Layoffs and hiring freezes have emerged as a troubling trend given evidence of a slowing economy. In fact, many economists are predicting formalization of the inflation-induced recession as we flip the calendar into 2023. As such, most of us are facing resource constriction and forced now to think about how to do more, with less.
This article offers several solutions to this challenge, providing prioritization, process and people tips and how technology can be leveraged. Whether your team has talent and funding limitations, or you simply aspire to achieve greater productivity, the tactics and technology suggestions offered below can translate to big wins for you, your team, and your company.
The temptation to pile work onto our teams is ever-present. It stands to reason that team members have capacity to sift through assignments, consider company priorities or interpret published Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to identify and focus on getting the most important work done first. This reasoning is a fallacy. To some degree, each of us is a victim of procrastination and most of us find temptation in first tackling what is urgent or easy vs. what is most important strategically. And while some of us are blessed with rock stars who can sift through and deliver in the face of a steadily increasing pile of assigned work, we also risk burning out our best talent.
There is a path to clarity that will focus attention on the right work and will diminish the likelihood of burning out your brilliant players. It is called strict prioritization. Force yourself to identify what is most important and capture it in a list of priority work ordered from most important to least. This is not to say those items low on the list are not core to what your company goals are, but rather an acknowledgement that many things influence order.
For example, when ordering features for our development roadmap at LiquidPlanner, we consider several things:
- How it will benefit existing customers
- How it will benefit new customer prospects
- Whether it will improve or extend our competitive differentiation
- The degree of difficulty to build and support
With these things in mind, we can readily organize our priorities and assign work accordingly. Note that I said readily and not easily. Making these decisions isn’t easy. We always want to do more than our team can realistically deliver. Therefore, we must apply appetite control and narrow the features we book into each release. This way, we ensure we maintain the high quality and performance bars that our customers deserve. With this approach we have shipped more than 100 discrete features over the last 16 releases.
I have witnessed companies large and small admirably define and document then commit to deploying things like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) only to have them fail somewhere in the middle of the organization. Why? While objectives are an effective way to capture high-level priorities of an organization, they often lack sufficient detail and are rarely translated into finite projects and tasks. Projects are where the real work of an organization gets done. A disciplined approach to planning then executing a project via thoughtful assignment of tasks, tracking progress, and managing risk as it emerges is the currency organizations rely upon to fund progress. Without effective project execution, meaningful progress falls way short of delivering on aspirational objectives and ‘key’ results.
The breakdowns occur in the middle of an organization. Mid-level managers struggle to interpret how objectives translate to real projects and tasks. They sometimes fail to redirect their teams away from daily work to ensure sufficient attention is paid to top priorities. And traditional processes like annual or quarterly performance reviews fall far short of the need for frequent (read daily) coaching and guidance so that your team can perform at its best.
The solution is to deploy processes that align and focus daily work. The easy path is to adopt technology built around prioritization for this purpose. Project management tools capture important work, enable clear assignments across available resources and serve up daily tasks according to project progress and inevitable changes such as shifting priorities or talent availability. For just dollars per day per team member, you can readily improve individual and project throughput by 40 to 60% or more. Using a conservative 40% productivity target, an $80,000 per year salary can be displaced across just two employees performing optimally by deploying software that enables process and execution efficiency. What’s more, if the tool you choose automates updates, project leaders and participants will always know project status, be able to confidently predict outcomes and promise delivery dates to key stakeholders. And team members appreciate the clarity achieved when assignments are clear, there is a record of their contributions and transparency relative to what others are working on. The tangible process improvements generate desired productivity. The intangible improvement to the work environment improves trust and job satisfaction, extending the value of this investment in process.
When considering new tools and tactics you must always consider the impact of change on the people you lead. By nature, we resist change. Change opens the door to FUD – fear, uncertainty, and doubt. So, prior to implementation of any new process or technology, consider the needs of your people.
A good place to start is by building awareness and offering assurance. Help everyone understand the ‘why’ that supports the change. I.e.: “We need to keep our belt tight this year which means delivering with the team we have. To achieve greater throughput, we will focus on prioritizing work and improving processes to ensure all the work we do really counts. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I spend an hour or a day on work that doesn’t really matter, and I suspect that is true for many of us. We will adopt a project management tool to achieve these gains and together, deliver more than we thought was possible.”
With the ‘why’ answered, it is time to think about selecting a solution that is easy to adopt from a vendor committed to supporting the effort. Does the solution have a built-in learning platform design to support in-app learning like Academy? Check review sites like G2 and Software Reviews to see what others say about how intuitive the user interface is, how easy the tool is to adopt and whether the vendor makes good on the promise of support. And if the vendor offers professional services consultation, consider it as a way to save your valuable time while you and the team do more with less! The up-front investment will accelerate the adoption process and your team’s timeline to achieving the productivity gains that will make a real difference in organizational performance. In fact, you or the HR department probably has a training budget that can be tapped for this purpose. Use it.
The digitization trend accelerated through the pandemic as many organizations embraced the need to enable suddenly distributed team members to be connected and execute work with technology. In the rush to deploy this tech, many teams selected software that has fallen short on delivering a sustainable solution. In countless cases, the software has failed to deliver on the promise, likely due to a combination of poor implementation, over-sold expectations, and a mountain of manual effort required to keep the tool relevant. In other cases, the software may be delivering part of the promise like task capture or assignment clarity, but functionality gaps and inaccurate insights inhibit real improvement needed in today’s demanding environment.
The most effective software delivers value where humans struggle and enables us to contribute where we can add maximum value. LiquidPlanner does just this. The software automates updates so that when things like priorities or resource assignments change in one project, all related tasks and timelines dynamically update across the entire portfolio of projects in the organization. This alone saves countless hours of manual updates that plague project teams. And because manual updates are cumbersome, they don’t get done leading to inaccurate project insights, flawed analysis, and damaging decisions.
Software really can deliver magical results. We are proud to have customers whom we’ve helped do what seemed impossible. One example is a consulting firm who was able to take on 40% more assignments with the same staff via accurate resource allocation and trusted insights into project progress and outcomes. Another is a robotics manufacturer whose expensive talent was underutilized due to inconsistent and inefficient cross-project scheduling, inhibiting their ability to promise delivery dates to customers. LiquidPlanner’s automated scheduling engine enabled 90% confidence in project completion timelines that enhanced customer satisfaction and freed the team to take on more customer commitments in addition to expanding company revenue and profits.
When software can deliver tangible results such as these in addition to serving as a platform to improve communication, enhance collaboration, and align teams to focus on the highest priority work you have the ingredients for a big win. Don’t you, and your company, deserve that kind of success in 2023? Try it free for two weeks.
Ted Hawksford, CEO, LiquidPlanner