By Marek Talarczyk, head of Delivery, Netguru
One of the biggest challenges that many up-and-coming companies face at some point of operation is how to quickly scale up when working within limited budgets, with tight deadlines, and in diversified teams often scattered around more than one country.
Such working circumstances generate the need for techniques that will help improve efficiency and enable successful communication.
Here, I’ve broken down the techniques into three categories: starting a project, communication and productivity. I find these areas crucial for the successful scaling-up of a business.
STARTING A PROJECT
Common vision and key roles filled
Before kicking off any kind of work (an IT project in particular) you should always make sure that everyone’s working towards the same goal. All team members should understand what they are aspiring to, what the purpose of their activities is and how they will know that the job is done.
It may seem obvious, but it unfortunately isn’t – in our hectic work routines we often assume that everybody thinks like we do. This mindset can cause a great deal of problems, e.g. people having different definitions of the word ‘done’.
At the initial stage of a project, you should also assign key roles to members capable of performing given functions. Team members have different personalities, skills and preferences in terms of functions they want to fulfil, but also various areas in which they perform best.
On top of that, they should know their priorities and who to turn to in case they have a problem. Having the two above aspects properly covered will reduce the likelihood of improvisation without clear priorities or a defined scope, and thus it will reduce the risk of delays.
Goal definition in writing
No matter the sector or industry you operate in, it’s always useful to make sure that you have a clear point of reference to any kind of activity. In the course of work, it often happens that people lose track of what the scope of it was in the first place.
This is why you need to brainstorm, analyse it and put it in writing before you start working on a project. When relying only on verbal communication, the flow and scope becomes muddled and is easily forgotten. The best solution is, again, to write it all down.
If your business operates in the IT sector and you lack a detailed definition of your project’s scope, you might want to consider enrolling for a product discovery sprint or a scoping session.
The former is a workshop whose aim is to discover the product’s true potential and ensure that it creates real value for users and, as a result, increases the chances of market success.
Scoping session, in comparison, lets you narrow down the scope of work, define the budget, set the deadlines and discuss the project. No matter which kind of approach you choose, a clear vision of the desired outcomes will help you avoid complications when your work is underway. It will also help the team focus on the important things.
Starting a project = creating checklists
Using checklists will save you a lot of time when changing roles in the project. It often happens that business owners forget to store the information related to people’s responsibilities and rely exclusively on their employees’ memory.
In this case, when an employee is sick or changes jobs, the continuity of the whole project is in danger. Make sure that every process is described in writing from the very start. Ensure that the team members understand their responsibilities and tasks, and that they are able to explain them.
If your business operates in the IT sector and you lack a detailed definition of your project’s scope, you might want to consider enrolling for a product discovery sprint or a scoping session
A perfect checklist should enable any employee to fulfil a task by following the steps included in the checklist. Checklists will make them feel responsible for the processes they create and run, and encourage them to optimise and amend the processes if necessary.
Creating clear and coherent checklists is crucial for scaling up. This way you won’t need to spend so much time on introducing new team members to all the processes present in your workflow. It will also save you a lot of time when briefing existing team members about new processes.
Prioritising in practice
Businesses who want to grow have to be productive, because they often have multiple tasks to complete at the same time. Unfortunately, many business owners have so much on their plate and feel responsible for so many aspects of their company’s activity that they can easily become overwhelmed.
Hence the need for effective prioritisation. In order not to slow down the workflow of the whole team, you should focus on on the highest-priority tasks, which help realise your business’s strategic goals. And so should to your team.
The urgent-important matrix can be an immense help in setting priorities. In this framework, developed by Dwight D Eisenhower, each task can be assessed with two variables: important and urgent and then placed on a quadrant of the matrix.
As a result, all tasks will be divided into 4 groups: urgent-and-important, not-urgent-but-important, urgent-but-not-important, not-urgent-and-not-important. Tasks from the first group should be dealt with as soon as possible.
The second group includes tasks that should be scheduled accordingly to their deadline. The third quadrant will contain interruptions, phone calls or emails that pop up during your work. The last group are time wasters, which you need eliminate from your daily activities entirely.
Getting things done every day
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a time-management method that aimed at improving productivity, while diminishing employees’ stress levels at the same time. David Allen, the author of the technique, theorised that stress is often related to things whose outcome we cannot visualise.
As a solution, David Allen described a workflow where to-dos need to be adequately organised, planned and finally executed. You can fulfil tasks either in the nearest future, or later on, or put them in different ‘to-do baskets’.
Any task whose outcome is unclear to you should be deleted immediately, so that it doesn’t hog your attention. When you create your ‘to-do baskets’ or to-do lists, you dump all the responsibilities and tasks from your head onto a tangible storage system; this, in turn, lets you focus on what is truly important at a given moment.
You will feel that everything is under control, and you won’t forget about your priorities. There are dozens of apps on the market that offer to help you with GTD. At Netguru, we love Trello and Jira, but you can also try out Asana, Todoist, Wunderlist or Task.
Crushing it piece by piece
When scaling up a business, owners of small and medium companies may fall prey to their own ambitions. As a result, they tend to create extensive goals, which can turn out to be impossible to reach. While being ambitious is good, setting up unattainable goals is not.
The bigger the goals is, the harder is to start working on it – at some point, you will become paralysed by the sheer size of what you want to do. To make things worse, tracking the progress of oversized goals is prohibitively hard, and it’s really easy to get discouraged.
Unfortunately, many business owners have so much on their plate and feel responsible for so many aspects of their company’s activity that they can easily become overwhelmed
A crucial element of setting SMART goals is dividing goals into tasks. Splitting goals into actionable tasks will help you create to-do lists that will really move things forward.
Once you’ve turned your goals into actionable tasks, break down those tasks into smaller chunks that you or your workers will be able to complete without hassle. Working through big assignments bit by bit helps you stay focused at every stage.
You monitor the progress in real time as you strike each task off the list. It creates a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to go further. This approach will help you and everyone in your team reduce stress caused by excessive workloads.
EFFECTIVE AND CLEAR COMMUNICATION
Supportive and pro-feedback culture
Transparent communication and pro-feedback culture in the workplace make members more confident about their responsibilities. Everyone in the team will have some idea about how each person contributes to the achievement of the common goal. It’s especially important when you’re scaling up.
Adequate feedback will provide your team members with information about their work performance. They will get to know what skills they mastered and in which areas they can still improve. If you deliver feedback in a way that doesn’t wreck the employees’ confidence, it can be a big value to team’s growth.
Good feedback boosts motivation and helps to develop skills. As a result, the whole team’s performance will go up.
Encourage your employees to do things, to do their best, to experiment and not to be afraid of failure. Setbacks and failures, when supported with constructive feedback, are the best learning tools.
Make sure your employees learn new things and thus grow, progress and evolve. If something goes wrong, bring to the table anything that disrupted the workflow. Discuss how you could solve the problem to improve the team’s workflow and future performance.
In today’s fast-paced world, more and more people decide to work from home or any other place away from the office. This is why at some point, every business has to use communication tools. Effective communication is essential in keeping everyone on the same page.
One more benefit of using the right communication tools is that you won’t have to repeat yourself all the time. When choosing the tools for your business, make sure that they actually facilitate the communication, rather than making everyone in the team even more confused.
At Netguru, we love Slack. It has a well-developed channel network and allows for integrating external apps. Thanks to Slack, our marketing team can work together on marketing campaigns, while our developers review their code by using one simple Slack command.
The whole team uses it for team-building and staying on top of things. The full transparency of communication ensures that all team members always stay in the loop, irrespective of where they are. It prevents them from feeling devalued and enables them to fully engage with work.
Recaps and emails
Another good practice for effective communication is to organise frequent recaps. Everyone can share what they have achieved and what their plan is for the nearest future. Recaps will motivate your employees to plan ahead and optimise their work so that they manage to do what they’ve planned to.
You can try having quick daily calls with your team’s members to inform them what they will be doing. We also hold a weekly recap call to give everyone an update on the overall progress. This practice is particularly important when managing a remote team. Calls should also be documented so that everyone can always have a look at what’s happened.
Yet another tactic that helps make communication more transparent is to use CC and REPLYALL in emails. We send all internal communications to the specific people we want to reach, and, additionally, we include all relevant colleagues or departments. Doing this dramatically reduces the internal feedback loop. Thus, work can continue even if the intended recipient is away or on a sick leave. It decreases the risk of delays caused by the lack of information or somebody’s absence.
We take advantage of all the above tactics daily at Netguru, and we find that they make us much more efficient.
About the blogger
Marek Talarczyk is head of Delivery at Netguru. Marek is responsible for the successful delivery of projects through coordinating the project management and quality assurance processes.
He has a broad international experience in the high-tech and software industries. Prior to joining the company, Marek was the COO at Videntifier, where he transformed the business from a startup to a company serving highest-profile customers in the government and enterprise markets.