How can I convince my boss to consider a different way of tracking jobs?
January 27, 2012 4:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I convince my boss to consider a different way of tracking jobs?

I have tried twice so far. The first time I simply said in an email, "I think this could be a really useful production tool. Check it out when you have a minute." The response was dismissive, even defensive. I was told I should explain what the problem is that this solution would solve.

So I tried again, and explained that the problem is that we currently use email to track jobs. And I tried my best to demonstrate why email sucks really hard for this purpose. I also set up a board in trello showing all of the things I'm working on and created and added an extra account to the board. But when, via phone, I tried to make this presentation, the computer my manager was using only had IE and an old version of Firefox, neither of which trello works on.

The result of this was that now, instead of receiving an email describing what needs to be done for a particular job, I get an email directing me to a Word document that describes what needs to be done for a particular job. Ugh.

I'm frustrated because I feel my suggestion has been dismissed without receiving consideration, and all of the functionality in trello looks so good. It seems like my manager is loathe to consider an outside solution, "Tell me what the problem is; I will solve it." is what I am essentially told. Yay, a Word document...

I want to try again, because I still feel what's being offered by this tool far outstrips anything my manager has considered so far. But I don't think I'm a naturally tactful person and would like some advice on how to approach it more effectively.
posted by fartknocker to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You've hit the core of the problem quickly. You are trying to solve something the manager doesn't see as a problem. Can you clearly articulate exactly how the e-mail solution is causing significant time or quality loss in doing the work? Are there other folks who would corroborate your position?

I used to manage an employee who was well meaning but often had a better way to do things. He wasn't wrong. The alternatives he proposed were indeed more up to date, refined, etc. But, I needed to consider that everyone in the office would have to switch over to the new system and the time and effort required for that is orders of magnitude higher than someone who is generally technology comfortable would think or anticipate. So, before we'd press forward on something the real question is "how does what we are doing now not work adequately?"

If there is real efficiency to be found then I suspect you'll eventually get through. If it is just that you think it is dumb that once a work day you need to open an e-mail to open a word file. Well, you are right, but getting people to change for the 45 seconds of inefficiency will be a lot harder.
posted by meinvt at 4:28 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I did try to do that on the second time around. But maybe my examples were not convincing enough. It's hard for me to shift perspective; from where I'm standing, every job that gets forgotten because it dropped below the fold on the inbox (two examples popped immediately to mind and I shared them) is proof of an opportunity to improve. Another example I offered was how direction changed for a particular job after the initial email was sent and now there were multiple emails in circulation between various people not all of which matched. Of course, my manager's response to that example was that someone wasn't following procedure. Specifically, it wasn't a "technology" issue, so this new-fangled thing I was talking about wouldn't help anyway. And, wow, that is so wrong. I was trying to keep this question agnostic because I don't want it to sound like I'm astro-turfing. But have you looked at trello?
posted by fartknocker at 5:00 PM on January 27, 2012

Honestly, I'm kind of seeing where your boss is coming from here, in that you've still not managed to articulate at all what problems this trello software would solve or what the benefits of implementing it would be. Changing everybody's workflow is really difficult and time consuming, especially in a line manager's mind, and it takes more than just listing some breakdowns in the current process to a make a case for change.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:19 PM on January 27, 2012

I'm sure there are tons of ways you could make your office work more productively and efficiently. But if I were your manager, I'd be peeved that you have been spending time researching job-tracking solutions and setting up a dummy account with all the detail on your projects and reserving time on my calendar for a presentation and then following up with me a THIRD time... and how much of your actual project work you could be getting done instead. It doesn't mean that you're wrong, and that this solution would improve productivity and minimize annoyance. But your manager is dealing with problems that are much more critical to him, and the people to whom HE reports. I think you'll achieve your own personal career objectives more effectively, even with some sub-optimal processes in place for your whole office, if you keep your energy focused on the work that you alone can do well.
posted by argonauta at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: But if I were your manager, I'd be peeved... heh, me too.

Ok, sounds like I need to just suck it up and learn to love the madness. Thanks anyway.
posted by fartknocker at 5:38 PM on January 27, 2012

Best answer: I'm going to come at this a second time from a different way. Where you are coming from is 'the technical pieces of this information process doesn't make sense and here is a technology that could fix it'. Where your manager is coming from is 'projects get done well when the team members know about and work on them effectively'.

The breakdowns you see are technical (the e-mail gets lost below the fold). The manager sees this same breakdown as one of workforce discipline and communication (there are supposed to be processes so that everyone can agree to and get the proper work done). The bottom line is that a project can be well managed out of a spiral notebook with good follow-up and conversations, and poorly managed with all the tools in the world.

So, rather than pitching a specific technical solution, start smaller. If projects are getting missed/confusing/lost what is it in the current process that is prone to error? How could that one little bit be fixed? Is the fix something that everyone on the team - including your manager - see as simple and straightforward. Don't try to fix process with technology. Build some trust by demonstrating in little steps how things can be easier. Then you may find more openness for using technology as a tool to fix bigger process problems.
posted by meinvt at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, meinvt. That's helpful.
posted by fartknocker at 6:12 PM on January 27, 2012

The bottom line is that a project can be well managed out of a spiral notebook with good follow-up and conversations, and poorly managed with all the tools in the world.

posted by headnsouth at 6:25 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

One upon a time, our office had a time-management program that one of our IT guys had written himself one weekend in 1999 or thereabouts. It was widely loathed by employees, and the loudest complainer eventually convinced management to sponsor a move to a lovely, spiffy, Web 2.0ified combined time management/project tracking solution. Dozens of meetings were spent ensuring this would give us the reporting functionality we needed, dozens more training staff in four timezones on the software, and who knows how many hours pre-populating the system will all in-progress actions ahead of launch.

Fast-forward a year. The people who were supposed to be responsible for building projects never bought in to why this needed to be added to their duties, so things were never up-to-date, and it was useless as a project tracking tool. The person who managed the training was a horrible teacher whose response to questions was "I showed you that already" so everybody who had mostly snoozed through the training sessions which had been held a either 8 AM or 8 PM so all of our global timezones could be "on the same page" didn't know what they were doing. It eventually turned out that it wasn't any faster to enter time into this spiffy tool than the old homebrew one, so employees hated it just as much, but it was more complex, so there were higher error rates that made life more difficult for the people compiling reports.

So for hundreds of man-hours invested, we ended up with something that looked pretty, but worked marginally less well. This is the outcome that your boss fears.

The thing is, it's not just your boss you have to get on board with this tool - it's every single person who interacts with your project tracking process. If just one of them refuses to use the new tool, everything will have to migrate back to email anyways. So unless you also have a plan to address that issue, and are certain that this tool will slot into whatever reporting process your boss uses to create visibility with his/her superiors, and work with whoever in accounting also might need to know about project status, or whoever else all the required functionalities and stakeholders are, yeah, your boss is not going to take your proposal seriously.
posted by psycheslamp at 2:43 PM on January 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for the input? I should probably have mentioned that I am my manager's only direct report. No one else in the company is concerned with this. Also, I have not proposed anything. I probably worded the post badly, because really I just wanted said manager to look at something that I thought was cool and would probably help. "Convince," in retrospect, is too strong a word, but it only applies to my desire for consideration. And my frustration is the result of not getting any; at least in meinvt's case, it seems the well-meaning employee actually saw some of that.

I did all the "research" on my own time; including this AskMe post, it probably still doesn't total a whole hour. I only brought it up at the end of our weekly 1-on-1 meeting after every other matter had been discussed. I literally led with, "Do you have a minute to look at something?"

It might also be worth pointing out more clearly that there is no time management program at all in place at this time. A "spiral notebook" might actually be a step up from the current system. Originally, I thought I would simply print out the job info as it arrived in the inbox, and I actually do this. But it is far from a great solution. As my desk is stacked and wall-papered with more and more jobs it becomes hard to prioritize to the point at which sometimes it seems things only get worked on after someone complains such-and-such hasn't been done.

I think I'm doing a pretty good job working with the current system (or lack thereof), which is good considering that my efforts in this so far seems only to have pissed off my manager. But it's hard for me not to think it could be radically improved. And when I stumbled on trello, and spent ten minutes figuring out what I could do with it... yeah, I started to hope.

So, if anyone has any advice that might help me achieve my goal or repair the damage I've done, please share. But if you're only here to pile-on, maybe skip to the next post. Thanks!
posted by fartknocker at 4:15 PM on January 28, 2012

I know you may have just left all this out, but you haven't done a good job here of explaining what the problems with the old process are, how trello will fix them, and why it's better than a simpler tweak to the existing system. It doesn't sound like your manager rejected your input completely, but he clearly didn't take away what you wanted him to. So now you get an email directing you to a Word document with instructions. I assume the plan is that if the instructions change, the document will be updated and voila, it's a centrally available canonical plan! How does that not solve your 'emails with conflicting instructions go around' problem? This is a serious question. This is what you need to figure out before you try bringing it up again with him. As to the problem that you lose track of your own work - that shouldn't require a distributed tool change. Start your own trello board and shift from printing out piles to adding work to trello.

This comes in handy for problem 2: You don't seem to have enough experience with trello to be advocating it - you should most definitely have used it (or any other new tool) as a management tool for a couple of weeks before you try and get anyone else on board. This way you know the basic workflow, you can answer questions on 'how do I X', you can demonstrate how other people would interact with your workflow in it, and most importantly you have come across the bugs and limitations and figured out workarounds or mitigations for them.

My company is in the process of migrating to a new workflow tool. It's working because it's not an all-or-nothing move, you can use either workflow for now. The new one is just so much nicer that people who've started using it will email someone who sends them a task the old way and say 'have you heard of X? You should start using it instead, it makes it much easier for me to review your work!'. After I began using it, I volunteered to hold a presentation demonstrating it for everyone in my team - I think now the whole team is on it. This is an ideal way to do it, but it doesn't work so well for all tools. If you are actually trying to get a group to move onto trello or some other tracking system, consider ways to allow gradual uptake: they might involve a little more manual work from the early adopters, but if it makes life easier enough they will accept this tradeoff and simply evangelize heavily.
posted by jacalata at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2012

Response by poster: It's possible, too, that I simply blew it on the presentation, since I didn't even think I was doing a 'Presentation.' I didn't seriously consider the fact that I was 'advocating' trello. When my initial, "Hey, take a look at this when you get a chance." seemed to piss off my manager, I continued to think that if I could just get her to look at it, her eyes would flash and she would see that it has all kinds of functionality that the current system lacks completely: Want to see what jobs are being worked on at any given time with the current system? Consult one of several spreadsheets on the server and then spend a few minutes paging through your inbox, trying to find out if the creative for a specific job has been delivered or not. Want to know more granular information about those jobs? Spend a few minutes paging through your inbox and then opening a number of different messages and reading each one and asking yourself, "Is this the most current message regarding this job?" As opposed to... Glance at a single page that clearly shows whether the jobs are being worked on, on hold, or finished; with color-coded labels based on department, with plainly visible due-dates that are dynamically color-coded based on remaining time, with detailed/current messages regarding each job just one click away, with the ability to prioritize jobs simply by dragging and dropping, with checkbox lists for each job to very granularly and easily track its progress, with a sidebar that chronicles every edit that gets made to every job card when and by whom, with the ability to send notifications to concerned parties when things change. And more besides...

But none of that matters now, since I'm pretty sure I'd be causing a rupture if I brought it up again. Like you say, jacalata, I am using it, and will continue to do so. And I'm sure it will help me. It's already helping me and I've only been using it a few days.

And over time, maybe, just maybe others will notice that I don't lose track of jobs anymore and wonder as to the secrets of my efficiency. And the ponies, I'm sure everyone will be amazed by the ponies, too.
posted by fartknocker at 4:07 PM on January 29, 2012

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