I was frustrated why people did not use our activeCollab based project management system. I tried everything I could think of to get my team to use it, but had only moderate success. You may be in a similar situation – using Basecamp, activeCollab or any other system.
Then it hit me. I realized why people did not use the system. In this video, I reveal five reasons why your team does not use your project management system.
In the next video, I will tell you four reasons why your projects fail. I also share strategies and practices you can adapt to get your team to use your project management system and succeed at projects.
This video is full of unnerving truths and insights. It’s also full of actions you can start practicing today. It’s the gist of my 15 years experience of managing 250 projects and 400 people.
You can read transcript below or turn on CC option in video player.
17th Feb 2011
Transcript of the video
First, I want to thank you for your overwhelming response to the first video. For your comments on this site, on Facebook, Twitter and emails you sent. I am glad I did that video!
I promised I will talk about why your team does not use your project management system and why your projects fail.
Ok, so this is what happened to me.
It’s a Thursday morning. I check my emails, do a few follow ups and then start on the most important task for the day. I install our new web based project management system on the server. I create a test project and am happy with what I see. I think this tool can bring order to my life. I am looking after 40 projects and I need a good system to keep them on track. I’ve been looking for a system that works for a decade. I actually even created an internal project management system 8 years ago. But this is the best I’ve seen so far.
I am very excited I found it. I go ahead and create user accounts for my team. I also set up all projects and added people to them.
The next day, I show the system to my project managers. They are a little skeptical, but I think they will realize the benefits over time.
I use the system myself over the next two days and am even happier.
Now we have a full team meeting every Monday afternoon. 3PM.
I unveil the new system to my team. I go through how projects are setup, how milestones, tickets and tasks work; and how they can track time using the system. I announce that this is the system we are going forward with and it’s compulsory for everyone.
What do you think happened next?
I was the only one who used the system actively. Everyone else tried best to come up with creative answers about why they can’t get on with the system. Some even tried to, but the way they organized their milestones, tickets and tasks – it was better left undone.
I described how I envisioned the system to be used to my project managers in our Thursday meeting. And we came up with an interesting idea.
The following Monday Meeting, we announced that logging 8 hours in the system is absolutely positively necessary. If an employee did not enter 8 hours up to next day 11AM, he or she will be marked absent for the day. They won’t be paid for the day.
Our usage spiked that week. I was happy.
Unfortunately, this did not last long. The very next week, it started dropping. And some smart guys started adding a single entry for 8 hours.
So I went ahead and wrote a script that will check if people entered 8 hours, and if there was any single time record of more than 2 hours. I even checked if their total exceeded 12 hours for the day. On all these events, my script would trigger an email notification to that employee, keeping me in CC.
I started getting dozens of notifications the next day onward. With little improvement in how people used the system.
Over next several months, I tried to incentivize good usage and punish non usage. I met with moderate success. Especially when I created the project plan and followed up closely.
But it was frustrating. I kept wondering why people do not understand the importance of organizing their work. Why would they not enter their time logs? Why could they not understand the simple relation of milestone, tickets and tasks?
Are you in a similar situation? Have you also tried everything you could imagine to get your team to use your project management system? Or to “effectively” use it?
Over the last 15 years, I was directly responsible for over 250 projects, leading nearly 400 people in all. I’ve always been obsessed with being organized and productive. I studied all project management practices, tried them first hand and actively promoted agile development methods.
And I figured why people did not use our project management system. And these are the same five reasons why your people don’t you use project management system.
Reason 1: Because it is boring
Your project management system is a “system”. It defines a set of processes people have to follow. Processes are routines. And routines are boring. We work in creative professions and creative people hate processes. Let’s admit, we don’t like rules. We don’t like a fixed way of working. We feel we are here to get the job done. Not to track time, or post updates on what I did in a system at the end of every day.
When people perceive a process as lengthy or complicated, denial is automatic. Denial is the default behavior for anything that seems big.
activeCollab, Basecamp, or any other system, can seem daunting to your team. It may seem like too much work. A burden to fill it everyday.
Here’s what you want to get: Whatever comes in the way of getting their job done, will become a boring overhead for creative people.
Reason 2: Because they don’t want to look bad
An open, web based, collaborative project management system is like a secret camera watching you throughout your working life. And when someone’s watching you, you don’t want to look bad. The easiest way to avoid looking bad, is to hide. If they don’t use the system, you won’t find out how good or bad they are. They can always cook up a reason for “not being able” to use it later.
One team member once confessed to me. She said she was junior and took longer than estimated times. When we estimated time for tasks, we entered that estimate in the project management system. But she did not log time against the task since she was afraid she would look slow.
When people think you have high expectations, you are watching them, and that their failures will work against them, they tend to avoid risk. Not using the system seems like a safe bet. The other choice is to do just enough to get away. Use the system to the minimal standards set so that they don’t show up on your radar.
The lesson? Most people are afraid of looking bad, hence stick to mediocrity. Your team is no different.
Reason 3: Because they don’t like to change
Why would you learn a new system when old will get the job done? People have their own styles of working, a system requires standards to be followed. Change means risk. Change means more work.
Even if you did not use any project management system earlier, you would have some un-documented / non-standard way of getting things done. You brought in a system because you wanted to standardize best practices and keep track of things. But that change may occur as threat to some.
None of us want unpleasant change. Some people even rebel and challenge the system when they can’t handle the change. It takes strong motivation to defeat inertia and establish new habits. Some people will go to the extent of proving the system wrong. Not because the system is bad, but simply because they don’t want to change!
In other words, if there is no clear advantage for your team to adapt the new system, they won’t.
Reason 4: Because the system is not embedded in your organization culture
For most organizations, a project management system is just another system. They have email, misc documents, project plans in Excel files, conference calls, review meetings, planning meetings etc. for project management. Then there are a bunch of other systems as well. Your project management system becomes an extension of existing systems. This also created multiple reference. A conference call would give a different picture of the project from an Excel sheet. There is no single source of truth.
Some organizations are also averse to failures. Someone who fails to understand or effectively use the project management system, may be criticized. An organization culture that does not accept failures will take ages to accept any change.
At the same time, for them, managing projects is not their job. It’s the manager’s job. So it should be the manager who uses project management system. Their job is to just get work done.
So: If people do not realize the importance of your project management system; if you don’t refer to your project management system in your day to day conversations, they will avoid spending their time on it.
Reason 5: Because of you
If you noticed, all four points I mentioned earlier, are your team’s perceptions. You and your team perceive the project management system differently. For you, it is a way to get organized, it is the tool to succeed. For them, it’s someone else’s problem they are stuck with. An unavoidable change they are struggling to cope up with.
It is not their fault. Neither yours.
Your perceptions are different. You are looking at this from two different sides.
Like me, you may be trying out every new technique to make your team understand the importance of your project management system. But we spend little time understanding them. We do not realize that their expertise and experience levels are different. Their aspirations and struggles are different. They will obey and follow certain rules, but you won’t get optimum results unless you develop deep compassion for them – the end users of your system.
This is the biggest reason why they don’t use the project management system. It’s because the system does not solve their problems. It solves your problems. When you look at the situation from their perspective, listening with deep compassion, then and then only can you get their buy-in.
And what you want to get, is that there is nothing wrong here.
Don’t let early disappointments deter you. Show them a new trick once in a while. Don’t keep switching project management systems because one did not work.
When you start seeing their side, things go much smoother.