Blog Archive

  • Five Steps to Getting a Project Done (4/23/2019) by Team Liquidplanner

    You’re eager to start a new project and jump right in without trying to make order out of and find meaning in everything that needs to get done. How much time do you spend scratching your head, wondering what to do next or even how or where to start?

    Having a good plan is the most important strategy for getting a project done.

    Here are five steps to help you organize your work so you can sail through the project cycle while spinning your wheels as little as possible.

    Identify all the work items that are part of your project, including emails, open tasks in your project management tool, and scribbled notes. Next, organize all these pieces and prioritize them as tasks that are part of your project. If you’re stuck on the prioritizing part, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Which one has the most immediate hard deadline?
    • Which task will make the most positive effect if it is finished ASAP?
    • Are any of these tasks dependent on another one being completed first?
    • Are you dependent on another person completing something else before you can start?
    • Is there a task that you must get off your plate to clear your mind and move forward?

    2. Develop a process.

    Outline or list the necessary steps to complete each task. Ask yourself these questions:

    • What are all the tasks and microtasks that must be done to complete this?
    • Who needs to weigh in on, contribute to, perform a quality assurance check on, or sign off on the work?
    • Is this the most efficient way to get from A to Z on this particular project?

    3. Get organized.

    Commit to being as organized as possible and to finding a structure that fits you, your team, and the project. This could take some trial and error, but being organized is a process. A good place to start is by using a collaborative project management tool where collected work can live, stay organized, and be accessible to other team members. You need a place where you and your team members can reference a project and all the work involved while knowing what’s going on at any time.

    4. Set a time to review.

    Our memories need a good refreshing to stay organized. Plus, a review might give us fresh insight into what needs to get done, reprioritized, or reorganized. Set a time each week, such as every Friday afternoon or Monday morning, to review work items. This not only keeps your mind fresh but also helps you see all the things that are part of a bigger project and vision. Change happens, so you’re probably updating a lot of tasks in the course of a week. This review process will help you stay on top of your moving work.

    5. Just do it!

    Now that you’ve completed the first four steps, it’s time to take action. Pull the trigger; press publish; deliver the final product. What do you do right now?

    Based on David Allen’s GTD methodology, consider these four things:

    1. Context. What can you do right now?
    2. Time available. What do you have time to do right now?
    3. Energy available. What are you able to accomplish right now?
    4. Priority. After answering the first three questions, start working on the highest priority item.

    You can organize yourself and your team in endless ways. What is your favorite organizational hack?

    Five Steps to Getting a Project Done was last modified: April 23rd, 2019 by Team Liquidplanner
  • From Onboarding to Expert: Adopting LiquidPlanner Practices (4/18/2019) by Team Liquidplanner

    In our last article, we quickly discussed the four key phases LiquidPlanner customers experience when they first begin using the product: onboarding, adoption, refining, and optimization. Then, we detailed the onboarding phase.

    Today, we’ll focus on adoption and how to gain insights into your team’s usage of LiquidPlanner.

    Adoption

    After onboarding, we move into adoption. By the time you’re in the adoption phase, your team should be consistently tracking time, and it has become more of a habit. Hopefully, other habits have formed, such as updating task estimates when scope changes and marking tasks as complete. In the adoption phase, you start to see those early wins from using LiquidPlanner.

    The adoption phase covers these three topics:

    • Team reports to see how your team is using LiquidPlanner and tracking time.
    • Activities reports to gain insight into how much time is spent on various activities.
    • Dashboards to align your team on priorities and updates.

    Analytics: Person Roll-Up Report

    In the adoption phase, it’s important to make sure team members feel comfortable using LiquidPlanner. Anytime you transition to a new tool, change is hard. One of the most important things that help keep the entire portfolio up to date is making sure everyone tracks time, and if some people aren’t getting it, forget to sometimes, or just don’t want to, it’s important to check in on those folks and help them out.

    Under the Analytics tab, you’ll find the Person Roll-Up Report, which shows who has been logging their time over the last 90 days of onboarding in the Hrs Logged column.

    On the flip side, you can double-check to see what’s happening in the Hrs Unlogged column. These are hours that people have available for projects but didn’t end up logging time to. This column can be an indicator of two things:

    1. They aren’t tracking time or forgot to track time, but they did work on projects.
    2. They didn’t have enough project work assigned to them, and the time was underutilized.

    The Person Roll-Up Report is recommended when you want to see how things are going with your team and if they are keeping up with tracking time to their tasks.

    Analytics: Activities Roll-Up Report

    Taking a look at our next report, you’ll see why it’s helpful when your team members keep their time updated in LiquidPlanner.

    Also under the Analytics tab, the Activities Roll-Up Report breaks down the types of activities you’re tracking time against. You can filter the report to your team and see how much time they’ve tracked against different activity types over the last 90 days or whatever date range you want to drill into.

    Many of our customers must be attuned to how much time they spend on billable work versus nonbillable work; for some companies, it helps to distinguish work that is capitalized versus noncapitalized. During the adoption phase, we’ve had customers who just started using LiquidPlanner, and they expected their distributed teams were spending about 60 percent of their time on new product or new development initiatives. After having their team members track time for three months, the data showed that it was more like 40 percent of their time, while the remaining 60 percent was spent on support work and ongoing activities. This reality check allowed the customer to reset expectations, change team member availability in LiquidPlanner, and also look at what was needed to raise the bar so the team members could spend 60 percent of their time on high-value work.

    Team Dashboard

    It’s always a good thing when managers and team members are aligned on priorities. Because those priorities can change quickly, it’s important to update LiquidPlanner when those priorities shift.

    As the last tool of the adoption phase, Dashboards offer an efficient way to share these updates and can be used in weekly staff meetings or stand-up meetings.

    In this example, each team member’s top five or top ten priorities are visible. You can use this type of dashboard in meetings, taking ten seconds with each team member to make sure everyone agrees with the priorities they have set in LiquidPlanner. If something isn’t prioritized correctly, you can quickly update it during the meeting.

    You can also add other widgets to your dashboards.

    The donut chart is a visual display of the same activity information shown in the Activities Roll-Up Report; it might be interesting for your team members to see where they’re spending their time and, if that fluctuates, having discussions around what drove those fluctuations. An analytics table can keep everyone accountable for logging their time each week. Sometimes an open notes widget is useful to keep track of interesting notes, issues, or follow-up items in your team meetings. An out-of-office widget can be used in case anyone needs to back up team members when they’re on vacation.

    In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the final two phases of the LiquidPlanner experience: refining and optimization.

    From Onboarding to Expert: Adopting LiquidPlanner Practices was last modified: April 3rd, 2019 by Team Liquidplanner
  • Why You Shouldn’t Be a Jerk (4/16/2019) by Andy Silber

    The other night I was watching the pilot of Workin’ Moms, a Canadian sitcom about women who have just returned to work after maternity leave. One of the moms pulls a really jerky move on her first day back, making it seem that her executive assistant had screwed up. By the end of the episode, she had realized the error of her ways and apologized.

    This reminded me of Robert I. Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule. In his excellent book, Sutton details why you should never hire or tolerate an asshole, no matter how capable they are. Even if they produce three times more than anyone else, the asshole is a force divider, making everyone around them less efficient.

    I once worked at a company where the asshole was the CEO. He screamed, he swore, and he insulted. Six months after he decided that our division needed his attention, almost everyone had left for more pleasant pastures. The division floundered for a few years without releasing a significant product. Finally, they gave up and spun it off. If the asshole had left us alone, we could have continued to release new products and could have been a large and growing source of revenue for the company.

    Hopefully, we rarely deal with full-blown assholes. However, we all have bad days, and we are all capable of being a jerk to someone who just rubs us the wrong way. These are the reasons we shouldn’t.

    Don’t Be a Jerk to That Annoying Person

    You’re in the zone, being productive, and trying to meet a deadline you’re not sure you’re going to meet when a coworker wants to chat about what he had for dinner last night. You really don’t care about how the chicken was prepared or what wine he was drinking. Even on a quiet day, you wouldn’t care, and today you’re already on the edge.

    I think of dealing with annoying people like managing a dam on a river. Every annoying thing they do is water flowing into the reservoir. You can manage that by letting water pass over the dam, or you can let it build until the dam breaks. The dam breaking is you being a jerk and screaming, “I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR DINNER! CAN’T YOU SEE I’M BUSY?!” Better to listen for a minute or two and then gently let him know you need to focus on your work. Suggest talking about it at lunch or after you meet your deadline. Maybe all you need to do is take a deep breath. It’s important that you find a way that works for you to let water pass over the dam before you lose your top.

    Don’t Be a Jerk to a Jerk

    Here I’m not talking about the chronic jerk (or asshole) but just someone who is having a bad day. The key here is to be empathic. Why is she being a jerk today? Is it something at home, which might not be any of your business? Is it work related? Can you help? Are you part of the problem?

    When presented with jerkish behavior, just take a deep breath and put yourself in their shoes. Your responding in kind just escalates whatever negative stuff that’s in the air. If you can help, do so. If you can’t, just move on. If this behavior is their normal mode, then see The No Asshole Rule for guidance.

    Don’t Be a Jerk Because You’re Having a Bad Day

    We all have bad days. Maybe your kid is sick, a project is late, or a supplier sent parts that were all damaged in transit. Stuff happens to all of us, but not everyone responds by being a jerk. If the bad thing is your fault, own it, and move on. The worst your employer can do is fire you, and I’d rather be fired for screwing up (as we all do from time to time) than for being a jerk. The people around you will see that you handled this setback with grace, and it will be remembered. If you handle stress by being a jerk, that will also be remembered.

    Don’t Be a Jerk Because Being a Jerk Is Just No Fun

    I wrote an email to a vendor who was late with a deliverable. I could have been a jerk about it; instead, I asked if there was anything I could do to help. It’s a bit passive-aggressive, but I’d rather he come back with a request for help than the delivery drag on. My note let him understand that I took his commitment seriously and care about what he’s producing. Berating him about being late would accomplish the same thing but would leave everyone feeling more stressed. If you spend too much of your day at work being a jerk, eventually it will become your new normal, and you will graduate into being an asshole.

    Why You Shouldn’t Be a Jerk was last modified: April 8th, 2019 by Andy Silber
  • From Onboarding to Expert: Optimizing Projects and Processes with LiquidPlanner (4/11/2019) by Team Liquidplanner

    Here at LiquidPlanner we’ve identified four main stages our customers go through to optimize their projects and processes. Our most successful customers don’t try to “eat the elephant,” so to speak, as soon as they buy LiquidPlanner. They know that change and progress occur in steps.

    Throughout this series of blog posts, we’ll discuss each of the four stages to LiquidPlanner success.

    The Four Stages

    Onboarding is the first stage in optimizing your usage of LiquidPlanner. This stage occurs when teams are just getting started with setting up the LiquidPlanner workspace. Once the team is invited to the workspace, they’re getting accustomed to the primary aspects of the tool, such as logging time and posting updates to tasks.

    The second stage is adoption. In this stage, teams have really gotten used to the basic aspects of LiquidPlanner, and we’re starting to get insights into how the team actually gets work done; for example, what they spend most of their time on.

    The third stage is refining, where the project managers are getting ahead of issues and risks by using many of LiquidPlanner’s reports and alert features to keep their projects in line.

    The last stage is optimizing. Teams at this stage have gotten a handle on how to use LiquidPlanner to proactively manage risks and make the most of team member availability. With a lot of project data in LiquidPlanner by now, this is a good time to use baselines to look back and see if actuals met initial projections.

    Onboarding

    The onboarding phase is all about setting up your workspace, establishing your workflow, and kicking off LiquidPlanner to your team. Typically, this phase is the responsibility of just those people who make decisions about plan structure and workflow.

    During your onboarding stage, remember this well-known bit of wisdom: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

    You don’t have to have your workspace populated to perfection before launching LiquidPlanner to your team. Remember that LiquidPlanner is a collaborative tool, and it’s actually designed to adapt to the very imperfect realities of work management. Once you get your key data loaded and get your team in there, you’ll soon discover together the best ways to optimize LiquidPlanner for your team.

    Three Key Inputs for LiquidPlanner

    You need to focus on three key data points when setting up your workspace in LiquidPlanner: resource availability, remaining effort estimates, and priority order.

    Resource availability is set in each person’s profile. Be sure this accurately represents only the time available for your assigned work in LiquidPlanner. Daily availability should be scaled down to account for the average amount of time you spend each day on activities not represented as assigned tasks in LiquidPlanner.

    The second key input is the task’s remaining effort estimate. This should represent the best case/worst case number of hours you still need to put in on that task to complete it.

    The third key input is the priority order. You want to list the projects themselves in general priority order and, likewise, the tasks within each project.

    With these basic inputs, LiquidPlanner will schedule each person’s tasks in the order in which they are listed on the Projects tab.

    Scheduling Constraints

    When setting up your workspace initially, you can account for any scheduling constraints your organization might have.

    The first of these is dependencies. In LiquidPlanner, dependencies are most often created between tasks owned by different people; they can also be used to model wait time between tasks.

    The other scheduling constraint to consider is that we’re all sharing resources across multiple concurrent projects. This is the time to ask yourself if you should use the daily limit feature. A daily limit tells LiquidPlanner that it shouldn’t schedule the task owner to work any more than the designated number of hours per day on that project task.

    Once you have entered the three key inputs and have accounted for the most common scheduling constraints, you’re well on your way to a realistic schedule.

    Activities

    Let’s switch gears and look at one more feature you might want to set up before kicking off LiquidPlanner: activities. Activities are used to classify logged and remaining hours and are especially useful if your team will be tracking time in LiquidPlanner.

    Set up activities in the data customization settings. Each activity is a classification and can be designated as billable when appropriate.

    You can also select a default activity for a task. This is the activity that will be used to classify the remaining hours for this task. Then, when time is logged to this task, the activity is automatically selected to classify the time entry hours. You can change the time entry to something different if appropriate.

    We encourage the use of activities because they can drive valuable analysis into how your project hours are distributed by classification and billable status.

    Kickoff

    Now it’s time to kick off LiquidPlanner to the rest of your team.

    Create a LiquidPlanner playbook and share it with your team members. This ensures everyone understands the rules of engagement for your workspace.

    If you worry about your team getting overwhelmed by a new tool, new processes, or too many details, think about focusing your team at first on just the updates necessary for accurate scheduling: logging time, maintaining accurate task estimates, marking things done.

    All of this can be done in the My Work tab, which is a great view that keeps people focused on just the tasks they are assigned to, listed in start-date order.

    Establishing a handful of basic daily habits is a great foundation that you can build on as you move further into your implementation.

    In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about adoption and how to gain insights from your team’s usage of LiquidPlanner.

    From Onboarding to Expert: Optimizing Projects and Processes with LiquidPlanner was last modified: April 3rd, 2019 by Team Liquidplanner
  • Just Keep Swimming: Using LiquidPlanner to Manage the Big Swim (4/9/2019) by Liz Rosen

    I spend much of my life outside of LiquidPlanner in and around bodies of water. I’m a passionate open water swimmermarathon swimming, in particular—and a big part of that passion is giving back to the sport. Some swimmers help out at races in various capacities, some crew for other swimmers, but I volunteer my time as a race director.

    Directing an open water swim race is much like being a wedding coordinator, an event planner, or a circus director—it’s even like being a project manager! A heap of planning goes into getting a swim race off the ground successfully (no pun intended). There are permits to file, supplies to acquire, donations to solicit, volunteers to juggle, all on top of some specific, critical tasks with to-do lists that ensure the event is as safe as possible.

    I have a confession to make: seven years ago, when I applied for my original position in customer support at LiquidPlanner, I didn’t actually know that project management software existed. Nor did I recognize that I was a project manager! I just thought I was a very organized person.

    As I was prepping for my interview, I realized that not only did I want the job, but I suddenly craved the ability to use LiquidPlanner to keep track of everything required to plan my events. I was overjoyed with the discovery that I could possibly forego spreadsheets and giant three-ring notebooks. I was even more ecstatic to realize that I’d be able to use that same information as a template for the following year and hopefully make the job easier over time.

    In my workspace, I set up the overall race as a package. The projects are the significant areas of focus for the race: swimmer registration, boats, volunteers, safety, donations, swag… (I could have done this as a project with subfolders, and it would have worked just as well.) Then, the tasks are just that, all the bits and pieces of work that need to get done within each area of focus. I keep loads of information in the Notes section of each task, which helps me tremendously from year to year: links to various websites, applications, important phone numbers, prices of items I need to buy, shopping lists, and more. My absolute favorite part of using LiquidPlanner is my ability to forward emails with quotes, invoices, pictures, insurance binders, permits, etc., into my workspace so that I don’t have to print everything out or have a filing system in my inbox or my computer directory.

    I’ve been directing races for over 10 years now. Depending on the year and the size of the event I’m managing, I may invite volunteers into my workspace and teach them how to make comments and update their tasks, in lieu of sending me email updates between meetings. For smaller events, where I’m doing most of the work myself, using LiquidPlanner is key in keeping me organized and thinking about what needs to happen next. My workspace also functions as a giant agenda during calls and meetings.

    When it comes to race day, I always put a task at the very top of my LiquidPlanner inbox with emergency contact numbers and the most important day-of-race information on it. Then, when I’m out on the water observing the event, I can quickly go to My Tasks on the iPhone app and see that information as the first task.

    Everything in one place. No scrolling thru contacts or juggling a paper notebook while out in the elements to find what I need in a hurry.

    Simply being able to lay out each and every little thing that needs to get done over the course of several months, in a spare minute here and there, has saved me numerous heartaches and sleepless nights, which in turn has produced a number of successful and safe events.

    Just Keep Swimming: Using LiquidPlanner to Manage the Big Swim was last modified: March 28th, 2019 by Liz Rosen
Blog Archive was last modified: April 28th, 2017 by Team Liquidplanner