Why you need a single source of truth in project management

Posted by: The Teamwork team /

Picture this scenario:

You have three different teams working on their respective parts of the same project. Week after week, they report their progress to you — they’re on track, some of them even ahead of plan.

“We’re nailing it,” you think to yourself. You report to your executives, and everyone’s ready to celebrate.

Then, you do the final check-in with your three teams on the project, and you learn a painful truth: each team was on track. But they each worked with a different goal in mind.

Ouch.

Suddenly, the project that felt destined for success is thrown off. Ten people have spent months on a project, but it will now cost them even more time and resources to get back on track. It’s the only way your customers can get what you’ve promised them.

How did this happen? Let’s break it down:

  • Team 1 followed their notes from a meeting with the CMO at the beginning of the project
  • Team 2 relied on product documentation put together by the product lead
  • Team 3 followed guidance they were getting from you over email

Like many others, your teams may default to looking for information in the moment they need it. The issue? They’ve asked for help in private channels — emails, private messages, face-to-face meetings — so the answer gets lost.

As a result, you have dozens of communication channels to manage, each carrying their own versions of information.

To prevent the above scenario — and many other potential downfalls — you need a single source of truth. Let’s uncover what it is, and why you should care.

What is a single source of truth?

A single source of truth (SSOT) is a platform that stores all of the information you need to make decisions in your company — and makes it available to everyone.

It represents the ultimate source of information on everything to do with your company. This includes decisions and processes in product, marketing, sales, hiring, support, operations, and everything in between.

But a single source of truth only works when it’s always updated and maintained. If it claims to have the most recent and accurate information on, say, your customer research, but your VP of Marketing has a more recent report on their local hard drive, then your single source of truth becomes unreliable.

For all the benefits, creating a single source of truth doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, if you already use a centralized project management tool, you’re already on your way.

That’s because the right project management tool will make having a single source of truth effortless. It’s already the home for all your day-to-day work; a central space where your files, due dates, and status updates live. And as a by-product of that work, it establishes a single source of truth that  is always updated and accurate, without needing additional work to maintain.

Here are a few ways that using your project management tool as your single source of truth can help you to deliver better work.

Reclaim the time you spend on admin and prep work

“Where did my time go today?”

If you’ve asked that question even once because you felt like you got very little done, some potential culprits are:

  • Meetings
  • Creating reports manually
  • Doing a task all over again
  • Waiting on others to give you information you need

Many people keep the information they’re working on in their notebooks, calendars, emails, and private documents.

And because of these information silos, it takes longer to communicate progress, share documents, and answer questions. 

Not only that: you can end up doing duplicate jobs and even completing redundant tasks.

What if there was a unified platform that contains all your important internal information — like meeting notes, status updates, and client feedback — so you can simply get work done? Instead of spending hours each month searching for project details, deadlines, and docs, you’ll always know where to find what you need, so you can just jump straight into your work, every day.

Reduce the need for meetings

A Harvard Business Review study found that employees of a large company spent 300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting.

In other words, these employees spent 34 collective years in the span of a year just to communicate their project progress!

With a single source of truth, you can cut down on the need for constant progress meetings to update stakeholders or bring new team members up to speed. Instead, with a full record of your project’s history outlined and easily accessible, you can empower everyone in your company with one central reference point. With instant access to any information they need, they can get real-time updates without breaking their stride — or scheduling another “quick sync”. 

Better workflows, stronger accountability, more transparency

Workload visibility and team collaboration are among the leading positive impacts of centralized project management tools, Capterra’s research revealed.

It makes sense: why create a single source of truth when not everyone is on board to make it, well, the single source of truth?

Using your project management tool as your  SSOT helps to bring important communication into the light. Instead of working in secluded spaces like email and chat, you can centralize all project information. This uplifts your organization in three distinctive ways:

First, workflows become more streamlined. Daily and weekly reports are in one place for everyone to refer to them. People can set up their tasks for the day based on progress of others and jump in when more heads are needed on a specific part of the project. Any areas of friction and stress become easy to identify and remedy.

Secondly, everyone stays accountable at all times. Because it’s easy to see who’s working on which set of tasks, instances of “I thought you were the one looking after that!” become a lot smaller. And with features like file versioning, the right tool will also make the current status of each piece of work more clear (so no more working from old, outdated files). 

And third, allowing everyone to see the current project development leads to a more open, transparent company culture. With a single source of truth, it happens automatically, removing the need for managers and executives to type up lengthy status updates and empowering your employees to take initiative based on the data. 

Align your team…

Ever wondered why some projects fail? One report uncovered these leading causes of project failure:

  1. Change in the organization’s priorities (39%)
  2. Change in project objectives (37%)
  3. Inaccurate requirements gathering (35%)
  4. Inadequate vision (29%)
  5. Poor communication (29%)

Two of the five (#2 and #3) causes come from the lack of internal team alignment.

This can happen on any organizational level, but it will happen inside your team if everyone is shoulder-deep in their work with no central place to store project progress. From working based on outdated requirements to prioritizing tasks differently, projects can go off-track in many ways — and if you’re not focusing on alignment (and re-alignment when things change), you could quickly find your project going off the rails.

Not only that, but 80% of respondents in Geneca’s survey said they spent half of their time on rework, which is among the leading causes of delays. And one of the leading causes of rework? Lack of alignment.

If you don’t have a SSOT where your team can easily see what they should be working on (and why), you might want to buckle up for some extra work coming your way.

…and align your organization

Lack of organization-wide alignment is the reason behind another two of the above causes of project failure (#1 and #4).

Now, having a single source of truth won’t magically create alignment between all teams, set common goals, and define a company vision.

But it will help you facilitate that alignment once you’ve outlined your plan for where the company’s heading. 

Long-term goals are what fuel big decisions. And big decisions drive all the other decisions. A single source of truth helps track the direction the company is planning to take by centralizing strategy and planning — not just individual projects — and shares it with the people that are going to help you get there.

And misaligned long-term goals are quite the risk.

Because here’s the thing: if someone doesn’t know where the company’s heading over the coming year, do you really think they’ll knock on an executive’s door to ask?

Nope. They’ll work from whatever information they can find. And if they can’t find any, they’ll wing it. Winging it can hardly be considered a good strategy.

A good high-level SSOT paints your organization’s big picture because it contains documentation such as:

With the help of a SSOT, everyone in your company can treat each other, your market, and your customers in a consistent way, contributing to your long-term direction and growth.

Plan future projects, fail-proof

Think about this for a second:

How does it feel when your projects are completed on time (or even ahead of time)? When all the goals are hit or exceeded? What are the rewards and benefits you can reap for a long time after the project is finished?

Now consider the exact opposite. What happens when you miss deadlines? How does it affect other teams and your company as a whole?

The advantage of having a single source of truth is that you can collect data on all the projects you complete and, as a result, predict the time it will take you to complete the next one.

Not just that—you can track how specific people, resources, and budgets affected the progress of a project. So now, instead of relying on gut feelings and guesstimates, you can plan based on historical success.

The alternative to this is chasing teams that worked on past projects to understand their own project efficiency from their estimates and memory. Unless they meticulously tracked their time and corresponding tasks and milestones, you can never know how correct their assumptions are.

With a single source of truth, you can rest assured that everyone in your company has the information they need to do their best work.

It’s simple as that.

If this sounds like a place you’d like to be in, learn how you can get there with Teamwork Projects and Teamwork Spaces. Start a free trial to start creating your SSOT and get the right things done at the right time.

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