Author: Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin writes the blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. Find out more about the coaching she offers to project professionals on her website.

Advice for Project Managers: How to Get More Resources and Manage Chaos

Advice for project managers
Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: marketingteam@liquidplanner.com. Anonymity included.

 

Dear Elizabeth: I’m currently running a large project that’s a mess. We’ve lost team members, the customer has asked for more features and now we’re scheduled to go well over our deadline. I’ve had endless conversations with my manager about the need to add more people to the project—I’ve even shown her my resource workload report. For some reason she won’t budge. How do I convince her that adding headcount is in the best interest of finishing this project—and our business? –Frantic

Dear Frantic: Oh, I’ve been there. I feel your pain! A good way to do it is to stop talking about people and start talking about money. It feels like a no brainer to add a $30k project coordinator resource to a project that will deliver $1m of benefit every year because if you can deliver faster, you get the benefits faster.

Large projects tend to have significant benefits, either tangible or intangible, so you might have a better argument around increasing resources than people working on smaller projects. If your project has no financial benefit, it still might have a significant risk. For example, how would it sound if you could add a $30k developer to the team that would help prevent you from incurring a multi-million dollar regulatory fine? Even projects that are being done for legislative or compliance purposes have a financial spin that you can put on them.

Failing that, you might have to put the project on a Red status. Red typically draws management attention, and you’re doing the responsible thing of flagging the point that you do not have the ability to deliver on time. You could enlist your customer in putting pressure on your manager if that’s appropriate.

By the way, just because a customer asks for more features, you don’t have to deliver them in the same timeframe. Customers – internal and external – will often try to get more work done in the same time, thinking that your resource is elastic. They’ll know that isn’t truly the case and could be sympathetic to you needing more time if you can’t get the extra hands to help.

Dear Elizabeth: I work on a team that’s always in a state of chaos. We’ve tried different organizational processes, task management software and tools. How do you know if you have the right project management processes and workflows in place? –Perpetually Disorganized

Dear Disorganized: Being in a state of chaos is a sign that you don’t have the right project and work management processes in place.

I know a couple of teams who work excellently together, and yet from the outside it looks like chaos to me, so the first thing is to establish what you think “not chaos” looks like:

  • Is it one where everyone knows what to do, and has their priorities straight?
  • Or do you want to be able to find documents within three seconds of someone asking for them?
  • Is the right workflow one where you can forecast your work for the coming month so that everyone knows what’s planned?

It’s probably a mix of all those things, but only you are going to know what will feel like nirvana for your team. Here’s where to start repairing your process:

Focus on one of your problems to fix, either by giving one of your processes another try (perhaps with a few tweaks) or trying something new. Once that area of chaos is under control, move on and try to bring some order to another area. Trying to change too much at once is a recipe for a different kind of disaster and it will unsettle the team to the point that it undermines what you are hoping to achieve.

Finally, you’ll have to accept that what is billed as “the perfect process” might not work for you. If you can’t make a best practice work, then change it. Tailor your software and processes so that they help you, and don’t hinder you. That’s a process of continuous improvement and if you work closely with your team to identify what is working and what needs to change then you can deliver incremental improvements and slowly bring that chaos under control.

Do you have a project-related question for Elizabeth? Email marketingteam@liquidplanner.com

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Advice for Project Managers: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Setting Goals

Advice for project managers
 

Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: marketingteam@liquidplanner.com. Anonymity included.

 

Dear Elizabeth: My company’s management team is talking a lot about the incoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. I’m hearing a lot about how we’re going to have to increase productivity and flexibility in our processes. As a product team manager this sounds exciting but I’m not sure what to do to prepare. Advice? –Lagging Behind

Dear Lagging: Industry 4.0 is all about the Internet of Things and bringing computers and automation together in an entirely new way. It’s pretty cool, and it’s great that you are thinking about it now.

Being more flexible and increasing productivity is something that managers through the ages have aspired to. The reason we have robots on manufacturing lines is because someone wanted better productivity than what could be achieved with human workers. So in many respects, the ideas are things that you’ve been subconsciously aware of for some time.

I would start by looking at the flows of work in your area and around your product. Approaches like Six Sigma and Lean can help here: Ultimately you are trying to find duplicated effort and waste in the process so that you can strip it out. I’ve always thought that was a good starting point but it doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes you’ll need to totally re-engineer a process to make it incrementally more productive and your team might already have some ideas about how to do that. Why not ask them?

Aside from that, think about the tools you use and how they are going to support you. Software like LiquidPlanner allows you to stay flexible and shift between priorities, so make sure that you have the underpinning infrastructure and systems to meet the demand for flexibility when it comes.

Dear Elizabeth: It’s that time of year again—reviewing the year gone by and preparing for 2017 goals and commitments. I could use some new ideas to get myself and my team excited about reviewing what they’ve accomplished and using that to set up some goals they’re excited about. Any tips? – Goal Tender

Dear Goal Tender: First, congratulations on caring enough about your team that you want them to be excited about the coming year and what they’ve achieved. Far too many people in your situation see end-of-year reviews as a bureaucratic process to get through before they leave for the holidays. So, kudos to you!

I find that team members have short memories and will often only bring to the table things that they have achieved in the last few months. You could give them a template that says things like:

  • In March I achieved . . .
  • In April I delighted this customer . . .

And so on. Ask them to go through their project plans, notebooks and emails to find the examples if they don’t immediately spring to mind. There are a ton of achievements stored in their project management software so they will be able to find something, I promise.

As for 2017, you could think forward and ask them to imagine what their 2017 end of year review would look like. What do they hope they have achieved? What projects would they like to have worked on, or what skills would they have developed? This can help build a sense of interest in the coming year.

Finally, use the end of year conversations with your team to share with them as much as you can about the wider business plans. People are inspired when they know they are part of a company that is going somewhere. Talk about the plans you have for new clients and new projects and business developments. Show them what they could be part of over the next 12 months.

Have a question for Elizabeth? Email:  MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.”

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common project management problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

Advice for Project Managers: How to Better Prioritize Work and Projects

Advice for project managers
 

This advice column addresses common project management and workplace challenges. If you have question, ask  Elizabeth! Email your question to:  MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.” Anonymity included.

 

 

Dear Elizabeth: I manage a team that that is always juggling multiple project tasks. How can I keep my team focused on their top priorities, and help them know what the latest priorities are? – All Over the Place

Dear Place: Welcome to my world! Juggling is the norm, I’m afraid, but it’s great that you’ve accepted it, and you’re looking for ways to keep the focus.

The first question, and forgive me for asking, is: Do you know what the priorities are?

If you do, it’s a far easier job than trying to work them out, so let’s assume for now that you are clear on what the team needs to do to complete their projects successfully. (If not, find out what they are and then apply the following tips.) Here are three tips to help the team stay focused.

  1. Keep in touch

There’s a balance between micro-managing and staying on top of the work, but try to find it! Keep close to the team so that you can steer them in the right direction. Daily stand ups (even if you aren’t an agile team) are a good way to check in and make sure everyone understands what the priority is for the day.

  1. Explain the priorities

Don’t just tell people what the priorities are. Explain why. This gives people some context so that if they can’t work on the top priority for whatever reason (say, they are waiting on a colleague for information) they can make better decisions about what to do instead.

  1. Stop the distractions

As a project manager or team leader you are the one to shield the team from annoying distractions. Keep them out of office politics, protect them from the day-to-day headaches and give them the space and the tools they need to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Hope that helps!

Dear Elizabeth: My team members are constantly being pulled away to help other teams with their projects. I can’t say anything because the requests often come from upper level management. How can I protect my team from being randomized? – The Randomizee

Dear Randomizee: This is such a frustrating problem. You thought you could deliver by next month and then suddenly your key resource is gone. Cue a huge reschedule and an unhappy sponsor (not to mention the upheaval in the team).

This comes down to not having clear priorities between projects. If your project is the most important company initiative then your resources are secure, because execs and stakeholders will be aware that it has to happen.

There are two things at play here: having those priorities in place, and people respecting them.

First, get the priorities clear. You need someone to look at the portfolio of work and prioritize the projects—someone from your Project Management Office or a team manager. This person needs to give each project a clear ranking so that everyone understands where each initiative fits in the grand scheme of things.

Second, respect the rankings. That means that if someone tries to pull your resources on to another project, and that project is less important than yours, you have something concrete backing you when you say no – even if the person is more senior to you. If the requester doesn’t listen to you, the overseeing project manager will back you up and you have the escalation route.

This also means that you have to respect the rankings. If someone needs your key people for a project that is more important than yours, then you must acquiesce. After all, you all work for the same company and it’s the company’s success that’s important. When a more strategically-driven initiative needs extra hands, everyone should rally to make that happen.

I know this isn’t an easy answer, but it’s the cleanest way to stop the act of randomizing people and breaking up teams at the whim of executives.

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

Solve the Top 9 PM Challenges

5 Common Problems for Small Project Teams

Small team problems

“Small is beautiful.” So championed British economist E. F. Schumacher, and those of us who have worked in small teams are highly likely to agree.

Small teams (10 and under) often work on highly complex problems, in fast-moving environments and with a high degree of trust. A great team can deliver amazing projects and create bonds that go far beyond the office, with team members becoming lifelong friends.

Or, it might not work out like that at all!

Small teams have their challenges too. And while many of the problems are similar to the ones that all teams face—disagreements, clashing personalities, unclear priorities—there are some challenges that are more specific to smaller teams.

Here are five common problems that you might face while working in a small team, and how you can solve each one. (If you act early, you might even avoid some of these!)

  1. You Take Your Teammates for Granted

When you’ve worked in a small team for a while, you tend to take liberties because you know you can get away with it. Someone always gets the coffees. Someone always talks about sports and someone else is the complainer. Like a family, you create your role and patterns.

But, as sometimes happens in families, you can end up taking each other for granted.

Taking your teammates for granted means not showing appreciation when someone helps you out or does standout work on a project.  It’s easy to expect certain behaviors as standard: There’s the person who always meets the deadline, someone else who alerts you of schedule changes the second something comes up, the person who pitches in when extra features get added. Either because this is the status quo or you get really busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and say a simple “thank you” or “nice job.” Everyone wants to feel like they matter—think about how it makes you feel when a team mate acknowledges something you did.

To solve the problem: It’s easy to underestimate the value someone brings to the team, especially if you see them bringing their A game day after day. Schedule some time as a team to meet and go through your successes—those you’ve had individually and together. Also remember to put time in your project plan for a little celebration at the close of a project. It’s a nice (and easy) way to thank each other for the efforts on a project. And don’t forget to say some kind words in passing, it takes mere seconds.

  1. Personalities Clash

In a big team you can generally avoid that annoying person who always wants to tap you for advice when you’re really busy. But in a small team you can’t avoid clashes in personality or working style because that person is always right there.

Differences are more obvious because there are fewer people to dilute the effect of someone noisy or abrupt. Clashing work styles can create an uncomfortable atmosphere at work where someone insists on doing a task a particular way, despite that not being the best way for the team.

To solve the problem: The best way to avoid clashes of working style and personality is to hire carefully. Really carefully. If you can, involve other team members in the hiring process and think about cultural fit as well as their skills. The next best solution is to make sure that you have processes in place for common project management tasks so that there is only one way to do the work. This should smooth some of the clashes by creating common standards.

  1. People Are Harder to Replace

When your team is only a few people, losing someone can be a huge blow. Whether this absence is for a few days or a week (training, holiday, sick), or they leave the company, an absent colleague leaves a big hole in the team.

In small teams, there’s a greater chance that everyone stretches to take on more work, or each individual is an expert in an area. This means when someone’s gone you’ll miss her knowledge, her input to the project and the role she plays both practically and socially in the team.

To solve the problem: Systems, processes and tools make it easier to store organizational knowledge and project information. In other words, document everything. This way, if someone does drop out of the team for any reason, you’ve got the vast majority of what they know codified in your project management tool.

However, it won’t help replace their cheerful smile or their in-depth knowledge of 1980s pop music for the company quiz night.

  1. You Share Too Much of the Work

Wait, isn’t this an advantage? In a project environment, especially if you’re working with Agile or Lean methods, it’s often all about being proactive about taking responsibility and doing what needs to be done to get the job completed.

But when everyone is having a go at everything, there can be problems. For example, two of you might decide to do the same task and not let each other know. Or, two team members contact a customer to ask a question or set up a meeting. While it’s great that your team is proactive and everyone steps up when a task needs doing, sharing the workload without talking about who is doing what can be a massive problem.

It’s also a problem when the reverse happens: Everyone thought that someone else booked the meeting room; or that another teammate contacted the client, when nobody did. In small teams, where you expect the team to self-manage, you risk more tasks falling through the cracks.

To solve the problem: Clear lines of communication help but the problem is really about organizing work responsibility. Project management software can keep everyone on the same page. It makes it easy to shift responsibility about too, so if you’ve got a regular task that needs to be done it can be rotated around the team. Don’t think that just because you’re a small team you don’t need a work management tool!

  1. Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time!

Small teams struggle to get everything done. It’s something I’ve seen over and over again, in my teams and in others. With limited resources it’s hard to fit all the work in. Also, small teams are often made up of highly motivated, dedicated individuals and they all want to offer the best service and products to customers.

That can lead to gold-plating the solution or spending too much time researching new technical options and so on—on top of trying to get the day job done.

To solve the problem: Systemize! Get as much of your job, project, processes and tasks automated and repeatable. Don’t reinvent the wheel on every project: Use templates for schedules and documentation. Standardize your processes as much as possible so you don’t have to think about them. Use top quality project management software to make your processes as seamless as possible.

When people come together to work together, there will always be hiccups. But today, we have so many tools and processes to use and a wealth of knowledge to tap, there’s always a way to navigate these common problems.

Extra! Do you like being part of a team?

We took to the streets and asked people in downtown Seattle about their experience working in teams. Check it out here:

 

If you’re looking for ways to better manage your small team, check out our Small Team edition. It’s new!

Feeling ambitous? Sign up for a no-obligation LiquidPlanner Small Team trial here.

Start My Free Trial!

Advice for Project Managers: Leading Meetings and Streamlined Reporting

meetings

Dear Elizabeth:  What’s the best way to open a meeting? I just started leading a project team and I often feel awkward at the very beginning of our weekly meeting, especially since I’m trying to gain the trust of my new team. Do you have any good opening lines, or best practices? –New in Town

Dear New in Town: “Shall we get started?” is probably the opening line I use the most! That’s a good way of bringing people to order without having to tap a pen on the side of a glass. Also, speak a bit more loudly than normal if the room is buzzing. People come together in person in meetings and sometimes haven’t seen each other for a while. They use the downtime at the beginning of the meeting and in breaks to catch up and often talk about problems that don’t affect everyone else in the room. It’s good to encourage that kind of chat as you’ll find it’s the informal discussions that often lead to more work getting done.

If your meeting is a virtual team meeting and you’re on the phone, then start with something like: “Hello everyone, it’s New-in-Town here. Let’s see who we’ve got on the phone before we kick off. Did I hear Old Hand dial in?” Then check off your attendees.

If you haven’t got everyone together, whether you’re meeting in person or virtually, you have two choices: Either hang on for a bit, or carry on and let them interrupt you later. I make that decision based on who we are waiting for and who is doing the waiting. For example, in a room of senior managers who are hanging around waiting for someone I could catch up with afterwards, I would go ahead and start. If the person missing is the project sponsor, then I’d wait and see if s/he arrives in the next few minutes.

Either way, don’t let the people in the room hang around for more than a couple of minutes because it’s disrespectful of their time and tells them that it’s OK to be late next time.

Hope that helps!

project teams and data

Dear Elizabeth: I have to run countless reports a month—for my boss, our customers, my team, anyone else who asks. I know they’re necessary but they take time and take me away from the work I need to do. Is there a way I can either cut down on the reports or make the process more efficient? In other words, what am I missing? – Reporting to Death

Dear Reporting: Ah, reporting. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently and streamlining reporting is the single best way I can come up with in my own workload right now to buy me back some time.

Automated project management software is the way to go, if you aren’t already there. These tools are, however, only as good as the data you enter (estimates, time logged, etc.).

The huge benefit of having project management software that holds all the right data is that you can set up your own dashboards or template reports and then run them whenever you want with a single click. The software extracts the relevant information for you, saving you from the ever-increasing circle of having to get more data. You can then tweak if necessary, but it’s far faster having the bulk of the content already done for you.

The other, non-technical thing that you can do is to make sure that you adequately understand why people are asking you for reports and making sure that you hit their expectations and timeframes. This will also help you to bundle reporting outputs together. For example, if you find out that a couple of your requesting sponsors have the similar requirements, then you can do a special version for them.

Personally, I’m not a great fan of different reports for different audiences as I think it provides too much opportunity for moving away from one version of the truth.” Still, if you have to do them, you might as well automate and consolidate as much as possible!

Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to:  marketingteam@liquidplanner.comAnonymity included.

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

Solve the Top 9 PM Challenges

Advice for Project Managers: Stepping in to Manage an Ongoing Project and Promoting Ranged Estimates

Advice for project managers

Dear Elizabeth:  I work on a project team for a manufacturing company. For the last year we’ve been using ranged estimates to build out our schedules. For the most part our customers love it. We have one customer who is putting up a fight, saying they want a hard deadline. How do we convince them to go with a two-point estimate? –Living in Reality

Dear Reality: Ranged estimates are awesome, so I’m totally with you on that one. I’m not surprised that most of your customers love the way you schedule.

I would start a campaign of education: Talk to your customers about why two-point estimates are actually a more mature and realistic way of scheduling and why that should give them more confidence. Talk about transparency and managing risk. Talk about why your other customers like it and the benefits that they have seen because they’ve used dynamic planning. Using case studies and real examples are also a winner when it comes to convincing others.

In this conversation go back to the beginning, and talk about why your customer chose you: because your company has a mature and professional approach to doing the work, supported by cutting-edge tools and methodologies including ranged estimates, which puts you ahead of competitors (and by association, gives them a boost too).

In the event you fail to convince your customer to go with ranged estimates, here’s something to consider. Could you use ranged estimates for your internal planning and then only publish the later of the two points to your client? They’ll get the worst case scenario but it meets their requirement of a single date and gives you the flexibility to use ranged estimates as you intend.

And if you come in earlier, you’ll have fair notice to let them know. They might even be pleased about it!

Dear Elizabeth:  I’ve just taken over a long-running project from a PM who’s left the organization. This is my first time stepping in to an ongoing project. I have to learn the history of the work progress, the team, the customer. It’s overwhelming and I worry I’m over my head and I’m going to blow it. Can you tell me how and where to start, especially in a way that I can build trust and respect from my team? – Over My Head

Dear Over My Head: First, you are not going to blow it.

Second, I wrote a guide about taking over a project that includes a free checklist. It covers all the tasks you need to do to pick up work from someone else. So go and get that, I’ll wait…

Now you’ve got the guide in hand, let’s think about how you can take over the project in a way that builds you trust and respect.

Being honest with the project team will take you a long way. Be straight with everyone about the fact that you need time to get up to speed and that you need help to do so. Don’t ever pretend that you have all the answers as I bet your team members are more technically versed in what to do than you are at the moment, and they will see through any blustering and attempting to know more than you do.

Make building relationships a key part of your strategy to take over this work. Try to get to know the people on the team and their areas of expertise. Ask how you can help them and then do it (if you can’t, go back to them and explain that you tried and why you weren’t successful).

I’d highly recommend a book called The Accidental Leader: What to Do When You’re Suddenly in Charge by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley. It’s easy to read and really inspired me to step up when I found myself in a leadership job, which is where you are now. Give yourself three months and you won’t remember what it felt like to be in over your head because you’ll have it all in the bag. Trust me :).

Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to:  MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.” Anonymity included.

 

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

Solve the Top 9 PM Challenges

10 Ways Project Management Software Can Improve Your Career

project management software

If you use project management software and think of it as just that tool you use to do your planning, then you’re really missing out. Because this everyday tool can enhance your career in a number of ways.

Yes, project management software is something you use to create a schedule; it helps you get your project delivered on time, and we won’t lose sight of that. But if you have a good tool—a really good tool—it can provide the kind of support that helps your career develop in ways you might have never considered.

These days, collaborative project management tools are increasingly part of the workplace set up. You get to work, log in to your platform, see all your tasks, check in with the team and start working through your list of tasks. But when you’ve got the right technology behind you, work is . . . easier. The right technology is supportive in the way it helps you do your job better. The result: Your career thrives. Does this sound too good to be true? It’s not.

Here are 10 ways your career benefits from using better software.

1. Better performance

Let’s get the obvious one out the way first. When your project management tool does its job really well, you’re able to do your job more effectively. No more worrying about which risk you should be focusing on first because the reports and dashboards show you. Changed a task? Auto-schedule everything else based on predictive and dynamic calculations. Would you rather be editing a long list of dates in Excel? Thought not.

2. More confidence

When you’ve got the right tech behind you, you can have confidence in your schedule. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me that they aren’t really sure that they have a grip on their project.

Your confidence grows when you believe what you are seeing because it’s based on real-time, trustworthy and transparent data. You’ll notice that extra confidence rubbing off in other areas too, like giving presentations, speaking up in meetings or taking on new assignments.

confidence with project management software

3. Improved stakeholder relations

No more flimsy reports that are open to interpretation. The right project management software lets your clients and team see exactly what is going on—with the schedule, your resources, how added feature requests are affecting the plan and more. This results in deeper, more trusted relationships with stakeholders who are more likely to support you and the project when you hit an issue. I’ve seen this in practice with IT projects that I’ve worked on when we’ve hit roadblocks. It’s the stakeholders with whom I have built solid relationships who rally and help us get over the problems as a team.

In career terms, better relationships and more trust all round means more doors opening to you because people want to work with people they trust.

4. Better decision-making

Research by ANA shows that more than a third of companies are not using data to make decisions, and almost half say they haven’t got tools in place to get the data anyway. That study focused on marketing teams, but from conversations I have had with technology teams, it’s fair to say other departments suffer in the same way.

Better data equals better decisions. Better decisions are better for your project. And the decisions you make over time can define your career. One poor decision can break a promising trajectory in the organization.

5. Fewer admin duties

When I talk to project managers about what they like least about their jobs it usually comes down to the admin parts of the job. Now, if by “admin” you mean project documentation, that’s something you can’t escape.

But I certainly agree that many IT project managers who have moved up in their careers have too much value to add to key business and product areas (and are often quite expensive assets for a company, if we want to talk in cash terms) to be spending time chasing down document approvals. What if you could click a button and instantly see what each person was working on, instead of having to call them or organize meetings? Oh wait, the right PM tool can actually do that for you.

Great software automates and assists you in your day job, giving you more time to do what really matters: building relationships, dealing with uncertainty and being a fantastic leader.

6. Champion profile

Want to get noticed? Volunteer to be the office software champion. As an advocate and expert of a specific platform, you’ll become the go-to person for questions and training, and the most popular person in the office if you can make your tools do what the management team need.

7. Mentor others

Being a mentor is a great life skill and resume booster.  It’s also an effective way to show and hone leadership skills if you’re not in an official leadership role.

As your team grows, new members will need to know how the company works and what is expected of them. You can mentor individuals by helping them use your PM software, and showing them how the team works together through the planning platform and more.

Plus, if you’re able to demonstrate that you know how to work with others in a leadership role, you can leapfrog those who can’t.

8. Sharpened skills

Software should support your professional judgment and help you be strong in areas where you might not necessarily have the skills or interest. For me, that’s risk management. The right software tools can flag where your tech projects are going awry, help prioritize the mitigating actions and generally keep you on top of it.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve learned new skills about managing risk because the software has helped me do so. When the features are baked in, you can use new techniques and tools easily to the point that they become the way you do things by default.

9. Less stressed

Stressed? Me?

I’m not afraid to admit it: I am often out of my comfort zone at work, and am very happy to take all the help I can get to minimize my stress levels! Knowing that my project management tools have got my back takes some of the drama out of the working day. I know how my resources are allocated, where my schedule stands, what’s expected next, where the risks are lurking well ahead of time. Everything I need is at my fingertips.

relax with the right project management software

10. A careening career

Put this all together and what have you got? A stellar career! More confidence, better skills, better relationships with your team, peers and managers, and opportunities to grow. You see, project management software can be more than just a side tool that you log in to every day for a task list.

A really good tool is like your personal administrative assistant. It takes away the load, leaving you free to do what you do best: leading your team and your projects to successful results and delivering a ton of value for your clients and stakeholders.

Are you using a project management tool that can amplify your career? We have a way for you to find out: The Project Management Health Check. It’s a 9-question assessment that will show areas of improvement. Ready?

Take the assessment!!

Advice for Project Managers: Keeping Secrets From Clients and Time Tracking Woes

advice column

Dear Elizabeth: My team manager is on a rampage to have us all log and track time. Part of me understands why but another part of me feels like Big Brother is watching. Is there a better way I can look at tracking my time—like, ways it can work for me? –Resisting in Roswell

Dear Resisting: For a start, Big Brother isn’t watching. Everyone has far too much actual work to do than pour over your timesheets to find out whether you took 30 minutes or 45 minutes as a lunch break. That is, assuming you have nothing to hide and are hitting your targets and delivering on your project!

Look at time tracking as a personal tool to help you be more effective. For example:

  • How good are you at estimating? Timesheets will help you understand whether your estimates are realistic because you can compare your project schedule against the work you actually did and see whether there’s a gap.
  • You can see where you spend your time. I know I spent time on social media sites throughout the day, but if I tracked it I bet I’d see it is longer than I expected. Time tracking will help you see exactly what you are doing each day, which is the first step to doing things differently.
  • Your company can charge your clients more. I know of one company that boosted their profits by about 50 percent because they could charge clients accurately. Previously people weren’t recording their time accurately and clients were being undercharged.

To put your mind at rest, talk to your manager about why they’re introducing time tracking. When you understand the goals, you’re more likely to feel that tracking time has some advantages – and I bet they aren’t doing it just to check up on you.

Finally, I’m sure there are other people feeling like this in your team. You’ll do everyone a favor for starting an honest conversation about how people feel about timesheets. In turn, this will help ensure that if you do start tracking time that the results are meaningful and that everyone feels good about it.

Dear Elizabeth: I’m in a bit of a pickle. The project I’m currently managing is not going to make the delivery date because a handful of developers got moved to another project. But my boss has told me not to say anything to the client—yet. Well a week has gone by, and the client keeps asking me for updates, and I find myself having to spin one white lie after another, which I hate. How do I proceed in a way that I can be honest, and make the client and my boss happy?  — Uncool Cucumber

Dear Uncool: Goodness, I don’t envy you. In some situations it’s fine not to say anything to a client straight away, say for example, if you expect to be resolving the issues imminently so that their project is not going to be affected. Let’s not stress clients out for no reason. If you can deal with the problem and keep them out of it, then great.

But that isn’t happening in your situation. I think a week is plenty long enough to keep this client in the dark about what is potentially a showstopper for their work. They might have a big launch planned, and if you can’t keep your company’s side of the bargain then ultimately the relationship with this client will be damaged longer term (an unscrupulous boss might even blame you for losing the client).

I would tell my boss that I am going to tell the client. He or she needs to support you in making sure that message is a pain-free for the client as possible. In other words, they need to help you find some extra developers. Could you buy them in? Could you get them back? Could you pay them overtime?

Take a few suggestions to your boss. They will all cost money but you can offset that against the cost of bad publicity, reputational damage and the cost of losing the client. Ask your boss to approve a solution that helps you get back on track.

If they won’t, I would still tell the client. Be honest and explain your resourcing problem. Ask them for help with resolving the problem, and see what they can do from their side to put pressure on your management team to free up additional resources. They can escalate it within their management structure and that will come back to your boss eventually. It will be uncomfortable. But you’ll have done the right thing for the project, for your client and for your company.

Have questions for Elizabeth? Email marketingteam@liquidplanner.com to submit a question.

Wait, there’s more! If you want practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.” 

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Advice for Project Managers: Managing Client Feedback and Making Deadlines

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Dear Elizabeth: I’m project managing 100 projects (seriously), and struggling. The main thing is deadlines – we have a fixed project deadline, but it’s largely in the control of our customers as we require information/feedback from them during the project.

How can I set a deadline so that I can see the original due date of the project, track how much time we’ve been actively waiting for a client to respond (so that inevitably when they ask “what’s taking so long” I can prove it’s the amount of time I’ve been waiting for them), and see how often we’ve had to shift the deadline and when? Frazzled

Dear Frazzled: 100 projects! Good grief. When the responsibility for getting a task done is being passed among different groups, you can use workflows to manage the handoffs.

One of the best ways to do this is to offer your clients transparency over your project schedules. You can do this with online project management tools: Just set clients up as users with the permissions that are appropriate. Create tasks and name them explicitly, something like “Client review.”  Then also add your client as a resource to the task to make it really visible. If you keep your schedule up to date you’ll be able to see when these tasks start and end, and work out the total waiting time that has been added to your plan as a result.

I would also schedule in follow-up time every week.  You can either automate this with alerts around incomplete tasks (or your PM software might flag tasks that are at risk). But you can also block an hour in your calendar each week to follow up with clients for any outstanding tasks. Of course, you can do this in your planning tool if it allows for commenting.

If you’re not working with clients in a collaborative tool, then you can create templates to use for emails that communicate that the task needs input before moving forward. Plus, you can include a helpful “if you need any more information, just give me a call.” Normally I’d suggest calling each client individually but you can’t do that with 100 projects so the more you can copy and paste to save yourself time the better.

And to wrap this up, a few things to consider: How much notice do clients receive that you will be asking them for feedback? If the kinds of projects you do are relatively repetitive, you should be able to predict forward when you’ll need their input and give them warning. Can you create a calendar of important milestones when they’ll be receiving data from you so that they can anticipate and plan? Your clients might be more responsive if they know what’s expected of them in advance.

As for seeing how many times you have had to shift the deadline: Look into using baselines on your project schedule. Baseline reports are a huge help in working out when your dates changed, and they’ll help you see how often you had to make a change to reach your final milestones.

Dear Elizabeth: I work on a project team that doesn’t seem to learn from experience! Every schedule we create always assumes the best case scenario. How can I break my project lead from doing this and getting us in a bad situation down the road (not enough time or money; working over-time, letting down the customer, everyone is grumpy?) – Grumpy

Dear Grumpy: It sounds as if your team isn’t that great at estimating. Try doing something different before your estimates get put into your project schedule: three-point estimating would be a good tool to introduce to the team if you haven’t used that before. Sell it to them as a way to build more realistic schedules that are based on best case/worst case estimates. You can use LiquidPlanner to put ranged estimates into your schedule and then manage the tasks in the normal way.

As well as taking a fresh look at how your team produces (realistic) estimates, have you spoken to your project lead about their track record? This is an opportunity to offer them some coaching. It’s wonderful that your project lead is so confident and optimistic, but with all the risk factors inherent in technical projects and the resulting uncertainty, their track record is letting them down. The end result is that people end up working more and projects are late and expensive. Your PM might genuinely not be aware of the link between their poor attempts at scheduling and the pressure the team is under towards the end.

Finally, look at contingency. You can add this to tasks or project phases or even to the project overall. Contingency can be in the form of money or time or both. It’s not part of your “normal” project resources and if you don’t use it then you should hand it back. Consider it a cushion to catch you if you fall: While the team adjusts to producing more realistic estimates then this can be a useful way to minimize the impact of getting it wrong. Reduce the contingency as you get better at hitting your schedule. And good luck!

Have questions for Elizabeth?

Send your questions to: MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.”
You can read past Advice Columns here.

Wait, there’s more! If you want practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

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3 Ways to Improve Work Relationships Using Project Management Tools

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It’s easy to think of project management software as the tool you use to take care of business. It’s what you use for logging, tracking and monitoring. You use it for scheduling, budgeting and reporting—the “hard” skills of project management. But behind the resource allocation status graphs and project plan are real people.

Even if you’re aware of how your project management tool helps you communicate more efficiently with team members, stakeholders and clients, have you ever considered that your project management tool can improve and transform your work relationships? The changes can be simple ones, but they’re also the kind of changes that have a profound effect on levels of trust, confidence, motivation and loyalty—among team members all the way up the chain to executive committees, clients and customers.

Here are three significant ways that your project management software can drastically improve your work relationships.

1. Forge connections that build trust

The right project management tools will help you make meaningful connections with the people behind the resource allocation graphs. Collaborative tools help improve the soft skills of communication and teamwork in the way they create touchpoints by engaging everyone on the team in one location. In turn, these increased team interactions can build trust over time. Here are easy ways to use collaborative PM tools to improve the levels of trust in your team:

  • Make resource assignments visible and accessible to all team members. Complaining about someone else’s workload – or lack thereof – is more common than you might think (even if you don’t hear the squabbles directly). When people can see how and where everyone’s work is allocated, it removes every opportunity for the naysayers to complain that someone else isn’t working hard enough.
  • Encourage team members to approach one another (rather than always going to their manager) to talk through the challenges of their project work. If team members can make comments in context of project items, that makes things easier. Bonds of trust are built the more team members share ideas and work through challenges together.
  • If you’re a manager, share relevant project data that you access from your PM tool with your team. When important information is discussed among the team, you not only share the bigger vision, but the transparency increases motivation and commitment.
  • If you have an avatar or an identifying picture attached to your PM tool, make it a photo. This way, if you’re working across teams or there are new team members, people know what you look like, and can remind themselves of the person behind the screen.
  • Use the project calendar to mark significant dates, including milestones like birthdays. The right kind of personal touches go a long way!
  • Use your project management tools to manage your To Do lists and stay on top of any extra commitments you made to your team. This will keep you from over-extending yourself and not being able to follow-up. Nothing builds trust like following up on a consistent basis.

All these practices contribute to building solid, trusting work relationships with your colleagues. Also, teams with high levels of trust between members are more enjoyable places to work.

2. Build client confidence

The collaboration features inherent in your project management tools will also let you build great relationships with clients. Building great relationships is something that is easy to say or write or aspire to, but how do you get there?

Transparency is a fantastic way to show that you know what you are doing and that you want the client to be part of it. Provide direct access to views into your project management tool. You can set access parameters and surface curated data and information to show exactly where the project stands. No surprises for clients, big confidence booster for the project team.

Also, when you let your client see exactly how much progress you’ve made towards your goals, it shows your commitment to their project. Consequently, your client will be able to see the steps you’re taking to deliver on your promises. Together you can identify and resolve any issues that might be stopping you getting there.

Finally, make sure that you include feedback loops so that your clients can tell you how it’s working out for them. Whether you do this through your software or another channel is up to you, but project management software collaboration features—with commenting and chat functionality, along with tagging and sharing items—streamline ongoing feedback in one place.

3. Provide a good work balance

If you could work wherever you wanted and whenever you wanted, as long as your projects were completed on time, would you do it?

In Susan Dominus’ article “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation,” recently published in The New York Times Magazine, she writes about a study where sociologists set up half an IT division to work under the company’s usual working policy, while the other half were given full rein to work however they wanted—as long as they hit their goals. In addition, managers were trained to be supportive of the challenges employees were dealing with outside of work, and to open up about their own. Managers were also reminded twice a day to think about the ways they could support their employees to maintain a good work/life balance.

It didn’t surprise me that the “work however” group was able to deliver their projects as planned and that they were much happier doing so. What did surprise me was that further research showed that their families benefited too: Their children reported less stress and teenagers said they slept better.

Successful work-life balance is dictated by a number of factors: company policies, management and an employee’s own personality. But each one alone doesn’t make a flexible, happy workplace. Instead, a project management tools can make the difference between a team being able to work on software projects in another office or part of the world, to a team being required to come into the office and work hard-coded hours.

People in the New York Times article’s experiment reported that they were less inclined to leave the company, even three years later if they were happy with how they were able to work. Working relationships, therefore, must have been pretty good between employees and their managers – because however great the flexible working policies, if you don’t get along well with your team and you don’t have the tools that enable you to do your job, you wouldn’t be inclined to stay.

There are so many ways the right project management software supports elements of building, nurturing and maintaining relationships that create a happy and successful work experience. Being able to build and maintain trusting relationships that are collaborative and adaptive is key to keeping people working with your company. Make work as flexible and inclusive as possible, and start to see some of those benefits across your projects.

Are you missing out on a better way to manage work relationships?

The relationship among teams to each other and to external stakeholders thrive when using a Dynamic Project Management system. This smart, adaptable and human approach to managing projects is the modern way to manage work.