Work management can be a beautiful thing. But when things don't run right, when you don't have the proper structure in place, when you're just trying to survive from day to day, work management can be downright ugly.
The funniest thing about being in work management survival mode is that, when you've been in it for too long, you start to think that this is how work is. Without a respite from the barrage of requests, fire drills, and exceeded deadlines, you convince yourself that work is just chaos and that's that.
Today, I'm here to tell you two things. First, work management does not have to mean being in survival mode. Second, recognizing the symptoms of this condition is the first step toward recovery. So let's get to those symptoms, along with some examples from our own customers (who have since seen the light and made their way to a full recovery):
1. Run and Gun
Do you worry that you're making key decisions without putting in your due diligence? Are you so busy juggling challenges that you're blind to the bigger picture? If so, then you just might be in the throes of work management chaos.
Eckhart Diepenhorst, the director of Store Formats at Carphone Warehouse in Europe, was experiencing this back in 2011. Racing to get thousands of store refits done without impacting retail operations, Eckhart found himself beset with issues and with no time to address them properly.
"We had to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis, with no time to investigate and fix the root causes," he said. "We couldn't even quantify how specific issues were occurring."
Around the same time, Jen French, PMO Senior Manager at American Capital, found herself in a similar situation. So much of her attention was absorbed with patching together reports that strategy wasn't even in the conversation.
"I didn't have time to think strategically, ‘How do we improve the PMO?'" Jen said. "It was just, ‘How can we get some kind of message or some kind of reporting out there?'"
Of course, you can see where this is going. Being in survival mode may get today's tasks done, but without an eye on the strategic direction of those tasks, and the tasks coming down the pipe, Jen, Eckhart, and managers like them could very quickly find themselves miles from their intended objectives. This is one big reason why you need to get out of work management survival mode while you still have time.
2. Missing Time
You're work hard. There's no doubt about that. But every time you look at your to-do list, it's only gotten longer. And, before you know it, another day is over and you're wondering what happened to all your time. The same thing happens the next day and the next and…
You get the point. When you're in survival mode, you tend to not have enough time in the day to accomplish your key tasks. Often, your time is absorbed with manual tasks or communicating the same things repeatedly in emails, phone calls, texts, smoke signals.
This was the story at IDEX Health & Science where project engineers had to make the rounds to various buildings to get updates.
"Our engineers were wearing their shoes out running around the facility to different buildings trying to attract stakeholders and get updates and track things down," said Scott Ellis, Director of Engineering. "That was a big area of time loss for us. Our team was losing at least 15 percent of their time every week."
And this was before the project engineers finally got a chance to sit down to do their own tasks!
With the creative services team at ATB Financial in Edmonton, Alberta, lack of time to finish work during the week led to team members working over the weekend to regain their footing.
"We'd spend a couple of hours on the weekends putting all of our project data together to generate a report to give the VP of Marketing to give him a state of the nation on Monday morning," said Bill Gattinger, Senior Manager of Direct Marketing. "It was a very onerous, manual process. Very painful."
In this kind of environment, where teams are hemorrhaging time, it's easy to see how quickly this leads to late projects, frustration, and team member burnout.
3. Data Entry Deja Vu
One of the hallmarks of work management survival mode (and one of the biggest time drains) is how you seem to be doing the same things over and over again. In particular, the recording and sharing of data can steal upwards of 50% of your time, writing an update via email, then recording the same message in your trusty spreadsheet, only to then have to copy and paste that same info into your weekly report a few days later. Often, your work management tools are to blame for this. For any multitude of reasons, they refuse to share work data with each other, so you've got to do it all manually. Over and over again. As if you didn't have anything better to do.
The PMO at University Hospitals in Ohio found themselves stuck doing redundant data entry like this.
"Our previous project management platform was an administratively burdensome tool. [With our previous work management platform], you had to do your work and then stop, go into this tool and put some of that same information back in," said director Andy Kinnear. "It didn't really help you manage the effort."
4. All Trees, No Forest
As has been mentioned before, a big part being in survival mode is being so obsessed and overwhelmed with the trees around you that you can't see the forest beyond. You can't get a read on how your greater organization is performing or where they need to go next.
Take the Web Visibility group at LexisNexis, for instance. With their group divided into small cross-functional teams, each team had their own spreadsheet and their own way of tracking their work. This made it practically impossible to get a bird's eye view of how the whole group was doing. Their director, Frank Grippo, could deal with each team individually, but making data-driven strategic decisions for the whole group just wasn't happening.
"What we didn't have was global visibility," Frank said. "At any given time, a manager wouldn't be able to say how many builds were in the queue or how many projects were in the queue, how many were late, where they were."
And even if the managers wanted to gain that kind of group-wide visibility, such a task would be too time-intensive.
And time was one thing they didn't have a lot of.
5. Document Treasure Hunt
You're probably already picking up on this, but work survival mode is created largely by different team members doing things in their own different ways. Documents, for example, get spread all over Kingdom Come—in personal folders, on laptops, in flash drives, on sticky notes, on printed sheets of paper. Whatever each team member prefers.
So survival mode is marked by an inability to find documentation without performing a full-on scavenger hunt.
Going back to Andy at University Hospitals, the diaspora of documentation became a potential threat to their work. If a team member's computer crashed, or an employee was hospitalized, there was the real chance that vital documents could be lost or inaccessible to their team members.
"The project repository of documentation and deliverables was my laptop," said Andy. "I would get a copy of the charter or scope document, and I would save it off in a folder that sits on my C, on my hard drive. That's pretty risky."
This is the twisted reality that many workers live in, going through their days and weeks with a constant shortage of time, so busy they can't focus on their most vital tasks or the bigger picture behind their work. They are living in work management survival mode and it is ugly.
Now that you know what work management survival mode looks like, the real question becomes, "How do I get out?"