You know the drill. You call a team meeting to discuss a project–say, a new product launch. You discuss the steps you need to take, from defining messaging and target audiences to writing the collateral, preparing a demo video, contacting the media, executing your email and social campaigns, assigning target dates and so on. A week later, you call another meeting and get that deer-in-headlights look. “Who, me? Was I supposed to do that? Wasn’t that John’s job?”
What we have here is a wholesale process breakdown. It’s not just a matter of a team member or two drifting slightly off course. It’s that there are no systems in place to steer the ship or to create an all-hands-on-deck environment that fosters the teamwork necessary to get the job done. How do you do that? Listen up.
Managers should take ownership of the overall project, but getting input from team members can help correct oversights, fine-tune scheduling based on employee commitments or process dependencies you may not know about, and get everyone aligned and invested in the outcome. It also creates a sense of collaboration that can help reduce antagonism toward managers perceived as dictators.
Everyone knows that projects need to be broken down into discrete tasks, but you also need to document your plan and make it available to the whole team. You can’t see where you’re going without a roadmap, and neither can they.
Deciding who’s doing what is essential to make any progress. Clearly dividing the labor and assigning tasks accordingly helps ensure that things won’t fall through the cracks, prevents duplicated effort, creates accountability, and keeps team members focused on what they should be doing.
Technology alone can’t solve the problem, but the absence of an automated system that can monitor all the moving parts and help team members keep their act together will definitely increase your odds of failure. Find a lightweight task or project management system that includes features like individual task lists and a group calendar so that meetings and appointments can be integrated with appropriate requests and tasks. Your system calendar should synchronize with your corporate email so that users don’t have to keep two calendars.
One of the benefits of automating project management is the ability to create a workflow that structures the work for easy tracking by managers and team members alike. Workflow tools allow you to identify the person responsible for each task, assign due dates and priorities, properly route projects as they move through the pipeline, automatically notify designated team members at specific points, and more. They also automatically populate each participant’s to-do list. Bonus: most systems allow you to create a template for recurring tasks or projects so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time.
Social tools like chat, instant messaging and screen sharing can help expedite task completion, especially if they’re integrated with your task or project management system so the activity can be captured and measured. But they shouldn’t be used to the exclusion of face-to-face interaction. You still need occasional meetings for team building, problem-solving and positive reinforcement.
That includes all business documents, engineering drawings, image files, audio and video files, emails, chat conversations, instant messages, screen captures, and anything else related to a given project. This will eliminate wild goose chases that suck productivity, stall the work, and cause team member confusion that leads to mistakes.
Taking steps like these can not only help keep your team on track but also yield efficiencies that allow you to reassign employees to other teams, get more work done with fewer people, or even provide the proof you need that you are understaffed. With every task clearly outlined on the calendar and due dates for every stage of a project, you’ll have a crystal-clear picture of how much work your team can handle–and how much it can’t.
Then there’s this: You’ll never again have to complain that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. That’s good for you, and even better for your business.
—Igal Hauer is CEO of Help Desk Technology Corporation, developer of the ServicePro collaborative work management solution that can be used to help any business unit in any industry complete tasks and projects efficiently.