I’ve talked a lot about the importance of being flexible, but that doesn’t mean we can overlook the importance of being consistent as well. It may seem like these two things are at odds, but they can actually complement each other when you are being intentional about both. Across projects, it’s important we all stay flexible and find the best process and tools for each project and team (within reason of course). Within a specific project, though, team members will depend on you to hold to the processes you’ve agreed to and being consistent will help build trust with the team.
To illustrate the importance of consistency at a high level, I will share a quick story about a restroom and trash can. One day, about nine months into the existence of our Viget Boulder office, someone moved the trash can in the men’s restroom. Someone thought it functionally worked better in a new location and decided to move it. This was news and this was debated and discussed ad nauseam. It was a very minor change, but for nine months the men knew where to expect the trash can to be, and the 1-2 seconds it took to realize and remember the new location was annoying.
When something is consistent – even something as mundane as a trash can location – we come to depend and rely on that consistency without realizing it. Extending this example, we all have flexibility with the location of trash cans across rooms. In one room it may be to the right of the door, in another to the left. As long as it’s not propped up in some very odd location, we’ll find it. Similarly – across projects processes and tools may change to a certain extent, but within a project, if you can provide consistency you can quickly make the life of your team easier. They will save precious time and mental energy knowing where to find or when to expect certain communication or deliverables. Without even realizing it, everything will be smoother.
Now that you hopefully see where consistency fits in and why it is important, here are five valuable ways you can be more consistent within your projects:
5 Valuable Ways You Can Be a More Consistent DPM
1. Hold true to the processes you start with.
At the beginning of the project, hopefully, you are working with your team to determine which processes and tools make sense for that particular effort. That might mean weekly internal meetings or daily internal meetings, or deciding to set up a Slack team with your client vs. only relying on meetings and Basecamp. There are a lot of options for every project, but once they are determined, stick to them unless the team agrees to shift.
I try to set up mid-project retrospectives, to discuss what is and isn’t working, which may result in changes to process – but they are changes everyone agrees to and expects to see moving forward.
What is important to avoid is changing processes without talking to the team. Setting up a new tool, changing the frequency of specific communications, or changing how you are communicating can disrupt a team member’s flow, and lead to overall confusion and delays in team members getting work done. It can also hurt your reputation as a solid, dependable team member.
2. Always post notes, and always post them in the same format
I’ve had many team members (and clients) comment on my note taking, and how much they value it. It’s not that I’m doing anything revolutionary. As I’m sure many of you do, I highlight Action Items/Next steps, and try to include comprehensive yet scannable and clear notes from meetings. What might be different is my consistency. I am sure to always post notes from every meeting. Sometimes, the notes from my weekly internal meetings are three lines because it’s a quick check-in, but I still send them. Everyone on my projects knows that within 24 hours of a meeting, they’ll see notes and action items. They expect it and have come to rely on it.
This consistency means I rarely have conversations with team members or clients on what actions are expected from a meeting, or what was discussed. Nobody is blocked by being unsure of something following a meeting, and I don’t have to spend time reminding folks of what came out of a meeting. It’s a win win win. And—bonus—there are several occasions I’ve referred back to notes from six months ago to recall a decision or point to a reason we did something as a team. Always good to have documentation.
3. Use the same format and language for tickets & bug reports
There are good and bad ways to write tickets and bug reports, but a project will be smoother for everyone if you follow best practices and are consistent with how you are sharing the relevant information. Often times, team members will set aside a block of time to work through tickets. Their job is made easier if they don’t need to ask clarifying questions, and if they know what to expect and where, in the ticket. Work with your developers and team members to determine what information they expect and need, and make sure every ticket they tackle has that info in a predictable manner. In the following examples, you can see the title is clear and informative, there’s a description of the issue, a screenshot, and browser/OS details.
4. Find the right tools for you to be consistent
Being consistent often means being dependable, and there are a few tools I use to allow me to feel confident I am not letting things fall through the cracks.
Find the tool that surfaces what you need when you need it. I personally utilize the To Do list tool TeuxDeux, which allows me to not only set up recurring reminders (i.e. Send the Internal Weekly Plan every Friday) but also to set which days I’m going to do what. I’m able to spread out my ongoing responsibilities, while also slotting in the inevitable ad hoc things that come up. I add every action item for myself that come from meetings to TeuxDeux. By adding every little thing to my to do list, I can get it out of my head, and be sure it doesn’t get lost.
I also use Google Inbox and its “snooze” feature, to keep my email to do list clean, and not lose track of threads that may need to be followed up on.
The important part is to find the tool that works for you, so you can get the little things out of your head and down to “paper”. That can make it much easier to be consistent in doing what you say you’ll do, when you said you’d do it.
5. Utilize tools to automate processes
There are also a few tools that can help you ensure your team is consistent. If you use Slack, the “remind” feature is a great way to ensure your team posts YTBs (if that’s something you do) or adds items to the client meeting agenda each week. If you don’t use Slack, IFTTT is a service that integrates with many tools and can provide ways to automate reminders. Automating is one more way to offload your own brain, and keep things simple for the team.
Ultimately, consistency is important because it builds trust. And having a team that trusts you, and a team you can trust is always going to make a project easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Are there other ways you ensure you are consistent throughout your projects?