One unnerving aspect of getting older is that life seems to speed up. Feeling that whoosh as time rushes past can be disheartening and may leave you wondering how to slow down time.
The famous management thinker Socrates once said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
As 2019 approaches, everyone is making resolutions. Most people do this without data, hypotheses or any idea of what they’re going to do differently. It’s usually a combination of regrets over bets that didn’t pan out, thoughts about what they feel they should improve, and inspiration from others. And they wonder why nothing really changes.
Intention without information is powerless. To misquote great management thinker, Albert Einstein, doing the same thing and hoping for a different result is the definition of inefficiency.
This is where the personal time and motion study can help.
[Image Source: Unsplash]
If you work on a remote team, there’s a good chance you’ve struggled with managing time zones.
With co-workers and subscribers spread all over the world, it can be hard to keep track of what time it is where your colleagues are. Even if you’re not working remote, it’s easier than ever to end up doing business with someone in a different time zone. As our world becomes more connected, discovering a good time zone meeting planner becomes more important than ever.
Here at I Done This, we face this challenge daily. We’re a small team dispersed across three continents. The work day is finishing up for some of us just as it’s getting started for others, which is why asynchronous communication is so important. There’s only a short window of time for us to communicate in real time, and that window is critical to our productivity.
Here’s a look at some of our favorite time zone apps and strategies for managing our workflow.
At many companies, documentation isn’t a core part of their internal operations, but a laborious chore to be managed; a way to prove that a meeting or conversation took place, never to be looked at again. However, the most productive, successful teams recognize obsessive documentation for what it truly is—an opportunity to work smarter and help your team focus on solving new problems, not mitigating the impact of old ones.
As valuable and impactful as documentation can be for teams of all sizes, it doesn’t happen by accident. Like any other aspect of managing your team, documentation should be a core facet of your corporate culture and an extension of your brand values. Yes, it takes time and effort to cultivate a culture of documentation, but doing so can have an incredible impact on your productivity and the dynamics of your team itself.
Let’s take a look at how you can start actually building a culture of documentation within your team.
Start with Standardization
One of the main reasons why documentation is so often overlooked is because most teams don’t have a standardized approach to getting it done. Who’s responsible for documenting what, exactly? What should that person do with that documentation, anyway?
When you get down to it, most of the resistance to documenting internal processes is rooted in a fundamental resistance to change. As the old adage says, everybody loves progress but nobody likes change. That’s why standardizing your documentation processes is so critical — by implementing predictable systems for documenting your work, you’re eliminating most of the ambiguity and uncertainty that makes people so resistant to change in the first place.
One of the best ways to start standardizing your documentation workflow is by using templates. Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for streamlining how and when you document the work your team does, but you can simplify the process by using templates as a starting point.
Standardized document templates reduce the cognitive overhead of actually documenting internal processes, because whoever is responsible for doing the documentation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel after every meeting; they can adjust an existing template, document the work being done, and get on with their day. This approach is also much less disruptive because it doesn’t require a radical overhaul of how your team thinks. Rather than creating brand-new documents every time a process needs to be documented, your team can amend a simple template.
Another benefit of standardizing your documentation process is that it makes sharing important information much easier. When people in different teams or departments know what to expect from internal documentation, they’re more likely to share and actually use that information.
Build Living Documents That Grow with Your Company
Standardization is important, but so is recognizing that very few documents will stand the test of time as your company scales. Processes that may have worked well during your company’s scrappy startup phase may be entirely inappropriate for larger, more established teams. That’s why it’s crucial to create living documents that can grow alongside your company.
Living documents—documents that are updated over time—are crucial to any long-term documentation project. This is because not only do living documents make it easier to take note of changes as they happen, but they also eliminate the need to create multiple documents. They can also be linked together to create cohesive, relevant, up-to-date document hierarchies for complex projects, rather than forcing teams to rebuild entire libraries of documentation every time from scratch.
However, just because a document can—and should—evolve and grow with your team, it’s still important to approach living documents with standardized processes in mind. This helps minimize repeated work, eliminates potential redundancies across multiple documents, and ensures everybody knows what to expect.
Use Asynchronous Communication to Empower EVERY Member of Your Team
One of the major reasons why documentation falls by the wayside is because it is perceived as a top-down process; managers document internal processes, which the rest of the team is then expected to follow. This approach can work, but it’s much more effective to secure buy-in from everyone on the team by utilizing asynchronous communication and allowing every team member to contribute.
Fortunately, there are dozens of tools that make asynchronous communication effortless. Whichever tool you choose to use, it’s important that every member of your team is able and encouraged to actively contribute to your living documentation. If your team members can offer their own insights, thoughts, and suggestions to a document, they’re much more likely to do so—and this is crucial to building a culture of documentation, rather than merely implementing yet another task for your already busy team.
Asynchronous communication is practically mandatory for distributed and virtual teams. Communicating effectively across even smaller teams can be a major challenge when you introduce factors such as time zones, which increases the risk of losing valuable internal knowledge and expertise. The easier you make it for your team to share their insights, the greater the cumulative benefit to your team as a whole.
Incorporating this approach to documentation can also make your team members feel more valued. If managers or executives are the only ones who can create or amend your living documents, it can feel exclusionary to members of your team who may have genuinely great ideas or suggestions on how to improve internal processes. Allowing and encouraging every member of your team helps your company grow, but it also helps those team members feel appreciated and that their ideas have value.
Better Documentation Makes for Better Teams
Documentation might not be the most exciting aspect of your work, but it can have an immense impact on your team’s productivity, cohesion, and overall happiness. It becomes especially important if your team or company is still in an active growth stage, particularly when branching out into new products, service areas, or industries.
By standardizing document creation and working asynchronously to keep living documents up-to-date, you’re making an invaluable investment in your team’s future success.
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Even the most organized people only have so much time, which makes prioritizing work all the more important. But how do you prioritize which tasks or product features to focus on when you’re faced with dozens of potential opportunities and a small army of stakeholders?
Matrices are simple organizational tools that can help you and your team visualize your product’s potential features within the context of all the possible features you could develop.
Although there are several different types of prioritization matrices, in today’s post we’ll be looking at three of the most common: the value-complexity matrix, the value-risk matrix, and agile user story mapping.
Prioritizing Product Features Using a Value-Complexity Matrix
As its name implies, value-complexity matrices plot the potential value of a product feature alongside the complexity of implementing such features. Put another way, this kind of matrix categorizes product features by their expected business value and their implementation complexity.
The definition of “business value” will vary from one company to another, even among competing businesses in the same industry or vertical. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that can determine the business value of a product feature, from a proposed feature’s potential value to end users to the traffic or revenue that feature could potentially generate.
“Implementation complexity” is a similarly broad term that can encompass a range of technical challenges, from the length of time a proposed feature will take to integrate into an existing system to the costs of actually developing that feature.
At their simplest, value-complexity matrices can be formatted as a 2×2 grid of quadrants. The business value of a project can be categorized as either high or low, whereas the implementation complexity of a project can be represented as low or high.
High-value, low-complexity items are the “low-hanging” fruit; these items should be strongly considered for further development given their high potential impact on the business and the ease with which they can be implemented. However, while you can and should pursue these high-value, low-complexity opportunities, it’s vital not to focus on these opportunities to the exclusion of all others. Many startups mistakenly focus all their efforts on securing these easier wins, often to the detriment of high-value, high-complexity features.
High-value, high-complexity items are often broader, more strategic initiatives that require a much greater investment of time, money, and/or effort. Despite the higher costs of implementing these features, high-value, high-complexity features can be immensely valuable in the long run. Rather than overlook these opportunities, consider examining these items to see if any of these longer-term goals can be broken down into simpler, easier subtasks.
Low-value, low-complexity opportunities may be worthwhile exploring eventually, but they should not be prioritized above the high-value features you’ve identified in your project. These ideas may be worth revisiting further down the road, and it may be worth examining whether there are opportunities to derive greater value from these items in the future.
Low-value, high-complexity items should be avoided at all costs. Not only do these opportunities offer little in terms of business value, the complexity of their implementation means these features are effectively off-limits.
Prioritizing Product Features Using a Value-Risk Matrix
Another way to evaluate the potential business impact of proposed product features is to use a value-risk matrix. Similarly to our value-complexity matrix above, value-risk matrices also categorize product features according to their potential business impact but also categorize these opportunities by the overall risk that their implementation poses to the business.
No business can completely insulate itself from all risk, especially when it comes to product development. However, you can categorize and plan for potential risks using a value-risk matrix, especially if you’re not completely sure about your underlying assumptions about a particular product feature. This makes value-risk matrices ideally suited to calculating the potential impact of completely new ideas and initiatives.
Like our value-complexity matrix, value-risk matrices can be structured as a 2×2 grid of quadrants: a project’s value can be categorized as either low or high, as can the associated risk:
High-value, low-risk opportunities are your most urgent priorities. These items promise high value to the business or user while carrying little or no risk, making them the most effective investment of your time and resources.
High-value, high-risk items are also deserving of serious consideration. However, while the potential impact of these opportunities can be exciting, the risks associated with these features can necessitate a more strategic approach, particularly if the risks are primarily financial.
Low-value, low-risk opportunities are definitely worth exploring but only once your high-value, low-risk opportunities have been prioritized. Implementing several lower-value features can have a larger cumulative impact over time, but their individual value makes them less urgent than other priorities.
Low-value, high-risk items should generally be avoided. Not only does their risk outweigh the potential benefits, but pursuing these opportunities could jeopardize the execution of higher-priority items.
Prioritizing Product Features with User Story Maps
So far, we’ve focused on techniques that emphasize the needs of your business and your product development teams. Sometimes, however, you need to put your users first, which is when user story mapping comes into play.
Originally developed by product management consultant Jeff Patton in 2005, user story maps plot your product development priorities against your users’ experiences of actually using your product.
Unlike our first two examples, there is no one definitive way to structure or visualize a user story map. There are, however, some commonalities you’ll see among many user story maps.
The top row in our example user story map above (in blue) focuses on things that the user can do. This might include searching for a specific product, adding that product to an ecommerce shopping cart, paying for the product at checkout, or abandoning the cart. These events are typically presented sequentially from left to right, representing the various stages of the user journey.
The second row (in green) represents the various actions that the user can take to complete a given task. The remaining rows (in yellow) represent available subtasks or actions. As you can see in the figure above, the lower an item is in the user story map, the less significant or necessary that subtask is. Many companies can and do segment their subtasks by planned release, which allows development teams to further prioritize subtasks by urgency.
One aspect of user story maps that makes them so versatile is the freedom with which teams can reorganize and reorder tasks as a product is developed. This flexibility can be a major advantage when planning development cycles, as unlike the value-complexity and value-risk matrices, the stories within a user map can be changed, moved, and adjusted over time.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road(map)
The three examples are great starting points for further project planning. For example, if budgetary concerns are among your most urgent priorities, you might find that adapting a value-complexity matrix into a value-cost matrix is more useful.
Your team’s objectives will inform not only what you should be focusing your time and efforts on, but also how you’ll identify and distinguish urgent opportunities; a scrappy, two-person startup that needs to reach product-market fit ASAP will have very different priorities than an established, cutting-edge technology firm.
When it comes to product development and planning your next dev cycle, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. There is no “correct” way of developing your product roadmap. When putting your product roadmap together, encourage every member of your team to help define and structure the process rather than forcing your team to adapt to a rigid, inflexible roadmap. Your team will be happier, your product will be better, and your users will definitely appreciate it.
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Superb time-management skills are worthless when you’re feeling unmotivated, distracted or tired at work. Until robots take over our day-to-day workloads, our productivity is directly linked to our mental and physical well-being.
The expectation at work to remain competent, motivated and attentive for the entire workday puts a huge strain on our biological resources. Thankfully modern science has given us a better understanding of how our bodies work, which can help us leverage our physiology to work smarter.
By implementing a few biological disciplines, you’ll be able to work with your body and avoid unproductive behaviors like impulsivity, sleep deprivation, and stress.
Here are some hacks based on the biology of productivity that can help you and your team perform at their best:
Naming every minute road block—and then taking the time to fix them—makes your team more efficient and helps with team productivity.
It sounds cumbersome, but resolving issues as they arise means faster problem-solving overall. Agile developers do this. They call road blocks “blockers,” and their teams grow revenue 37% faster, and their profits are 30% higher than non-agile teams.
Put simply, encountering blockers is great for teams. It’s a simple idea that any team can borrow from, but you need a process and tool to do it.
That’s why we’re adding “blockers” to our “done lists” here at I Done This. Putting all blockers in one place means that team leaders can help those who need it quickly. It also means that individuals can reflect on their own blockers, and see if they point to a greater issue that needs resolving.
All teams can benefit from using blockers to their advantage. Here’s what it can do for your team.
Over half of all managers in the US are concerned about their team’s time management skills, according to an Institute for Corporate Productivity study.
As your employees’ heads are tucked behind computer screens and they’re clacking away on the keyboard, it seems near impossible to know how they’re spending their time. Are they in a private Slack channel chatting away about the new hire, or are they working? Should the project you assigned Linda take as long as it has? And if you don’t know what your local employees are up to, you can forget about getting insight into your remote employees time management habits.
In the internet-driven workplace, transparency feels like a pipe-dream. Not only do you have no way of telling whether your employees are slacking off, but you can’t even tell if hard-working employees are being tripped up by obstacles outside their control. The natural response to this issue is to micromanage and hover over their shoulder, but you want to empower your employees in their project team roles, not control them.
I Done This gives your whole team transparency without any of the negative side-effects. Here’s how.
People like to dismiss project management methodologies (PMM) as frivolous techniques that won’t really improve their business’s productivity. While they’re wrong on that account, they actually miss the point completely.
What people don’t realize is that PMMs are more than just process-improvement tools. Project management is really about changing attitudes to create a trusting, collaborative company culture. By adopting practices that encourage communication, unity, and openness, a company can instill positive values within itself and become a great place to work.
We’ll take a look at how companies can use project management methodologies to unify teams and encourage collaborative attitudes for a better work culture.
If you’re running a startup, you can use every little bit of help you can get.
But to justify an administrative assistant or office manager, you’ll probably need to have raised a big seed round of over $1 million or have bootstrapped your company past 10 employees. Otherwise, that extra help getting stuff done is just a luxury you can’t quite afford yet.
Enter Alexa via the Amazon Echo. In the same way Alexa can help you and your family out around the home, it can also make your office and your startup just that little bit easier to manage, so that you can keep your sanity and focus on what’s important.
To get the most out of Alexa, you’ll need to set her up specifically for the office. Here’s how.