How to Improve Team Project Management

Designers, engineers, product managers, support specialists, and the like are all pressed for time. As such, we tend to look for areas of optimization. The shortest route from point A to point B.

We may find a shortcut building a product or application. Yet, we may never find a shortcut for communication, particularly with regard to a project management tool. This is where some of our smallest inefficiencies become the source of our largest frustrations.

Shortcuts in communicating the details of a task or bug can cause exponential aggravation, loss of time, and incremental expenses. Here are a few tips to keep a team happy and highly productive while using a project management tool, shortcuts aside.

Provide Clarity

While looking through a list of tasks or issues inside a project management tool the hope is they all provide a clear understanding. An understanding created with a concise title and description. Attachments, screenshots, lists, or to-dos that help provide more clarity and detail are also appreciated.

What’s not appreciated are long rambling thoughts that never get to the point. The team should not have to extend extra effort to thoroughly understand or identify the priorities of a task or issue. If necessary, break your thoughts up into multiple tasks or issues to provide more clarity around each one.

Look for Duplicates

Before creating a new task or issue see if it, or a related one, already exist. More times than not it may. A quick search or glance over existing tasks and issues can save everyone on the team, yourself included, time and frustration from creating and squashing duplicates.

Separate Out Feature Requests

While in the process of working through or thinking about a task or issue it’s common to come up with new ideas and features. This is great! Those ideas that are relevant, and within scope of what is currently being worked on, should be discussed. Those that are not should be added to a “backlog” to discuss later.

Learning to understand what is and is not within scope is difficult and important. It’s easy to ask for additional features. It’s entirely different to have to build those features. Approach this process with blinders, focusing on what needs to be done immediately, knowing the ideal state may need to be planned and prioritized later. Communicate what’s important today and what’s not, saving your team the stress of having to figure out exactly what’s necessary now versus the long term.

Explain the “What” & Not the “How”

No one likes to be told how to do their job. Teams are no different. Trust that the team is smart and can execute at a high level. Ideally that’s why they were hired in the first place.

Help set a vision and give the team all of the context they’ll need to execute. Then, get out of the way and let them work. Telling someone who knows better than you how to do their job doesn’t help. You’re best not to do it.

Do Your Own QA (Quality Assurance)

If you’re curious if a task has been completed, the best way to know is to look for yourself. If you’re curious if an issue has been resolved, the best way to know is to look for yourself.

You get the idea. Wherever possible, look for yourself to see if something has been done. If you’re unsure or don’t know how to look, ask someone on the team to teach you how.

Letting the team know you care and are willing to put in the effort to do your own QA builds a great amount of trust and respect.

Keep the Scope Fixed

One of the most frustrating experiences a designer or engineer can have is being told the work they just completed needs to be rethought. This is particularly true when the context of what they’re working on has changed unknowingly to them.

It understandably happens though. As projects move forward context is bound to change. New and better ideas will arise. In this process don’t lose sight of what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish, and do as much as you can to bring any new ideas or context to light as early as possible.

Before even creating a task or issue think about it thoroughly. All angles of it. Then clearly layout your request. If new ideas come up over the course of working on the task or issue, see if those ideas can be separated out and addressed later as to not change the current scope of work. If the current task or issue needs to be changed, acknowledge it and genuinely apologize for changing the scope.

Even the smallest change in scope can be detrimental. Understand what you’re asking for, and what ripple effects may occur.

Pitch In

Going back to the beginning: Designers, engineers, product managers, support specialists, and the alike are all pressed for time. We all are. That’s not an excuse to shortcut communication though.

Put yourself in the shoes of your teammates. Think about what you can do to help them, big or little. If there is something you can take off their plate, do it. If there is an area where you can lend a hand, do it. Don’t hesitate to pitch in!

Special thanks to John Ballou for lending me his client service expertise here.