There’s no denying that visual management software, tools and skills are considered hot button topics within offices around the world.
Managers have their own ways of getting work done, and very few are eager to completely change their ways or disrupt their employees’ current workflows.
However, if you can manage to set aside the spreadsheets, your business can thrive. Here’s why you should switch to visual project management software, and how to start the transition.
Regardless of the Company or Industry, Most Projects are Failing
Annually, the Standish Group creates a Chaos Report that studies thousands of projects — from minor upgrades to major software launches — and evaluates their success based on a variety of factors. One of the most striking points is that fewer than 30% of projects are considered a success, and about 20% fail completely.
However, a few experts have started to question this data. Software engineer Scott Ambler believes the definitions of success are so fluid that almost anyone can fail. In some companies, developers believe they fail when they don’t deliver on time, while others think they’ve failed if they were on time but lacked all of the necessary features.
“What it measures is whether project teams are reasonably on time, on budget, and are building something to specification,” Ambler writes. “…As our study found, only a very small minority of teams seem to use these as their success criteria.”
Despite the controversy, it’s safe to say most companies feel as though they’re not performing as well as they could. In fact, 75% of IT and business executives believe their software projects will fail, which leads to $50 to $150 billion per year lost due to failed IT projects in the US alone.
However, failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In an article for Vistage, Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, believes it’s OK to have several little failures to prevent a major one. Problems with milestones and scope creep can actually identify problems early on, so your team doesn’t have to return to the project six months later.
“[It’s] far better to miss a milestone at the ten percent mark when there’s still time to make adjustments than when you’re closing in on the final stretch,” he writes.
Companies Still Use Outdated Methods to Track Projects
So, why are so many of these projects failing? Mostly because of outdated technology and a lack of process.
There are three common ways for businesses to collaborate and track projects:
- with countless excel spreadsheets and Google Docs,
- with constant communication through meetings and phone calls,
- and with a paper trail.
All three of these tactics eventually lead to failure.
Companies Still Run on Paper
In an article for CIO, technologist John Brandon explained that despite the digital era, companies are still reliant on paper — especially when it comes to formal documents such as invoices and onboarding paperwork.
“73 percent of the ‘owners and decision-makers’ at companies with fewer than 500 employees print at least four times per day … onboarding, invoicing, and printing notes are still common occurrences, especially in paper-centric departments like human resources, legal and accounting.”
While online contract services such as DocuSign might improve the process for some companies, others are still printing, signing and scanning because they want an original hardcopy.
Verbal Communication Falls Through the Cracks
If there’s anything worse than relying on a paper trail, it’s reliance on verbal communication. Many companies use the scrum method of weekly and daily calls to review projects and assign tasks — and all it takes is one daydreaming employee to throw off a project for a week.
In an article for Fast Company, communications expert Dianna Booher explains where communication breakdowns occur and how they can be prevented. She recommends limiting communication to the key highlights, so teams don’t have time to get overwhelmed or distracted.
“Leaders fail when their communication provides so much information that it overwhelms people,” she writes. “Great leaders cut through the clutter; they understand that more is not better, but instead often weakens impact.”
Excel Spreadsheets Can Only Go So Far
John Reeve of Intervals shared his story of adopting project management software in a piece on Capterra’s blog. “Our problem was managing projects and tracking time using Excel spreadsheets — a simple process that left us perpetually a week behind on every project,” he writes. “Problems went undetected until it was too late.”
Reeve found that ditching the spreadsheets for a more organized system increased his productivity by 30%. Reeve isn’t alone: Almost 45% of companies don’t use project management software to track deadlines, workflow and performance.
Start By Hiring the Right People for the Job
According to the Project Management Institute, there will be an expected 15.7 million new project management jobs created between 2010 and 2020 — worth $6.6 trillion to the global economy.
Paul Yeomans, managing director at Manifestly Important, tells PMI that he has seen the demand increase firsthand from his home in York, England. “Change management skills are being asked for more and more,” Yeomans says. “…Project managers who are strong in this area will be well placed to advance.”
However, just because there’s job growth doesn’t mean the right people are getting hired. Business solution designer and consultant Brad Egeland explains exactly why project management jobs are so hard to fill.
“More organizations seem to want some hands on experience from the project manager for the projects they will be overseeing,” he writes.
Not only do candidates need to have strong leadership and organizational skills, but they also need to understand the tech side and have experience in the actual industry. It’s hard to make sure a project is on track if you don’t know the time and processes to complete it.
The need for project management skills versus industry experience leads to a tug-of-war within companies. As a result, many organizations are opting to train lower-level employees to become project managers, instead of hiring from the outside.
Adam Toren, co-founder of iSmallBusiness.com, found that external hires make an average of 20% less and are 21% more likely to quit than internal candidates.
“Internal hires offer the advantage of already having company knowledge, which reduces ramp-up time new hires would require,” he writes at Business.com. “It also increases employee engagement both with the promoted employee and with other coworkers.”
By investing in your current talent, you’re creating loyal employees and a promotion path for those who haven’t been promoted.
Align Your Tools With Your Team’s Learning Style and Incentives
One you have a project manager to take the lead, you both need to evaluate your employees and find tools that would work for them.
Cater to Visual Learners
The team at Shift eLearning found that 65% of people consider themselves visual learners, and more education companies are using graphics in their coursework. This is because visuals transmit messages faster, while improving comprehension and sticking in the long-term memory.
If you’re working with a team of visual learners, choosing software that has visual diagrams of your timelines, or even graphics that go along with tasks can help your employees better understand the project’s requirements.
Find Opportunities for Praise
Training Journal has put together a managerial toolkit that covers the importance of praise in the workplace. A positive word here or there could increase employee engagement and make them feel a greater sense of loyalty to the company.
However, there is a drawback. “For praise to have an enduring impact on employee engagement, it needs to be offered regularly,” Training Journal’s team writes. “…Employees who report that they are not adequately recognised at work are three times more likely to say they will leave in the following year.”
This puts a lot of pressure on managers to regularly praise their team members.
Visual software creates opportunities for praise and provides motivation for employees to do better. By highlighting on-time projects and assignments in green, and incomplete projects in red, your team can clearly see who is getting their work done and completing their tasks on time.
This lets managers know who is doing their work, and it creates an opportunity to highlight an employee for their exemplary job.
Evaluate Software on Ease of Use
Checking to make sure your new software tool is helpful and easy for your employees to use might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s rarely a top priority among managers.
VendHQ’s Francesca Nicasio found that price and features are the top to requirements for managers when they’re looking for a new software vendor — and ease of use comes in dead last. “Most buyers focus on the dollar figure, but with ‘ease of use’ at the bottom of their priorities, it’s clear that customers aren’t factoring the cost of training their staff into the equation,” she says.
Buying a visual management tool without your employees in mind could cost you more in the long run than buying a cheap tool the boss likes.
Take Steps to Make the Transition Easier
Even if you involve your team in the selection process, there are bound to be bumps in the road when you’re onboarding everyone to the new software tool. These experts offered their advice for a smooth transition from the day you introduce the software to your first complete project:
Utilize Onboarding Tools and Documents
Before you set your team loose with a new software or project management tool, collect onboarding documents and resources so they understand what they’re using instead of blindly adopting a new tool.
Dr. Ayesha Habeeb Omer of CommLab India offers advice for different ways to onboard employees, from educational videos to visual descriptions. One of the most helpful tools is a process document, which will help your team complete basic tasks for the first few weeks that they use it.
“Even though employees are learning about the software, they will feel comfortable if they have 2-3 page handouts on how to perform the steps,” Dr. Omer writes. “These handouts should contain single line instructions with screenshots. They make the learner feel that the steps are very simple and motivate them to learn the software.”
Be Flexible and Patient With Your Team
As you start to transition to visual management software, you’ll need to create a three-to-six month window for your managers and employees to adapt to the change in protocol.
Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, Associate Director for Boston College Center for Work & Family, explains the importance of flexibility whenever a new process is introduced: “Managers need to be trained on how to lead differently. They need to understand how to evaluate requests, develop a team strategy and be given coaching on how to manage the dynamics of a flexible team, and encouraged to share best practices with peers.”
Remember, your managers set the tone for employee engagement, and failing to onboard and motivate them to the new tools can cause the whole adoption process to slow down.
Prove that Visualizations Solve Problems
As your team starts to utilize the new software tool, make sure you highlight the ways visualization has solved various problems and made their process flow easier.
Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc., shared her process for using project management to remove obstacles in a piece for PM Times.
Her first piece of advice is to identify your top three problems and brainstorm alternative solutions. “Soon, you’ll have far fewer obstacles to overcome — and you’ll likely become more effective by default since you can focus on fewer issues at a time!”
Visual management software can help you create “if-then” trees to reduce stress. This way, when a crisis eventually strikes, your team will have its backup plan ready and can execute it easily.
Very few companies believe they have time for overhaul their systems and train their employees on a new tool, but the reality is they can’t afford not to. Continuing with the status quo will inevitably lead to more missed deadlines, frustrated employees and continued financial loss.