflection, which will leave them ready to face the challenges of their work with a new enthusiasm and insight.

Issues covered include: communication, image, cost, risk, health and safety, and specific management tools.

If your company needs better results from its projects, you should invest in this course. It can be delivered at your workplace or in a nearby venue, at a cost of £400 for the event. Contact me at mlocockATgmailDOTcom to discuss this further.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Good enough is good enough

I sometimes describe myself as a recovering perfectionist. I used to go to enormous lengths to ensure that every letter, report, or set of minutes was not just clear and promptly produced, but also well laid out without spelling or grammatical errors (or their increasingly-common near-equivalents, keyboard mistakes). In some circumstances this was the right approach: you don't want an advert for your new website to show the wrong url; but there is little doubt that I spent more time on these tasks than I would if I were content to tolerate minor faults.

There was a time when critical readers of reports would highlight such errors as if their presence cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence and interpretation presented. This was never, strictly speaking, fair (the process of converting handwritten manuscript into printed text involved many stages and multiple hands), and has become obsolete. These days readers are unlikely to complain about minor mistakes in web content, as long as the text is helpful and errors, once notified, are corrected. It is churlish to complain (as some do) about the low standards of academic rigour and syntax in blog entries, considering that the writers have spent their time and trouble to create them without hope of reward beyond the gratitude (if any) of their readers (if any).

The whole notion of living in perpetual beta, where you expose material you know to be incomplete or containing errors, is hard for many to accept. Hence you still find the die-hard emailers who insist on using the formatting and syntax which was appropriate to formal business correspondence 40 years ago. It is, alas, futile to object that their use of "your letter of even date", "submitted for your consideration", and "under separate cover" is as baffling to their recipients as breathless uncapitalised under-punctuated text-speak is to them.

Which is not to say that we should abandon all hope of precision. But often perfectionism is a tactic to conceal ignorance about hat is important and what is not. Like the actor who said that he didn't care what lies the newspapers told about him as long as they spelled his name right, we should spned more time ensuring that the conclusion and summary of a report are correct and clear, rather than proofreading the context catalogue.

[Incidentally, the prevalence of spellcheck and autocorrect functions is changing the sort of mistake that commonly escapes correction: because 'their' and 'there' are both plausible words that appear in the dictionary, they are becoming effectively interchangeable - in 20 years' time the grammatical niceties of their use will seem as quaint as rarified debates about split infinitives seem now.]

Focusing on the important stuff is a good thing in the office: it is vital on site. In a way, it is easy to dig a site properly: you start at the top with your trowel and toothbrush and keep digging down until you hit natural. But unless time and resources are unlimited, this approach will not work; instead, the topsoil will have been lovingly removed, each residual ploughzone find carefully recorded, and the henge or cemetery or villa will not have been reached.

The main reason that experienced excavators work faster than newcomers isn't because they can use the tools well, or because they are fit: it is that they know which tools to use, how fast to go. If you watch one at work you will see they continually switch from mattock to trowel to leaf to mattock as their confidence in the stratigraphy ebbs and flows. Equally, at a project level the specification will identify the key elements of the resource to be examined. Whatever the truth about The Digger's story of machine stripping of medieval stratigraphy, it is possible to acknowledge that in theory such an approach might be justified: I write as a member of the select club, along with Philip Barker, of those archaeologists who have dug a section through medieval town defences using a Hymac. Such actions can be defended if they provided the evidence required, regardless of their apparent brutality.

Such a defence is, of course, undermined if it turns out that the information you were so keen to retrieve is then left to moulder in obscurity for years. Prompt dissemination is fundamental to the development of archaeological thinking -- the perfectionist's definitive account is all too likely to emerge 30 years after the debate they wished to illuminate has been settled once and for all by others with lower standards and faster publication schedules.

So before getting out a red pen to edit a report, remind yourself: good enough is good enough.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Delegation and succession planning

There is a word for the sort of organisation with one key member of staff, in whose absence the whole thing grinds to a halt: doomed. In the short term, they will take holidays, sick leave, attend meetings; and in the long term they will leave or retire. A good warning sign is how often someone who is out of the office is phoned on their mobile.

This often happens because a dependency culture has grown up (perhaps unconciously reinforced by the key manager who insists on doing everything). A healthy organisation should be able to cope with temporary staff absences; if yours can't, you should be looking at sharing skills and knowledge more widely.

Getting the most from external training

So you've got past the reasons not to train and are about to go into the outisde world. How can you ensure that you benefit as much as possible from the opportunity?

One way you will benefit is by coming back inspired. This may not in fact because you have learnt a lot; time away from the office and its day-to-day crises is very refreshing in itself, and it is also a good chance to think about thorny long term issues. It is worth taking some reading or writing that you have been putting off delaing with 'until you get a chance': you may not in fact deal with it, but at least it's there if you feel like it. It is also worth reading the literarture about the event you're attending, so you are clear about arrangements, and can also think about which speakers you wish to hear, which attendees you might want to link up with. This is all 'train work', and needs doing, but it is also important to arrive fresh and energetic, so you needn't feel guilty if an early start has left you unable to do more than read the paper on the journey.

It is easy to forget that travel and training can be quite hard physical work. It's no surprise that by Day 3 of a conference many attendees are falling asleep. It's a good idea to take water and fruit to suuplment the coffee and biscuits which will no doubt be supplied as a staple. It's alos a good idea to get out into the fresh air: walk in the grounds or a local park rather than attend a session you're not interested in.

And while you will hope that speakers will be clear and interesting and organised, you certainly won't be completely enthralled all the time. Don't beat yourself up about this. Even the worst speaker will probably set off some train of thought (even if it's only "I must make sure my team learn to give talks properly"); I note down such ideas around the edges of the page, with action points marked with a *.

Then on the way back these notes can be reviewed to see whether they make any sense (both as legible text and as intellectual content), and back in the office you can easily work through the action points before filing them.

If you learned stuff, say so. There's nothing more likely to smooth the next application like the demonstrable effectiveness of the previous one.