“Productivity” is an inescapable buzzword in the business world. A quick Google search for this topic yields more than 200 million results from sources including TED and Harvard Business Review. This makes sense when you consider how much the business world has changed in recent years.
We now live in an “always on” era with increasing automation and decreasing certainty. The Recession’s ruins dashed our illusions about staying at the same companies for decades and retiring with watches. So, in the face of unprecedented change, we wonder how to work at 110 percent.
Most productivity advice is pretty broad. Again, this makes sense at a high level: the productivity formula— “measuring the amount of units produced relative to employee labor hours or by measuring a company’s net sales relative to employee labor hours”— is helpful for business owners. But how should project managers define productivity?
The rise of business Agile
With so many ways to manage projects, it’s tough to know which strategy is best for your team. Should you adopt Agile or stick with Scrum? Which software will streamline your project team’s workflow?
Ultimately, questions like these aim to answer a bigger one: what does a productive project management team look like, and how can you build one?
The answer lies in a new but rapidly growing way to work. It’s a variation on a theme that has been popular for some time. However, several of its key characteristics are new – and their impact is growing so quickly that it’s changing how project teams work.
So, how should you define project management productivity? Adopt business Agile— a framework based on following a small set of best practices that are unique to your business.
The key to business Agile is ensuring that your project team’s unique best practices are formed on legal, moral, and ethical standards. Everything else is decided in real time based on Agile principles.
The Agile evolution
Businesses of all sorts have worked to adopt Agile for years— a sign that project management methods have become more mainstream. However, business Agile in its current form came about last year.
As Capterra’s Rachel Burger explains, today’s business Agile movement is largely defined by two forces: the fact that it moves up from small businesses to enterprises and is beloved by younger employees who prioritize flexible working. Since most organizations are small businesses – and today’s young employees are tomorrow’s managers – both forces suggest that this trend is here to stay.
Business Agile has a been a big topic of discussion in project management this year – the inaugural conference on this topic was hosted last February. In September 2017, Gartner published a six-principle framework for clients on how to adopt a business Agile mindset.
And Gartner’s 2018 Program and Portfolio Management Summits lists business Agile as a “hot topic” for the conference. It falls under a track called “Pioneer: Techniques for Rapid Response and Delivery.”
Business Agile = project management productivity
As these examples show, business Agile will grow in popularity. That’s due in large part to the impact that it has on project management productivity.
If everyone on your team works according to the same set of guidelines, everything else becomes more flexible. Suddenly, your team doesn’t need constant supervision, wonder which tools to use, or ask what the best way is to provide value for colleagues and customers.
Currently, business Agile looks different based on which type of project management you practice. Michelle Coehlo —author of Gartner’s report on the six-principle business Agile framework — defines it in these terms for project managers at the PMO level:
One could argue that these principles benefit project managers on teams of all sizes. But having a PMO denotes a level of project management maturity. So, where does that leave smaller project teams?
In this article, we’ll share six business Agile principles based on Capterra’s forecast. This forecast is agnostic to project team size and inclusive of small businesses:
Then, six project managers will share how they use business Agile principles to boost project management productivity.
Core business value
Every project has internal stakeholders. But in the past, project management often occurred when team members and stakeholders worked in organizational silos.
Since Agile is a business-oriented framework, it puts greater weight on values like team collaboration and focus on the customer. This framework espouses that if project team members feel taken care of, this feeling will translate to customers:
“Joy, or team happiness, is an overlooked metric that’s rarely measured on teams and compared against hard data. I’m interested in empowering our teams to be successful and drive the right solutions by fundamentally understanding the ‘why’ of what we’re building. So, it’s not about rules or top-down management. It’s about long term happiness and predictability rather than sheer, increased productivity.
“We’re passionate about balanced metrics and have written about Speed, Accuracy, Quality, and Joy to keep your team focused on the right measures. For us, we keep a very close eye on Work in Progress (WIP), Throughput, and compare that against the team’s take on Preparedness and Release Confidence.
“I was much more of a velocity-at-any-cost type earlier in my career. But the more you work with teams, the more you understand that [they need] predictability. Low volatility means that you can plan for growth and really understand your capacity to execute. Plus, over time, I’ve seen how much team happiness influences performance, and it’s a critical component to measure.”
-Dave Shanley, Co-Founder and CEO of Notion
Despite the team aspect of project management, it was often a more individualist practice. Since “go-to-market” was the core success metric, project managers cared about efficiency above all else.
In business Agile, efficiency still matters. The difference is that within this framework, efficiency stems from collaboration. Responsiveness, effectiveness, and teamwork are the factors that drive meaningful change. Thanks to project management and time tracking software, this can occur regardless of where in the world your project team members are:
“We have employees all over the world. Unfortunately, after a few negative experiences, we searched for a solution to track the actions our employees take while logged in during working hours. We now require all out of office staff to use Time Doctor.
“We track screen shots, time per project, time per software used, webcam shots, and metrics of productivity. In the event of ‘low productivity’ for example,our team leader receives an email. Of course, the workers are acutely aware of the software, and our productivity has greatly increased since implementing it three months ago.”
– Brad M. Shaw, president and CEO of Dallas Website Design
Autonomy is a relatively new concept in project management. In the past, teams often took a top-down approach to the practice. But in an “always on” world, today’s project team members want to work differently.
In return for bringing broader skill sets to their roles, they expect to work on smaller teams with faster processes. And far from demanding structure, project managers on business Agile teams plan for and expect change. They also expect the autonomy to manage these changes in accordance with the project strategy:
“As a PMP-certified project manager working in a boutique agency with a bi-coastal team, my management style is a hands-off approach combined with whole-hearted trust. Our team has created a system where full transparency is not just the expectation, but the preferred way of working. “We use tools like Slack that help us maintain transparency through more efficient communication. Learning the principles of project management gave me the skills to write my own rules based off of my work environment.
“With a remote team, battling different time zones and high-profile clients, expecting change and re-prioritizing tasks in real time is key to our success. Staying at a 10,000-foot view and trusting that the team will deliver proves to increase their productivity over and over.
“I used to associate productivity with meeting timelines set forth at the beginning of a project, no matter what! Now I understand that change is inevitable. Our ability to adapt to change and react quickly plays an important role in how productive we can be. I also believe that fully engaged employees working on meaningful projects will deliver the best work, hands down!”
-Lindsay McCleary, Manager of Client Services at Brilliant Ink
Managing the members of your project team is just as crucial as managing the project. Skills-based, short-term hires are going out of style. In business Agile, project managers will shift to hiring team members who can adapt to change.
In return for their agility, project team leads will take an increasingly hands-off approach to management. They understand that not everyone is productive in the same way. So, they’ll give their team members the freedom to own their schedules in return for meeting team goals:
“After being a project manager for seven years, I can assure you that the productivity of your team depends as much on their work as on your own. The best form of management is to divide your work group into small teams of no more than three people. Each team must be formed by one or two programmers and a designer. A project manager can manage up to five teams at the same time.
“This structure is what allowed us to improve our productivity by 37.2 percent! And when I speak of productivity, I refer to tasks within our software that are finished in a timely, successful manner.
“The most important objective is to minimize the interruptions that an employee can suffer, because there is no worse enemy for productivity than interruptions! A programmer needs an average of four continuous hours without interruptions to reach his optimum point of concentration. And that is what we are looking for: to boost our productivity.”
-Cristian Rennella, Co-Founder and CTO of elMejorTrato.com
Historically, project management reporting has used internal goals to dictate customer success. By contrast, business Agile fuses specific internal and customer goals.
This can be achieved by using project management software to map tasks, sprints, and features back to the project strategy. When all aspects of a project live within the same tool that everyone uses, all team members can prioritize the customer requests that align most clearly with the project vision:
“I believe [Agile is] the best method because of the very nature of entrepreneurship and development. People are generally inclined to plan. So, one might sit down and plan out all of the features of a piece of software, then go back and try to build it. That’s not Agile. Instead, with broad strokes, I paint a picture of where our team is headed, and then I break the product into regularly attainable task sprints.
“The focus is not about gold-plated or fully featured products right out of the gate. It’s about constant and steady work in furtherance of larger goals. We don’t build features based on assumptions, or at least we try not to. Instead, we build features by getting out the most minimum representations of them. We then test our assumptions and user behavior before returning to development.”
-Marcus Harjani, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of FameMoose
In project management, output refers to how often project teams ship new features. The exact amount of time between sprints isn’t as important.
In business Agile, output refers to quick, continuous delivery over days or weeks. Project managers achieve this via many tools, from project management methodology to software:
“We use a variant of Scrum that we have adapted to our own purposes. The team meets daily at 9:05 AM to give an update on progress, outline the tasks for the day, and ask any questions that would otherwise hold up productivity. This daily meeting also minimizes disruptions throughout the day, so employees have all the information they need to get the job done without waiting on co-workers. It has been a very successful adoption for us.
“We use Salesforce with customizations via Skuid, [and it has] been a game changer for us. Everything is in one place, from the first moment when a client is a lead through to finishing project deliverables, and it’s even synced [with] QuickBooks. It has [transformed] our team’s productivity by ensuring that everything from year-long projects to small micro-tasks are done well and delivered on time. As our client base grows and we add more staff, having these processes in place gives us the structure to keep quality assurance high as we scale. “
– Amanda Murray, Digital Marketing Coordinator at seoplus+