Organizational challenges at work in the age of Coronavirus pandemic.
What tool will help your business go through this?
In the current difficult situation related to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we must be more responsible than ever before in our business and adapt our work to the reality in which we live now. This involves huge challenges related to work organization, team management and project management. How is the tool most important here? What should we not forget about the organization of remote work during a virus pandemic?
It's April 2020, the invasion of Covid-19 on Europe. In a moment WHO will definitely announce a pandemic of this virus, so it will be very uninteresting. Who can, who understands, prepares mentally and "tool-wise" for the new situation. Managers of all levels fall or soon fall, additional tasks will start, all ASAP, most ad-hoc, with deadlines on "in an hour". Those who do not see the impending crisis, who have not developed good risk assessment methods and crisis management in their reign, who downplay or are not able to anticipate possible scenarios for the development of panic, chaos and doubt
... in my youth I liked reading books starting this way or watching movies with such intro. Today is a little different, I am interested in different types of literature and multimedia. I already have some experience as a manager who has to constantly deal with important matters, but also as a man who is a bit lazy by nature. In addition, I love the technology, tools that this technology provides, as long as they are useful and really help me in my daily duties - both business and private.
And just about such tools, and basically one of the types that can help a lot, I would like to talk for a moment. And yes, I know - it's more of my paper, a monologue, because it's an article, but if you leave a comment, an entry under this article, even if you contest what I wrote below, if you relate to the subject matter, then let's think it will be that discussion.
Not wanting to discourage you with a long introduction, I would like to answer the question described in the title right away - you may disagree with me, but in my experience this tool is:
called the schedule, task list, ticket manager, or whatever people call it. Sometimes this planner takes the form of an assistant or assistant, it can be virtual. If you really use a real assistant, i.e. a real person helps you, you basically have a problem and you can finish reading this article. See you soon
... but since you read on, you probably have a "non-live" version of such a planner, and you don't have it in your entire life - you actually have a few, just don't use it.
So what makes such a tool good, useful, effective, and sometimes effective? I deliberately used the name "PLANER" to suggest some activity, expected action. The diary stores dates, the task list is simply a list of notes. It is another planner that plans your (assuming, of course) activities and activities. One can get the impression that such a basic requirement is so obvious that any tool that you call or recognize as a planner will be suitable for solving your problems, will be an invaluable helper and basically will replace a real assistant. It turns out that nothing could be more wrong - most popular tools of this type will not meet your expectations. Take a moment and you'll see (I hope) why.
However, let us move for a moment in the context of the situation described at the beginning of this article. Imagine two managers:
Adam - a 32-year-old director in a rapidly developing software house, takes care of 3 teams of programmers, has 3 project managers and 2 salespeople - let's say 14 people in total. 11 years of experience.
Ewa - a 29-year-old sales department manager at a marketing agency, responsible for 12 people in her department, each of whom handles topics, projects or queries from 10 of her clients daily. 10 years of experience.
The day before Adam's Apocalypse looks like he has scheduled cyclical meetings with team leaders, separately with project managers and, if necessary, with sales representatives. In addition, every Monday they do planning and the Fridays spend summaries and checking the results. Everything nicely arranged in calendars, invitations to virtual meetings sent out, in a word - embraced.
Like Ewa, but not exactly - Ewa, like all her department, uses the CRM system. The system works online - or in the cloud, let everyone choose a more fashionable version - so each employee has access to it at any time, the data is always up to date. In CRM we have a calendar, appointments and meetings are also placed in it, contacts to invited people are available.
It is the beginning of March 2020. The virus is already in the world, has reached Europe. WHO - of course, and so on and so forth ... Markets are starting to panic slightly, and since markets are customers too. Communications chaos begins ... The telephone exchange is already starting to smoke, icons with the number of unread messages on messengers are starting to look like the weight display after Easter, the mailbox is already clogged. Adam and Ewa go into almost crisis management mode. Of course, they do not panic, they begin to systematically analyze incoming messages, segregate, prioritize, queue. After all, the business for which they are responsible must continue to operate, people should work, tasks will not "carry out" themselves.
It quickly turns out that the problems that customers call, those with whom colleagues come, begin to constitute "only" 50% of the entire basket of tasks that need to be addressed. Until now, it was "kind of luxurious", because in fact there were not many other matters to address. There were processes, procedures, schemes of activities - all for the company to operate. Something has changed now ... Something has happened ... A lot has happened ... Suddenly it turned out that in addition to the current tasks, actions we also deal with information noise from social media, speculation at breakfast, rumors about what direction the epidemic is heading to. We get guidelines, suggestions from above, from smart people, what security measures we should provide, what messages to prepare in this context for our clients. People, employees need to be factually answered questions and doubts. Finally, positions and new work rules must be organized. To make matters worse, customers are becoming more and more nervous, confused by the situation.
How our heroes doing?
Let's start with Adam - Adam has not changed dates on the calendar. He shortened the meetings - they were to be short, concise, people were to be prepared, maximum concentration during the meeting. It works because Adam's people are intelligent, committed and responsible people. Meetings are really effective - the agenda is prepared, the goal set, only the specifics and "flesh".
During meetings, decisions are taken on actions necessary to take, which should result in minimizing the negative impact of the situation on projects, clients, contracts and quality. Everything works ... maybe not quite. It quickly turns out that not all customer doubts, questions are discussed, and everyone in their own way understands and interprets what should be done, how to do it, why it should be done, when it should be done and who should do it.
However, Adam is in the worst situation, because suddenly he starts to find himself forgetting to send an email to an important customer, the "sit on the butt, work from home" action does not hang on deadlines, because someone has not prepared VPNs, no tools have been agreed communication, customers have not been informed that the next demo will take place online, and the analyst will not reach the factory. In addition, it will be necessary to renew the partnership with large technology suppliers, and the planned full-time courses are canceled.
People have to sit at home under duress or is it just a recommendation? Who the hell collapsed with hanging posters, how to properly wash your hands in the bathroom? Adam begins to get nervous, swear, raise his voice. He is nervous because he is obviously missing something, but something is not working ...
It's not better for Ewa - the challenges are exactly the same. Unlike Adam, however, there is no increase in negative emotions. Sellers are gradually contacting customers - they have a lot more work now, because in addition to the planned tasks, they have to push additional activities. Nevertheless, they manage somehow. Posters in the bathrooms do not hang yet, but at least you know why, where the process is stuck, when you want to get started, and who and when you will need it. Gossip, discussions - just like Adam's - in the kitchen you can "confront" almost all views and advice. Remote work - an important thing - everyone is in the company tomorrow, because IT hasn't finished configuring the VPNs yet, but the guys are solid - they promised to finish and train tomorrow, it probably will be. Traders also somehow conduct conversations with customers - somehow calmer, less emotional, but specifically, without prolonging, without the butt of turning back - someday there will be an opportunity to talk and laugh. However, the processes themselves did not change much. Another important thing was in the whole "system" - Ewa's people did not forget about the tasks. They finished one and the system itself contextually proposed to plan another. It gave a sense of well-done work at the highest level and reduced stress.
Why this difference? A different character of the work will be said by some, maybe other clients, maybe a different arrangement in the company. Both Adam and Ewa have experience and knowledge. They are intelligent and work with trusted and committed people. Similar clients, maybe there are fewer of them with Adam than with Ewa, but he is not a man and he does not give in to emotions. The challenges, in terms of quantity and difficulty, are very similar. Operational and administrative matters - there are no major differences. Manager's personality? It certainly has an impact on work style, emotional balance etc.
However, I will put a few theses:
the main difference is the level of focus and concentration on what is to be done
dispersed, often duplicate information is a real problem
poor visualization of the process and its implementation status induces unnecessary work
ignorance of the process causes its blockade
we should choose the most appropriate tools for each task
Ewa and her entire department use CRM tools on a daily basis and in most processes. They have mapped sales processes in it, arranged in funnels. Each lead is a process - a process that should be implemented and controlled in accordance with the assumed scenario. Each customer service process consists of stages and precisely planned activities. Precisely means that the person carrying out the process ALWAYS knows:
what has already been done - who, when and what action was taken, what was the result of this action
what should happen - who, when and what next action is planned
Importantly, all information about the process itself, but also about the client, history of cooperation with him, contact persons, etc. are always at hand and in one place. The employee, taking over customer service from a colleague, does not have to wonder if he has access to an online notebook with information.
Any Ewa salesman is enough to take a look at the visual funnel presentation and already knows what is happening today. A quick overview of the overall situation allows you to estimate the scope of work, and thus the needs, resources to perform it. Alarms, warnings, threats - if the process is well mapped, everything is at your fingertips, and basically in sight.
Adam has a refined schedule that works in the daily work regime - allocation of time blocks, prepared agendas, minutes after meetings, quick confirmation of dates or warnings about conflicts in the calendar. The established and followed task flagging system allows you to set priorities. Recurring tasks and notifications - after all, it is a standard, they greatly help Adam and his team.
The tasks of Adam's team have been described in detail and estimated in another tool - the so-called issue-tracker. The team copes well with them - planning and accounting is easy, the visualization board is uncomplicated. Reports are made quickly, you don't have to sit on them later to get something valuable.
As you can see, there are no significant differences at first glance between how people work with Ewa and how with Adam. Why then did Adam not quite manage, when the crisis knocked on his door?
1. Eve could be fully focused on the difficult situation, because she was sure that the tools they had used so far would remove irrelevant things from her head. Neither she nor her people had to waste time, fall out of the context of work on a given task, wonder what steps to take in relation to clients. The process was set up - everyone repeatedly trained behavior towards a difficult client, against unexpected contact from the client. Most importantly, they were supported in this by the CRM tool, which "itself" took care to rearrange the dates of conversations, or record the result of an unexpected conversation. Ewa did not have to bother remembering that if she "ticks off" the conversation with client X, she has to plan another one for "in two weeks". She did not focus on the constant search for information with which clients she had already talked about the situation, and with which not yet. No notes "on the side", no cross-sections on Sticky-notes. The tool suggests the right actions taking into account the context of the process itself and the client's requirements, both current and future. Adam had to take care of all this himself - after each meeting a list of tasks that had to be "somewhere" put into another system, delegated, supervised, settled.
2. Eva had everything in one reliable place - in CRM. She and her people didn't have to waste time searching or even asking where important information could be found. So there were no problems with delegating or taking over tasks from others. The team helped each other. It is true that Adam also had a reliable place - issue-tracker, where tasks were assigned to specific people, well described, but customer contact information had to be sought - no one predicted the customization of the tool as a repository of customer data. This resulted in additional work, not too difficult, not too demanding, but still "throwing out" the main task from the context. The avalanche increase in such waste devoured a significant part of the time and caused frustration, because there was simply less valuable work.
3. Adam, moreover, like Ewa, used visualization of the flow of tasks. The difference, however, was that in Ewa everything was connected with the context of the process the subject of which was the client. The process as to the stages was identical for each client, however, already at the stage level it was very precisely tuned to the client - his requirements, cooperation history, etc. Potential threats, deviations, overruns of the deadlines were always visible to everyone. In Adam, it was obvious that "tasks" flow in "flow", but there was nothing that said about their significance or impact on the client. The entire business aspect of the client was simply hidden, inaccessible. We also remember that our suppliers, both internal and external, are also customers and activities with them are also subject to processes. In Adam it was not visible at all, in Eve it was true, because it was very easy to implement quickly.
4. In Adam, the process of "shifting" tasks was very well described, precise and known to everyone ... but again he only touched on the tasks, without combining them into a broader business and situational context. Not everyone in Adam's team knew how and why to talk to clients. In such a large team, where competences are divided, everything works smoothly, according to the process, but only until time. Any perturbations that disrupt the process or require "dynamic" scaling of the assembly cause blockages. A good manager, and that was Adam, can handle it, but it always takes time. Ewa managed it much easier in this particular situation. The team did not have all competencies, e.g. technical, but a universal, well-prepared process allowed to manage such a challenge.
5. Ewa "won" a little thanks to the use of appropriate tools. It should be noted, however, that out-of-the-box CRM systems have a number of features, functionalities very well adapted to the needs of people working with them. Years of experience built primarily on interaction with the client, his problems and difficulties allowed to develop very effective functional schemes. The standard of permanent calendar functionality, address book, semi-automatic planning assistant, action templates, forced feedback, etc. Adam used similar tools, but each of them was a "separate entity." And above all, the tools "did not want" to autonomously support the user. Were it not for the crisis, they would probably still be doing great, Adam would not need anything more. But life does not flow according to our imposed plan ...
What moral is it flowing from? The first is maybe
"Remember the young manager, match the shoes to the planned route"
author - I myself 🙂
choose the most suitable tools for the job you will be doing
use tools to automate your work
tools are meant to help you, not to limit you
learn each tool before using it
Second, it's more for times of crisis:
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst
author - Matthew Woodring Stover
Please refer this to the situation in which Adam found himself. He hoped that everything would go as planned, nothing would happen, and what he had at his disposal fully met his needs.
Ewa had a little more luck, but because close cooperation with the client, a living person is closer to real life than working with a technical analysis document or product backlog.
Some conclusions should be drawn from each story. My conclusion is that if Adam had a real PLANNER who, at least to some extent, assists and gives suggestions tailored to the situation, he would do better. Ewa and her team already had such a tool, so with the sheer volume of work and new problems, she did not have to at least deal with "trivialities". She was in control, she did not waste precious time.
You please think about your own conclusions, maybe comment, share them with me, let's confront them.
Would you like to know the case study of one of our implementations? Bartek will share our experience in new article that will appear soon on our blog.
If reading this text you identify more with Adam than with Ewa, or if you do not want to experience what Adam, I would like to declare my help.
As I work in the technology industry, and more specifically I create tools, programs and IT systems that help me implement various clients' 'businesses', I have' some 'experience in making my work easier.
The team I work with for many years can create custom-development solutions but also various types of integration of existing systems. So if you already have a scheduler, task or other system and you feel, if you have several independent, non-cooperating systems, let me know. We will try to help within the technical and budgetary possibilities - it is not always necessary to create large systems, sometimes it is worth using the technologies available on the market such as Zappier, PowerApps or plug-connectors for CMS.
I wish you efficiency!