Filling the void between Slack and Quarterly Planning

There is a gap between quarterly planning and daily communication, where business efficiency goes to die.

Quarterly planning has its uses. Without it, you're inviting misalignment. You risk your team focusing on the wrong tasks to hit the wrong goals.

But a business is a complex system. And in any complex system it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality. Unexpected things you can’t plan for are inevitable. They’re something that every person in every business has to deal with and take action on every day.

As the daily hub for company communication, these unexpected actions come up in Slack. But Slack optimises for communication, not for driving action. The important messages that require action are often missed, forgotten or ignored.

The accumulation of these missed, forgotten and ignored actions becomes a major bottleneck. It slows down execution speed, and frustrates and stresses out employees.

We need a way to bridge the gap between the planning layer and the communication layer. Without one, we're doomed to be unproductive and frustrating work environments for employees.

The everyday messy reality of collaboration

Quarterly planning works because it aligns a company on what’s actually important. When you define your objectives, you can use them as a filter to make decisions about what to do and what not to do.

Each team gets busy completing the tasks that help them hit their objectives by the end of the quarter.

One problem though. This top-down planning style can never account for the whole picture.

You can plan an initiative with 20 tasks and 100 sub-tasks and assign them to your team. With due dates. But that will never account for interruptions, crises or new information. Ad hoc tasks are inevitable. There is a 0% chance of ever accounting for everything..

And it gets messier. In theory a task can handled by a single person.

In practice, tasks require collaboration. Isolated tasks that don't need any input or feedback from others are the exceptions, not the rule.

And collaboration requires two things:

  1. communication

  2. actions from others.

And where does this communication happen? For most companies, in Slack

Slack: Where work happens collaboration gets messier

Slack is now the daily communication channel for most businesses. So that's where most collaboration gets kicked off. But communication is only one part of collaboration. The second part requires actions from others.

And while Slack excels as a communication channel, it comes up short as a way of managing actions. It’s distracting, easy to miss things and can feel relentless. Important collaborative actions get mixed in with more general communication. There’s so much noise that the signal get buried.

One solution is to try and move the communication layer into a project management tool. This can work great for certain teams with very specific workflows. Developers stick out as an obvious one. As a team, their work can live in a ticketing tool. Communication can sit in context-specific issues or cards.

But for the departments that live closer to the customer, it’s harder to keep communication out of Slack. Think sales, ops, customer success. And things fall apart when different teams don’t use the same project management tool. Slack becomes the default for making requests of other teams.

Slack messages that require action are ‘open loops.’ We need to close these open loops to move forward.

But Slack is not great at closing these open loops. They either get missed outright. Or they jump to the top of a to-do list because it’s front of mind, meaning more important work gets pushed back

We need something that:

1. help close these loops

2, assigns them the right priority within an employee’s to-do list.

Planning will never account for most of these inevitable open loops. And Slack is poor at closing them. We need to bridge the void between quarterly planning and daily communication. Our productive potential depends on it.

Closing the loop with Acapela

It takes three steps to close the open loops. We need a way to:

  1. capture open loops.

  2. organise and prioritise these captured loops.

  3. notify relevant team members that loops are still open, or that they’re now closed.

Capturing

We need to collect the open loops we attract in Slack into a clear inventory of meaningful action items. This needs to be simple and not involve big changes to people’s workflows.

At Acapela, we do this by:

  1. turning Slack messages into Acapela requests. When a colleague makes a request, you can capture it in a couple of clicks with a simple Slack action.

  2. making requests of your colleagues. Using the /acapela command, you can turn a Slack message into an action item for your colleagues.

With open loops captured, we can now start to deal with them.

Organising and Prioritising

Once we capture our open loops, we need a way to help organise and action these tasks. We want to understand what’s urgent and what’s important, so we know when and in what order to do this.

In Acapela, all open loops appear in a simple dashboard. They’re prioritised by due date and level of importance. A team member can view their actions in Slack or the Acapela web-app if they prefer a distraction-free space.

This reduces the cognitive load on each team member. They don't have to guess what they need to do first. They can focus on the thing that matters - closing loops and unblocking their colleagues.

Notifying

With open loops organised, we need to make sure everybody understands their status. That way, nobody needs to chase anyone or waste time following up for a status update.

In Acapela, colleagues are notified when you add an action item to their dashboard. Acapela prioritises these for them. Then as the due date approaches, they’re nudged to complete the task. Actions get completed when they’re needed, without any frustrating chasing of colleagues.

This simple three step system helps to make the communication layer more actionable. By making it easy to capture, organise and close these open loops, we tone down the chaotic nature of Slack. These inevitable open loops get closed quickly and effectively.

That means better collaboration, more focus on action and happier employees.

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Acapela is currently in beta and we’re looking for early adopters to help us shape the future of our product. If you’re interested in making remote work more actionable, then you can book in a demo call with our team. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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