In the past five years, on extremely diverse projects in the tech, entertainment and non-profit worlds, I have adopted or been added to a wide range of time and project management tools:
- Google (Gmail, Tasks, Calendar)
- Outlook 2010
- Outlook 2013
- SharePoint Team Site
I honestly can say I think I am forgetting a couple! I worked daily, for more than a month, on all of these platforms and watched many other team members adopt, tackle, rail against and ultimately walk away from most. The experience inspired this simple observation:
Your team members and colleagues abandon time and project management tools because you have mistaken the TOOL for an actual time and project management SYSTEM. Tools don’t create process – they exist to speed up, automate and enhance your existing process. Provided you have one.
Does your team have a time and project management system that is so clear and ingrained that you could ask all of your team members to write it on a stickie note and get the same answer? If not, you aren’t ready to introduce a tech tool yet!
To get your team and projects on track, you must first develop, implement and collectively engage in an actual systemic approach to managing information, tasks, deadlines and events. Once you have successfully done that, you can select almost any tool and adapt it to the existing system that already works for your team.
Trust me on this: if you don’t first put a time and project management system in place, if you simply choose a tech tool and tell everyone to start using it, your team will spend their time learning “how to use the tool” instead of “how to manage time and projects.” And that will put them even further behind on managing their time and their projects. And that, coupled with assorted fears of change, anxiety about technology, resentment of exclusion from decision-making about their daily work, and iffy Internet connections, will be the death of yet another tech tool (and you might actually blame the tool)!
How do I know this for sure? I’m an eternal optimizer – of content, missions, systems, pathways and careers. I consume time and project management books and methodologies like coffee.
In fact, when you talk to optimizers like me, we describe our professional approach like someone ordering at Starbucks. You might be a “tall, non-fat pumpkin latte – no whip”…I might be a “Lean 4DX Outlook Kanbanner.”
(Have you read my Kanban View for Outlook Tasks post yet?)
Couple this with my being an avid early tech adopter (and a software CEO myself), and I always clap my hands in geeky glory when I get to test a new time and project management tool. I clap longer these days because I first get to work closely with my clients to put a live system in place. It’s a surprisingly simple and enjoyably collaborative process to do – and sometimes, the teams are so comfortable and effective with the live process that they choose not to add any technology to the mix.
I’ve designed time and project management tools for my own teams, as well, but only after a lot of listening, testing, rejecting, going back to the drawing board, and begging IT to let me customize possible solutions. When I landed on the right solution, I knew because the team would be excited to come to work and log in to the tool. In the ultimate compliment, a team once asked me to restore weekly meetings – using the tool – to make us more efficient.
Are you ready to help your team emerge from being overwhelmed and under-actualized? Here’s your successful strategy for freeing them (and yourself!) from the tyranny of inundated inboxes, meeting mania and never-ending to do lists:
- Do the work (or engage a wildly effective team optimizing consultant!) to develop a time and project management flow that works for your specific team.
- Once that’s in place, manage it closely for 2-4 weeks. Be the first and most to stick to the process.
- Be the nurturer to help team members through this shift, and be quick to make requested fixes to improve the process.
Talk with the team about what is repetitive, slow, not scalable or otherwise not optimal in the live workflow. Those are the steps the tool you are seeking will solve.
- Dedicate a core team to test possible tools for adaptability to your team’s workflow (or have your nerdy optimizer consultant demo sample customizations for you). Put them directly in contact with your consultant or vendor so they can make the most of the tool for your workflow.
- Do a team training and assign team tutors to assist with implementation and ongoing training.
Concentrate on how to use the tool to improve your existing workflow, NOT on how to use the tool.
- Manage adoption of the tool closely for 2-4 weeks. Be the first and most to use the tool.
- Be the nurturer to help team members through this shift, and work with your tutors, consultant and vendor (if applicable) to quickly make adjustments to improve the process.
- Regularly review the tool with your team, as part of your management agenda. How is it helping? How could it be better? Is it time to move on?
The obvious reward for managers is developing a system and customizing a tool that makes your team happy to come to work and wildly productive while they are there. The not-so-obvious reward comes when a new hire gets on-boarded.When a new team member walks into a clear workflow, that’s uniformly adopted, that is consistently reviewed and rewarded, that is supported with a tool, and that works, the first few days for them, for you and for the team are radically shifted. They are joining a collaborative community, and you have done your number one job as a manager: you’ve made it easier for your wildly competent team to get their jobs done.