We recently spotted a Linkedin post that really struck a chord.
At the time of publishing this article, the post has had 8,500+ reactions. So it’s clearly striking a chord with others too.
Most business leaders understand the negative impact of badly-timed meetings and unrealistic workloads, but ‘improperly scoped projects’ – well, there’s one you don’t hear every day.
Yet it’s something we’ve been talking to companies about for years in relation to Sharktower. Because we know that rethinking the way you plan, manage and measure projects doesn’t just improve business performance, it’s also good for employee morale.
As we witness The Great Resignation, in which 1 in 4 UK workers is reportedly planning to resign by Spring 2022, how do you meet the ever-increasing demand to achieve better project outcomes while creating an engaging and rewarding company culture?
Give people the visibility and autonomy to make a difference.
During 2021, training company Development Academy published research including ‘Employee Happiness Statistics’.
It states that ‘happy’ employees are:
- 87% more likely to be clear on their employer’s targets for the current year
- 62% more likely to be clear on how they contribute to hitting their employer’s goals
This one should be a no-brainer. All it takes is communication, right? Or maybe that’s not entirely fair.
In a small company, communicating objectives and goals is fairly easy. Top-level expectations can be discussed directly with every member of the team. But as the gap between the doers and the decision-makers widens, things can get lost in translation.
Indeed, research from Deloitte has shown that even senior managers know it’s a problem, as ‘77% of executives say their companies don’t focus on aligning employees’ goals with corporate purposes’. And yet, there is an understanding of how important it is, with respondents stating that the ability for employees to contribute in the workplace far outweighs the ability to connect or feel ‘comfortable’.
So employees want to contribute, and employers are aware of the potential impact on employee engagement, so is it the process (or rather the lack of one) that’s letting both sides down? With company objectives and individual goals hidden away in strategy presentations and performance review documents, could visibly linking the two together solve the problem?
When we created Sharktower, we designed it so that managers can link every aspect of the day-to-day work back to a specific business objective – in a way that’s visible to everyone. Set an objective, give it a ‘real’ outcome or milestone target, then connect (and assign) individual activities and tasks to goals and to people. Whatever tools or processes you’re using, once you’ve set top company objectives, cascade them to every department, team and individual. It means everyone has something tangible to work towards and nobody’s left wandering in No Man’s Land.
Added bonus: A study by Gallup has shown that highly engaged workplaces see 41% lower absenteeism.
Set realistic deadlines
Employee ‘burnout’ isn’t new (the term was coined by a psychologist in the 1970s), but up-to-date research shows something more surprising:
‘1 in 5 Employees Is Highly Engaged and at Risk of Burnout’
They’re called ‘the engaged-exhausted group’ – people who care deeply about their work, but also report high levels of stress and frustration.
While these people can seem like dream employees, they are also the most likely to leave a business – much more than ‘unengaged’ team members.
That means many companies are losing some of their most motivated and hard-working employees ‘not for a lack of engagement, but because of their simultaneous experiences of high stress and burnout symptoms’.
On paper, the solution looks simple: get better at resource management. If you’re planning and scoping projects correctly, nobody should get overloaded, should they?
The problem is, these engaged-exhausted employees may also be the most skilled members of your team, and the ones most likely to take on new and interesting work – even if they don’t really have time to do it.
A resource management tool can help you allocate the right amount of work to the right people, without it becoming a full-time job. In fact, one of the best approaches is to actively involve the doers in project planning and scoping. Not only does this involvement increase morale (team members feel heard, and that managers understand ‘what they do’ and how long it really takes), but it mitigates ‘finger in the air’ scheduling that often causes problems down the line.
An end-to-end project platform helps with this, especially if it has interactive elements. With Sharktower, we made the delivery planner visual (a crucial difference to millennial and Gen Z employees, who respond far more to visually-presented information). Behind this, utilisation summaries show managers who has capacity and who is over-subscribed, so even highly-engaged team members don’t end up getting swamped.
Added bonus: With 46% of working days being lost through work-related stress or anxiety, lightening the load now has far greater benefits in the long-term.
Enable open communication and collaboration
We can’t really blame the Covid pandemic for poor communication. Pre-pandemic research from the PMI puts ‘inadequate/poor communication’ as one of the main causes of project failure. So whether we’re office-based or working from home, it’s clear something’s been going wrong for quite a while.
Again, although it’s a huge problem, this isn’t news.
Analysis from Deloitte has found that only 14 per cent of leaders are completely satisfied with their organisation’s current ability to communicate and collaborate.
Communication can’t be a one-way street, especially when projects are Agile. In any project there are multiple moving parts and many co-dependencies, so enabling people to collaborate openly and in real time is crucial – as much for employee morale as for project success.
Outside of work, we are digitally social creatures. In the UK, 80% of the population is an active social media user. No surprise then that another Deloitte survey found that people are up to 20% more satisfied with their workplace culture when they have access to collaboration tools.
A collaboration platform enables team members to interact in one place, where every task, comment and action is visible to everyone involved.
Of course, most teams are already doing that somewhat in platforms like Teams and Slack, but having all those conversations tucked away in channels doesn’t help when you need to clearly see and understand what’s really going on with a project (and the same goes for email). And most teams are also running stand-ups – either online or in-person – but, even if a project leader is part of those, they tend to focus on detail rather than revealing the bigger picture.
After 18 months of getting by with fragmented, freemium tools, 2022 will be the year that dedicated collaboration platforms become commonplace, enabling managers to plan, resource, manage and measure projects in a way that’s interactive and visible to everyone involved. Team members have the autonomy to manage their own tasks in a drag-and-drop Kanban, and tag colleagues they have questions or answers for. Even stand-ups are hosted in the platform, so every comment, action or blocker is clearly logged for all to see.
Added bonus: According to a McKinsey report, improving internal collaboration through social tools could help raise the productivity of interaction by as much as 20%-25%.
Make project managers enablers, not controllers.
If you follow project management experts and publications, you’ll have seen a mix of support and outrage regarding ‘the end of project management as we know it’.
Yes, project management is evolving, and it has to. But as more and more projects focus on business change and transformation, it’s natural progression. And it’s another known need: only 30 percent of organisations feel that their capabilities in managing organisational change are effective.
We know project managers can get a hard time from developers and designers. But if you look into the reasons for it, they make some fair points.
Traditionally, project managers have been focused (dare we say fixated?) on building and managing very controlled, structured processes. But an Agile world, this can be seen to create friction (and therefore frustration) among delivery teams. Product and service design calls for a more consultative, flexible, responsive approach – with faster decision-making and more, well, agility.
So there is a change of mindset required, but the end result benefits not only the wider team, but the project managers themselves. Instead of ‘policing’ they can become enablers; removing blockers, and accessing resources the teams may need (like tools, tech or process changes). They become expert problem solvers.
One of the first steps to building this ‘start-up mentality’ among project managers is to give them the technology they need to break out of that rigid approach. Gantt-style planning is a notoriously inflexible format. Static and old-school communication means there’s no option but to ‘chase’ updates.
An intelligent project management platform enables project leads to stay in control without actively ‘controlling’. It contains all the information they need to take action before things go wrong, and enables them to diagnose issues without having to distract or alarm the team.
With the right tools, project managers can be proactive and help drive innovation, rather than having to firefight. And that really is better for all involved.
Added bonus: 66% of companies using project management software tools keep their projects within the budget (compared to 47% of those that don’t). Source: PMI 2019
We know it’s all too easy to criticise or blame ‘traditional’ management processes, but – more and more – the research (both official and anecdotal) shows a desperate need for change. And if intelligent technology can improve both company culture and project outcomes, it’s far too valuable to ignore.
If you’d like to know more about how Sharktower can help your teams manage projects more efficiently, collaboratively and autonomously, get in touch today.