Remember the episode of “I Love Lucy” where she’s working in a chocolate factory and can’t keep up with the influx of chocolate coming down the conveyor belt?
Sometimes that’s how it feels when you’re trying to handle the deluge of incoming projects. In a survey from RingCentral on communication app overload in the workplace, 70% of workers said the volume of communication they receive is a top challenge. Workers toggle between apps up to 10 times an hour and, when they do, 31% report losing their train of thought. If your team is so inundated with new tasks coming from all directions and is siloed between tools, they simply can’t complete projects at the speed your business requires.
Does this sound like your current work project intake process? If so, it’s time to update your demand management strategies. Managing incoming work requests isn’t black and white. Leveraging project intake best practices help you go technicolor. Here are 4 signs your project intake process is outdated and some simple steps to build a well-defined project intake process that’ll take your team into the future.
Sign #1: Work requests are entered manually and come through multiple channels
Email, instant messages, and desk drop-bys — oh my! With so many different tools and communication styles, incoming work requests are coming at you from every angle and chaos ensues. And just like in the “I Love Lucy” scene, things fall through the cracks, work isn’t up to par, and you burn out quickly.
Lax communication might work well for smaller teams, but as business scales, you need a project intake request process that helps you manage both your current and incoming work properly. In CIO magazine, Mike Brannan, VP of Technology and Marketing at Centric Consulting, asserts that in order for leaders to keep up with business demands and changing technology, they need to develop separate processes and work intake mechanisms to deal with all things new, while still maintaining rigorous and governed processes for all things operational.
Leaders need to be able to manage both their current workload and project requests. However, according to research by McKinsey & Company, teams waste up to 45% of their time on work intake tasks that could be automated — like consolidating requests and assigning them to the appropriate people. The more requests you get, the more time-consuming and repetitive this process becomes.
While your team might invest in a collaborative work management tool, if they still have to manually source and input new project requests from multiple channels, you won’t save time, and you run the risk of errors or duplicate entries.
Bring your work intake process into the future by… setting up a single work intake request process
Move work intake requests from IMs, emails, and chats into one funnel within your work management tool. Top-performing teams use request forms to consolidate incoming potential projects, funneling them right where their projects live. Request forms are a type of project intake questionnaire that requesters fill out in order to help a team get the project to the right place. They’re a great way to provide consistency to work intake, saving your team from tracking down critical details that delay project starts.
Require that any new request be submitted through this one process or the team will not add it to their queue. Other teams might push back at first, but they’ll soon see that their requests are filtered through faster.
For example, Esurance’s marketing production team each shaved over 400 emails per month from their inbox by taking requests out of email and adopting a single source of truth for all incoming projects. With a clear process for managing work requests through Wrike, internal collaboration improved drastically and other departments are happy because they know requests will be handled in an organized and timely manner. Here’s an example of a project intake form example a team like theirs would use.
Sign #2: There’s no formal process to turn requests into projects
While funneling requests into one channel is the first step, you’ll need to be able to turn those requests into projects. If different teams are collaborating, determine whose process you’ll be following and outline accountability and expectations.
In Wrike’s professional services industry project management survey, 32% of respondents said that meeting the demands of incoming requests is difficult, and 28% said that project setup and scheduling were a top challenge. Even with requests in one place, teams can struggle to translate them into successful projects. In fact, 97% of respondents report that their projects always get delayed to some degree. The biggest culprit? Changing requirements.
If you’re struggling to turn all those requests into successful projects or your projects always seem to hit delays, you’re not alone. A survey of 300 agency leaders found that 52% of respondents think creative briefs lack focus. And in a separate survey, 82% of agency clients said they see a need for better briefs. In order for teams to take a request form and turn it into a project, they need the right information and an easy-to-follow kick-off process.
Bring your work intake process into the future by… automating successful project kick-offs
Work intake can seem incredibly complex. You have your current work, goals, and resources to balance. How can you fit new requests into that flow? Here are some project intake process best practices.
- Use dynamic request forms in your work management tool.
Dynamic request forms allow you to capture information in a variety of formats like short answers, paragraphs, checkboxes, dates, dropdowns, numerics, file attachments, and more. The forms automatically adjust to ask required information based on the information provided so your team doesn’t need to manually ask or input any data.
- Set your tool to automatically turn requests into projects using templates.
In tools like Wrike, you can set triggers that will automatically turn requests into tasks or projects and assign the right people to them so nothing gets lost in translation. And if your team has consistent project requests, use templates to drastically reduce the time it takes to create and manage repeatable tasks and projects. Take a look at Wrike’s pre-built templates to get you started.
- Appoint a request project leader or institute a request review rhythm.
Whether you automate a project template or assignees, have one person manage incoming requests. You can also define when requests will be reviewed. For example, Wrike’s design team reviews requests on Monday each week so that they can plan their projects and work undistracted. Requesters appreciate these set expectations and transparency.
By defining a process, using tools to help you automate work, and collecting requirements up front, you’ll avoid project delays and improve communication between teams.
Sign #3: Your projects are a to-do list, not strategically mapped to larger goals
While the “I Love Lucy” scene is comedic, the reality of an endless line of projects isn’t so funny. Are you reactive or proactive in how you manage your work intake? Is the goal to have all of the chocolates beautifully wrapped or is it more about quantity?
For many teams, the stream of inbound requests feels just like an endless conveyor belt of things coming in and being handled without any real strategy. They can’t see how extra work is impacting KPIs, which can lead to disconnect and discontent.
In a CMO insights survey on the marketing industry, 61% of marketers reported feeling pressure to prove their value, and another survey on employee stress and burnout says 39% of marketers work at least 5 hours of overtime each week to meet demands. In our professional services survey, 31% of respondents work more than 8 hours per day, 3 days per week, while 18% work 8+ hours every workday.
Overwhelmed with work, many teams review outstanding requests only after they’ve finished a task and are ready to tackle new projects. This ultra-linear approach means urgent requests that are a high priority for one team might be a low priority for another. Sound familiar?
Division around work style and goals negatively impacts production and performance. About 97% of employees and executives believe lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of a project. So even if you have the best intake process, it means little if you aren’t able to prioritize requests.
Bring your work intake process into the future by… mapping incoming projects to your team’s goals and prioritizing work strategically rather than “in list order”
Companies with effective intake processes organize and tackle upcoming projects by priority. Now that you have your requests in one place and organized for kickoff, it’s time to elevate your work! But in order to do that, you need to think outside of your team.
In a Forbes article on how companies can break down barriers, author Brent Gleeson cites “conflicted leadership” as the top reason why silos exist. He advises managers and leaders to set the tone for breaking down silos, sharing information, and collaborating effectively.
Establish OKRs both internally, as a team, and externally, as a company. Align projects to those OKRs. Hold periodic meetings to review your KPIs, plan upcoming work, and ensure the requests you prioritize actually further department and company goals. At Wrike, we like to visualize this concept like a ladder.
Looking at goals in this way gives leaders the structure to stay aligned and prioritize projects. This ensures everyone is clear on how they add value to the organization, giving team members a sense of accomplishment.
Make part of your project intake process mapping requests to larger company goals. Ask questions like:
- What is the ultimate goal of this project?
- How will success be measured?
- Is this project in line with OKRs?
Asking questions like this will help you prioritize incoming requests and make your response more strategic and less reactive.
The process of developing goals as a company also helps leaders re-examine the marketplace and improve strategy. A Hinge Marketing study of the professional services industry found firms that conduct systematic research into their target audiences grow faster and are more profitable. This kind of focused research and company alignment compels teams to evaluate projects in a more collaborative light.
Sign #4: You don’t have a way to visualize and share your team’s current work
Another big challenge for Lucy and her friend was that they couldn’t see the chocolates coming, so they weren’t able to plan how to best manage their work.
Without visibility, how are team leaders supposed to plan and accept incoming work? They need to be able to get a snapshot of where their projects stand as well as see what projects are coming down the pike. Rather than focusing on a unified effort to achieve those company KPIs, they horde resources and become siloed. This can cause project delays, duplicate work, confusing communication, and a stressful work environment.
Does your team have a calendar view of all your current and upcoming due dates? Are you leveraging workflow statuses to keep stakeholders informed on the status of requested projects? With the right tools, you can empower your team to see into the future.
Bring your work intake process into the future by… leveraging a work management tool that gives you multiple views of your work.
The first step to honing your project scheduling techniques is to power up with the right project management tools. Being able to visualize, manage, and measure resources helps you forecast where you can strategically take on new requests without risking bottlenecks.
Imagine you’re on a marketing team with a lot of different projects going on at once. You get a request to write a customer case study. How can you tell if and when your team will have the bandwidth for the task? A shareable, layerable calendar view in your work management tool can help you visualize where you can fit requested projects. Wrike calendars make it easy to schedule, track, and share work both internally or externally. Color-code by status, channel, audience, etc. and tap into other teams’ calendars to get a real-time overview of scheduled projects.
Providing visibility into what work is actually being accomplished fosters a sense of true collaboration. On a team level, seeing how each individual’s efforts contribute to the whole adds meaning and inspires all to work in unison to achieve common objectives. On an outside level, you can collaborate easier with outside teams if you can show them where their project fits in.
Another way to accomplish this is by using customized workflow statuses. With a quick glance, requestors or project stakeholders can see where a project stands. No more needless status update meetings. When teams are able to hold one another accountable and communicate effectively, they can take on more work. Being able to see your work empowers you to manage both current work and incoming work requests.
Ready to bring your project intake process into technicolor?
Right now your team may feel like Lucy and her friend, desperately trying to keep up with the influx of tasks headed your way. Follow these project intake process best practices and you’ll find that you’re not only keeping up with the proverbial conveyor belt of work, but beating it!
A project management platform like Wrike can help you get started. Try a free 2-week trial today.
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