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Ty Kiisel is the manager of social outreach for AtTask, Inc. As an “accidental” project manager and marketing veteran with over 25 years of experience, Ty writes about project management, leading teams, and getting work done.
AtTask brings work to life for people by helping them better understand and organize their work. With its innovative software designed to work the way people naturally work, AtTask enfranchises team members, equips project managers and informs executives.
MO: How did you become an “accidental” project manager?
Ty: I started managing marketing projects as creative director for a small direct marketing advertising agency—although we didn’t call them projects at the time. I fought with many of the same challenges project managers face all over the world. Keeping track of progress, encouraging the team to be involved in the process and making sure projects get completed on-time and on-budget while delivering the required value. I’ve come to understand that most project professionals actually start out “accidentally.” They are typically capable managers or employees who are able to understand and organize processes and eventually wind up successfully managing a project or two. Once their talent has been uncovered, they often find themselves in the role of “project manager.”
MO: What are some of the best ways to improve team efficiency?
Ty: I’m a big believer in the power of team engagement. If we can create an environment where individuals on our project teams can take ownership of their contribution to projects; it enables them to step up and perform at a higher level, increases efficiency and delivers more successful projects. In my opinion, collaborative work management tools play an important role, but need to accomplish some pretty specific things to create the right environment. They need:
• Work the Way People Naturally Work—enabling stakeholders to request work, suggest due dates, collaborate and negotiate. For some teams, this might mean incorporating a more social feel to how work is requested or enabling the dialog and negotiation that usually transpires when work is assigned. Forcing people to work within a box or “process” that doesn’t feel natural “because that’s the way the software does it” is contrary to working the way people really work—and actually inhibits productivity.
• Is Tailored to All Types of Workers—team members, project managers and executives. Everyone on the team should be able to obtain value from the solution. If the only value a team member sees in new software, for example, is a better way for management to “watch what’s going on,” odds are the implementation will fail. However if individual team members can see some value too, management will be able to seamlessly collect all the project information they want—at the source.
• Portrays Work in Context—connects people to teams, tasks to initiatives and goals; and recognizes that people wear different hats. Projects aren’t the only work teams deal with every day. If you don’t have visibility into all the work going on and how it all relates to each other, you have an incomplete picture of what teams are doing. What’s more, the conversations captured about tasks, projects and goals should be captured and addressed in a way that gives context to the conversations. This is why I don’t advocate implementing Twitter or Facebook into the project management process. That being said, a Twitter-like approach that focuses and attaches those conversations to tasks and initiatives is incredibly valuable to creative leaders and organizations trying to make sense out of the quantitative data collected with most project-based work.
MO: Why do you think that life-long learning is a critical component of success?
Ty: I can’t say enough about the importance of life-long learning. The world is changing very quickly; whether or not you work in high tech. Organizations just don’t have the resources to spend on training and learning they once did. What’s more, I think we should commit to making that investment in our own careers. I have one colleague who suggests that we need to pay attention to our Entertainment vs. Education (EVE) ratio. How much time, energy and money do we really spend in education compared to entertainment? I imagine there’s a pretty big gap for most of us. Personally, I’m an avid reader and usually have two or three different books on my desk at any one time, but that doesn’t mean books are the only way to learn. Webinars are fantastic, often free and very informative. You can also leverage audio books, seminars, industry groups and even mentors. I’ve found a thirst to learn a very valuable asset throughout my career. I’m afraid that in today’s economy, if you are unwilling to learn, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant very fast.
MO: Now that social media has penetrated every aspect of our lives do you think it’s become harder to live in the moment?
Ty: If we’re not careful, the proliferation of social media can become a real distraction. It’s easy to become so focused on updating a Facebook status about what we’re doing or checking in at the restaurant we’re eating at that we forget to have conversations over dinner or enjoy what it is we’re doing. I’m a big fan of social media generally, but it’s easy to let our desire to be connected online keep us from connecting offline. My wife reminds me of this on a regular basis. So yes, My name is Ty, and I have a social media problem.
MO: What are some of the best features of the AtTask software?
Ty: AtTask does a great job of leveraging the social media metaphor to help people collaborate about tasks, issues and projects. It has a look and feel that is familiar to anyone using social media and makes it easy for people to talk about their work with each other naturally (all while capturing those conversations full of context to inform decisions). This provides value to the individual contributor on a project team, who is the real linchpin to whether or not projects are successful.
Understanding and organizing work requests is a big problem for many organizations. Particularly when they offer shared services like IT, Marketing or HR. AtTask makes it possible for shared services teams to collect, prioritize and manage inbound requests so they can keep teams focused on the right work. I’ve found that keeping people busy is never a problem. It’s keeping people busy and focused on the right work that is often the challenge.
Many organizations need to demonstrate the value of what they provide the organization. Marketing, IT, HR and other shared services teams need to regularly demonstrate the value of their charter—AtTask includes a very robust reporting platform that helps them do that. If your organization has a governance requirement, audit trails are created to validate processes. If your organization needs to answer to internal or external stakeholders, the information needed to validate initiatives and inform decisions is seamlessly captured in AtTask in real time and available via reports and dashboards anywhere there is an Internet connection or via your smartphone.
MO: Can you tell us your predictions of how work management will shift over the next 5 years?
Ty: I’m convinced that organizations will continue to discover that they need tools to help them manage all the work their teams do within the organization—not just the project-based work. By looking at work within the broader context, they’ll be able to capture efficiencies, focus priorities and get more done. They’ll look for ways to capture best practices that can be applied to templates (where appropriate) and leverage the talent on their project teams to create and invent the products that will change the way live and work. I think you’ll see tools like AtTask leave the realm of the Project Management Office and become widely used throughout the enterprise—hopefully for us, as ubiquitous as your word processor or email client.
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