Category Archives: Collaboration

Agile Team Transitions Are Not Always Textbook

Project teams transitioning to Agile can often struggle with project roles and the overall team structure. Transitioning to an Agile team is a change in mindset, team organization, and the team’s culture.

Common questions include:

  • Where does the project manager fit into the team?
  • Isn’t the Scrum Master the project manager?
  • Who sets the priorities for the software developers?
  • Who gathers the requirements?
  • How does Agile “really work” in an enterprise organization with global teams?

To understand how Agile teams are different, it is helpful to understand how traditional teams are organized.

Traditional Team Organization

The traditional software development team is comprised of the following roles:

Role Responsibility
Business Customer / Client Provide the business process knowledge and requirements subject matter expert
Project manager Manages the project management processes to successfully deliver the project – initiation, planning, execution, monitor, control and close
Technical lead Leads the technical solution delivery and directs software development team
Application architect Designs the application architecture based on the company’s standards, computer infrastructure and network environment
Business analyst Gathers requirements from the business customer
Systems analyst Translates business requirements into specific system requirements for software development
Developers Design, code, and unit test the software solution
Test lead and test analysts Coordinate testing efforts and verify the software solution meets the business requirements
Infrastructure lead Coordinates the infrastructure and server setup
Database Administrator Creates and maintains the database

All of these resources typically come from different resource pools. Delays are introduced as each resource completes their unit of work and submits request to the next team member to complete additional work. If you’ve ever had to introduce new architecture, stand up a server in an enterprise data center, or modify a development, QA or production database, then you’re very familiar with the constraints in this model.

Agile Team Organization

If you pick up a book on Agile or Scrum, you’ll often read about the best teams are self-organizing, cross-functional, and self-directed. The Scrum Guide only defines the three main roles in Scrum: the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team.

Role Responsibility
Product Owner The single person accountable to the product and responsible to ensure the requirements in the product backlog are clearly defined, prioritized, and communicated to the team
Scrum Master Facilitates the Scrum practices, supports the product owner in managing the product backlog activities, coaches the development team,
Development Team The group who does the work to deliver the product

Teams transitioning to an Agile model will wonder what happens to the analysts, the technical lead, the project manager and other traditional roles. Depending on the Agile maturity in the organization, these roles will still exist within the team.

Remember the development team is the group that delivers the product and that can still include a project manager, a test lead or business analysts.

Many organizations talk about being Agile but don’t always have a dedicated product owner who fulfills the role of the product owner. In this case, the team needs to supplement with an empowered business analyst. The project team may not have implemented test automation or test-driven development, so traditional test lead roles will exist.

One of the concepts with mature Agile teams is the team members are cross-functional. This means the skills for business analysis, systems analysis, database development, test automation, and project management exist within the team instead of having separate roles for separate people.

Think about the last high performing team you worked with. The individuals likely shared all these skills instead of relying on separate individuals. My strongest performing team still had a project manager, but that same resource understood business and system analysis as well as testing best practices. The development team also understood the business context and had database development skills.

Conversely, my worst performing team had these skills separated across individual roles. To make a database change in the development environment, a ticket had to be submitted to the DBA team, then escalated because the team wasn’t responding in time. Separate testing resources were allocated for a fixed period of time and often couldn’t test in a timely manner. Consequently, velocity suffered and the team motivation declined.

Not very Agile huh?

Improving with each sprint

Building a team that is cross-functional, self-organizing, and self-directed is an evolution in Agile maturity. The teams I coach today still struggle with reaching this state as many organizations have the silos that prevent teams from working efficiently. Other teams simply struggle with the change from top-down direction to a team centric approach. The good news is adopting Agile practices provides the feedback loops for the team to improve.

During a product backlog grooming session, one of my teams was hesitant to provide individual story point estimates. Team members would look to the team lead for approval because previously the team lead would direct the work. It took a few sprints but eventually the team became comfortable with the new processes. That team is still progressing by adopting different Agile techniques, but they are improving with each sprint.

Transitioning isn’t textbook

If you are implementing Agile practices in your organization, you likely recognize it isn’t a textbook transition. Self-directed, cross-functional, and self-organizing teams don’t appear on Day 1. Until those skills exist within a self-contained team, supplementing with traditional roles is fine. Project teams need to deliver, and adopting an Agile or traditional team formation is still influenced by the leadership team and the existing team skill sets. There are many different approaches to project execution, but I know which team structure I’d prefer!

Low-Stress Ways to Keep Your Remote Team on Track

Chances are, you’re reading this at work, but you’re not in the office.

You may be on your way to a meeting, and you’re catching up with your favorite websites on the journey. Or you’re stuck at an airport. Or waiting in a coffee shop.

Or you might be working, but not actually in the office.

Remote work is most definitely a thing these days, and it’s not only for people who own their own business or work as contract project managers. Global Workplace Analytics, which studies trends in working life, says that working remotely, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 115% since 2005. That’s nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.

These numbers show that it’s people in more well-paid jobs, like project management, that have the option for working at home. A typical remote worker has a college education, is 45 years old or older (that seems quite old to me – I know plenty of younger project managers and IT professionals who have flexible working arrangements with their employers), and earns an annual salary of $58,000 at a company with over 100 employees.

Even I do it. I’m writing this at home, waiting for my Pilates instructor. (Yes, really! She comes to my office. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t exercise at all.)

I love the flexibility of remote working, and it’s definitely something that is a helpful recruitment and retention tool when looking for talented people to join my project teams.

However, when your team is scattered across the country, and possibly even further afield, it’s important to think about how you are going to keep them on track and engaged with the work.

You can’t have a quick huddle on a difficult day and boost everyone’s morale. There isn’t the option of popping out and bringing ice creams back for the gang as an afternoon treat. Sometimes it can feel like all you do is message and call people to keep them on track. So how do you keep a sense of team when your team is everywhere?

We’ve got some low stress tips to help you out.

Keeping The Communication Going

You already know that communication is important for successful projects. Keeping the communication channels open even when the team isn’t physically situated together can be a huge headache, but it doesn’t have to be.

Batch your communicating.

Block out a day where you do all your catch up calls and speak to your whole team. If you can, get small groups of team members on the phone together.

Block out time to speak to stakeholders as well.

Your project customers are just as important as your team members. Sometimes, in the effort to keep the team moving, we forget about the people we are doing the work for. Put regular time in your schedule to do your comms activities – invite people to standing meetings if that helps.

Remember to cancel any sessions you feel you don’t need to avoid wasting people’s time.

Automate as much of the “management” comms as you can. Set up LiquidPlanner to send email alerts for when tasks are due, and reminders for upcoming deadlines. That’s at least something you won’t have to remember to do manually.

Supporting Remote Team Members

Sometimes team members need more than a check-in and reminder about the top tasks they should focus on this week. Supporting team members remotely is hard, because ideally you’d want to be sitting at their desk coaching them through a task.

Use tech to help you.

Whiteboarding apps, mindmapping apps, screensharing tools: all these offer the opportunity for you to virtually collaborate with a colleague and to see what they are doing so you can help, coach, and mentor from your home office.

Encourage them to help each other too.

Make sure your team members have access to the tools they need to be able to work in pairs or small groups.

Staying on Track with Projects

Use a tool that will help you stay on track with your project, even in fast-moving environments. When the culture of your team is that everything goes in the tool, it’s easy to see changes in real time and react to them.

This is probably the biggest change for most teams, even though technical teams will have been working with project management and coding solutions for years. The mental hurdle is to open the tools you need in the morning and then stay in them all day, keeping everything updated in real time.

It’s actually easier than it sounds. Once you see the benefits of doing so, you’ll find it relatively easy to switch from your old ways.

The biggest benefit is having total visibility about the project, which helps your whole team stay on track. Or pivot as required, if you sense that something isn’t working out as it should.

Maintaining Motivation at a Distance

This is probably the hardest thing to do with a remote team. It’s also the hardest to give advice about because people are motivated by different things. Get to know your team members so that you can tailor their work (as far as you can) to the things that interest them and motivate them.

Then create a motivating environment.

Here are some ideas for that:

  • Ensure everyone is treated equally and that decisions are made fairly.
  • Ensure everyone has the training and the systems they need to do their jobs.
  • Create a sense of trust and call out inappropriate behavior and poor performance when you see it.
  • Create a strong vision for your project and make sure everyone understands why it’s important and how it contributes to the business.
  • Have fun!

You can do all of these with a remote team, although you’ll have to get creative about ways to have fun. You can’t all pop out for sushi at lunchtime. Think quizzes, contests, fundraising, sharing photos, and creating time in your virtual meetings for the small talk that builds positive working relationships.

All of these take a bit of thought, but once they are in place they are low stress ways to engage your remote team and keep your project moving forward. What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Ways Cloud-Based Project Management Software Saves Time and Money

It’s official: the cloud has gone mainstream. While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of cloud-based solutions for years, larger organizations, as well as those facing hurdles with new technology, have been slower to adapt. But, according to recent research from Gartner, Inc., that’s changing.

Recently, more organizations, even large enterprises and slow adopters, have begun turning to the cloud. The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 18 percent in 2017 to total $246.8 billion, up from $209.2 billion in 2016, according to Gartner.

“As enterprise application buyers are moving toward a cloud-first mentality, we estimate that more than 50 percent of new 2017 large-enterprise North American application adoptions will be composed of SaaS or other forms of cloud-based solutions,” says Sid Nag, research director at Gartner. “Midmarket and small enterprises are even further along the adoption curve. By 2019, more than 30 percent of the 100 largest vendors’ new software investments will have shifted from cloud-first to cloud-only.”

Quick Cloud Stats

Larger organizations are now learning what early adopters have known for years: cloud-based software can help you save time and money.

Here are some reasons to consider the switch to cloud-based project management software.

Anytime-anywhere access

Design team in Seattle, and production facilities in Detroit? No problem. Cloud-based project management makes collaboration across distances easy. Thanks to the connectivity of high-speed Internet, it’s now possible to work closely with someone you may never meet in real life.

For international companies like Rotork, a leading manufacturer of industrial valve actuators, the ability to access information from anywhere in the world, on mobile or laptop, is invaluable. The company’s gear design team is based in England, while their manufacturing team is in the Netherlands.

With LiquidPlanner, “everybody can access their projects and tasks from different locations and different time zones in the business. We can share information and keep our plans up to date, which will also let us manage common resources across multiple projects.”

–Steve Watkins, R & D Engineering Manager at Rotork

Learn how the Rotork teams use LiquidPlanner to hit their deadlines.

Less time lying awake at night, wondering if your data is safe

Security concerns stop some companies from switching to cloud-based solutions. The idea being that having physical control over one’s servers makes it more secure.

However, cloud software can be just as secure as on-premise. Most reputable cloud-based applications have strong safeguards in place to protect customers’ data while in-transfer and at-rest. For example, LiquidPlanner is hosted with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Our customers’ data is housed at AWS data centers in different geographic areas that are completely independent from one another. With servers in multiple zones, failure in one zone won’t disrupt service.

Here are some of the security headaches avoided by using a reputable cloud software service:

  • Data replicated to servers in multiple geographic regions to guarantee maximum availability.
  • Daily data backups.
  • Uninterrupted power supply, guaranteed with generators.
  • Fire detection systems, temperature and climate control, and video surveillance.

Security is a genuine concern, so be sure to thoroughly vet any cloud-based software providers you’re considering. See the steps LiquidPlanner takes to protect customer data.

Fewer emails, less time searching for documents

How many times have you scrolled through a never-ending email chain, looking for that paper clip icon. “Aha! Here’s the file,” you think, only to discover that this attachment is not the final version. Or is it? The document has been updated so many times, you’ve lost track. Now you have to ask your colleague for the final final version. And wait.

Meanwhile, your manager is asking for updates because she was left off the email chain and has no idea what’s going on. Hopefully, your colleague will issue the final version quickly, so your manager’s questions can be resolved and the new final version distributed to the team.

With cloud-based project management, you can cut down on back-and-forth emails and multiple versions of documents. Everyone on your team can quickly access the latest document. Changes, status updates, and comments are automatically sent to everyone who needs them.

For companies like scientific equipment manufacturer Lake Shore Cryotronics, cloud-based project management means better organization and a reduced dependency on email.

“Many team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner to communicate and provide task updates. In the past, these project artifacts would have been buried in emails, with little in the way of organization or visibility. Now, comments are tied directly to the tasks and items they’re relevant to, in a way that provides visibility to everyone on the team.”

– Rob Welsh, Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics

Learn how Welsh’s product development team uses LiquidPlanner to track and manage its complex workload.

Lower upfront costs: no investment in server infrastructure required

On-premise systems tend to cost more upfront, due to onsite software and server installation, software license investments, and the extra IT staff needed to configure and maintain the system. With cloud-based applications, all you need to get started is an Internet connection and a device.

When comparing the costs of cloud-based and on-premise systems, you should also take extra costs like monthly maintenance, hourly customer support, backup software, and electricity consumption into consideration. With cloud-based applications, you won’t need to worry about electricity and backup software fees. Most offer online help articles and resources, as well as customer support and troubleshooting assistance.

If you’d like to compare the total cost of ownership over several years for an on-premise system and a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) system, we recommend this calculator from SoftwareAdvice.com.

Zero time spent on software updates

You’re right in the middle of something, just hitting your groove, when a notification appears on your screen. “Restart your computer to finish installing important updates.”

Nooo. Not now, you think. And you ask for a reminder in one hour. Then you delay it again. And again. Before you realize it, you have 38 updates waiting for you.

With cloud-based solutions, you don’t need to stop your flow for updates. Once new features or updates are live, you have instant access. No download or upgrades required.

Many cloud-based solutions also offer integrations with tools you’re already familiar with. LiquidPlanner, for example, integrates with Google Drive, Salesforce, Zapier, and more. Also available is an open API, enabling you to build integrations with other tools.

Taken together, these five things make a compelling business case for switching to a cloud-based project management solution. Are you ready to join the millions of businesses who are managing their projects in the cloud? Start a free trial today to start saving time and money with LiquidPlanner, cloud-based predictive project management software.

May the Fourth Be With You: Project Management Lessons from the Star Wars Rebel Alliance

In honor of today’s celebration of all things Star Wars, I thought it would be worthwhile to mine this epic tale for project management lessons. While many have written about the Empire’s challenges constructing the Death Star, I’m interested in what can be learned from the victors, the Rebel Alliance.

Build a Diverse Team

The project team in A New Hope was fairly diverse. (Okay, not great gender diversity, considering everyone but Leia was male). Their ages varied, ranging from 19-year-old Luke and Leia to 200-year-old Chewbacca. Some were biological; others droids. Some were experienced; others less so. Some thoughtful, others prone to action.

Obi-wan was a Jedi master and military commander. Leia, despite her young age, was an experienced diplomat. Han and Chewie had extracted themselves from many a tough situation. And Luke was courageous, enthusiastic, hardworking, and force-sensitive. R2-D2 was a veritable Swiss Army knife of capabilities. His tools and skillset included the ability to communicate with main frame computers, a fire extinguisher, spaceship repair, and data storage. C-3PO was good for comic relief without being too annoying (see Binks, Jar Jar). Everyone brought their unique gifts to the team, and gave 100% (except C-3PO).

Better to have diversity than a team who are all very good at the same thing. Diversity brings different approaches, which makes innovative solutions more likely.

I once worked with a team of smart, young engineers. They were great about asking the experienced engineers for design reviews or brainstorming sessions. They were open about trying new ideas and quickly built prototypes to test their ideas. In a few weeks, they had a working proof-of-concept for a problem that our client had worked months on without progress. A team of just the “grey hairs” or just the young’uns would not have been as effective.

Work the Problem

When presented with a problem, our heroes never gave up. They continued to work whatever problem they were presented with. When Han, Chewbacca, Luke, and Lela were trapped in the cell block on the Death Star, they just kept working the problem:

  • Escape the attacking storm troopers by shooting open the garbage chute and jumping into the trash compactor
  • Shoot the door, which was magnetically sealed, so that it would not open
  • Save Luke from the monster
  • Use material in the compactor to keep from being crushed
  • Call C-3PO and R2-D2, who stopped the compactor and opened the door by talking to the main frame computer

Sure, there was some insults hurled and not every idea worked. But they kept at it until they had a solution.

Often when working on a project, things don’t go as you planned: one of your risks becomes an issue, a requirement changes, or a key contributor leaves the team. Focus on the problem that you need to solve, not the one you planned to solve.

It’s also important that your stakeholders know how things have changed. It’s possible that the proper response to the new situation is to cancel the project, and the stakeholders must be given an opportunity to recommit to the new plan or cancel the project.

Share Your Plan

For project managers, creating a plan and not sharing it with the entire team is a common mistake.

In the beginning of A New Hope, the construction plans of the Death Star are uploaded by Leia into R2-D2, and no one else sees the plans until the team arrives at Yavin IV. Until then, R2-D2 is a single point of failure. If he’s destroyed, the project fails. [Spoiler Alert] The Rebel Alliance does not learn of the weakness designed into the Death Star. And, thus, Luke cannot destroy the Death Star.

Why not give everyone a copy, so that if anyone gets to the Rebel base, the project will succeed?

Have you ever worked on a project where the PM has created a detailed plan in MS Project, and the only copy of the plan is on the PM’s computer?

Even if everyone had a copy of the .MPP file, most engineers don’t have MS Project on their computer. Maybe the PM converted the plan to MS Excel. But now the plan doesn’t have the dependencies and critical path clearly labeled. The team can’t interact with the plan and point out where it’s out-of-date.

That’s why I prefer using web-based tools, like LiquidPlanner. It’s easy to share the plan with the entire team and easily get their input in the creation of the plan.

Use the Force (Go with Your Gut)

The most important lesson from the rebels is that sometimes you need to “use the force” to make decisions with incomplete information.

I’m not suggesting we go through our project with the blast shield down, unable to see what’s is right in front of your face. But there are times, especially early in a project when there’s a lot of uncertainty, that even with your eyes wide open there’s no way to be certain what the right path is.

That’s when you use the force to understand what is that best path through the asteroid field.

As project managers, it’s nice to be able to look at a plan, focus on the work breakdown structure and critical path, and know what the most important tasks are. But sometimes things aren’t that clear, and you’ll have to fall back on experience to provide direction. Tools like a risk register can help, but they don’t stand in for being force-sensitive.

Your mission may not be “vital to the survival of the Rebellion”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Every project deserves a solid team with the needed skills and a “work the problem” attitude. Every project manager needs to share their plan and communicate to meet their stakeholders’ needs.

And sometimes, you just need to set the flight computer aside and pull the trigger like you’re shooting womp rats back on Tatooine. Maybe you won’t get a medal at the end, but neither did Chewie or R2-D2. They understood that success is its own reward.

How Market Research Firm PortMA Stays Organized with LiquidPlanner

organized

At LiquidPlanner, we love hearing how teams are benefiting from our project management solution. Recently, we came across an article written by Chris Clegg, President of PortMA, about how his team of remote workers stays organized when there are a ton of complex projects running at the same time.

PortMA, or Portland Marketing Analytics, is a market research firm that specializes in the measurement and analysis of event marketing return-on-investment and advertising communication. In this work, they service a number of marketing and advertising agencies in the U.S. with design, data collection, analysis, and reporting services, doing anywhere from 50 to 70 projects per year in a wide range of industries.

After reading Chris’ article, we reached out to find out more! We asked Chris how he found LiquidPlanner and how LiquidPlanner has helped his team.

What prompted your search for a new project management solution?

“We outgrew Basecamp. As that platform advanced, it moved away from what we needed. At the core, we needed templates, task dependencies, resource planning, and risk management tools. LiquidPlanner fit the bill on all fronts and has shown us a number of additional features we didn’t know we needed. We’re a better, stronger business because of what LiquidPlanner allows us to do.”

 How does LiquidPlanner help your team?

“We work entirely from within LiquidPlanner. All of our internal and external project work is spec’d out in detail with time estimates, assignments, and work orders within the LiquidPlanner system. And then our daily time tracking is submitted against LiquidPlanner tasks to help us monitor our progress against contract deliverable items in real-time. Research Managers and supporting staff are updating their projects and related tasks on a daily basis to keep things moving smoothly. At any given time, we might have 15 to 25 contracts running simultaneously, each with dozens of weekly task items. Without LiquidPlanner we’d be so lost in the weeds, we’d never get anything done. The flat resource planning model and how it defines deadline risks allows us to deal with reality and not bury staff under unreasonable deadlines.

Finally, I’d mention that the template function really serves as our playbook. We’ve built out detailed project templates with descriptions on what each task is, how it’s done, and why. We’ve then added extensive checklist items to define the specifics of what is expected on a given task. This services as our documented corporate processes that allows for work to be quickly handed off from one person to another seamlessly without cutting corners.”

Take a look at the original article “How To Organize A Team Of Remote Knowledge Workers” written by Chris Clegg, President of PortMA.

How do you know when it’s time to consider a new tool or process for your business? In the case of project management, here’s a way to find out!  Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

Take the assessment!

The 5 Top Challenges of Managing Small Projects

Challenges Managing Small Teams

There are many great reasons to love managing a small project team. For starters, your projects are generally shorter in duration and less complex, which means you have a better chance to make an impact. In addition, communication and team-building often improve when you’re working with a small-knit team because there are fewer people to oversee and coordinate.

Still, there are a number of distinct challenges that are unique to small project teams. It helps to keep these issues in mind and come up with creative solutions when you’re leading and negotiating project work. Here’s a look at five common challenges, and how to solve them.

1. There are fewer specialized roles

Smaller project teams tend to have a broader level of skills in order to cover multiple functions. For instance, you might not have a dedicated tester, so this role falls to the people who are creating the product. You also might be missing a dedicated business analyst looking after the requirements, a solutions architect or a configuration manager.

Whereas these broader skill levels and overlapping roles create a high level of variety and growth opportunity for those working on the team, it also represents a unique challenge. When depth of knowledge is lacking, the team becomes dependent on outside specialists for information. In some cases, if a specialist isn’t called in, the project may be compromised. Imagine the difference, for instance, between working with a specialized business analyst who is trained and skilled at extracting user requirements, prioritizing them and documenting them, compared to someone who is doing it simply because they have to fill a gap.

Try this: Be up front about where specialist skills and knowledge may be missing and either create a training plan or, pair team members up with a hands-on mentor or a go-to person from another team. In addition, those responsible for recruiting members to a small team should specifically look for people who are comfortable taking on multiple roles and who will be more forgiving working in a team with few or no specialists.

2. The project manager is more exposed

Let’s turn our attention to the project manager for a moment. It’s not uncommon for a PM on a small project team to feel stretched and challenged due to the many roles required to perform the job. For example, the project manager might have to cover procurement, vendor negotiation and contract management even if it’s not their strength. Business analysis and requirements gathering is another area that they may have to cover.

What’s particularly stressful about these roles is that they’ll expose a project manager who isn’t a particularly strong subject matter expert and who doesn’t understand the client’s business in depth. On a larger team there are more people to draw on, but on a small team, subject matter expertise often falls on the project manager.

Try this: To overcome this challenge, the PM must be briefed about the client’s situation and learn as much as possible about the subject matter before the project kicks off. Having said that, it’s never possible to be 100 percent “ready.” A certain amount of learning will always take place during the project. The best homework for the PM may therefore be to prepare mentally for the challenge and to acknowledge that the real learning happens when we move outside of our comfort zone and that it’s OK not to know everything.

3. The project manager has no one to delegate to

To add to the previous challenge, the project manager of a small team is unlikely to have anyone to delegate to. This means that it falls to the PM to also carry out project administration, including writing up meeting minutes, checking time sheets, managing documentation and compiling progress reports. This can lead to overwhelm and disillusion, especially when the project manager is also a team member with specific responsibilities for producing content. On many smaller teams there may even be a lack of understanding and appreciation for the project manager role with very little effort set aside for it.

Try this: Be realistic from the outset regarding how many roles your project manager can credibly take on. Have an honest look at all the work items and duties, and ensure that sufficient time is set aside and prioritized. In addition, encourage your PM to have an open and honest conversation with you if they feel that their workload is becoming unmanageable. Finally, why not ask your boss for some part-time project support? It can end up making all the difference and help the project manager to avoid overwhelm.

4. Senior management gives you less attention

One of the unfortunate disadvantages of small project teams is that because they tend to work on smaller projects, they may often be less of a priority for senior management. The bigger projects tend to get all the attention because more is at stake. While it could be seen as a positive that senior management isn’t breathing down the neck of your team, it becomes a challenge when you need a quick decision from a stakeholder or some executive direction, and no one’s responding.

Try this: Project success is highly dependent on the project team having the backing of an engaged sponsor and a well-functioning steering committee, so it’s important that this challenge is addressed head on. You, along with your project manager, can do this by having a frank discussion at the first steering committee meeting, and come to an agreement on how much attention and support the team needs throughout the project’s lifecycle. It’s important that your small project team doesn’t take up more of senior management’s time than absolutely necessary. Steering committee meetings could be limited to 30 minutes.

5. Resources and morale suffer

If you’re managing a small team that’s working on a lower priority project, you’ll notice the effects when resources become tight. If another bigger project is running into trouble and needs more people, team members could be taken from your project, and stifle its progress.

This resource challenge—and the fact that the team is often perceived as being less important—can have a negative impact on team morale. No one likes to work on a project that isn’t seen as important. Most people prefer to work on the big snazzy projects with a big budget and a big business case. It builds their skill set and resume, and makes them feel more important.

Try this: Spend time creating a strong cohesive team and ask for its members to be ring-fenced where at all possible. When a strong team spirit is created, people will enjoy coming to work, be more engaged and contribute their best effort to the project. Also, continue to highlight the importance of the project and remind the team and senior management of the project’s benefits so that resources aren’t taken from it. Smaller teams also have a purpose, but at times team members and stakeholders need to be reminded of it.

In summary, small teams have many advantages, but also some unique challenges. The biggest challenges relate to lack of subject matter expertise and specialization within the team, fewer people to delegate to, lack of attention from senior management and the risk of low morale as the project may be less critical and hold a lower budget. If you know what to expect and how to navigate these situations your team will thrive and do great work!

Learn more about how to clear your project management hurdles and master in your industry! Download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

Solve the Top 9 PM Challenges

 

How LiquidPlanner Approaches Collaboration to Improve Teamwork and Productivity

Collaboration. Teamwork. Impeccable lines of communication. Working together seamlessly, producing work that defines industries and leads markets. This is what we all want—powerful modes of collaboration that bring out the best performances in individuals, teams and businesses.

collaboration

But what do we mean when we say “collaboration?” Everyone wants to collaborate! And collaborative cloud-based software, like LiquidPlanner is changing the way we work together.

You don’t have to look far to find articles and studies stating the fact that many projects and companies fail due to a lack of effective collaboration. When collaboration is broken (poor modes of communication, work slipping through the cracks, unaligned priorities), teams often combust—and talent can end up leaving your organization to find a more productive, thriving environment. Why is it so hard to get this right?

It’s How You Collaborate That Makes a Difference

It’s not so much that you collaborate, because by nature that’s what teams do. It’s how you collaborate. And how you collaborate is at the root of building dynamic teamwork.

From Day 1, LiquidPlanner’s co-creators were focused on improving how teams collaborated on project work. The trick was embedding the process of collaborating in the software.

“We wanted collaboration tied to the work itself,” says co-founder and CTO Jason Carlson. Instead of teams relying on chat applications or conversation feeds that live somewhere other than where the project work unfolds, LiquidPlanner integrated collaborative actions into the work itself. All that precious collateral—comments, conversation streams, document sharing—is all tied to the related project information.

“It’s one source of truth,” Jason says of collaborating in LiquidPlanner. “Everything captured in one place.”

In LiquidPlanner the entire team has access to and contributes to the project plan. This means everyone knows how work is progressing, what top priorities are and how individual work affects the end goal. And there’s nothing better than working in harmony with your team, as unwaveringly as possibly, toward the same finish line.

You can watch Jason talk about the importance of collaborating effectively, and how LiquidPlanner helps teams do this in the following video.

 

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This is the eighth blog in a 9-part video series featuring LiquidPlanner CTO and co-founder Jason Carlson. These short clips tell the story of creating LiquidPlanner, and share Jason’s insider expertise on creating the only resource-driven scheduling engine on the market and what makes our Dynamic Project Management unique.  

How Do You Make Your Team More Collaborative?

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

collaboration

Effective collaboration has gone from a nice-to-have to being critical to business success—even to improving the world! Would we have an International Space Station if the 16 nations that built it together had decided to stay in their own back yards and do their own thing instead? Doubtful.

Even when we recognize the value of people working together effectively, and even when we set up project teams and partners that are motivated to deliver great projects together, collaboration efforts often misfire. Sometimes, they don’t happen at all.

Here are the top reasons why collaboration efforts fail:
  • Organizations are siloed, and project teams are matrixed.
  • The team relies on email and spreadsheets to manage projects.
  • Information is scattered over different data repositories and apps, rather than in one unified location.
  • Teams and customers depend on the project manager to access schedule status and project data.
  • Organizations don’t use collaborative project management platforms.
How do you best support successful collaborations?

While you can focus on improving communication and commit to breaking down silos, if you don’t have the right tools to support your efforts, you won’t succeed. If you want to facilitate collaborative projects and environments, we recommend that organizations invest in cloud-based, collaborative project management tools.

These software platforms unite teams, customers (internal and external), and virtual workers by giving teams a central location to access all project items, see updates and status, and comment in context with their tasks. You also have a singular space that shows what everyone’s working on, surfaces dependencies, end dates, priorities and essential data. And while email will never go away, these tools enable you to use it as a communication accessory, not as a project management methodology.

Here’s how project management software platforms benefit your business:
  • Avoids communication breakdowns
  • Builds trust with your clients and peers
  • Speeds up completion, and improve quality
  • Makes it easier to work remotely with colleagues
  • Improves brainstorming and problem solving
  • Unites people around a common goal and bigger purpose
  • Improves team morale, spirit and enthusiasm

It’s not just setting up the right culture and sense of a shared purpose that enhances collaboration— you need a shared space to put all those good intentions.

Here’s how LiquidPlanner creates effective collaboration

 

Cloud-based and a central location

LiquidPlanner provides a single shared workplace in the cloud that everyone on the team can access. Whether you’re a project team member at HQ or working virtually; an external supplier, or a customer working from the other side of the globe, project assignments and schedules are clear to everyone. Features like Dashboards provide a more graphical way to share information and project status with team members and customers.

In-context conversations

Communication fuels collaboration, and collaboration fuels communication. To build off this beautiful truism, LiquidPlanner has a contextual commenting feature that puts conversations in line with the task or project folder they apply to. This way, teams and individuals can track conversations streams, reduce meetings and avoid email silos.

using collaboration in LiquidPlanner
Seamless file sharing

One of the biggest project frustrations is not knowing where things are. You can search your email, desktop folders and sticky notes until you’re red in the face. To solve this problem, LiquidPlanner has a seamless document sharing feature. You can upload and share docs from your desktop or cloud storage systems like Google Drive, Box or Dropbox; do collaborative editing, get approvals and sign-offs and move work items through the pipeline more efficiently.

Collaboration matters. But what you want is an effective collaboration process. So next time you want to send an email with a project status, or you’re running around asking for the latest schedule, stop for a second and think of the International Space Station. Then consider the right project management software—and go collaborate smarter.

Project management is hard work! That’s why using the right tool can make the difference in how your organization successfully delivers projects, and collaborates with internal and external customers. This blog represents Part Four of our nine-part eBook about common PM pain points. To learn more about how to solve PM challenges, and turn them into opportunities, download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

top 9 project management challenges

7 Essential Skills for Project Teams

There’s a big focus on the skills that apply to individual project managers and contributors. But what about your project team as a whole? Your team needs to possess some essential skills in order to ensure their productivity, sanity, and the successful delivery of projects.

project team

Project teams are generally comprised of a variety of specialists such as developers, programmers, engineers, analysts, QA specialists and technical writers—all of whom have different skills and strengths. At the same time, there are underlying team-wide skills that distinguish high-performing project teams from all others.

Here are seven essential skills that your team needs to be a top-performer.

1. Basic project management

No longer can a successful project team have just a project management professional responsible for the welfare of a project. These days, every team member has to have a basic level of project management skills in order to help contribute to the overall direction of the project. With the days of Gantt charts behind us, and more companies using cloud-based project management software (such as LiquidPlanner), all team members have better access to all of the components of the project.

Distributing access to a cloud-based project management platform to team members requires participating team members to have some or all of the following skills:

  • Scheduling
  • Estimation
  • Task management
  • Basic analytics

Basic analytics is going to be an emerging skill for project teams, as more cloud-based project management software adds analytics tools that open up the wealth of project data they hold. All project team members need the skills to use this new class of project management feature set to better improve processes and their delivery cycle.

Along with basic project management skills, project teams standardized on a cloud-based project management platform need to have some level of collaboration skills.

I split collaboration skills into two categories:

  • Interpersonal. This includes team communications, document reviews, code reviews, and related interactions about project deliverables.
  • Technology/online collaboration. This includes user skills with cloud-based and desktop collaboration, project management, and other standard productivity applications including document sharing.
2. Problem solving

You can tell a lot about a project team by how the team members solve the major and minor technology and business-related problems that occur—often on a daily basis.  You might expect that Agile development and DevOps teams have institutionalized troubleshooting in development and engineering; but teams still need to treat problem solving as a skill that needs to be continuously refined, especially as technologies evolve.

3. Conflict resolution

Some people lump conflict-resolution under collaboration; I see it as a skill unto itself. When you gather a large group of dedicated and intelligent people in a room with a whiteboard to discuss a business or technical issue that can potentially impact a launch of new service or product, you will invariably get some flurry of internal conflict. Effective conflict-resolution skills are at the heart of a truly collaborative team—especially when big egos are on the line.

4. Transformative conversation

I came across the term transformative conversation from a recent Michael Hyatt podcast.  Hyatt is a leadership expert and speaker and his concept of transformative conversation as a skill can help a project team be more creative and get buy-in from all team members.

While getting a bunch of smart people in a room with a whiteboard can lead to conflicting views, it’s also the proving ground for transformative conversations. All jokes aside about technical teams and social skills, conversations can be important to the progress of any project.

5. Technical documentation

Writing technical documentation can be a neglected task but a valuable skill for project teams. Too often documentation isn’t part of the team’s workflow—but it should be.  Whether or not a project team has a staff or contract technical writer assigned to its project, documentation is an important skill for a project team.  I define documentation skills to include:

  • Application Programming Interface (API) documentation
  • User Interface (UI) guidelines
  • Process documentation
  • Operations documentation
  • Troubleshooting documentation.

It’s also important to note that documentation doesn’t necessarily need to take place in traditional-type documents. In fact, today’s project teams are often better served by wikis, enterprise social tools and online project management tools. What matters is that the documentation is centralized, online, secure and auditable, and searchable by the team and by management.

A new technical documentation methodology called DocOps might even transform documentation from an irksome task to a standard element of the process.

6. Risk management

Risk management isn’t just for project managers anymore. It’s actually a skill that needs to be distributed among the project’s team members. This is especially important with team members with cross-functional specialties where there’s no skilled oversight of the project tasks.

Cloud-based project management tools such as LiquidPlanner help you capture potential risks and their potential solutions by allocating work, estimating effort and then rolling every task up to the project plan at large. The key to distributing risk management across a project team is that the team members are accountable and can anticipate and then explain the potential risks in their project tasks for wider audiences.

7. Customer and client management

While there are less enlightened organizations that still believe the project manager should be the first and only contact with clients, too often your clients (internal or external) will do what they can to bypass project managers and speak to the team member who is doing the actual work. Each team member should have basic customer/client management skills to work directly with clients and answer any of their questions about their portion of the project.

Essential project management skills for project teams drive project and team success through acquiring a well-rounded set of proficiencies. No team can be a disparate group of individual specialists and reach its full potential. The good news here is that you’re offered a vast field of opportunity for learning and growing over the life of your career.

Which of these skills has made a positive impact on your project team?

 

Related stories:
All Aboard! How to Write Your Team Collaboration Manifesto
8 Skills You Need to Advance Your Career in Project Management
5 Ways to Identify Your Personal Strengths and Apply Them to Project Work

How to Stay Engaged at Work When Your Manager Isn’t

The unengaged boss.

We recently received a question on a LiquidPlanner blog about how project managers can get their team members more engaged. This inquiry is from the team member’s point of view.

“My project manager seems disengaged lately. How can I become more engaged to compensate for this change? I value my job and want to succeed—but I’m struggling with my manager’s attitude and lack of effort.”

It’s a valid question—one many of us can relate to. Here, I’m going to look at how to navigate that unsteady terrain when your boss or manager is, for a variety of reasons, unengaged with your team. It’s not exactly motivating when you and your team members are working hard to deliver on your projects, and it feels like nobody notices because instead, your project manager is holed up behind closed doors, in meetings, traveling, you name it. And when your team asks for feedback, your manager mutters something about your work being “highly adequate.” Without the direction and support of your boss, morale slips and it feels like your career is stagnating.

What do you do? Before you become disengaged yourself, take a moment to think about why you manager seems to be AWOL, especially if he or she hasn’t always been this way. Ask some questions around this state of disengagement, and see what might ring true:

  • Is there a personal issue in your boss’s life such as an illness or family situation?
  • Is your manager leading too many projects, and can’t concentrate on yours?
  • Is a corporate reorganization pending?
  • Is your manager’s boss disengaged and giving inadequate guidance?
  • Are there work-related storms and political turmoil brewing?
  • Do you think your boss is job hunting?
  • Is your manager burnt out?

There are a lot of different reasons why managers pull back from their teams. To help you make the best of whatever circumstances put you in this situation, here are seven tactics to try when your boss is disengaged:

  1. Reach out to your project manager.

    Approach your boss as an ally and with the openness of someone willing to listen and provide support. He might share some information with you that you either suspected or had no idea about—personal or work. In the meantime, offer some sincere appreciation and praise for the work that your boss is doing. Identify specific tasks on your boss’s plate that you can help with. This might give you a chance to try a new skill set or broaden your horizons. Keep your problem with your manager’s disengagement a subtext to the conversation. It won’t be the only time you talk. If he wants to go further, let him.

    Reach out to your manager.
  2. Reach out to your co-workers.

    You and your team members share a common challenge. If your boss isn’t in there getting you inspired to work toward goals, giving feedback, rallying the troops—look for ways to support and motivate each other. Celebrate accomplishments and work on changing the culture on your project team. Make a pact to be solution focused; getting negative will just make the situation worse. Use this time to develop some teamwork skills.

  3. Reach out beyond your project team.

    Expand your network within your workplace or among peers to get a kick of engagement, motivation and energy. Find a mentor. Seek support and career advice from appropriate sources. Invest in peer relationships, and do what you can to foster teamwork.

  4. Motivate yourself.

    Now’s the time to create the attitude and work environment you want—from within. If you’re not receiving outward reinforcement from your manager, start giving it out. Give it to your team members, give it (quietly) to yourself. If you need some tips, search for the term “self-motivation”—you may find gems that shine for your situation. Do what you can do to make a positive work. 

  5. Help your boss succeed.

    Get behind your manager’s initiatives. Learn her pressure points, and jump in to help. We all go through tough times in life—personal or work-related. If this describes your boss, then this could be time to step up and offer support and take initiative to solve problems. You never know what new skills you might learn and how this adds value to your career. Bottom line: When you help your boss succeed (with integrity), good things happen for you.

  6. Keep things in perspective.

    Your job is only part of your life—you have friends, family, hobbies, volunteer efforts, sports enthusiasms, novels, etc. Granted, for most of us our outside interests don’t help pay the bills, but they still create enjoyment and important rewards that make you a well-rounded person. And that well-roundedness is a healthy addition to your organization.

  7. Reframe the situation.

    Turn your perceived problem with a distracted boss into an advantage. Leadership consultant Karin Hurt, provides some good tips in her blog article, How to Benefit From a Disengaged Boss:

    • Pilot a new idea. Enjoy the freedom to try new things without the need to constantly explain every move.
    • Market your work. Get your work noticed. Streamline your emails and improve your presentation skills. Schedule time with your boss and others to share information and get the feedback you need.
    • Think strategically. Be an asset and work at a level higher. Consider what you’d say in your supervisor’s position. Learn as much as you can about the bigger context for your work.

As you can see, many options exist to stay engaged when your boss isn’t. You might even use this opportunity to show how versatile and necessary you are to your manager, the team—and even the organization. Most likely your manager’s disengagement is temporary and possibly due to a work or life change. But if not, you may need to take time to ask yourself if this is someone you want to continue to work for in the future.

Tell us how you’ve stayed engaged in your work when you’re manager isn’t.

Related stories:

7 Ways to Get Your Team Members More Engaged
6 Tips to Become a Highly Valued Member of Your Team
5 Ways to Manage Up and Make Yourself Indispensable