- Cloverleaf + LiquidPlanner Webinar: The Power of People (6/21/2018)
Once the project is defined, tasks are delegated, and deadlines are set, the real work can begin: managing the people part of a project.
Managing your team, as well as their individual communication styles, skills, quirks, and motivations, can be a huge undertaking. It’s always nice to spend a little time on how to make that a smoother endeavor.
That’s why LiquidPlanner recently partnered with Cloverleaf, a personal and team development tool, on a webinar to go over just that: the people part of project management. [Watch a recording of the webinar here.]
Cloverleaf CEO Darrin Murriner discussed what makes a successful team, as well as techniques to improve team performance.
At the end of the webinar, we were flooded with questions for Darrin to answer. Here are some of our favorites:
How do you suggest asserting authority when managing an external project for a client? For instance, the client keeps missing deadlines, ultimately impacting the success of their project?
This is a complex question, and I have been on both sides of this equation. You likely have a counterpart (project manager or business sponsor) from the client side that may be subject to resources out of their control. When I have seen this conversation go well, with positive changes occurring to get things back on track, it has taken a great relationship between the client and vendor leaders.
These leaders must have the right levels of authority over key resources and the political will (internally) to potentially go above managers or key resources that are standing in the way. It is likely a senior leader’s strategic priority and if they truly knew what was happening to timeline or budgets, they would want to act. The key is knowing how to navigate that complex communication challenge and what it will take to move your audience to action.
When you are thinking about bringing the whole team together (say 7 to 12 people), what is the suggested frequency for whole group discussions vs. smaller sub-group discussions?
It really depends. We like having a daily standup meeting to make sure there is open communication and accountability. The key with these types of meetings is establishing trust, but you have to work hard to make sure the meeting is focused and doesn’t become an open-ended forum. Other points where all-team meetings are important is when there are major updates or decisions that will impact the project plan. Otherwise, take the temperature of the team and if you feel like energy is waning or there is more conflict than usual, a more focused team-building meeting may be in order.
You can also lean on your project management tool to facilitate communication. For example, LiquidPlanner enables easy communication between team members within the context of each project. This cuts down on the need for constant meetings. When meetings are held, they don’t need to focus entirely on status updates because those updates are contained in-app. The focus of meetings can be major decisions, rather than updating the team on project statuses.
How do we measure impact of team dynamics as a starting point?
There are a few ways this can be measured, depending on metrics that are used by your organization. For more productivity-related measures, you could look at function points, defects, or actual to budgeted hours. Qualitative measures could be any engagement stats that are available. Unfortunately, most organizations are only measuring engagement every 1 to 3 years, and they are only aggregating that data at the department or division level. A good way to get a measure of this would be to use a “Happy or Not” survey tool on an iPad in your team area. The best thing to do is just pick a measure or two, set a goal, and find a way to take regular data points on your progress.
Is it realistic to perform a personality profile for each project team. Is there a protracted way to accomplish this?
There are a lot of free and simple to complete ways of getting a profile of your people. Cloverleaf is built to be intuitive and simple and results are provided for managers in a way that makes it relevant for how people on the team interact with each other.
How do you handle the “dark and stormy” personalities that are reluctant to give updates on projects? How can I encourage them to answer more than the bare minimum?
While you might not be able to change their outlook, you could possibly be more explicit with what you expect in an update, and then give them time to prepare the update. I am assuming that these are more introverted-sensing individuals who are not verbose and not so intuitively inventive with what to share. Our toolset offers very specific guidance, but without knowing a little more about the specifics of how they work, I would start with clarity on your expectations of what they communicate in their updates.
Can you explain a little bit more detailed about creating rhythms for your team?
We think of rhythms as routinizing those activities that make your team not only productive, but also creating ways for your team to build relationships. For example, we extended our normal stand-up on Wednesdays by 20 minutes and made it more open and free-form. People are able to list topics they would like to discuss, and it typically creates an opportunity for everyone to get out of the weeds once a week and make sure we are all pulling in the same direction. One meeting we talked about standards in response to a recent story about Amazon.com and allowed everyone to talk about what standards meant to them and what standards we wanted to adopt. It helped us create a common language and get buy-in from everyone on the team.
Ready to learn more about the power of people? Watch a recording of the webinar here.
Devon Barnhard is a marketing manager at Cloverleaf, a personal and team development tool.Cloverleaf + LiquidPlanner Webinar: The Power of People was last modified: June 21st, 2018 by
- Zapier Integration: How to Go from Requirements to Project Schedule in a Zap (6/19/2018)
As a project manager, how often have you experienced these scenarios:
- You just walked out of a requirement gathering session and have an Excel list of new project requirements that need to be organized into a schedule
- Your team has developed a user story backlog in JIRA but you need to represent the sprints and key dependencies in a project timeline
- You realize several key meeting minutes are actually project tasks that need to be incorporated into the project schedule
All of these scenarios happen daily to project managers. Project managers also use a variety of tools to develop scope, gather requirements, track action items, and organize for delivery. When these individual items need to be organized into a project schedule, the project manager has to synthesize the requirements, organize the actions and to-do list, and reformat them into a project schedule.
All of this increases the project manager’s administrative burden which is counter-productive to leading the team and driving for delivery.
Fortunately, LiquidPlanner can help reduce this burden with its nifty Zapier integration.
What is Zapier?
Zapier is web-based application integration and automation solution that allows online applications to interact with each other. There are hundreds of automations and integrations available on the Zapier.com platform. A quick review of the prebuilt connections (also called Zaps) are available for LiquidPlanner, JIRA, Trello, Salesforce, Google Docs, and Gmail.
What is a Zap?
A Zap is an integration between two applications. A zap is configured within a few minutes by configuring a trigger and an action between two applications. Creating a Zap uses a simple process where you define a trigger in one application and then an action in the receiving application.
In the scenarios above, I configured Google Sheets to send a new task to LiquidPlanner for new requirements and user stories. It is very easy to configure the Zap integration as the Zap editor walks you through triggers and actions across both applications. Zaps can be customized to work on specific data filters and default specific values in the Zap action. Below are a few Zaps I created to address the aforementioned project management scenarios.Zapier Integration: How to Go from Requirements to Project Schedule in a Zap was last modified: June 13th, 2018 by
- Create More Powerful and Robust Reports with LiquidPlanner (6/14/2018)
A living, breathing LiquidPlanner workspace is a gold mine of data about your team.
Looking towards the future we can see how the work we have is falling into the schedule and the impact it is having on the availability of our resources. Looking towards the past we see when the work was done and how much effort it required. Reporting in Analytics specifically allows you to focus on a specified date range to see how hours are scheduled, or how they have been logged.
By setting your Date Range Filter accordingly, you end up with basic reports that show how hours are scheduled or logged across projects, resources, or teams. To get beyond the basics and create powerful, robust reports, you need to harness the filtering options available in LiquidPlanner.
Here are a few examples that look at a few of the different filtering options and how they can be leveraged to build more powerful reports.
Group Resources by Skill Set or Role Using the Person Filter
I talk to plenty of teams whose members wear many different hats throughout the workweek. These various hats can break the boundaries of the Teams you have set up in LiquidPlanner and even transcend the hierarchy of an org-chart. It can be difficult to get a good measure of your capacity for different types of work if these skill sets vary across team members.
The Person Filter allows you to select specific members of your team and focus in on only their work, allowing you to see their availability when looking at resource reports. You can save groupings of multiple people so if you start setting up groups by skill you suddenly harness that ability to go into these reports with a lens that allows you to see between the layers of team members and their interwoven skill sets.
For instance, let’s say you realize a surge of design work is coming down your sales pipeline, and you’re going to need the help of anyone on your team with CAD experience.
If you have all of those people set up under a Saved Person Filter, called something like “CAD”, it’s just a matter of applying this to a Resource Roll-Up report or the Resource Workload Report focused on the next few weeks. Now you can make informed decisions about who you may need to pull in to these projects to keep everything running smoothly.
By saving Person Filters based on skill sets, you’re able to see more than just how much work your whole team can take on in LiquidPlanner; you can see how much of specific types of work you are able to take on.
Filter by Tags in Reports to Build Stronger Templates
Templates are a huge time-saver when you’re frequently completing similar types of tasks or projects. Adding Tags to your Templates will unlock a new layer of long-term reporting, allow you to see how things play-out on specific steps in your workflow, and ensure that your estimates are realistic.
As you’re getting started with a new type of project, you may not have a great idea of what exactly this will look like. LiquidPlanner allows you to capture this uncertainty by estimating in ranges. Some estimates can vary wildly.
For example, I often see a final Task in Projects to review all of the work that has been done. As we get started with new types of work all we may know is that this task could take anywhere from ten minutes to ten hours. As we’re initially planning, it is alright to plug this in as an estimate if that is truly our guess at the best- and worst-case scenario.
This will lead to more uncertainty in our calculated dates, but we can use tags to check back and see how much time we actually spent on this Review Task each time we complete one of these Projects.
It’s just a matter of setting a unique Tag on that task in the Template, something like “review”. Once you have a few of these projects completed, you can create a Task Roll-up report that is filtered to that #review Tag. Be mindful of the date-range and status filters on this report.
The result is a list of these review tasks all in one spot that allows you to compare the actual time logged in each instance. If you see that you actually spend anywhere from 8-14 hours on these tasks you of course want to update the estimate for this task in your Template.
Pairing down our estimates reduces the uncertainty in our schedule and makes our calculated dates more reliable.
Now you’re starting to build project plans that are backed up by actual data from the work your team has done. Just imagine being able to do this with each of the individual Tasks in your Projects over time!
Use Status and Custom Status Filters to Report on the Exact Items You’re Looking for
LiquidPlanner was built in recognition that a lot of workspaces will see priorities change on a near constant basis. It’s just the way it goes. Sometimes we meticulously build out a project plan, and just as we’re set to get things rolling, we get the carpet pulled out from under us. Someone’s mind gets changed, a promise isn’t delivered on, or, perhaps, something bigger and better comes along and distracts us from our current plans.
For one reason or another, we sometimes end up with tasks, or even full projects, that just get forgotten about.
LiquidPlanner’s Status Filters allow you to take a look at your work at a new level, beyond just what you have done and what you are going to do.
Pre-built options allow you to get a look at tasks or projects with a deadline at risk, items that have been placed on hold, or items that are worryingly still not marked done but have zero effort remaining.
If I want to search for my tasks that have fallen off everyone’s radar, I can build a Custom Status Filter that dials into to a view of exactly what I need:
If I apply this filter to a Task Roll-up Report, I get a list of any tasks that I created before this year that are still active. I can use this report to make decisions about whether to close this work out, backlog it, or see what I can do with my team to get it done now.
This just scratches the surface of what can be done with a Custom Status Filter. If these filters are new to you, I encourage you to explore this feature area a bit more.
These Tips Apply to More than Just Analytics
These tips to create more powerful and organized reports are all based around a better use of our Filters. It’s important to remember that all of these tips are available and relevant throughout the rest of the application as well and can be just as powerful when leveraged in Dashboards or on the Projects Tab.
Brushing up on your knowledge of all of our filtering options LiquidPlanner has is the quickest path to sharpening your reporting skills.
Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our Support team for help.
New to LiquidPlanner? Try these features and more with a free trial.Create More Powerful and Robust Reports with LiquidPlanner was last modified: June 11th, 2018 by
- Project Management Tools: Work Plans, Action Logs, or Both? (6/12/2018)
“Dear Elizabeth: I use very simple tools to manage my projects. My projects are small scale, and I generally just verbally update my client or send a weekly progress note. I have a work plan, which is a list of activity areas with sub-tasks down one column and dates across the top. This is what I use to record the actions required to deliver the project. I also have an actions log, which I use to note down those actions that crop up in client meetings or emails.
I’m finding I use one or other, but not both. For example, on my current project, I primarily use the work plan. On my previous project, I used the actions log. I like to get my tools in place early so that everything is set up once the project goes live. I’m worried I might not be recording actions and progress sufficiently accurately. Should I be using a work plan and an actions list, both together?”
Thanks for such a great question! I get a sense of the kind of things you are doing and how you are managing your work. I think many project managers struggle with knowing what the “right” tools are for the job, especially when they’ve had very little training or support from their organization. It’s very common for there to be multiple ways of recording actions and project tasks within a business, because each project manager has found solutions that fit their style.
The first thing I want to say is that you probably shouldn’t be worried. The fact that you say you are worried about recording your progress and actions with sufficient accuracy means that you are most likely doing enough. We tend to worry about things and then overcompensate.
If your clients are happy, your projects are getting done on time and you’re not overspending, then you are doing a good job!
What this is all about, then, is whether you could be more efficient, more confident, and feel more organized if you had the tools to support you in your work.
You’re using two organization tools: a work plan (which in project management speak we would call a project schedule) and an action log.
What a Project Schedule is For
First, let’s look at the project schedule. This is your list of activities and dates. From how you have described it, it sounds like you’ve created a visual chart of tasks and the time they take, or the key milestones, in a spreadsheet. I’ve done this in the past too. It’s a simple way of keeping on top of the plan for the project, and the dates make it easier to see what has to be done by when.
What you have created is a Gantt chart. The biggest problem I have found with spreadsheet-based Gantt charts is that they take an age to update manually. I currently have a very simple one that is tracking activities for a particularly busy 3 week period on my project, for a large group of people who have no experience with enterprise project management solutions. It works fine, but it’s a headache to have to change the color of the cells every time someone says that a task is going live on a different day.
It is much easier to create and edit Gantt charts in “proper” scheduling software. It might not feel like that when you first start using them, but once you’re out the other side of the learning curve, you can whip up and edit a project schedule in minutes (and replicate a new schedule from an old one, if you are doing similar projects over and over again).
The challenge then is sharing the information with your stakeholders, if they don’t use the same tools and don’t have the experience of being able to read and interpret a Gantt chart. That doesn’t sound like it would be an issue for you if you are updating your clients verbally or with a short progress report on email.
What an Action Log is For
You’re also using an action log. Project managers around the world do the same thing!
Action logs are great for noting down tasks that come from meetings, conversations and emails. They aren’t tasks you would put on your project schedule, but they are things that need to be done. I have one on my projects too, and it’s full of things like ‘Check Fred has done the software load for the month’ (action for me), and ‘Send slides from last week’s board meeting to Sam’ (action for someone else).
I’d never put these activities into a Gantt chart. They aren’t the appropriate level of detail. Having said that, we need to record them somewhere. A project manager’s job is all about detail and making sure nothing falls through the cracks. You can only do this if you have a way of recording what needs to happen, because you can’t hold all those tasks in your head.
I use my action log in the same way you do: to make sure that I know who is supposed to be doing what, outside of their formal workstream activities on the project schedule. I can carry it around with me and check off activities as I speak to people. It’s also a useful prompt at meetings to remind people what they said they would do, because no one wants to sift through weeks of meeting minutes to find a comprehensive list of actions. The action log consolidates everything in one place.
How to Use Both Together
You can use both. They do different jobs, as we have seen, and support your work in different ways. I use both. Many project managers I know use both.
If something on the action log turns out to be big enough to go on the project schedule, move it there. If a task on the schedule becomes too bitty to really deserve a place on the plan, downgrade it to the action list. Nothing gets lost, everything gets done.
Choosing The Tools for the Job
However, I do think it is important to choose your tools to match the job. If you only need an action log, why bother to create a project schedule? Don’t give yourself extra documents to maintain for no reason.
It is, though, difficult to give hard and fast rules about what sort of project needs what and where you could get away with only one way of recording the work to be done. The decision about whether to ditch the plan and just use an action log, for example, is going to depend on a lot of things like:
- How long the project is supposed to last
- The amount of work to be done
- The key milestones, if any
- The level of risk, criticality or organizational politics involved
- The kind of reporting you are expected to do on it
- The governance structures you’ve got in place and your company’s organizational processes
- Who else is on the team.
For some of my personal projects, I just have a To Do list for that piece of work. They tend to be initiatives that only involve me, that don’t have a fixed end date and that aren’t high risk.
Ultimately, you need to make the call about whether you need a simple schedule, a schedule created in a more robust project management tool, a list of actions or a combination of these.
Test out new ways of working, but don’t overthink it! Tools and systems can definitely help you manage more effectively and stay on top of what you need to do. But you need to find solutions that work for you, your teams and clients.Project Management Tools: Work Plans, Action Logs, or Both? was last modified: June 4th, 2018 by
- 3 Steps to Bringing Order and Teamwork to Your Next Project (6/7/2018)
Any project manager worth their salary will tell you that order and teamwork don’t just happen on a project. To get either one requires hard work. That works starts in the initiation stage and continues all the way through close out. It is never a once-and-done action. Instead, it’s an evolutionary activity requiring the project manager to read the internal and external environment and apply their emotional intelligence skills.
Teamwork is easy to define. Any one of us involved in project delivery know the difference between an effective and a dysfunctional team. While it takes deliberate action to move a project team through forming, storming, and norming to get to performing, it take a lot more deliberate action to generate order in the project.
What do I mean by “order”?
Order on a project consists of the processes, structures, responsibilities and behaviors, or PSRB, of the project delivery stakeholders.
On an in-house project, establishing and maintaining PSRB can be relatively simple. Each element becomes codified over time and likely captured in company operations manuals and outlined in standard operating procedures.
However, when you find yourself in a multi-organizational environment where each entity has its own PSRB, order becomes a bit more difficult to arrange. In fact, it can be downright impossible to secure.
Related: 7 Tips for Managing Global Teams
An environment like this is highly chaotic and often times comes with more than one project manager. If you find yourself in a situation like this, you need to shift focus away from scope, schedule, and cost and put it on negotiating a collaborative PSRB.
If you cannot get the main project stakeholders signed-on to collaborative processes, structures, responsibilities, and behaviors, the likelihood of delivering the project successfully to scope, schedule and cost will be exceedingly low.
Create Order to Form a Team
The process to create order on in a multi-stakeholder project isn’t complex and can be arrived at through a few key actions. However, like many things in life, the lack of complexity doesn’t mean it’s easy to obtain.
Developing processes, structures, responsibilities and behaviors that are shared across the key stakeholder organizations will absolutely require a sizeable investment of time and continuous maintenance.
1. Build an RRA matrix.
Often times, chaos reigns on a project because roles, responsibilities, and authorities aren’t clear. Or worse, aren’t accepted by all organizations involved in project delivery. The RRA Matrix will help you get clear on what each organization does and where decision making authority rests.
A RACI Matrix—the venerable project management tool that highlights which project team members are responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed—is interesting and can be useful for outlining who’s who.
However, I’ve found much more utility coming from the clear delineation of the roles, responsibilities, and authorities of the key stakeholders.
Whereas the RACI Matrix indicates information flow and decision-making authority amongst the key stakeholders, the RRA Matrix helps clarify who makes what decisions and how much skin they have in the game. To be effective, this matrix must contain clear-text definitions of each project stakeholder’s role, their responsibilities, and their authorities.
It’s best if the development of the RRA Matrix is done with a small group of project team members representing each of the key stakeholders. This allows for more open discussions in thrashing-out the matrix content. You can then circulate this for comment and ultimately put in front of your project’s executive management board for approval by each stakeholder organization.
2. Build Predictable and Structured Meetings.
Another chaos generator for complex project delivery teams comes from a lack of structure around meetings. The more involved a project is, the more meetings there will be to plan, solve problems, or prepare for other meetings. One of the best things to do as early as possible is to establish an agreed structure to meetings: frequency, order of occurrence, terms of reference, and inputs/outputs.
I’ve yet to meet a project manager who wishes they had just one more meeting to attend. However, I have met many project managers who wish they had more predictable and structured meetings. The biggest issue with meetings tends to be a lack of rationale, lack of structure, and lack of output. These issues won’t solve themselves and will require someone to invest thought and time into making it right.
Here are a few items to focus on to make your project meetings more predictable and structured:
- Define why the meeting is occurring; what it will cover, what outputs it will provide, and what is its intent (i.e. for decisions, for information, for problem solving); and then define how it will occur and who needs to be present. Capture all of this in a document and you have the meeting’s Terms Of Reference, or TOR. If you can’t define why, what, how and who with buy-in from the key stakeholders, consider cancelling the meeting because it won’t be effective.
- Consider the order in which meetings occur and their frequency. If a meeting is currently happening out of sequence (i.e. it’s outputs are required for a meeting that occurs beforehand), adjust the order.
- Identify a meeting owner and scribe. The owner is responsible for generating the agenda, maintaining an issues/task/decisions log, promulgating briefings and papers for decision, and facilitating the meeting. The scribe takes notes during the meeting in order to let the owner facilitate. All too often, the facilitator is the note taker, meaning that the person doesn’t take good notes and hence, the record of actions and decisions is left lacking and the same issues are discussed over-and-over.
3. Build Proper Governance.
The creation of a purpose-structured governance framework is a necessity in multi-stakeholder project delivery environments. Most organizations have their own governance framework for project implementation. The problem comes when you have multiple key stakeholder organizations each with its own governance framework. Which one’s decisions take precedence?
The ideal situation is to have a combined, purpose-structured governance framework. The framework consists of action/tactical-level working groups feeding into an operational-level management board that, in turn, feeds into an executive-level management board. Each body consists of decision makes from each key stakeholder organization so that decisions are arrived at collaboratively.
This is likely to be the hardest task to sort out, but one with the greatest return on investment if it’s done right.
Bringing order to your project will play a large role in inspiring teamwork among the key stakeholders. From my observations, chaos forces constituent stakeholders to put their shields up and retreat to a place where they have order—internally to their organization.
Teamwork in a multi-stakeholder project delivery environment requires order in order to build trust, which is a foundational element of taking a team from storming to performing.
Order starts by defining each stakeholder organization’s role, responsibilities and authorities. By bringing predictability and structure to project team meetings, constituent stakeholders have a framework in which trust can be developed, decisions can be made and problems can be solved.
Finally, through purpose-structured governance, key project stakeholders enact a framework for operational- and executive-level decision making that allows for timely response to risk and more effective use of resources.3 Steps to Bringing Order and Teamwork to Your Next Project was last modified: June 7th, 2018 by