Whether you’re managing your projects or working against the wire to meet a deadline, it is crucial to keep tracking your progress so that, if you go off track, you can quickly adjust the direction you’re heading in, meet your commitments and deliver on time. Having the right tools in place is an essential part of achieving that goal.

Alongside keeping your finger on the pulse of your work, the approach you take to managing your goals should spark team motivation and engagement, and provide a supportive environment. These are the elements of the goal achievement the most successful businesses out there are particularly proud of.

So what are the strategies to take to ensure you stay on track with your commitments and deliver on time? How can you keep this mode consistent while managing an engaged and motivated workforce?

If you find yourself getting off track, the question ‘how to get back on target?’ should not be met with an answer based on intuition or gut feeling. It must be actionable. Using the right tools to evaluate your progress will enable you to make reliable decisions on how to adjust your course and get back on schedule quickly.

Let’s explore a couple of options we can work with and break down how they facilitate a supportive environment and a culture of continuous improvement.

Evaluating Whether You’re On Target with Your Commitments

In order to predict the likelihood of completing their work in the time available, many teams use burndown charts.

Stay on track with your commitments - burndown chart

A burndown chart is a tool that enables teams to keep track of their progress. It displays a line indicating the actual work remaining, alongside a line designating the ideal work remaining. It is indicative of whether you are on track with your commitments as you work towards the completion of your scope.

The line goes from top to bottom as your team is getting ahead. If the actual work line is above the ideal work line, it means there is more work left than originally thought. In other words, you are behind schedule.

A word of caution before we move on! Sometimes, the initial reaction (especially for managers that are just getting started with their business agility transformation) is to push teams to work harder to be able to go back on track. 

Don’t fall into this trap! That practice can only have a negative effect on your team’s engagement and motivation. Furthermore, if you make that response a standard, it can have a disruptive impact on your ability to hit your targets and achieve your goals.

By forcing teams to work harder, you essentially drive two main results to occur:

  1. You intentionally overburden your people which, in terms of outcomes, results in low-quality deliverables and unhappy people who eventually quit.
  2. You set up unrealistic expectations that you most probably won’t meet. What you actually do is set yourself late at the very moment you start your work. 

So the big question is, once you see you’re getting late, what is the proper approach to take to get down the right path?

Getting Back on Track with Your Goals

To be able to get back on schedule without overburdening your team, you have to understand where the obstacles that hinder your progress lie. To enable the work to keep flowing, you need to have the right conversations sooner.

And the most effective approach to accomplish that goal involves figuring out which work items are the ones that are getting delayed, and what are the impediments that are slowing you down. That’s where the Aging Chart comes into play.

Manage your work in progress to stop assigning due dates

The Aging Chart will show you how much time each individual work item stayed in progress and where in the process it currently resides. The chart uses the exact same format as your board (with dots representing tasks in progress). The colored zones draw out a timeline of how your work items have moved through the process in the past. 

Pay attention to the dots that just moved to the yellow zone. These are work items that spent more time in progress than half of the tasks completed so far. 

To truly enable a supportive environment – where your team’s motivation and engagement are highly appreciated – while still staying on track with your commitments, you need to follow up with everything that goes above the yellow zone, especially any items that have just transitioned to the red zone.

Then, you should do everything in your power to resolve the issues that impede the work to move further – bottlenecks, blockers, dependencies or anything else that slows your team down and prevents them from doing their job effectively.

Let’s dig deeper here. 

If we don’t see the actionable insights behind the data, we would just hold teams accountable to arbitrary deadlines, forcing them to work harder while they are falling into full-fledged burnout in order to meet unrealistic expectations. 

By perceiving our work as a flow and keeping track of the age of our items, we’ll be able to identify the sources of inefficiency in our system early and attack them directly. That is how we reduce our delivery times and get back on track while supporting our team along the way. That is an environment of continuous improvement.

Small Tweaks Can Make a Big Difference

These two tools enable managers to take two slightly different approaches but the outcomes lead to two completely different directions.

When aligning your progress with your commitments, if you only rely on your burndown chart, you won’t have all the necessary information to make the right decisions. It’s just not enough to understand the underlying causes of putting the team off track. And chances are, the team will take the blame for the delays. 

With the Aging chart, you’ll be able to quickly identify the work items that are taking longer than usual and spark the conversations early to identify the obstacles that hinder your performance. This strategy enables you to take action proactively to prevent your work from getting delayed. 

Remember, it’s not about making people work harder and pushing them beyond their limits – it’s about how you can slightly tweak the way you work to become more effective, make reliable data-driven decisions, and ensure you deliver on your commitments.

In our Sustainable Predictability digital course, we build up the foundation of a flow-based system and explore the sources of inefficiencies and the opportunities for improvement. This will enable you to establish a predictable system and deliver on time, every time.

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