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Avoiding the Workflow Tangle

If something looks good but doesn't actually work, start looking for another way.

At the end of each work day, I roll up the many teeny cables I use, including a set of head phones. Hey – it’s always great to come in to a tidy desk. Funny thing though – every morning when I come to unravel the carefully coiled ear plugs they go from neat loop…




Total snarled up mess in a matter of seconds. My process, apparently, is flawed. I’m moving from organization to total chaos. Not good.

Happily, this is not the case with our work projects. We’re in a busy time right now – you know how it can be – sometimes things are quiet, and then just as quickly, everyone calls with a project. Managing those efficiently is absolutely critical to the success of our client’s projects, and by extension, to us as a company. We’re small, and something of a little diaspora, with a designer in Athens and a team in Austin, so we need to be able meet and share – and we get a great deal of that done virtually.

We have tools we love – Basecamp cloud-based project management software that allows us to all access the project from wherever we are, messages in one place, files and attachments etc. Skype, Harvest to track hours so we can circle back after projects are done to see if those time projections we made at the front end were accurate, realistic.

Let’s take a look at the bigger picture though. Here are some stats on projects and how companies do at managing them:

  • Of 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and across various industries, only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.

PricewaterhouseCoopers study

  • An analysis of 1,471 IT projects, found that the average overrun was 27%, but one in six projects had a cost overrun of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.

Harvard Business Review study

Cost and time overruns also have a profound effect on national economies. One estimate of IT failure rates is between 5% and 15%, which represents a loss of $50 billion to $150 billion per year in the United States. Another study estimated that IT project failures cost the European Union €142 billion in 2004.

These come from a very interesting two-part series in the Gallup Business Journal on why projects fail, and how to avoid that. The central question asked being as project management becomes increasingly prevalent, and the tools and processes and schools of thought increase, how is it that we’re doing so badly at it?

“This traditional approach to project management emphasizes developing complex guidelines to manage projects across all phases — from implementing phase reviews, performance metrics, and project steering committees to creating risk management dashboards.”

How to Run a Successful Project – Benoit Hardy-Vallee

Turns out, people make the difference. An engaged group will throw their efforts into ensuring the success of a project. Here’s where being a smaller company, with around 50% of our staff being principals, and the remainder being genuinely focused on the team’s success, and so by extension, our clients’ success works well for us. Corporate culture plays a huge role here. It’s the people, not just the tools we use, the processes we have developed that turn out to be the better way for us when it comes to managing projects. We’re willing to burn the whole candle to make sure things get out the door working when we said they would.

As for my earphones – turns out there is a better way for that too – last night – the figure eight method! I look forward to stress-free unraveling in the morning!



Dude. It totally worked! A great lesson in – hey if something looks good but still doesn’t work, start looking for another way.

Alison Christie

With a Major in witty comebacks and a Minor in motherhood, Ali is all about the words and has been sharing them liberally with all and sundry for years. Oh! The stories she could tell, but for those million dollar non-disclosure contracts she has signed. Moving swiftly on.