Many years ago, the London Tube; the subway system, created a slogan reminding people to look down and step carefully between the platform and the train. It’s become such a symbol of London that we see not only the Mind the Gap symbol on t-shirts but memes of all kinds to “Mind the… Something”.
Last week here at HMS, we came across a gap. It was a process gap and because of checks and balances we built into the company years ago we caught what was a potential error and corrected it long before anyone was affected. But that we discovered the whole in our process itself startled us and is a good reminder that the process by which we update our processes is probably quite vulnerable at the moment.
In the normal course of our office life the potential error in the proposal we were writing would have never happened. We typically have a conference room session to walk through such proposals and we most certainly would have caught this oversight. But there is no one in our conference rooms at the moment. We are, for the most part, working remotely. Even for people who are going to the office, we have carefully organized ourselves to make sure we aren’t meeting each other in person.
Before you ask, Yes. We do group video calls but the way we conduct ourselves on those calls isn’t quite the same as how we function in person and the oversight slipped through. We caught it a few days later in our standard more formal peer review and fixed the problem but we are now reviewing how our basic processes work. We are now operating under the assumption that some level of remote work will be continuing for the foreseeable future at least in the near and medium terms so making sure that the processes that we had originally created for short term use are now reviewed for long term use is a must.
For project managers everywhere this sort of oversight can be just as much a challenge and the potential impact can be significant.
Where once you might have wandered down a corridor, poking your head into a cubical and asking how things were progressing, you are probably now working with more formalized reporting or even having staff fill in progress and dashboard data. The devil can be in the details though. Are you sure that the dashboard indicators that you see now are showing the same analysis as they once did when people are in the office?
We are reviewing a number of areas ourselves and that might be of interest to many organizations:
How are we assigning work?
We are looking at who assigns work and how. In particular we’re checking on more casual processes that were often a part of our day to day lives for casual assignments. You know the ones… A senior manager pokes their head in the door and asks for a small “favor”. The work is small but each request adds up. When a supervisor is seeing staff people in person every day, this gets noticed. But what happens when they’re at home? Are the requests still being made? Are they affecting capacity? At our firm we are making an effort to formalize any requests and make capacity transparent by surfacing it to anyone in management. So far, that’s been a healthy change.
The pace of work
We used to concern ourselves more with delivery deadlines. Those are still important of course, but with so many of our staff now working staggered or more flexible hours, we’re functioning in a much more Agile mode than we ever have. HMS adopted Agile processes long before they were called Agile but our processes are less formal than in many companies. We haven’t become more formal but instead of trying to focus on what you promised you’d do between one time of day and another, we’re agreeing with our staff on a list of tasks to be completed in a given window of time and just managing the deliverables. It has made everyone a little more confident in delivering quality work.
It’s about the timesheet
It is ironic that a company like HMS dedicated to the timesheet software industry has to think about its timesheet but sure enough, we did just this past week. TimeControlhas the power to be so flexible that it can adapt to a wide variety of demands and that’s true for its use at HMS too. Given the types of contracts we’ve taken on since the start of the coronavirus shutdowns, configuring our timesheet data is critical. We’ve added some additional tracking controls and reporting so that we can be sure we’re delivering everything we promised, that our staff are focusing on the right work and that we’re capturing billing information in a way that we can audit any invoices we create in the future.
Resource Capacity Planning
Resource Capacity is a subject that everyone at HMS has a part in and has for a very long time. It’s a key focus for us. When resources are geographically decentralized as they are now, we have to redouble our efforts to make sure we have a clear understanding of what work we’ve committed to, what work we are committing to and what work we’re being asked to commit to all at the same time. We have created management meetings to review this kind of information in a much more organized fashion than we used to.
Please Mind the Gap
All in all, our review of our processes has been pretty rewarding and so far we have been lucky not to be caught out in a major error. But it’s a healthy time to be checking for any gaps in your own processes.