9 Levels of Enterprise Work Hell




9 Levels of Enterprise

Work Hell

A journey through enterprise work hell

1. Tool hell

2. Rework hell

3. Fire drill hell

4. Silo hell

5. Reporting hell

6. Meeting hell

7. Interruption hell

8. Email hell

9. Collaboration hell

10. Bonus Level: Purgatory

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Dear Reader,

BEWARE. The images you are about to

see and the truths you are about to read

are disturbing.

The nine circles of work hell are real. I

found that out the hard way when I was

unsuspectingly plucked from reality

and thrust into a nightmare of my own

making—a nightmare where work was

exposed for what it really is: Hell. We

all experience work hell every day, but

we’ve been conditioned to think that’s

just how work has to be—riddled with

incomplete data, inefficient processes,

pushed deadlines, and exceeded budgets.

The horrors of my work hell nightmare

still haunt me, so I’m trying to help

others escape. This is a journal of my own

work hell experiences and my ideas for

escaping them.


The average executive loses 6 weeks per year

searching for missing information (almost 1

hour per day, per person). 2

Tool Hell

The Tool Torture Chamber

This is torture. The entire floor is amassed with tools meant for managing

work—tools as far as the eye can see, in every direction. People don’t seem

to know which they should turn to first and most are running around from

tool to tool trying desperately to find the updates and information they

need, since they can’t seem to remember where everything lives.

How did this happen?

These workers use so many different tools and point solutions to manage

their work that their tools are literally pulling them at all different directions

at once, slowly stretching them thin and chaotically scattering their

work data into more locations than they can count.

The consequences

These teams are never able to get real updates they can trust. Instead:

Work and project data takes days, even weeks to collect, and by

that time, all the information is outdated anyway

• Information gets missed or duplicated because the team never

took the time to consolidate their work systems and processes

• The team ends up wasting tons of valuable time

Tools like spreadsheets, word documents, email, task management

tools, PPM software, and on-premises software, to name a few.

“When employees are storing stuff in the cloud, and using

something like 15 different cloud storage tools to do it, their

corporate knowledge, their brain, is destroyed.”

– Alistair Mitchell

Escape Tactics

There are a couple of things enterprise teams can do to avoid

the tortures of Tool Hell:

1. Consolidate

Choose one place to manage your work. This will minimize duplication,

lost information, and scattered data; facilitate and enhance information

sharing; and architect better processes for gathering and analyzing data. The

location you choose needs to be easily accessible by the entire team.

2. Integrate

Choose tools that integrate, but don’t go crazy. It’s important that the

point solutions you’re using play nicely together, but after three or four

integrations, things become so complicated that any small change in

your process creates a time-wasting reconfiguration nightmare.

3. Expand

Start by implementing these best practices on your team, then with another

team, then maybe throughout your entire department. Information silos

can never fully be overcome until the entire enterprise is on board,

using standardized tools to manage work processes, or at least using

tools that integrate well.

“Consolidating tools offers many benefits, including real

tool integration, better service perspective, quicker

incident resolution and higher service reliability.” 4

– Glenn O’Donnell, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research

4. Check yourself

You don’t need another tool to do every single little thing. Find a tool

(or a few tools) that has more of the functionalities that you need and

stick to it. Any time you find yourself or your team wanting to evaluate

a new tool, ask the right questions:

• Will this replace one or

more of our existing tools, or

will it be an additional tool?

• Will this tool help us

simplify, or will it just add

more steps to our process?

• Will this tool integrate or

play nicely with the other

tools we’re using?

• Will this tool deliver a

significant value return,

or will we end up at a loss?

Rework Hell

Note to self:

Avoid this.

The Rework Circus

To put it simply: a messy, crazy circus. A huge carousel of

work revolves, spinning in circles, making people do the same

work over and over without ever getting anywhere. The

repetitive work makes people nauseous and dizzy. The work

isn’t getting done. And the soundtrack is awful carny music.

How did this happen?

Enterprise workers get to this point because of one (or both) of

these reasons:


They attempt to do the same types of work by starting

the process from scratch every time and never automating,

standardizing, or using templates.


They are consistently having to re-do work because

errors were made or the initial outcome of the work

failed to meet their stakeholder’s expectations and/

or requirements.

The consequences

The more these workers fail to get organized and on the same

page, the more they:

• Miss deadlines

• Exceed budgets

• Upset stakeholders

• Have to re-do work

25-40% of all spending on projects is wasted as a

result of re-work. 6

Workers spend 14% of their day duplicating information forwarding

emails or phone calls. 5

Escape Tactics

Important things to remember about

preventing the craziness of Rework Hell:

1. Get aligned

Rework is prevented when the work you are doing is aligned with the

company purpose or goals, and when it is aligned, from the beginning,

with the team or audience that requested it or will be using it. Take

extra care to ensure that your work is strategically aligned from day

one of launch.

2. Use templates

Work templates can be an enterprise worker’s best friend. For little to

no cost, templates simultaneously save time, promote good communication,

and contribute significantly to project success. Additionally, templates

help you gather all the information you need up front, diminishing the

possibilities of rework.

3. Take your time

Before beginning a new request or project, take plenty of time to get all

of the information you need up front. Organizations that use a ratio of

1:6:3 (1 year planning/defining: 6 years delivery: 3 years testing) end up

doing at least 50% rework. 10

4. Manage stakeholders and approvals

Rework often occurs when there aren’t efficient processes in place for

receiving feedback, reviews, or approvals. Improve these processes by:

• Keeping stakeholders involved along the way

• Managing feedback and approvals in a central location

This way, everyone involved can see everyone’s feedback and stay informed.

“Solve the requirements problem (the cause)

and you solve the rework problem (the effect).” 12

On average, only 3% of a project’’s cost is actually spent on

the requirements process…spending more (all things equal)

will yield better results. ll

Fire Drill Hell

The Work Inferno

Basically, this is a work inferno. Fires are popping up everywhere. A desk spontaneously

combusts. A worker’s hair ignites. Nobody seems well equipped for fire fighting. Some of the

workers have tiny, pipsqueak fire extinguishers, but they’re not doing much. Everywhere I

look people are collapsed on the ground, covered in ash, looking completely burned out.

The crazy thing? The

average organization often

spends 45%-50% of

its time on unplanned

(and urgent) activities. 14

How did this happen?

People on this floor avoid doing strategic work by constantly running around putting out

“emergency fires,” or working on random work requests without any standardized work

processes. Basically, they’re always working against unrealistic deadlines to get things done

and priorities are nothing more than a distant memory of simpler, cooler times.

The consequences

Workers become slaves to the fire drill

• The most important work doesn’t get done

• The loudest stakeholder gets what they

want first

• ROI is diminished

• Resources are over-allocated with work

• Everyone is frustrated and burned out

30% of survey respondents reported “Fire Drill Hell ” as their personal

form of work hell. 13

9 out of 10 companies say they fail to execute their strategic vision. 15

U.S. companies lose between $200-$300 billion/year due to absenteeism,

tardiness, burnout, decreased productivity, increased employee turnover,

and medical insurance costs resulting from employee work-related stress. 16

Escape Tactics

There are a few ways to avoid getting burned by constant fire drills:

1. Understand the root cause

Fire drills are often caused by:

• Forgotten dependencies due to poor planning

• Lost email requests

• Legitimate last minute items with short turnaround times

The key is to be ready and agile enough to manage the important fire drills and to

eliminate the others.

2. Better planning and coordination

You can help eliminate some of your fire drills by:

• Clearly identifying dependencies and

responsibilities up front

• Building in time for strategic fire drills so

they don’t cause timelines to slip

• Improving your process for change

management and prioritization

3. Better Communication

“To help strategy thrive,

smart organizations focus

on selecting the right projects

and then closely following

their implementation.” 17


Improving your communication around the impact of fire drills can help you be

more strategic.

• Managing the expectations of the impact of fire drills

• Understanding existing workloads and the impacts of changes

• Communicating these to the fire starter and other key stakeholders

Being able to say, “If we do this, then project X that Bob needs by Friday will be delayed.

Are you and Bob both okay with that? Will help you weed through fire drills and

keep your team working on strategic work.

In organizations where managers focus on strategic

as well as departmental goals, 70% of projects

meet or exceed their forecasted ROI. 18

Silo Hell

Solitary Confinement

Everyone on this floor is either behind bars, on lockdown, or in some other

kind of self-inflicted protective custody. People are losing their minds for

lack of human contact. Other than people muttering to themselves, there aren’t

any conversations or interactions, just a quiet, painful lack of productivity with

nobody working together.

How did this happen?

When people are confined to silos, even when self-inflicted, they never

get on the same page—with processes, tools, or other people. Individuals

on these teams greedily use their own tools for managing work, their

own processes for getting things done, and their own ways for tracking,

storing, and updating information. All work is completely disconnected.

The consequences

• Managers struggle to get updates from each individual

• All work is done and recorded differently

• Collaboration doesn’t really exist

• There’s no visibility into what people are doing

This causes extreme disconnects in the work and within the team. No

one is on the same page, things don’t get done well or on time, and

productivity seriously suffers.

52% of surveyed organizations said that their top two challenges

in managing data and extracting business intelligence from

analysis were due to departmentally siloed information and

limited cross-functional interaction. 20

7l % of senior executives in major global companies ranked

horizontal boundaries as their biggest challenge for leading. 19

Escape Tactics

Here are some best practices to help

enterprise teams avoid the hells of silos:

1. Switch things up

According to ASAE, “The key [to eliminating silos] is to

interrupt (but not completely disrupt) the natural patterns

and boundaries that form through structures that do serve

a useful purpose, by using cross functional efforts, diversified

project teams, rotating job responsibilities, shifting

office layouts, [or] organizing staff meeting reports by project

instead of department.” 21

2. Eliminate needless formality

Nothing alienates people more than having to “go through

channels” just to get to the person they need to collaborate

with. Try having more of an “open door” policy so team

members will feel more comfortable, and have an easier

time collaborating. 22

3. Adopt common systems

When systems interact, people are more likely to interact.

When everyone is using work management tools and

processes, silos are less likely to form because people aren’t

left to create their own processes. At very least, systems

that integrate make it easier for different groups to

collaborate and work cross-functionally.

“Silos create inconsistency (multiple versions of the truth)

and redundancy (duplicated efforts), resulting in additional

costs and barriers to growth and innovation.”

– Gartner 24

Companies with poor business analysis

capability will have 3 times as many

project failures as successes. 25

Reporting Hell

Towers of Spreadsheet Doom

Suffocation. There are pillars of paper everywhere, stacked hundreds of

feet high. As I look closer, I see they are made of document folders and file

cabinets stuffed to the breaking point with printed spreadsheets—each with

a different date, author, or version stamped on it. Everyone is buried in bad

data that’s either incomplete or so complex it’s difficult to decipher because

the reporting tools and processes on this floor are making chaos of the numbers

and information.

How did this happen?

Managers try desperately to put together reports they need for meetings

and to justify their jobs. But when their teams use outdated and different

spreadsheets to gather information, managers are left scrambling to compile

information that may or may not exist—and if it does exist, it likely isn’t

up-to-date. Often, they have to resort to guessing or making up their “hard

data” to have something to show their stakeholders because they have no

clue what’s really going on.

20% of managers chose tracking work and reporting hell as

their #l type of work hell. 27

The consequences

Without the visibility they need into work and project data and the real story

about how things are going, it’s extremely difficult for these managers to:

• Compile and present up-to-date reports

• Improve team productivity

• Justify budgets and resources

• Communicate well with stakeholders

• Deliver work on time and within budget

• Understand what works and what doesn’t

• Apply lessons learned and improve processes

Escape Tactics

Here are a few good tips and reminders for

how to escape Reporting Hell:

1. Communicate

Most effective work managers create a communication plan during

the planning phase of work. In this plan, you should clearly identify:

• Who should get updates

• What information they need

• Why they need it

• When they need it by

• Where the data will live

• How data will be distributed

Then, work with your team to create a process for getting updates to

you at the right times. Including them in the process will help them

buy-in to the process and be more likely to adhere to it. Take this

one step further and create a template for this process to help makes

things simple.

2. Increase Your Visibility

The right tools will help provide something that most teams can’t

usually provide for themselves: visibility. Visibility is the key to escaping

reporting hell. The right tool will help you create reporting dashboards

to keep you, and anyone else who needs to be included, updated on the

progress of your work. A tool that manages workloads and resources as

well as providing collaboration within the context of the work will help

your team get the visibility they need to be more productive.

76% of companies’ biggest priority is to improve the visibility

and awareness of projects across the organization. 28

– PMP Research

The Working Dead

Meeting Hell

This is apocalyptic. People are literally getting their brains munched on by their coworkers.

Everyone is stuffed inside a meeting room full of the working dead. They shuffle around

searching for more brains. Some of them stare mindlessly at a horrible presentation that I’m

pretty sure is slowly sucking the life out of them. There’s little-to-no chance of survival for

this group.

How did this happen?

These workers rely way too much on meetings. They schedule status meetings and collaboration

meetings and brainstorm meetings and review meetings—a meeting for every little

thing. Now they’re stuck in so many meetings that work is basically just one giant meeting

and they rarely have any time to actually get their work done. Productivity has dropped

drastically and projects that should have lasted a month or two now span several

quarters at a time.

The consequences

The impacts of holding so many meetings are severe:

Note to self:

Bring a


next time.


• Most employees attend 62 meetings per month. 29

• 50% of meetings are considered a waste of time. 30

• On average, 31 hours per month are spent in

unproductive meetings. 31


• 73% of workers do other work while in meetings. 32

• 49% of workers consider unfocused meetings and projects as the

biggest workplace time waster and the primary reason for

unproductive workdays. 33


• $37 billion—the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for U.S. businesses. 34

• Estimates of meeting expenses range from costs of $30 million to

over $100 million per year to losses between $54 million and $3.7

billion annually. 35


• 45% of workers feel overwhelmed by the number of meetings

they attend. 36

• 30% of survey respondents selected meeting hell as the #1 type of

work hell they experience the most. 37

Escape Tactics

Follow these guidelines to escape from Meeting Hell:

1. Eliminate status meetings

Don’t freak out. Doing this is possible if you provide a single work management

system that gives you real-time visibility into who is doing what, when things will

be done, which resources are allocated where, etc. Do this and you’ll no longer

need status meetings.

During an average meeting, agenda

items are covered in only 53%

of the scheduled time, with the

remaining time as unproductive. 38

2. Eliminate review meetings

Just scheduling these meetings can be a nightmare. Instead, use a single, asynchronous

collaboration tool that allows team members and stakeholders to weigh in on work

with full visibility into all other feedback.

3. Be productive with meetings you need to have

Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if this meeting is really necessary. Are

there other, faster ways for you to get your information to people or to get what

you need from them? If the meeting is a must, define the purpose very clearly

beforehand. When the meeting starts, make sure all inputs are provided and keep

things as brief as possible.

Reducing staff members’ wasted time by just 5 minutes

every hour would increase productivity by 8.3%. 39

The average worker spends 2 hours

per day recovering from distractions. 42

Interruption Hell

Shiny Thing Syndrome

Everyone here has Shiny Thing Syndrome. I watched one guy at his desk

trying to work, but he never got anywhere because there were tons of

people trying to get his attention. If I had a dollar for everyone that approached

his desk while he was trying to work, I’d buy this guy lunch. I

don’t see how anyone can ever get anything done with so many distractions.

When an interruption occurs, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to

get back on track with train of thought afterwards.

4 interruptions in a day can mean the loss of an hour

in concentration. 43

A productivity consultant once told me, “On any given

day, an executive can expect to be interrupted 150-300

times a day, not counting e-mails.” 44

How did this happen?

In work environments that lack standardized processes, workers are constantly

interrupted by tons of new work requests. Sometimes they come via phone

calls, emails, instant messages, desk drop-bys, or even sticky notes left on

their desks. Then, the workers respond by dropping what they were previously

doing to collect and respond to requests, enabling others to keep bombarding

them with new tasks and keeping them from spending more than 10 minutes

at a time working on any single work item. It’s a vicious cycle.

The consequences

The more enterprise teams respond to random work requests, the more they

happen and the more they detract from a person’s important work.

• The average employee endures 56 interruptions a day

• The average interruption takes five minutes

• Interruptions total about 50% of the workday

• 80% of interruptions are rated of “no value” 41

Work requests are only part of the problem. Interruptions come in all shapes

and sizes and they all put a serious damper on productivity.

Escape Tactics

Here’s some advice for avoiding and escaping interruptions:

Request management

Proper request management processes can cut down interruptions from random work requests

immensely. You can implement these processes by following just a few steps:

1. Choose a location

Together with your team, choose one place for submitting and gathering requests.

Optimally, you’d have a tool for this, but in the absence of the right tool, it can even

be a paper tray or an email address (ourteamrequests@yourcompany.com).

2. Tell everybody

Communicate to your clients, internal or external, that any requests for your team need to be

submitted to the place you’ve chosen. Give them all the information they need to do this. Also,

reiterate to them that any request that is not submitted using this process will not be addressed.

3. Get the info you need

Provide requestors with a template for submitting all of their requirements and request

information. This could be a Word doc, a link to a Google Drive form, or a page incorporated in

your tool. In the template, ask any and all questions that will help you have all the information you

need from the very beginning.

4. Prioritize intelligently

Monitor your incoming requests regularly and compare them to your corporate goals and your

existing projects before assigning them relevant priority.

5. Stick to your guns

Anytime someone tries to drop a request at your desk or via email, politely ask them to

submit it via your team’s process so you can make sure it doesn’t get missed.

Email Hell

A Lake of Email and Brimstone

Envelopes everywhere! All over me, all over them—smothering. The entire

eighth floor is a lake, no, a flood of emails—and everyone is drowning. All I can

really see are arms flailing, feet kicking, mouths gasping for air, and the

occasional worker trying to pull somebody out of the mess.

It takes 16 minutes to refocus after

handling incoming email. 46

How did this happen?

These workers spend so much time checking and responding to emails and

searching back through long email chains for relevant information that they lose

the time they need to be productive and, before they know it, email has

completely flooded their workday. They waste hours trying to keep up, but

never feel like they can really get a handle on their inboxes. It’s a mixture of

poor time management, low visibility, and inefficient collaboration.

The consequences

The consequences are pretty straightforward: you become a slave to email. You

barely have time for anything else and when you’re not managing email, you’ve

got anxiety about not managing email. In fact, for every 100 people who are

unnecessarily copied on an email, 8 hours of productivity are lost. 58% of workers

spend half their day filing, deleting, or sorting information, and it costs an

estimated $31 billion in losses. 45

94% of workers feel overwhelmed by information to the point

of incapacitation. 47

Escape Tactics

There’s one sure-fire way to escape Email Hell:

1. Eliminate it

In most organizations, email is used for:

• Making requests

• Communicating about statuses

• Tracking down information

• Clarifying information

• Sharing documents

• Asking for feedback

• Asking for approvals

• … and more

You can eliminate the feeling of drowning in email just by moving

all collaboration about work to a single work management tool with

collaboration and notifications. This way, all work communication

happens within proper context and is easier to track and manage.

The average employee checks their email 36 times per hour. 48

Collaboration Hell

Only Bits and Pieces

This floor is puzzling. No really, it’s literally just a bunch of spread out puzzle

pieces of collaboration that I’m sure would make up the whole picture if anyone

could find all the relevant pieces. There are just piles of collaboration pieces

everywhere—some on sticky notes, some in instant messages or email, and

everyone is scavenging the piles trying to put together the whole story.

How did this happen?

This is what happens when:

• Communication is forced and superfluous

• Collaboration happens in several different places

Work data is stored in multiple different tools

All the disconnection completely overwhelms and confuses workers. They end up

dumping information everywhere and none of it has any context when you try to

go back to it. When you only have a piece or two, collaboration is meaningless. The

opposite extreme is also an issue—teams that do little to encourage collaboration

also struggle to know what’s going on.

The consequences

The inevitable result of over- or under-collaborating is a lack of visibility within

your team and a whole lot of frustration. The majority of enterprise managers say

poor collaboration wastes 25% of their day. Additionally, poor collaboration habits

lead directly to project failure. A multi-year Gartner Group survey concluded that, as a

result of poor communication at the outset, more than 80% of IT projects were:

• Late

• Over budget

• Short of expectations

• Or simply undelivered 50

23% of enterprise workers selected “Collaboration Hell ”as the

type of work hell they experience most often. 51

86% of corporate executives, employees, and educators cite lack of

collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. 52

Escape Tactics

There’s one sure-fire tactic for escaping

Collaboration Hell:

1. Collaborate in Context

Whether your work is in the form of a document, spreadsheet, digital

asset, etc., get the right people to provide feedback in that same

context with full visibility into each other’s feedback. This works

best when managed in a central place, where anyone necessary can

view the work and all the collaboration that has happened around it.

2. Eliminate 1:1 channels

Collaboration tools that only capture one-on-one conversations and

wont track outcomes will do nothing but keep your work and people

disconnected. Chat or instant messengers are great for real-time,

but all those conversations are lost with the closing of a window.

True work collaboration needs to be documented, visible, and easy

to track.

84% of respondents say the ability to combine video conferencing,

email instant messaging, and other applications into a single

interface would make them more efficient. 53

54% of business executives believe having all communications

under a single roof can make life easier, enhance collaboration,

and boost overall productivity. 54

70-90% of business users utilize enterprise social networking tools,

but feel that most lack true enterprise collaboration capabilities. 55


My Team Suffers from All of Them!

I finally made it to my office on the 10th floor. Thought the

hell was over, but then realized that my own team suffers

from all nine of the work hells I just saw. I’m so shocked I

don’t know where to begin to fix this mess.

Escape Tactics

After doing my research, here’s the best way I’ve found to

escape the nine floors of work hell:

Enterprise Work Management

• Manage all work in one place

• Manage work through the entire work lifecycle

• Manage work in a simple, intuitive tool

Getting out of work hell

1. Tool hell

Escape Tactics:

• Choose one place to manage your work

• Choose tools that integrate

• Expand processes company-wide

• Be strategic about the tools you add

3. Fire Drill hell

Escape Tactics:

• Understand the root cause of fire drills

• Improve planning and coordination

• Improve communication about impacts

5. Reporting hell

Escape Tactics:

• Create a communication plan

• Increase your visibility

7. Interruption hell

Escape Tactics:

• Centralize request and intake processes

• Communicate your processes

• Get the information you need

• Prioritize Intelligently

• Stick to your guns

2. Rework hell

Escape Tactics:

• Get strategically aligned

• Use work templates

• Manage approvals and feedback centrally

• Take your time gathering information

4. Silo hell

Escape Tactics:

• Switch things up

• Eliminate needless formality

• Adopt common system

6. Meeting hell

Escape Tactics:

• Eliminate status meetings

• Eliminate review meetings

• Be productive with meetings you

need to have

8. Email hell

Escape Tactics:

• Stop using email to communicate

about work

9. Collaboration hell

Escape Tactics:

• Collaborate in the context of your


• Eliminate 1:1 communication channels

Increase Your Agency’s Efficiency

with Workfront

Now that you know how to recognize and avoid the most common

agency inefficiencies, all you have to do is make a plan and put it into

action. Embracing a more holistic work management approach, like

Workfront, will help you:

• Increase your productivity

• Focus more time on creativity

• Secure your competitive edge

• Build credibility and improve client satisfaction


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