Productivity – the biggest modern challenge for businesses

What to do now, which tasks can wait and what needs to be done tomorrow – these are the questions startup companies deal with every day. Everyone is continuously looking for new tactics, new frameworks and new solutions. That is the reason why productivity tools are getting more and more popular. We have talked with four startups from Estonia that have created productivity tools to find out how they stay productive. They have some tips and tricks to share with others.

“I firmly believe the success of a company is based on its productivity and its ability to automate as much workflow as possible, and hire the best people,” Triin Kask, the co-founder of the company called GreenhouseCI, that has created a continuous integration service for mobile app developers, says. They implement continuous integration in their software development as well. For a professional developer, it’s very important that they can focus on the main thing – writing the code – and don’t have to deal with activities that could be automated.

“I firmly believe the success of a company is based on its productivity and its ability to automate as much workflow as possible, and hire the best people.”

As continuous integration requires developers to integrate code into a shared repository several times a day and each check-in is then verified by an automated build, it allows teams to detect problems early. “Our days usually start with a standup where every team member gives a brief overview of what they did yesterday and what they’re going to do today. We also tell where we’re stuck so other team members can help and nobody is left alone with their problem. We have company objectives and key results (OKRs) supported by individual OKRs which we evaluate in the end of each quarter. We adjust our OKRs based on the company’s long-term vision and the current situation. Also, communication between team members is crucial for achieving productivity that brings results,” Kask explains.

The same notion on importance of the communication is for startup Fleep. The team has created a business messenger tool. Fleep combines team chat as well as emails into one communication platform. “The main indicator of our team productivity lies in task management,” Katheriin Liibert, the head of communications at Fleep, says. “The key of productivity is prioritisation – making sure that the most crucial tasks are done first. If low-priority tasks are getting done and high-priority are not, then there has, most likely, been a roadblock or a productivity issue. We evaluate our productivity on a daily and bi-weekly basis – the length of our scrum standups and scrum sprints, respectively. In the daily standups we report to our team on progress with tasks and what we’re working on. At the end of each sprint (two weeks), we evaluate what did and did not get done.”

The scrum framework, in combination with agile framework, is also used by the startup company TransferFast that provides instant money transfers between banks. The co-founder of the company, Sergo Ulpus, considers frameworks mentioned above to be the most effective: “We are using agile/scrum tactic to manage the whole company (ie, a 30-minute video call every morning) and keeping tasks to a minimal size (one person can handle the task and it should not take longer than half a day) etc. An important part of our team is being honest with each other – we always share our feelings and leaving no conflict unresolved.”

“An important part of our team is being honest with each other – we always share our feelings and leaving no conflict unresolved.”

Konstantin Klugman, the CEO and team leader at company called MRPEasy, is also keeping an eye on the whole team and they mood: “I just use the advantage of our office to be one big room and I just see what team members are doing. I use two methods – managing by walking (wandering around in an unstructured manner through the workplace at random to check with employees or equipment about the status of ongoing work) and managing by deviations (focusing on identifying and handling cases that deviate from the norm and creates exceptions that need to be cared for in a unique manner typically by human intervention). Apart from that, we are also discussing our key performance indicators on weekly basis for understanding the level of productivity.” MRPEasy has created a tool that focuses on manufacturers and they can use it to increase their productivity.

All these companies not only use tools they have developed themselves, but also other solutions that can help a company organise their work. Mostly they name digital solutions, except Kask, who emphasises the importance of the good old whiteboard: “It has proved to be the most effective tool with a weekly to-do list under our nose all the time. Apart from that, our development team uses Jira for our two-week sprints. Our marketing and sales team uses Trello.”

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Google products are also very popular. Sergo Ulpus names Google Hangouts in combination with Slack and Asana. Konstantin Klugman points to Google Docs and Google Calendar: “Additionally for customer support we have our home-made CRM, where we see all that is connected to customer relations including support tickets. The support team decides internally, who will answer to particular support ticket. For specific projects we use Trello or Basecamp.”

It is clear now on team management, but how to find right tools for self-motivation? Liibert names Fleep – the project team communication tool from a team of ex-Skypers that has contextual task management built into it: “I have a bot set up in Fleep that reminds me every morning to write down what I will be focusing on that day and what got done on the previous workday. It forces me to think through what are the highest-priority tasks I should be focusing on, and also helps me review my productivity daily.” Kask emphasises the importance of classical productivity theories: “I use the method of David Allen – getting things done. I love the way how I can just put a tick to the tasks I’ve completed. It has this magical influence on me making me feel that I’ve been productive. Each task marked ‘done’ motivates me to do the next one. And that in turn increases my self-confidence and makes me want to achieve even more.”

“Each task marked ‘done’ motivates me to do the next one. And that in turn increases my self-confidence and makes me want to achieve even more.”

Sergo Ulpus cares a lot about his time with the family, so he has to be productive also in this area: “I have a family with three small children and my spouse is also working full-time. We plan our free time very precisely – we use shared Google Calendar for ourselves and for the children. I also try to keep away from instant messages and emails for several hours a day, so that I could have a uninterrupted thought process for more than 15 minutes in the row. Running a start-up is a continuous prioritisation exercise as you always have more tasks and ideas that you could possibly handle with your team. First, I ask myself, if the task is absolutely necessary for our clients. The next question is – what kind of impact it has on our growth and revenue. And if it still seems valid task, only then I delegate it to the most capable person on team.”

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Cover image courtesy of soconnect.co.uk

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About the author: Vahur Orrin

Vahur Orrin is a communications consultant.