GTD Project Management for Professional Teams

Liz Pearce | July 9, 2011

Shared Workspace Inbox
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For over ten years, David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, has been gaining fans in droves. The Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to managing personal productivity recognizes that as life become increasingly complex, the challenge of juggling tasks from personal, work, and social realms takes its toll. Allen’s methods are designed to maximize the number of important tasks you complete while at the same time reducing stress.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that professional project teams face the same struggle of juggling tasks across various projects and areas of responsibility. To make matters worse, the tasks and projects are often inter-dependent, need to be tightly tracked, and have a direct impact on the bottom line. It’s enough to make your head spin.

So can the lessons from GTD be extended for professional use? Can project teams become more productive and less stressed out than they are today by tackling project management in a different way? We think the answer is yes. LiquidPlanner’s flexible structure and emphasis on prioritization make it a natural choice for professional GTD.* We’ll show you how you can model Allen’s five stages of managing your work right in LiquidPlanner, while still leveraging the tracking, reporting, and collaboration aspects that are critical to professional project management.

Getting Things Done is all about getting information out of your head and into a “trusted external memory” – in this case, a collaborative online project management system. Then you’ve got to do something with it. The steps below are simply an interpretation of the standard GTD practice, but they just might help you deal with your project information overload.

Stage 1: Collect things that command our attention.

Professional project management teams have lots of bits going back and forth. Some are tasks that need to be completed as part of a project, some are merely information odds and ends that should be captured and archived. Sometimes it’s customer feedback that’s been submitted, other times it’s ideas for the future. If it’s sitting around in email, it’s creating a drag on individuals, and it’s also losing value and relevance.

Strategy: Set up an “Inbox” in LiquidPlanner. Start by creating a general holding package for all “new” stuff. Using email integration you can send email directly into LiquidPlanner and automatically create a new task for each item. This is a great way to clear your inbox of those things you need to capture, plus it’s a quick way to capture the thoughts and ideas rattling around in your brain.

Shared Workspace Inbox

Stage 2: Process what they mean and what to do with them.

Now that you have an inbox set up, it needs to be addressed on a regular basis. A human (or humans) need to decide what to do with the stuff in it. Here, the infamous “flow chart” comes into play in traditional GTD. While the same basic principles apply here, you might take a slightly different approach in the context of team work (since there’s so much more of it!).

This is where priority-based scheduling shines as a GTD technique. You might be part of a project team that prioritizes on the “macro-level” (i.e., they prioritize projects as a whole), or you might get a little more granular and prioritize on the “micro-level” (with individual tasks using Packages.) The micro-prioritization technique is one that can help individuals within teams keep on top of the different tasks they’re working on across projects.

Strategy: Set up packages to represent Events, Next Actions, Projects, Waiting, Someday/Maybe. As you’re processing and organizing individual items, you can choose the correct package or project for each one. For instance, if it’s a “quick win” and can be done right away, put it in “Next actions.” If it’s a task that can be done along with its corresponding project, it can just live in the project folder. If it’s a task or project that’s on hold (“Waiting for”) or is just an idea for later (“Someday/Maybe”), it can be dropped in those buckets. Also key to this stage will be delegating items to the right team member.

Package Prioritization

Stage 3: Organize the results.

As the old saying goes, you need a place for everything, and everything in its place. You likely already have a structure of projects and folders for different areas of your business.  Some are specific and some are miscellaneous buckets, but every item should have a place to call home within the structure of your organization.

Strategy: Make good organization a habit.  You might put an item in “Someday/Maybe” called “Research new billing system.” If that’s part of the “Operations” functional area, take the time to make that association. When the portfolio review period rolls around, you’ll be glad you’ve pulled everything into a logical place.

Task Organization

Stage 4: Review what’s on your plate.

Every week, project managers and individuals should review the priority/status of entire projects as well as individual tasks, and make adjustments based on the current business landscape. In one week, a lot can change – deadlines, requirements, resource availability, external factors, etc. That’s why frequent reviews and adjustments are the cornerstone of healthy task and project management. Static plans (made only once or twice in the  course of a project) fall flat – they can’t keep up with those kinds of changes.

GTD Concerned MeetingStrategy: Define a business process to support weekly project / portfolio review.  Maybe you hold a weekly project team meeting to address concerns, or perhaps there’s a central project planner with a big-picture view who is in charge. The business process you decide on will depend on the nature of your specific team; the important thing is that you have one.

Stage 5: Do Stuff.

Ok, then! You’ve captured all the work. Processed it. Organized it. And reviewed it. Now you actually have to DO it. While your tasks might be neatly prioritized, you still have to make some common-sense decisions about what to do NOW. A few factors to consider:

  1. Context: What CAN you do in this very moment? If you’re working from home and need something that’s sitting on your desk for a particular task, don’t waste time – just move on to something else on your list.
  2. Time available: What do you have time to do now? If your next meeting is starting in 20 minutes, it’s not a great time to tackle a four hour task.
  3. Energy available: If you’re a morning person and get to the office before everyone else, take a bite out of a big project that’s on your plate. If it’s 4pm and you’re starting to drag, work on an item that doesn’t require complex thinking.
  4. Priority: If you have the context, time, and energy available, you can simply work your list in priority order.

While priority is king in LiquidPlanner, project team members still need the autonomy to go through these basic considerations when figuring out what tasks to work on. By using a shared system that can communicate status, progress, and roadblocks online semi-automatically, you’ll reduce the friction that so often zaps professional teams of the momentum they need to sustain a long-term productivity.

How does your project management process resemble GTD? What efficiencies could you add to your change management, organization, or prioritization practices that could reduce stress on your team? We’d love to know. In the meantime, here are some more GTD resources and blogs to get you thinking:

*We don’t claim to be experts in the GTD method, nor is LiquidPlanner specifically designed for GTD. This post is meant to spark ideas about how to use macro and micro-level prioritization to help managing the constantly changing set of work, priorities, and ideas being managing by today’s fast-paced teams.