Despite working overtime, our team can't meet project deadlines. What should we do?

Aug 5 / CI Agile Team


After 3 years at a big Advertising firm as one of the best-performing employees, Anthony decided to leave his company. Exhausted, burnt out, and stressed, it was simply not worth it for him anymore. To many of his colleagues, it was a strange decision. But, after you read this short story, you will understand why.


Working hours are not a direct nor accurate measure of productivity. 

Have you ever experienced a work culture where employees keep a spare toothbrush and t-shirt at their desks just in case they have to work through the night to meet project deadlines? This happens more often than we think, and you might be surprised to learn that this situation can be easily avoided. 

Anthony used to work at a large advertising firm as an Event Marketing Executive. On days when they had large events, his team worked overnight to deliver last-minute tasks or fix urgent issues. At his desk, he always kept an extra set of work clothes that he could change into the next day. 

Week after week, they work endlessly to meet project deadlines. Even on days when they completed the job on time, the client sent their work back because it was not what they asked for. Miscommunications were a common problem for him and his team, and they spent much of their time working after hours to fix those mistakes. 


A poor work system delivers poor results

When Anthony receives a job briefing or requirement from a client, it is passed through a document. If the document has mistakes or lacks the right context, the team ends up wasting their efforts on a job or task that the client did not even want in the first place. Then they are expected to work after hours to mend the mistakes.


Unnecessary communication channels 

When senior management needs something from the development team, the message is passed down through many layers of management. By the time it reaches the development team, a week has passed and the team has a few days left to meet the deadline. To make matters worst, context is lost every time the message is passed down to another manager. The development team ends up working overtime to finish the job only for it to get sent back because they missed out on an important requirement. 


Poor planning leads to project failure

In one of the major events at Anthony’s company, their project manager’s poor planning almost resulted in a critical mistake. One day before the event, the team learned that one of the requirements that the client requested was a system to collect data from all the attendants. The team worked tirelessly until 8 am to get this system in place, and by 9 am, they were rushing to the event hall to begin another long day of work. 

If you relate to Anthony’s story, it is likely that you have or know someone who has experienced a work culture just like the one I just highlighted. You are not alone in this, so let me take this opportunity to share another short story with you. 


A new way of working that can change your perspective

Alex works in a different Advertising company that practices a completely different work system. 
His team delivers work at a fast rate and they often produce better results. And the best part - they hardly do any overtime. 

Their company culture is to be hyper-focused on providing value to customers and they have a system in place that consistently aligns them to the goals of the organization. Every week, his team gathers to plan work out for the rest of the work cycle. They prioritize each job and ensure that the work they produce will contribute to the organizational goals and the consumers’ requirements. 

Every morning, they sync up to share updates and communicate across teams to make sure all members of the team are focused on the right things. Communication and collaboration are one of the greatest tools that they use to eliminate wasted efforts, miscommunication, and poor work habits. When a team member is stuck on a job, they immediately call for a meeting and work together to resolve the matter. 

Even after 2 years in this company, he is still excited to go to work every day. He feels productive, motivated and passionate about his job and he is proud to work in a team that can deliver jobs on time. 


The right work system enables high-performance teams

What is the real difference between Anthony and Alex’s company? More often than not, it is the company culture and work system that will contribute to employees’ productivity and success. A poor work system is one of the biggest contributors to project delays, communication breakdown, and unhappy or underperforming employees. 

Working overtime is not always necessary and more working hours do not mean that the team is more productive. All the issues I highlighted above can be resolved by improving team collaboration, better planning through prioritization and removing unnecessary communication channels. For this reason, many organizations are now moving towards the agile way of working to build a strong and healthy work culture and system that empowers hyper-productive teams.

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