Implementing New Project Management Software: Four Ways to Engage Your Team
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Why is Team Engagement Important?
Few things strike more fear into the heart of a business owner or executive than the prospect of implementing a new software system. After all, potential disasters lurk around every corner: security issues, system crashes, client pushback, employee resistance, and numerous other logistical nightmares. Pulling the trigger on a brand new project management solution – essentially changing the way that the business is run on its most basic level – can be particularly frightening. Of course, you can take steps to reduce the inherent risk of adopting new project management software. Security risks and system crashes can be mitigated by choosing a reputable provider, for example. But even the safest, most well-designed software available can not guarantee full employee and client engagement. If no one is willing to actually use the software, you’re out of luck. Fortunately, there are four surefire ways to boost team engagement and ensure that even the most stubborn of your employees will get on board: choosing user-appropriate software, removing the temptation to fall back on old habits, investing in training courses, and designating someone within the company to oversee implementation.
Choose Appropriate Software
There are hundreds of different project management systems on the market today. Programs like Basecamp and Trello do little more than manage simple tasks and store files. Others, such as LiquidPlanner, have multiple features and intricate scheduling mechanisms, while companies like Redbooth focus attention on video conferencing, collaborative tools, and social components of the workplace. Choosing the right software from this sea of possibilities can become overwhelming, and if you opt for something overly simple or too complex, you run the risk that your team will never use it. Small companies may not require a project management system that runs risk evaluations or creates multi-step workflows. What’s more, features like that can be extremely intimidating to those with limited computer skills. On the other hand, your tech-savvy team might balk at what seems like unnecessary busywork if forced to enter information into a simplistic task manager.
It is crucial to take your time when selecting project management software for your business. Evaluate your needs carefully, and take realistic stock of your employees’ abilities. Find your Goldilocks zone – that perfect combination of practicality, user-friendliness, and powerful features. In other words, don’t waste your money on video conferencing if you only have one office. Don’t invest in robust resource management tools for your casual, family-run operation. By choosing project management software that fits your business, you drastically increase the chances that your employees will get on board.
Generally, companies implement new project management software because their old systems aren’t working anymore. Nowadays email is so prolific that people have a tendency to fall behind, lose track of important attachments, and forget which email threads they need to continue. Hundreds of emails stack up in in-boxes, unread or unmarked for future reference – not the most efficient way to operate. Email overload isn’t the only problem businesses face. It is all too easy for the chain of command to become confused by sticky notes, random phone calls, and casual conversations at a co-worker’s desk. Jobs are assigned in face-to-face encounters and there is no paper trail to follow, no quick way to know who is doing what, who assigned the task originally, and what the timeline is supposed to be.
The solution to these problems, of course, is software that promotes a better system of project management and allows you to keep all files, emails, notes, and instant messages in one place, within the context of a specific task or project. This kind of software makes the workplace more transparent and allows managers to see what is causing delays or who is dropping the ball. But in order for it to work – to actually streamline communication and boost productivity – people have to use it, and use it for everything. You can’t have stragglers clinging to their email communications, refusing to upload files to the software or place requests through the new system. Even a couple of resistant employees can throw a wrench into the works. It’s impossible to monitor tasks that aren’t officially recorded, or hold people accountable for work you don’t know about. If you’re not careful about implementation, most of your co-workers will slip back into their old ways within a few weeks. It’s human nature. People stick with what they know, with “how it’s always been done.” Your employees may be able to understand the value of a new project management system, but moving from intellectual comprehension to action is difficult.
Getting everyone on your team to use new software is possible, but it does require a certain amount of effort and dedication. Over the years, companies that have been the most successful at implementing project management systems have followed one common guideline. These companies give employees a compelling incentive to use the software. The incentive can be good or bad. A good incentive, such a financial reward, positive recognition, or longer lunch breaks for those who comply, works well in some situations, but punitive measures tend to be the most effective. Again, human nature plays a role. People are more motivated by unpleasant consequences than potential rewards. The consequences don’t have to be too drastic, of course. Unwillingness to use the software on a regular basis could result in official reprimand or loss of certain privileges/responsibilities – whatever seems appropriate and gives employees a good enough reason to get on board with the new system.
If the thought of enforcing cooperation makes you squeamish, there are less direct methods of showing that non-compliance will not be tolerated. Some managers find that the best tactic is to announce that standard email communiques will simply be ignored. Others create a new company-wide policy: files, messages, and other work items do not exist unless they have been entered in the system. That sends a pretty clear message to all but the most stubborn employees.
Invest in Training Material and Professional Coaches
Sometimes, the employee engagement problem is due more to ignorance and trepidation than unwillingness to use the software. Most project management software providers offer premium training services, and it is a good idea to take advantage of them. Having constant access to a dedicated support representative can be extremely reassuring and remove a lot of anxiety out of learning a new system, for managers and employees alike. If you’re trying to get comfortable with a particularly complex and feature-rich software, like Comindware Project or Smartsheet, it is especially nice to have someone hold your hand through every stage of the process. Professional coaches can answer questions, give advice about best practices, and even help you design templates and workflows. These services can be given over the phone or via video conference, but it’s most effective if you can get someone to come to your physical location and experience your unique work situation.
Some providers also offer personalized webinars and classes, designed so that all employees can learn the software together in a no-pressure environment. Others send out whole teams to help your company with initial implementation and setup of the new system. All of these services cost additional money and can be quite expensive, but they are often well worth the investment. Anything that makes the software more accessible to employees is going to benefit you in the long run, and chances are you’ll earn that money back in increased productivity.
Appoint a Designated Expert
Not every business can afford to hire a dedicated service representative. But whether special training is within your budget or not, you should consider designating someone within your company to be the ‘resident expert.’ It doesn’t take long to learn the ins and outs of a project management solution. After just a few weeks devoted to watching video tutorials and webinars, reading through the provider’s knowledgebase and blog, and troubleshooting with customer service, anyone can become a pro.
Having a resident expert is a good idea, even if you have purchased 24/7 customer support from the provider. It is quicker, cheaper, and more efficient to use one of your own employees, and chances are the expert’s coworkers will feel happier about consulting him/her than speaking with a stranger, or waiting several days for an email response. Because so many people will be counting on him/her, it is imperative that the designated expert understand all of the main components of the software: how projects are organized, how to create/assign tasks, how to use the reporting tools. This person should know how to customize email notifications and set user permissions.
It’s also wise to place your expert, or another employee, in charge of overseeing software use. They should be checking in with other employees every day, making sure that everyone understands what they’re doing and what is expected, and ensuring that you are getting a good ROI out of the software.
Implementing a new project management system is not for the faint of heart, but by following the guidelines outlined above, you can drastically increase the odds that your workers will be engaged (and stay engaged) with the software for as long as you need. Getting the whole team on board is your most important priority, especially during the initial transition period. Once you’ve accomplished that, the battle is nearly won, and you can just sit back and watch those projects being managed. Good luck!