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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?

3 Product Updates Corral Project Data More Efficiently Than Ever

Custom Field

When you use a data-driven project management platform like LiquidPlanner, you generate a lot of important information that needs to be organized, accessed and acted upon. So how do you corral key data as quickly and easily as possible?

We have a nifty three-pack of feature improvements that makes it easier to manage project data than ever before.

These updates are:

  • Additional Custom Fields
  • Dashboard Archiving
  • A new Analytics Totals row

Here’s a look at each update.

More Custom Fields

Enterprise edition workspaces now have more custom fields to work with–25 project fields and 25 tasks fields to be exact! (Up from 10.) For teams that run a lot of complex projects, custom fields help keep project data organized and properly categorized–great for capturing attributes that you can filter against.

For example, a business can use custom fields as a way to stripe work categories, process flows or geography–the choice is yours. Read more about custom fields here.

r74 custom fields

Dashboard Archives

Our customers love their dashboards as a way to visualize data and share project information. But what do you do when the project ends?  The new archiving feature lets you archive individual dashboards after they’re no longer needed. By archiving, instead of deleting dashboards, you can retrieve them through search whenever you want. Archives keep your workspace lean and mean. Plus, you can create more dashboards without worrying about your list growing out of control. Note: Dashboards can be archived by editors and creators.

Dashboards are available with the LiquidPlanner Professional and Enterprise editions only. To see how dashboards are used, check out the Dashboard Gallery.

r74 dashboard

Analytics Summation

Need to know how many hours were logged towards all of your client projects last quarter? Now, when you run an Analytics report, you’ll see a Totals row at the bottom of the data table that automatically calculates data for each column.

r74 summation

This saves the step of exporting reports into a spreadsheet or doing the math yourself. To sum things up–LiquidPlanner does the calculating for you!

Advanced Analytics reports are available with the LiquidPlanner Professional and Enterprise editions only. You can learn more about our Analytics feature here. For a full rundown, read the release notes.

We hope these upgrades get your year off to a great start!

If you’re not a LiquidPlanner customer and like what you see here, give us a try!

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What Puts Manufacturing Teams Ahead: Lean Six Sigma

Manufacturing Six Sigma

In any given year, I attend a lot of project management conferences. There are always common themes that come up at these conferences, but these days it seems that you can’t turn around without getting smacked in the face by Lean Six Sigma. It’s everywhere, and it’s not a fad. Lean Six Sigma has been growing up for quite a while now. It’s no longer the new kid on the block. It’s more like the youth who went away to school and returned as a ripped 26-year-old athlete. It has matured in all the right ways, and right now it is entering a golden age.

Before we go any further, allow me to make a confession: I believe that Lean Six Sigma is the dharma path for much of manufacturing. That is true, at least, until someone discovers a better way, which they eventually will. It’s true for manufacturing projects, but innovators are also extending it to projects trying to create a standardized outcome for their service delivery. Quality is quality, and Lean Six Sigma can push yours higher.

Why Lean Six Sigma Now?

Manufacturing had a long, slow progression up until the industrial revolution when the shift from the craftsman to the assembly line changed everything. Despite the fact that we lost some of the handmade beauty, we gained two really powerful things: predictability and repeatability. The trouble is, just because something is predictable and repeatable doesn’t necessarily make it good or high quality. When I was growing up, my friend had a 1971 Pinto. It was very predictable, and we spent a lot of time on the side of the road as a consequence.

This is where Lean Six Sigma enters into the equation. It basically looks at the process, the design, and the outcome and makes data-drive decisions to guide you in improving them. Companies like IBM and GE that have implemented this have seen incredible results that translated into economic growth.

What Makes Lean Six Sigma So Great?

Lean Six Sigma tools and methodologies are a gift to project managers who are responsible to deliver world-class quality as part of their outcome. Here’s why: As the name implies, Lean Six Sigma is a philosophy and a toolset made up of Lean principles and Six Sigma methodologies.  The Lean component focuses primarily on efficiency and eliminating waste, while the Six Sigma component helps make things consistent and predictable. Together this is a combination that has not been surpassed. Seriously—it’s better than red wine and dark chocolate.

Lean Six Sigma strips down all of the processes to their shiny, bare essentials and then tunes them to be highly reliable. When it’s done right, your manufacturing project hums along like a finely tuned engine. In my opinion, getting to this stage is some of the most important work a project manager will do or oversee.

Waste relentlessly creeps into manufacturing projects from multiple angles. It is a distraction and a drain on profits at best, but it can sink successful companies when it rises to even moderate levels. The Lean community looks for waste in Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Overproduction, and Defects (abbreviated as TIMWOOD). Lean’s goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate waste in these areas, and it’s not a one-time activity. You perform it over and over, constantly seeking to improve your practice and waste less. The tricky part is that waste can sometimes be easy to see but difficult to eliminate. The good news is that once you do eliminate it, everyone benefits—your employees, the customer, and the performing organization.

The Six Sigma component seeks to make your quality consistent and to improve it to world-class level. It gives you tools to track issues, prioritize them, and systematically eliminate them. Six Sigma looks at the raw materials, the work being done, the product’s design, and the end result in order to tune them for improvement.

When Lean and Six Sigma are combined properly, it can create a magical benefit where your organization not only gets better, but it can achieve the mythical unicorn status of getting better at getting better. It’s like unlocking a secret level of efficiency.

How to Get Started

So If you’ve decided that Lean Six Sigma might be useful, where do you begin? Here are four steps to help you get underway.

1. Stop and look at your process.

Take a step away from your current process, and use fresh optics to take it all in from the top down. One great way to help with this is to create a Value Stream Map. This is where you map out the entire workflow, step by step, and carefully examine each element. Then you determine whether or not these steps add value. If it does not add value, then the step is flagged for elimination. A good Lean Six Sigma initiative puts a lot of energy into streamlining processes.

2. Measure and collect data.

If you have a manufacturing process as part of your project, then empirical measurements become all important. This is particularly true when it comes to issues and defects. Collect the metrics that tell the whole story. As Peter Drucker famously said: “What gets measured gets improved.”

Whenever something undesirable happens, lead your team through root cause analysis to understand the fundamental reason why. Then you attack these underlying causes, starting with the ones that will have the largest impact. Your goal is to get it right and then to remove any variance at production levels. In other words, nail it and scale it.

3. Train your team.

One reason training helps is that it develops a common vocabulary when it comes to production quality; another reason for training is to keep the concepts front and center. Lean Six Sigma can give quick benefits, but it’s arguably like exercise. The best benefits are realized over a long period time.

4. Focus on the Process

If you get the process right, the outcome will follow. Sometimes it takes time, but the process always drives the outcome. Be patient and relentless when it comes to this.

Even if you are not ready to commit to an entire formal Lean Six Sigma program, these steps will help you get started on the path. And this path is the one which separates the best companies in the world from all the rest.

What else puts companies ahead of the competition? A project Management process that stays up with the speed of doing business in today’s world. To learn more, download our eBook, Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

What Project Teams Need to Succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Productivity is on the rise in manufacturing, and employment is down. This trend points to a rise in automation, as well as the need for product teams to leverage the latest technology more than ever. There’s no doubt about it: We’re entering a new world of industry.

project team

The upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, also called Industry 4.0 is about a future with self-driving cars, 3D printers, and customized automation. This revolution begins when the cyber and physical realms converge in the form of data and analytics from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), automation, mobility, and the cloud. Project teams who can harness these technologies now will find themselves leading their industries in this coming digital transformation.

The project teams that win in the new world are already positioning themselves to sail through the potential disruptions that these changes will produce.

You can count yourself as a 4.0 team if you are:

  • Implementing big data and analytics throughout the current project life cycle
  • Building IIoT experience through personal study, work, open source projects or side projects
  • Using mobile devices as the primary interface for some of your major systems
  • Getting automation to work for you (not as a replacement strategy), enabling teams and organizations to think more strategically
  • Moving your software systems to the cloud.

Another way project teams can resist the disruption of the fourth industrial revolution is through security expertise. The dangers of hackers will only rise in the fourth industrial revolution as even more critical systems connect to the internet.

To be successful today and into the future, here are five technology best practices that project teams need to embrace.

1. Get Ready for the Smart Factory

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will give rise to what they call the smart factory. Here, all elements of a plant including machines, products, and virtually the entire environment are networked with each other and connected to the internet.

The smart factory marks some unprecedented changes for the manufacturing project team, such as:

  • Flexible production capabilities to respond to changing world markets for your company’s products
  • Greater efficiency with building materials and energy
  • Greater speed through smarter production processes
  • More intelligent logistics through technology solutions that support product manufacturing from the customer sales cycle through final delivery.

IIoT and big data serve as the “smart” in a smart factory. IoT turns manufacturing machinery and the supply chain into intelligent agents that generate data. Analytics tools pull in that big data for self-learning.

Project teams that harness that self-learning can move from being reactionary to becoming visionary because they grasp this technology evolution. The technologies behind the smart factory offer workers improved user experience (UX) not just in application user interfaces but a modern, efficient, ergonomic workplace.

2. Big Data for Everyone

For project teams, data analytics will play a growing role in the fourth industrial revolution. One of the main reasons is that IIoT is enabling firms to capture actionable data from machinery across all their manufacturing facilities.

This means, everybody on the team will have a graphical view into data anytime, anywhere—not just project managers. A picture of machinery health and other related data will always be a few taps away. Three breeds of analytics will start to dictate what your project team maintains on the factory floor:

  • Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
  • Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
  • Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?

For example, collaboration, project management, and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions will use analytics for security. Management may consult the analytics for usage trends before negotiating the next license with the platform vendor.

The first project team in a manufacturing organization that harnesses data and analytics is going to have a front seat to the fourth industrial revolution. It’s important for your team to factor analytics and data into your project management strategy and learn to tell data-driven stories about progress (and not see the analytics as intrusive).

Think of the team in the future that wants their employer to purchase new technology to extend their manufacturing platform. The investment makes sense to the technical people on the floor. Executives, however, aren’t such an easy sell because none of them have turned a bolt since they were out of school. The crafty project team can now present compelling data that can enable them to speak to executives like they are a fellow person, not a lower level worker on the manufacturing floor.

3. Get Behind Automation on the Manufacturing Floor

Another outcome of the fourth industrial revolution is going to be automation. Indeed, it’s a sensitive topic across many industries, as automation is going to disrupt project teams. Executives spy cost savings. Employees fear the unemployment line. This clash between employees and management ultimately needs to become a platform where both parties seek out the opportunities and benefits that automation delivers the business and how to cast employees into the future.

Automation speeds up production and delivery because it reduces manual intervention on age-old jobs. To gain the benefits you’re seeking from automation—whether it’s freeing up skilled hands for more important work or reorganizing your staffing structure—you’ll need to consider the following:

Inevitably, industry watchers and analysts say that automation is going to replace certain types of jobs, which may challenge the bonds of your project team. While automation-proofing your position and your team is difficult if not impossible, the smart and savvy teams facing down the fourth industrial revolution will be the ones developing, implementing, and managing automation solutions lest they might be one of the teams replaced whole or in part by automation.

4. It’s Also the Mobile Devices Revolution

Billions of people already reach for their smartphones and mobile devices first for information, collaboration and business interactions. However, the manufacturing industry is still relatively mobile poor in their technology stack. Industry 4.0 will change that by pushing mobile usage on the manufacturing floor for managers and technicians who need on-demand access to data. No more creating pivot tables in a spreadsheet; instead, think graphical rendering and reporting of data and statistics for machinery across the line.

Other factors like the rise of the citizen developer will also push mobile adoption in the fourth industrial revolution. These developers are digital age business users (not programmers) developing their own business apps using code-free or low code tools and cloud platforms. While manufacturing is seen by some as a mobile device poor industry because of budget and security concerns. Expect Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to be the first step for manufacturing enterprises to use mobile devices every day.

5. Cloud Computing Powers the Smart Factory

With the dominance of IoT, data, and analytics in the fourth industrial revolution means that cloud computing will be the platform of choice because of its flexibility and affordability. While the cloud isn’t new to some industries, manufacturing firms are behind on this trend. The retiring of legacy applications and mobile apps will help push this trend on the manufacturing floor. Forward thinking teams and organizations are already moving to the cloud; going forward, the usage of cloud and application programming interface (API) integration will increase exponentially.

Project teams walking into a smart factory for work can expect the following:

  • Cloud-enablement of legacy systems
  • Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Proactive tools including analytics for scheduling of system maintenance
  • DevOps-like alerting for system and machinery failures.

While cloud security remains a concern across industries there have been security advancements by public cloud providers. The hybrid cloud, and the private cloud are lessening such worries for small to mid-sized firms that can’t afford in-house IT security expertise on a full-time basis.

Change Strengthens Project Teams

Change can be disruptive to some types of personalities and management structures. Some pundits and analysts tracking the fourth industrial revolution believe the role of government will become even more important. I say the role and power of the technology project team will become more important because they are the ones doing the work.

Today’s knowledge workers have some recourse for the fourth industrial revolution because they can educate themselves on the technologies powering the fourth generation to better position themselves inside their company.

How is your team preparing for the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Managing projects in Industry 4.0 requires fast and flexible software to keep up with the speed of doing business and fluctuating demands. Learn more about the methodology custom made for innovative teams like yours. Download the eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Advice for Project Managers: How to Get More Resources and Manage Chaos

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

 

Dear Elizabeth: I’m currently running a large project that’s a mess. We’ve lost team members, the customer has asked for more features and now we’re scheduled to go well over our deadline. I’ve had endless conversations with my manager about the need to add more people to the project—I’ve even shown her my resource workload report. For some reason she won’t budge. How do I convince her that adding headcount is in the best interest of finishing this project—and our business? –Frantic

Dear Frantic: Oh, I’ve been there. I feel your pain! A good way to do it is to stop talking about people and start talking about money. It feels like a no brainer to add a $30k project coordinator resource to a project that will deliver $1m of benefit every year because if you can deliver faster, you get the benefits faster.

Large projects tend to have significant benefits, either tangible or intangible, so you might have a better argument around increasing resources than people working on smaller projects. If your project has no financial benefit, it still might have a significant risk. For example, how would it sound if you could add a $30k developer to the team that would help prevent you from incurring a multi-million dollar regulatory fine? Even projects that are being done for legislative or compliance purposes have a financial spin that you can put on them.

Failing that, you might have to put the project on a Red status. Red typically draws management attention, and you’re doing the responsible thing of flagging the point that you do not have the ability to deliver on time. You could enlist your customer in putting pressure on your manager if that’s appropriate.

By the way, just because a customer asks for more features, you don’t have to deliver them in the same timeframe. Customers – internal and external – will often try to get more work done in the same time, thinking that your resource is elastic. They’ll know that isn’t truly the case and could be sympathetic to you needing more time if you can’t get the extra hands to help.

Dear Elizabeth: I work on a team that’s always in a state of chaos. We’ve tried different organizational processes, task management software and tools. How do you know if you have the right project management processes and workflows in place? –Perpetually Disorganized

Dear Disorganized: Being in a state of chaos is a sign that you don’t have the right project and work management processes in place.

I know a couple of teams who work excellently together, and yet from the outside it looks like chaos to me, so the first thing is to establish what you think “not chaos” looks like:

  • Is it one where everyone knows what to do, and has their priorities straight?
  • Or do you want to be able to find documents within three seconds of someone asking for them?
  • Is the right workflow one where you can forecast your work for the coming month so that everyone knows what’s planned?

It’s probably a mix of all those things, but only you are going to know what will feel like nirvana for your team. Here’s where to start repairing your process:

Focus on one of your problems to fix, either by giving one of your processes another try (perhaps with a few tweaks) or trying something new. Once that area of chaos is under control, move on and try to bring some order to another area. Trying to change too much at once is a recipe for a different kind of disaster and it will unsettle the team to the point that it undermines what you are hoping to achieve.

Finally, you’ll have to accept that what is billed as “the perfect process” might not work for you. If you can’t make a best practice work, then change it. Tailor your software and processes so that they help you, and don’t hinder you. That’s a process of continuous improvement and if you work closely with your team to identify what is working and what needs to change then you can deliver incremental improvements and slowly bring that chaos under control.

Do you have a project-related question for Elizabeth? Email marketingteam@liquidplanner.com

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.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some project management trends we can expect to see in 2017. With all the talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and anticipation among future-thinkers and business leaders around Industry 4.0, a lot of industry trends and processes are focused on how to succeed in a new world of technology, market demands and productivity requirements.

2017 project management trends

As always, market forces continue to influence how businesses manage their projects. To prepare for what’s ahead, here are five project management industry trends that will gain traction in 2017.

1. IIoT becomes a project foundation

While IoT made our 2016 project management trends list, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is going to hold sway over manufacturing project teams in 2017 and well beyond.

Open source development platforms will make IIoT development possible for even smaller to mid-sized manufacturing firms. Each of those IIoT devices implemented across a manufacturing facility will generate data on the health of the machinery. That data, in turn, will be a foundation for new implementations, maintenance, and just daily operations.

IIoT will bring changes to project management, including:

  • New challenges to support a constant availability of systems
  • More analysis work on part of project managers and their teams because of the explosion in data that  IIoT bring to the company
  • The need for an IIoT strategy across the manufacturing floor.

Such a fundamental change in the foundation of projects will drive project managers to adjust their frameworks, strategies and how they deliver projects to their customers.

2. Big data and analytics join the project team

Big data and analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry. I’ve been tracking the influence of big data and analytics in IT project management, but manufacturing project management is going to take these technologies to a whole new level.

With IIoT, project teams will be building out more analytics tools and dashboards to give executive management insights into the manufacturing systems under their control.

Analytics will also have some profound changes over project management because of the unprecedented access to analytics including:

  • Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
  • Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
  • Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?”

While prescriptive analytics might seem a bit Star Trek, think of how simulation algorithms could improve how you plan projects and even staff scheduling!

3. Flexible knowledge management

The changing workforce in manufacturing is going to require project managers to keep knowledge management (KM) flexible to meet the learning needs of a transitional workforce on the manufacturing floor. You can expect to see more KM in the cloud, as more companies retire legacy KM solutions that have been cobbled together over the years. Don’t expect to see any new KM platforms entering the market; with the volume of data and documentation that manufacturing project teams produce, cloud collaboration platforms (with full featured mobile clients) will effectively handle the growth in KM.

2017 will also mark more decentralization of KM because of the growth of the cloud inside the manufacturing enterprise. Project teams will add KM to their already growing list of tasks.

4. Project management platform by API

Project management tools started on paper, moved to the desktop PC, then evolved into the cloud and mobile. You can expect to see what I call project management by application programming interface (API) as a future trend. It’s where project management extends beyond your cloud project management platform of choice through integration with other backend business platforms–whether it’s your enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, customer relationship management (CRM) platform or some legacy applications your internal development team has already migrated to the cloud.

Digital transformation and the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will start pushing this trend in 2017 and over the next few years.

5. Mobile project management tools and strategies

The primary interface to project management applications in a manufacturing environment is going to be mobile first. Project managers walking the floor, going to meetings, and working with machinery will need real-time access to project management data anytime, anywhere–and not just from their desk.

Mesh networks and next-generation WiFi will help push this trend forward. Not to mention, project management tool vendors must continue improving user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) to push this trend fully to its potential.

Look for service engineers to get their assignments and report on their activities directly from their mobile or handheld devices. Some are saying that mobility faces an uphill battle in manufacturing. I see project management as the best on-ramp for firms to go mobile. I see shadow IT and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) igniting this trend inside mid- to large-sized companies until budgets and the IT department align.

To a successful 2017!

It will be interesting to see how this year takes us further into Industry 4.0. However the markets unfold and affect businesses, the way teams manage projects is changing to keep up with shifting productivity demands. The organizations that can harness these trends will find themselves as leaders in their industries.

If you plan to join Industry 4.0, your team will need a project management tool that’s as dynamic and responsive as the changes that unfold during a product’s lifecycle. To learn more, download our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Empower Your Team With the Final LiquidPlanner Update of 2016

edit-panel-lrgThe final LiquidPlanner update of 2016 is here! And so is the most wonderful time of the year: crunch time. Businesses around the world are pushing projects to the finish line and rushing seasonal orders; teams are reflecting on the past year and setting goals for 2017–all simultaneously. It’s enough to make you want to guzzle a few eggnogs at the holiday office party.

To help your team feel empowered to do their best work and finish the year strong, we’ve added some sparkle to your workspace: an updated Edit Panel.

panel_summary

 

What’s new?

For starters, a new streamlined design makes it easier than ever for team members to stay on top of changes, move project items forward, and do their best work every day. These layout improvements help everyone find important information fast and make updates as needed. Project contributors are able to track the nitty-gritty details that are critical to the success of their work, while project managers can check finish dates, add deadlines or reassign work.

Familiar Functionality, Cleaner Design

Here’s what to expect from your updated Edit Panel:

The organization of the Edit Panel has changed a bit. What we did was group common elements together, putting the most important information right at the top of the panel. In Planning, item details, custom fields and dependencies are separated into new, collapsible sections, so they’re accessible to the people who need them, and hidden from the people who don’t use them.

planning

 

Project panels now show the entire project team in a grid view, making it a lot easier to see who you’re collaborating with on a particular project.

panel_projectteam

 

Comments and item history have been combined to show a timeline for an item, which helps you get the full story for what has happened in chronological order.

comments-_-history

There are more updates to be found all around the Edit Panel. Log in to your workspace to see them.

To read more about our December product update, check out the release notes.

To learn about the ins and outs of the Edit Panel, read this Help article.

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

 

How to Create an Innovative Project Team

Innovative project teams are increasingly becoming an invaluable asset for corporations. Not only is it becoming vital that project teams make use of the latest technological advancements in the products and services that they’re developing; it’s also vital that teams continuously improve the way in which they work—and that they find new and innovative ways of cutting costs in order to stay competitive.

product team

Not long ago I went to China to coach a team from a global electronics firm. They are market leaders, renowned for their quality and cutting-edge products. Still, this organization is facing strong competition on price from other players. Consequently, each year the head of product development challenges the teams to cut costs—sometimes by up to 20 percent—to stay competitive. When looking at how to cut costs, the teams have to be exceptionally innovative in the way they approach the design and production of their products.

Continuously coming up with new ways of working and developing products and services is a skill—a dynamic property that all successful teams will need to develop to lead the competition.

How do you create an innovative team, and encourage cutting edge ideas? Here are five ways to play the innovation game:

1. Seek inspiration from outside the team

Innovation isn’t necessarily about inventing something that’s totally unique and has never been done before. Instead, it could be leveraging an existing idea or technology from another industry and embedding it within the team’s products and procedures.

As the artist Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy; great artist steal.” Most industries are advancing at a faster pace than ever before, and there are lots of ideas that can be transferred if you keep your fingers on the pulse. Innovative teams keep abreast of what’s happening in the world around them. They read blogs and trade magazines, attend conferences and trade shows and spend time with other teams who they might learn from and get inspired by. If teams work in silos and rarely get exposed to other ways of working, they’re a lot less likely to come up with new ideas. Innovative teams and people look outside of themselves for inspiration.

2. Share information effectively inside the team

It’s not sufficient for teams to get inspired by new ideas from the outside world if the information isn’t shared with the rest of the team. It’s the team that has the power to collectively do something with an idea—from improving it to ultimately integrating it.

Every team member plays a pivotal role, and every team member is kept in the loop of the latest thinking so that they can be effective in their roles and further develop the ideas. Innovative teams are great communicators and have an effective way of disseminating information between its members. It’s been proven that one of the most efficient ways of encouraging the flow of information is by spending time face-to-face. And this is exactly what innovative teams do. They physically sit next to one another where possible; when it’s not possible, these teams spend time on video conference, sharing what they know.

3. Be a leader who stimulates creativity

Innovative teams are led by someone who recognizes that if you don’t enable people to innovate then it won’t happen. We could call such a leader a Multiplier. A Multiplier is skilled at getting the best from people and at creating an environment where the best ideas surface. These leaders stimulate creativity by asking why and what-if questions and by shifting the burden of thinking onto the team. Multipliers want to learn from people around them, so instead of providing the right answers they simply ask the right questions. In other words, they create debate and invite the team to fill in the blanks.

Teams who are led by the opposite type of leader – a Diminisher – will feel stifled. Diminishers tend to be controlling and want to take the credit for innovative ideas themselves.  Instead of shifting responsibility to the team, they stay in charge and tell others – in detail – how to do their job. Invariably, innovative teams would never be innovative if they were lead by a Diminisher.

4. Take time to experiment and play

Put a value on taking the time to come up with new ideas! Teams that work to a tight delivery schedule and who are frequently being monitored and controlled will tend to come up with fewer new ideas because there’s no time devoted to them. Innovative teams, on the other hand, create the time and the space to consider how something can be done differently. They take time out to experiment and to play; their physical work environments will often stimulate idea generation.

In some cases, innovative teams are given an amount of unstructured time where they can work on anything they like, as long as there are results to be shown—made famous by Google back in the day. When teams play and experiment, some ideas will invariably fail—something that innovative teams see as a necessary part of the process, which helps guide them in the right direction.

5. Hire a mix of skills and personality types

Innovative teams are made up of people with a range of personality types and a mix of skills. When teams become too uniform they don’t have enough breadth to fully develop and implement new ideas. An innovative team isn’t just composed of creative types, but also of people with deep technical knowledge who have a more pragmatic approach.

Generating new ideas is one thing, but choosing the best one and successfully implementing it is something entirely different. In spite of their diverse strengths and skills, innovative teams are exceptionally supportive of each other, and are what psychologists call, socially sensitive. This means that not only do team members respect each other and make space for each individual to contribute on equal terms, they are also sensitive to each other’s moods and behaviors. This sensitivity creates a safe space for people because they know that their thoughts and ideas will be encouraged and listened to.

Step bravely and uniquely into the future

Increased competition and technological advancements mean that it’s becoming more important for successful teams to be innovative. Forward-thinking teams are aware of the world around them and willing to take risks; they know how to move on from mistakes and keep executing until they hit on a new market need or improve on an existing one.

Put these five practices into action and you could be surprised what your team is capable of. This might be your best year ever!

The future of industry is changing. Innovative teams are turning to new dynamic processes and software to support the speed of doing business. To learn more about how LiquidPlanner supports innovative teams, read our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management Software.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

The Top 3 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a SaaS Provider

As a salesperson in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) space, I get to speak to executives who are shopping for new work management tools every day. They’re looking for ways to innovate and speed up their teams—it’s a theme of our times. I constantly hear the phrase “time is money” and in today’s fast changing business world, it’s never been so true.

evaluating SaaS products

Put the phrase, “time is money” into the context of picking and evaluating a software service provider, and the search can be an expensive endeavor.  The time it takes to make a decision—which often delays the needed process change—can rival the cost of the program itself!

What makes the decision of purchasing a software solution so challenging?

Two words: Information overload.

The Decision Process Problem

There are seemingly hundreds of pieces of information available when making a decision on a SaaS provider today. If you include additional decision-makers besides yourself, and have everyone try the solution before purchase, you end up with the recipe for a six-month decision that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. What’s worse is when, after all of this, your organization selects a platform that proves to be a poor match for your needs.

If you want to narrow the field of products to consider and make sure they’re the best fit for your team, it’s important to ask the right questions. Nobody knows more than you what you need to accomplish from your software investment, so take the lead. Ask the questions that relate to the value and results you’re looking for. To help you out, here are three basic questions you should ask every SaaS provider while you’re considering and trialing the product.

1. What are the problems your organization solves?

This question is a fast way for you to assess fit—to see if the product’s value proposition matches your own. Take their prioritized list of problems they solve and compare it to your own list. Do their values around problem-solving match yours? You don’t need a 100 percent identical match, but there should be some crossover, especially around top values.

For example: If you are trying, above everything else, to solve a resource management issue, but the company you’re considering is all about enhanced productivity and there’s nothing about allocating and tracking resources in their product, you can probably end the conversation. On the other hand, if you find out the company is invested in solving the issue around resource management, keep talking.

Start with this question, because nothing else matters if you can’t match at a values level.

2. Who are your most successful customers and buyers?

Nothing is better than knowing whether companies like your own are having success using a tool you’re considering. Even more, when people in similar positions as yours are raving about the product—that helps too.

When you ask this question, dig deep. Ask about industry breakdown, the titles of people making the purchases. Is this a group that fits your profile too? If so, that’s a good sign of product fit.

A reputable company will have case studies to support these claims, so go to their website to read the stories; or ask a sales rep to send you customer stories from organizations that are similar to yours.

Go one step further and ask for a comprehensive ROI report—this will help you secure budget when you make your purchasing proposal.

3. What kind of support and onboarding do you offer?

Remember: The company you choose is more than just a product—ultimately you want to purchase from a company that will partner with you and invest in your ongoing success using their product. Any respectable SaaS provider with a complex product will have some sort of support to get you started, if they don’t, it’s time to move on.  Some companies go out of their way to include this in the cost, while others charge for it.

The onboarding process is especially important to ask about. See what they offer and how long they partner with you to get the whole team up and running with confidence and ease. This is the make-or-break part of introducing a new tool. If people aren’t transitioned on to a new platform properly, the new software you spent so much time vetting might go unused. This happens more than you might imaging—a huge waste of resources.

Other questions to ask:

  • Is the knowledge base easy to find?
  • What is the SLA (service level agreement)?
  • What is your customer satisfaction around support?

If you’re on the search for a new SaaS tool, you can save yourself time, money and a huge headache by asking important questions around the value of the product:

  • Does it solve your problems?
  • Will the company be there for you when you roll it out for your team?
  • Do you trust the company?
  • Can you afford it?

If the answer to these questions are all yes, take the plunge—and thank me later!

How do you know when it’s time to consider a new tool or process for your business? In the case of project management, here’s a way to find out!  Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

Take the assessment!