Q&A With Jill E Duffy, Productivity Expert

It is a pleasure to welcome Jill E Duffy to our Success Blog. Jill is known as a thought leader, writer and expert in Technology and Productivity. Jill wrote for several publications, most notably for PC Magazine where she was a contributing editor and for Product Report where she writes about personal productivity. Jill made countless appearances through other media outlets such as CNBC, NPR, WNYC , as well as many various radio stations.

Welcome Jill! Can you please give us an introduction about you and your experience?

I have been a writer and editor since around 2000, most recently writing about technology and productivity. I write articles about productivity and productivity apps for Zapier, and I write about research related to personal productivity for my own website ProductivityReport.org. Previously, I’ve written for PCMag.com, FastCompany, San Francisco Business Times, and other publications.

Jill DuffyJill Duffy, Photo by Kirstie Shanley

In your view, what are the ingredients of project team success? What is the dynamic required to drive project teams to success?

It takes a lot to make a collaborative project successful. From the start, the project and its scope must be stated clearly. What are we creating, and who is it for? What is the purpose? What is not included in the project?

Additionally, someone needs to plan out the timeline for the project by giving it a deadline and milestones. Deadlines create motivation. They are a reason to get the work done now and not dally. Milestones help break up a project into smaller parts. When you have smaller parts, they become more manageable and achievable. Deadlines and milestones also help teams work more cohesively. When everyone on a team can see where they’re going and how they are going to get there, it allows them to work with a common purpose.

team debate

Letting a team debate a decision too long can sidetrack them and cause morale to drop

Successful teams constantly discuss priorities. When a group of people works on a large project together, they need to discuss what is most important to do as well as possible and what might get short-changed or eliminated.

Finally, as much as any team may be able to work together successfully, it’s usually important to have someone in charge, such as a team lead or a project manager. Some decisions need to be made swiftly and decisively, and the team leader is the person who takes on this role. Letting a team debate a decision too long can sidetrack them, cause morale to drop, or leave some team members feeling like their point of view was not taken into consideration. When a team knows and trusts that there is one person who can make a final call, it lets them focus on their priorities rather than get wrapped up in making decisions.

Having a plan and creating a schedule with deadlines and milestones increases a team’s probability for success

What should be the main focus of project managers and project teams who want to increase the probability of their project’s success?

Having a plan and creating a schedule with deadlines and milestones increases a team’s probability for success. Perhaps many people take schedules for granted, but it’s extremely important to lock down a realistic schedule and  work hard toward meeting it. Locking down a schedule can help minimize feature creep, too, because if you don’t have time to add anything that wasn’t initially in the project scope, you won’t.

Project managers can also increase their probability for success by learning from past data, which can be very hard to do. Looking at how long different phases of projects took previously helps people make more accurate predictions or estimations for how long it will take this time. In the same way, we can learn from data what types of work are likely to encounter problems, for example, if testing always takes longer than one assumed or if clients routinely miss deadlines when asked to deliver information to the team.  

“we can learn from data what types of work are likely to encounter problems, for example, if testing always takes longer than one assumed or if clients routinely miss deadlines”

Data doesn’t tell the whole story. As much as project manager should observe past data, they should also observe the people who do the work. Some teams may struggle and scrape by with minimal resources, or miss deadlines because they are lacking resources. Listen to the people who do the work and find out what they need to do their jobs well. Ask not only what they need, but also what’s going well.

2019

What would you consider the main trends for the future of project management?

I think that project management tools are improving dramatically at giving people the ability to learn from their past projects. It’s very difficult to learn from past data if you’ve only completely a few of them. Right now, the teams that benefit most from past data are very large organizations with expensive project management tools and hundreds of projects under their belt. In the future, we’ll be able to get more insight into what can improve our chances for success by looking at data from just a few finished projects.

If you’re going to make people stare at a computer screen all day long, you cannot put ugly interfaces in front of them

What are the top things organizations need to look for when searching for the next project management solution?

  1. The tool needs to do what you need it to do. Some teams have a very flexible way of working, for example, and some project management apps are well suited for that sort of team. But others are not. Others are much more rigid and structured, which suit teams that need a well-defined process. It’s also important to look for fine details, such as having a time-tracking app included if you pay contractors an hourly rate as they work on your project.
  2. Find an app with pleasing design and good user interface. I strongly believe that if you’re going to make people stare at a computer screen all day long, you cannot put ugly interfaces in front of them. Having a pleasing design and interface that works smoothly (is drag-and-drop enabled, and has functions that work as expected) matters tremendously. As someone who has tested dozens of project management apps, I can say with certainty that we should not take reliable user interfaces for granted. When they are good, they’re unnoticeable. When they’re bad, they make everyday painful.

Jill – Thank you so much for your time today, we have thoroughly enjoyed listening to you insights about success and sharing your thoughts with us. We look forward to hosting you again soon!