Being Flexible Is The Most Common Mistake Project Managers Make

· · project-management

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Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to get things done, and that time melts in your hands like ice in the sun? It’s probably because you keep your options open and don’t want to introduce rules and processes in your projects. But if you want to be more productive, you’ll have to be less flexible.

What it means to have a process

Now, you may not be a big believer in processes. In fact, you probably think you’d lose even more time because you’d have to manage the process itself. And you’d be right - if you look at big organizations, most have lots of unnecessary bureaucratic baggage. This is because the bigger the organization is, the harder it is to communicate and share knowledge, plus there’s rules for legal reasons, and, to a lesser degree, to make managers feel like they’re in control.

That’s why people avoid process and rationalize the decision by telling themselves that flexilibity is more important. But by wanting to remain flexible, they miss out on big benefits.

Why beign flexible is such a bad idea? It all boils down to being reactive vs proactive. Take for instance answering email:

  • No process: you check email several times a day at random moments, usually when you’re procrastinating or switching between tasks.

  • Process: you check email only before lunch and before going home; for anything urgent/important, there’s Slack or phone.

Problems of unorganized project

By not having a process, you create an illusion you’re free and flexible, but that’s really not the case. You just shift the responsibility from a self-imposed process to that of your environment - thus loosing control.

Having any kind of process on project is valuable for several reasons:

  • In the “no process” system, you react to your surrounding and send a signal that you’re always available and ready to drop whatever you’re doing. But with process in place, you send a clear message that there’s a time and place for everything and that you value your time - and more importantly, others have to value it too.

  • You’re less efficient as you spend a lot of time in idle mode and you procrastinate more than you should. By establishing a rule, you’re creating a safeguard against wasting time. It works just like freezing your credit card in a block of ice to avoid impulse shopping (so if you really need to make a purchase, you have to wait for the ice to thaw) - an obstacle helps you stay on the right path.

  • You may have all the know-how in your head, but you’ll waste time by having to explain how to do certain things to others. But once you have clear processes, you can document them in a company knowledge base (wiki or PDFs on a server) and redirect people to it, thus freeing you for more productive things. You can define processes within your project management tool.

Streamlining your workflow on projects

So how do you introduce processes that won’t smother productivity? The key is in making processes dead simple and easy to apply. Set too many complicated rules and you’ll find others quickly slipping into the inertia of no-process. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Update the company knowledge base (like DokuWiki) with new procedures for doing just about anything. Lack of knowledge (and having to seek it out) are the biggest productivity killers. All information should be ready at hand.

  • Have a style guide that people can consult when they’re not sure what font to use, how to name a task, folder, file structure, etc. (example of a formalized style guide)

  • Create recurring tasks so you automate task creation for things that should happen every day, week, or month, like: invoicing, reporting, SEO analysis, publishing blog posts, etc.

  • Use subtasks to lay out every step that needs to be done; for example, a “new blog post” task has several tasks like research, writing, promotion, etc. (Use recurring tasks for this, only disable recurrence and create tasks manually when you need them.)

  • Create project templates outlining what needs to be done for common types of project you do. This gives your projects structure and saves you time from creating a project from scratch.

  • Keep a Kanban board to track your project progress, spot pain points, and see how to fix them. A project management tool is perfect for this because your team isn’t not confined to a physical location and they can track work no matter where they are.

  • Enforce the rules until they become a habit (it takes at least 2 months for something to become a habit). Only when you internalize and master the rules, that you get to break them.

A little organization goes a long way. You don’t need to do the business process mapping or 5S, but have a few rules in place to keep you grounded. You can’t avoid processes so you might as well use them where you can, smartly.

And if you’re afraid that rules will kill your creativity, keep this in mind:

“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want—that just kills creativity.” - Jack White

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