How to Improve Productivity in the Workplace, Part 1: Project-Based Work

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We can all agree that increasing workforce productivity is a general business goal — and that “increasing productivity” doesn’t just mean “doing more with less.” Rather, it means actually trying to improve outcomes for both the business and its employees.

Search the internet and you’ll find a wide range of opinions on how to boost productivity, from improving recruitment efforts to upskilling employees and offering flexible work arrangements. I’m sure all of these tactics can help, but in my opinion, they miss the mark a little.

Why? Because they don’t address the main reason why increasing productivity is so hard: Our operating environments are more uncertain than ever, and disruption is the new normal.

Since joining Weploy earlier this year, I’ve been talking with the leaders of small and medium businesses across a wide range of industries, mainly to understand what drives our customers to hire temporary staff. Over time, it became clear to me that they are all trying to increase workforce productivity by boosting agility.

Most interesting to me, however, is how these companies are realizing success in this regard. Among the leaders with whom I’ve spoken, two strategic approaches seem particularly common:

  1. Outcomes-focused, project-based work
  2. Breaking down roles into activities and, subsequently, prioritizing the tasks

To ensure each approach gets the attention it deserves, I’m going to split this article into two parts. Today, we’ll look at project-based work.

An Introduction to Outcomes-Focused, Project-Based Work

There are two common types of organizational structure: project-based organizations, which are common in fields like construction and entertainment, and functional organizations, which are typically structured as a series of different departments — e.g., marketing, finance, sales, etc.

Since the early ’80s, we’ve seen emerge hybrid organizations that try to realize the benefits of project-based work within functional structures. First it was the “matrix.” More recently, “agile” has been the buzzword on everyone’s tongue.

Leaving the hype aside, we do see functional organizations using project-based approaches more and more. Companies like Fonterra, Google, and LinkedIn,  for example, all provide ways for employees to access cross-functional teams and solve complex problems. Often, the reason for adopting this approach is because business leaders are less certain than ever before when it comes to forecasting customer demand, mapping out competitor landscapes, or understanding the impact emerging technology may have on their organizations.

Change happens faster than ever in today’s economy, and the traditional ways of crafting business strategies don’t cut it when the goal posts keep moving unpredictably. In this environment, project-based work provides a competitive advantage. When employees can tackle tricky problems within project-oriented teams, the organization experiences two big benefits:

  1. Increased diversity of thought: When employees from a variety of verticals work together toward a common goal, research suggests they bring a broader skill set to bear on the problem, resulting in better outcomes.
  2. A clearly defined goal: There is often no single, perfect solution for a complex problem. When employees work together in project-based groups, they can take iterative steps toward a clear goal, allowing for the kind of trial-and-error work that often leads to great solutions.

How to Adopt the Project-Based Approach in Your Business

In speaking with business leaders who are utilizing project-based work models, I’ve been able to identify a few golden rules:

1. Get Executive Sponsorship and Management Buy-In

Project teams need the autonomy to try new things and fail fast — but they can only have that autonomy if they have the support of their managers and the company’s executive team. Before any project-based work kicks off, this needs to be communicated throughout the organization, and all questions and concerns must be resolved.

2. Use Technology Tools to Foster Intra-Team Communication

Project teams work fast, often with multiple activities happening in parallel. Project management tools are essential to keeping everyone updated and on the same page. At Weploy, we find Asana useful, but there are many options available.

Also, note that simply buying the tool is not enough. Team members must also be trained to understand how to effectively use the tool. Otherwise, you’ll see little benefit.

3. Ensure Structured, Consistent Stakeholder Management

Because effective stakeholder communication can be the difference between success and failure, one member of each project team should be in charge of overseeing this critical function. As project teams move fast, pulling resources in and dropping things that aren’t working, management and relevant stakeholders must be kept in the loop through consistent updates on team progress.

From the major tech giants to local small businesses, project-based work is a major trend in today’s most successful businesses — but it’s not the full picture. Be sure to read part two, where I explore how companies are redefining job roles to find new efficiencies.

Ben Eatwell is CMO of Weploy.

By Ben Eatwell