What I am learning about projects, delegation, collaboration and communication

Here's an overview of delegation, project management, and collaboration strategies and tools from a former CIO and entrepreneur.

projects collaboration
Credit: Matthew Moran

“‘THE SYSTEM’ does not exist but A SYSTEM is critical!”

A few weeks ago I was coaching six HR executives on team collaboration and communication. In the past couple month, I've spoken on project management, team collaboration, and communication to a new group just about every week. And the trend continues with four presentations on the topic by June!

My quote, above, is how I start each of these presentations!

It's important because IT professionals and Project Managers often search for the perfect system -  "THE SYSTEM" - and in doing so fail to enact any system - "A SYSTEM."

The result is frustration with and among the team, failed projects, dissatisfied clients, customers, or management, and ultimately lost jobs ... or certainly, less rewarding careers.

I'm going to outline some of my system - both strategically and tools you might want to consider. Remember, it's "A SYSTEM" not "THE SYSTEM" - but it is a system.

First, a little revealing backstory.

It’s a process, not a destination

Sure, it's cliche but it's true.

I was NOT always this passionate about the topic. Or, I should say, I didn't focus on it a LOT. Until I realized something ….

I struggle with delegation!

This wasn't always the case but after I sold my first company, became a CIO, and then left that role to move to Phoenix and write, I've primarily been solo.

When I started growing Pulse, I found myself reluctant to turn tasks over to my team or subs. I sort of silo-ed what I would turn over and held on to the rest.

I do a lot! And I'm good at it!

But I was not happy, I was leaving too many critical tasks on the table, and knew that this would hamper my ability to grow the company.

To fix this, I reached out to a few mentors - a couple clients and peers. And I read a bit. I discovered a couple things about delegation that are worth noting.

Ego kills delegation

When you are good at many things, you might believe that makes you the best person for the job or makes you critical for the tasks to be completed.

But being the best at a tasks DOES NOT make you the right person for the job. And, rarely, are your critical for its completion.

I was guilty of breaking my initial premise

I was looking for the perfect delegation and tracking system. Mea culpa ... practice what you preach, Matt.

It was time to take my own advice!

Here are three things I've found helpful in making delegation more effective and, in fact, enjoyable. After I discuss those, I'll provide tools that I (we/Pulse) use to manage projects and delegation.

1) Forced Delegation Days

This came from Daniel Feiman of Build It Backwards. He called me out on failing to delegate and asked what was on my to do list. He then said that I HAD to delegate everything that day!

DELEGATE EVERYTHING???

I did and, in fact, EVERYTHING got done!  EVERYTHING!

He didn’t call it Forced Delegation Days. That’s something I came up with after the fact.

I now establish days where I force myself to delegate every task that comes up unless it requires my presence. For instance, articles I write, presentations I give, etc. Those are mine. Mostly client facing issues and internal procedures that I shouldn't really touch.

2) Delegate first

My first task every morning is to review what needs to be done and delegate it. Delegation is my coffee companion. (More on this below.)

I'm an early riser, so typically, I write things up and have tasks created in one of two systems. And those who are responsible for the tasks are notified. It clears my plate for the day, allowing me to focus on what I am really responsible to do.

3) Ask who would do it if you were unavailable

To help me delegate a set of tasks, I ask the following question, "What if I were hospitalized or something else that actually made me unavailable?"

Who would get the tasks? What information would they need to complete it with the fewest questions?

It’s a helpful exercise. Try it!

The Tools I/We Use

I covered these a bit before but some modifications have occurred. Here are systems we employ and some of the why and how we use them. I will also describe some things I do outside of these systems.

I'll list features I love and things about them I'm less in love with. They can take it!

Smartsheet

I’m very fond of the Smartsheet tool. It is project management by spreadsheet ... but spreadsheet on communication steroids.

smartsheet matthew moran

smartsheet

Features I love

  • automated alerts

  • ability to send and receive updates from people who ARE NOT users in the system

  • ability to rapidly add tasks and projects in simple to complex hierarchies

  • drag and drop calendar views - all sorts of use for this

  • collaborative discussions on a per row (task) or sheet

  • attachments linked to a per row, a sheet, or a discussion inside a row or sheet

  • responsive support (I get them on twitter)

What I don't love

  • no calendar view on the mobile app

  • can't assign multiple people to tasks - a team (to receive updates)

  • uses Google Hangouts as the chat interface. I love Google but dislike Hangouts! I want chat to be private and integrated to their product

GLIP

I've always found discussion forums to be much better ways to communicate on a project than email. Email is extraordinarily inefficient for project communication.

With Glip, my team no longer emails internally - EVER! There is no need. Instead topical and project based discussions allow for a cohesive flow and no mismatched communications. You can follow the thread and train of thought in one location and don't have to search through or consolidate email responses.

Typically, if at my desk, I'm in Glip. It's a private chat interface that allows my team and clients to reach me but does not require that I am on a public chat interface like Facebook, Skype, or Hangouts!

It is where we teach our clients they can get the fastest response and answers to their questions or requests.

glip page Matthew Moran

Glip

Features I love

  • real-time discussions by project - private chat

  • project/discussion specific drag and drop file attachments

  • project/discussion specific task assignment and management

  • project/discussion specific notes

  • project/discussion specific attachments and links

  • external vendors/subs can be added on a per discussion/project basis

  • amazing support - via the interface. You can chat with their support

What I don't love

  • user and team management - I want security groups

  • folder/category/tag management of discussions - a discussion may exist in more than one category/folder or tag

  • better mobile app

  • ability to copy/move attachments to and from Google Drive

Google Drive

We use Google Drive for long-form documents. This could be client information that must be shared among the team, process documents, and training.

google drive Matthew Moran

Google Drive

Features I love

  • Shared real-time collaboration in a specific document

  • Permissions by folder or file

  • Ability for client - specifically digital marketing/social media clients to upload digital assets/videos directly into a shared folder. No email! No Dropbox!

What I don't love

  • no security groups

  • would love to see an overview of who is currently in a document on the drive

  • would like a better security audit interface - there isn't one now

My personal process

Here is my process and how I use the tools mentioned above plus a few other specifics.

Coffee and a notepad

Recently, I started using a plain spiral bound notebook. I use it to brainstorm AWAY from my phone and the tools mentioned above. I write down anything I believe I may NOT be tracking in my project management tools I then quickly determine what CANNOT be done immediately. I mark it as a future item. This clears my list quickly.

I then list four things that I know I can complete in 30 minutes or less. I make those items that MUST be done first thing in the morning or first thing after lunch!

The reason is simple. I found that many things that take little time don't really make it into our project management systems. But they consume mental energy when left undone. Taking the simplest, sometimes avoided and mundane, tasks off the list is liberating.

Morning review

In addition to notebook time, I go through a rapid morning review. During that review, I perform the following:

  • Review my calendar
    Adjust or set anything from my idea document (below) or my notepad (above).

  • Review Glip tasks and Smartsheet projects
    Glip tasks are tasks that don't make a full project management system. Usually those I've assigned to my team - because they spend more time in Glip than Smartsheet.

  • Review and delegate any tasks as needed
    Write any notes in glip or update Google Docs with project details. Then, assign tasks - often in Glip unless part of a larger project.
    Send update or tag them in the appropriate Glip project discussion and ask about updates.

While it seems like a lot, it takes me anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour - depending upon project complexity and what needs to be delegated.

However, the result is clarity of focus for me and my team. Knowing I’ve properly reviewed and allocated tasks and resources lets me attack my own work more vigorously and with, dare I say it, greater joy!

Idea document

While at my computer, I keep a google document open called, "_Ideas." I throw anything that comes to mind in there. A thought, a phone number, links, etc.

It's accessible via my phone, as well, so I can access the document while mobile.

At the end of the day or during the next morning, I take any notes and place them into longer term storage (another Google document) or create tasks as needed.

Start with A SYSTEM and make it YOUR SYSTEM

As I indicated, a large part of making any system work is start to work any system. I don't care what system you start with, you will adjust it over time. In doing so, you'll learn a lot about how you work, how your team works, and you will develop a personalized system for projects, delegation, collaboration and communication.

I'd love to hear from you. Less about specific software and more about your individual process for delegation and review.

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