5 Top Problems with Project Management, Part 4: One Source of Truth

One Source of Truth

This is Part 4 of a series on the top problems with Project Management Tools. See Part 1: Old Tools, New Rules, Part 2: The Illusion of Control, and Part 3: Breaking the Cycle to catch up.

On the plus side, today’s internet-connected world of laptops and smartphones means we have tons of choice about how and where to work. On the down side, that means every team has ten ways to communicate, five different ways to track status, and a long digital trail stretching behind them littered with abandoned SharePoint sites, intranets, and cloud file storage solutions.

There’s no reason for all of that to live in different places. It’s time for tools that can truly act as a single source of truth for project plans, status, and data. Without that, we end up with situations like this:

Nodes connecting, growing out in a circle from a central node
From https://hbr.org/2014/04/how-a-weekly-meeting-took-up-300000-hours-a-year

HBR author Michael Mankins and his colleagues analyzed data about time use at one large company and found that people there spent 300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting. It’s the ripple effect of the exec team members spending 7,000 hours a year in the meeting and preparing for it, which requires those 11 unit heads to spend 20,000 hours a year with their teams, which chews up 63,000 hours in prep meetings, which create 130 meetings at the next level down — adding another 210,000 hours. A shared platform communicating real-time status and a single source of truth would avoid the vast majority of those wasted hours.

If you’ve been reading along in our series, you might recognize this as an extreme example of Muda (from back in Part 3: Breaking the Cycle), or ‘waste’ that gets produced alongside your customer delivery process.

That probably feels familiar from your own career, although hopefully to a much lesser degree. You may even have found your mind wandering in the fourth or fifth hour of an interminable status meeting or while digging through your inbox or other stores of info to track down the latest KPI update. Most of the tools we use in the workplace today are either not designed around the concept or offer a very low value exchange for the end users. Consider, for example, most CRM systems. It’s notoriously difficult to get salespeople to update CRM records because they don’t actually drive much value for them—unless you have a very large book of business, you can probably track your status and next actions just as effectively through easier to use or more readily available tools. The real recipient of value is the company who owns the CRM and who keeps full control over their contact lists and activity records even as salespeople come and go.

A lightbulb illuminated against an orange background.

Here’s a different idea.

Imagine, instead, a system that sits at the center of your project and keeps a record of everything that’s happening. It’s not updated after the fact but, rather, becomes the place that work actually happens. It launches new initiatives with the project plan — like you might do today—but then it becomes that single source of truth. Your team logs in from anywhere in the world and works inside the platform, updating tasks, adding status, and tracking key data. Any questions about how the initiative is doing, whether you’re achieving targets, or even what a specific task’s status is can be answered simply by logging in. You would never again need to track down information for a status report or painstakingly update Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint decks.

Even better, all of that data is kept in perpetuity even after that initiative ends, so any key decisions can be revisited in the future. The basis for the initiative — what we call a Playbook in SenseiOS™ — captures all of the organizational knowledge and best practices about how to do that type of thing so that they can be carried into the next instance of that initiative type quickly and easily.

And, of course, a single source of truth ends a lot of debates about progress and goals very quickly. When everyone agrees that it is the gospel, with everyone’s updated numbers, then you only have one place to go to settle disagreements. Time savings aside, imagine how much political infighting that could resolve even for small teams. In our fifth and final post, coming soon, we’ll dig a little further into this point. Look out soon for Resolving Bias Through Data!

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Jay Goldman

Jay thinks he might be the luckiest guy in the world because he got to co-found Sensei Labs and spend his days working hard to invent the Future of Work alongside this amazing crew. He’s focused on technology, design, and the art of leadership. In addition to writing here, Jay co-wrote the New York Times Bestseller THE DECODED COMPANY: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers (Portfolio/Penguin), cooked up the O’Reilly Facebook Cookbook, and contributed to the Harvard Business Review. He frequently speaks to teams and companies about the Future of Work, including at TEDx, NASA, Harvard Business School, Google, and Twitter’s World Headquarters.

First Organizational Chart

Conductor, Technology

5 Top Problems with Project Management, Part 2: The Illusion of Control

Part 2/5. Project management has changed a lot over the years. From early form of program management in ancient Egypt to some of the first org charts in the 19th century, those data-poor projects with long timelines could be controlled with rigid, inflexible management structures. Jay argues that it’s time to give up the Illusion of Control baked so deeply in yesterday’s mindset and tools and adopt the role of Conductor, orchestrating projects to awesome conclusions.

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