Friday, 10 December 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from The Last Lecture

Randy Pausch, 2005 image by Kevinull

In 2007, Randy Pausch,  a computer scientist, gave a talk about time management, work, life and everything, conscious that he had an inoperable cancer.  The lecture has been turned into a book The Last Lecture

The lecture is also available on Youtube:

Drawing mainly on the work of Stephen Covey and his own experience, he suggests that changing our priorities will make us mnore effective and happier. The whole thing is worth watching; I'd pick out the folliwng five points as the key learning for archaeologists.

1 Mentoring is powerful

We look back fondly on places we did good work.  We love places where we learned new things. It's not surprising, therefore, that our emotional connection to our alma mater is so powerful.  How can we replicate this level of engagement and loyalty in a company? By repltiucting the core relationship of mentor and mentee, possibly as a formal structure, but at the very least as a key corporate value.  An organisation in which people at all levels are clear about their future development paths and can depend on the interest and advice of their superiors  is incredibly powerful and resilinet, and doesn't even cost much to implement.

2 Share success with the team

It is inevitable from the shape of archaeological teams that only the senior staff are visible to the wider world of clients, media, and the profession.  Some egalitarian managers attempt to overcome this by dragging their staff in to share the limelight, but this is a mistaken approach - what they want is to be respected and valued for the work they HAVE done, not to be given the credit for work they haven't.  But make sure that if a project is a success, they know it - share the praise.

3 Don't skimp on tools and equipment

Almsot all the cost of archaeology is the cost of staff time.  If someone is idle for an hour because there aren't enough buckets, you've lost the price of a bucket in work.  The same goes for computers, screens, everything else: against a year's salary almost all kit costs are trivial.  Buy everybody a mobile phone, a GPS, a camera: anything that means they will be able to work smoothly. 

4 Delegate

There are enough management tasks that must reside in a single inidividual.  Everything esle should be ruthlessly delegated.  As with mentoring, this does not just improve effiecioncy, ift changes the atmosphere of the organisation from one that is static with defined roles, into a dynamic place where people can take on new responsibilities in a supportive environment.

5 Life's too short

If an archaeological organisation has reached the point where it is mechanically completing projects to a standardised methodology without generating new ideas and perspectives, it is wasting its time, and that of its staff.  We should be bold enough to ask fundamental questions, to explore new topics that are thrown up by our work, to  develop new methodlogies and abandon old ones.  Life really is too short to spend it doing work that has no value to you or others.

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Guide for new readers

This website started out as the developing contents of a talk at the 2008 IFA Conference, 10 simple steps to better archaeological management, also available as a book and powerpoint.

Since then I have gone on adding material on how to deal with failing projects , the law and ethics and identity.

More recently I have covered questions arising from the impact of the downturn on archaeological organisations:

* hard times economics
* marketing in a recession
* downsizing
* what it means for organisations and individuals
* Bridging the skills gap

These expand on many of the themes raised in the paper I wrote with Kenny Aitchison, "Hard times: archaeology and the recession", The Archaeologist 71 (Spring 2009), 10-11.

I am now looking at various management gurus and related  topics to identify the lessons for archaeology in  the five things series.

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Sunday, 14 November 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from Lean Management

Lean management  was defined as a concept in the 1990s by Daniel T. Jones, focused on assembly line industrial processes, but has since developed into a mini-discipline and has been extended into service industries and the public sector: lean management workshop at OGC.  At heart the approach is based on mapping your business processes, identifying waste, delays  and bottlenecks, and re-designing your workflow to aim for perfection, building quality in rather than adding it on.

1. Define value in customer terms

Archaeologists have two customers: the one that pays the bills, their clients, and the one they are answerable to for their conduct, future researchers.   Activities that benefit neither should be dropped. 

2. Follow the value stream

Where do we do work that leads to customer value?  Mostly at the report stage.  Where don't we? At the data collection stage, creating multiply-redundant images and over-detailed records of deposits of little or no significance.  Every recording activity carries a cost in creation and subsequent processing - we whould be bold enough to tailor our records to the needs of the resource (as we routinely do for watching briefs and test pits).

3. Reduce waste and failure demand

The culture of quality audting leads to the erosion of personal responsibility: there's no need for me to check the text because the manager will anyway.  And does the manager spend their time trying to reinterpret the site or rewrite the description when they should be auditing the process?  Yes.  They shouldn't: they should trust and empower the staff who have direct contact with the data.

4. Reduce inventory

For most projects. the site is excavated and reported fairly quickly as a burst of activity, and then there follows a half-life while specialist reports are commissioned, written, and collated, and eventually tidied up for archive deposition and publication. As a result, archaeological contractors live surrounded by large numbers of nearly-complete projects along with their current work, which isn't good for anybody.   Get stuff off the shelves and into museums.

5. Reduce time

The long timescale also means that cash-flow can be problematic, since there will be fees outstanding until it's all wrapped up.  In which case, wrap them up.

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from PRINCE2

I've written about PRINCE2 before.  The choice to use the PRINCE2 project management methodology has to be made at corporate level; it is rarely used in archaeology because the nature of its activities and problems do not play to PRINCE2's strengths.  Nevertheless, the methodology is based on common sense and experience of project management, so there should be some elements which can be applied.

All projects involve risk
-and if this is true of something like decorating an office,  how much more true of projects where the nature and complexity of the archaeological resource is unknown, and the work is subject to weather conditions and logistical complications.  So how can we manage the risk?  We can minimise it, by ensuring that we exploit all available information, but we cannot eliminate it.   If we expect the unexpected, our best strategy is to empower those on the spot with the authority and resources to respond to the emerging situation, while being ready to provide support when needed.

Manage by stages

Every project in MAP2 and the IFA Standards starts with a big meeting of all the specialists who may be involved, from palaeo and flint expert to illustrator and archivist.  Luckily, in reality these meetings do not take place, because otherwise people would get even less done, without having any effect on the 90% of projects which do not in fact produce material requiring special consideration.  There are planning horizons beyond which the imponderables become so great that time spent planning is not just wasted, it's actually harmfdul, since it distracts from what can be planned for. 

Product-led planning

The end results of a project are the archive and reports.  Activities which do not contribute to either may well be pointless. Activities which do not lead to report content may also be pointless.  

Continuing business justification

Commercial archaeology is a business.  Projects which have ceased to contribute positively to the business (especially financially) should be closed down.  Projects which have achieved their objectives should be closed down.  It is easy to allow projects to run on to their allotted end-date, but doing so is wasting time and money.  Your time and money.

Learn from experience

Archaeological businesses live and die on the quality of their estimation.  Yet very few employ a formal process to review projects after the event to see whether the estimation was accurate.  It is notorious that some types of project (eg desk-top studies and watching briefs) are very difficult to complete to a professional  standard within the level of funding usually available. After a few have gone over-budget, maybe the lesson is that prices must rise or that this type of project should be avoided.  Was it not Santana who said that those who don't remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them?  (No it wasn't, it was George Santayana).

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Saturday, 23 October 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from The Apprentice

Alan Sugar and the would-be apprentices (2009 series)
Photo: AJC1

The Apprentice is a reality TV entertainment show, with the emphasis on entertainment rather than reality.  But it is, nevertheless, instructive to those, like archaeologists, who are isolated from the day-to-day business environment, its culture and values. It may not present a wholly representative picture, but it is still possible to learn a little about how the world seems to those with a business role.

1. They don't care

Not just about heritage, about anything. Business appears to be one big game, with money the way of keeping score.  Someone who is willing to swear blind that  their product is organic in order to close a sale is unlikely to be trouble by the moral issues raised by not obeying a planning condition. 

See my posts on business meetings  , what not to say at a client meeting and Step 5: communication.

2. They know nothing

They stopped reading when they discovered money.  They may vaguely recall Elizabeth I, but don't count on it.  Archaeologist will need to explain from first principles about Planning Guidance, types of project, curators and contractors, post-excavation, archives and publication.  Don't assume that they know what you, or they, should be doing. They don't.

3. "Project manager" means nothing

There was a time when being a project manager implied a level of experience, competence and responsibility, and to introduce oneself as the archaeological project manager meant something that should be respected.  This has been eroded recently, and when fitting a kitchen or washing cars can be 'project managed' then clearly the term has lost much of its meaning.

See my post on Step 2: labels.

4. They wear the uniform

The phot above neatly demonstrates my discussion of image.  Although no dress code has ever been formalised, grey suits and black dresses have emerged as the uniform of business.  These days there is much more tolerance of idiosyncrasies such as weird hair and jewellery, but it is still true that business people will only respect people who dress like them.

5. Results are what matters

If money is the yardstick applied to success, expect an uphill struggle trying to persuade them to spend more than necessary.  At a certain level of maturity and seniority, company staff may be willing to consider the soft benefits of feel-good spending, but the default mode is cost minimisation.  Expect this - and make sure that you have costed for everything you need.

So, to conclude: business people have a different set of values, and  when communicating with them, bear this in mind.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Five things archaeologists can learn from Dragon's Den

Peter Jones
By Simontrend, via Wikimedia Commons
It's not surprising that archaeologists are, on the whole, pretty poor business people: they don't want to be business people.  But an industry that employs thousands of people in hundred of companies, partnerships and freelance operations, turning over £100m a year,  IS a business: the question is whether we embrace that fact, and see what we can do to improve, or we ignore it and trust to luck. 

It is possible to learn a lot about business from Dragon's Den: not so much from the revolutionary rubber hammers, innovative chocolate teapots, and re-engineered sliced bread that hopes to be the best thing since the original sliced bread, but from the pooled practical experience of the entrepreneurs.  After a while their questioning starts to form a pattern, from which I'd highlight these:

1  Has it been done before?

Businesses based on innovation need to think about this all the time.  Archaeology, less so, at first blush.  But of course we build out work on existing knowledge.  We should be prepared to invest in analysing results of previous work in the area before firing up the JCB on a new site.  See Step 8

2  What's the IPR position?

Working with ideas and information intrinsically raises a whole range of issues about ownership, protection and licensing. Specifically, archaeologists generally use, as part of their commercial work, mapping, structured data and images created by others.   They should be clear about what copyright they own and what copyright they use. 

3  Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity

It's depressing to see how hard archaeologists work, yet leave to chance whether their businesses produce a surplus.  Typically they rely on estimating the likely work and charging accordingly, unaware that they are effectively gambling on the absence of complex archaeology, and gambling with the company's money.  Don't do that: follow Step 6 and Coping with the crunch and Step 7

4  It's the people not the product

Every successful business is built on its staff.  If flint-hearted Gecko clones know this, archaeologists should too.  Follow Step 4 and Step 10.

5  Are there hidden costs?

Most organisations carry along with them a lot of baggage - time and resources that have been sunk into things which have yet to bear fruit, or uncosted commitments that there is a contractual or moral obligation to fulfill at some point. Maybe archaeologists don't need to tell others about them, but they certainly ought to be aware of them.  These loose ends should be reviewed, quantified and allocated to someone to take ownership of, even if they're not actually being progressed.  See Step 8

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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Keeping it safe

Tim Darvill wrote a couple of interesting papers in the 1990s on the concept of value in heritage management. value systems in archaeology he distinguished between Use value (what we get from using a resource now, by, say, digging it up with some students), Option value (what we get from keeping a site for now for possible use later) and Existence value (the vague feeling of well-being derived from knowing that something is there, without actually using it [as many people feel about libraries or, perhaps, the Royal Opera House]). What he skirted was the question of how these values affected heritage management practice.

The IFA Standard and Guidance for Stewardship says that:

Stewardship protects and enhances what is valued in inherited
historic assets and places. It responds to the needs and
perceptions of people today and seeks to have regard for the needs
of those in the future. The stewardship role includes undertaking
conservation management tasks, communicating the public value
of the heritage, promoting community awareness of the historic
environment and encouraging active engagement in protection and

This is a longer way of explaining the key planning principle which PPG5 (2010) words as: "A documentary record of our past is not as valuable as retaining the heritage asset" (HE12a), or in the old PPG16, that preservation in situ was the preferred option for archaeological sites.

So archaeologists and planners are agreed: sites are best off looked after, not dug up. This can lead to some strange outcomes, where an early 20th century shed in a development site is lovingly protected, while Scheduled Ancient Monuments continue to be ploughed (because they have been before, so that's all right) or dug up by students, or washed away.

It's interesting to consider what would happen if restrictions on excavation of SAMs were to be lifted (on the reasonable grounds that in 50 years time they will be underwater or enduring arid conditions anyway), so that archaeological activity could focus on investigating the best-preserved and most-interesting sites rather than the marginal ones. True, we would have to endure the scrutiny of our descendants, just as we criticise the Egyptologists who trashed the pharoah's tombs, but we could at least say that we found out some useful stuff.

Edit: fixed typos

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Thursday, 1 April 2010

Can't we all just get along?

As I said a long time ago, archaeologists often start with an innocent belief that they share the interests and roles of all otehr archaeologists. If only, they think, we could get the planners and builders and architects out of the room, we could sort out the rescue response required in two minutes flat, and everyone would be happy. Maybe. But probably not - because, just as lawyers are supposed to protect their client's interests, archaeologists have a responsibility to their clients, whoever they are. An archaeologist who agrees to do more archaeological work than the situation requires is acting unethically. A planning archaeologist who demands more archaeological work than the evidence supports is acting unethically. Strangely enough, in all the concern that has been expressed about the strains that commercial interests may impose on archaeological judgements, this has never been said. A recent research project looking at the Evaluation of Archaeological Decision-making Processes
and Sampling Strategies in Wales

"a valuable opportunity to step back, take stock and think more generally about the strengths and weaknesses of developer-funded archaeological work and the role of development control archaeologists in Wales."

This project would look carefully at the data used in DC responses to developments, whether the judgements were reasonable, and whether the predicted archaeological resource was present or not. Well, it would if I had scoped it. The report has now been produced and I will return to it in another post.

For now I just want to emphasise that no, we can't all just get along. But this need not mean that we are in league with the devil. Andrew Marvell made this point eloquentaly in his paper to the IfA Conference last year, now published on Scribd:

The New WHS Trowel-Paper given to the Institute for Archaeologists conference 2009.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Copyright and the economics of archaeological publishing

I am not a lawyer, but I have seen and signed a lot of publishing agreements, and there is a lot of confusion out there, especially now that digitisation has given new life to old and forgotten print articles.

Whose copyright in the first place?

Copyright belongs to the creator initially, automatically, unless it is being created as part of your employment, in which case it is usually the employer's. So for most commercial archaeologists, it isn't their own perosnal property. Things may be complicated by the inclusion of otehr material (illsutrations, mps and photographs) with their own rights owners. And even more complex if the original developer was one of those who require their contractors to assign copyright to them - so that a unit and its staff may have to ask permission to publish their report.

Publishing agreements

The terms on which a publisher agrees to publish a work vary considerably. In commercial scientific publishing, it used to be standard to require authors to sign the copyright over to the publisher (this is now changing significantly as the open access movement has led to pressure to allow authors to keep copyright), while in archaeology, particularly for one-off volumes, authros were asked only for a licence. In most cases, until recently, the question as never raised: if there is no signed agreement ceding copyright to the publisher then it would still with the author (or employer or client). It is administratively convenient for publishers to hold copyright, allowing them to republish, sell in other markets, and handle incoming re-print requests without a lot of correspondence. On the other hand, it may mean that authors are (or feel) precluded from re-using their work themselves (in a book or on a website) or granting others the right to re-use it.

Authors faced with a strict demand for assignment of copyright have limited room for manouever - it may be completely non-negotiable (or said to be), or the author may be allowed to retain a licence so that they can do stuff in the future.


Aside from the question of what you might want to do (or authorise otehr to do) with your work, there is the question of who makes money out of it. The short answer is, alas, nobody. Most journals and book series riley on institutionl subscriptions from universities round the world as the main market - a few hundred at most. Although the rates may be high, these need to compensate for the high start-up costs for printing and distribution (it is only in the thousands when unit costs drop, beaing spread out over so many). So most journals do not pay their authors, editoirs or reviewers for initial publication rights. And they don't make a lot more from selling rights on, either - £50 or £100 for reprint rights. Relying on arcaheological publication fees for your pesnion is not a good plan. There is one possible route for income, though: the
CLA Sticker scheme, which collects fees from people who photocopy artciels and distribute them to regsietred authors. Unfortunately, you have to register your publications with them, and pay a small fee, to be included, and of the course this is only worthwhile if you expecte there to be a fair number of copies made (in which context it is worth pointing out that only twice in my life have I ever met anyone who has said they read on emy articles, let alone copied it, let alone paid a fee).