In an ideal world, the office recycle bin wouldn’t be full of empty pizza boxes.
In an ideal world, a design review would be planned months in advance.
In an ideal world, I, and the rest of the day shift, would have left 5 hours ago.
Usually, the day shift starts work around 8, the evening shift picks up about 3, and the China team takes over while we here in Toronto sleep. It’s a nice plan, because no one has to work especially late hours, and projects don’t have to slow down until completion. Work can continue 24 hours/day. So why was I struggling with screws and wires at midnight? Because we live in the real world, and sometimes, reality forces us to re-choreograph our plans to include late night pizza at the office.
What’s important is that we learn from this experience. I’d say the lesson here is that plans are important, and flexibility is important, but neither is sufficient on its own.
Back to the plan though, because project execution is the backbone of our business here at Inertia Engineering + Design. One of the main challenges associated with this kind of global, multi-shift team work is maintaining efficient transfer of knowledge. Sure it’s sounds great to have all these separate teams helping out but how do you efficiently utilize them and ensure consistent quality? After all, you want to end up with the 18 foot high Stonehenge not the 18 inch version, right?
Here are some things we’ve learned over the years to improve knowledge transfer among our three teams:
- Deploy and manage work tasks using online project management systems such as Zoho Projects, Basecamp, etc. Accountability at all levels is key to getting things done and so we take the time to schedule and assign tasks so that everyone knows what is expected of them.
- Use a standard report template (ours is in PowerPoint format) to consistently communicate progress, thought process and next steps for the next shift or remote team. This helps people to collect their thoughts, share their challenges and document results, especially if there are meaningful section headers and communication starters to act as starting points. We believe that if you can’t show you did the work, then you haven’t done the work.
- All shifts have a bit of overlap. The night shift starts at 3:00pm, and the day shift leaves sometime after 5:00pm. The China team starts a few hours before the night shift leaves. Someone comes in early for the day shift to see what the China team has done overnight.
- Hold daily huddles. This is not a meeting. Get together as a group, stand up, no longer than 15 minutes and share what you’ve done, what you are going to do and any challenges you’re having. This is straight out of Verne Harnish’s Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. If you haven’t read it – do it now.
- As a product development, CAD based, organization we use a Product Data Management System for more efficient design collaboration, design automation and design change management. This is essential to collaborate between remote teams. If you run another type of business maybe Google Docs would be more applicable for collaboration – we use it as well.
- Record meeting notes in an easily shared form. We use Evernote, a system accessible by browser as well as mobile and desktop apps that allows live collaboration and updates of documents.
Some of these practices might appear to some as inefficient and wasteful – overlapping shifts, high-frequency documentation and so on but we’ve found over and over that we can deliver projects to market 15-20% faster which provides our clients faster return on investment – and we’re all in business to make money, right? In addition, our improved communication also helps educate our clients on our thought process and challenges so they are better able to contribute to the solutions.
What other challenges have you run into with varying work schedules and global teamwork? How have you overcome these challenges to achieve efficient, high quality collaboration and design acceleration?