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Why Manufacturers are Switching to the Cloud

The title of this article, ‘Why Manufacturers are Switching to the Cloud’, can be unpacked into two questions:

1) Are manufacturers switching to the cloud?

2) And if so… why?

The answer to the first question is clearly, absolutely, and definitely yes—the 2017 State of Manufacturing Technology, an annual report, says that, “90% of respondents are using cloud-based productivity applications, double the number in 2016.” In fact, manufacturers are moving to the cloud so quickly that some are referring to the change as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres… When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace.

But this very rapidity of adoption points to something a bit unusual about cloud use by manufacturers; in this arena, manufacturing (like AEC) has lagged behind other sectors, and is now playing ‘catch up’.

Until recently, the industry has struggled to adopt cloud computing technologies outside of the relative simple Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms that are available, because the cost of “moving to the cloud” has often been regarded as too high, or because of perceived security threats. (Scale or fail: Manufacturing companies must leverage cloud and interconnection, Data Centre News, Nov. 9, 2017)

Of course, the reluctance of manufacturers to move to the cloud is not due to a general suspicion of technology—of all sectors, manufacturing has made the most efficiency gains in recent decades by adopting digital technology. Rather, cloud-based services specifically are perceived as a challenge, for a variety of reasons that fall under two main headings.

Security

As mentioned above, “perceived security threats” of the cloud are a major reason for lagging adoption by manufacturers. A report by Jon Peddie Research (CAD in the Cloud) provides interesting insight on this issue.

“This should not come as a surprise,” says Jon Peddie Analyst Kathleen Maher in an article on the report. “CAD customers are very protective of their data, and they are security conscious, but most of all, they are not a monolithic group.” She adds, “We also think that the past few years, which have been punctuated every few months with major security breaches, have confirmed many people’s misgivings about the security of cloud-based applications.”

Still, this perception is being overcome. Maher says:

“The study also found that workers in manufacturing fields were more likely to be adding CiC (CAD in Cloud) capabilities to their workflow than those in AEC. We have some thoughts about why this might be. The manufacturing industry is more advanced in its CAD use, having moved to extensive data management (including PLM) for more than a decade before the AEC industry, and PLM almost necessarily requires centralized data access, for which the cloud is ideal.” (emphasis added)

And in connection with the security breaches discussed above, Maher says, “We won’t go into the arguments that say cloud-based workflows might be safer than traditional methods, other than to point out that most of the breaches have not happened in applications using cloud resources such as SaaS or servers-as-a-service, but rather in companies relying on traditional—and often out-of-date—systems.” (emphasis added)

In other words, concerns about cloud security are fading as manufacturers begin to leverage their already extensive knowledge of digital data management, and as services specifically designed for the cloud—as opposed to ad hoc extensions of existing solutions—begin to emerge.

Productivity

Manufacturers also worry that productivity will take a hit if some—not all—processes move to the cloud. Maher says, “We’re not particularly surprised that so many respondents were not interested in CiC. The cloud has yet to prove itself as a hospitable environment for design. At this point, it is more useful for collaboration, design validation, and document management than design itself, and the report bears this out.” (emphasis added)

Much of this productivity hit comes down to latency (or lag), that is, the tendency of Internet speeds and bandwidth to drop unpredictably and slow down cloud-based applications. Latency remains a challenge for CAD work and, by extension, CAM, SCADA, and other traditional ‘shop floor’ processes.

But it’s not necessarily a problem for other manufacturing processes. “A certain amount of latency can be tolerated and maybe not even noticed in data management,” says Maher.

“People send off data for processing and their machine is freed up for other work.” Plus, cloud-based solutions for project management, EPM, PLM, and other data management/processing tasks can take advantage of connectivity, realtime updating, automated monitoring, and all the other major selling points of the cloud.

[Further Reading: How Cloud-Based PM Software Saves Time and Money]

It’s not really accurate to say that manufacturers have been slow to adopt cloud-based solutions. Rather, their move to the cloud has been nuanced, recognizing that cloud-based applications are not (yet) appropriate in some areas, like design, and that more secure solutions were being developed for processes like project management.

Many manufacturers are finding ways to make use of mature cloud capabilities now by using a hybrid approach. “While businesses of all types make a steady march to the cloud, manufacturers are pursuing a hybrid strategy, opting to retain some foundational plant-floor systems on premise while earmarking analytics and production applications for migration to the new environment.” (Manufacturers’ Slow, but Steady Migration to the Cloud, Automation World, May 10, 2017) (emphasis added)

Part two of this series will address why manufacturers are moving to the cloud. But for manufacturers wondering just how to begin taking advantage of cloud computing’s many strengths, this hybrid approach offers an obvious way forward; continue, for now, with existing on-premise solutions for design and traditional shop floor processes, while aggressively adopting cloud-based solutions for ‘data forward’ processes like project management.

The 10 Most Read LiquidPlanner Blog Posts of 2017

With 2018 just around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of resolutions and new year planning.

But, before we say goodbye 2017, we’d like to take a moment to look back at our most popular blogs from the past year.

1. 5 Ways AI and Automation Will Change Project Management

Automation, big data, and the Internet of Things were hot topics in 2017. In our most popular post, Andy Crowe looks at how emerging technologies will impact project management, now and in the future, and how project managers should prepare for these changes.

2. Need to Know Stats from the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing Report

To better understand how manufacturers practice project management, we surveyed more than 100 executives, engineers, and project managers, resulting in the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report. This post highlights the most interesting findings from the report.

3. Engineers, This is Why You Need Project Management Skills

Fifteen years into his career as a civil engineer, Christian Knutson began studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) course. In this post, he talks about how his newfound PM skillset has benefited him and why engineers need to seek out project management education and development.

4. Boost Your Productivity with Kanban Boards

Have your standups been turning into sit-downs lately? You may want to try Kanban boards, says PM expert Andy Makar. He walks through the Kanban philosophy, the benefits of using Kanban boards in daily stand-ups, and how to visualize your tasks using LiquidPlanner’s Card View.

5. How to Run an Effective Meeting: Lessons from Pixar, Apple, and Amazon

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney, invites candor and controversy to his meetings. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos invites only the most essential people. Check out this post to borrow meeting strategies from some of the most successful companies in the U.S.

6. How to Get Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool From Your Executive Team

Have you found a new project management tool, but first you need to sell the idea to your executive team? Kevin Crump walks you through how to do just that.

[Further Reading: How to Build a Business Case for a New PM Tool]

7. 6 Top Project Management Books for Engineers and Manufacturers

If you’re an engineer looking to grow your project management skillset, this post is for you. We perused review sites, blogs, and forums to find engineers’ most recommended books about project management.

8. Good Questions to Ask in a Project Management Job Interview

Interviews are two-way streets. While they’re trying to figure out if you can do the job, you also need to ask the right questions to ensure you want the job. PM expert Elizabeth Harrin shares her favorite questions to ask and what to watch out for during an interview.

9. 43 Resources for New and Experienced Project Managers

This is an exhaustive list of our favorite podcasts, books, blogs, websites, courses, and MOOCs about everything project management. Whether you’re an experienced PM or just beginning, you’re going to find something interesting and valuable on this list.

10. 6 Simple Ways Project Managers Can Improve Their Writing Skills Today

You may not have the word “writer” in your job title, but I’m willing to wager that you spend at least an hour or two every day writing. Read this post to learn six easy ways to improve your writing game.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for being a loyal LiquidPlanner blog reader! As we prepare for another year of blogging, we’d love to hear what you’d like to see covered in 2018. Leave us a comment or shoot us a note if you have an idea. We’d love to hear it!

Happy New Year from all of us at LiquidPlanner!

Recruiters Reveal Their Favorite Project Manager Interview Questions

You’ve memorized answers to the “Tell me about a time when…” questions. You’ve practiced your STAR stories. And if anyone asks about your spirit animal, you’ll be ready for that too.

And so have the other candidates. If you want to stand out from the competition, you need to prepare for the curveballs and the PM-specific questions.

We asked recruiters, hiring managers, and talent acquisition specialists for their go-to project manager interview questions. Take note of what they’re asking and what they’re looking for in a response, and you’ll be ready to ace your next interview.


What do you do when you realize a project is off deadline?

“This question will be 90 percent of my evaluation. I want candidates to walk me through, in detail, the steps they take to alert the stakeholder and make a plan to get the project back on track. Hitting deadlines is the most important issue in my industry. In fact, it’s the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important thing.”

Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology


The project team is clearly not working well together. What are three different ways to address this?

“Every project is full of the unexpected. A critical skill for project managers is the ability to solve problems flexibly and with agility. Thus, asking project managers to present multiple solutions to a challenge is a great interview question!”

Eve MacKnight, Lead Consultant at littleowl.us


Tell me something you have never told anyone else.

“When recruiting for project managers, I’m looking for sound communication skills. Asking this fun question and hearing the candidate’s response allows me to recognize what the person in front of me is actually like.

If the interviewee comes up with an interesting answer, I know they are creative and can communicate well. Their response obviously shouldn’t be negative, but needs to be something honest and interesting enough to remember.

It also allows me to see if the candidate is a quick thinker, which is another important skill required from a project manager. As this is not a particularly common question a candidate would expect to be asked, it’s fascinating to see what they come up with.”

Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Cuuver


What do you do when you are overwhelmed by all the moving parts in any given project?

“I love this question because it allows the candidate to show if they are aware when they are overwhelmed. You can learn if the candidate gravitates toward being tight (follow the blueprint, no matter what) or loose (wait too long to address their own confusion). Lastly, it shows whether the person knows how to ask for help, whether that’s for coaching or resources.”

Joyce Wilson-Sanford, Executive Coach and Author


Who would you put on your personal Mount Rushmore?

“It always gets a laugh and creates a comfortable mood in the room. It’s also enlightening to hear who they choose and why they value them enough to have their heads immortalized on a mountain.”

How many stacked pennies would it take to equal the height of the Empire State Building?

“The candidates that use critical thinking as opposed to dismissing the question as silly are the ones you want to keep around. I once had a candidate jump up to the whiteboard and mathematically find his way to an answer that was within 100 feet. Needless to say, he was the type of person that we wanted on our team.”

Sean Killian, People Operations Lead at Enola Labs Software


What’s the most critical or difficult issue you’ve had to deal with while managing a project?  How did you solve it?

I ask this question all the time because it allows me to understand what kind of problems the candidate feels are critical. What is difficult for one person might be all in a day’s work for another. It also demonstrates their thought process, creativity, and sense of urgency.”

Karla Pooley, Head of Talent Acquisition, Blue Spurs


If the rest of the members of our PMO were in a bus accident tomorrow, what would you do? How would you handle it?

“I think this gives us insight into two key areas. First, the candidate’s ability to think on their feet. Very few candidates expect a question like this, especially junior candidates. Second, it gives us a little bit of insight into what kind of leader they are. Would they start by collecting data? Would they immediately take action? Would they delegate or try to do it all on their own? There are a million possibilities in this kind of hypothetical.”

Jonathan D. Rogers, Operations Director and a Certified Scrum Master at AndPlus


What do you do when your project is in trouble?

“Most project managers will say they’ve never failed on a project, and they easily steer things back on course. But, in reality, a lot of projects fail based upon original estimates in budget, time, resources, market conditions, and stakeholder time/expectations.

This question allows for further investigation and probing.  I like to hear how a project manager adapts and deals with tough situations; their thought process and level of humility; dealing with difficult and unreasonable stakeholders. All these are part and parcel with being a project manager.”

Ken Kwan, Founder of Career Prophets


More Resources for PM Interview Prep:

10 Killer Interview Questions for Project Managers, LiquidPlanner

Project Managers, Here’s What to Ask the Hiring Manager, LiquidPlanner

9 Must-Ask Questions When Hiring a Project Manager, HubSpot

 

Project Manager Talent Gap: How to Make the Most of It

Skill shortages are now a global phenomenon, impacting organisations in virtually every industry sector. In the field of project management, however, the skills gap is growing at a faster rate than was anticipated just a few years ago.

The implications for organizations and project management professionals are highlighted in new research from the Project Management Institute (PMI). The Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027 report, the third commissioned by the PMI, explored the problem in depth across a number of global markets, including China, India, the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which collectively represent the world’s developed and growing economic powers.

Wanted: 87.7 Million Project Managers

The findings reveal that employers in those countries will need 87.7 million individuals working in project management-oriented roles by 2027. The previous PMI Project Management Talent Gap report in 2012 had estimated that the number of project-related jobs would reach 52.4 million by 2020. This figure has already been exceeded, topping 66 million at the start of this year.

One of the main drivers of talent shortages is the fact that the global economy as a whole has become more project-oriented, giving rise to a sharp increase in the number of jobs requiring project-oriented skills, particularly in the fast-growing economies of India and China.

Another factor is that demand for project management skills extends beyond traditional sectors, such as manufacturing, engineering and construction, into financial and professional services, publishing, and healthcare. This trend looks set to continue with industries that are currently not highly project-oriented likely to experience growth in project management-related openings.

New Technologies Bring Increased Demand

In order to remain competitive, organizations are increasingly relying on technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to boost productivity and efficiencies. This trend is creating additional demand for project managers with the skills to deliver and support technology implementation projects.

As a profession, project management is mature and well-established. The inevitable result of which is an increase in attrition, as long-time project managers begin to retire. Their gradual departure from the ranks will further impact the skills shortage; there are not enough experienced project managers to take their place.

The shortage of project management talent is of huge concern for organizations that are more reliant than ever on that talent to remain globally competitive.

However, this talent gap makes experienced project managers incredibly valuable right now and in the future.

Taking Advantage of the Talent Gap

In high-performing organizations, talent management strategies are aligned with the overall strategies of the business. In keeping with the rapid pace of change that these organisations must adapt to, there have been shifts in what is expected of project managers in terms of their competencies, both now and in the future.

They no longer excel just at technical skills, but also at leadership and strategic and business management expertise. This broader set of skills is known within the PMI as the talent triangle, and are the key skill areas that today’s qualified project professional should possess in order to successfully complete the project.

Technical Project Management Skills

Technical skills and knowledge enable a project manager to perform specific functions or tasks that help them to achieve their organisation’s business goals. Project managers will be expected to have technical knowledge of the project activities needed to complete a project.

Leadership Abilities

Although technical skills are essential, soft skills are also a priority to employers. Good leadership skills are crucial for developing a vision for the team members and inspire them to achieve the target.

Team Building and Training Skillset

Project managers must also be inspirational, proactive, and able to motivate people from the start of the project to its successful completion. An additional responsibility is ensuring that members of the team have the skills they need to successfully complete their job, and if necessary to provide any training or coaching that is required.

Strategic and Business Management Experience

Employers rate this one as one of the top three in the “ideal skillset” for project managers. A project manager who is skilled in strategic and business management is better able to analyse business decisions before implementing them. These analyses include cost benefit analysis, strength and weakness analysis, market conditions, legal requirements, and compliance, etc.

Change Management Expertise

Change is a constant in business. In addition to the key skill areas detailed above, many organisations are now looking to incorporate some of the softer change management and organisational development skills into the project management function, and will seek out project managers who can provide that more integrated approach to large project management and the inevitable organizational change.

With the predicted rise in new project-orientated jobs, competitive salaries and opportunities in global markets, career prospects have never looked better for project management professionals.

 

Laser Manufacturer Gains Visibility Into Project Status and Resource Utilization with LiquidPlanner

Access Laser, a manufacturer specializing in gas lasers, has grown rapidly over the past four years. At any time, the company’s engineering team may have several dozen active projects, ranging from small efforts that take one to two months to larger projects that take more than a year. Many of the larger projects require a mix of research, experimentation, and engineering work, making them especially hard to estimate and track.

In the past, all projects were planned by a single engineering manager, using Microsoft Project. However, project plans weren’t shared or revisited over time, resulting in a major lack of visibility into who was doing what, how to bring those efforts together, and when projects would be done.

“Projects were planned in silos and were out of date as soon as the planning was completed,” says Courtney Rickett, Manufacturing Process Engineer and Quality Manager at Access Laser, who joined the company in early 2015. “We had very limited visibility into the status of any given project, which resulted some in really late delivery dates.”

Lack of effective project management presented other problems, too. A general lack of cohesiveness resulted in frequent mistakes and errors—from duplication of effort to things not getting done at all. Project designs diverged, time was wasted, and some products even had to be redesigned while they were in production.

“When one product release went horribly wrong, we knew it was time for a change,” recalls Rickett. “Senior management made the decision to hire a full-time project manager, and I was tasked with making sure that person had the right project management tools to do the job.”

Rickett immediately set out to find the optimal project management solution, evaluating a list of candidates that included Basecamp, LiquidPlanner, Targetprocess, and Workzone. “We needed a solution that was real-time, flexible, and easy to use,” says Rickett. “It also had to support many projects, accommodate changing priorities, and allow for many users.”

Access Laser purchased LiquidPlanner at the end of October 2016. Kody Todd, the company’s new Senior Project Manager, had years of experience with Microsoft Project. However, she immediately saw the value of LiquidPlanner and enthusiastically supported its adoption.

To help accelerate time-to-value, Access Laser took advantage of LiquidPlanner’s Quick Start Onboarding, which included dedicated support, training sessions, templates for training materials, and other tools.

“Quick Start Onboarding helped us get up to speed very quickly—probably a month faster than had we attempted to do everything on our own,” says Todd. “We created a LiquidPlanner playbook, which helped us think through things and get them right the first time. The training videos were also great—I watched every single one.”

Through its use of LiquidPlanner, Access Laser now has full visibility into project status and resource utilization. Individual work priorities are now aligned with project priorities, resulting in faster project deliveries. Project estimates are more accurate, less time is spent determining project status, and separate timekeeping mechanisms are a thing of the past. The company’s use of LiquidPlanner is also helping Access Laser to capture, formalize, and evolve its business processes—all leading to a strong return-on-investment.

“Being able to effectively schedule, monitor, manage change, and deliver projects on time makes our modest investment in LiquidPlanner well worth the cost,” says Rickett.

Yong Fang Zhang, the company’s CEO, who was skeptical whether Access Laser really needed LiquidPlanner at first, is in full agreement with Rickett. “LiquidPlanner enables us to manage multiple projects with cross-functional teams, where everyone participates in more than one project,” says Zhang. “It allows us to quickly adapt to real-life changes in customer requirements and priorities, and to see the impact on the overall picture. We are an innovative company, and we need to quickly evaluate market changes and emerging opportunities. I’m convinced of the value of LiquidPlanner as a powerful tool to help us satisfy the needs of our customers.”

Read the full case study here.

7 Actions to Take When Joining a Project Underway

Many of us dream of becoming the director for a major program with numerous projects, a staff, and an opportunity to create something from nothing. In this dream, which I know I’ve had on more than one occasion, you get to select your team, develop the processes and procedures that will be used by the team, and shape the development of the Project Management Office. The ideal situation.

Unfortunately, this dream is just that for most project managers—a dream. More often than not, you won’t be able to pick your team, establish the processes, or develop the PMO. Instead, you’ll find yourself doing bits and pieces of these at the same time you’re scrambling to deal with a program that’s already under way.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of initiating a program one time. The remainder of the programs I inherited during the planning or the benefits delivery phase. Far from ideal, becoming involved in a project or a program that is already underway requires one to focus more diligently on a few key elements.

Taking Lead of a Project Underway

Project management is challenging regardless when you assume the leadership role. There’s a mountain of literature written about the skills effective project managers leverage when leading a project and it all seems to assume that you’re in the game from the start. This won’t always be the case. For example, maybe you’re hired into a new project manager role on an already awarded contract or you’re called on to replace a non-performing project manager.

7 Knowledge Areas for Leadership on Projects Underway

Taking lead on a project already underway relies on the same skills that you’d call on if you’d been on the project from the beginning. However, there are seven specific knowledge areas that are most important and will require your attention.

1. Evaluate the governance framework.

One cannot assume that every project or program will have a well-defined governance structure in place by the time it gets underway. Regardless of what phase you join a project, make sure you evaluate the governance framework to determine if it’s properly structured.

This means that the right stakeholders are involved at the right levels; the right meeting frequency is in place; there are clear terms of reference spelling out roles and responsibilities of each echelon of the framework; and decisions are being made at the appropriate level. On complex projects, it’s vitally important that governance is appropriately structured so that senior stakeholders are informed at the right time and in the right fashion for making timely decisions.

2. Discover the lessons learned.

A project underway will have generated some lessons learned, so find out what these are. Talk with project team members and key stakeholders who have been with the project since initiation to determine what the key positives and negatives have been on the project. Looking at lessons learned while the project is still underway will help determine if there are possible adjustments to be made that have been missed by the staff.

You can also bring in lessons learned from other projects you’ve successfully managed, or best practices used by other project teams, to bolster performance on your project. In short, don’t assume that performance enhancements have been applied by the project team. Look for opportunities and work with your team to implement them.

3. Develop relationships.

Project managers spend the vast majority of their time communicating with other people and developing relationships. When you’re involved on a project from concept onwards, you have the opportunity to develop relationships with other stakeholders while the project is taking shape.

When you join a project underway, however, you have to insert yourself into relationships that have already formed. The longer a project has been underway, the more difficult this is, as team members have more shared experience together.

Take time to identify the most influential stakeholders. Then, focus on developing relationships with each of them. The process for doing this will vary, so you need to apply your emotional intelligence skills so as not to make any social or professional mistakes.

I like to start with informal office calls in one-on-one or small-group settings. I follow this with working lunches or group dinners. The main goal is developing rapport with the most influential people outside of formal project meetings. The benefit from doing this is a more cordial working relationship during formal meetings and a greater likelihood of collaboration when challenging situations arise.

4. Establish yourself in meetings.

Early in my Air Force career I heard the saying, “Never let your lack of experience keep you from speaking with authority.”

I’m not entirely certain, but I don’t think this was a joke. As a second lieutenant, you lack real-world experience in leading people and dealing with situations. Yet, there you are, the officer in charge with people looking at you to lead them through the situation.

I think this saying applies for the project manager that joins a project underway. You’ll immediately be looked at as the person in charge and depending on the situation, you may be called on to make key decisions right away. This requires you to establish yourself quickly in meetings and other venues so that everyone knows you’re on the task.

This doesn’t mean you need to be overbearing or not listen to other people! Quite the contrary. You’ll need to really listen to others and take their inputs for consideration (see the last point below).

5. Lead the change.

Regardless of what you do as the new project manager on a project underway, you’ll initiate change. The very fact that you’re now in the project manager role is a change, so any adjustments you make in process or procedure will be a change from business as usual.

To ensure your changes are successful, be cognizant of the environment under which the project is functioning and adjust your leadership style to accommodate this. You want your changes to make a positive impact on the performance of the project, so you can’t afford to have them derail because of delivery.

Change management is an essential part of project management. It’s also a key component of effective leadership on projects already underway.

6. Focus on providing value.

As you assess the project’s performance and the state of your project team, look for opportunities to provide value. This means looking for underserved areas of expertise or leadership. Perhaps the project has lacked someone with a strong sense of project management fundamentals; here’s an opportunity to engage your team in applying standard processes and procedures. Maybe your team hasn’t been properly recognized for successful performance; here’s an opportunity to gain senior stakeholder recognition and develop team confidence.

Don’t invest time adding value to activities that are already well-served by your staff or other stakeholders. It’s not only inefficient, but may very will alienate some of the very people you want to build relationships with because you’re perceived to be taking their role! Consistently look for opportunities to serve.

7. Listen and observe…then act.

I’ve saved the most important skill for leading a project underway for last. If you’re successful at accomplishing this, you stand a better-than-even chance of being successful on the other six. Effective project managers tend to have a penchant for taking action. That’s what makes them successful when others are paralyzed by indecision.

When you begin leading a project that’s already underway, however, you need to take pause before acting. Most issues that arise will have a history preceding them and you need to know that history to act effectively. Just as important, project team members and influential stakeholders will develop a more positive assessment of your leadership if you’re perceived to listen, observe, and then act.

Face it, none of us are impressed with someone who steps into a leadership role and immediately acts without the full picture. There are only a few situations where this is warranted and you’ll know it if you’re in one.

Lessons Learned as a First Time Medical Device Project Manager

In 2001, I joined Calypso Medical as employee number 18. Our goal was to create a remarkable medical device that could track the location of the prostate to a millimeter of accuracy during prostate cancer treatments.

This level of accuracy is important because the prostate has a tendency to move unpredictably during normal bodily functions, like coughing, going to the bathroom, or passing gas. This makes it difficult to direct the radiation to the correct spot. Healthy tissue may accidentally receive the radiation, which can lead to increased side effects.

We called it GPS for the body. Rather than satellites whizzing around the earth to pinpoint your phone’s location, a sensor array the size of a pizza box hovers directly over the patient’s abdomen. This sensor communicates with three transponders, about the size of a grain of rice, that had been implanted in the prostate in an earlier procedure.

During treatment, the radiation technologist (RT) monitors the location of these transponders. If the prostate moves outside of the radiation beam, the RT is immediately alerted and can reposition the beam so that it is once again focused squarely on the tumor. If you know where the device is, you know where to target the radiation.

For this to work, we needed another system that could determine the location of the sensor array. Figuring out the best way to solve that problem was my job.

Walk a mile in your users’ shoes.

As is typical in small companies, everyone wore multiple hats.  If I wanted to understand what was happening during treatment and how it would constrain my system, I would need to figure that out myself.

[Further Reading: A Look Inside Project Management at StarFish Medical]

Luckily, a local hospital was very helpful and let me hang out with the RTs as they did their job. I watched how they aligned the patients and moved about the room and spoke with the medical physicists about how they calibrated and aligned the equipment. I needed to design my system to work with what was already happening. Ideally, it would be invisible to the RTs and patient.

Build prototypes to simulate products in real-world settings.

After exploring several options, I settled on a ceiling mounted camera system that would see the array and could figure out its location. I used three cameras, even though two would be enough, so that the RTs could move about the room and not worry if they were blocking one of the cameras.

I developed simulations and was confident the system would work. But a prototype is much more convincing and can test errors in your assumptions that a simulation might miss.

I built the prototype with commercial-off-the-shelf tripods and cameras and software that I wrote. In testing we showed the concept worked even if you blocked a camera or the targets.

I then installed my prototype in an unused treatment space at the hospital, and we were able to simulate realistic usage. This work convinced the company leadership that I was on the right track.

Choose your partners carefully.

Once everyone agreed that my concept would work, I was directed to select a partner to implement my concept in a way that would pass muster with the FDA.

The perfect partner would have certain features:

  • An existing solution that could be leveraged for our needs
  • Their team had the desire and ability to customize their solution
  • Their solution had been through the FDA regulatory approval process
  • Geographically close to our office in Seattle
  • Reasonable business terms
  • A team that would be easy to work with over the long-term
  • A company that was stable enough that we didn’t have to worry about them going out of business

Not surprisingly, no such company existed.

One company had an FDA-approved camera-based solution, but the solution didn’t have the resolution we needed and wouldn’t work if someone walked in front of a camera. Any solution they created would have to be built from scratch.

Another company was a spin-off of a university in Munich, Germany. Their solution was technically solid, but they were a startup with no other customers and definitely not geographically desirable.

A third company had a technically solid solution and several customers in the movie business. They were a leading company for motion capture and had worked on movies like “The Hobbit”. Their location in California was not ideal, but at least they were in the same time zone and a single flight away.

The only missing element was that their device hadn’t been through an FDA approval process. We worked with a regulatory consultant and the company to develop an approach that worked for everyone. It’s been over 15 years, and this partner is still providing the camera system for the Calypso tracking system.

Anticipate and prevent product failures using failure mode and effects analysis.

When designing a medical device, it’s critical that it works as it’s supposed to. The alternative can be the death of the patient. One of the tools that we used to accomplish this was failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), a structured way to analyze how a product might fail and what you can do to prevent it. In this context, failure means the product doesn’t deliver the required performance, not that it stops working.

For instance, if your requirement is accuracy no worse than 1.0 mm and a condition results in a location error of 1.1 mm, that’s a failure.

FMEA typically starts with a brainstorming session where you identify ways that failure might happen. Our failure modes included:

  • Changes in the room temperature causing the camera mounts to move, pushing the system out of calibration.
  • The radiation environment in the treatment vault (both gamma rays and neutrons) causes cameras to fail.
  • Partial obscuration of the targets on the array, leading to an inaccurate location solution that doesn’t trigger an error condition.

For every failure mode we stated a severity (how bad would it be if this happened) and an occurrence (how likely would it be to happen). For example, a failure mode that shuts down the system (like a dead camera) would be high, but not the worst. The most severe failure mode is one that could lead to accidentally targeting radiation to the bowel or bladder, resulting in serious side effects.

[Further Reading: Ask a PM: School vs the Real World]

An interesting failure mode that we discovered was exposure to neutrons, sub-atomic particles with no charge.  The process of creating the beam of radiation used to kill the cancer cells also created a flood of free neutrons that might damage our electronics.  I flew our cameras to one of the only two neutron test sites in the U.S. and exposed our camera to 10 years’ worth of neutrons in a few hours.

From that test, we learned that one component was sensitive to neutrons and needed to be replaced.

If we hadn’t done the FMEA work, our cameras would have started failing in the field. Until we figured out the pattern of failures, the cameras would have just been replaced. Once the root caused was determined, we would have needed to replace the part and recertify the cameras, delaying new installations. This would have hurt our reputation, which can be the death knell for a small company.

Take pride in your work.

There’s a special satisfaction of playing on a game system I helped design or seeing drilling equipment I worked on in action.  But nothing matches the satisfaction of talking to someone whose father’s cancer treatment was improved by a product that I worked on.

It’s even gratifying that the photos of the system never include my camera system. It’s a sign that I accomplished my goal of making my part of the system invisible. That helped prepare me to become a project manager, where our contributions are typically critical, but invisible.

Introducing LiquidPlanner’s Developer Hub

We’re excited to introduce our brand new interactive Developer Hub, a dedicated space for all things API.

The LiquidPlanner API itself is a powerful way to automate actions in LiquidPlanner and connect LiquidPlanner to the tools that you use on a daily basis. As great as the API is, we hadn’t made it so amazingly simple that developers could be off and running in a matter of minutes.

So, two of our own senior developers got together to fix that.

Showing Some Developer Love

When we started creating the hub, we wanted to address a couple of outstanding needs.

First and foremost, we wanted to make it easy for anyone to try out the API. That meant we needed to remove the roadblocks to getting started and make it simple to run some test calls to see how the API worked.

Second, we needed to consolidate and organize our documentation. That way, developers could quickly navigate through the reference material and easily search for and find what they needed.

Features That Developers Will Appreciate

Keeping those needs in mind, we’ve built a brand new hub that we think you’ll really like. Here are a few highlights you’ll notice on your first visit to the LiquidPlanner Developer Hub:

Documentation: This is where you’ll find detailed instructions and tutorials on using the LiquidPlanner API. It’s easy to navigate through the topics or search for a specific keyword.

Endpoints: The Endpoints section provides a comprehensive list of all of the things you can do with the API. For any tree item or association, you’ll be able to see the URL, what information you need to pass in, and you’ll even get sample code that you can copy and paste into your own environment.

The ‘Try It’ Button: Now you can make test API calls right from the hub. When you use the Try It button, you’ll be sending the call to whatever workspace you’ve authenticated from (meaning you could be impacting live data), so we recommend making GET queries instead of POST if you’re just getting started or unsure of the expected behavior.

Changelog: This handy section will keep you informed of any API changes and versions.

We hope this new developer experience opens the door to doing more with LiquidPlanner for you and your team. Visit the new Developer Hub, and let us know what you think by leaving a comment below!

The LiquidPlanner API is available to LiquidPlanner Professional and Enterprise edition customers. Start your free trial today.

Further Reading: Boost Your Business Intelligence with API Support for Analytics

October Product Update: A Faster Way to Add New Work

This month, we’re excited to introduce two new features that will make it easier to add work and focus on what’s important in LiquidPlanner.

Add Plan Items Faster with New Forms

You now have a faster, more efficient way to add new plan items, like tasks or projects, to LiquidPlanner. With a simple form, you’ll be able to easily add important information like owners, task estimates, project deadlines, or event dates. We’ve also made it easier to add add multiple items in one go.

This update is informed by recent research with LiquidPlanner customers. During user testing, we noticed that the old forms weren’t as intuitive as they could be. With this update, we’ve strived to make adding new work to LiquidPlanner as straightforward as possible.

Whether you’re transferring a plan from whiteboard to LiquidPlanner, creating a project from scratch, or copying from another source, this update will help you quickly build the plan.

Find the Right Tasks with these Dependency Updates

Also in this update are several new dependency status filters that will help you focus in on tasks that are ready-to-work and identify others that could be compromising your schedule.

Ready to Work: This new Status Filter narrows down your view to active items that don’t have any dependencies or that have a satisfied dependency for a predecessor task. This filter can be combined with a Person filter to give you a consolidated view of your tasks that are ready to be worked on.

Has Broken Dependency: This is a new rule that you can build into a custom Status Filter to filter down to any item that has a broken dependency alert, allowing you to quickly find and fix issues that could be negatively impacting your schedule.

A couple other new custom status filter rules to know are:

  • All dependencies satisfied
  • Has dependents

These updates are now available to all LiquidPlanner customers. Not a customer? Start a free trial.

Coming Soon: Our New Developer Hub

We’re getting ready to launch our brand new Developer hub and we want you to be the first to know!

This interactive hub makes the LiquidPlanner API much more approachable for developers of all skill levels. It offers detailed documentation, a comprehensive endpoint reference, a new changelog, and a simple way to try out API calls right from your browser. We’ll be sharing the news in just a few days, so stay tuned!

44 Learning Resources for New and Experienced Project Managers

We’re entering that slow time of year for businesses. Unless you work in the retail or hospitality industries, November and December usually bring a quiet calm to the office. Clients go on vacation. Emails go from a torrent to a trickle. Desks are cleaned and reorganized.

And that’s why the end of the year is the perfect time to brush up on your skills.

To help you end the year on a strong note, we’ve put together this list of training resources. Because project management is such a multifaceted role that works with many different stakeholders, we’ve included both PM and non-PM resources. These resources range from free to thousands of dollars. The time investment also ranges from a few minutes each day to several months.

We’ve broken this list into five sections:

  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Massive Online Open Courses (aka MOOCs)
  • Certificate Programs
  • Websites

Books

Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You by Tom Kendrick

It’s hard enough to lead a project when you’re the boss. Leading a project team that doesn’t report to you is a whole new challenge in itself. Kendrick walks through how to motivate a team to contribute to a project’s success.

Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know That Everyone Else Does Not by Andy Crowe

Using data from a survey of more than 800 project managers from around the world, Crowe looks at what traits and practices make the top 2 percent of project managers rise above the rest. Readers will walk away with actionable steps they can take to rise to the top.

Delivering Bad News in Good Ways: Turn Difficult Conversations into Purposeful Dialogue, Positive Outcomes, & Focused Results in 3 Easy Steps by Alison Sigmon

While there are a lot of books out there about the proper ways to deliver bad news, this one is directed at project managers. Sigmon gives project managers a defined process to not only break bad news, but also improve communication over the long-term.

Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager by Kory Kogen

Are you expected to organize and lead projects without any formal training to draw from? You’re not alone. More and more of us are being asked to PM. This book helps build a foundation, walking through the essentials of people and project management.

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun

Drawing from his years leading technology projects at Microsoft, Berkun offers readers field-tested philosophies and strategies for defining, leading, and managing projects. If you’re leading technology projects, this is a must-read.

Adaptive Project Management: Leading Complex and Uncertain Projects by Andy Silber

Silber presents a new methodology, Adaptive Project Management, in this book. He explains how to succeed or fail fast for projects that are too uncertain to use waterfall project management and too complex to succeed with agile project management.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker

An oldie but a goodie. Don’t let the title dissuade you from reading. Drucker’s lessons about time management, prioritization, and effective decision-making can be applied to any knowledge worker.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

The book that started it all; this is the definitive guide to GTD. In the age of multitasking and information overload, Getting Things Done is the book we need to find focus.

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.

Over 592 pages, the hedge fund titan Ray Dalio explains the principles that have led to the success of his firm Bridgewater Associates. The book reads partly like a memoir, partly like an instruction manual for life.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Gawande, a renowned surgeon and New Yorker writer, is a proponent of the simple checklist. At first glance, the subject matter sounds like it could be just another dry how-to book, but Gawande’s anecdotes and writing skills take this one to another level. He expertly blends storytelling, science, and productivity.

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey

After college, Bailey turned down two lucrative job offers and instead funneled his energy into chronicling productivity experiments on his blog. This book contains the results of these experiments, plus interviews with leading productivity experts and 25 takeaway lessons that the reader can apply to everyday life.

Podcasts

The Project Management Podcast. Hosted by Cornelius Fitcher, the PM Podcast has more than 300 free and paid podcasts available for your listening pleasure. He brings in PM experts to talk about a wide variety of topics, everything from how to become a PM to managing unknown risks. Bonus: You can earn 60 free PDUs (Category C) by listening.

The People and Projects Podcast. Andy Kaufman interviews experts on PM, productivity, and management on his People and Projects Podcast. A new podcast is released every three to four weeks. Like the PM Podcast, you can earn free PDUs by listening.

The Lazy Project Manager. Hosted by Peter Taylor, this podcast began in 2013 after he published his best-selling book by the same name. Taylor has been described as “one of the most entertaining and inspirational speakers in project management today.” Topics and themes really run the gamut on this podcast, with new podcasts being released at least once a month.

PM for the Masses. Cesar Abeid brings a wide variety of guests onto his popular podcast. Topics cover everything from public speaking to methodology to careers. While Abeid hasn’t released a new podcast since 2016, the archives are still worth exploring.

Beyond the To Do List | Personal Productivity Perspectives. Hosted by Erik Fisher, this podcast explores different aspects of productivity, getting the work done, and living a good life. He invites real people to talk about how they implement productivity strategies in their professional and personal lives.

The Tim Ferriss Show. Hosted by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, this podcast was the first business/interview podcast to pass 100,000,000 downloads. He brings on well-known personalities to dissect what tools, techniques, and tactics they used to get where they are.

Getting Things Done. Is your copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done dog eared and full of notes? Then you’ll love his podcast. Allen talks with people who are in different stages of their GTD journey and offers practical tips for building your own GTD systems.

Back to Work. In this award-winning podcast, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss productivity, constraints, tools, and communication. Mann and Benjamin offer a nice balance of clever banter and teaching in every one hour episode.

The Moth. A storytelling podcast? Yes yes yes. Two reasons: 1. All work and no play makes for dull project managers. You need some fun listening between all of these business and productivity podcasts. 2. Storytelling is being called the new “essential skills” for business leaders. Listening to The Moth can help you learn to build a narrative that keeps your audience wanting more.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Coursera: Introduction to Project Management Principles and Practices Specialization

If you’re brand new to project management, this intro course is for you. Over four weeks, you’ll walk through the foundations of project management. This course is intended to prepare you for the fully-online accredited Applied Project Management Certificate from the University of California, Irvine.

Cost: $196

Coursera: Applied Project Management certificate

In this 6-month, online course, you’ll have the opportunity to attend instructor-led virtual sessions, receive expert feedback on projects, and access career coaching services. This course fulfills the educational requirements of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. By the end, you’ll be prepared to take the PMP® exam. This course is offered through Coursera and the University of California, Irvine.

Cost: $2,980

Start date: December 4, 2017

Alison: Diploma Course in Project Management

This foundational course is offered by Alison, another MOOC company that offers free education online. This course covers the basics of project management, from methodologies to documentation the phases of a project. Most users complete it in 10 to 15 hours.

Cost: Free

Start date: On-demand

Master of Project Academy

Master of Project Academy offers both free and paid courses that cover a wide variety of topics. We recommend checking out the “Project Management Training Bundle”, which gives you access to the PM certification courses, as well as the Agile and scrum certification courses. Master of Project Academy offers monthly and annual subscriptions. The courses are self-paced and can be started and completed at your choosing. Not happy? The academy offers 30-day money back guarantee.

Cost: Varies. The PM Training Bundle is $62 per month or $307 annually.

Start date: On-Demand

Oxford Home Study College: Project Management Course

This is another introduction course, great for those who are new to the PM world. This 3-part course covers: an introduction to PM, role of the PM, and the project lifecycle.

Cost: Free

Start date: On-Demand

PMI: Essentials of Project Management

This online, self-paced course will benefit anyone interested in learning the fundamentals of managing projects, with a focus on preparing for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® credential exam.

Cost: $400

Start date: On-Demand

American Management Association: Improving Your Project Management Skills: The Basics for Success

AMA currently has 64 in-person sessions scheduled across the US between November 1, 2017 and August 6, 2018. While they provide an overview of PM fundamentals, this course is designed to focus on practical application of PM skills. The course is designed for those new to PM, the “accidental” PM, and knowledge workers who are interested in upping their management game.

Cost: $2,095 for members/$2,345 for non-members

Start date: Varies by location

Coursera: Agile Development Specialization

This course provides a beginner overview of the Agile methodology, specifically within software projects. You’ll learn to coordinate all aspects of the agile development process, including running design sprints, managing teams, and fostering a culture of experimentation.

Cost: $49 monthly Coursera subscription

Lynda.com

The online learning platform Lynda.com offers more than 90 courses related to project management. Many of these courses qualify for PDUs through PMI.

Cost: Free for the first 30 days, then $19.99 per month

Start date: On-Demand

Courses and Certifications

Certificate in Project Management (University of Washington)

This three-course certificate program is offered by the continuing education department of the University of Washington. The program is designed for both professional PMs and those looking to enter the field. UW has been approved by PMI® to issue professional development units (PDUs) for these courses, which fulfill the education requirements for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. This certificate is offered both online and in-person at the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Wash.

Cost: $4,790

Format: Offered in four different formats: Online self-paced; online group-paced; classroom; and classroom accelerated

Start date:  January 2018, March 2018, September 2018

Certificate Program in Project Management (UC Berkeley Extension)

This program from UC Berkeley comprises 3 required courses and 8 additional semester units of electives for a total of 14 semester units. The nice thing about this course is that you can start the program at any time and progress at your own pace. Most complete the program in one to two years.

Cost: $6,250

Format: Online, accelerated; classroom, daytime, classroom, evening

Start date: Continuous

Project Management Certificate (Colorado State University)

Colorado State University offers both in-classroom and online options for their certificate program. The five-module certificate follows the guidelines from PMI and provides a solid overview of project management principles.

Cost: $3,395

Format: Online; classroom

Start date: January 11, 2018

Certificate in Project Management (Georgetown University)

Georgetown also offers both in-classroom and online options for their certificate program. The program includes four required courses and two electives.

Cost: $6,570

Format: Online; classroom

Start date: Varies; see Georgetown website for a full schedule

Scrum Certifications

For project professionals working in tech and software, Scrum certifications are an asset. The Scrum Alliance offers a wide variety of certifications, ranging from practitioner to coach to trainer.

Cost: Varies

Format: In-person, 2-day trainings

Start date: Varies by location

Change Management Accreditation

Change management and project management often go hand-in-hand. Learning best practices in change management can help you prepare for the consequences and results of certain projects. The Change Manage Institute offers several levels of accreditation.

Cost: From $525 to 1,050

Format: Varies

Start date: Varies by location

Project Management Websites

Project Management Institute (PMI)

Everyone’s go-to project management resource is PMI. Their website is chock full of helpful information, including articles, white papers, online courses, and webinars

A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

PM expert Elizabeth Harrin, who is a frequent contributor to the LiquidPlanner blog, writes about a wide variety of project management topics. Her strength is writing about careers, leadership, and teams within the PM space. She also provides free templates and toolkits to help PMs excel at their jobs.

Age of Product

If you work in the software and product development space, you should bookmark this blog. Age of Product offers tools and insights for agile software development, product management, and lean methodologies.

Project Times

A well-curated site of helpful articles, webinars, white papers, and case studies about project management. Project Times isn’t afraid to post the offbeat (i.e., “Why Project Managers Shouldn’t Wear Man Buns”), which makes for a fun read.

How to Manage a Camel

Published by British recruiting firm Arras People, this blog covers topics around PM careers, project sponsorship, PMOs, and more. I’ve heard that the British perspective on PM differs from the American, so watch for that as you read.

Harvard Business Review

While HBR isn’t solely focused on PM, its focus on management, leadership, and careers is beneficial and applicable to any office dweller.

Herding Cats

Glen Alleman writes about a wide variety of topics related to Agile methodology and project management.

The Digital Project Manager

The Digital Project Manager offers how-to guides, tips, tricks, tools, funnies, and jobs in the realm of digital project management.

CIO

I’ve found that the project management section of the CIO website has some great content within the context of IT and tech PM. Articles cover everything from implementing an ERP systems to managing project budgets.

We hope you find these resources helpful! Is there anything you’d like to see added to this list? Let us know in the comments.