Getting started organizing your team’s work is the most crucial and hardest part of building a good workflow. At Unito, we know a lot about how different tools and workflows interact. If you’re new at this, here’s our guide to taking control of your team’s workflow in 5 easy steps
So what are the steps?
- Choose a tool
- Choose a planning style.
- Create a sample project
- Show your team & get feedback
- Try it for 60 days
1. Choosing the right tool for the job
Project management tools (such as Wrike, Asana, Trello, JIRA, and so on) are often a matter of preference. That said, we use a lot of tools at Unito (because we’re an integration service), and we have our own preferences for what kind of work we do in which tool. Generally speaking, if you’re a visual thinker, a board-based solution like Trello is a great way to go. If you think in lists or in outlines, then we’d recommend a list-based setup like Asana or Wrike. Both Asana and JIRA can actually serve as both a list and a board at the same time, showing the same tasks and issues in different views. If you’re not sure which way to go, you can always try them out and see which works for you.
Take our post as a recommendation, but if you already have a process built in a tool, don’t think that you need to switch out to a new tool just because it’s the one we recommend for a given planning style!
Process, not Policy
A policy is a course of action adopted by an organization. Once it’s been chosen, there’s not a lot of room for debate around what’s going to happen. A process is a system of steps that you go through to reach an end result, and you should always be looking for ways to improve the process and also the end result. Your goal with team leadership is to help unlock the best work from each of your team mates. What that work is and how it arrives may change over time, and the steps that you as team leader may take can also change. Keep in mind that your process should have room for feedback and flexibility to make sure it’s something that everyone in your team—you included!—can stick to.
2. Choose a planning style: Waterfall, Agile, or Kanban
Real PMO practitioners will argue about how we’re simplifying these three different styles of planning, but fundamentally they’re all about “how far ahead can you plan your project?” and “how much freedom do you want to give team members?”. The names themselves aren’t super important. Just keep in mind that the more advance planning you’re doing, the more work you’re taking on yourself and the less freedom you’re giving your team.
It’s not necessarily bad to have to plan a lot and not give a lot of room to team members: if you’re organizing 200 volunteers for a charity run, you don’t want to leave it up to them to decide where to put the start and finish lines. But if you have a team of experienced people who can self-organize, you may want to give them room to do that and go for a lighter planning style.
Here’s a super quick definition of each planning style:
Waterfall is the kind of project planning which requires the most upfront work. The whole plan, the success criteria, and the timeline for what work should be accomplished by when is all scoped and agreed to up front. When you’re planning via waterfall method, you can think of each deliverable as a part of a giant stepped waterfall: each completed task is another hop down to the bottom of the waterfall. When you’ve completed everything, your project is safely delivered at the base of the waterfall and is ready to sail off into the sunset.
Agile planning sits somewhere in between Waterfall and Kanban. You tend to plan detailed work for only a few weeks, but your overall plan is also set out from the beginning in a charter or design doc. Planning is done in short frames of time called “sprints”, which last 1, 2 or (rarely) 4 weeks. Planning in 1 – 2 week sprints means that your team members have a general theme that they’re each working on. At the end of each sprint, your team expects to have delivered a tangible chunk of work. This is a great way to divide a big project up into small chunks and motivate your whole team by showing them the best way to eat an alligator: one bite at a time.
Kanban project planning is the most ad hoc of the three styles. While you probably still have a project charter or design doc, you don’t plan out in explicit sprints. Instead, the Project Manager (that’s you!) should create a backlog for each team or team member and order it in priority of most to least importance. Team members tackle the list in order. There’s never a lack of things to do and never a question which should be done next. You can reorder the list of issues at any time, as long as you keep in mind that the top issue on the list—the one on which your team member is working right now—can’t be touched until he or she moves it.
Kanban requires a lot of trust in your team members, because they’re also free to change the order of your items in their stack if there are blocking issues or dependencies that you didn’t know about, and their judgement, experience, and motivation generally needs to be higher than with a more structured planning style.
3. Create a sample project
There are a lot of places you can see sample projects posted in public arenas for you to view, but one of the more exhaustive ones is here: https://trello.com/inspiringboards. You can also check out:
And more if you’re good at Google. 😉
4. Show your team & get feedback
There’s no I in “Team” (Except in languages like French, where it’s “Équipe” :P). If you want to help organize your team and get them to work better together, it’s important that they’re part of the process. Once you’ve got the sample project created in your tool of choice, walk your team through how it would work. In our experience, if you’ve found the right solution to keep your team on track, the reactions will be a lot closer to “thank goodness” than “I don’t want to!”
If you get a lot of push back from your team, it’s time to listen and see what it is that they don’t like about your planned new process: the tools, the change, the increase or decrease in accountability? Make sure that you’ve taken their concerns seriously and don’t force this on them. The quickest way to fail at adopting a new planning process and tool is to try and mandate that people who don’t want to use it must. It’s basically shooting pool with rope. 🙂
5. Stick with it for 60 days.
Science suggests that it takes 30 days to form a habit. That’s important because switching from using Slack or email to putting all of the work that needs to be taken care of into a specific tool is a new habit to learn, and it can be hard to do so. If you’re good about gently pushing your teams to put their work in your tool of choice, empowering your team mates to drive each other to use the tools and, of course to form the habit of checking your work management tool first when you’re trying to make sure of your project’s status.
Once you’ve built up the habit, then in the second 30 days you can begin to evaluate areas where you’d like to improve on your process, gather more feedback from your team, and formalize your team’s planning to unlock productivity & collaboration throughout your organization.
Got any tips of your own? Questions? Hit us up below or @ us on Twitter!