Let me get straight to the point. The Secret of Effective Project Management is finding the right balance between managing too little and managing too much. And in order to understand how to walk this elusive middle path, let us first take a look at the extremes.
In a quest to give their team a free hand and keep things moving fast, some managers end up taking an over simplified approach. When they do this, they lose track of important aspects of work. When their team would want their guidance, they wouldn’t know it and hence would not be available to them. As a result, the team would end up heading in a different direction from the one they want to steer it in. On the other hand, other managers wanting to stay in charge make their processes too sophisticated. They fill their work places with rules, regulations and policies. A large part of the workday is spent logging what is done, getting permissions and just adhering to protocol. And all this makes the team’s progress a lot slower than what it can be.
Let us examine this phenomenon with an example. Say a manager needs to work with a team of designers to create a new website for his company. An over-simplifying manager gives the team an idea of what he wants, agrees on a deadline and disappears till then. He believes, he has given his designers a lot of freedom. But when the work is done, he realizes many things don’t fall in place. He wants to project his business as long-serving, stable and trustworthy and the heavy use of fire-engine-red and sporty fonts don’t really reinforce that. He realizes with much despair that the site needs lots of rework and this is good news to nobody.
The manager who overdoes things, creates a detailed specs document that specifies permitted image and font sizes, graphics to text ratio, page sizes and a long list of dos and don’ts. She wants the team to log the time spent on each file they create and also send her daily reports on progress. And the team feels it would be easier to write a program that parses through these specs and dumps a matching template than create one themselves! Read more
This is the second part of a 2-part blog series. Read the first part of the series here.
The myth of multitasking.
When you’re trying to get multiple things done with different sets of people, it might seem easy to multitask by doing everything together. But this can be counterproductive because your attention gets split between activities. You’ll take much longer to complete each activity, and this can negatively impact your overall output and quality of work. Several independent psychological researchers have established that multitasking results in reduced efficiency due to cognitive ‘switching’ costs.
Switching from a task before you complete it also causes the Ziegarnic effect – the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts about unfinished tasks. The only way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that comes from a lack of closure on an unfinished task is by completing that task.
A good project management app is one that lets you simplify complex projects so that you spend enough attention and energy on each task.
To simplify complex projects, you can organize them according to a hierarchy of easily manageable units such as milestones, task lists and tasks. Split your tasks into the simplest sub-tasks that can be easily completed before you move on to the next task. You can also set task dependencies to help identify and complete dependent tasks. And of course, the sense of completion that comes from finishing these tasks can help avoid the Ziegarnic effect!
Encourage everyone in your team to restrict their focus to completing one thing at a time – complete one task or participate in one discussion or just catch up with activity streams in one project portal. Finish any one thing before you move on to the next.
Treat different project portals like separate rooms – you cannot be in more than one at the same time.
Resist the temptation of switching to another tab or project portal before you’ve completed what you wanted to do. Read more
We have already seen how the Gantt Chart was used in several projects, big and small, across industries over the last century. Its original use was to plan production in factories, to allow all components to be available when needed for subsequent production activity. Today, as we hear from our customers, they are used in a variety of other applications and this includes marketing! Find it hard to believe? Take a look at these examples.
Caldera Group is a company based in the Netherlands, that offers shared marketing services. It provides its customers the marketing department they always wanted, at an affordable cost. “As part of our work, we have to communicate with multiple companies,” says Leon Hamstra, a director of Caldera Group. “Our operations require our employees and our customers to be on the same page at all times. The Zoho Projects Gantt Chart helps us do just that.”
Moving to Johannesburg, South Africa we have Spaghetti TV, a company that produces corporate movies, presentations, TV commercials, documentaries and other content for broadcast and online distribution. “We work with clients all over the world and we use Zoho Projects as a means of not only planning the project for internal resources, but also for giving clients a view of project progress,” says its founder Andrew Lester. “The Gantt view is something they are used to interacting with and being able to edit tasks here was a real improvement for us.“
We see that the Gantt chart continues to be an important tool for managers and we want to make sure they get the best out of it. So here are some more enhancements we’ve added to the Zoho Projects Gantt view. Read more
My colleague recently blogged about how project management apps can greatly help improve collaboration especially for geographically distributed teams or companies. As a remote employee at Zoho, I’ve experienced this a lot. My marketing role requires interaction with multiple teams, all based in other cities and time zones. And yet we all manage to collaborate seamlessly across multiple projects.
We do this by creating and reinforcing a culture that encourages collaboration.
That’s where project management apps come in to the picture. They work as an antidote to unproductive practices that could prove harmful for a collaborative culture. If you’re a growing start-up or company that’s trying to become more collaborative, these are the work practices that you might want to upgrade from:
Email ping pong.
If you’re using email to make decisions or to discuss specific tasks that require inputs from multiple people, you could end up back and forthing and wasting time:
- creating email threads that are too long for people to follow through
- discussing the same topic over disparate email threads and have a hard time combining inputs
- just trying to get everyone on the same page
Not only is email ping pong unproductive, it is also unhealthy. In a recent research, occupational psychologist Dr Emma Russell listed email ping pong as one of ‘the seven deadly email sins’ that could have negative health repercussions for employees.
Sifting through piles of email to look for important tasks or trying to achieve a “zero inbox” state should never be a work goal for anyone. Read more
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — Albert Einstein.
I like many things about the company Basecamp. They have written some remarkable books and maintain an interesting blog. Having their roots in design, their products provide a good user experience. Like us, they too have eschewed venture capital. Both companies don’t like the bubble-mania that so often sweeps our industry; our focus is on the the long haul.
However, when it comes to product management, we part ways with them. The simplicity of Basecamp comes at a cost that it does not have the depth needed to handle complex projects. Their constant refrain of “Less is more” or rather “Less is less” comes in the way of the recognition that complex projects do exist. We, on the other hand, come from a conviction that simplistic slogans cannot substitute for product management. Product management is about making difficult choices in facing complex problems.
We provide a hierarchical structure consisting of milestones, task lists, tasks and subtasks to break down complex projects into easily manageable units. Views like the Gantt Chart and the Resource Utilisation Chart are needed to ensure that a project with different people in different places working on different tasks, sticks to schedule. There is essential, irreducible complexity in the real world. An app that can meet this complexity needs to be feature rich and sophisticated. Failing to acknowledge this practical truth, sounds to us like, “We don’t like complex problems, so let’s pretend they don’t exist!”
To understand how this difference in ideology can impact businesses, take the case of Sunny Land Tours, a Florida based operator specializing in trips to Egypt and the middle east.
A friend once called me to talk about a totally unexpected question he was posed in a job interview. The interviewer had simply asked him to ‘define time.’ I asked him what his reply was. He turned the question around and asked me how I would have answered.
Immediately, I didn’t know what to say. It was one of those things that you were always aware of but just couldn’t put into words. After considering a few approaches I came up with this:
“Time is that, which continuously turns the future into the past!”
“Haha, good attempt,” said the friend, “But words like ‘continuously,’ ‘future’ and ‘past’ are defined using time. So this cannot be taken.”
“Then what is the answer?”
“I searched about this. Albert Einstein came up with one of the most popular and accepted definitions. He said, ‘time is what the clock reads!’”
“Are you joking?”
“No I am serious.”
“Then how do you define a clock when you cannot say it is ‘that which shows time?’”
The friend just laughed and changed the topic.
The problem of utilizing resources such that their time is spent optimally is a crucial one for any project manager. And simplifying this is a prime area of focus for Zoho Projects. A couple of weeks ago, we rolled out several updates in our Gantt Chart, a direct visual representation of tasks with respect to time. Before that, we’d announced an advanced analytics add-on powered by Zoho Reports that gave you more than 50 ready made reports with rich insights. And now, we’re adding another bunch of features, that lets you take charge of time!
Do start-ups really need project management apps? Do these apps simply act as a tax on a fast moving team?
Posts like this one show that some people do feel this way. Let’s acknowledge that no software, however cool, can make up for poor vision or broken culture in a team. Software can enable us to work better, but software, by itself cannot make us better human beings. So if you have issues with team chemistry, don’t look to software for a miraculous cure.
With that out of the way, we are convinced that these apps can bring in significant advantages to any team when used aptly. Allow us to walk you through some of these.