Brendan Bagley

3 Work Management Shortcuts and What They Cost You

By Brendan Bagley, IT project manager at Pennsylvania State University, and Chris O’Neal, Product Marketing Manager at Workfront

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Digitization across the business world is rampant. Just last year alone we collectively spent well over $1 trillion annually on digital transformation projects. That should tell you something about how much we're placing our faith in these sorts of solutions. 

By the beginning of the next decade, this will have grown to over $2 trillion being spent annually on digitization. It’s hard to comprehend how big that number is. If I got a loan of $2 trillion dollars and paid it back in an installment plan of a million dollars per month without interest, it would take me two million months — more than 165,000 years — to pay it back.

IT has a huge influence on how this staggering and growing amount is being spent, but there's a problem. Only 12 percent of your stakeholders see IT as very effective in leading digital transformation across the business, according to McKinsey Research.

Why do they feel this way? The reasons are varied. Perhaps the IT organization hasn't given its partnering business units the education it needs to understand digital transformation undertaking. Perhaps proper expectations haven’t been set, resulting in disappointment. Perhaps there’s a lack of real partnership or sponsorship with leaders in contributing business units.

One additional reason may have to do with current project manager's processes and tools. An Excel spreadsheet can only do so much when you're the one person running from desk to desk to figure out what’s going on with people working on your projects. Spreadsheets also provide no visibility into what you're doing on a day to day basis. Sure, you might be able to share it online or give some folks insight into it. But day-to-day, people don’t know what's going on at the higher levels, and it's equally difficult for a project manager to run around and get that information. It’s not dynamic. 

So, how do you fix this problem? How do you raise the prestige of the IT professional to actually get the results you’re seeking?

A key to embracing this mantle is to avoid bandage solutions — solutions that don’t really solve the underlying challenges facing workers today. 

The Three Bandage Solutions

We want to talk about the challenges around those shortcuts and why they're short-sighted. We’ll then present solutions that will help give you more long-term relief that will change the status quo for your organization, and produce the results that you're looking for.  

1. Productivity Tools 

Don’t misunderstand: We can't be effective without productivity tools. They're very important. But productivity tools aren’t meant to help us get all our work done at a strategic level. Email, office suites, chat, and task-management tools are all great as point solutions, but they are a huge culprit when it comes to creating silos and mismatched reporting. 

Again, we’re not knocking these tools. Take email, for instance. It's not that email is a bad tool. Rather, we are bad actors because we try to use email in a way that they were never designed to be used. Email is great as a person-to-person, transactional communication system. It’s not a great file management tool or audit tool or group chat tool. It was never designed to do any of that. It also doesn’t give the visibility we need to do work well.

And yet we wonder why aren't things getting better. We think, “We’re using digital tools, so we’re all set.” But we haven't really gotten beyond the age of Gutenberg when it comes to sending a physical file in a digital format around the office to get people to sign off on.

2. Point Solutions

The second bandage that we often see is a point solution. These are very basic task-management solutions or communication collaboration tools. They fail to accommodate non-project and non-process work. That is, they can't take into account the work that comes from a consolidated request queue or channel — the ad hoc requests that come in through an email, or over chat, or a drive-by at your desk. They also can't take into account the social collaboration around the work that you're being asked to do. They don’t have the reporting that you need or the deep collaboration around something that requires significant teamwork in order to get it done.

Taken together, these shortcomings make it difficult for you as a worker or as a team to truly score and prioritize your work. You can’t do capacity planning. You can’t see a long-range view that lets you know or be able to say with confidence how are you’re allocated today, and when can you take on new work. You can’t know how a shift in priorities will change all the work you’re faced with. And if you can't do that, then you can't really streamline the workflows that you have today.

3. Stretching Existing Platforms

Your platforms come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes, but they have their limits. Email isn’t an optimal project management tool. Spreadsheets aren’t automated. If you try to stretch things too far with these tools, you’ll find that people are uploading data, but you're not getting the real information on how your people are engaged across those different departments, how much they’re being used, and whether they’re being properly integrated across the company. In other words, it's difficult to make sure those critical systems are talking to each other, and you, therefore, don’t have the visibility to make your best decisions. 

Not only that but oftentimes these platforms were initially built for a specific function and a specific audience within the organization. In stretching those platforms, it leads to a forced fit for people in other functions who have different needs. They're not able to work how they want; they don’t get the data they need to do the things they need to do. Therefore, your adoption becomes low. There are high barriers to entry in terms of people using the product. And you're always having to go around and make sure people are putting in the data.

As a result, it's hard to truly manage your work, and it becomes more about administration and managing the tool instead of the tool enabling your people. 

Rip Off the Bandages and Heal the Core Problem

We're living in a time where we're on the cusp of having widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles, rockets that land themselves, and viable alternative energy. We've gotta have a way in which we can put work in one place. And it's interesting, even that basic problem is not something that has been solved for the majority of enterprises that are out there in the world today. 

We need visibility across teams. We need to centralize work in one place. We need people to know the context. They need to know why they're doing the work they're doing. There's nothing more important to the engagement of an individual at work. It stems from connecting systems company-wide. Your people are looking for a way to get into a flow and stay there until they get their work done, instead of having to jump out and task switch, which is hugely costly for an organization. 

These three bandages won’t work. It’s time to heal the core problem.


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