The Importance of Health in the Workplace

TreadmillDesks

Are you interested in becoming a healthier you? Do you find yourself drained after spending a day at work? Being healthier can significantly improve your quality of life, and research shows it increases workplace productivity and reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American spends 44 hours (about 40% of their waking hours) each week on working and related activities; people who want to become healthier should begin thinking about health in the workplace.

The Commute.

The initial workday activity is the commute to your office. How could you make your daily commute to and from work healthier? One option is biking. At our Trackolade office in downtown Seattle, every employee bikes to work (and there is one wall in our office space devoted to storing all the bikes). For me, not only is biking to work a healthy option, it’s greener and smarter, too. I don’t have to deal with ridiculous rush hour traffic going into and out of downtown at peak hours, so it actually saves me time (about 20 min every day — almost 2 hours each week!). I also save the environment from toxic emissions.

Use this nifty bike-to-work calculator to figure out how many calories you burn, how much money you save, and how many pounds of toxic emissions you spare the earth.

If you ride the bus or the subway, you can get off at an earlier stop and walk the rest of your way to work. The same logic applies for if you drive to work – just park somewhere farther away from your office (or at least the far end of the parking lot) and walk the rest of that distance to work.

It’s also a great idea to use the stairs rather than the elevator to get up to your office. If you work on the 18th floor, don’t despair. Rather than trying to walk up all those stairs, take the elevator, but get off whenever the first person riding your elevator gets off and walk the rest of those stairs up.

The Workday.

Unfortunately, we have inadvertently designed the American workspace to be a fairly unhealthy environment. Sitting all day is generally a bad idea: it’s linked to worse mental health, a higher risk of death from heart disease, and you’re pretty limited to that one position for a long period of time. One solution to this problem is getting a standing desk. Purported health benefits are through the roof, from burning calories to lowering your metabolism and lowering your risk of death. One step up from using just a standing desk is a treadmill desk, which allows you to work all day while walking 10 miles comfortably. If a standing desk is not possible for you, a large workout ball to improve your stability and balance by keeping your core abdominal muscles engaged all day is another option to consider. This promotes better posture and protects the lower back (check out workwhilewalking.com for all sorts of great information and insightful reviews about treadmill and standing desks).

Some people don’t have the luxury or want to change how they sit and work all day. Some report that walking on a treadmill all day can be pretty distracting, as well as embarrassing if you have a workplace crush. However, there are other healthy practices one could partake in throughout the work day. Taking fitness breaks or walking during your lunch break are great ways to keep up your energy and move your body throughout the work day. I usually eat my lunch while working and then spend my half hour lunch break walking around downtown while on the phone with my mom. I love the Seattle weather and fresh air, and I get reenergized and refocused while being healthy. This certainly beats the alternative of sitting in the break room for a half hour and chugging coffee when I get sleepy midday.

Eating.

This brings us to our last point in healthy workplace habits – food and nutrition. Instead of spending this section talking about what you can be eating for lunch and for snacks (though I would recommend a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and not a lot of sugar), I’m going to tell you about how you can be eating. What I’m combatting here is the specific problem of overeating – many Americans also deal with undereating and/or eating disorders, which I don’t address in this article.

There is a great book by Brian Wansink called Mindless Eating that talks about food psychology and small, easy changes a person can make in her environment to eat a little healthier each day. It’s based on the idea that environmental influences secretly greatly affect how much food you eat. One finding from Mindless Eating is that food should always be kept out of sight. It is difficult enough not to eat all day long when you could be sitting around coworkers chomping on snacks, pelted by advertisements about happy hour truffle fries and half-priced doughnuts down the street. Avoiding that dish of chocolates that sits on your desk in front of you makes you all the more prone to overeating. Keep your snacks and your lunch in the fridge, in a drawer, and especially off your desk.

Eat your food on a plate. And eat it on a smaller-sized plate, if you can. The problem with eating food from plastic containers or paper bags or huge wrappers is that your brain is tricked into thinking you’re eating less than you actually are. You can’t see all the food you’re eating, or the container it’s in distorts how much is truly there. As soon as you put all that food on a plate, your brain can better understand how much you’re eating. Additionally, moving from a 12-inch to a 10-inch dinner plate leads people to serve and eat 22% less. The same logic works for drinks, too – you will be more satiated with less beverage when drinking from a taller, skinnier glass rather than a shorter, fatter glass.

When you eat snacks, try putting a set amount of food in a container or buying 100-calorie packs of your favorite snacks. By not eating straight out of a large bag of your favorite snack, but rather regulating how much you will eat before you even start eating, you will be much less likely to overeat.

What Works Best for You?

Whether it’s biking to work or eating your lunch on a smaller plate, there are many ways to tweak your routine to make each day a little healthier and still be able to live life as you wish to live it. As the days add up and turn into weeks and months of healthy activities, soon those actions will become habits that you don’t even think about. Becoming healthier is attainable for anyone – you just have to take the first step.

by Paige Blazei (Trackolade Summer Intern)

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GOT – Games of Tasks

After the untimely death of King Robert Baratheon, the Iron Throne is up for grabs. In Game of Thrones, we see several players launch their strategies to usurp the throne and the governing power of the seven kingdoms in King’s Landing.

Though the first season episodes outline the events of each player pretty well, we do not get to see much of the plotting and strategy work that went on in each vying team. I cannot be certain that Trackolade was actually used in these processes (it probably would have been difficult to get WiFi in many of those war camps), here’s what season one GOT behind the scenes probably looked like: **SPOILER ALERT for Game of Thrones Season 1**

Ned Stark, our virtuous hero, started off his plot by creating a Trackolade account, setting up his profile, and beginning his first project.

Other characters had other projects in mind. Trackolade allows you to have multiple projects going at once, so people who have multiple objectives (like Tyrion Lannister) can work simultaneously on several separate projects.

Tyrion knew he wouldn’t be able to complete his project “Maintain the Lannister Throne” single-handedly, so he invited his two siblings, Cersei and Jaime to plan with him.

 As soon as all the Lannisters were on one Trackolade project together, the plotting could begin. They created task-lists of items they decided were important, like “Join Alliances with Baratheons,” and later, when that had been accomplished, “Keep Joffrey in Line of Royalty.” They completed these projects by creating tasks for each objective and assigning them to one another.

As tasks were completed, they were checked and archived on the Trackolade account. As we can see, other tasks stayed open for as long as they were not completed.

Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen had her own Trackolade project.

 To overthrow the current runners for the Iron Throne, she knew she would need an army. She was able to upload a document “Nomadic Warrior list” so that the rest of her team could see her research and help her decide who to seek out.

 As Game of Thrones continues, plots thicken, objectives change, and teams are broken and united. Trackolade allows all users to continue to add tasks to their projects, and assign members to complete the tasks and due dates for when they need to be completed.

In a war like this, you need to be organized to keep your head. Literally.

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Open Workspaces Trending Today. Virtual Workspaces Trending Tomorrow?

There’s a reason that companies like Google and Apple build their offices to encourage chance encounters between employees and encourage “unplanned collaborations”. No, they’re not trying to spark inter-office romances (at least we think); they’re just clued in to the fact that having frequent conversations outside of formal meetings is the most important factor in a team’s ability to be successful and innovative.

According to research done at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, “The best teams spend about half of their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as ‘asides’ during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.” This isn’t to say that formal meetings should be completely discarded – they can be good for developing broad ideas and fostering agreement on overarching objectives and goals. But more often than not, our best and most innovative ideas come after the meeting, when we’ve had time to digest the big picture and start thinking about the smaller pieces – or when we get inspiration from an interesting conversation or a random idea. And having frequent, low-pressure conversations with co-workers makes it far more likely that these ideas will see the light of day. Think about it – when are you more likely to pitch an unusual, possibly risky (but possibly groundbreaking) idea? When all the attention of the conference room is on you, or when you can casually throw it out in conversation with a few co-workers? The latter, of course…and that’s where the magic of innovation happens.

In order for that happen, you’ve got to create an environment where collaboration is intuitive and continuous, and conversations can happen organically, not just within the confines of a meeting. Companies like Google and Apple do this by having office spaces with strategically placed areas to eat, read, and brainstorm that encourage workers to leave their desks and bump into each other. But even if you don’t have the ability to redesign your office in the vein of these and other companies, you can still encourage more of this kind of communication by having group coffee breaks, or social activities where team members can chat together.

But what if you and your team don’t work in the same office? What if you work remotely and only meet face-to-face occasionally, or hardly ever? This is an issue that our own team faces all the time, as many of our members work remotely. But using Trackolade has allowed us to have the same kind of informal conversations and rich collaborations as a team working in a well-designed office space. We can send quick messages back and forth and start chats just like we would in an office – except that when these conversations lead to a great idea or piece of insight, it’s much easier to track them down later. That’s one huge advantage of using a project management system – those little bits of genius (and the big important pieces, too) are all captured in the same place, instead of floating in the ether. Who knows…maybe project management tools are the office spaces of the future.

We’d love to hear about how Trackolade helps you and your team communicate and be innovative. Sign up here to give it a try, and let us know what you think!

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The To-Do List That Got Me to Seattle

Paige is a Marketing Intern at Trackolade. Read how she got here by using the Trackolade app before she even got started.

When I graduate Macalester College next fall, I do not intend to stay in Minnesota – the state in which I’ve lived my whole life. While many of my family and friends reside there, the Twin Cities is constantly praised for their growing nightlife and local food scene, and we have something like 10,000 lakes, Minnesota is also ridiculously cold (and ridiculously hot), has billions of mosquitoes, and is everything I had known all my life.

Last summer, as I sat in my non-air conditioned porch in 98-degree, swatting away mosquitoes, I vowed to live in another part of the United States the coming summer. So began my huge project for the next year, SUMMER 2014: MN SOMEWHERE NEW.

My boyfriend Kaspar was easily convinced to come with me, and was a source of tranquility and creativity throughout our escapades. As we sat at the kitchen table and brainstormed our plans, we quickly came to realize that we needed to accomplish a ton. Thankfully, I had recently been using this nifty online project management tool called Trackolade to organize Macalester College Concert Choir events (I co-manage my college choir in my spare time). I knew Trackolade could easily be used for something like planning our summer.

So Kaspar and I began our plans for SUMMER 2014 on Trackolade the next day.

Our first to-do list was “Figure out where to go.” Good place to start, right? We brainstormed a list of characteristics we wanted our new city to include and posted them on our Trackolade project. Then, we planned out strategy for how to continue.

Four months later, we finally figured out what city we were going to. We had a few friends who were migrating to Seattle for the summer, and a bunch more who were graduating college and moving out there permanently. Once we completed that to-do list, the snowball really started rolling, and more to-do lists appeared on our Trackolade account.

At this point, we were both in over our heads in schoolwork, our jobs, and other obligations we had as students during the school year. But we knew there was still so much to do if we were going to make going out to Seattle work. As we thought of more and more tasks, we wrote them up on the Trackolade website. Luckily, we had something to organize all our thoughts – there’s no way we would have been able to keep plugging away at our project if we hadn’t checked every single box on these to-do lists.

It’s also super satisfying to check those boxes on Trackolade:

Currently, Kaspar and I are both happily residing in Seattle. We have interesting and fulfilling internships, a rich social life, and are outside biking/running/lazing almost every day in the summer lake breeze.

 

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Take Productive Work Break (or Just Look at Cute Puppies)

cute-puppies-sleeping-pictures

The prevailing wisdom used to be that if you wanted to get more done, you had to work harder, faster, and throw yourself at the problem with more force. But the paradigm of work is changing – more and more evidence is showing that if you really want to be more productive, you should take a break. Mental concentration is like a muscle – it can’t do the heavy lifting without periods of recovery. When it’s constantly under strain, it gets worn out and slows down – and both you and your work suffer. It should come as no surprise, then, that taking regular breaks improves mental clarity, helps us be more creative, and makes us healthier overall.

Taking breaks can sometimes be hard to put into practice, however. When you’re overwhelmed with things to do and tasks to manage, taking a break can feel like the last thing you want to do, an unnecessary distraction that’s going to cut into your productive time and delay your work. The old idea that taking a break is a sign of laziness dies hard in some work environments, and it can feel wrong to be the only person taking a break while your co-workers are all solidly glued to their computers. And while a there are a lot of ideas out there about the best way to take a break, some of them can seem like a luxury; the scientifically-proven benefits of a mid-day power nap are all well and good, it’s just not a realistic option for some of us. Unless of course you are a puppy, or happen to work from home.

Even if a nap or a game of foosball are out of your reach, we still think it’s worth it to try and take a break in whatever way you can. It helps to make sure that your breaks are quality ones, too, where you can really give your brain time to recover – not just a walk to the water cooler or few minutes spent surfing facebook. The folks at Wamda have some great suggestions for ways to take productive breaks the help you recharge but still stay in the zone. My favorite is to take a break by engaging with something that inspires me, like watching a TED talk or reading an article, which is a great way to feel rejuvenated without losing focus. On the other hand, I also like looking at puppies, and that also seems to work pretty well. Taking the time to get organized and set short-term goals and priorities can also help clean up some of the mental clutter that’s weighing you down.

Not everyone works in the same way, and not everyone needs to take a break in the same way, either. The optimum time or frequency for workday breaks can vary by person; sometimes, if you’re on a roll or in the middle of a creative high, you might not feel the need to take a break at all. And when your plate is full, it can be easy to scoff at the idea of stepping back – but for the sake of your own productivity, give it a shot. If you are still not convinced, start slow and spend a few minutes looking at these cute puppies.

 

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Productivity Hack of the Week: Do a Project Post Mortem

project post mortem

Treat your dearly departed projects with the respect they deserve, and they’ll help guide you in your future endeavors. Don’t, and they’ll haunt you.

Are you under-utilizing one of your firm’s greatest assets? If you’re not reviewing projects after you complete them, you just might be.

In sales and marketing, one of the most valuable processes teams go through is the win-loss analysis. Oftentimes, it’s the lost deals that return the most feedback. Which of our competitors won? Why did they win? What could we have done differently? These post mortem analyses often turn up both tactical improvements and strategic opportunities, like product or pricing adjustments.

The same is true anytime a project wraps up. Knowledge is golden in any business, and a lot of times it’s not the really complicated, sexy insights that are the difference between success and failure – it’s the little changes that help teams communicate better, deliver effectively and distill concepts to practice.

To bring those to the surface, take a little time at the end of any project and review how it went. What went well? What could have gone better? Are there basic things you can do differently that will help projects run smoothly each and every time?

As with anything, you have to be intentional about how this process runs. There are some specific things you need to do to get useful feedback:

1. Involve the whole team.
Almost any business relies on the efforts of multiple people, and how those people work together has the single biggest bearing on the outcome that team produces. If you involve the entire team, you’re helping everyone develop a common vocabulary and a common way of thinking. You’re also making clear that everyone has a stake in what happens.

2. Create an environment where honesty is the single biggest virtue.
You have to set some ground rules from the beginning. One is to make clear that the post mortem is not about finding fault in the prior project – it’s about making all future projects go as well as they possibly can. Set a constructive and positive tone – this is the carrot in the proverbial carrot and the stick. The second is to make it clear that the most important thing is contributing to the process. The instinctive reaction in a process like this is for people to protect their own position and either make themselves look good or avoid looking bad. While you don’t want to promise your team immunity (if it comes out that someone made a stupid, careless mistake during the project, being honest about that doesn’t mean their spot on the team is safe), you can make it clear that commitment to the project and the success of future projects is a basic requirement. In other words, hold back in this process and your position on the team might not be safe anyway – you won’t settle for less than full participation! That’s the stick to your earlier carrot. Once you’ve got the carrot and the stick out on the table, there are no sacred cows, and you can get down to the business of really digging in to how things went.

3. Hold each other accountable.
The other reason to involve the entire team is to create a self-accountable unit. If an exercise like this is top-down, it’s easy for the lessons to be identified, maybe even written down, but not followed, because it’s all on the shoulders of one person – one person who is no doubt very busy. If everyone is part of identifying those lessons and buying in, it creates multiple opportunities in the next project for someone to recognize when a practice that may have caused challenges in the last project is being repeated in the current project.

4. Keep good records during the project.
Having documentation of the project and what transpired as it moved forward is incredibly valuable when you go through a process like this. If you or anyone else are unclear as to what happened when, you have something to refer back to to understand the flow of communication, the discovery of requirements or other key stages your team went through in completing the project. In this regard, more than half the battle is having a system your team will use consistently – as long as it centralizes communication, you’ll have something to refer back to later. The most sophisticated project management system in the world is useless if it doesn’t get populated throughout the course of the project.

If you can do these things, you’ll get the absolute most out of your projects and your team. Over time, it will become a competitive advantage in and of itself.

As always, we wish you good fortune and successful collaboration!

by Paul Kriloff

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Learning from Failure: Don’t Be a Bertha

Right now, as I type this, the world’s largest large-bore tunneling machine is sitting beneath the streets of my hometown in one of the most epic cases of bad project management in the history of project management.

The machine isn’t tunneling, and it definitely isn’t boring – it’s sitting idle, awaiting repairs and causing major headaches and stress to just about everyone involved. It’s part of an ambitious project to build a massive tunnel under downtown Seattle to replace a viaduct that would fall over if even the slightest earthquake struck.

Far from boring…the best drilling machine in the world is only as good as the people managing the project it’s a part of.

The project is behind schedule, probably over budget, people are angry, and worst of all – no one really knows exactly how things are going to get back on track.

How did we get to this point, and more importantly, how can you avoid Bertha-sized failure on your projects? Join us in our first installment on learning from some of the biggest failures in project management history.

How Did We Get Here?
If you’re not familiar with Seattle’s tunnel woes, let’s back up a step. In 2001, the Seattle area was struck by the Nisqually Quake, a 6.8 magnitude trembler centered some 40 miles south of Seattle. It was one of the strongest earthquakes to hit Washington State in a very long time, and while it didn’t cause all that much damage, it did put a major hurting on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated freeway that runs through downtown. Built almost half a century prior on very loose intertidal soils, the Viaduct was already not in the best of shape. Carrying over 100,000 cars a day, it was and still is a major link in the region’s transportation network, and the Nisqually Quake rendered it barely safe for travel. One more tremor (heck, a strong gust of wind) and it was coming down.

Despite that seeming gun held to our collective heads, policymakers argued for years over the right replacement and funding. The options included rebuilding the viaduct, tunneling under the city, doing a shallower “cut and cover” tunnel or moving all that traffic onto surface streets, sort of like San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Public advisory votes were held and ignored. Finally, an agreement was reached to build a tunnel – a 54-foot diameter tunnel through soft glacial soils, the largest large-bore tunnel ever dug. To accomplish this, Hitachi was contracted to build a boring machine, which was named “Bertha,” after Seattle’s first and only female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes.

Bertha Knight Landes

“I was a groundbreaking figure in Seattle politics, and you named a machine that can’t break ground after me? Since I heard this, I’ve spun more times in my grave than your machine has in the soils of Puget Sound!!”

From the start, the project was beset by delays. The contract for construction of the tunnel had awarded some work to a union in contravention of an existing dockworkers’ union contract. The governor stepped in to craft a compromise, and Bertha got to digging. After digging just 1,000 feet, Bertha encountered resistance, which was first announced as a metal obstruction. Two months passed as crews worked to identify and remove the obstruction. When digging resumed, operating temperatures spiked, drilling was halted again, and it was eventually announced that the bearing seals on the cutting head had been damaged and that the grease behind the seals was contaminated with mud and silt. As of right now, the state agency in charge of the project and the contractor chosen to do the tunneling are working with Hiatchi to determine a repair plan, which may consist of digging a pit in front of the machine and lifting the entire 630-ton cutter head out of the ground.

No one knows when Bertha will resume digging or just how badly Bertha Knight Landes wants to haunt the living daylights out of the people who named the machine after her or how much all this is going to cost in overruns or who will pay for those overruns.

What Can We Learn from all This?
What can this massive mess teach you or me about project management? Plenty!

1. Prepare for contingencies.

When you’re starting a project, it’s worth conducting a thought exercise: what’s the worst that could happen? Brainstorm all of the things that can go wrong. The bigger the project and the higher the stakes, the longer that list should be. It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with. Once you’ve got the list, evaluate whether you can attach a probability to each of the contingencies. As Nate Silver has pointed out, a risk is something you can estimate the likelihood of. Uncertainty is something with unknown probability. Confuse these two concepts at your own peril! Once you have mapped out the points of failure, decide which ones you should have contingency plans against or even if it makes sense to proceed at all. In the cast of Bertha, probably someone should have looked at the risk of the machine getting stuck. You can actually calculate this, since there have been many large-bore tunneling projects in the history of infrastructure development. Then you have to account for uncertainty. This is the largest large-bore machine ever deployed. In the case of Bertha, it seems like the possibility of repairs should have been considered from the beginning, yet the contractor and the state are working with the builder of Bertha to determine how to fix the bearings. It’s as if this wasn’t worked out in advance, even though the possibility of needing to fix a large, complex machine while it was tunneling seems like an obvious contingency to be prepared for.

2. Always weigh the potential benefits and costs of project decisions, especially when the stakes are high.

During tunneling, the contractor responsible for operating Bertha met resistance and stopped the machine. Then they started it again and seemed to move forward. Then they ran it some more, until temperatures spiked. Then they stopped it again, paused for several weeks, started it again and finally found that the bearing seals were contaminated. What were they thinking when they kept running it the first time? Project managers should have realized they were in a marathon, not a sprint – any time gained in the short term would do nothing for them if it compromised the next year of drilling. In the presence of an anomaly – even a small one – the instant calculation should have been:

  • What do we gain by running the machine again?
  • What do we stand to lose?
  • Which will I regret more – losing a day or two now or losing months later?

In that context, the choice would have been clear: you don’t simply rev the engine and see if it starts. Yet that’s what they did.

3. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the contingencies need to be.

If you’re doing something that has never been done before, you’re going to encounter things you didn’t know you didn’t know. “Oh, hey, it turns out that the unprecedented radius of the cutting head combined with the increased pressure caused by runoff and glacial silt compressing at 60 feet below sea level results in exponentially greater pressure being placed on the bearing seals when the entire mass is rotated, and our models for specifying the tolerances of that seal are inadequate at this scale.” (OK, I made that up, but it sounded plausible, right?) The more uncertainty, the greater your contingencies need to be either in time, money or planning.

In the case of this project, the contingency budget was $205 million on a total budget of $4.25 billion – in other words, less than 5%. As of right now, with the tunneling machine stuck and no real estimate on when it will be unstuck, that seems like a naively small number. Was there a lot of time put into contingency planning? Based on what’s been released so far, it appears the answer is no – the contractor and the state aren’t just trying to figure out what to do, they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to figure out what to do. That shows a shocking lack of foresight and a failure of basic project management acumen.

4. Communication is everything.

“So…you read the RFP we’re responding to?”
“Yep, read the whole thing!”
“Any surprises in there I should know about before I type up our proposal?”
“Nope, you’re good to go!”

One of the theories as to why Bertha stopped tunneling was that it hit an obstruction. And an obstruction was found. Despite weeks of playful speculation wherein people’s imaginations ran wild about giant fossilized clams or abandoned logging equipment from Seattle’s skid road days, it turned out the obstruction was the metal casing of a surface well drilled to monitor groundwater. The embarrassing thing about this was that the state agency in charge of the project had put it there, left it there and knew it was there. However, they left it there on purpose and included its location in the RFP it released and explicitly stated that it was the bidder’s responsibility to remove it. Somehow, the winning contractor failed to connect the dots. In the end, that well casing may have had nothing to do with Bertha’s stoppage, but it’s a painful reminder that making sure the right information gets to the right place is waaaaaaay more than half the battle in making a project go smoothly.

So there you go – you are now better equipped to manage projects than the folks in charge of a $4.25billion mega-project.

How will it all unfold? Who knows, but the people of Washington are surprisingly used to this sort of thing. We built Galloping Gertie in 1940 just to see it fall into the Tacoma Narrows the same year. In 1979, the Hood Canal Bridge sank into Puget Sound in a windstorm. You would think we would have learned our lesson by then, but in 1990, we managed to flood the I-90 bridge and sink it into Lake Washington. We even managed to let a football stadium collapse while it was still being built. We’re like beavers in a flood plain: nature washes our work away, and we just stoically start re-building.

Hopefully, you can avoid that fate by doing things right the first time. As always, we wish you good fortune and successful collaboration!

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The Super Bowl of Project Management is Literally the Super Bowl

Some of us here at Trackolade are big sports fans, and one of the things we love most about sports is watching highly skilled individuals perform at their very best as a team. If you watched the Super Bowl this year, there were lots of lessons to be had for any project team. Here are the five we felt were most valuable:

1.     You can never underestimate the importance of clear communication.

Safety

On the very first play of the game, Manny Ramirez snapped the ball while Peyton Manning was trying to change the call at the line of scrimmage. The ball went sailing over Manning’s head into the end zone. The result was a safety, and Denver was off to a very bad start. On a later play, Julius Thomas broke off a route too soon, Manning threw to where Thomas was supposed to be, and in his place was a Seahawks defender who was more than happy to collect an interception.

Manning usually excels at making quick decisions and then informing his teammates about the change. He has systems in place that allow him to do that and keep everyone on the same page. The Broncos’ crisp execution allowed them to set practically every all-time record for offense this year: most touchdowns and most yards in a season. The miscommunications in this game only showed how vital that skill is – the mistakes it caused interrupted their momentum from the very start.

Anytime you have a group of people working together, you have to have a way of communicating plans and assignments and making sure that everyone is delivering what their teammates need, when they need it. This becomes especially important when you have to make a lot of updates due to changing conditions.

2.     Keep everyone involved.

NFL American football formation tactics

The close ally of communication is making sure everyone has something to do in contributing to a goal, and this was on full display in the Super Bowl.

A lot of the talk before the game was about the return of star receiver Percy Harvin, and his potential impact on the game. That kind of focus on one member of a team can cause the rest of the team to feel overlooked, but Russell Wilson threw the ball to nine different receivers – he kept everyone involved.

It’s nice to think that any member of a team will stay focused and ready to do their job, even if they’re not needed right now, but in reality, human nature is such that we react to stimulus and lose focus when there is none. If a member of a team gets regular reminders that they can be called on at any time, you better believe they’ll be more ready to answer the call than if they have nothing to do for long periods of time.

3.     Lead with the positive.

russell-wilson-champion

Almost any project involves providing feedback. Most people have a natural tendency to say what’s wrong with something – in fact, a lot of organizations believe that tearing people’s work down is synonymous with pushing them to be their best – but the Seahawks proved that positive feedback can be just as powerful as critical feedback.

The coach of the Seahawks has been called a “players coach” many a time, which is code in the NFL for “soft.” Practices are lighthearted – players have fun. At the same time, it’s serious fun – they compete and really push each other to show what they can do. The Seahawks also brought together a team with a raft of undrafted players, players drafted in the lower rounds, and castoffs from other teams. In other words, where other teams saw what these players couldn’t do, the Seahawks saw what they could do. And then they played to their strengths. Take Russell Wilson – most teams felt he was too short and couldn’t see the field well enough. What Wilson can do, though, is move with the ball and stay posed while keeping a play alive.

Players thrived on that positive attitude, and it brought out the best in them. Any project lead can do the same. When you give feedback to your team, put it in positive terms. Focus first on what’s right in the current work product and then talk about how it can be even better. Relate those improvements to the goal of the project.

This will keep your team inspired, and while it takes more discipline on your part to deliver feedback this way, it will pay off, because your team will put out the extra effort not because they have to, but because they want to.

4.     Give it your all, all the time.

Super Bowl Score

There were times in the Super Bowl where it looked like the Broncos simply weren’t playing that hard. On one play in particular, five Broncos players had a shot at stopping Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse. Two literally had him in their hands, and he spun away into the arms of another two defenders who still didn’t bring him down. One more had a chance and simply pulled up. Touchdown, Seahawks. On another touchdown, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin ducked under a Broncos defender.

The Seahawks on the other hand played every down like it was their last – their defense hit hard from the very first snap (at least the first snap in which the Broncos didn’t give away the ball) and wouldn’t give an inch. They never quit on a play, period.

Now you may think your work doesn’t involve actively fending off a 300-pound lineman who’s trying to stop you from sending an email or issuing a bid, but any project entails hundreds of little details, any one of which can result in a flawed outcome. If you’re writing code, an undocumented requirement can undermine a finished application. If you’re doing graphic design, a change in specification that doesn’t get passed along to a member of the team can result in an entire print run getting scrapped at high cost.

The only way to fight that is if everyone stays focused and brings their all every day. Use your project plan to make sure people know that every task counts, and then spend time making sure everyone’s excited and motivated for the task at hand.

5.     Stay focused on your goal.

GatoradeShower

For those watching closely before the game, Denver had all the telltale warning signs for a letdown. A lot of people were talking about Peyton Manning’s legacy, which presupposed that the Super Bowl wasn’t the most important thing at stake. Manning had gotten the regular season MVP award the day before. In the conference championship, the Broncos had faced the Patriots – Wes Welker’s former team and the team of Manning’s personal rival, Tom Brady. They looked like a team that felt they’d already won.

There was just one small problem: there was one more game to play, and awards and legacies weren’t going to have any bearing on the outcome of that game. Completing passes, sticking to assignments, blocking and tackling in that particular game – that’s what would matter in the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks had a philosophy all season of going 1-0 every week. When the team was being presented with the trophy for the NFC championship, Russell Wilson was asking Terry Bradshaw for advice on playing in the Super Bowl. Now that is what you call focus.

On any project, every day is day one – you have a choice to get closer to your goal or push it further away each and every day. Use your project plan to keep your team focused on the overall goal of the project and each individual step along the way. If people start worrying about things that don’t relate to your objective as a team, remind them of what’s important right now. Is someone worried about their role (their legacy, if you will) in the team? That may be a perfectly valid concern, but talk about it outside of the project and don’t let it get in the way. A failed project doesn’t help anyone.

We know a certain team that probably wishes they had realized that simple truth.

Did you watch the Super Bowl? Did you take away any lessons about teamwork? Feel free to chime in in the comments.

If project management was the furthest thing from your mind, we can relate to that, too. It was quite a game in and of itself – a dominant performance that people will hopefully remember for a long time to come.

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Failure Friday

We talk a lot about productivity, efficient collaboration and how to achieve success in the workplace. Let’s not forget about failure, because it happens a lot, and sometimes it just makes you laugh. Happy Friday!

The Titanic was also unsinkable.

The Titanic was also unsinkable.

Do they mean: "Fasteners?"

Do they mean: “Fasteners?”

Transparent pricing at its finest.

Transparent pricing at its finest.

And...some other stuff?

And…some other stuff?

Slightly expired.

Slightly expired.

Deterrence...

Deterrence…

404 - Technology Not Found

404 – Technology Not Found

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Think. Create. Review. Iterate. Repeat.

After our inaugural 2014 post on goal setting, we figured it would be a good time for us to take a step back and ask ourselves whether we were on track to achieving our goals.  One of the goals we evaluated was this very blog you are reading.

When we initially launched our blog in November, our goal was to generate content that was informative and interesting to our users and relevant to our product. After reviewing some analytics and using basic human judgment, it turns out that what we want you to read does not exactly align with what you really want to consume. One thing we understand is that creating great blog content is no different than building and designing a great product or growing a brand. To create great value you need to either a) improve on what has been done in the past or b) offer something innovative, insightful or useful. Of course, these come with risks of failure, but failure is a critical part in the feedback process.

Enough with the words, let’s take a look at some visual examples of how this process of iteration and innovation has taken things from ordinary to extraordinary.

This is one way to increase donations at a charity box. Improvement on original idea: Creativity.

Needles are useful, threading them sucks. Iteration on original idea: One way thread gate.

Needles are useful, threading them sucks. Iteration on original idea: One way thread gate.

Keeping shampoo out of a babies eyes is no easy task. Innovative idea: Umbrella Visor

USB connections are great, but there never seem to be enough ports. Iteration on original idea: Stack them.

USB connections are great, but there never seem to be enough ports. Iteration on original idea: Stack them.

As you can see, great things do not just happen overnight.  They are created over time through a continuous process of improvement that starts with Version 1 and are rethought, reworked and refined in stages to produce enhanced Versions 2, 3, 4, and so on. This is the approach we apply to our product and now the curating of our blog. As we experiment with our voice in an effort to share more interesting content, we encourage you to do the same in whatever areas of your life or business you are seeking to improve. Sometimes it is better to be sorry than safe.

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Trackolade (not to be confused with lemonade) is a project collaboration software that allows teams to easily organize, manage and track their work in a central place. Sign Up or Learn More, It's Free.
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