7 Tried-and-True Solutions for Common Work Management Adoption Challenges

adoption work management

Since the founding of Cella Consulting in 2009, our firm has been promoting the adoption of work management tools in the workplace to maximize efficiencies and control the flow of projects. Around that time, according to an In-House Creative Agency Survey, 62% of teams were using workflow technology. Today, that number has risen to 79%, going even higher (93%) for teams numbering 50 or more people. Clearly, an overwhelming number of companies understand the benefits of work management tools, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a new system up and running—not to mention convincing everyone to use it.

In my career, I’ve rolled out seven different project and work management tools in different companies, using a variety of methods. And I can tell you one thing that definitely doesn’t help get users on board: begging, pleading, or yelling “please use it!”

So what does work?

Let’s start with the basics.

First, you have to find the right tool and the right configuration for your needs. If those two boxes aren’t checked, you’ll never achieve widespread adoption.

Second, once you’ve settled on a tool, spend some time getting to know it. Don’t jump in thinking it’s just like learning Excel, and that you’ll be able to figure it out as you use it. It’s not the same with these kinds of tools, which are both super flexible and super complex. A highly customizable work management tool is only going to put out the information you put in. The “garbage in/garbage out” cliché really applies here. So it’s important to help your team understand that they need to be both purposeful about what they’re putting in and mindful of what they want to get out of it.

Third, you need to be patient with your implementation. Think of your software installation—and eventual adoption throughout your team and company—as a series of challenges to solve. No one will be able to tell you exactly what will be on your team’s list of challenges. It’s going to be different for everyone. But here is a common list of challenges I’ve encountered, followed by helpful solutions.

Solution #1: Start simple.

You’ll hear a lot of “put your process within the tool,” but that can lead to over customization. When you over-customize on day one, the tool becomes really complicated and challenging, which will reduce adoption and make it more difficult to grow with the tool.

Whatever you’re doing today outside the system doesn’t have to be exactly what you do within your new system tomorrow. This is a great opportunity to take a step back and think about what you might want to do and how it might work within the technology, rather than simply mirroring what you’re currently doing.

Also remember that, just like with any software tool, it’s going to be different on day one than it will be three months down the line. Be prepared to start in a way that makes sense for you. Keep it small and simple and allow your engagement with the tool to grow over time as you implement additional features. Be patient with it. Really stay focused on what your ultimate goal is and build to that goal.

Solution #2: Use Kick Starts.

Remember that many of the most important decisions you’ll need to make to set up your instance successfully will take place in the first few weeks. You’re creating the architecture for the rest of your experience in the work management tool, so be thorough and intentional at the beginning of the process, especially with your “Kick Starts.”

Kick Starts are wonderfully large Excel sheets that code into your work management system on day one. You may have all of your team members’ names and roles. You may have all of your active projects. You may have some historical data. Get all of that information together and clean it up. Remember, you’re going to be getting reports out of this data, so it’s critical to get it right the first time.

If you have issues along the way, ask questions. There are so many people who can help, including the software provider themselves as well as specialists or consultants within the industry. The experts can help you plan your implementation to get the right data in the first time.

Solution #3: Implement request forms — with reviewers.

We get a lot of work requests from different people and teams. One way to keep it all organized and flowing efficiently is to set up request forms. But your job doesn’t end there; you also have to think about what happens immediately after the requests are submitted. Do they go to one person, or a team of people? How do they become projects?

I recommend that when you have your intake process in place, you set up a team of potential reviewers of those requests. That team will route them to the appropriate place, with maybe one person assigned to each channel or functional area. By being thoughtful about this process in advance, you’ll be able to avoid bottlenecks, missing project requests, and other potential related issues right out of the gate.

If you are unsure of how to test your request form, I recommend building it first in the Admin Sandbox feature, that way, you can practice without disrupting the live environment.

Solution #4: Stick to a few core templates.

One of the greatest advantages of work management software is the ability to create templates. But I’m going to warn you: don’t give in to the temptation to create a different template for every possible job type. It is tempting at first and seems like it will save so much time down the line! The problem is that you can easily rack up dozens of different templates, all only slightly different from one another. Should other departments begin to use the tool, you may quickly find the template list becomes unwieldy. Too many templates can also cause significant internal confusion.

Instead, look for consistencies of what you want to track. If every job opens and closes in the same way, make one template of the job opening and closing. If you have certain chunks of features or steps that occur across different projects, create a template for those. These templates work like Legos, allowing you to add one or more templates to a project.  You can connect and customize them in a way that works for your deliverables. Keep them simple, and be smart about how you pull them together.

Solution #5: Separate work into tiers.

One solution is to separate your work into tiers and design your processes accordingly. Tier 1 would be your high-level strategic and conceptual work, where you’d build in lots of brainstorming and think time and a fair amount of stakeholder involvement. Tier 2 is where you pull your Tier 1 concepts down and apply them to individual deliverables, such as applying the themes of a larger campaign to a video or to a banner ad. This tier requires less think time but often has more cascading tasks and approvals. Tier 3 includes those repeatable production-level tasks, such as updated terms and conditions on an online contest, that really don’t need any creative influence and very little (if any) stakeholder oversight.

Organizing your projects into tiers like these helps you gain maximum time efficiencies. In my experience, Tier 1 is great for an Agile approach, Tier 3 is great for Kanban, and Tier 2 is something of a hybrid. But remember,  you can apply agile principles and ceremonies to a Waterfall methodology, maintaining cost constraints while gaining communication efficiencies. Once you’ve got your project in, and you’ve realized what kind of process it is and what to do with it, that’s when you start building out your tasks.

Solution #6: Simplify tasks.

If you remember that your work management tool is there to help you control your projects, not your process, it’s easier to keep out of the weeds—and avoid creating unnecessary tasks. The first time I rolled out a workflow tool, and I realized what it was capable of, I made a task list for the creation of a banner ad that had over 250 lines in it. It was a thing of beauty! It literally told you exactly what to do, right down to, “go to the server and locate the file (2.5 seconds).” As you can imagine, there was an uproar from the agency, and that was a great learning experience.

As you build out the tasks in any project, ask yourself: what in my environment can the teams tolerate? Do I really need to know the hours spent on each individual task line—or do I just need the hours spent on each phase? If you can capture the data you need by dividing your project into 5-6 task lines, instead of dozens, always choose the simpler option.

Solution #7: Build for reporting.

It’s normal to want to realize the benefits of your new tool right away, but you need to be realistic. In order to get any data that’s truly actionable, it’s going to take about 6 months of your team using the tool consistently. There’s just no getting around the learning curve; you have lots of data you’re going to have to normalize and get through that “garbage-in/garbage-out” change management process. So brace yourself for some lead time.

With that in mind, do not try to create and customize all your reports from day one. First, get familiar with the standard reports that are there. Find the one that’s the closest to what you want, and run that report. See what it does for you. Then edit that report to tweak it to be what you want it to be. This process will familiarize you with the features and the possibilities of the reporting tools, helping you ensure you’re getting the data from the right fields.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Workfront, for one example, has an amazingly patient help desk that can walk you through it. They may even have an already-built report from another user that they can upload into your system, saving you time and effort.

Remember why you wanted it.

We all dream of that plug-and-play solution that just magically solves all of our problems, right out of the box. But that’s never the reality, so please don’t get too frustrated too soon with a new software implementation.

Remember what your old pain points were and what you were trying to solve, but keep a lookout for new pain points. This is going to be a bold, new way of working. Even though you solved some old challenges, you’re going to introduce new problems, and that’s okay. My advice is to take your time; you don’t have to drink from the firehose. Roll out the pieces that make sense to you, wait until you feel comfortable with where you are, and then move on to other pieces. I also recommend playing in the sandbox feature. Absolutely make some mistakes in there and play around, because that’s the easiest way to learn.