20 million things to do: but which one will make us effective?

Knowledge

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It might not come as a surprise that agency life is really (really) busy, not least for the project management teams. To prove the point since January 2018 our PM team at Yoyo has delivered over 52 projects that ranged from websites to communication projects, augmented reality to brand guidelines. We had over 1,528 client touch-points (meetings and calls) and trained over 65 members of our clients’ teams. In the same period the team doubled in size and we overhauled the way that we collaborate both internally and externally.

We have certainly been busy, but have we been successful?

Do you know where you’re going to?

I’m sure that we’re not alone in this, but we have found that it is really challenging, when we are all caught up in the day-to-day and focused on delivering our projects, to take time and really hold up a mirror to ourselves and collectively examine the good, the bad and the ugly.

However, taking time to do exactly that is imperative if we are to learn from each other’s experiences and ensure that each project is better (and better run) than the previous one.

Taking stock is important for the team to develop and for us to be able to keep providing the best value to our clients.

Are you sitting comfortably?

In order to make sure that we had an objective overview on our performance we asked our clients and our internal teams to let us know how they find working with us; what works, what doesn’t work, and where we can improve.

Armed with the feedback and our collective battle stories, on a sunny September, the team put the “out of office” on and ventured...out of the office - not very far, just to the meeting room of a nearby hotel (we are an agency after all so some level of decadence is de rigueur).

The day was structured in two sections: Retrospective and Feedback. For each section the (inevitable) post-its made an appearance and we were all prepared to be brutally honest. The session felt cathartic as project after project was thoroughly dissected and that was the key difference to our usual end of project “wash-ups”. By going through different types of projects across different members of the team we were able to identify commonalities, things that we often nail and things that we often fail.

What we found was that, broadly, things tended to go wrong when we hadn’t been clear of the project’s objectives, when we were under time pressure and we failed to prioritise according to the KPIs and when we did not communicate effectively. Not surprisingly then, we found that in our most successful projects (by far the majority) we took the time to review our objectives, were open and consistent with our communications and we identified risks early.

Is that all there is?

So apart from a nice team-building exercise what else has the away day done for us? In essence it helped us define what success looks like for the team. We all have a common set of values (and yes we *do* call it a manifesto)

This all sounds very straightforward and common sense but re-affirming the basics ensured that we all have the same level of expectations and ultimately we are all accountable for delivering our projects to the commonly agreed high standards.

Back in the office, the impact of the away day has been palpable. By being more aware of our blind spots, knowing how we can play to our strengths and communicating more effectively we are getting better as a team, and deliver better results to.

Could it be magic?

Is that it? Have we reached the Project Management’s Shangri-La? Can we now rest comfortably and reap the benefits of our hard work? Well, no. The reason why we started this process was not that we needed to make sweeping changes to the team, by our (and more importantly our clients’) standards, we were doing quite a good job. The point is that there will always be room for marginal gains and we can always get better.

We will keep having these away days on a regular basis to make sure that we all keep singing from the same hymn sheet.

*PS: I was in a whimsical mood when I started writing this article, so there is a very eclectic playlist to go with it