Progress Management vs. Project Management

Progress Management

For many years I struggled to use project management tools like Trello, Jira, or Asana. It was easy to add work to these systems, but I could never create a regular habit of making sure that the workspace reflected reality. I always blamed this mishap on the fact that I work in an unstructured way and that linear tasks and process was not my forte.

Inevitably, my boss would look at the project management tool and try to deduce what everyone was working on, and it would not give him the insights he needed to accurately report on progress. If one person on the team functioned like I did, the process would break down.

Meetings, status reports are a fallback

As a fallback, my boss would use tried and true methods like daily standups, weekly meetings, and status updates to capture a high-level view of what was going on at work.

These meetings were quite inefficient and boring, but they were the best option he had. After all, the project management tool was messy and didn't reflect the current state. What other option did he have?

This leads me to the point of my post - there's something missing with project management tools. If PM tools were delivering on their promise, people wouldn't spend all day in meetings trying to capture what's going on. It should be reflected in the system.

Why does this happen? Let's talk about this in the rest of the post.

1.) There's no habit loop

The first and most obvious way that PM tools break down is that they don't have a strong habit loop that drives people to keep their work up-to-date on a regular basis. One person on the team may keep their projects up-to-date, but others don't.

If a couple people don't have a regular habit, a meeting needs to happen to groom the workspace to make sure that the tool reflects reality. If this doesn't happen, the reports are useless because you are reporting on stale work.

2.) PM tools can be noisy

Project management tools are great at collaborating around a project or a unit of work. It's easy to leave comments in a Trello card and have discussions with a coworker. I use Trello for this and have zero issues with it.

This blessing can be a curse though. These systems have the potential to become very noisy. As a leader, I don't need to see all the comments about the unit of work. I need to be able to quickly understand if we are on track to hit our goals.

Once again, leaders and executives try to solve this problem with meetings and status reporting. They are trying to separate the signal from the collaboration noise.

3.) The disparate tools problem

The third problem with PM tools is that there's so many of them, especially in a larger company. Engineering wants to use Jira. Marketing wants to use Asana. Another team wants to use Monday.com.

This creates a problem. If a team isn't excited about a particular tool, they won't use it. But if you are an executive and you want to see what's going on in a single location, that's impossible because the work is scattered across a variety of tools.

In conclusion

Project management tools are great at managing projects, but what people really want is an understanding of progress. This is something we are actively exploring at Friday in the following ways:

  • We start off by creating a habit of sharing your work on a regular basis, which captures the current state of reality in the moment.
  • When giving an update, you can attach the units of work from various tools, which solves the disparate tools problem
  • These high-level updates are abstracted away from the collaborative noise that you see in PM tools. It's as much signal as possible, with less noise.

This gives you a true-view into what's going on at work and the progress as it happens.

Internally, we still use PM tools to collaborate around projects, but we use Friday to share progress. Unlike the past, I have been able to create a consistent habit of sharing what I'm working on.

I believe there's a new category that's waiting to be created here. Because project management tools need to be about progress, not projects.