One undeniable truth about business is that ideas are cheap. I know that as entrepreneurs and business owners we pride ourselves on having really good ideas. However, in practice, no company can sustain itself on ideas alone. Leaders must be excellent executors, managers, and drivers in their business-- and the way to facilitate this is with a truly kick-ass project management workflow.
Let’s talk about team productivity. Whether you’re using one of the many project management tools online like Jira, Asana, TeamWork, my personal favorite Trello, there is a set of basic best practices you can put into place regardless of the tool you choose to use. These practices are meant to help move your organization towards achieving any Big Hairy Goal you can think of.
Remember, being a beacon of inspiration and guidance for your team takes determination, consistency and the right approach, here are 5 Steps for flawlessly executing your business goals.
1. Identify the Team
The first step in facilitating any project is to determine your leadership team. In most cases, less is more. Let’s identify who is executing certain tasks or managing the departments that are going to help push through all of the action items that are related to your project. Regardless if this team is big or small, the leading factor that usually throws a team off course is the lack of focus. Be conscious of not wasting anyone’s time and, please, really think about your organization’s structure before determining who should be involved.
2) Prioritize Goals
What needs to be done next? Assuming that you have a well thought out and robust set of 5-10-year goals (aka the HUGE dreams for your business) the next logical step is to break them down by year, quarter and month. I mention long-term goals because it is so important to have a clear direction for your business. Do you plan on selling your businesses some day? Is your company your life’s work and you’ll never leave? Having a vision for what you truly want should drive every goal you set. After all, your company is YOURS and therefor a manifestation of YOUR dreams. Don’t forget that.
Now, on to more practical applications. As the leader of a company or a department, it is crucial to have the executive team and all staff on the same page with goals. This means complete clarity on department goals, individual goals, and organizational goals. Your goals should be “shout from the rooftops,” spoken about often in around the water cooler, and even plastered all over the walls of your office. Never lose sight of what is most important.
Once the goals are established and communicated well, the next step is to break down each goal into its smallest action steps. The responsibility of each action step should fall onto the shoulders of one individual (not department or team). It’s vital to have one person accountable for a goal or task even if multiple people are working on it together.
3) Create a Timeline
Use Sprints-- You may have heard this term coined by the Agile Project Management folks. Agile was developed for software developers but the cornerstones of the process can be applied to any situation. A sprint, for example, just refers to a period of time between meetings. With the Ugliboss approach, we recommend you meet on a monthly basis with the executive team, while the executive directors meet with their staff on a weekly basis and possibly even daily check-ins. The tasks that need to be completed during the time in-between meetings constitute the “sprint” period. There are many programs that track sprints on a visual board, which can be very helpful. Jira, for example, was developed specifically for Agile projects and has many capabilities that align with the agile process flow.
Regardless of what tool you use, it’s imperative to be consistent with your meetings and make sure that there are clear deadlines within each sprint—especially if some tasks rely on others to be completed in order to proceed.
4) Confirm Deliverables & Accountability
Now, we have our goals, we have a timeline and a tasks list. Now is the moment to assign the tasks and to confirm the details of the deliverables. I suggest that before assigning the task that there be a brief discussion of what the tasks entail with description and supporting resources (if needed) laid out visually. This is a great thing to be tracked using a team project management tool.
To executive this organizational framework, someone should be assigned the task of managing the project meetings. This involves taking notes and updating the project management tool during each session. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be an admin or even a manager, the only requirement is that they are reliable and well-organized. In the Agile Method, this role is called the Scrum Master—which sounds a little gross in my opinion. I suggest you give this person a special title that is in line with your brand-- try to make it a special position to have. You could even rotate this position if it made sense for your organization. Fun!
5) Addressing progress, and where are you stuck?
Once your goals are laid out, tracked, and assigned, the only item left to address is how to maintain accountability. I believe this is efficiently achieved by conducting regular meetings. These meetings should be considered check-ins and are NOT brainstorming sessions. Please leave your big ideas for quarterly planning. Whether you are holding weekly meetings with your staff or monthly executive team meetings, they should all be short and sweet. A meeting should not exceed 30-mins and I suggest being really strict about this timing. Set an alarm if needed. It may feel abrupt at first but after a few times having a meeting cut short your team will understand that they need to as concise as possible. In the end, it will be a big relief for everyone.
If you’re now wondering what should be discussed during these meetings, the answer is simple: look at your sprint. Go down the list, item-by-item, and get a status updated by the owner of each task. This is a moment where you'll find out if someone is stuck or needs extra help to complete a task. For further discussion, a breakout session should be scheduled at this point as to not take up everyone’s time.
It may seem really intense to be so strict about the meeting agenda and timing, especially when you have a great rapport with your team and truly enjoy their company. However, in order to be productive and effective meeting time should be “all business”. And social and brainstorming time should be scheduled separately. This allows maximum clarity and productivity from everyone—including YOU.
Take it or Leave It
I understand that the beauty of running your own business is that you get to create your own systems and methods for organizing the workload. However, I argue that your time would be better spent being creative, deepening your company culture, and supporting those around you. The project management strategies listed here belong to a tried and true best practices that exist to help you. I believe that leaning on best practices is the smartest way to run your business with grace while allowing you to put your time and energy into the things that will truly move the needle forward.