I hear a lot about self-organizing teams, these days. That made me realize that, without knowing it, I used to work in a team like that. We did not have a typical hierarchy with a manager that organized, planned and dispatched the work for the whole team.
We were a small group of people considered as the product development department and we were all responsible for making things happen. We basically had an internal client, the marketing department that would initiate new projects, usually corresponding to new product launches. Our job was then to develop the product, to make marketing tools to support our sales team and documentation for our order entry teams. To do this we often needed input from several other departments: IT, production, marketing, purchasing, order entry and accounting.
Software’s for self-organizing teams
Keep in touch and stay coordinated
Another aspect that defined our team is that we were a cross functional team. Most of the time, we worked independently on our own tasks within the various projects. However, our work also required to constantly stay in touch and coordinate in order to complete these projects efficiently.
An example to illustrate this would be that I did take care of the digital product catalog that was used by our dealers to order our company’s product. To do my work I needed the input from Jennifer our drafting technician in order to create the graphics for the digital catalog. I also needed to work closely with John to make sure our list of new products was consistent between the digital catalog and the coding of our internal ordering system he oversaw.
At the time we did not have a software solution, so we needed to either have meetings or use emails to coordinate.
This was far from an ideal situation and it used to be quite a source of aggravation. Meetings did take a lot of our time and so did having to use emails to ask for input from our coworkers.
In the defence of emails, they are great for the initial request and communication but not at all for the follow up that is usually needed afterwards.
This a case where we would have benefited from having a software solution to stay in touch and coordinated. Some of these solutions have powerful tasks assignment and approval system, for example. When well-designed these solutions have a double advantage: in addition to be a tasks system they can be used as a communication tool.
In the example above I could have assigned Jennifer a task to provide the graphics for the new product. I would have used this task to communicate the details of what I needed, like a list of new products for which I needed graphics, for instance. No need for an email and with a task I would have been able to follow up on it directly in the software.
Some of these solutions have lifesaving functions I could have used, back then. One of them is the ability to create tasks in advance when I was organizing my project and choose to have it assigned later. This would have been very useful when I knew that my co-worker was not ready to work on this task right away.
I would really have loved that. It would have allowed me to organize whole projects and automatize the assignment of many tasks in advance. Doing this would have freed my mind from having to remember all the details and following up on them. This used to be a big source of stress, having to stay on top of many tasks across my various responsibilities. Despite all my efforts, inevitably I did let slip a few of these details through the cracks and it was usually a lot more work catching up with them later.
Keep everybody on the same page.
In addition to be a self-organizing team, one of our challenge was having to deal with projects that constantly changed. Our internal client, the sales and marketing department, would often request last-minute changes to the content of the new line of products. It was then up to the person who received the request to make sure everybody else in the team was informed of these changes. This was enough of a challenge, taking the time to document it properly and then remembering to communicate it to the others. But on top it, the difficulty was that depending on the scope of these changes, this also meant we would need to shuffle priorities between our various projects to accommodate them.
Even without any changes our projects on their own involved a fair number of unknowns which required us to be flexible in term of priorities. As we progressed on them, we often needed to reassess priorities as a group once we had a better picture of what areas needed more work and which ones needed less.
These challenges are other examples where we would have benefited from a software solution. Some collaboration software’s for example give access to the same consolidated source of information in real time. This would have saved us a lot of time in communication. A system with a Kanban that allows to visualize all the team’s projects with their tasks would also have made our work much more effective when we needed to shuffle our priorities efficiently as a group.
I have even seen a great solution with multiple Kanban levels that does exactly that.
I could have looked at the main Kanban with or without my coworkers to assess the situation at a higher level and see the progression of our multiple projects.
This is one of the advantages with these types of solutions. Depending on our schedules and availability we could have chosen to review this independently or as a group. At this higher level, we could have checked different aspects:
From this higher level we could then have gone inside of each project to see the tasks Kanban level of each project. That is where we would have defined and kept track of what to do for each person in each project.
This solution even has a personal Kanban view, which is the consolidation of what has been scheduled for each team member. The system uses the priorities indications given by the team at project and task level to determine it. It is quite interesting powerful. This is really a great function and it would have helped each of us know what to should focus on at any given time. It would certainly have helped me and not waste so much time with my “what should I do next syndrome”.
Powerful Tools for Distributed teams and remote work.
Having a distributed team environment is a situation that happens more and more frequently. It can be for variety of reasons and having a project system solution that supports it represents a big advantage.
This was exactly my case. I had negotiated to work from home four days a week which allowed me to move to a location that would have been too far to commute every day.
At the time I had arranged to have a VPN connecting to our ERP system at work and that was already great. However, I was missing on a lot when I was working from home. To stay in touch, I could call my colleagues or email them to ask them how far along they were in their part of the projects. But that was far from ideal. The work environment at the office was not designed for this and it was extra work for them to keep me in the loop. As a result, I would often find out about important changes only on the days I was at the office.
With a work environment adapted to this situation and with everybody using a software solution that allows remote work that would have been a very different experience.
It would have been easy for me to stay in touch with the rest of the team. I would have felt as if I were at the office. At any time, my coworkers and I, would have had a good idea of what was going on, each from our location.
Remotely, I could have used all the same function such a system offers: coordinate our work with multi-level Kanban’s and assign each other tasks. In addition to these functions, we would had access to many others that would have allowed us to work together remotely.
Self-organizing teams have been around for a long time. But it is only until recently that we have access to new and interesting software and technology to make our work more efficient and enjoyable. Working in a self-organized team can be one the most fulfilling type of work environment. It means you have no manager micromanaging every detail. It gives each team member more flexibility and the possibility to organize our work as we see fit. However, depending on the type of projects it requires lots of efforts to stay coordinated and on the same page. Without those efforts’ things can quickly fall apart and become a nightmare.
This is where a good software solution can make a big difference. It helps minimizing the efforts it takes to keep the team functional. It helps with staying in touch, staying coordinated and making sure everyone has access to the latest source of information. This leaves more time to work on what we love the most and make things happen faster and in a more relaxed way.