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Advice for Project Managers: How to Save Your Job, and Process vs Tool

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

 

Dear Elizabeth: Process or tool—which comes first? Our executive team disagrees about this every time we evaluate our project and work processes and start to consider software tools—current and new ones. I fall on the side that process comes first, then you use the right tool to support it. Others argue that you get the right tool and processes fall into place. What are your thoughts? – Process Fan

Dear Process Fan: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I think in this case that you’re both right. Or wrong. Whichever way you want to look at it.

Tools are often built around industry-standard best practices. Adopting your work processes to align with the way the tool works can add efficiencies. However, every business has its unique quirks and you might find that there’s a particularly critical process for you that isn’t an out-of-the-box feature.

If you were starting from scratch, I’d say that a tool can really help you set up your business for success, as the built-in processes will kick start your own project management approach.

Since you’re not starting from scratch, I would say that an iterative, evolving approach is the best. Accept that your business process may have to change to suit your tool, but where your processes are “better” than what your tool provides (whatever “better” means for you) then you may have to customize the solution to make it work smoothly.

Your challenge now becomes being able to help your executive team move beyond the processes/tools discussion and towards one that revolves around outcomes and business value. When you focus on your end goal – something that you do have in common! – you’re more likely to have productive conversations about how to get there.

Look for a tool that is going to grow with you as your needs change over time. You’re going to have to tweak both your processes and the way you use your software to get the best performance for your team.

Dear Elizabeth: Budgets are getting cut at my current job, and I’d like to stay around! I work as a senior-level project manager in an IT organization. Do you have any advice or wise tips on actions I can take to make myself more valuable to my team? – Love My Job

Dear Love My Job: If budgets are being cut now it might be too late. But let’s plan for the best-case scenario and talk about what you can do to quickly show yourself as a really valuable member of the team.

  • First, make sure you are solid at the basics. Follow through on actions. Deliver on your promises. Be the safe pair of hands. If you have outstanding tasks, or people are waiting on you for things, smash through your list.
  • Second, cultivate a positive attitude. No whining, gossiping or moaning. Be a ray of sunshine for your office without being fake about it. People like to work with positive people.
  • Next, be assertive with your helpfulness. Be helpful and serve your colleagues, but without being a pushover. It’s great to show willingness; just don’t end up being the office doormat. Don’t worry that saying no sometimes will disadvantage you when it comes to the selection process. As long as you do it politely and with reason, it’s a show of assertiveness.
  • Finally, if you don’t do it already, think big picture. As a senior-level project manager, you should be always acutely aware of the business context of your projects and actions. Working in IT can get a bit siloed at times, so think about how your objectives fit in to those of the business overall. And then, make sure people know you are thinking. Find ways to demonstrate that you know how your piece of the business links to others and how your work adds value to the company.

Be awesome! And cross your fingers.

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

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

What Does a Project Management Tool of the Future Look Like?

PM tool future

We’ve been reading and writing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution—or Industry 4.0. Radical technological advancements combined with manufacturing are taking us into an exciting future: robotics, automation, 3-D printers. As a result, productivity is predicted to be on an upswing, even though manual resources aren’t keeping up. This translates, for some teams, into doing more with less.

Whatever your current situation, productivity is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Everyone’s trying to produce a lot of meaningful work. As a consequence, project management tools are going to have to reinvent themselves to keep up with the speed of doing business. Using static spreadsheets and other platforms that require manual updates aren’t supportive enough or agile enough to keep teams competitive and ahead of the curve. Instead, you need a new world tool to support the new industrial revolution.

What does an Industry 4.0 project management tool look like?

  • Flexible and nimble
    Smart software moves with the unpredictability inherent to manufacturing projects—and moves work forward.
  • Schedules automatically update
    No more time-consuming manual updates. The new world demands software that keeps up with every project change along the way.
  • Radically collaborative
    All team members and teams have an unprecedented ease of communication and project tracking to see the small and big picture at all times.
  • Data driven
    Every touchpoint of progress creates a rich vault of project data used to make important decisions—even on the fly.
  • Supports more innovation, less administration
    Smart software trades in the time-consuming job of wrestling project schedules for strategic thinking and using skillsets in meaningful ways.
  • Lets you track progress and allocate resources in real time
    Software of the future integrates availability into schedules—to show managers who’s working on what and make the needed adjustments

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

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

February Product Update: Boost Your Business Intelligence with API Support for Analytics

Getting the project data you need to understand the health of your business is now faster and easier than ever before. Our February update makes it possible to pull powerful Analytics reports from LiquidPlanner using the API — fellow data geeks rejoice!

api-illustration

Make the most out of your project data

The LiquidPlanner API lets you sync data, automate actions, and integrate with other systems to connect LiquidPlanner to all parts of your business. The key to accessing Analytics data through the API is a handy link you can now find for any Analytics report.

analytics_link

With this link, you or a developer on your team can use the report’s JSON file to connect LiquidPlanner Analytics reports to business intelligence tools or external reports that you’ve built in Excel or Google Sheets. This automates cross-functional reporting and is especially useful for parts of the organization that may not be directly involved with project management, but need the bottom-line numbers, like your finance department.

json_example

Once you’ve configured your reporting tool to use the API, all you need to do is sync the data. All of your real-time project information will automatically be fetched and applied to your charts, pivot tables, or any other data visualization you’ve built.

Increase your business intelligence

The LiquidPlanner API opens the door to a multitude of reporting possibilities. Here are just a few of the ways you can use the API to build and automate your business reports:

  • You can save the JSON file for an Analytics report and pull it into a BI tool, like Tableau. Depending on the tool you’re using, this is usually a simple process.
  • To get an idea of overall business performance over a timeframe, like month over month, you can use the reporting tool of your choice to pull LiquidPlanner data for a specific date range and compare the data across time.
  • Automatically sync billing and pay rate calculations with your accounting software to make your finance team’s life a lot easier.

For detailed instructions on using the API, visit our developer resources.

To learn more about the February update, read the release notes.

If you’re not a LiquidPlanner customer, but looking for ways to increase focus and productivity at work, try us out!

 

7 Signs Your PM Tool Isn’t Working for You

Broken Robot

Project work is exciting and challenging, and brings teams together to create amazing products and technology. But if your stress level is chronically up a few extra notches and you feel like your excellent team is scrambling to do mediocre work, that could be a sign that something’s amiss with your project management software. The good news is: it’s fixable! But before fixing things, here’s a list of signs that your PM tool isn’t working:

The project schedule is rarely up to date, and nobody trusts it.
When it is solely the project managers job to update project progress and communicate changes and updates to the team, it’s never truly up to date. When project contributors do not have real time updates or constant access to the project plan, it is hard for them to have confidence in what they are working on.

Your team is in a constant state of chaos.
You and your team are stressed because priorities are changing and no one is working on the same project. When someone is asked what their priorities are, they shrug, scream or implode—their checklists won’t cut it and they feel like they are letting their team, manager and company down!
A PM tool helps organize and prioritize work, and allocate resources according to availability, change requests and shifting finish dates. The team can take a breath and even carve out time to think about what they’re doing, plan and strategize—instead of panting away in a state of overwhelm.

You don’t know what your team is working on.
As a manager or project manager it’s stressful to never quite know what your team is working on—or to stumble when your boss or client asks for an impromptu status update at lunch or in the hallway. An effective leader doesn’t micro manage (emailing, calling throughout the day), but how do you stay on top of work when things are changing so fast? A collaborative project management platform lets team members participate in the project’s lifecycle—and managers have visibility and access to see what’s going on, all the time.

Priorities are unclear. Or everything is a #1 priority.
A team member can spend hours or days working on a project without knowing that it was either tabled, cancelled or there’s another task that has taken precedent. If you’re using static checklists, they might be great for weekend errands, they aren’t something you can depend on for insight into the changes that are inherent in projects. And what about multiple high priority tasks staring you down? A project management tool that aligns teams and gets the right work done—and on time!—is one that surfaces priorities and the most important work of the day.

Your resources are over-booked.
Doing more with less has been a sign of the times—whether you’re working on manufacturing or technology projects. When your team is overbooked and overworked that’s a sure sign that your project management tool isn’t working—or you don’t have a reliable process. A good PM platform helps you allocate resources across projects by showing you who has capacity, who’s overbooked, and how much work is distributed among individuals.

Your lack of time tracking is having a negative impact on your business.
If there’s not an easy way for team members to track time and log progress, a lot of things can go wrong. For example, without accurate data for client work, your guestimates could be off, which might result in disagreements, and in some cases, having to pay your clients money for work they feel you overcharged but under-delivered on. Also, time tracking numbers provides rich project data and analytics—used to create goals, ask for more resources and future forecast project work.

Your relationship with stakeholders and clients is strained.
You do great work but your clients and stakeholders don’t love working with you for a variety of reasons. They never have a clear sense of what’s going on, and you have a tendency to surprise them with news of a schedule change or a request for more budget to complete the project. All this could damage your company’s credibility and business, and it’s not because you aren’t capable or a fun person to work with. But if you’re unreliable, that could be the end game. What all clients and stakeholders want is honest, clear visibility into projects and their progress. Better yet is a plan they can access to feel part of the process.

If you saw yourself in this article, there’s a great solution. To learn more, download our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

7 Signs You Don’t Have the Right Project Management Tool for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Vector illustration. Turning oil barrels into gold bars.

 “Adapt or perish,” said H.G. Wells, the father of science fiction. Some of us know all too well how right-on this quote is to succeeding in business these days—especially when it comes to staying competitive in what’s being called the  Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It’s an exciting time and a challenging time. Advanced technology, like in the previous industrial revolutions, is increasing the speed of manufacturing and doing business. This means that organizations and their product teams need to use software that supports faster turnover and accomplishes more with fewer resources.

Beware the trap of using yesterday’s tools 

Being flexible is going to be the key to managing productivity and to business success in Industry 4.0. Most importantly, teams will need new world tools to manage new world demands. In a recent LiquidPlanner survey of more than 100 manufacturers across the U.S., 62 percent of respondents said they were looking to build revenue and cut costs over the next year by “boosting productivity.” At the same time, almost 80 percent of respondents said they use spreadsheets to manage their projects. But. But—

How do you do increase productivity in a new world when using old world tools? Consider this: Gantt charts were first developed in the 1910s, a tool that uses rigid start and finish dates, which don’t reflect changes in real time. The first spread sheet was invented in 1979—and spread sheets still require manual updating. Consequently, they are famously neglected and out of date.

Signs you’re using the wrong project management tool for Industry 4.0

  • Interdependent teams work at cross-purposes because they have no way to stay on top of each other’s progress.
  • Projects and deliveries are often late.
  • Your supply chain is over-extended and chaotic.
  • A chronic state of panic runs through your projects.
  • Customers are dissatisfied. You’ve even lost a few over the years. Some are hanging by a thread.
  • Employees are leaving. Team members are overworked and burnt out.
  • Competitors are beating you to market. You risk becoming irrelevant.

Being flexible and using a platform that can respond to change and predict finish dates is going to be key to managing productivity and business success.

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

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Real Story Behind Why Your Organization Wants You to Track Time

 

track time

For organizations that track time, there’s always going to be some resistance—or at least questions about it. Even if nobody says it out loud, I’ll bet your employees are at least wondering: “Why on earth is my company making me track time?”

It’s easy to feel like tracking time is a way for leadership to keep an eye on the rank and file. But that’s far from the truth—leaders are busy people. And remember, if you’re tracking your time, your managers probably are too.

Time tracking isn’t about keeping an eye on teams’ productivity as much as it is a smart business move. Think about it: Time tracking yields data that is critical for monitoring business and employee performance. Timesheet data provides businesses with the ability to not only benchmark, but even more importantly, to forecast. Time tracking data surfaces project cost, project profitability, employee availability, employee cost, and so much more.

Whether you’re a project team member wondering “why on earth…?” or a manager who needs to answer this question—here are some ways to talk about time tracking that will get your teams to understand, and feel good about starting their timers.

For projects, time tracking is important because it:

  • Surfaces key operational metrics that might otherwise remain hidden.
  • Allows businesses to measure the true costs of any project.
  • Offers real-time visibility into work that’s been done and work that’s left to do.
  • Helps companies stick to timeline or project budgets.
  • Enables managers to understand employee utilization and capacity—and allocate accordingly.
  • Creates a historical record, enabling you to estimate future projects with greater accuracy.
  • Can save you money especially when working on a retainer basis. Time tracking is critical for preventing over-servicing.
  • Helps answer the question: “Can my team take on this new initiative?”
  • Allows for continual processes evaluation and improvement.

For employees, time tracking is important because it:

  • Gives insight into how much time is going into different tasks and projects.
  • Yields data that can be used to ask for more resources, a raise, even a promotion.
  • Fosters autonomy.
  • Helps keep track of remote or freelance workers.
  • Provides insight into what an ideal work process looks like.
  • Helps stay in a productivity flow, and limit interruptions.
  • Empowers employees to use their own data for goal setting and/or decision-making.
  • Provides data that can be used to reward employees who meet or exceed project deadlines, budgets and goals.
  • It keeps employees from being overschedule and overworked—which improves engagement, boosts morale and increases productivity.

Let your employees in

Time tracking comes alive when teams feel like they play an integral part of the work being accomplished. So, if you’re a team leader or a manager, provide knowledge. This means letting your team in on the story of why everyone’s doing the work they’re doing: what the purpose is and how a particular project moves the business forward. Address what’s in it for them and their career, too. Empower individuals—give each person the right amount of autonomy to make decisions, so team members feel like they’re contributing to the momentum of this larger story. Make people feel that they’re a key to success. Once team members feel like they’re part of things, they can begin to understand the value of tracking time—because it will matter to them as well.

Time tracking is a common project management challenge. Want solutions to more? Download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How to Succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Vector illustration. Turning oil barrels into gold bars.

Many organizations and their teams aren’t prepared for the future. We’re talking about a future that’s being heralded as the Fourth Industrial Revolution: an exciting time where technology-meets-manufacturing to change the way we work and live.

Every industrial revolution throws the incumbent modes of productivity into turmoil. Take the First Industrial Revolution for example. The transition to move from an agricultural economy to an industrial one started in 1760 in Great Britain and took more than a century to roll out in the U.S. Going from hand-made to machine-made products ushered in a new age of increased productivity—and created a higher standard of living around the world.

And now we’re on a new Industrial brink. We’re entering an age of customizable mass production; where parts travelling between factories all over the world could be a thing of the past. Instead, Industry 4.0 could evolve into smaller regional factories that will mass produce made-to-order products—requiring fast and flexible processes to keep up with demand.

Change brings with it an awakening to a new way of doing things. Then comes the transition process. And then it’s time to adapt. “Adapt or perish,” said H.G. Wells, the father of science fiction.

Using the New Tools to Solve New Problems

There will be requirements to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Business leaders need to be ready and teams need to use responsive software in order to keep up with new world challenges. A problem that many companies are struggling with right now is that current project systems can’t manage the influx of productivity that Industry 4.0 demands of us.

Here is what’s needed to succeed in the new world of doing business:

Agility and speed: Time will move exponentially, not linearly. Automation of assembly line at warp speeds.

To accomplish more with fewer people: AI, robotics and automation will perform repetitive jobs. Already, studies are showing that as we head into a period of increased productivity, employment is down.

Only the lean and mean will survive: Cutting costs and maximizing growth is the name of the game. In a recent LiquidPlanner survey with over 100 manufacturing companies, one of the top initiatives for business was to cut costs and drive growth.

Flexible processes: Some futurists are predicting that factories will be smaller, more agile. Scale will give way to customization at a mass production speed.

Are you ready?

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

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

Advice for Project Managers: The Productivity Roller Coaster and Starting Projects too Soon

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


Dear Elizabeth:
I run a product team that responds to seasonal demands, and our output fluctuates. We have times when we’re very busy and then a couple of weeks where it’s slow. There’s always work to be done, but when demand ebbs, people’s productivity and engagement does as well. How do I keep my team engaged and motivated during these slow periods? – Riding the Productivity Rollercoaster

Dear Riding: Let me be a little bit controversial here. How much does it matter if your team has a slow period? If demand is down, and that’s affecting their engagement and motivation, unless they are being downright unprofessional, perhaps you could cut them some slack. It’s hard to remain 100 percent motivated every day of every year, and engagement wanes too.

Not having an interesting piece of work to do is naturally a bit demotivating but that doesn’t stop them switching to “motivated mode” as soon as the next big assignment comes in. As long as they aren’t using your resources to print out copies of their resume then maybe you want to let them off. Think of it as time that they are using to recharge their batteries until the next busy period.

Having said that, I know why you want to keep the team engaged and motivated, so let’s get back to your question. The first thing to look for is whether there is a pattern. Can you predict when the slower times will be? If so, think ahead and start looking for activities to fill the gaps. These activities might not be what you might call true work but you could organize a staff conference, a team building event, or schedule some professional training for the team. It’s also a time for cross-skilling, where team members can teach each other their particular expertise so you have more cover for vacation and sickness, as well as a broader skill base in the team.

It’s hard to give a blanket recommendation for how to motivate people because everyone is motivated by different things. Some may appreciate the ability to take some extra time off in lieu of hours worked during the busy times. Others may find motivation in being asked to step up and take on more responsibility, such as helping to plan the next big push. Tasks that might take longer if someone less experienced did them would be good to schedule in the slow periods too, as a way of building confidence and leadership in the team.

Dear Elizabeth: I work on a product team with a very efficient manager—too efficient!  In her efforts to make deadlines, she often has us start early on work—before we have all the requirements. It feels productive at first, but then as requirements change, we end up going back and redoing or fixing work and start to fall behind. And we look bad. I’ve tried talking to my manager but she still has us do these early project starts. She doesn’t understand that waiting for full requirements actually saves time. Advice? – Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: That’s a hard one. The issue isn’t the early starts but the fact that she doesn’t listen to you. It’s great that she’s efficient but her method doesn’t work and you’ve offered constructive advice which she has ignored. So let’s think about some ways to get her to take your advice seriously.

First, would it be more effective coming from someone else? Please don’t take this personally but it’s often the case that individuals are influenced more by their peers or managers than their subordinates. While it’s grating to think that if she heard the same thing from a peer she’d act on it, when you’ve been telling her and getting ignored, the end result is the same and it’s a win for you. So if you can take your own ego out of the situation and work on ways to influence her through the people she listens to, that could work.

It might be hard to approach her boss, but if you have relationships with other managers who could take your side, then that’s a route to try.

Another option would be to ask your customers to provide feedback. Maybe she’d listen if she heard it directly from them? You don’t have to be blunt about it: do a client survey and ask what went well and what didn’t, and try to get some commentary around how they felt about the delays and what they felt could have been done differently to avoid those.

Finally, (and this can be a risky approach!), just say no. “Thanks for the suggestion that we start work now but I’m going to wait until we’ve got the full requirements. That will be at the end of the month so what I can work on before then is X, Y and Z to be totally ready.”

This approach is one that I wouldn’t advise in all cases. Also, I don’t know enough about your workplace culture and your boss to know if it is going to be suitable for you – but you’ll know if you or a more senior colleague have enough confidence and credibility to pull it off. Directly challenging your boss in a nice way might get the result you’re after.

As a general comment on saying No to your manager, I speak to a lot of people who would never dare challenge their boss. But they are just human, like you and me. Be empowered and take responsibility for your own success, and be excellent in the work that you do. If your manager challenges you back, go with it and put your objections in writing (nicely) so you’ve got some kind of comeback if they then blame you for the late finish later.

Good luck!

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

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

What Does the Fourth Industrial Revolution Look Like?

robot android men

The future is no longer on its way. It’s here. Take these recent news items, for example: Las Vegas just launched the first electric autonomous shuttle on American roads. Airbus announced that they’ll test the first autonomous flying taxi by the end of 2017.

These are some of the cooler signs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—powered by the radical technological advancements of AI, IoT, robotics, automation, quantum computing, biotechnology and more.

The fact that many of us can already turn up the heat or unlock the front door on the drive home from work, or from another state—or country!—is a sign of Industry 4.0 technology in action. Amazon using robots in their warehouses to manage inventory is another sign (scaling a 75-minute process done by humans down to 15 minutes). A LiquidPlanner manufacturing customer recently told us that using a 3D printer scaled a three-week process down to three days.

3D printers are also going to be able to produce complex projects in one place—from furniture to medical devices to prosthetic limbs. This means consumers will be able to buy the products they want with the functionality and design they need—at the same speed as something that is mass produced.

It’s exciting to be on the forefront of a new Industrial Revolution. It also means many of us working at jobs all over the world will be facing new fascinating challenges: around managing projects, distributing work, communicating among teams and being productive at a higher rate than ever—with a lower ratio of people power. The good news is we’re all in this together.

In our latest eBook, “Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” we take a look at what it means to thrive in Industry 4.0, and what tools are necessary to keep up with new world market demands.

Download the eBook now!

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Fourth Industrial Revolution

We are on the verge of an unprecedented time in history. Radical technological advancements—powered by AI, IoT, robotics, quantum computing, biotechnology and more—will change the way we work and live on a global scale.

We’re living in an exciting time! A world where robots and humans work side by side and where self-driving cars become a reality is all part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As with any new movement, there are bright challenges. For example, Industry 4.0 demands high productivity with increased customization—often using less people power. To accommodate these shifts, businesses and their teams will need to be agile, and incorporate fast and flexible processes in order to thrive.

Many organizations aren’t prepared for this future because they’re applying old world technology to new world needs. So how do you step up to be ready for the new world of industry?

In our latest eBook, “Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?” we take a look at what this revolution is made of; what it means to thrive in Industry 4.0, and what tools are necessary to keep up with new world market demands.

Download the eBook now!

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?