Have you ever peeked inside an airplane cockpit? A typical 747 is said to have around 365 buttons, gauges, lights and switches. Each of them offers one slice of visibility and control to the pilot, in terms of fuel, hydraulics, electrical, navigation and more. But it wasn’t always this way.
In the early days of flight, pilots relied on visual contact with the ground and manual “stick and rudder” control of the aircraft. When visibility was restricted due to cloud or fog, pilots would have to react to the physical feel of the plane, chill of the wind, seat vibrations and other instinctive cues. This is where the term “flying by the seat of your pants” came from.
Just as aviation has increased in complexity, so has the very nature of enterprise work today. It’s no longer possible to rely solely on what you can physically observe in the office, how busy people appear to be, the results of your monthly one-on-ones, or your gut feel about how things are going.
There are sophisticated instruments available now, via today’s robust project management software and work-tracking solutions, that can give you a firmer read on your work atmosphere.
If you’re still struggling with visibility—essentially flying by the seat of your pants, despite these advances—here are four possible reasons why:
1.You’re Relying on Manual Reporting Processes
Even with a cohesive, united team that’s firmly committed to the principle of visibility, if you don’t give them an easy, intuitive, automatic way to report and track their work, transparency will suffer. Here are some clues that you’re relying too much on manual reporting:
- You still hold status meetings
- You have to send an email to notify someone that a task is completed
- You stop by employees’ cubicles to ask whether projects are on track
- You expect team members to update a spreadsheet with project details, like budget and delivery dates
- You have employees tracking time by hand
You can stop doing all five of those things immediately, just by implementing a comprehensive work management solution. Such a system collects all project information (details, due dates, budget, etc.) and all conversation and collaboration surrounding the project into one space. Team members can easily track their time within the system. Notifications are sent automatically if a due date changes. And managers can easily view individual and team progress, available bandwidth, and more from a single, intuitive dashboard.
As it is, enterprise workers are devoting just 39% of their time to their primary job duties. Take away the manual tracking and reporting, and you may see that number tick up a few percentage points.
2.You’re Spending Too Much Time on Email
Email is great for a lot of things, but visibility isn’t one of them, even with the liberal use of the “cc” feature. When asked what gets in the way of their work, 43% of office workers listed “excessive emails” as a main culprit.
Email is especially bad for things like group collaboration (it’s too easy for someone to forget to “reply all” or miss your email altogether in a crowded inbox), sending out proofs and approvals (you can get lots of conflicting and overlapping feedback), and work requests (you can’t see what else is in the person’s work queue before you send your request). There are more effective and transparent tools available to achieve each of these functions.
3.You’re Not Taking Advantage of Software Integrations
Do you have multiple cloud-based software solutions that perform overlapping functions? Do you have to manually transfer information from one tool to another? Do you have to enter the same information multiple times into different systems?
Software silos can be a big barrier to visibility, both in undermining the effectiveness of each individual solution and in allowing important information to fall through the cracks.
I have a friend who works in the content-creation arm of a large non-profit organization. She spends her day toggling between five different tracking and communication systems that haven’t been configured to work well together. She has to input the details of each project in an on-premises custom software, and also enter it into Trello, and also email the details to each participant, and also set it up in the project-management software that the organization purchased to solve all the other problems. Why? Because when the project management solution was implemented, it wasn’t fully integrated with existing systems, and nothing else was retired. The new solution just got layered on top of all the old systems, and individual departments were allowed to keep using the old systems they were accustomed to.
Most situations aren’t this extreme, but there are still efficiencies you could be missing out on if you haven’t fully integrated the cloud-based solutions you use most so they play well with each other. Workfront, for example, integrates seamlessly with email, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, SharePoint, Salesforce, Adobe Creative Cloud, and many other essential business tools.
If you’re paying for SaaS solutions that don’t integrate well with other systems, it may be time to start shopping for a replacement.
4.You Lack Streamlined Workflows
After several mergers and acquisitions, software systems group Emerson was dealing with a mix of workflows and project management methodologies. “Different projects were run in different ways,” said Emerson director of software engineering Bob Moore in a ComputerWeekly article. "There was not only a lack of consistency, but also a lack of visibility to where a particular project was in its lifecycle at any given point."
When different business units follow completely different workflows, company-wide visibility inevitably suffers. Middle managers can do little about this, apart from influencing leadership to try to address the problem and improving workflows in their own corner of the company in a way that could inspire other teams to follow suit.
Is it worth all that effort? Take it from Moore, who deployed Workfront in its InterMetro Industries arm:
“Workfront gave us data transparency and also a common yardstick that could be used to objectively measure projects, project phases and even individual activities against similar projects and activities in a way that didn’t require an inordinate amount of reporting on the part of project leaders and their teams.”
“The planning phase of projects has been shortened dramatically because the project templates and workflows walk teams right through what needs to be done and initiates the sort of momentum that’s necessary to get a project off the ground in a positive way.”
Your New 30,000-ft. View
In the early days of flight, rudimentary instruments paired with human observation and intuition were enough, most of the time—as long as skies were clear and sunny. But foggy and cloudy conditions often led to devastating casualties. As aviation instrumentation improved, pilots gained unprecedented visibility even in unpredictable weather.
Similarly, business instruments have improved drastically in recent years. It used to be enough to rely on what you could see with your physical eyes, the conclusions you reached based on human observation and gut intuition. Not anymore. Now more than ever, your ability to see what’s going on with your work team—in any business climate—requires the right tools, used in the right ways.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner