Category Archives: Dynamic Project Management

Are Your Project Plans Helping You Execute Successfully?

“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.

project management

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.

These are the core principles of Dynamic Project Management (DPM). Teams who have adopted DPM say that it has helped them execute better and faster.

Tim Hughes, Director of Solutions and Services at Taghleef Industries, says that DPM “transformed the way [the team] performed and acted and changed what they did to meet the deadlines. You don’t argue with the estimates. You change your plan so that it will work. We actually ended up finishing the project a few days early.”

Since using DPM, John Person, Vice President of Engineering, estimates that his company, Tangent Engineering, has seen a 30-40% increase in the amount of projects it can handle. “We had a project recently that normally would take three to six months to complete, but with [DPM] we laid out the plan and executed and delivered in six weeks.”

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.

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

To learn more about Dynamic Project Management, download our ebook:

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How Project Management Accelerates Product Development

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?

project management

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Project Management in Manufacturing: Solving the Resource Management Issue

resource management

If you work in manufacturing, you’re likely familiar with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Materials Resource Planning (MRP)—the system used to manage product planning, inventory management, production, fulfillment, and other aspects of production management and control. What’s more, you probably have a decent appreciation of how ERP/MRP systems have enabled manufacturing companies to optimize core business processes.

But what about the rest of the picture? Contrary to the “R” in the name, most modern ERP/MRP systems fail to fully address a key type of resource—namely, the people whose work supports and feeds into your core manufacturing operations.

Why an Optimized Manufacturing Floor Isn’t Enough

To remain competitive, you need to continually improve your products and optimize your manufacturing processes. Regardless of where an idea originates, the “heavy lifting” to make it happen isn’t done on your manufacturing line; it’s done by the engineers, designers, technicians, and other skilled professionals whose work supports—and feeds into—your manufacturing floor. And therein lies the problem that many companies face: after handoff to manufacturing, things go rather smoothly. Before that handoff, however, it’s likely to be much more of a free-for-all, with each person’s immediate priorities often based on who’s yelling the loudest.

More often than not, this is due to a lack of proper project management. Many companies still use spreadsheets to plan and track peoples’ work. Rarely does this yield more than a static, infrequently updated list of tasks.

While this approach may be OK for initial, high-level planning, it quickly falls apart as the rubber meets the road. Tasks take longer than estimated; customers submit change requests; team members get pulled off projects; budgets change; corporate priorities shift; and so on. There are endless examples. Regardless of the specifics, without proper project management, as things change, people waste time spinning their wheels—and decisions are made without full visibility into how they may affect other commitments.

Boosting Productivity

The fact is that you need to treat each team member like any other enterprise resource—possessing a finite amount of output over time. And like any constrained resource, to get the most out of it, that resource’s output must be optimally orchestrated with respect to the work done by other resources.

While people aren’t machines, and the information or inputs they need to start a task are different than the raw materials that land on your loading dock, you can still think of the collective results they produce as a system of inputs, outputs, dependencies, units of effort, potential bottlenecks, and so on. Of course, unlike a machine that produces widgets at the rate of 600 per hour, when it comes to people, you’ll also need to take into account the uncertainty that comes along with estimating how long a task will take.

Given this, how do you best allocate the efforts of all team members to maximize your overall business throughput? That’s where the right project management tool can help.

A Better Way

You wouldn’t try to optimize your manufacturing operations without your ERP/MRP system, would you? Then why not take advantage of the same computational power that makes this possible to optimize how the people who support your production processes work, letting it do the “heavy lifting” (i.e., algorithmic optimization) to determine the optimal path forward?

A good project management tool, applied within a proper project management framework, can help you to:

1. Manage your team as a set of constrained resources. You need to apply the same discipline to planning and orchestrating peoples’ work as you do to optimizing your supply chain and production floor. This starts with realizing that, just like the machines on your production line, your team members are constrained resources—capable of doing one thing at a time, and capable of only so much output (or effort) in a given unit of time. A plan that’s effort-based (as in “this task will take between 35 and 40 hours”) instead of date-based (as in “management wants this finished by the end of the month”) will make sure your plans are grounded in reality instead of wishful thinking.

2. Create realistic schedules based on availability. Given the effort required for each task in a project, a project management tool that incorporates resources and availability into its scheduler across all your projects can help you estimate realistic delivery dates across your team’s entire workload. Delivering by the end of the month may be key to your job security, but without a plan that’s based on the actual effort involved and the availability of the people who will do that work, how much confidence will you have in hitting your date?

3. Handle the uncertainty of innovation. Unlike the amount of time required for a machine to crank out a widget, the effort required for an engineer to first design that widget is less deterministic. You never know what can happen, and a good project management tool can help you take that uncertainty into account. Look for a project management tool that lets you input task estimates based on best case/worst case scenarios—or, even better, one that lets the people who will actually be doing that work estimate the effort involved. This helps lead to a project schedule that’s grounded in reality, taking into consideration that you’ll probably encounter a few unexpected issues along the way—a common occurrence when attempting to innovate.

4. Make your team a part of the process. Modern project management tools are designed to tie team members into the project management process—enabling them to see their individual tasks (ideally in priority order); take ownership of that work from start to finish; and see how their efforts relate to the efforts of others and the bigger picture. Many collaborative project management tools also deliver other team-centric functionality, such as commenting, document sharing and notifications.

5. Monitor progress. As team members mark tasks complete, your project management tool can use that information to recalculate delivery dates in real time—provided you’ve chosen one that includes this functionality. This will help you quickly identify potential issues, such as a late task that’s threatening your delivery date, so that you can investigate further and take any necessary actions. Remember that, no matter how much you plan, things won’t go exactly as expected. The question is: Do you want to know about potential issues as soon possible, or do you want to hear about them for the first time in your weekly status meeting—if they get brought up at all?

6. Track time. In many companies, tracking time to project codes (think timesheets) is mandatory. Some project management systems have this built-in, eliminating the need for people to use a parallel process. Even if this isn’t required for your organization, the ability to look back on past projects can be invaluable when it comes to refining your task estimates for the next project.

7. Adjust to changing priorities. Everyone working on the right tasks at the right time is essential to optimizing team output. A project management tool can help you easily prioritize (and re-prioritize) peoples’ work, in a way that’s clear to everyone on the team. While this can be invaluable within a project, with the right project management tool, as overall project priorities change, individuals can see this shift in their task assignments across all projects—and know that, every day, they’re focused on the same number-one priority as the company as a whole.

The above capabilities can help you apply the same discipline to managing peoples’ work as you do to your core manufacturing processes—think of it as “ERP for Your Peeps.”

So if you’re still using Excel to manage your work, it may be time to dump the spreadsheets, find a real project management tool, and put it to proper use. Before long, your schedule estimates and project plans will likely improve. And with team members tied into those plans, you’ll likely have a more accurate picture of project progress and potential threats to meeting your deadlines. Best of all, you’ll eliminate a good deal of the chaos, churn, and frustration that often accompany a lack of proper project management.

To learn about how other manufacturing companies have met their project management needs, read one or more of these customer stories: Rex Materials Group, bf1systems, and ETEL

There’s more! Managing resources is a tricky business—and well worth doing impeccably! To learn more, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”

5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Accurately

Customer Story: How bf1systems Adapts to Change in the Motorsports Industry Using LiquidPlanner

bf1systems

What’s the most advanced, technically and physically demanding event on the planet?

It’s motorsports. The machines are purpose-built, designed to last for only one race at a time (a few hours). Manufacturing tolerances for these race cars require an insane amount of precision, to both increase power and reduce weight. Furthermore, in a motorsport series like Formula 1, the difference between winning a race and losing it can be measured in one-thousandths of a second.

How bf1systems Shows up on the Race Track

While fans and viewers are focused on the flashy drivers, their colorful cars, the loud noises and potential death-defying crashes, the race teams and factory engineers are focused on other details—like the amount of pressure in an F1 tire and how it helps or hampers tire performance throughout a stint. In order to get reliable data on tire performance, teams throughout major race series, from F1 to NASCAR, Formula 3 and FIA World Rallycross, turn to the engineering team at bf1systems.

The #1 Challenge for the bf1systems Team: Responding to Change

The bf1systems team juggles up to 40 projects at a time. These range from one-month projects (such as designing a new housing for an existing sensor) to major 18-month projects with multiple deliverables. One example of a major project is the development of an entirely new wheel sensor system for a Formula One Team, which might include sensors, control modules, antennas, embedded software and diagnostic software.

For years, the business struggled with managing fast-paced, highly design-driven projects.

For Peter Harris, Electronics Project Manager at bf1systems, the biggest problem this presented for his team was an inability to accommodate change.

“We have a huge push at the start of the Formula One season, when things can change on a daily basis,” he explains. “Without proper project management, if a customer wanted a change on Project A, we had no way of evaluating the impact on that project—let alone the effects it would have on Projects B, C, D, and so on. The lack of a consolidated view of resource usage across all projects only exacerbated this pain.”

Time to Find a Better Solution

With a list of requirements in hand, Harris considered a new list of project manage­ment solutions. “After I had a clear idea of what we needed, LiquidPlanner really stood out,” he recalls. “It was the only affordable solution that ticked all the boxes. It was also clear that LiquidPlanner had the right product direction: an effort-based approach to project management that could help us address rapidly-changing priorities and keep everyone on the team tied-into the current project plan. With the case for LiquidPlanner clear in my mind, I sat down with our Technical Director and Operations Director and got their buy-in.”

Benefits of Using LiquidPlanner

Harris’ team isn’t just using LiquidPlanner to capture hard data, such as task estimates versus the actual time required to complete that task. The team is also using it to capture “softer” aspects of project history, such as the email thread that may have led to a change in the plan. And because this information is accessible to all, it keeps everyone up-to-speed and on the same page in the face of continual change.

“We’re using the community tools in LiquidPlanner more and more,” says Harris. “I love the space it provides for notes; in fact, the extent to which team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner has been a very pleasant surprise.”

For a data-driven engineering group, LiquidPlanner has enabled bf1systems to get a solid grip on historic project data and use this information to shape future projects. In addition, the team is able to deal with rapidly changing requirements and ad hoc projects throughout the race season in a more efficient way.

For more, you can read the full bf1systems customer story here.

Interested to learn more about the methodology that helps bf1systems manage continual project change? Download our eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

 

 

How Do You Plan for the Unknown? See How LiquidPlanner Customer Project Creation Studio Does It

For the past year and a half, Ian MacDuff has been testing a new approach to managing customer work with great success.

As Vice President of Client Engagement at Product Creation Studio (PCS), a Seattle-based design and engineering firm, MacDuff is a seasoned product engineer and team leader. He and his ace team at PCS are responsible for helping aspiring innovators in the technology and healthcare industries develop some of the world’s most recognizable and interesting products. These range from name-brand fitness trackers to amazing machines that help slow the spread of degenerative vision problems. PCS is in the middle of bringing these inventions to life; consequently, the company places a great deal of emphasis on managing each project efficiently and effectively.

project management

Building and Solving for the Unknown

When a client comes to PCS with a new idea for a product or machine, Ian and team are responsible for nurturing the idea and turning it into a working prototype for testing. If successful, they go into full-scale manufacturing. No two product ideas are ever the same. And with every new concept comes a series of engineering, design, user experience and production challenges that his team has never before faced. This uncertainty, which takes many forms—form circuit board, software and user design related roadblocks, to budget related issues—can crush months of work in the blink of an eye. This is especially true if the product design team struggles to quantify and communicate challenges with customers in the moments when they crop up.

A GPS Approach to Project Management

Ian knew it was important to make his customers fully aware of every bump, snag and change throughout the product design lifecycle. As a result, he hit on a simple yet effective way of managing risky project work that takes into account changes, and enables real-time communication with customers. He calls it a GPS approach to project management. This might just be the key to a new way to work in which risk, change and uncertainty are no longer viewed as destructive forces, but things to be embraced as part of the journey.

We sat down with Ian to learn more about how his unique GPS style of project management. In the following video, he tells us how his GPS project management integrates with LiquidPlanner’s:

 

 

Do you have the tool it takes to manage project uncertainty? Find out! Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

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How to Solve the 5 Top Challenges of Manufacturing Projects

When you work on a manufacturing project, you face some unique challenges, often with a lot at stake. You have to deliver your product at consistently high-quality standards, navigate end-to-end supply chains and manage strict time-to-market deadlines driven by demanding customers or seasonal demands. To top it all off, the entire project might be following a process where design, scope, cost and time scales were fixed at the very beginning of the project—or it could be a first-time project so who knows how long parts will really take?

manufacturing problems

Here, we’re going to look at some of the challenges specific to project teams working in the manufacturing industry—and how to solve these problems using project management practices and a dynamic tool.

1. Managing Stakeholder Expectations

It’s always tricky to manage a disparate set of demands, visions and expectations on any project; but it’s even trickier in manufacturing. A common problem is that stakeholders have a tendency to set unrealistic deadlines and make unreasonable demands—and through no fault of their own, really. This happens because expectations aren’t set early on in the project.

For example, a stakeholder responds to a date the customer requests, without knowing how long it takes to complete the work. And then you’re stuck managing an overwhelmed team who has to work overtime, and maybe even sacrifice quality, feature requests or more. So how do you set stakeholder expectations realistically from the very conception of the project?

Estimate work and share the schedule

Get stakeholders involved from day one and make them a part of the process. Start by providing a schedule that includes thoughtful estimates for everyone’s work—by the people doing the work. If management challenges the timeline and wants the product launched sooner, you can have a data-driven conversation by using the schedule and estimates.

Encourage teams to estimate their projects as realistically as possible. Insert buffer-time and account for risks that might occur. When people estimate there’s a tendency to be over-optimistic which can set a team up for failure. Some teams invite outside experts to help them improve their estimation, and make use of methods such as ranged estimates or three-point estimation. Make the schedule accessible and visible throughout the project—so status is clear, and there are no unexpected surprises.

To share schedules, use a project management tool that offers a way to curate project reports with just the information your stakeholders need, like dashboards. This way stakeholders can keep up with everything throughout the project lifecycle.

2. Inflexible processes

Since manufacturing projects are highly sensitive to time, cost and quality, they can be extremely demanding to run. This often results in senior management asking for a very controlled and rigid project management framework to be followed. In my years as a project management consultant, I’ve observed in manufacturing of machinery, consumer goods, instruments and chemicals, that such a controlled framework has its place, but it can be a big challenge as well.

The downside of a controlled environment is that project teams have to commit to a solution and a timeline upfront. Consequently, they’re left with little scope to make adjustments as the project evolves and new information comes to light. Imagine for instance that you are running an 18-month project to design and produce a new type of consumer appliance and you have to commit to the design and plan very early on without the ability to later adjust it. Now that’s a challenge!

Use a dynamic scheduling tool and test early on

There is a way to address inflexible processes while still satisfying senior management’s need for control. Allow teams to experiment more up front and to iterate through the solution to prove the concept before they commit and lock down the design and manufacturing process. In other words, a longer inception phase with some trial-and-error, and with the view of driving down risk and uncertainly early on can be a win-win for all parties.

Build this time into your plan from the get-go. And use a scheduling tool that is adaptable and dynamic—one that updates automatically every time a change is made. This way the team can keep up with changes as they occur and respond accordingly earlier on in the process to meet hard delivery dates.

To keep your team a step ahead of fluctuating schedules, use a project management platform that builds uncertainty and predictive finish dates into the scheduling engine.

3. Change management

The more a team experiments and creates physical prototypes that can be assessed by their clients, the less likely their clients are to change their minds—or to ask for new features. But even the best of prototypes and the tightest of scope statements won’t protect against changes.

Change requests are an inherent part of product development, and they’re bound to happen—either because of wrong assumptions, unexpected constraints from the vendor, a change in the marketplace or a change in the client’s strategy. Imagine for instance that a new technological advance in the marketplace will make your planned product look markedly inferior. You have to respond, and make the adjustments. Otherwise, you could be working on a project that is out of date upon delivery.

Get buy-in for all hands on deck

If a project needs to be fast-tracked it’s imperative that the path of escalation is clear and that the project has an effective steering committee and decision-making forum. Research by PMI shows that senior level buy-in is one of the most significant factors for success on projects. Also, if the team really must deliver sooner than they’re comfortable with, the team leader can ask for dedicated resources all the way through the project and ensure that issues can be unblocked and decisions made swiftly by management.

Use project management software that integrates resource management features like workload reports and resource leveling into the project plan.

4. Ownership

A project might have many different departments involved during the project lifecycle, from market research, R&D, production to sales, marketing and distribution. For the project to be delivered successfully these different departments need to collaborate instead of operating within each of their silos. One particular decision that’s important to get right, is deciding who should lead the project.

In most cases, a technical project manager will lead the project because the majority of the effort is focused on designing and producing a technical product. But when a technical project manager is in charge, the risk is that he or she focuses on the technical aspects only and forgets about the business case, the market need, sales and distribution.

In some companies, project management responsibility is transferred from one department to another as the project passes through the different departments; but then, a sense of continuity and overall accountability suffers as no one has the end-to-end view.

Consider sales and marketing

Another option is to have someone from Sales or Marketing (or the commercial department) lead the project. Due to a strong commercial awareness, Sales and Marketing will find it natural to focus on developing the right product for the market and ensuring that the business case stacks up. These team members aren’t technical experts they aren’t equipped to lead the technical aspects of the project, but they can still be excellent owners of the project from beginning to end as long as they work with a strong technical lead.

In my experience, many organizations would benefit from choosing a project manager from sales and marketing, instead of forcing an excellent technical manager to also own the many milestones that aren’t technical.

5. Managing Supply Chain Complexity

Adding contractors, vendors and additional third parties to the production process increases the risk of error and miscommunication exponentially. Not only do you have production work occurring in different locations by different teams, each team might be using their own tracking software for their scope of work. Accounting for all the moving parts—materials, people, teams, quality, supply chains, product cycles, etc.—gets tricky.

Historically, manufacturing organizations have used tools that are driven by fixed start and end dates. They’re too rigid to accommodate the changes inherent to project and production work. The schedule is often overseen by one person, so the rest of the team—and teams—don’t have visibility into what’s happening. Plus, manual updates are laborious and can’t keep up with the rate of change. So, as priorities shift, and events occur that delay production or shipping, there’s no way for teams to see this reflected in the project schedule and react immediately.

Use collaborative software with visibility for everyone
The best fix for seeing what teams are doing across the production process and the globe is to find a project management tool that’s collaborative and provides visibility for all. This way, anyone at any time can access the project schedule, see where progress and status stands, and follow communication strings that relay important information.

This is the best front-line defense to knowing what’s going on with all your multiple vendors and manage dependencies. If all the vendors—and the project teams—can access the same project management tool, it takes away the blinders and lets everyone see how various aspects of the production are going.

Focus on the Work That Makes a Difference

Manufacturing projects are complex and filled with endless challenges—in a good way! The work is innovative, creative, hugely collaborative and global; and it’s all those moving parts that makes the industry such an exciting one to be part of. What teams need is a dynamic project management system that can respond as fluidly to the changes and unexpected occurrences that are part of manufacturing project life cycles. By taking out some of the stressful uncertainties and reactive demands, teams can focus on making a product that best meets the customer needs day after day.

Is your project management process working as effectively as it could? Find out! Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment.  

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5 Project Management Tips for Manufacturing Teams

Taking a product from concept to production is a complicated undertaking. There’s a lot at stake, and a lot can go wrong along the way. For example, there’s time-to-market market and quality control issues; you have to consider supply chain, global teams, international trade issues, regulations, product development phased and more. And still, I’m constantly surprised to see how many teams still manage all of these moving parts using static spreadsheets. And even when there are systems and tools in place to build schedules, they tend to be too inflexible, and can’t account for the amount of uncertainty that permeates today’s global market.

manufacturing teams

Project Management + Manufacturing = Perfect Match

Manufacturing can, however, benefit greatly from project management ideas. I believe that there are few things in life that cannot be projectized. Even life itself has a beginning, middle and end, and creates something unique. The manufacturing environment comprises a lot of beginnings, middles and ends. After all, a single product is made up of a multitude of projects, and considerations, including:

  • Design of a new, industry-designing product
  • Production preparation
  • Managing a change order
  • Improving a process
  • Shortening time-to-market

Every one of these considerations benefits from some basic project management best practices.  Or course, it can feel a bit daunting if you’re thinking of your entire process; instead, start with something do-able, bite sized pieces.

Here are five tips to start incorporating project management processes in your team:

1. Establish Requirements

One of the first activities in any project is to define what the project is, and everything that needs to be done. This is achieved by collecting requirements which include details of the deliverables, timelines, quality expectations, etc.

Setting goals and establishing these requirements is the first step for any project to go forward, regardless of methodology.  This will also encourage your team to get together to think about the work ahead, define milestones and deliverables, and think about deadlines.  Be as detailed and thorough as you can during this exercise, as it will help you manage the project later on.

Every project, whether in a manufacturing environment or any other, will involve requirements and goals. Creating a goal-oriented culture is important, and it is the first step to incorporate project management into your team.

2. Choose a Methodology

Now that you have well-defined goals, you will need a game plan to achieve them. The problem is, once you set a goal or destination, there are many ways to get there. That is when methodology can be helpful.

A methodology for managing projects is a well-defined approach for how you and your team get things done.  You can create your own methodology, or adopt existing frameworks—from Agile and Waterfall to Critical Path and Lean. You can also check out the methodologies proposed by the Project Management Institute in the PMBOK Guide.

In today’s agile-focused landscape, there are many who dismiss methodology as something limiting. Some postulate that freeing your team from methodology will allow for more flexibility and agility in achieving your goals. I believe that there is still a place for methodology, as it provides your organization with a framework to approach work that is familiar to all.  A method, or process for managing work helps create a culture of people who can fearlessly tackle projects and get things done, and it fosters a common language with which to talk about how to achieve your goals.

There are many methodologies and approaches to use to manage projects, and all of them are being used by manufacturing teams. There’s no right choice here: use the approach that makes more sense to your team and is more in line with your organization’s way of approaching work. For example, organizations well versed in Lean manufacturing tend to adopt a lean approach to project management. Other manufacturing teams are already familiar with Waterfall; those relying heavily on automation and IT systems, might choose Agile. Six Sigma is another popular approach to managing work, focusing on process improvement.

Choose a methodology to implement, and don’t let it constrain your work. Instead, use it as a recipe that you can change to meet your organization’s shifting needs and objectives.

3. Use a Project Management Tool

Once you have chosen an approach or methodology, and you have a good grasp on your requirements and goals, the next step is to choose the right tool to help you manage it all.

The right tool will help you through all the processes of your project, and can help you and your team collect all of the requirements, build a schedule, create a budget, track your progress, manage your stakeholders and resources, and ensure you will complete the work on time and within scope and budget.

When choosing the right tool, ensure that it is easy enough for all on your team to learn. Because manufacturing is such a dynamic environment, choose a tool that will be flexible enough to change as your circumstances change. LiquidPlanner is a great example of a tool that is dynamic and also with a track record of helping manufacturing teams.

4. Track Progress

One of the important benefits of project management involves the monitoring and controlling of project work. This process has to do with checking your progress to make sure you’re on track to deliver on time and within scope and budget.

When teams don’t accurately track their work progress, the results can be truly catastrophic. Planning your work ahead of time gives you a roadmap for when you’re actually performing the work. If you don’t track how you’re performing, you won’t know if you’re going off-course; as a result, you won’t know what adjustments need to be made. Strong project plans and reliable schedules alert you to when you’re going over your budget or deadline before it’s too late to do something about it.  In manufacturing, when time-to-market and costs can determine whether your product will succeed in the marketplace, poor planning can sink a project.

Using project management software with  time tracking features is a powerful way to track project progress. These tools make it easy for you to judge how well you’re doing when it comes to reaching your milestones and goals.

Once you start tracking your progress, you’ll quickly see all the opportunities to fine-tune your approach to managing your project: your manufacturing projects will progressively get better, while you develop your own internal flavor of project management that fits your organization’s culture and way of work.

5. Implement a Risk Management Process

In manufacturing, risk management is absolutely imperative. The projects your organization and team will manage have a direct impact on your main business objectives and key results like time to market.

Risks are issues you identify before they become reality.  Risk management is coming up with a plan for what to do if the worst happens, and then handling issues if and when they do become real.

Manufacturing teams that are not practicing risk management—or practicing it poorly—may be faced with problems that could range from delays and quality problems to canceling production. Even established companies like Boeing have been caught mismanaging risks on major projects.

Practicing risk management will get you to sit down with your team and go through the exercise of identifying everything that could go wrong. The next step is to prioritize risks by impact and importance, and most importantly, assign an owner to each risk. Planning for issues is a fantastic way to get you and your team talking about project management, especially as you decide on a course of action to take in case your risk becomes a real issue. As with other project management processes, a collaborative project management tool can help you and keep your entire team on the same page while planning and managing risks.

Projects and operations can coexist beautifully! Where operations and manufacturing focus on mass production, the art of starting the production of a new product, improving on processes, implementing better communication among manufacturing silos, and even ending the production of a product are all projects. By implementing project management in your organization, your processes, product and work environment will all greatly improve as well.

Could your project management process be better? Find out! Our 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your project management tool and/or process.  Take the quiz!

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The Big Shift: How LiquidPlanner Democratized Project Management

Project management software has a difficult history. Traditional tools have been inflexible, hard to use, time-consuming and often unreliable. LiquidPlanner set out to change this from inception. One of the ways we did this was to include a collaboration platform in our project management solution—one that every member of the team could contribute to and access.

project management

A Participatory Approach to Project Management

“We’ve always felt that project management should be democratized,” says LiquidPlanner co-founder and CTO, Jason Carlson, who set out to build a PM tool that he wanted to use. This democratization is an important shift. A collaborative platform empowers team members to take responsibility for their part of the project—updating their work and making estimates. It lets project managers actually manage projects—remove roadblocks, help team members get their work done, communicate with stakeholders—rather than run around gathering status updates and managing a document.

This last action is a difference maker. When estimates are made by the people actually doing the work, you get schedules that are realistic and reliable.

Setting Clear Priorities

We all know that priorities are important; they have the potential of holding back a project when they change or aren’t clear. LiquidPlanner was created on the belief that communicating and setting priorities is the single most important thing you can do to make your team more effective. That’s why priorities drive the schedule in LiquidPlanner, and it’s easy to prioritize and reprioritize work.

Every time a task or project order changes, the schedule updates to reflect the new timeline. Team members can see what they need to work on every day, how a task might impact others and how their work moves the entire project forward. Managers can see what team members are working on, track progress and reallocate resources as needed. Stakeholders can also see how the project is progressing, and how any new feature requests and changes impact the schedule. Everyone’s on the same page. No unpleasant surprises!

The beauty of an all-access, transparent, democratized project management system is simple: It helps everyone do their job better, to deliver higher quality projects to satisfied customers. This is also how organizations thrive and beat out the competition.

Watch Jason talk about democratizing of project management, and other incoming trends in this following video.

If you’d like to learn more about the methodology behind LiquidPlanner’s collaborative system, download our eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

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

5 Common Problems for Small Project Teams

Small team problems

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

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

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

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

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

  1. You Take Your Teammates for Granted

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

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

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

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

  1. Personalities Clash

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

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

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

  1. People Are Harder to Replace

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

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

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

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

  1. You Share Too Much of the Work

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

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

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

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

  1. Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time!

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

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

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

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

Extra! Do you like being part of a team?

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

 

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

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

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How LiquidPlanner Approaches Collaboration to Improve Teamwork and Productivity

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

collaboration

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

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

It’s How You Collaborate That Makes a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Something New for Smaller Teams!
We have a new offering for teams of up to five people who want a better way to organize their work, track time and create realistic schedules. It’s Small Team edition. You can learn more about Small Team here. If you’d like to test drive it, take a trial!

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