The Real Reason Your Project is Delayed and Workdays are Getting Longer 


Adopting automation does not guarantee productivity improvements. Often neglected is an understanding of how employees actually want to work.

Project delays are part of work, right? But what if they weren’t. After all, you set deadlines to meet them. And most of the time, projects are completed on time. Still, 64 percent of projects are delayed at least 20 percent of the time. Those delays add up over time, cutting into a project’s profitability while eroding the team’s sense of accomplishment. Despite an abundance of technology designed to make work easier, and deliver real-time insights, these days it often feels like we’re spending more time on projects, working longer and harder yet still falling behind. This is due to a rising issue known as “Gray Work.”   

Gray Work is what happens when you have lots of different solutions and disparate sources of critical information throughout the company located in apps, spreadsheets, PDFs, and other files that are not centrally located or easily accessible. The result is employees spend a lot of time tracking down the information they need just to get their job done. In fact, a recent survey by Quickbase of 1,000 workers found that 67% were spending 15-20 hours a week on Gray Work.  

The irony is that the more technology solutions and shortcuts you have, the more hours you lose to Gray Work. Here’s why. It’s easy for anybody to quickly build or download an app or create a form to streamline a process. With employees working in the office, field or a variety of remote locations, their intellectual and institutional knowledge continues to grow but it’s not widely shared. While workarounds provide employees with short-term efficiency gains, the company faces longer-term productivity losses. The ripple effects on IT include app sprawl, shadow IT and security vulnerabilities.  

See also: SMBs Face Challenges Adopting AI, Automation, and More

If projects are consistently falling behind despite putting in more hours, consider that Gray Work may be the issue. Here is a three-step process to solving it. 

1. Identify what’s undermining productivity  

Recognize that quick fixes by small teams are a tactic, not a strategy. In this scenario, where each team has its own tools and ways of doing things, the ability to easily share information becomes untenable. The problem is compounded as soon as a team needs to collaborate outside their traditional boundaries. Of course, this is inevitable. Therefore, the first step in tackling Gray Work is to identify what is undermining productivity. That’s not to say limit the use of quick fixes; rather, it’s to understand how work gets done.  

Start small with a single team and map out how they execute their most impactful activities. You don’t need to document every action, but you do want a realistic sense of the way they approach work, their established processes, and the tools they use to do their jobs.  

2. Quantify the cost of tactical shortcuts and working in silos 

Based on the insights from mapping out each core team’s processes, you can start to see how work productivity aligns with costs. From the survey data, we know that 15-20 hours a week can be spent on Gray Work, so don’t be surprised if a similar number is uncovered during the process of understanding how work is getting done.  

Knowing how much time is spent on Gray Work allows you to quantify the cost of it to your organization. Along with that cost, factor in the expenses associated with subscribing to multiple software solutions, especially those with overlapping features. The formula for quantifying the cost of tactical shortcuts and working in silos should include the employee’s time, the cost of the technology, and the impact of inconsistent sources of information. 

3. Prioritize people and processes before technology 

With the knowledge of how work gets done and the best way to cost effectively do it, the third and final step in this process is to gain a deeper understanding of how employees actually want to work.  

Get teams together and make it easy for them to share their preferences and the challenges they face. Their insight will drive workflows. Those workflows should be documented, ideally in a visual format. This way, you have a strategic view of the organization so teams can do their best. It also makes it easier to determine the technology that will be used to support their goals. Essentially, when you put technology ahead of people and processes, you force teams to be led by the tools instead of the other way around. That’s how we got into this Gray Work issue in the first place. 

Those three steps are the foundation for an iterative process that supports dynamic work management. Now, imagine what you and your team can accomplish once you get back the hours previously lost to Gray Work. Along with consistently meeting deadlines, you’ll also boost team morale and lower attrition. After all, people come to work every day to feel like they’re making a difference, not wasting time on activities that are counter to achieving that goal. 

Peter Rifken

About Peter Rifken

Peter Rifken is a Fellow Solutions Consultant at Quickbase. In this role, he bridges the gap between technology and business by providing valuable insights and driving action through people, processes, and data. He is currently building expertise in cloud (AWS)/Full Stack development and continuously dabbles in new technology and solutions.

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