- Your Guide to Accurately Estimating Projects (2/22/2018)
Estimation is an invaluable tool for anticipating and managing project uncertainties. Accurate project estimates help identify cost and schedule requirements with relative precision, and reduce the risk of running out of time, resources, and budget during a project. But even with years of experience, project managers struggle with accurate project estimates.
One of the key benefits of LiquidPlanner is the ability to estimate tasks in a best-case to worst-case range, as opposed to a single-point estimate. It’s easier to estimate in ranges because it alleviates the pressure of not meeting a single-point estimate. But most importantly, it captures the the inherent uncertainty in a given task.
And with LiquidPlanner, updating estimates provides dynamic, real-time visibility to your project schedule. In this post, we’ll cover estimating techniques and the tools in LiquidPlanner that can help you estimate your project work more accurately over time.
Project Estimation Techniques
If you are building out a project for the first time or are new to LiquidPlanner, here are common estimation techniques to effectively manage projects:
The first step to estimating your project is to break down the actual work involved for your project. Although you may have a general idea of how much time the project overall will take, capturing scope based on estimating from the project level will likely result in wildly inaccurate estimates.
Starting with estimating the effort at the task level will result in greater accuracy of the total project effort. LiquidPlanner does the heavy lifting by totaling the project estimate for you.
Breaking Work Down
When you’re breaking down your tasks, do you wonder, “How detailed should I get with my task breakdown?” Once your task breakdown structure is finished, ensure that you’ve created tasks that you can reasonably estimate using this criteria: is the task Comprehensible, Manageable, and Assignable?
The initial task breakdown you create may result in some tasks that seem rather large. But how big is too big?
If you end up with a really large task, the actual level of effort involved will be difficult to comprehend and pinpoint with accuracy. If you’re at this juncture, break the large task down further into smaller components that are comprehensible and easier to estimate.
Consider this example: you’ve asked a team member to estimate effort for “Develop the Beta Chat Room Feature.” This is a pretty broadly defined task and could have a very long timeline. You’re likely to get a very high-level guess of the estimated effort, with a high degree of uncertainty. Instead, you might want to break the task down further, such as a task to “Create Add Friend Dialog.” This will help your team members estimate that chunk of work with greater accuracy.
Before you start breaking down your tasks into the smallest increments possible, don’t get too carried away! Breaking down a task to very minute levels of detail means that your team members will have more items in LiquidPlanner to monitor, track time to, post updates to, and keep track of throughout the project duration. You want the task to be manageable, so that you don’t create too much administrative work to manage small minutiae.
So when should you stop breaking down your task structure? Again, no simple answer here. But here are some questions to ask yourself.
Is the task a key action item that helps to convey progress on the project? If the task seems really small, will the ability to track percentage complete of this task be useful for your project reporting needs? Tracking minor task items may serve as a handy checklist, but may not be necessary for reporting on progress of your project.
When thinking about the manageable size of a task, you also want to consider your team’s workflow/methodology. If you’re an Agile team, small 1 to 2 hour tasks may be easy to manage and slip into an upcoming sprint. On the other hand, a small task for a manufacturing team may be more like 6 to 9 days in effort.
Ultimately, you need to determine whether the size of the task is manageable for a team member to update, monitor and track time to.
The third criteria to determine whether a task is reasonable in size is whether the work can be assigned to an individual. Tasks should be broken down to a point where you can identify who would be accountable for executing the work. If the task is so large that a larger team or department is accountable, you may need to break the task down further.
Best-Case to Worst-Case Estimating
In LiquidPlanner, estimates for remaining effort are given in ranges. Why a range?
Think about the last time you gave a single-point estimate for a task… “I’ll finish this task in six hours.” Did you actually track exactly six hours? Probably not. Single-point estimates rarely match the actual outcome.
It’s more realistic to capture a task in terms of a best-case to worst-case range, for example, “Run Tests on Sample A” will take 1 to 2 days of effort. Ranged estimates are also an ideal way to prompt your team to consider the factors that will sway a task towards best-case estimate or the worst-case estimate.
What if you end up with really wide range estimates, such as 8 to 45 hours of effort? That’s okay. Wide range estimates can be a useful tool to communicate the unique circumstances influencing the estimate. For instance, perhaps it’s new and unfamiliar project work. As you’ll see in the next section, it’s a best practice to keep reviewing those estimates along the way and updating as needed.
In LiquidPlanner, you enter best- and worst-case estimates. Then, LiquidPlanner calculates finish dates for you.
The Expected Finish date is typically the target finish date. You’ll also get an Earliest Finish Date calculation. Achieving this best case finish means everything went smoothly, and there was probably a lot of communication across the team as to how to keep things on track.
Of course, you could cut on quality and scope in order to achieve the best finish, but that isn’t ideal scenario. Likewise, the team should be aware of the problems or risks that could result in work edging closer to the worst-case estimate.
As a team, you can discuss what it would take to mitigate those issues.
Okay, you’ve broken down your project work. You and your team have assigned ranged estimates for each task, and your project is underway. Does that mean you don’t need to look at those estimate again? Not so fast…
Naturally, the more you work through the tasks in your project, the more certainty you have around the expected project outcome. If you started out with wide range estimates, it’s completely reasonable to tighten up your tasks estimates as you move through phases of your project. Do this by using project meetings to quickly review estimates for the next phase, or ask team members to update their task estimates right within LiquidPlanner.
Why is updating estimates throughout your project important? If a team member is making progress quicker than planned, when he or she updates the remaining effort estimate, LiquidPlanner will automatically update your finish date if you’re ahead of schedule.
On the other hand, let’s say a client added scope partway through the project. When you update the estimate in LiquidPlanner for the added scope, LiquidPlanner will recalculate your project finish dates so that you can communicate the new timeline with your client.
LiquidPlanner Tools for Managing Estimates
Are you worried that updating your estimates along the way will mess up your reporting? We’ve got you covered! LiquidPlanner has several features for tracking changes and reporting on baseline estimates.
Manage Sub-task items using Checklists
When you have a task with several important details to track, use Checklists to keep track of these items. Checklists can be assigned to different team members, and they can be marked complete to show progress. It’s a great way to keep track of the small details on a task instead of creating multiple small tasks that will be more administrative work for your team. Learn more about Checklists.
Set Daily Limits on Larger Tasks
You will probably have tasks with estimates that will take more than one day. For example, Joe has a task that will take 2 to 4 days of effort, but this isn’t the only task he’ll be tackling over the next few days. He has other projects to work on in parallel. Use the Daily Limit feature to set the maximum amount of time per day allotted for a task. This allows you to schedule how much time a team member should allocate per day for different projects or tasks. Learn more about Daily Limits.
Monitor Changes from Task Estimation History
Updating task estimates when scope has increased or decreased is a best practice because it keeps your project schedule up-to-date. But don’t worry! LiquidPlanner tracks anytime updates are made to the task estimate. The Task Estimation History captures the estimate that was applied, when it was updated, and who updated it. Learn more about Task Estimation History.
Compare Estimates using Baseline Reports
If you’re looking for a report that helps you compare the current status of your project to the estimates you made on a specific date in the past, the Baseline reporting feature is exactly what you’re looking for. Baselines help you monitor if you’re ahead of schedule, on track, or slipping. It’s also great for comparing estimates before you kick off your next project, to check which estimates were accurate and which estimates were way off. Learn more about Baselines.
Use Templates to Copy Estimates for New Projects
Most teams have repeatable projects, so they can use Templates to set up a general project structure that can be repurposed every time they kick off a new project. To save time in the project kick-off process, make sure you also include standard estimates in your project templates too. When you’re ready to duplicate the project template, all of the standard estimates will carry over to the new tasks. Learn more about Templates.
If you’re looking for more information on creating accurate project estimates, check out our eBook, 6 Best Practices for Accurate Projest Estimates.Your Guide to Accurately Estimating Projects was last modified: February 22nd, 2018 by
- Celebrating Project Success: 5 Things You Can Do (2/20/2018)
One of the by-products of being an engineer, a project manager, and having served over two decades in the military is that I tend to focus on what’s going wrong, or could go wrong, on a project instead of acknowledging project success.
While this is a great mind-set for solving problems and performing risk management, in the realm of managing people it falls short. Really, who wants a manager who’s always focusing on what one is doing wrong, or might do wrong?
That doesn’t sound like the type of manager I want to work for. It also doesn’t sound like the type of manager that I want to be.
The skills of problem recognition and solving seem to come easy to engineers and project managers, a by-product of training and personality. What project team members want is direction, adequate resources, and a manager who’s willing to celebrate project success no matter how small. This takes a little bit of committed focus, preparation and training to develop the skills for acknowledging, and celebrating, when things go right.
Celebrating Project Success One Win at a Time
We all know that projects are discrete events with an established start and finish. The natural tendency is to focus only on kickoffs and completions. In my industry, the architectural/engineering/construction industry, we hold a ground-breaking ceremony to celebrate a project start and a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of a new building.
But what if the project you’re working on has a long execution period? It’s not unusual for a construction project to take two or more years to complete. Are there not points for celebration that fall in between breaking ground and cutting ribbon? The answer is a definite yes. There are a lot of points for celebrating project success, as well as individual success.
There are numerous individual, team, and project activities that present opportunities to celebrate. Your job as a successful project manager is to be prepared to capitalize on these opportunities to create both culture and camaraderie on the project team.
While the Project Management Office may not have recognition and celebration on the priority list, you need to put it there. Celebrations and recognitions don’t need to be elaborate, they just need to occur. Here are five actions you can take to celebrate your project success and your project team.
Breaking out the gold shovels at the start of a project and the gold scissors at the end of a project signify two key milestones. However, there are going to be other key milestones on your projects and these present opportunities for celebration.
On a program I worked on, one key milestone was the award of the actual design and construction contract itself. The team worked very hard and there was a lot of high drama to even get to that point. This served as a prime point for celebrating project success, if the team was able to make the contract award by the target date.
On your projects, identify key milestones and choose those that are make-or-break when it comes to project success. These will be prime opportunities for you to celebrate when the team hits the milestone successfully.
Letters of Appreciation
Project team members send the vast majority, maybe all, of their correspondence via email. While email can remain forever in the digital realm, it will never replace receipt of a hard copy letter of thanks. I used letters of appreciation throughout my career to recognize someone in word and ink for a job well done.
The letter doesn’t need to be a two-page treatise, just a few words recognizing a specific act or level of performance that is contributing to project success. Not certain where to begin? Do some research on the web for letters of appreciation and begin developing your own templates.
I’ve developed several over the years so they’re ready to go, when needed. One note: while the letters are a simple and easy way to recognize someone’s contribution to project success, don’t over use them. Plan to send them only for successful achievement of prominent milestones, or actions, on the project.
Certificates of Appreciation
Whereas letters of appreciation are to be used as recognition of a significant act between you and the recipient, certificates of appreciation are a great way to share individual recognition with the entire team. You might consider giving a project team member a certificate of appreciation to celebrate her passing the Project Management Professional certification exam, or achieving a significant milestone on her portion of a project.
Instead of keeping the recognition between the two of you, this is an opportunity to recognize the performance in front of the entire team in a simple ceremony. People generally enjoy celebrations and they serve as a great opportunity to socialize.
Birthdays and Fridays
Events such as birthdays are another opportunity to bring the team together to celebrate success and recognize milestones, albeit a personal milestone. I’ve found that team recognition of birthdays to be a great way again to put focus on a member and allow the team the opportunity to stand-down and appreciate each other’s company.
If you want to find another reason to celebrate, then choose a Friday. In several organization’s I’ve worked in over my career, one or two Friday’s a month were chosen as a time for the entire team to share stories over a beverage. We called them “First Friday” or “Final Friday” and they served as opportunities each month to celebrate wins, review our failures, and assess where the team is headed in an informal environment.
Hails and Farewells
Project teams are comprised of people with lives: families, hobbies, aspirations, and goals. It’s very important for a project manager to remember this amidst the need to monitor scope, schedule and cost.
One way for you to recognize people is through a hail and farewell ceremony. The frequency of these events will depend on the size of your team and staffing churn. The event serves as a formal way of recognizing the arrival of new team members and departure of seasoned team members. These are great venues to also present certificates of appreciation and celebrating project success as a team.
Project management equals leadership. It is well recognized that successful project managers are leaders. One of the hallmarks of a good leader is a person who puts others first and recognizes each individual’s contribution to the team.
Maybe it’s my upbringing in the military, where taking care of one’s Airmen was both a responsibility and a privilege. It’s in that environment that I learned celebrating and recognizing team performance and individual success is vitally important for building camaraderie and keeping everyone focused on achieving project success.
Your role as a project manager is more than just managing the project triangle. It’s leading people. When you support and champion others selflessly, celebrate wins, and recognize success routinely, you’ll likely find that your work to deliver a project to scope, within budget and on time become just a bit easier.
Looking for more articles like this? Get 30 pages about leadership, teamwork, project management, and navigating career condundrums here.Celebrating Project Success: 5 Things You Can Do was last modified: February 13th, 2018 by
- How to Be a Great Leader (2/14/2018)
Here’s an interesting problem in today’s business world: One of the most indispensable skills for career advancement as well as for delivering successful projects is rarely taught at the university level.
I’m talking about leadership.
One reason many institutions don’t even attempt to teach leadership is that it far transcends academic instruction. This is a problem, however, because anyone in business (and certainly in management), will benefit from being a competent leader.
First, a point of clarification: Managing and leadership are two different things. Managers produce results, while leaders guide people, processes and organizations into the future. You can teach a large percentage of people how to manage, but teaching someone how to lead is a more challenging proposition.
Leaders Must Change and Adapt
One of the reasons leadership is so difficult to teach is that it encompasses an ever-evolving family of skills. The same abilities and techniques that brought you to a point in your career very likely will not carry you to the next level. You have to change and adapt as a leader, and the truth is that only a few leaders do this successfully.
For example, a project or organization that is rife with infighting might benefit from a strong, directing leadership style; but that same autocratic style might be counterproductive to an organization that is already performing smoothly. Projects or organizations that are running well usually benefit more from a supportive, participative style of leadership.
Your style of leadership has to adapt to the project or organization throughout the lifecycle, and this is one of the hardest things for leaders to get right. You could find that being a strong, directing leader powered your career at one stage, but the trick here is to stay attuned to when it stops working so you can adapt and use a more effective tactic.
Examples of Leadership Evolutions
When I was in college, I worked at a Big Blue tech giant. During that time, the company had a CEO who achieved his position by shooting up through the ranks. But once at the helm, he struggled in his new role at the top. And this was at a time when the tech world was evolving at a breakneck pace (e.g., Halt and Catch Fire). Unfortunately, our CEO could only see things through the lens of what had worked in the past. The company seemed to be slowly circling the drain in dramatic fashion.
Shortly after the CEO departed the company, they had the foresight to bring in a new CEO from a completely unrelated industry, and the turnaround was stunning. His leadership style was completely different. He adopted a style that was nearly opposite from his predecessor, and the company’s performance (and stock price) skyrocketed back to health.
Stepping Up and Mobilizing
Managers who want to develop into real leaders face a formidable task. It is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be complex. The acclaimed Harvard leadership guru, John P. Kotter, simplified it into three steps that leaders need to effectively perform:
- Establish a vision.
- Align people to that vision.
- Motivate them to perform and to achieve the vision.
This simple strategy remains as relevant for CEOs of large organizations as it does for first time project management leaders.
In Walter Isaacon’s outstanding biography of Steve Jobs, he tells of a time that the Apple founder had become marginalized in his own company by a new CEO. Finally, Jobs went to key designers and engineers and told them, “Everything you have ever done in your career has been [worthless]. Come work on a secret project with me and let’s change the world.” Those two sentences encapsulated Kotter’s strategy beautifully. Jobs set out a vision of changing the world; identified with the engineers’ frustration that they had not yet had the impact they craved, and offered them a way to “put a ding in the universe.” Then he issued a pointed call to action.
If You Want to Lead…
I don’t believe that everyone can learn to lead effectively. There has to be some natural ability there for a strong leader to emerge. Some people have greater leadership aptitude than others, but still, there are many elements of leadership that have to be learned. And there is no way to learn them without getting out there, trying, failing, retooling, and repeating.
If you seriously want to grow as a leader, you’ll have to get out there and take initiative. Look for opportunities to lead in your organization. If none are apparent, consider volunteer work, where opportunities abound. Another way to flex your leadership muscle is to find ways to care for your team and the work they do, and nurture teamwork. People are more important than tasks, and if you can prove to be someone who motivates people, you’re on your way.
Even after you become a proven great leader, the process of developing great skills and learning from your successes and failures is never ending. But it’s this process of growing in your role that’s so incredibly rewarding—something that you can continue to develop for the rest of your life.How to Be a Great Leader was last modified: February 14th, 2018 by
- Save Time in 2018 With the Update to LiquidPlanner Timesheets (2/12/2018)
If improving your efficiency is a professional goal for you this year, our latest product update delivers the ultimate tool.
With the updated LiquidPlanner Timesheets, you’ll shave off approximately 15 to 30 seconds per entry, which adds up to more than an entire work day of saved time per year!
Along with the time entry process, additional features have been simplified to allow users to get their time entries into LiquidPlanner quickly and without delay. Users who depend on time tracking to communicate progress, visibility, and reporting should see positive changes in their efficiency.
Familiar Functionality, Cleaner Design
Here’s what to expect from the latest product update:
When logging time to your Timesheet, your hours (and all supporting data) will now automatically save. This allows you to jump from task to task and enter your entire days’ hours in rapid succession.
We’ve also placed the Remaining Effort field front and center, making it easier to update your task’s estimated remaining hours. Remember: The more up-to-date your estimates are, the more accurate your project timeline will be.
Also new: the “done” checkbox is now on the left side of tasks, which gives teams a more efficient way to mark items complete.
Log in to your workspace to see these updates in action!
If you’re not a LiquidPlanner customer, but looking for ways to increase focus and productivity at work, try us out!Save Time in 2018 With the Update to LiquidPlanner Timesheets was last modified: February 12th, 2018 by
- Mindfulness for Leaders: Improving Management Practices (2/8/2018)
Leadership is essential to any successful work environment. Managers are in charge of not only running a productive team, but ensuring that there is a positive environment in which their team can work. Recently, the concept of using mindfulness to create this sort of workplace has gained popularity.
While it is easy to write the myriad of articles off simply as a passing trend, there is an increasing amount of data suggesting taking time out of your day to breathe and meditate can have concrete, positive results.
A small sample of the studies that are currently available on the subject:
- Journal of Applied Psychology: Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Based on a test group of 219 employees, it was discovered the participants who received self-led mindfulness training experienced “significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction” than those who did not.
- Canadian Information Processing Society: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment After completing a 8-week training on mindfulness meditation, researchers noted a significant increase in time spent on-task, decreased negative emotions after task completion, and—the unexpected result—improved memory.
- Singapore Management University: Leading Mindfully: Two Studies of the Influence of Supervisor Trait Mindfulness on Employee WellBeing and Performance By tracking specific aspects of employee “wellbeing” in relation to their manager’s approach to leadership, results showed a notable increase in employee performance and fulfilment when the managerial style was seen as mindful.
So, why is this relevant? In a recent study composed by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, the number of Americans who reported “significant daily worry” has only increased over the past few years. If happy employees are more productive, then it is in a manager’s best interest to focus on creating a workplace the employees enjoy. According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.—one of the field’s foremost experts and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program—the surest way to decrease these concerns is to increase attention to people’s mindful wellbeing.
Creating a mindful environment in an office goes beyond posting a picture under the #MindfulnessMonday tag on social media; it is a daily—arguably constant—thought process change that needs to occur. (Let the warranted aversion to the word change ensue!) While mindfulness can take time to integrate into your daily routine, the eventual practice can be effortless. To assist in the adoption process of mindfulness practices, managers can use the seven pillars of mindfulness outlined in Professor Kabat-Zinn’s best-selling novel, Full Catastrophe Living.
First and foremost, being a mindful manager requires a person to allow themselves to go about their day free from judgement. This, of course, refers to negative judgements—such as, “My employee is slacking,” or “This is a bad idea”—but, less obviously, refers to positive judgements as well. The belief that one idea is better than another implies that there is a universal goodness or badness established.
However, the perception of an idea as good or bad is completely subjective. As a mindful manager, it is your task to react to all situations with objectivity in order to allow new ideas a chance to surface. By becoming aware of your judgements, both negative and positive, a manager can more effectively evaluate situations as they actually are. A common complaint a manager might receive is, “This isn’t working.” By acknowledging this as a judgement, and proceeding to take an impartial look at the problem the employee is actually raising (e.g. a step in the workflow needs attention), an effective manager can reframe challenges into opportunities.
An initial way to help integrate a non-judging practice into one’s management style is to pay more attention to what is happening now, versus what the end goal is; to be non-striving. Looking at a project by its individual steps instead of racing to meet the larger end goal can help break down a seemingly daunting task.
By also being accepting of realistic timelines and expected workloads, you relieve some of the employees’ anxiety around delivering beyond their bandwidth. (A project management tool like LiquidPlanner can help with this!) In meditation, acceptance is the practice of viewing the present as it actually is, free from judgement. In management, upholding this idea can foster a sense of confidence.
Throughout the mindfulness process, having patience with yourself and others is key. Amongst employee frustrations, missed deadlines, and other daily workplace mishaps, a patient manager can be a guiding force to bring the rest of the office to a similarly calm and focused mindset.
Doing so requires a certain amount of trust. It is essential you demonstrate you have faith in not only your employees, but your own ability to make decisions. Trust goes both ways: when an employee feels they must follow a manager without question, progress will suffer. Having the ability to communicate openly is essential—you hired each member of your team for their unique perspectives and talents. Let them do their thing!
On a similar note, it is essential to remember you don’t have to have all the answers! In fact, a key part of being a successful manager is having the ability to recognize great ideas from even your newest employees. As Shunryu Suzuki, who’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind popularized Zen Buddhism in the U.S., posits: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” By striving to keep a beginners mind you allow the autonomy of the people around you to grow, and innovative new approaches to tasks are able to come forward.
Overall, being a mindful manager comes down to one main idea: let go. Let go of the idea that things need to be a certain way. Issues, of course, will arise. Letting go of the illusion of control eases the complexities of the workplace, relieves stress for both you and your employees, and creates a culture of understanding, productivity, and collaboration. . . the ideal work environment.
Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation
One of the more business-specific titles on the list, Gelles’ best seller outlines the specific benefits of mindfulness, and backs his statements with real-world examples.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life By Jon Kabat-Zinn
A perennial favorite among fans of meditation, Professor Kabat-Zinn’s follow up to Full Catastrophe Living has sold over 750,000 copies.
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World By Mark Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn
In just 10-20 minutes each day, Mindfulness can teach readers straightforward Mindfulness-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that can be applied to everyday life.
Nightline anchor Dan Harris takes readers on a well-researched and personal account of how meditation changed his life in this #1 New York Times best-selling debut. (There is also an app and how-to book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.)
25 Lessons in Mindfulness: Now Time for Healthy Living by Rezvan Ameli
With 25 experiential exercises compiled by the American Psychological Association, this book is a great tool for people at all experience levels within the study of mindfulness.
From advice shared by the top 10 mindfulness teachers in the US to short mindfulness exercises, Salgad’s curation is ideal for people starting a mindfulness practice from square one.
Written by one of Google’s earliest engineers, this title has been praised by seemingly everyone (from President Jimmy Carter to the Dalai Lama). Check out the Search Inside Yourself Institute site for even more resources!
For live meditation sessions, try Telesangha.
For mood-based meditations, look at Stop, Breathe, Think.
For the skeptical meditator, consider 10% Happier.
For help timing your meditation, download Insight Timer.Mindfulness for Leaders: Improving Management Practices was last modified: February 8th, 2018 by