Category Archives: Commentary

6 Top Project Fears that Dynamic Project Management Makes Disappear

top project fears

There’s a lot at stake for project teams and their managers. Big money’s on the table, commitments and partnerships have been made, and there’s a network of teams with skilled workers who are coordinating their efforts to make timely hand-offs and deliveries. In short, there’s endless stuff to accomplish and stay on top of. And if you don’t have a fast and flexible tool that helps you manage and track everything–you have every right to be very, very afraid!

However, if you institute the right project management process, you don’t have to stay up at night worrying about your project (or your business, or your job). Here’s a look at how swapping old-school project management processes (spreadsheets, non-collaborative tools) for a dynamic project management system can help you overcome six terrifying but common project management situations.

1. “I don’t think we’ll make the deadline!”

It’s not fun to sweat out a project because you established a single-point finish date that was A) established by a boss or client with no idea of how long each task would take, and B) didn’t account for unexpected risks that are now taking the project in a whole new direction. Big oops! A dynamic project management process lets you make ranged estimates based on best/worst case scenarios. This practice schedules uncertainty into your plan, and gives teams a range of finish dates that are based in reality—because the people doing the work are making the estimates.

2. “My team is putting in too much overtime again—I hope they don’t quit on me!”

An over-scheduled team is an unhappy (and eventually unproductive) one. The antidote to this is finding a system that integrates resource leveling into your scheduler. This way, as you create your project plan, the schedule will be built based on team members’ availability. No over-booking, no over-working. A happy, engaged, productive team.

3. “Did they get my email? Do they know what’s happening over here?”

It’s hard to establish impeccable communication streams when everyone is using a different tool to share information: email, chat, text, phone, video . . . But when everyone is working in the same tool, having conversations in context with the work being done, you create a storyline for your project work. This eliminates blind spots and unpleasant surprises; instead, any schedule shifts get communicated ASAP to the people that need to manage the changes.

4. “What on earth is my team even doing?”

The silos of spreadsheets and other static tools that are managed by one person make it hard to keep track of projects in real time. (Plus, they’re so hard to update, they’re hardly ever updated!) A dynamic project management tool is collaborative. It lets everyone participate in updating their work, inputting time and estimates to each task, and handing off or closing tasks. When all project information is stored in one place and updated automatically with every change, it’s easy for managers to eyeball the schedule and see who’s doing what—especially when you have a resource workload report surfacing team members’ activities.

5. “How do I keep my team focused on the right priorities?”

A dynamic project management process makes it easy to prioritize work—and re-prioritize work as things change. And here’s the best part: The tasks are clearly visible to all team members, so they know at all times what the top priority work is. Better yet, using a transparent tool means everyone can see how their work relates to the bigger picture, which builds engagement, autonomy—and top-performing teams.

6. “How do I stay connected to our global offices?”

Using online project planning software has the benefits of being accessible to anyone on the team, anywhere in the world. You could be working two feet away from a team member or across the globe—the work all shows up in the same place. Just account for time changes.

Could you benefit from adopting the Dynamic Project Management system? Take our project management diagnostic to get a sense for the health of your current project management system.

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One more thing! Interested in learning more about the benefits of using a dynamic project management process? Download our eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

 

 

How the Times Are Changing–Ready for the Revolution?

Time are changing

What a week! My team has been enchanted by visions of the future. Here’s why: A fourth revolution is incoming. There are new education models on the horizon, ones that teach us how to be generous. What? A musician wins the Nobel Prize in Literature—really? It’s all too mind-blowing and cool to be true. Here are three articles that cast a spell this week.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means, How to Respond – World Economic Forum

Are you ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution? This visionary piece, written by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, shows us how Industry 4.0  “will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” This new age is one where time evolves exponentially rather than linearly and digital disruptions are everywhere—and this is just the tippy-tip of the iceberg. Read up, see what’s coming, and how to prepare.

Stanford’s Most Popular Class Isn’t Computer Science–It’s Something Much More Important – Fast Company

Finally, a college class with practical application! Stanford Juniors and Seniors have been flocking to “Designing Your Life” since 2010, a course that has a new-world agenda with great appeal: gratitude; generosity; self-awareness; adaptability. Could this be the start of a new type of learning? (Although Socrates might argue with the “new” bit.)

Bob Dylan, Master of Change – New York Times

“I’m a poet, I know it, hope I don’t blow it.” These lyrics, sung by Bob Dylan over 50 years ago seem almost prophetic, as the songwriter is the first musician to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Never one to stand still, Dylan has stayed relevant for over half a decade while transforming and transmuting. From hippie folkster to electric rabble-rouser; born-again prophet to country songster, Dylan’s ability to metamorphosize and be a cultural icon is mind boggling.

Why Is Six Sigma Important to Manufacturing Teams?

Six Sigma

Anyone who has ever led a manufacturing project can attest to the fact that they have unique challenges. Nearly all projects iterate through some version of the “planning, execution and control” cycle, but manufacturing takes that to new levels. This is particularly true when you are going to be churning out a high volume of the same thing, such as an automobile part or an electrical component.

Watching the end result of a project manifest itself as thousands (or millions) of an item rolling off of a conveyer belt can elicit an almost Zen like pleasure. But it also can be accompanied by a sinister side effect: variance. Variance is the enemy of production, but the trouble is that virtually everything varies somewhat in this universe if you measure it carefully enough. There are simply tiny fluctuations present in everything we see and touch. This includes even the most precise goods made today. Addressing variance is where the processes of Six Sigma shines.

What’s a “Sigma”?
Six Sigma is a group of processes that were born at Motorola and made famous at General Electric. Now it is used in many of the best manufacturing companies around the world.  Before we get into the specifics of what Six Sigma is and why it’s important, let’s discuss what a sigma is and why it matters.

When you are manufacturing a product, standardization matters. In fact, whether or not the product is a “quality” product depends upon the product falling within a certain range of specifications.

As stated earlier, everything deviates from a standard if you measure it carefully enough. The goal is to take measurements that are fine enough to capture these fluctuations. You average these measures together to determine the mean, and then you can calculate the standard deviation of all of those numbers. This simply tells how diverse your data set is. Diversity can be a good thing but not when you are dealing with products that are supposed to be standardized!

Ideally, your measurements should be grouped very closely to the mean. This would indicate a low standard deviation, which is desirable. On the other hand, a high standard deviation indicates a lot of variance, which means your processes are probably not under control.

This is where we get the word “sigma.” A sigma, abbreviated as “σ“, represents a distance on either side of the mean.  A single standard deviation from the mean is called “one sigma.” So one sigma quality means that only the items with measurements that fell within one standard deviation passed quality inspection. Unfortunately, this only equates to about 31 percent. Three sigma quality is much better since it means that many more passed through quality. That gets us up to over 93 percent quality.

If you have achieved six sigma quality, you have only 3.4 defects for every one million products that your organization produces. This is considered to be world class.

world class
What Six Sigma Looks Like in the Real World

One way it has been described is that one sigma quality equates to an error per page in a book. Three sigma quality equates to a single error in the whole book. Six Sigma quality would have only a single error in the entire library. When you achieve the level of six sigmas, you have essentially removed most of the things that can be controlled. Remaining defects will fluctuations in line with the nature of materials, etc.

The 5 Steps of Six Sigma

But the goal is not simply to achieve this quality. The goal is to be able to achieve it repeatedly and predictably every time you manufacture the product. This generally involves not only the organization performing the project but also the entire supply chain.  So Six Sigma has a series of steps to help you achieve world class quality and sustain it. This family of steps is abbreviated as DMAIC. If you work around Six Sigma, you will see DMAIC a lot. It is an acronym that stands for:

(D)efine
(M)easure
(A)nalyze
(I)mprove
(C)ontrol

Here’s a look at each step:

  • Data: The steps that make up DMAIC are based on hard numerical analysis and not simply observation. The team gathers data and those data are used to understand and make decisions. As W. Edwards Deming famously stated, “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.”This data-driven approach begins with the step of Define. In other words, define the problem, define the scope, and define what success would look like. Steven Covey urged us to “Begin with end in mind”, and this is simply an empirical understanding of what that end should look like.
  • Measure is where you take very specific measurements of your current reality. This starts with the output but may grow to include measurements about how the output is being produced.
  • Analyze is about coming up with a plan to move from the current measured state to the desired state. It commonly involves root cause analysis so that you are not simply dealing with surface issues.
  • The step of Improve takes action to move the current state to the desired state. The previous steps of Define and Analyze are to gain an understanding of what is wrong and how to fix it, but this step takes real steps to bring the product into quality tolerances.
  • Control is about making your change consistently repeatable. This is not about a one-time fix. It is about putting the right change policies, and processes in place to produce consistently better products. This can be the most frustrating step in the entire process.
Prevention Over Inspection

A common reaction when looking at this list is: “What happened to inspection?” In other words, how can you have high quality if product inspection is not an integral part?  The answer is that Six Sigma, like most modern quality programs values prevention over inspection. It is based on the principle that quality cannot be inspected into a product after it has already been manufactured. Instead, quality is all about prevention. When it comes to delivering quality products, planning always wins over inspection.

The art is to learn to identify, measure, and ultimately eliminate variances. And this is not a one-time activity. It has to be done throughout the project and into subsequent operations, because waste is like weeds in a lawn or garden. You get rid of the undesirables but then they inevitably and relentlessly come creeping back in.

Is Six Sigma Right for Your Project?

You can best answer this question by looking at the type of manufacturing or service delivery involved in your project. In cases where the manufacturing is not highly consistent, it may be best to try a different approach. A great example of a Six Sigma project includes Motorola manufactured circuit boards and silicon processors and chips. This was highly repetitive and did not vary much within a product line. On the other hand, consider an aircraft manufacturer that delivers a relatively small quantity of planes that are each configured differently—not a great candidate for Six Sigma?

Taking the steps to achieve world class quality can be intimidating, but it brings big rewards. If you are ready to learn more about Six Sigma and what it can do for you, the American Society for Quality could be a great place for you to begin.

Did you know that only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects? That’s sign of a bad project management process. How would you rate yours? Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

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Liz Pearce Tells Her LiquidPlanner Story on Nathan Latka’s Podcast

Liz Pearce and Nathan Latka

Photo credit: GeekWire

Recently LiquidPlanner CEO Liz Pearce sat down for a quick chat with entrepreneur-turned-podcast star, Nathan Latka. It’s a fascinating, rapid-fire conversation about how LiquidPlanner started, along with an overview of some of the critical business data points that Liz monitors on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Latka, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, launched and sold Heyo, a social marketing agency earlier this year. Interested in all things business, he’s gone on to build a business podcast, The Top Entrepreneurs in Money, Marketing, Business and Life, into an informative medium that helps listeners learn from a wide range of executives about their approach to growing a business.

Whether you’re interested in entrepreneurship, or would like to learn more about the value of unit economics and what it takes to build a successful and growing online SaaS business, this is a fun and compelling story.

Press play to listen to the podcast, below.

If you want to know more about the company Liz has been steering to success through the years, download our eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.

Intro to Dynamic PM

 

 

 

4 Ways Project Management and Lean Manufacturing Speed Up Processes

lean and project management intersection

Lean manufacturing has become a popular way to eliminate waste, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. This philosophy originated, largely, at Toyota and is used to better align customer needs with manufacturing operations.

The challenge with lean is that, despite its attraction to many executives who want to cut costs and increase productivity, a lean process doesn’t happen overnight. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome—obstacles that are almost identical to the challenges of implementing projects successfully.

Even though lean and projects have these implementation challenges in common, my clients waste quite a bit of effort debating whether lean and project management can work together, or whether they’re at odds with one another. Of course, this conversation goes against the point of lean—to eliminate unnecessary waste—yet it occurs frequently. After 25 years of leading manufacturing operations, implementing lean principles and conducting hundreds of projects, I can assure you that the opposite is true:

Lean is supported by the basic tenets of project management.

The intersection point: a vast opportunity!

There is a point of intersection for lean and project management that will deliver substantial bottom line business results—growth, profit, cash and margin. But there has to be a level of commitment for this to work. Lean requires continuous, short spurts of excellence in execution and focus to accomplish results. To achieve this goal, you need resources, team involvement and collaborative goals. The reality is that most lean programs fail as executives lose interest.

Instead of creating these lean execution systems from scratch and letting the excitement wear out before meaningful success, the most successful organizations leverage an already-existing base that springs from project management fundamentals. Strangely enough, teams rarely follow this path because they think that lean and project management cannot play in the same sandbox. Those companies are losing out on a vast opportunity!

How do you take advantage of this opportunity? By knowing when lean and project management approaches work together, rather than in opposition. Here are four examples of how lean manufacturing principles and project management approaches intersect, and make your process faster and better:

1. Focus on the customer

One of the most important aspects of lean is the focus on the customer. Instead of creating elaborate systems to figure out demand, the idea is to find the most direct route to the customer and pull the demand. Here, “customer” doesn’t necessarily mean the end-user customer; lean principles view the customer as the next person to receive your work. Your customer can also be the person on the line if you’re a support role to the line (thereby including management). In other words, focusing on the customer can flip thinking upside down.

My most successful projects followed this same rule. When following the critical path, you should be thinking of what your customer (next person on the critical path) needs and when they need it by. Ask yourself: “What can I do to provide value within this critical path and how can I make sure work continues to move (flow) through the critical path?” These are project management principles.

2. Focus on value

Another of the key tenets of lean is the focus on value. Instead of getting caught up in non-value added yet wildly popular fads of the time, the idea is to focus on what will create value. Actually, lean manufacturing in itself is sometimes viewed as a fad. For example, I’ve had clients who want to implement lean principles, and at least 60 percent of the time these executives see it as a quick fix: Coordinate a few kaizen events, and the company will be in great shape. This is never a successful strategy!

Project management is the same. Spending days on project charters, complicated project plans and different resource task lists is useless if value is not at the crux of the plan. In project management, the key is to focus on the critical path. The critical path will align with those tasks providing value that will add up and achieve your end objective. Following the critical path aligns with how to implement the future state value stream map.

3. Be more Agile

Agile is at the intersection of lean and project management. An Agile approach allows you to break down lengthier projects with complex components into reasonable chunks. Agile yields a quicker process, as you’ll gain rapid feedback on the first chunk of work (which could relate to a milestone), rather than waiting to the very end and making complicated changes to the finished product. With Agile, you can incorporate continuous feedback into each chunk of work, or sprint, so that you continually improve the process as you go along.

In lean manufacturing, this same principle applies as you perform a kaizen event. The objective is to have a reasonable and achievable amount of work that will provide an end result that aligns with a step towards your end objective within a short period of time, typically a week. Once you perform the first chunk, you incorporate feedback and lessons learn into the next chunk. As chunks are added, layers of complexity are achieved. The bottom line is that smaller batch sizes of work are performed in an iterative fashion for the most successful lean and Agile approaches.

4. Give projects visibility

Lean manufacturing programs are known for making the process and associated metrics visible. For example, an aerospace manufacturer client I worked with had lead times of 6 -13 weeks involving several operations. It was complicated but critical to know if they were behind schedule long before the item didn’t ship on time and showed on a past due list. Thus, we chunked the work load into smaller buckets and hung work order packets on the wall by the machine or machine group. This provided visibility into whether a certain group of machines were getting overloaded. We also put problem orders into a separate section so they were immediately visible to everyone. Last but not least, we started showing the age of the work orders with color coding. This enabled us to manage work orders successfully.

The same is critical in project management. I’ve worked on countless project plans with hundreds of pages. Who can keep track of all that complexity (similar to the piles of work orders at my client)? Thus, my most successful clients have found a way to communicate project progress in relatively equal chunks of work with clear progress towards objectives in a visual way.

Often, this is supported by a project management tool with visibility into schedule. The result is a clear picture of a simple timeline with critical milestones in weekly or monthly buckets—and effectively show progress visually. Tasks that are ahead of schedule or behind schedule pop out immediately so that action can be taken. And, importantly, tasks that have been idle (no progress for a period of time) can be color coded so they’ll emerge and be visible.

A strong partnership for projects

Using lean and project management approaches together can take your production process to the next level. Instead of wasting time debating whether these two approaches can work together, look for the common elements. I see lean as uncommon common sense. And, in my experience, the most successful projects also followed uncommon common sense. If you focus on putting the best of both of these methodologies together (customer, value, Agile and visibility), business-winning results will follow.

In our latest eBook, “Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” we take a look at what it means to be lean and thrive in Industry 4.0, and what tools are necessary to keep up with new world market demands. We’re going there right along with you!

Download the eBook now!
Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Project Manager vs. Program Manager: A Side-by-Side Comparison

project management software

Project Manager . . . Program Manager. Most of us have met one or the other, and many of us have wondered: What’s the difference?  It’s easy to get confused because in some organizations program managers do work that looks a lot like what program managers do. Also, the names are so similar it’s hard to separate their meaning. And then there’s the question—does it matter? Yes, it does!

If you’ve ever been curious as a project team member to know what the program manager down the hall is doing; or you’re someone who wants the next challenge in your project management career, I’m going to lay out the differences here. For starters, the fundamentals of good project management build the foundation for making a successful transition into program management. So, let’s start with the basics.

What exactly is a program?

I’ve seen this word misused many times. This happens when a team member is offered the title of “program manager” where the scope is only confined to one project. If I dust off my PMI standard, we know that a project is a “temporary endeavor used to create a unique product or service.” A program is “a collection of related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and controls not available from managing them individually.” It might seem like running a program is similar to running a bunch of projects, but there are several key differences between how a project and program moves through the project lifecycle.

Here, I’ve categorized some of these differences across the initiation, planning, execution and close lifecycle steps.

Project vs. Program Initiation

Here are a few key tasks that distinguish programs from projects. Project and program sponsors are critical, although the funding cycle, organization structure and sponsorship can take longer.

Project Tasks – Initiation

Program Tasks – Initiation

● Identify the project sponsor.

● Allocate budget.

● Identify key stakeholders.

● Assign a project manager.

● Validate the program business case.

● Identify the program management structure.

● Identity the program sponsors.

● Review funding sources.

● Assign a program manager.

Projects can be funded and initiated faster than most programs primarily since budget, sponsorship and stakeholders are smaller than most programs. A project typically exists within one team or an organizational boundary. A program will often cross multiple organizations, and this has an impact on stakeholders, sponsors, funding sources and even assigning the right program manager.

In a project, the project manager is primarily responsible for the scope, cost and timeline. In a program, the program manager will also staff a project management office (PMO) to help manage program scope, costs and overall timeline. Since it can take longer to initiate a program after its conception, the organization might have to validate the business case to ensure the program goals are still worth pursuing.

Project vs Program Management Planning

Every effort has a planning phase. A program will rely more on a rolling plan, as multi-year programs will need to adjust their plans as the business changes. Scope, schedule and resources all apply to both programs and projects although the planning is conducted at different levels. Project managers are used to tracking tasks against a project schedule. Program managers need to track milestones against a program level schedule.

Project Tasks – Planning

Program Tasks – Planning

● Develop the project management plan.

● Define project scope.

● Define the schedule.

● Define the resources.

● Define the detailed budget.

● Develop the program management plan.

● Define the program scope.

● Define the program schedule.

● Define the detailed program budget.

I’ve been on other programs where teams struggled with developing integrated project schedules, mainly due to the tool they’re using (or aren’t). The end result involved team members trying to make the project schedule mechanics work when they should’ve been focused on the milestones. In a program, communication across teams and milestone management are more important than tracking individual project tasks. Let the project managers manage their work and let the program management team manage across the work streams.

Project vs. Program Execution

Successful execution is all in the details! Both projects and programs have a lot of details to manage, including the deliverables, schedules, and issues and risks. Below are a few of the key distinctions.

Project Tasks – Execution

Program Tasks – Execution

● Manage the project schedule.

● Manage the project budget.

● Manage issues and risks.

● Manage communication.

● Manage scope and change.

● Manage the team.

● Manage quality.

● Manage project procurement.

● Manage the program milestones.

● Manage the program budget.

● Manage program issues and risks.

● Manage program communication.

● Manage program scope and change.

● Manage human resources.

● Manage quality.

● Manage program procurement.

● Apply stakeholder management.

● Apply program governance.

 

 

 

In the PMBOK, integration management is the set of project management processes used to make sure that projects are properly coordinated. Project plans, project execution and change control techniques are all used to steer each project in the right direction.

One of the key roles of the program manager is to ensure that all the work streams connect together. Project teams have a more focused view on the work that comprises a project; the program manager has a broad view of all the work streams. This role needs to see how all the “gives and gets” integrate across the timelines. As a program manager, it’s also important to understand the major dependencies across project teams. You don’t necessarily need to integrate every project schedule and every task as a program manager, but you should develop a program-level plan that integrates the major milestones.

I was once involved in a digital marketing program, where the IT team was delivering a content management system with different components. The global marketing team would develop different sites based on the components delivered. As the program unfolded, both European and U.S. marketing teams needed to know when specific components would be delivered by the IT team. If IT was late, the site development was impacted.

Every project has issues and risks. As the program manager, you don’t need to manage or even know about all of them. The program manager needs to know about the program-level issues and risks but doesn’t need to know about every risk with each project. The guideline I use is to focus on issues that impact a milestone. Otherwise, you’ll be reviewing every issue and risk during program status meetings, and that would take hours.

All project-level issues and risks should be available for the program manager to review. Have a log for common risks and issues, so they can be categorized.

Project vs. Program Closure

The closure phase is the last phase where the project or program manager formally closes the project.

Project Tasks – Closure

Program Tasks – Closure

● Conduct project conclusion and lessons learned.

● Transition solution to operations team.

● Confirm project success or failure.

● Provide performance feedback.

● Disperse resources.

● Close financial contracts.

● Archive project documents.

● Conduct program conclusion and lessons learned meeting with the PMO or project lead.

● Transition solution to multiple operations teams.

● Provide performance feedback on PMO/project lead resources.

● Disperse PMO/project lead.

● Close any financial contracts.

● Archive program documents.

Each project in a program will have its own set of lessons learned; however, the program PMO or project lead will also a set of lessons learned. Project managers will provide performance feedback to respective resource managers; the program manager might also provide feedback on the team that formed the PMO. In an IT program, there can be multiple operational groups that need to support the systems delivered—and more teams requires more communication. Financial close out and the archiving of documents is similar across both efforts, except the size could differ in a program.

Program management is an important role in a project-driven organization. It’s also an exciting challenge in a project manager’s career. As you familiarize yourself with the difference between project management and program management, and even consider program manager as the next step in your career, it’s important to identify exactly how these roles differ. Programs are more complex and require more political awareness than the average project. However, the satisfaction from delivering across complex organizations is a rewarding one!

Here’s something project and program managers have in common: the need for a reliable project management tool! Is yours up to snuff? Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

Take the assessment!

What We’re Reading: Work Smarter, Not Harder

what we

Are you busy? Or do you think you’re busy because you spend a lot of time working?

If you answered yes to this last question, then stop what you’re doing and read this Inc. article, “Why Working Hard Isn’t the Same as Working Smart ,” from entrepreneur and startup author Steve Blank.

Blank’s thesis is simple yet important. If you’re the type of person who feels like hard work is based on the amount of time spent working, you’re doing it wrong.

To me, this idea is hard to digest yet totally on point. I was taught long ago that the only way to make something good was to spend lots of time working on it. But as I’ve progressed in my career it’s clear that output measured in hours is not the right metric to benchmark success. Instead, we should measure work in terms of the quality of the end product. Who cares if it takes 30 minutes or two hours to produce something great?

We strive to create great, valuable, and simple things. Be it a blog post, a business service or consumer product, quality over quantity is what matters.

And this is exactly Blank’s point: too many leaders, entrepreneurs and company employees apply antiquated measurement practices based on hours worked to digital business. This leads to an always-on mentality in which success is viewed through the lens of time spent working. As Blank puts it, “long hours don’t necessary mean success.”

Hours spent working—a vestige of a bygone era?

There’s lots of research on this subject to back up this point. The Harvard Business Review post, “The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies” is about how long hours hurt people and companies. Author Sarah Green Charmichael notes that overwork is harmful to the companies that we work for. Citing a study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, overwork can lead to health issues, depressed employees, missed work, rising health insurance costs and turnover.

So, instead of measuring your productivity in hours and jeopardizing your health, work smart, aim for quality output and spend the energy you save doing high-value activities like playing with you kids, traveling, reading or taking that online learning course you always wanted to. Stop overworking your brain; you’ll be more productive as a result.

Our reading list this week:

Bonus Story! The most read blog post of the week:

Like what you read? Have suggestions? Drop me a note @mmerwin.

 

How Project Management Tackles Supply Chain Complexity

supply chain software

Supply chains continue to increase in complexity. I’ve observed this firsthand from managing hundreds of projects in manufacturing organizations over the last 25 years, including navigating end-to-end supply chain. Being able to effectively manage this complexity is essential to achieve important business objectives–growth and profitability.

For starters, you want to identify the factors that contribute to these complexities: the geographical spread of customers and suppliers; risk and security considerations; regulatory and compliance hurdles; increased customer expectations for shortened lead times, and an increase in the number of players involved are all factors that are increasing supply chain complexity. After all, we live in a global world!

A common thread through all these factors is the number of connection points between suppliers and customers.

Connection Points Drive Complexity
My most successful clients manage complexity by focusing in on connection points. Connection points are those points that link two or more unique people, processes, systems, functions or supply chain partners.

For example, when two functional departments work together to introduce a new product, there will undoubtedly be several points of intersection. These points are typically more complex to manage, and create a higher degree of delays and issues than other points in the new product development process. Imagine developing a new product while collaborating with suppliers and customers. The customers are providing feedback and suggestions on their needs; in the meantime, the suppliers could be collaborating on a new design, new packaging or ways to reduce line scrap. These connection points increase complexity. And one of the most effective ways to manage these complexities is using project management processes and tools.

Here are three ways project management helps teams manage the connection points of supply chain complexity.

1. Use the Critical Path Method

These supply chain connection points are usually on the critical path of the project. Critical path, a project management technique used to show the sequence of activities in a project schedule, helps organizations get a handle on this complexity. Project management software lets you visualize this critical path—a path that includes tasks with dependencies, arranged in a particular order that’s required to complete the project on the shortest path to success.

Using project management tools to identify and manage the critical path is an effective way to do everything from reminding product groups of upcoming collaborative tasks, to making sure that teams and vendors are focusing on the right activity at the right time, or at least aware of delays that can affect other pressing deadlines.

Once you know the tasks specific to the critical path, the secret to success is to focus 80 percent of your attention on these particular tasks. This way you simplify your approach but have the largest impact.

supply chain
2. Communicate and Collaborate

It’s no secret that communication is at the crux of success when managing complexity. For example, a SIOP (sales and inventory operation plan) or a sales and operations planning process can run across supply chain partners, which provides a vehicle to communicate and collaborate on demand-and-supply topics.

I’ve worked with manufacturers and distributors from a wide variety of industries (aerospace, building products, food) and found that although a SIOP process does an effective job of aligning demand and supply, it does an even better job of facilitating the cross-communication of all the functions of an organization—often including the customers and suppliers.

Another way to bridge any communication gaps is to use collaborative project management software. It provides a single source of truth for project and team activity and schedule updates, especially when connection points include global teams working in different time zones.

Here’s another simple way to approach communication to streamline supply chain complexities:  Pick up the phone. If the operations plan or project management platform reveals incoming issues, talk to those task owners who are dependent on you, as well as the people you’re dependent upon.

3. Use Agile Processes

Last but definitely not least, consider following an Agile approach to managing supply chain complexity. Agile, a set of fast and flexible processes that accounts for change, helps teams adapt to marketplace opportunities, and improves business performance, lets you to break down complexity into reasonable chunks. Once you try a simple set of circumstances, you add layers of complexity and test again. Thus, it becomes easier to identify issues and manage complexity because you understand what each layer of complexity affects.

Here’s an example: I once worked with a building products manufacturer to select an ERP system and design business processes for the new ERP system. My team started out by reviewing a simple configuration. Once we got the simple configuration working, we added complexity—layers of options customers might request, data we wanted to collect for business intelligence reporting, etc. By following this Agile approach, we were able to build up to a solution that supported the business in a faster-moving and more successful way (which also focused on the 80/20 rule from a functionality perspective). If we had tried a complex equation, we would have been challenged to figure out which of the many issues arose from which factor or input.

Since the global recession, volatility and complexity are the new normal in supply chain manufacturing. If you lead a team or a project, the more you learn how to successfully manage complexity, the more you’ll thrive. And simplifying complexity is a starting point that will pay big dividends. Also, in today’s Internet-purchasing world, speed is cornerstone. Since managing complexity improves speed and effectiveness, companies that can manage complexity often leapfrog their competition.

The best way to manage all those connection points? The right project management methodology—one that’s dynamic and will support the way teams really work and respond to changes. To learn more, download “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

Making the Inc. 5000: We’re Niche and We’re Proud of It

Hi LiquidPlanner readers! We’ve got some exciting news to share this week.

I’m thrilled to announce that we made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America! It’s an honor to be included as it’s one of, if not the most comprehensive look at the trajectory of thousands of innovative companies that don’t typically talk about financial performance. The Inc. 5000 rankings are based on three years of verified revenue growth, and while it’s scary to reveal, I’m incredibly proud of our results.

The Inc. 5000 listing is a great follow up to our successful launch of LiquidPlanner Small Team edition, something we think will be a game changer for our business. Small Team edition is built to help teams of five take advantage of our fab online project scheduling and collaboration software. Our goal is to help every team, independent of size, ditch old-school spreadsheets and instead modernize how they approach planning and accomplishing work with a dynamic online project tool like LiquidPlanner.

Making the Inc. 5000

For those of you who run a business, you know how challenging it is gain market traction and stand out in a crowded industry. The project and work management space is no different. Project management plays a massive role in every business. Do it well and your team can turn strategies into plans, plans into action and action into industry-winning products. We take great pride in helping our customers do this in a dynamic manner, every day.

Make no mistake, we’re OK with being niche; in fact, we’re banking on it. I can say, quite proudly, that being niche is helping us achieve our goals, from winning customers in the technology and manufacturing space to hitting critical financial milestones. We’re niche and we’re proud of it.

And that’s why the Inc. 5000 recognition is important. It’s a stepping stone in a long path of validation that our approach not only works, but works really well.

At our core, we’re a company built upon the fundamental believe that ingenuity, creativity and attention to details at the product, customer service and financial level is what makes us unique and ultimately successful.

So, a big thanks to the entire LiquidPlanner team who busts their asses every day to build a unique and powerful product backed by amazing customer support and service. I’d also like to say thank you to our customers – we’re here as long as you get value from LiquidPlanner every day. Thank you!

Check out our Inc. 5000 profile here.

To learn more about how we help companies grow and thrive, download our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

What We’re Reading: Winning Teams and Working Smarter

team work

This weekend marks a big milestone from the whole team here at LiquidPlanner – we’re gearing up to introduce a cool new product that we think will help small teams do big things. Check back in on the blog this Monday to find out! To celebrate and get inspired, here are some stories about teamwork and working smarter that we hope helps you achieve great things.

Bonus Story! The most read blog post of the week:

Happy teamwork!

Like what you read? Have suggestions? Drop me a note @mmerwin.

If you want to read up on how to be the top dog of project managers, download our handbook, The Ultimate Project Management Guide.”

Ultimate PM Guide