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This illustration is split in two. On the left is a detective in a trenchcoat holding a notepad. On the right is a presentation board on a tripod showing a productivity graph with a downward arrow.

Introduction

This article is part of a series that highlights some of the common challenges that arise in the workplace and affect employees’ experience. It follows the fictional (but reality-inspired) adventures of imaginary company Acme Co.

Acme Co is a company like many others. Its business revolves around software— specifically designing and developing a suite of digital tools for its busy customers. Like many organizations, it relies on the drive and smarts of many human beings and as such is prone to ups and downs. While a newer company, Acme has been profitable for a few years now and continues to grow year over year.

See the other Acme Co. mysteries →

The case

Acme Co. has been on a roll the past few months; not only did they set up a more effective process for designing and developing new features thanks to their Product Manager, but they’ve also slowly been growing their number of projects and customers.

The CEO feels confident that the business will be growing steadily for the next few years. The HR team has onboarded a few new hires to help the various teams deal with the additional work, and the CEO has also asked the IT department to implement a new project and task management platform.

An illustration shows the cast of characters for this mystery: the CEO, the Front-End Lead and a group of Software Team members.

Everyone seems happy with the turn the company has taken and is on board with the new ways of doing things and the implementation of the new platform. It all seems to be plodding along splendidly, that is, until the quarterly review. Every quarter, the CEO asks teams to present the projects or new features they have been working on.

This quarter, the normally excellent Front-End team delivers a disaster. The work is not as far along as it should be, and parts of it are half-built, untested or buggy. The CEO is devastated. This important feature was due to be released soon, but there’s no way it will be deployed now.

The question on their mind is “What in the world happened to the team?”

The investigation

Acme Co hires expert Employee UX agency Pencil & Paper to investigate. The P&P team dives into a discovery process to uncover what subtle snags might be bubbling up at Acme. They take the time to observe the teams and their ways of doing things, and ask essential questions to gather insights on what works and doesn’t work.

These were some of their discoveries:

Clue

"I was taken aback in the quarterly review. The Front-End team is usually on top of things. Sure we added 2-3 new hires before we started the quarter and the team has had more work to do, but it didn’t seem like a significant enough change to throw everyone for a loop."

- CEO

Clue

"Things were going well with the new product management process, but we’ve seen a few issues popping up for a while now; people forgetting to work on tasks or not finishing them on time, not showing up for meetings on time or asking me to confirm important meeting takeaways several times."

- Front-End Lead

Clue

"I don’t feel very proud of what we presented. It’s been tough these past few months; I always seem to be trying to play catch up with Front-End Lead or Product Manager. I’ll learn about a meeting in Slack like 15 minutes before, and if I’ve been really focused on work, then I won’t notice it for a bit and get there late."

- Member of Software Team

Clue

"I try to keep notes during standups, but sometimes there’s just so much stuff to discuss. The other day, I was arguing with a colleague about a decision that was made in a meeting last month and we both went to get our notes. It turns out we wrote two different things...so like, who’s right?"

- Member of the Software Team

Clue

"I was really excited to use this new project management platform but I’m not sure it’s helped all that much to keep track of the project. I’ll flag a task on the platform and Product Manager or Front-End Lead will reach out by email or Slack to ask me about how it’s going like they never saw the flag in the first place."

- UX Specialist
Calendar illustration

The timeline

At the end of their research and discovery period, Pencil & Paper sit down with the Acme leaders and tell them, we think we know what happened. Here is what they found out:

The conclusion

When Pencil & Paper spoke to the CEO and showed their gathered insights, the CEO sighed. There were several cracks and misses that had popped up in the last few months:

  • They had implemented a new tool without necessarily thinking about how it would integrate with what they already had
  • They brought on new hires without onboarding them into their current ways
  • No one brought up the Front-End team’s consistent struggles

The real problem 

All these were symptoms of a more foundational problem. The Front-End team was still doing their work the best way they could, but the culprit was communication. There is no agreed-upon method of communication. Sometimes it’s real-time chat, sometimes the project management platform, sometimes meetings, sometimes emails!

The fix

The Acme Co. CEO speaks with Leadership, Managers and Team Leads and urges them to take the time to establish a strategy for managing project work, meetings and information internally with their teams. Each team works what’s best for them; whether it’s centralizing things in one channel, using specific channels for specific tasks and topics, etc. They also decide on how to relay important decisions and information to the rest of the company in the same way, so that departments are on the same page.