Fix These 5 Petty Issues Today To Prevent Project Failure Tomorrow
Is your project dying a silent death? Learn about the top 5 project constraints that are killing your project, and fix them now.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
Optimum productivity in a team environment doesn't come easy. While managers are quick to identify the larger factors for boosting team performance, it's the petty project constraints that slip through the cracks.
It could be anything as trivial as not following up on a pending task or not mentioning the priority on the task, to begin with. Each little issue eats away at the team's collective productivity and before you know, you're writing the deadline extension email.
It's surprising how avoidable these latent issues are, and yet so oblivious. You've probably observed those minor things at your workplace that you know are going to turn major soon.
While no two projects work the same way, management issues are akin to every project. Here's a list of readily solvable issues that are posing to be subtle but may actually end up drowning your project.
1. No Ways to Measure Productivity
Problem Statement - Despite the obsession for productivity, only a few teams have a system in place for objectively measuring it. Productivity is estimated in terms like "more" or "less" and it's easy for managers to lose sight of the deadline because they don't actually know if the team is as productive as it should be.
By definition, productivity is the measure of output produced in proportion to the input. In professional environments, productive work is heavily associated with the quality of effort and the time taken to complete a task.
Having said that, most teams don't put a number on productivity. Days go like, "it was a long but productive day, we achieved a lot." It's hard to determine anything objectively from this statement - how much is a lot? How long is a long day? How many are "we"?
The absence of clear metrics for productivity is among the top project constraints as managers tend to make inaccurate estimations that reflect in team goal setting and work allocation.
Example - The manager breaks down the project into 23 tasks that are split across 7 team members. Judging the team's productivity to be around 3 tasks per day, the manager sets the deadline to be 10 days away. The team tries their best to meet the expectations but as the judgment was way off-target, the team takes a full month to complete the project.
Solution - The best way to keep a track of productivity is by integrating productivity calculation in your workflow.
You can do this by actively monitoring the "desired productivity" and "actual productivity". A team management software can easily help you do this job by reporting who is completing how many tasks.
In ProofHub, we have built a reporting system that lets managers track the team's productivity using a graphical format. They can plan accordingly when to hit the pedal, pivot, or hit the brakes, to keep the deadline achievable.
2. Poor Context In Task Assignment
Problem Statement - It's not surprising that 80% of employees spend 50% of their time on reworks. One reason for this is a lack of communication while assigning tasks. In other words, a lack of "context". In the absence of rich task context, employees rely on best-guesses and vague assumptions which lead to unmet expectations and reworks.
It's a very small thing if we carefully look at it. Managers expect employees to be autonomous and clarify doubts on their own. But employees also have to do their best in the limited time they have, so they carry on with the task to the best of their knowledge.
Example - An employee is tasked with creating the sales report with a focus on m-o-m sales. The manager doesn't specify the duration for which the sales report is to be created and the employee assumes it is for the past 1 year. One day later, the employee makes the report again with the client-centric formatting and pulls data for the past 5 years (actual requirement) simply because a reference report wasn't given to him.
Solution - The solution is dead simple - provide more context. But how, is the real question. One way is to shift to a standardized way of task assignment and follow a task assignment template.
The four fundamentals of a context-rich task are;
- Task Stage
To add even more context, you can optionally add the following elements;
- Task Files
- Nested comments
By following this straightforward checklist while assigning tasks, you can avoid a number of repercussions. Similar task assignment is available in most project management software.
3. Attenuation In Communication
Problem Statement - Disorderly communication exists in most professional environments to a certain extent. As teams go remote and new ways of working come into the picture, maintaining effective communication is getting harder. 31% of organizations report poor communication as the #1 reason for project failure.
Even when communication is consistent, it can get attenuated. This is due to the switch between asynchronous and real-time communication that is commonplace in workspaces.
Example - On one hand, you're CC-ing updates in the email, and on the other, you're taking follow-ups on Instant Messenger. Later you call up the person to do the same thing because now you can't find the file you had sent in the heap of emails.
Solution - To prevent communication from becoming those bogging project constraints, it's best to centralize the various channels you use for exchanging information.
Microsoft Teams does this exceptionally well. It has text chat, voice and video calls, and even real-time file collaboration which keeps all the project communication on one tool.
This way, you can replace broken communication with preemptive switching. Send a personal ping whenever necessary or leave a group message for everyone to notice. You don't lose context and explaining things is much easier. ProofHub employs a similar feature called "Discussions'' which is also passive, but better than email.
4. Faded Motivation
Problem Statement - While motivation is an intrinsic factor, the team's environment and the management approach can also play a critical role. For teams that have a lost sense of purpose, doing their best work can become a real challenge. Demotivated employees end up being less productive, have higher attrition, and also drag down other members with them.
A Hay Group study found that motivated and engaged employees could be up to 43% more productive. This was found in a survey of their regional offices where engaged consultants generated $72,000 more revenue on average in contrast to disengaged consultants.
Example - The team recently redesigned the company website but the latest developments aren't being shifted to the live site. After months of hard work, the team is unable to see the impacts they have made. As a result, the team develops a feeling of demotivation because their work isn't meeting fruition, let alone appreciation. They kick off the next project with faded motivation and find it hard to put in the same level of effort.
Solution - While you can't alter your team's life goals, you can definitely enrich the team environment with healthy motivation.
The best way to do this is by understanding what really motivates your team and by enabling the team to recognize "meaning" in their work.
Research at Harvard shows that when people find their work meaningful, they feel more engaged, and perform better. Meaningful work is related to fulfilling an individual's fundamental expectations from work.
Maslow's Hierarchy defines these expectations as psychological needs; belongingness to the team, accomplishment, and self-fulfillment needs; achieving one's full potential, actualizing capabilities.
At work, these expectations translate to positive work culture, opportunities for members to grow their skills, and recognition of efforts made by each employee.
Starbucks, in its mission statement, highlights this point beautifully.
"To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." Starbucks employees are reminded of the fact that they're not just another cog in the wheel, but a part of a larger meaningful mission.
5. Overspending Time on Drudgery
Problem statement - For managers, drudgery is part of their job, but somewhere it can steal focus from their core work. Managers always risk overspending precious time on replying to emails, tracking updates, and following up on deadlines. This leaves them with less time for critical manager work that is necessary for steering the project to success.
It's not only the managers, the team members may also be unknowingly overspending time on low-priority tasks. According to this Entrepreneur article, 89% of employees delve into activities that waste time.
Salary.com's study highlights that this wasted time could add up to 15 hours per week, which is equivalent to 2 days of no work for an individual employee.
Example - The manager assigns tasks on emails to all employees and maintains communication on Skype. The team files the Daily Work Report using Excel and shares documents with the help of Google Docs. The manager always has 4 tabs open to keep the work synchronized, switching incessantly, just to make sure he misses nothing.
Solution - One-word answer to the drudgery problem is - automation. You can't really overlook tasks like sending emails and uploading files, they're part of the process, but you can have technology handle them for you.
While there are micro-automation tools such as IFTTT that solve one problem at a time, I am a fan of project management tools that offer widespread automation.
Popular automation options available for managers;
- Assign repetitive tasks automatically to team members
- Send out emails automatically when a task goes from "To-do" to "Done"
- Automatic reminders for important milestones
- Auto-populate tasks based on key parameters
In addition to automation, having fewer apps to play with also reduces mindless tasks. The core aspects that involve the most drudgery are;
- Communication - Skype, Gmail, Slack
- Collaboration - Docs, MS Office, Miro
- Time and Task Tracking - Time Doctor, Asana, Basecamp
- Reporting - Excel, Google Spreadsheets, MS Word
On any given day, you could be using 4-16 apps to manage the project. How about using only 1? Switching to all-in-one tools that substantially meet these four core needs can help you save surprising amounts of time.
Most teams don't realize the disturbing nature of these petty project constraints before the decline in performance becomes apparent. Apart from the five most common productivity stealers, there are many more that you would have personally noticed.
The good part is that you can solve these issues within days, and not weeks. By eliminating one issue at a time, you'll be able to observe a massive improvement in team performance and project completion.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.