Imagine this. You walk into your Monday morning stand-up meeting. Everyone’s there, coffee in-hand, smiling. Why are they smiling, on a Monday no less? Because last week’s project was completed early and under budget.
Smiles on a Monday morning is just one sign that your PM solution is working. Here are seven more:
Your project schedule is up-to-date and reliable.
When each team member is responsible for updating project progress and communicating changes, your project management solution becomes integrated into your daily work. Your project manager is facilitating the project and working with the team, instead of chasing them for updates.
Priorities are clear.
When projects and tasks are organized by priority, you never doubt what you should be working on. A solution that notifies you when priorities change gives you access to the most up-to-date project plan.
You know what your team is working on.
At any moment you can see what your team is working on, what they have done this week, and what is coming up. You have complete visibility. You never worry about a project slipping due to a communication error because all project information is in one location.
Your project deadlines are realistic. Your project deadlines are based on ranged estimates that account for uncertainty. At-risk items are flagged so you can react fast. Deadlines are reachable, and you have the data to back that up.
New work doesn’t destroy the plan.
With an agile, flexible project management tool, you can easily see if you have the bandwidth to take on more work and who has the flexibility to work on this project. Or, you can use data to explain why a new project needs to be pushed off.
Resources are not overbooked.
You know how to reallocate team members when deadlines change. You have the ability to look at each person’s workload and decide who has time to take on more work or if you need to recruit more help.
Your relationship with clients and stakeholders is strong.
If you have a reliable project plan, you can give your clients and stakeholders real information. You can show them why a project will not reach a deadline or what will happen if they make a change to the plan. Rather than guessing or giving false information, you are giving them answers based on data.
So, did you find yourself nodding along? Or does your project management tool leave something to be desired?
If a project team is struggling, a common reaction is to host a daily stand-up meeting. The term “stand-up” has a wide interpretation. Many of the stand-ups I’ve attended have turned into sit-downs because the meeting lasted for an hour rather than a few minutes.
In these stand-ups, project managers typically review a project schedule, assign tasks, and discuss an open list of issues. In Agile projects, the stand-up is optimized to focus on existing work in progress, next steps, and current roadblocks.
Regardless of Agile or non-Agile projects, I’ve seen team struggle with these questions:
Who is working on what?
What is the status of a given task or deliverable?
Why is the task taking so long?
Why isn’t a team member pulling his weight?
Why isn’t that task finished?
Project managers apply tools and project schedules to help track the work and answer these questions. The Gantt chart is a useful tool to determine who is working on specific tasks and to track task status. Despite its utility, an exhaustive project schedule can be overwhelming for team members, stakeholders, and even project managers.
The Gantt chart can be overwhelming on large projects as team members want to know what to work on now instead of all the tasks across the project lifetime.
An alternative solution is to use a Kanban board,also know as the Card View in LiquidPlanner, to bring clarity and focus to project delivery.
The Kanban solution has its roots in Japanese manufacturing and is associated with instruction cards being sent through the production assembly line. Software tools have enabled the Kanban solution to work across virtual teams and promote better collaboration and productivity.
With a Kanban board, tasks start in a To Do column and move across different column statuses until the work is Done. Kanban boards can be setup based on a business process or a team’s workflow. In the example above I use the following columns with my teams:
To Do – Unstarted tasks
In Progress – Active unfinished tasks
Blocked – Tasks that are blocked due to an issue
Customer Review – Tasks ready for customer review and approval
Done – Completed tasks
As team members work on each card, they move their tasks across the different columns. By focusing on the work in manageable chunks, the team can see the status of the work in process. If tasks are blocked, the team can discuss the issues and work together to either remove the blockage or defer the task to another time. If the task is rejected by the customer or there is a problem with the deliverable, the card is move back to the In Progress column for rework.
The Kanban board offers several benefits to help improve productivity, including:
Identification of project bottlenecks
Defined focus on specific work
Drive for completion
While a project schedule is an excellent forecasting tool and identifies who is responsible for specific tasks, the Kanban board is more effective to drive productivity because of the transparency provided to the team. If a team member is assigned a task and hasn’t moved it to the In Progress column or isn’t demonstrating progress, the entire team is aware. Teams can break down the tasks into smaller cards so progress can be visibly observed.
By glancing at the Kanban board, the team knows the status. It improves communication visually, identifies delays, and provides a subset of tasks for team to focus on and deliver. As cards move from To-Do to Done, there is a sense of accomplishment and drive to complete the set of tasks within the given time period. The transparency is also motivating as each person knows the team is depending on them for specific tasks especially when the board is reviewed daily.
Using the Kanban Board in Your Daily Stand Up
In my Agile teams, reviewing the Kanban board at the daily stand-up was instrumental in communication and improving productivity. In prior Agile projects, I’ve been on teams where the group talks about their accomplishments, roadblocks, and upcoming tasks but they never tied the progress to the board. If you’re not implementing Agile principles, the Kanban board can still be useful by focusing on the key tasks within the next couple of weeks on the project schedule.
Each team member should be working on one and only one card on the Kanban board. Working on the highest priority card first and moving it to done allows the team to focus versus switching between multiple tasks. I’m not a fan of multitasking as the switching cost kills productivity. If the card can’t be progressed any further, it is moved to the blocked column and the next item on the board can be started.
Switching between Kanban and Traditional Planning
The Kanban board is one tool to help improve productivity and works well with a subset of tasks. “Sprints” work well with Kanban boards because the cards represent a subset of the overall schedule. Using software-based Kanban boards provides better communication with other stakeholders and still lowers the project managers administrative burden.
With LiquidPlanner, the team member can click on a specific card and update the remaining effort, update sub-tasks, and provide collaborate in threaded discussions. Project managers can use the Kanban board to manage week-long execution and then switch to the Gantt Chart view to assess the overall project progress.
Give Kanban a Try
Organizations have a never ending stream of work and teams are always looking for better ways to communicate, collaborate and deliver work better. Kanban provides the visibility to team progress and accountability. It also reinforces each person’s individual commitment to “move the ball forward” on card at a time.
Looking for more project management know-how? This eBook, How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges, provides practical tips and solutions to common project management challenges. You’ll also see how LiquidPlanner helps you meet your challenges—and turn them into opportunities!
A seemingly simple question that can become a project management nightmare to manage.
If you don’t give an answer, you’re viewed as incompetent and unable to estimate. (How could you NOT know? After all, you’re the project manager!) If you give a qualified answer, you risk being held to that original date despite the need to analyze requirements further, discuss with vendors and do proper project planning.
If you’re right and the project delivers on time, you’ll be heralded as a “someone who can deliver.” If you’re wrong, you’ll be regarded as “someone who can’t deliver.” The reality is you’re only as good as your last project and achieving a project date given months in advance is based on leadership, a drive for results, successfully managing expectations and let’s face it—luck!
Instead of relying on luck to deliver our projects, we need to change the way we communicate a project’s launch date and overall project costs.
In over 20 years of working in the software industry, the only thing I am certain about is uncertainty. No two projects are ever the same. Even if you manage similar projects, the requirements vary, the people and stakeholder needs change, the technology platforms adjust and the business has different priorities and project constraints. Due to these ever changing factors, software projects are full of uncertainty.
Good project managers will put risk management, change control and communication plans in place to manage scope and balance uncertainty. However, even better project managers look to embrace change and uncertainty while planning for it! One of the reason’s Agile software management practices have been so popular is they help teams embrace uncertainty.
The Cone of Uncertainty has been around since the 1950s but is popular among Agile teams to explain why a project’s effort and scope could be either 4 times or ¼ the size of the original estimate. Over time, the estimation variability decreases as the project team understand more about the requirements and the actual effort to deliver the project.
How to Embrace Uncertainty in Software Projects
Project teams can help embrace uncertainty by applying several approaches, including:
1. Embrace rolling planning and incremental funding.
Rolling planning helps project teams and customers refine estimates and make better decisions across the project lifecycle. Instead of funding an entire project, fund an Analysis phase or fund a few sprints to develop a valid proof of concept. Once the analysis or the proof of concept is completed, the team will have better estimates and can refine the project dates and the project costs.
This approach impacts traditional financial processes and budgeting as stakeholders need to request a budget first but can’t commit upfront to the end date and final deliverables. Transparency, incremental delivery and upfront communication on project unknowns is critical to clearing this hurdle.
2. Use ranged estimation versus single point estimates.
The LiquidPlanner blog has several articles highlighting the benefits of ranged estimates vs. single point estimates. Team members will find it easier to provide a high and low estimate vs. a single point estimate as it gives them some wiggle room for unknowns. As the task progresses, the same ranged estimate for remaining work is provided.
The team can speak to status using these ranges and over time they will have greater confidence in a project’s expected finish date. Knowing a tool like LiquidPlanner provides this level of estimation at the project and task level is very helpful in clarifying uncertainty.
3. Deliver highest value features first.
Another Agile concept to manage the Cone of Uncertainty is to deliver higher value features first. In a past Kronos timekeeping implementation for a manufacturing organization, my team focused on delivering the core timekeeping features early in the project before moving on to the workforce management features. The plant wanted the plant floor workforce management features but there were a lot of union specific rules that needed to be sorted out before the package could be configured (i.e. uncertainty).
By delivering the timekeeping features first, we met a critical business need. The labor rules were so convoluted that the workforce management features were never implemented. Focusing on the features that provided the greatest return improved the project satisfaction. Worrying about a resource indicator that would never be activated due to business and technology issues was non-value add.
4. Communicate the unknowns early.
Successful project management is based on trust, collaboration and frequent communication on the project health. By communicating the unknowns early and providing options to address uncertainty, both stakeholders have an equal opportunity to manage the risk affecting project timelines and deliverables. The problems start when the client and the delivery team fail to maintain trust and communication.
Project teams will always have challenges managing the project triangle of scope, cost and time. At the start of a project, uncertainty is at its largest and teams need to avoid making promises they can’t keep. A better approach is to work incrementally, provide frequent feedback and use effective tools to help forecast end dates based on actual data instead of emotion.
Uncertainty will always exist. The best approach is to embrace it rather than ignore it.
Managing projects is hard work. You need to have a wide range of knowledge and skills—from tracking schedules and satisfying stakeholders to juggling people and technical skills. This eBook, How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges, provides practical tips and solutions to common project management challenges. You’ll also see how LiquidPlanner helps you meet your challenges—and turn them into opportunities!
As a consultant, I frequently work with companies that lack a unified business process and struggle to deliver their projects on time. Even though I hear the same story time and again, I’m surprised by how so many organizations function in a state of constant chaos. It doesn’t have to be this way!
With just 6 steps, you can go from missed deadlines and isolated teams to a shared process and on-time delivery. Before I go into detail on these steps, it’s important to understand how companies get to a chaotic existence in the first place and when it might be time to re-evaluate your own business processes.
A Familiar Story
I was recently consulting with a large made to order (MTO) manufacturing company that wanted to implement a software solution to improve throughput and on-time performance. At first, it seemed odd to me that the solution got more push back from floor supervisors than the management. It turned out that the floor supervisors didn’t understand how their disparate processes were negatively impacting the business or how this new system would benefit them– what motivation did they have to change?
To get a sense for how each group was running their projects, I conducted a survey of the different spreadsheet programs that were being used. Most floor managers were using Excel to manage their projects and more than a few had become Visual Basic experts, proud of their current methods. I ended the survey early, since it was clear that each group was using an isolated solution and process that was completely independent of other areas of the business.
This created a massive problem for managers and executives–they had zero visibility! There was no central source of truth to see how project plans and workload interacted across the organization. It also created problems for the floor supervisors who were using siloed spreadsheets. Since different teams occasionally shared resources, decisions made by one team could have damaging consequences on another, leading to finger pointing and blame as opposed to communication and collaboration. Managers had to rely on emails, phone calls, or walking out to the floor to understand an order’s status.
My client needed more than just a process overhaul–they also needed to implement dynamic project management software that worked across the entire organization.
A Process to Drive Positive Change
Over the years, I’ve found that the problems that exist in MTO environments mirror those in all other project management applications. According to a Gallup Business Journal article:
39% of projects fail due to lack of planning, resources, and activities.
57% of projects fail due to a breakdown in communications.
To overcome these two failures, I established a business process called Dependency, Variation and Analysis (DVA) that surrounds a dynamic project management software solution like LiquidPlanner. The DVA process has 6 components:
A focused objective, such as “Delivering projects on time.”
Clear metrics, such as “95% on time performance.”
An agreed upon network with clearly defined tasks and resources.
Captured variation in the form of best-case to worst-case task estimates.
Establishing a completion date using “What If” analysis.
A method of routine collaboration and communication.
Here’s how you can use DVA to improve your business processes and hit your deadlines.
1. Create a Focused Objective
One way to resolve conflict is make sure everyone knows why they are doing this work. It’s a simple one-sentence line, like deliver engineer-to-order projects to customers at our promise dates 95% of the time.
2. Identify Clear Metrics
The saying, “tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will react” should drive your business process to make the metrics clear. Ideally, there should only be one or two metrics to focus on. Too many metrics can cause conflict because teams often sacrifice one to improve another. For project management, they are typically based on delivering projects on time and under budget.
3. Plan the Network
The floor supervisors in my example ignored the impact that their decisions had on other groups. They started working on tasks before a dependency was complete to keep their teams busy and looking efficient. If a change notice was issued, the task that shouldn’t have been started had to be re-done, causing confusion, extra expenditures, and lost time. This also often generated a fair amount of finger pointing between the groups.
Network creation begins with the project team coming to a half-day meeting. Every person gets a package of sticky notes, a marker, and the assignment of writing down the tasks they think need to be included in the network. These notes are then placed on a wall, and duplicate tasks and those that don’t support the objective are removed. The order of tasks is established from left to right, and any dependencies are captured.
If the project team is not all in the same geographic location, however, this step becomes a little more complicated. This is where LiquidPlanner’s works well. Cards with task names can be added by team members in different locations. The duplicate tasks can be moved to their own column or deleted. Then, planned tasks are assigned resources and dependencies. Many tasks compete for time on the same constrained resource, so creating a schedule in priority order is important when managing a constraint.
4. Capture Variation
Capturing variation in tasks is the next order of business. The only way to do this is to estimate using a range. LiquidPlanner is the only project management solution I have found that allows teams to plan with best-case to worst-case ranged estimation and includes the variation as part of its schedule calculations. Because the people who are actually doing the work are the ones adding the estimates, the plan is much more realistic.
It’s important to realize that the worst-case estimate can have the biggest impact on the duration of the project, so we ask for team members to be a bit paranoid, but not “crazy paranoid,” in estimating their tasks.
5. Establish a Completion Date using “What If” Planning
The first predicted completion date is generated using LiquidPlanner and includes dates for the entire portfolio. If the finish date doesn’t meet our requirements, the team goes through a “What If” analysis to determine if changing assignments, priorities, or adding help improves the lead time. This “What If” process only happens once during a routine meeting (we’ll get to these meetings in the next step). By the end of the meeting, we have a solid plan in place that all stakeholders agree on.
6. Schedule Routine Communication
Once the network in place, a process must be established to keep projects on pace with their deadlines. This is accomplished with a daily 15-minute meeting focused only on projects that are in the red and strategies to get them back in line. The results of the meeting are recorded as a comment in LiquidPlanner. Team members that can’t attend the meeting update their estimates and leave comments as well. Having all team communication in one place increases clarity and eliminates the need for managers to chase people down in pursuit of answers.
Change is always hard, but it is necessary to get the results you want. My clients that implement the DVA process along with a dynamic software solution like LiquidPlanner see on-time performance reach or exceed 95%. They also notice a significant emotional shift across the team as chaos, conflict, and confusion are replaced with focus, clarity, and teamwork. Of course, increased profitability doesn’t hurt either!
If you would like to learn more about the DVA process and how I can help your organization establish a unified process, visit www.kohls-consulting.com.
Kevin Kohls has been using the Theory of Constraints in business for almost 30 years. He developed GM’s Throughput Improvement Process (TIP), and is a past winner of both the Franz Edelman Operations Research award and the Boss Kettering Award for Innovation. He is current writing “Addicted to Hopium”, describing how to set up and run profitable improvement processes.
In any given year, I attend a lot of project management conferences. There are always common themes that come up at these conferences, but these days it seems that you can’t turn around without getting smacked in the face by Lean Six Sigma. It’s everywhere, and it’s not a fad. Lean Six Sigma has been growing up for quite a while now. It’s no longer the new kid on the block. It’s more like the youth who went away to school and returned as a ripped 26-year-old athlete. It has matured in all the right ways, and right now it is entering a golden age.
Before we go any further, allow me to make a confession: I believe that Lean Six Sigma is the dharma path for much of manufacturing. That is true, at least, until someone discovers a better way, which they eventually will. It’s true for manufacturing projects, but innovators are also extending it to projects trying to create a standardized outcome for their service delivery. Quality is quality, and Lean Six Sigma can push yours higher.
Why Lean Six Sigma Now?
Manufacturing had a long, slow progression up until the industrial revolution when the shift from the craftsman to the assembly line changed everything. Despite the fact that we lost some of the handmade beauty, we gained two really powerful things: predictability and repeatability. The trouble is, just because something is predictable and repeatable doesn’t necessarily make it good or high quality. When I was growing up, my friend had a 1971 Pinto. It was very predictable, and we spent a lot of time on the side of the road as a consequence.
This is where Lean Six Sigma enters into the equation. It basically looks at the process, the design, and the outcome and makes data-drive decisions to guide you in improving them. Companies like IBM and GE that have implemented this have seen incredible results that translated into economic growth.
What Makes Lean Six Sigma So Great?
Lean Six Sigma tools and methodologies are a gift to project managers who are responsible to deliver world-class quality as part of their outcome. Here’s why: As the name implies, Lean Six Sigma is a philosophy and a toolset made up of Lean principles and Six Sigma methodologies. The Lean component focuses primarily on efficiency and eliminating waste, while the Six Sigma component helps make things consistent and predictable. Together this is a combination that has not been surpassed. Seriously—it’s better than red wine and dark chocolate.
Lean Six Sigma strips down all of the processes to their shiny, bare essentials and then tunes them to be highly reliable. When it’s done right, your manufacturing project hums along like a finely tuned engine. In my opinion, getting to this stage is some of the most important work a project manager will do or oversee.
Waste relentlessly creeps into manufacturing projects from multiple angles. It is a distraction and a drain on profits at best, but it can sink successful companies when it rises to even moderate levels. The Lean community looks for waste in Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Overproduction, and Defects (abbreviated as TIMWOOD). Lean’s goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate waste in these areas, and it’s not a one-time activity. You perform it over and over, constantly seeking to improve your practice and waste less. The tricky part is that waste can sometimes be easy to see but difficult to eliminate. The good news is that once you do eliminate it, everyone benefits—your employees, the customer, and the performing organization.
The Six Sigma component seeks to make your quality consistent and to improve it to world-class level. It gives you tools to track issues, prioritize them, and systematically eliminate them. Six Sigma looks at the raw materials, the work being done, the product’s design, and the end result in order to tune them for improvement.
When Lean and Six Sigma are combined properly, it can create a magical benefit where your organization not only gets better, but it can achieve the mythical unicorn status of getting better at getting better. It’s like unlocking a secret level of efficiency.
How to Get Started
So If you’ve decided that Lean Six Sigma might be useful, where do you begin? Here are four steps to help you get underway.
1. Stop and look at your process.
Take a step away from your current process, and use fresh optics to take it all in from the top down. One great way to help with this is to create a Value Stream Map. This is where you map out the entire workflow, step by step, and carefully examine each element. Then you determine whether or not these steps add value. If it does not add value, then the step is flagged for elimination. A good Lean Six Sigma initiative puts a lot of energy into streamlining processes.
2. Measure and collect data.
If you have a manufacturing process as part of your project, then empirical measurements become all important. This is particularly true when it comes to issues and defects. Collect the metrics that tell the whole story. As Peter Drucker famously said: “What gets measured gets improved.”
Whenever something undesirable happens, lead your team through root cause analysis to understand the fundamental reason why. Then you attack these underlying causes, starting with the ones that will have the largest impact. Your goal is to get it right and then to remove any variance at production levels. In other words, nail it and scale it.
3. Train your team.
One reason training helps is that it develops a common vocabulary when it comes to production quality; another reason for training is to keep the concepts front and center. Lean Six Sigma can give quick benefits, but it’s arguably like exercise. The best benefits are realized over a long period time.
4. Focus on the Process
If you get the process right, the outcome will follow. Sometimes it takes time, but the process always drives the outcome. Be patient and relentless when it comes to this.
Even if you are not ready to commit to an entire formal Lean Six Sigma program, these steps will help you get started on the path. And this path is the one which separates the best companies in the world from all the rest.
Productivity is on the rise in manufacturing, and employment is down. This trend points to a rise in automation, as well as the need for product teams to leverage the latest technology more than ever. There’s no doubt about it: We’re entering a new world of industry.
Building IIoT experience through personal study, work, open source projects or side projects
Using mobile devices as the primary interface for some of your major systems
Getting automation to work for you (not as a replacement strategy), enabling teams and organizations to think more strategically
Moving your software systems to the cloud.
Another way project teams can resist the disruption of the fourth industrial revolution is through security expertise. The dangers of hackers will only rise in the fourth industrial revolution as even more critical systems connect to the internet.
To be successful today and into the future, here are five technology best practices that project teams need to embrace.
1. Get Ready for the Smart Factory
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will give rise to what they call the smart factory. Here, all elements of a plant including machines, products, and virtually the entire environment are networked with each other and connected to the internet.
The smart factory marks some unprecedented changes for the manufacturing project team, such as:
Flexible production capabilities to respond to changing world markets for your company’s products
Greater efficiency with building materials and energy
Greater speed through smarter production processes
More intelligent logistics through technology solutions that support product manufacturing from the customer sales cycle through final delivery.
IIoT and big data serve as the “smart” in a smart factory. IoT turns manufacturing machinery and the supply chain into intelligent agents that generate data. Analytics tools pull in that big data for self-learning.
Project teams that harness that self-learning can move from being reactionary to becoming visionary because they grasp this technology evolution. The technologies behind the smart factory offer workers improved user experience (UX) not just in application user interfaces but a modern, efficient, ergonomic workplace.
2. Big Data for Everyone
For project teams, data analytics will play a growing role in the fourth industrial revolution. One of the main reasons is that IIoT is enabling firms to capture actionable data from machinery across all their manufacturing facilities.
This means, everybody on the team will have a graphical view into data anytime, anywhere—not just project managers. A picture of machinery health and other related data will always be a few taps away. Three breeds of analytics will start to dictate what your project team maintains on the factory floor:
Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?
For example, collaboration, project management, and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions will use analytics for security. Management may consult the analytics for usage trends before negotiating the next license with the platform vendor.
The first project team in a manufacturing organization that harnesses data and analytics is going to have a front seat to the fourth industrial revolution. It’s important for your team to factor analytics and data into your project management strategy and learn to tell data-driven stories about progress (and not see the analytics as intrusive).
Think of the team in the future that wants their employer to purchase new technology to extend their manufacturing platform. The investment makes sense to the technical people on the floor. Executives, however, aren’t such an easy sell because none of them have turned a bolt since they were out of school. The crafty project team can now present compelling data that can enable them to speak to executives like they are a fellow person, not a lower level worker on the manufacturing floor.
3. Get Behind Automation on the Manufacturing Floor
Another outcome of the fourth industrial revolution is going to be automation. Indeed, it’s a sensitive topic across many industries, as automation is going to disrupt project teams. Executives spy cost savings. Employees fear the unemployment line. This clash between employees and management ultimately needs to become a platform where both parties seek out the opportunities and benefits that automation delivers the business and how to cast employees into the future.
Automation speeds up production and delivery because it reduces manual intervention on age-old jobs. To gain the benefits you’re seeking from automation—whether it’s freeing up skilled hands for more important work or reorganizing your staffing structure—you’ll need to consider the following:
Streamline your current processes or create new ones that account for the savings and other benefits automation brings to your manufacturing floor.
Inevitably, industry watchers and analysts say that automation is going to replace certain types of jobs, which may challenge the bonds of your project team. While automation-proofing your position and your team is difficult if not impossible, the smart and savvy teams facing down the fourth industrial revolution will be the ones developing, implementing, and managing automation solutions lest they might be one of the teams replaced whole or in part by automation.
4. It’s Also the Mobile Devices Revolution
Billions of people already reach for their smartphones and mobile devices first for information, collaboration and business interactions. However, the manufacturing industry is still relatively mobile poor in their technology stack. Industry 4.0 will change that by pushing mobile usage on the manufacturing floor for managers and technicians who need on-demand access to data. No more creating pivot tables in a spreadsheet; instead, think graphical rendering and reporting of data and statistics for machinery across the line.
Other factors like the rise of the citizen developer will also push mobile adoption in the fourth industrial revolution. These developers are digital age business users (not programmers) developing their own business apps using code-free or low code tools and cloud platforms. While manufacturing is seen by some as a mobile device poor industry because of budget and security concerns. Expect Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to be the first step for manufacturing enterprises to use mobile devices every day.
5. Cloud Computing Powers the Smart Factory
With the dominance of IoT, data, and analytics in the fourth industrial revolution means that cloud computing will be the platform of choice because of its flexibility and affordability. While the cloud isn’t new to some industries, manufacturing firms are behind on this trend. The retiring of legacy applications and mobile apps will help push this trend on the manufacturing floor. Forward thinking teams and organizations are already moving to the cloud; going forward, the usage of cloud and application programming interface (API) integration will increase exponentially.
Project teams walking into a smart factory for work can expect the following:
Cloud-enablement of legacy systems
Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP)
Proactive tools including analytics for scheduling of system maintenance
DevOps-like alerting for system and machinery failures.
While cloud security remains a concern across industries there have been security advancements by public cloud providers. The hybrid cloud, and the private cloud are lessening such worries for small to mid-sized firms that can’t afford in-house IT security expertise on a full-time basis.
Change Strengthens Project Teams
Change can be disruptive to some types of personalities and management structures. Some pundits and analysts tracking the fourth industrial revolution believe the role of government will become even more important. I say the role and power of the technology project team will become more important because they are the ones doing the work.
Today’s knowledge workers have some recourse for the fourth industrial revolution because they can educate themselves on the technologies powering the fourth generation to better position themselves inside their company.
How is your team preparing for the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution?
As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some project management trends we can expect to see in 2017. With all the talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and anticipation among future-thinkers and business leaders around Industry 4.0, a lot of industry trends and processes are focused on how to succeed in a new world of technology, market demands and productivity requirements.
As always, market forces continue to influence how businesses manage their projects. To prepare for what’s ahead, here are five project management industry trends that will gain traction in 2017.
Open source development platforms will make IIoT development possible for even smaller to mid-sized manufacturing firms. Each of those IIoT devices implemented across a manufacturing facility will generate data on the health of the machinery. That data, in turn, will be a foundation for new implementations, maintenance, and just daily operations.
IIoT will bring changes to project management, including:
New challenges to support a constant availability of systems
More analysis work on part of project managers and their teams because of the explosion in data that IIoT bring to the company
The need for an IIoT strategy across the manufacturing floor.
Such a fundamental change in the foundation of projects will drive project managers to adjust their frameworks, strategies and how they deliver projects to their customers.
With IIoT, project teams will be building out more analytics tools and dashboards to give executive management insights into the manufacturing systems under their control.
Analytics will also have some profound changes over project management because of the unprecedented access to analytics including:
Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?”
While prescriptive analytics might seem a bit Star Trek, think of how simulation algorithms could improve how you plan projects and even staff scheduling!
3. Flexible knowledge management
The changing workforce in manufacturing is going to require project managers to keep knowledge management (KM) flexible to meet the learning needs of a transitional workforce on the manufacturing floor. You can expect to see more KM in the cloud, as more companies retire legacy KM solutions that have been cobbled together over the years. Don’t expect to see any new KM platforms entering the market; with the volume of data and documentation that manufacturing project teams produce, cloud collaboration platforms (with full featured mobile clients) will effectively handle the growth in KM.
2017 will also mark more decentralization of KM because of the growth of the cloud inside the manufacturing enterprise. Project teams will add KM to their already growing list of tasks.
4. Project management platform by API
Project management tools started on paper, moved to the desktop PC, then evolved into the cloud and mobile. You can expect to see what I call project management by application programming interface (API) as a future trend. It’s where project management extends beyond your cloud project management platform of choice through integration with other backend business platforms–whether it’s your enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, customer relationship management (CRM) platform or some legacy applications your internal development team has already migrated to the cloud.
The primary interface to project management applications in a manufacturing environment is going to be mobile first. Project managers walking the floor, going to meetings, and working with machinery will need real-time access to project management data anytime, anywhere–and not just from their desk.
Mesh networks and next-generation WiFi will help push this trend forward. Not to mention, project management tool vendors must continue improving user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) to push this trend fully to its potential.
Look for service engineers to get their assignments and report on their activities directly from their mobile or handheld devices. Some are saying that mobility faces an uphill battle in manufacturing. I see project management as the best on-ramp for firms to go mobile. I see shadow IT and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) igniting this trend inside mid- to large-sized companies until budgets and the IT department align.
To a successful 2017!
It will be interesting to see how this year takes us further into Industry 4.0. However the markets unfold and affect businesses, the way teams manage projects is changing to keep up with shifting productivity demands. The organizations that can harness these trends will find themselves as leaders in their industries.
Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: email@example.com. Anonymity included.
Dear Elizabeth: My company’s management team is talking a lot about the incoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. I’m hearing a lot about how we’re going to have to increase productivity and flexibility in our processes. As a product team manager this sounds exciting but I’m not sure what to do to prepare. Advice? –Lagging Behind
Dear Lagging: Industry 4.0 is all about the Internet of Things and bringing computers and automation together in an entirely new way. It’s pretty cool, and it’s great that you are thinking about it now.
Being more flexible and increasing productivity is something that managers through the ages have aspired to. The reason we have robots on manufacturing lines is because someone wanted better productivity than what could be achieved with human workers. So in many respects, the ideas are things that you’ve been subconsciously aware of for some time.
I would start by looking at the flows of work in your area and around your product. Approaches like Six Sigma and Lean can help here: Ultimately you are trying to find duplicated effort and waste in the process so that you can strip it out. I’ve always thought that was a good starting point but it doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes you’ll need to totally re-engineer a process to make it incrementally more productive and your team might already have some ideas about how to do that. Why not ask them?
Aside from that, think about the tools you use and how they are going to support you. Software like LiquidPlanner allows you to stay flexible and shift between priorities, so make sure that you have the underpinning infrastructure and systems to meet the demand for flexibility when it comes.
Dear Elizabeth: It’s that time of year again—reviewing the year gone by and preparing for 2017 goals and commitments. I could use some new ideas to get myself and my team excited about reviewing what they’ve accomplished and using that to set up some goals they’re excited about. Any tips? – Goal Tender
Dear Goal Tender: First, congratulations on caring enough about your team that you want them to be excited about the coming year and what they’ve achieved. Far too many people in your situation see end-of-year reviews as a bureaucratic process to get through before they leave for the holidays. So, kudos to you!
I find that team members have short memories and will often only bring to the table things that they have achieved in the last few months. You could give them a template that says things like:
In March I achieved . . .
In April I delighted this customer . . .
And so on. Ask them to go through their project plans, notebooks and emails to find the examples if they don’t immediately spring to mind. There are a ton of achievements stored in their project management software so they will be able to find something, I promise.
As for 2017, you could think forward and ask them to imagine what their 2017 end of year review would look like. What do they hope they have achieved? What projects would they like to have worked on, or what skills would they have developed? This can help build a sense of interest in the coming year.
Finally, use the end of year conversations with your team to share with them as much as you can about the wider business plans. People are inspired when they know they are part of a company that is going somewhere. Talk about the plans you have for new clients and new projects and business developments. Show them what they could be part of over the next 12 months.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Project plans exist for a reason. And while your odds of success improve if you actually use them, plans are all too often consigned to the rubbish bin during the execution stage of a project. Why? Even the most meticulously crafted plans get tossed aside because they struggle (and often fail) to deal with change and uncertainty. This uncertainty could be driven by changing customer demands, seasonal events, resource availability or even by a lack of sufficient historical data or analogous projects for estimation.
While project managers try to account for this uncertainty in the planning process, most traditional tools do a bad job of setting teams up for success. Project managers and teams have no choice but to move heaven and earth to ship projects on time, on budget, and to the quality standards that were agreed on initially. These heroics are not sustainable. They are also not scalable as companies seek to expand.
The Costs of Abandoning the Plan
Creating a project plan is the most effective tool in a project manager’s arsenal for aligning resources to the requirements of the project. This plan is what helps your business deliver on its potential and execute on strategy. However, a plan that doesn’t help a business cope with uncertainty can actually end up hurting the business when projects aren’t delivered on time or when projects aren’t flighted at all.
Not sticking to project plans can also hurt the team. Unclear and shifting priorities translate into randomized teams that aren’t working on the right thing at the right time. In addition, project contributors burn out when they chase deadlines that have become unreasonable because of some unexpected change. In a day and age when technical teams are stretched to the limit and it’s hard to hire new talent, this misguided commitment to unrealistic dates can be catastrophic to employee satisfaction and ultimately, the bottom line for the entire business.
Then, there are the personal risks for project managers. Committing to unrealistic delivery dates forces project managers to abide by a social contract based on bad incentives. If a project manager puts her name on a deadline and then doesn’t hit it, she feels incompetent, and she feels like she’s let the team and the company down. If abandoning plans is so painful, why then do we set ourselves up to fail?
Death by Uncertainty
The major driver that undermines the project manager’s best efforts is uncertainty. In spite of their textbook planning process, teams find that the reality that they encounter during the execution of the project is unforeseen, unpredictable, and sometimes just plain unfair. Static and rigid project plans are no help in dealing with this uncertainty.
The more detailed a static plan is, the higher the number of built-in assumptions, and therefore the more brittle the plan. This static nature makes it hard to adapt when assumptions or conditions change. A key driver of the static nature of plans is the fact that they’re based solely on tasks and dates.
Tangled in Tasks and Dates
Traditional project management systems like Microsoft Project and spreadsheets start and end the project planning process with tasks and dates. This approach causes teams to overlook the two major drivers of business success: people and priorities. The lack of connection between people and priorities on one hand and tasks and dates on the other is what makes project plans rigid and unresponsive.
Tasks and dates matter, of course. It’s just that they should enter the picture only after you’ve sorted out your priorities work items, and the people that will take on the appropriate set of priorities. This approach ensures that your allocation of resources is driven by your strategic business goals. It also ensures that you’re not over or under assigning work. Traditional tools often get this wrong because they treat resource allocation and work estimation as an afterthought. These traditional tools are also subpar when it comes to project estimation.
Inaccurate and Under-utilized Estimations
The best way to represent uncertainty in a project is by estimating the amount of effort required for the work. That being said, estimating projects is hard. The only time you know precisely how long it takes to complete a project is when it’s done. Up to the point of delivery, teams use educated guesswork to predict the future. And the bigger and more complex a project, the hazier that future. There are three reasons why faulty estimations let teams down.
First, project managers account for uncertainty as single-point estimates, that are typically padded guesses. When someone asks you how long it takes you to drive to work, you probably say something like, “somewhere between 20 to 35 minutes,” not “23 minutes.” Traffic, like projects, has a lot of variables. When plans are built off of single-point estimates, there’s no room for error or adjustments.
Second, people confuse effort with duration. Estimating work in terms of effort is very different from guessing the number of calendar days until a task will be done. If a task is estimated at 5 to 10 days, that means you expect to put in 5 to 10 full days of work in order to complete it; you’re not specifying when that work will be done. Since there are many other factors like dependencies, vacations, wait time, and availability that can impact the completion date of a task, making a guess about duration just isn’t good practice.
Third, traditional tools are designed to be used by project managers alone, so estimates are often out of sync with what project contributors know about the work they’re doing. Many project managers have good intentions when they spend a large chunk of their day checking in with their team and getting status updates. Then, they try to capture all of that input in their tool of choice, but by the time they’re done with this tedious process, it’s time to do it all over again because the project schedule is already out-of-date. No one ever has a good sense of how much work is left because the people that truly understand the requirements and constraints at the tactical level aren’t contributing to the plan.
The end result is pretty grim. Everyone seeks refuge in the siloed hell that is email inboxes and spreadsheets, expecting that those static documents will help them see the future more clearly–but they don’t. Teams deserve so much better.
A Better Way
The complex process of running a project in the modern age needs a new approach. It needs a system that deals with the reality of project planning and execution. What does this system look like?
It starts the planning process with people and priorities, and not tasks and dates.
It provides a mechanism for estimating in the form of best case / worst case scenarios so uncertainty and change is accounted for accurately.
It gives the team one central location to see priorities, update estimates, and collaborate.
It uses estimates to automatically update the project schedule anytime a contributing member makes a change.
It provides insights and analytics to project managers so they always have their finger on the pulse of the project.
Teams like Taghleef and Tangent found a better way that dramatically improved how they plan and execute their projects. Dynamic Project Management increased their confidence in the plan, and increased their team’s confidence in them, resulting in better execution of projects and saved time and money for the business.
Long ago, in a city not far away, I worked for a very profitable company that got its start in the garage of one of its founders. We had grown to about 120 people with worldwide sales. Our products were the undisputed gold standard of the field. The employees were well paid and generally quite content. What’s not to like?
But if you looked closer, there were some problems. Our product line had never been refreshed; 12-year old designs were getting harder and harder to build as components went end-of-life; the manufacturability and reliability of our flagship product was poor; new product development was sluggish and unfocused.
I joined the company as an engineer, but it was obvious that we didn’t need our twentieth engineer; we needed our first project manager. As such, I wrote the company’s first requirements document, and got the stakeholders to agree to the product definition. I did what I could to add rigor to the development effort.
When I took over the project to write the software for the refresh of our flagship product, I created a giant flowchart that showed every possible interaction that a user could have with the product.
This story almost had a happy ending
In the end, I couldn’t get any of the other project leads to follow my example and use a project management process. As a result, a redesign project that should have taken less than three years to complete took seven. Sure, there were challenges getting the hardware to work, but these challenges paled in comparison to the delays caused by the lack of project management and a product development process.
My experience at this company served as both a motivating force and a warning for the importance of applying project management practices to the product development process.
If your team struggles to develop new products in a reasonable time, you could be missing a simple tool: project management.
Here are four ways to incorporate project management into your product development process.
1. Have a requirements document
Every project should have a requirements document that describes what the goals of the effort are and what “done” looks like. The flowchart I mentioned earlier served as our requirements document: If it was on the flowchart, we’d implement it, otherwise we wouldn’t.
Your requirements doc can be short and simple or long and detailed, depending on the situation. More importantly, it should be approved by all of the stakeholders.
By putting requirements in writing, you can avoid false consensus, where everyone thinks they know what the end product will look like, and someone has a different idea. You will also need a process to update this document, because there will be changes as you progress. All of the stakeholders should understand what these changes are and why the requirement is changing. In the end, it’s much easier to move an arrow on a flowchart than to change code and retest.
2. Have a process to start and stop projects
Just like people, healthy companies must grow and mature. They go through stages of development, and project management should grow along with the company. Too often, as companies grow, project management is one or two stages behind where it should be.
As you grow, you’ll need a process to green light new projects, making sure you have a requirements document and the resources to do the work. You also need a way to kill the projects that don’t make sense as soon as possible. Having a prioritized list of every project will help when there are resource conflicts. Finally, have a list of pending projects, so that good ideas have a place to wait until you have the resources to start the effort.
3. Treat project management like your other disciplines
You want to grow your company’s project management maturity along with the size and number of the projects that are happening. If your company is big enough to have a director of mechanical engineering, it’s probably big enough for a director of project management who is responsible for mentoring the project managers and developing good process.
You should also make sure you have top quality tools. I’ve seen companies skimp on this one, and it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re paying your project managers and engineers a good salary, a tool that increases everyone’s productivity will have a positive ROI.
4. Always focus on adding value
You need to guard against process that doesn’t add value. To do this, update your old processes to make sure they fit the reality of what the company is and will become—not the company that was.
One process that always adds value is bug tracking. If you find a bug that you can’t fix right away, you need a proper database to store it. It’s better to ship a product with known bugs that you’ve decided are low enough risk than to ship with unknown issues. The truth is, there are always some unknown bugs. What’s unforgivable is when you ship with bugs that you’ve just forgotten about. All of the bugs in the database need to be prioritized. Prioritize them as compared to the other bugs, as well as to new features.
Proper process is critical to running a healthy company. If you just let everyone do what they want, a rogue trader may cost you two billion dollars. If you run a multinational corporation like a startup, there’s no way for management to say, “We need to focus on the internet” and make things happen. The key is to have the appropriate level of management that allows people with good ideas to bring value to their projects and the company while still allowing the management to set priorities and direction.
Is your project management process holding you back? Find out! This 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your PM tool and process.