Why Your Team is not Productive and How to Fix It

According research done by Forrester, up to 68% of all projects finish late or fail totally. The problem is getting worse. Due to globalization many teams are not located in one location and the team’s performance suffers due to the lack of collaboration & communication. Today, there are three type of teams working on projects in small to large companies.

  • Traditional teams- All team members are in the same physical location. This model is happening less often these days.
  • Distributed team- All team members work remotely and rarely meet each other. This is seen more in web design, graphic art and software engineering disciplines than other fields
  • Mixed teams- A combination of the above two. Like teams which meet 1 day of the week in one location and the rest of the week work remotely or teams that consist of several smaller teams. These small teams work together in one location, but the larger team is separated across the globe. These teams use new technology to create a virtual office to communicate & collaborate. This model is becoming more accepted and seen as a good comprise between the above two.

Each of the above models has its own advantages and disadvantages like the remote teams are more environmentally friendly but collaboration suffers without extra effort. In this article I am not arguing which one of the above models is better (that is for a future writeup), but that all three models may fail due to one or more of the following problems:

  1. Lack of clear and realistic goals: The primary job of a project manager is to set clear and realistic goals for the project. He or she needs to know what could be achieved with available resources ,time and the budget. It is great to have all A performers in the team, but in most cases this is not true and the team is a mixture of A and B performers. The project manager needs to consult with his team to come up with realistic goals for the project.
  2. Lack of clear & achievable timetable: It is important to set deadlines and stick with them. Don’t rely on heroic performances by the team or individuals to make the deadlines. Divide the project to short and achievable segments (like sprints in Scrum). Divide each project segment to logical tasks and divide each task to subtasks. Keep doing so until each task is totally understood and could be done in a short time. Write a clear definition for each task (this should be done by team leaders for large projects). Ask the person responsible for each task to make a three points estimation on how long each task might take. Use the three points estimations to come up with task duration. This should give you a 80% probable chance of making the task on-time. Use a good collaborative task manager to make this work more manageable.
  3. Lack of clear ownership: One person should own the project and no more, too many owners kill any enterprise. It does not mean that the project manager can’t delegate part of the tasks & responsibilities to team leaders, but at the end the box should stop at the project manager’s desk.
  4. Lack of team members history: This is the least understood issue amongst the other problems listed here. Every team member has certain capabilities and weaknesses, do you know them? How do you gain insight on how an individual will perform? The answer, by checking the past performance. You need to review as many of the projects an individual has worked on and gain insight on how she or he will perform in the future. Ask team leaders to rate each team member on scale of 1-5 (5 is super star). Get rid of anybody rated as 1-3. Keep all members rated at 4 or 5. If you hire new members to your team, do a through background check on what they have done in the past. For recent grads, give the them smalls task, measure their performance and figure out where they fit in the team.
  5. Lack of clear directions: A project needs to be defined clearly and the project manager and the team leaders have to communicate and document the scoop of the project, when the deadlines are set and in case of problems what to do about them. Have at least one weekly meeting with your team and ask what they done in the past week, what they plan to do next week and if they are facing any issues. Document and publish every meeting online. This data will come handy to analyze the performance of the team later on.
  6. Lack of clear information: In many cases the team members are in dark about what is going on. They really don’t know the ultimate goal of the project for the company and its customers. They can’t access project information easily and are in dark what other teams in the project are doing. You need to make sure everybody in your team has access to the information they need to understand the project and complete their tasks.
  7. Lack of communication: Communication is important for the success of any projects. As a project manager you need to make sure there are frictionless ways for everybody in the team to communication with others at anytime. Communication could be face to face or online, the important thing is that the team should know they can communicate with anybody in the team.
  8. Lack of collaboration: Collaboration is the biggest booster of productivity within a team, without it, teams waste valuable time working on the wrong things or duplicating what others in the team have done and are doing. Make sure your team values collaboration and create an environment where collaboration is rewarded.
  9. Lack of reviews: A project needs to have many milestones set in time for reviews. Every team within the project needs to review all activity and accomplishment once a week and publish them for all to see. Each team member work has to be reviewed by the team leader and the result documented.
  10. Lack of accountability: It is important to find out who is not performing well and find out how to resolve it as fast of possible. A bad apple can make a whole basket go bad real fast. Get rid of those that can’t keep up.
  11. Lack of rewards & fun: You need to reward high achievers and create an atmosphere which is relaxed and fun. Make it clear to the team from the beginning that high performers will be rewarded. When you reward high achievers make it a public event (Party  time).
  12. Lack of documentation: You need to document not only project related documents like Specification, UI design etc, but the daily diary of what is happening in the project. Doing so manually obviously is not practical, but there ate tools which record most actions and events in the project. This data could be used to analyze and learn how to improve productivity of your team for the next project.

Every team regardless of organizational model and size faces the above issues to some degree. Even traditional team that work together,  have communication and collaboration issues due to ego or personal conflicts within the team in many cases. The project manager’s job is to make sure the team stays focused and work together on a common goal without distraction. Using a good collaborative project management tool is highly recommended. Such tools make it easier to plan, inform and track projects and store project data to be analyzed during and after the project has ended.



David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

  1. What you out line is right on, but the Project Mngr has to know this by instinct. He must know the project skill needs & the skills of the team.
    Periodic meeting are mandatory, but open access to the mngr & daily hands on activity are more important.
    Cooperation of team members is a must. Many tasks need more than one skill, the team members should be allowed to negotiate sharing skills with other members on their own. They know best what they need & which team members can accomplish them.
    One team member helps Joe today & Joe hepls some one tommorrow, etc.

    1. All good point Doug. Project managers skills and his / her work habits will make or break a project. Collaboration & open access are the keys.

  2. Thanks for the article. I am growing myself into a good project manager,i guess your article will help me attain the success each project requires.

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