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The launch of Trip Experiences was a success. Airbnb debuted a unique way to see new places by offering access to local activities and local guides in 12 cities. But CEO Brian Chesky saw how good it was and wanted to offer it to 50 cities worldwide. And that meant quadrupling the experiences and producing thousands of assets —photos, video trailers, and posters. It would entail better coordination by the three production teams already at work and the small team of Trip Experiences coordinators.
Creative Production Manager Hoon Kim decided the team could no longer scale this project using the massive spreadsheet they used for the first 12 cities.
“It was constantly crashing,” Kim said. “People ended up creating duplicates of the doc to deal with their own small world of data, which quickly became outdated since they weren’t connected to the original doc. There were massive amounts of confusion. We knew it wasn’t the solution.”
What they were looking for was a way to automate their efforts so they could scale production and repeat the successes in their first 12 cities.
Why Automation Matters to Projects
At its core, automation is about solving a problem by reliably offloading manual work done by a human to a machine. The goal is to reduce time-consuming repetitive, routine work,, and to maximize the repeatability and predictability of results.
But intelligent automation systems can do more than just automate processes or workflows, they can learn, adapt, and even make decisions based on data, and improve the efficiency of companies in the process.
And a project manager’s daily work often consists of mundane administrative work where every detail matters — a perfect arena for automation.
How Expert Project Managers Get Powerful Results with Automation
1. Automation helps scale efforts
Smart project managers use the power of automation to grow their teams, their projects, their output… without having to double their headcount.
In the example of Airbnb, Hoon Kim invested time and effort into researching project management software. They needed a work tool that would allow his team to see the work being done across the globe.
In Wrike, their team built and deployed custom workflows for every Trip Experience, allowing them to track the production of assets. But even better, the unprecedented visibility into production across the globe gave them a way to improve the quality of their work.
“With everything contained in Wrike,” Kim said, “We were able to leverage Wrike’s functionality to increase the quality of our assets across the board, make sure they were consistent, and also see where we were being efficient.”
2. Automation offloads busywork
Smart project managers allow their automated tools to do the menial work of assigning job tickets or sending status updates, so that they can focus on more valuable tasks. Such is the case with the San Francisco Chronicle.
The San Francisco Chronicle is one of the 10 largest daily newspapers in the United States. Like any big organization, their marketing department’s creative design team grew and began to struggle with a request system that wasn’t built for efficiently assigning work to multiple designers.
Graphic Designer Paul De Leon shared: “We had to investigate and find if there were new projects or not. There were no daily reminders or notifications for us at that time, which made it hard.”
Instead, they had a coordinator who manually entered and de-duped requests coming in via email and their Google Forms into a single spreadsheet, integrating the various requests into one place. Not the best use of the coordinator’s time.
When asked to find a better solution, De Leon found a project management tool with built-in automation that could manage inbound requests by sending it to all designers. It now also automatically notifies requesters of any change in status of their design requests.
Added bonus: approximately 40% of the team’s work is managed by duplicating templates. Why rebuild the wheel?
3. Automation seamlessly connects various systems together
The average enterprise now uses over 900 cloud applications to manage its processes, and 59% of workers say the number of tools they use to work has increased in the past year, according to Symantec.
And while this explosion of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools has made organizations more efficient when compared to a decade ago, the sheer number of options may now be leading to a decline in productivity.
Workflow fragmentation leads to workers spending more time searching for, and aggregating, information than actually working, says Wrike CEO Andrew Filev.
New technologies are created to help employees work smarter, but since they don’t exist in a vacuum, these tools are only successful when they integrate with one another and free your work data from silos. If employees spend their time searching for information, or copying information to a different tool, or even toggling between apps, all the gains are lost.
“I predict that automation will play a crucial role in helping IT implement and integrate multiple SaaS tools in the months and years to come,” Filev says. “When information and the right data remains accessible to everyone, from anywhere, your workforce can truly work smarter and not harder. But when data is siloed, and when our applications don’t work together, technology can’t do its job.”
For example, at the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul De Leon and his team of designers organize their creative assets (Photoshop and InDesign files) in Dropbox. Then they use Wrike to manage the workflows, attaching those assets to the relevant tasks and projects thanks to a native integration within Wrike.
There are many more tools that Wrike integrates with, from Gmail to Salesforce to Jira to Slack. The point is that your automation tool must work well with your existing technology stack to maximize its value.
4. Automation streamlines the feedback & review processes
An area where project management typically runs afoul of bottlenecks and delays is the review process. Communications get misplaced, stakeholders don’t realize the project is waiting on their approval, and various versions of deliverables are attached to multiple email threads.
Smart project managers use automation to optimize this process so that all approvers are notified they need to review something. And when the feedback is given, the original assignees receive it all in one place, organized chronologically.
De Leon recounts how they used to do it at the San Francisco Chronicle: “A copy editor would print out the PDF, take a red marker, write up his comments, scan it in, and then email it back to me.”
Nowadays, his team captures the comments directly within the PDF that is in Wrike. And his designers are alerted automatically that an asset has been reviewed. Feedback and approvals are clear and time-stamped. And there’s much less waste all around.
What Can Automation Do For You?
In the end, smart project managers use automation to make their work easier, specifically for scaling and replicating their efforts; for accomplishing the menial, manual work; for integrating all their tools; and for improving the review and approval process.
We leave you with two questions: How are you using the wealth of automation available to you? And if you’re not using automation, why are you purposely choosing to make work more difficult? Hit the comments and share your opinions.