Questions are like roadblocks on the path to productivity - if you or your team have a question, then not much can be done until you answer that question.
The fewer questions you have, the more you'll be able to get done.
If you can answer any remaining questions quickly, then you'll be able to get back on the road to productivity in less time.
And if you don't have to involve a lot of people in order to answer questions, then you'll be able to keep more of your human resources productive.
So as a team lead or a manager, your goal should be to reduce the quantity of questions, the time it takes to answer questions, and the human capital required to answer questions. Because if you improve those metrics, then you'll be on your way to increasing productivity and creating a turnkey business.
In my last post, "3 Writing Tools I Use Everyday to Increase My Productivity," I showed you 3 writing tools that I use to remove questions and increase productivity. In today's article, I want to show you 3 communication tools that I use every day to remove the questions - "What needs to be done?" and "Who needs to do it?" so that I can just focus on getting things done.
Why email is not good at increasing productivity
I've been a part of projects that were managed via email, chats, phone conversations, and text messages - all great mediums for communication, but terrible for managing a task or a project.
I was always fumbling through emails sent the week before, or trying to remember what was said in a chat or phone call 3 days ago - all so I could figure out what needed to be done and who was responsible for doing it.
And even then, I still wouldn't have a handle on it all - I couldn't see all the emails that were replied to without CCing everybody, or the phone calls that happened in private.
Figuring out what was going on would take so much time.
So when you're managing a project or an assignment, drop the emails. When you assign somebody a task or a job, it needs to be in a central location that's easy to refer to. That way, when your team finally gets time to tackle a "to-do" item, everybody can quickly and easily see what needs to get done and who needs to do it.
The three tools that we use to accomplish this are:
1. TeamWork PM
These three web applications have helped our remote team stay focused, decrease the time it takes to answer the questions - "What needs to be done?" and "Who needs to do it?", and (most importantly) increase productivity.
There are lots of project management applications out there, but the one we settled on was TeamWork Project Manager. I can't say that we tested dozens of other project manager tools and finally decided on this one, but we loved it enough to stop searching for another one.
The reason that I love TeamWork PM is because it makes it easy for me to get all of the information I need in one central location.
Everything that's going on with a project can be found in one of those tabs shown above. From milestones, to storing brainstorming ideas, to sharing information stored in other webpages (e.g. Lucidchart) via links. It saves me the hassle of having to search all over the place to answer the question - "What needs to be done?"
I also appreciate the feature that allows me to assign tasks to people on our team. If I'm ever at a loss for what I need to be doing, I just click ont he "Everything" tab (shown below).
And filter it to show only what's been assigned to me. I can then pick a task that I can do, and go to work - this decreases the time it takes to answer the question, "What should I be doing?"
We've also automated how some tasks are created - if a form is filled out on one of our web pages, it creates a task with a description of what to do. Very cool.
Before I came to work for Blue Mango, I never dealt with a ticketing system - and since Blue Mango decided to use Zendesk, this is the only ticketing system that I know. But from what I've experienced, it's awesome!
Every time an email gets sent to "support" (either an error was reported, a question is being asked, or help is being requested), a ticket is created in Zendesk. Within Zendesk, a member of our team will assign the ticket to a specific person so that it's clear what needs to be done, and who is responsible for doing it.
The tickets can also be assigned different statuses and due dates so that it's abundantly clear what the team's priorities are. Within Zendesk, it's easy to see which tickets are still open, which ones are closed, and perform follow-up with your team for any of them.
I'm still getting used to the idea of answering tickets, but Zendesk is very easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing (which is always important to me for some reason), and great for figuring out what I need to be doing. I never have to spend too much time answering the question, "What should I be working on?"
If you have to use a chat service (and basically everybody needs to use one), then I'd recommend using HipChat.
When Trevor and Greg just had the two of them at Blue Mango, they got by with iChat. But when I showed up and ruined the party, iChat just wasn't cutting it. When it came to creating chat rooms where the three of us could collaborate, transferring files, and getting a hold of somebody who was away from their computer, we just weren't able to accomplish it in a way we wanted.
HipChat has some very cool features for getting your team's attention and letting them know what they need to do. And one of the things that I didn't see in some other chat services that HipChat has - chat history. Whenever I need to do something that was discussed over HipChat, I can quickly go through the history and see what it was.
So although it's not ideal to dole out assignments over HipChat (that should really be done in a project management tool), it does happen. And when it happens on HipChat, it really doesn't take that long to find out what it was that was assigned to you.
The purpose of this post isn't to try to sell you to any one of the tools mentioned above - what I am trying to sell you on is the concept that on your team, you need to reduce three things in order to be productive:
- The amount of questions that are asked
- The time it takes to answer any remaining questions
- The frequency with which others get involved in order to answer a question
The tools I shared with you above are what I use everyday so that the questions, "What needs to be done?" and "Who needs to do it?" can be answered quickly and without bothering anybody else, which means that I can spend my day being productive - not searching for answers.
If you want to see other tools that we're using, watch our free webinar "How to Build a Turnkey Business," where we show you how to reduce the time your team wastes searching for answers to questions.