Category Archives: LiquidPlanner

October Product Update: Focus on What’s Important with New Alerts

When you see a column of bright red flames running alongside your project plans, it can be a bit unsettling. That’s why we’ve added more intuitive alerts to help you understand the severity of a risk.

To learn more about these new alerts and what they mean for project plans, we talked to Nick Smith, Lead Product Manager at LiquidPlanner.

With the October update, LiquidPlanner customers will see new colors and new alerts in their workspaces. What has changed?

We’ve come out with new alerts that are more human-friendly and easier to understand.

There are two major categories: deadline or effort risks alerts and non-critical, informational alerts.

Deadline or effort risks get flame icons. Before, we had different icons that used orange and red. Now, we have an entire category for deadline or effort risks. If you’ve taken the time to tell LiquidPlanner that there’s a deadline you want to hit or a max amount of effort you’d like to stay under, we want to uphold our end of the bargain and show when that will occur, as well as the severity level.

The alerts in this category are yellow for slight risk, orange for moderate, and red for severe. It’s kind of like Google Maps: the higher the risk, the more alarming the alert level.

The second category is non-critical, informational alerts. There are three new alerts within this category:

Green Manual Alerts: These alerts are manually created by typing an alert message into the Manual Alert field in the Edit Panel.

Blue Schedule Input Error Alert: Blue alerts are input or output errors in the schedule. For example, someone is assigned to a project that they do not have access to. Or, someone is assigned to complete work, and they are no longer in the workspace. We use blue alerts to inform customers of an issue that requires action, so that LiquidPlanner can give an accurate schedule.

Purple Informational Alerts: Purple alerts notify you of a non-critical issue and offer next steps to resolve it.

See the Alerts article in the LiquidPlanner Knowledge Base for more details.

Why the change?

These new alerts work as a focusing mechanism for our customers. In our research, we found that customers were describing their workspaces as a “sea of red.” They didn’t know where to focus their attention.

We’re trying to elevate the importance of schedule- or effort-based risk, which is something that we can generate with our scheduling engine. When those risks materialize, we want to make sure we’re doing our part to help users understand where the risks are and what they mean.

Also, if there are issues in the workspace that aren’t contributing to schedule or effort risk, we want to help customers understand how to resolve those issues. Before, the red alerts were like the boy who cried wolf. People just stopped paying attention. This new category of informational alerts will draw attention to these issues without overwhelming customers.

Do customers need to change their responses to red alerts?

This update doesn’t change how customers should respond. The only change is that they now know that any flame icon is always related to deadlines or max effort.

When something is red, it means it should be looked into. A deadline is about to be missed or the maximum hours of effort has been met. The way to react to that is the same as in the past. But, it’s now easier to find those issues.

How do you use alerts in your work as a Product Manager?

I use alerts to look for issues. The color of the alert helps me decide how much attention I should give it. Alerts also help me figure out where I should be spending my attention as a manager and resolving roadblocks on projects or bottlenecks between resources on projects.

To learn more about the new alerts and what they mean for your project plans, check out the Alerts article in the LiquidPlanner Knowledge Base.

New Features Webinar

Sign up for our 2017 New Features Webinar on October 11 to learn all about this and other product enhancements from earlier this year. Register now.

Getting Your Team to Use LiquidPlanner: Sell Benefits, Not Features

Congratulations–you’re the proud owner of a new project management tool. You made it through the evaluation process, the trials, the executive sign-off.

But your greatest challenge still lies ahead: convincing your team to actually use (and perhaps even enjoy) this new tool.

This challenge is not to be taken lightly. Do it poorly, and you risk failure. You don’t want that. Your boss doesn’t want that. The business definitely doesn’t want that.

So you have to do it right–the first time. Just one slight problem…

Change is hard.

“We’re too busy to learn a new tool.”

“Our current process is working fine. Why change?”

“I don’t use our current tool. A new one won’t help me.”

Convincing your team to adopt (and love) LiquidPlanner will take some work. But it’s definitely possible, and we’re going to help you do it.

Sell Benefits, Not Features

“Features tell, but benefits sell.”

This common refrain, uttered in marketing departments the world over, serves as a reminder to ask, “What’s in it for our customer?” In this case, your customer is, you guessed it, your team.

If you start by rattling off a whole lot of features, you’ll quickly lose their attention. Persuading your team requires a mix of features and benefits. To get to those benefits, you want to use the “So what?” trick.

Here’s how it works: Pretend you’re selling an in-window air conditioner to your team. (Just stick with me here.)

The particular air conditioner comes with a mounting kit.

So what?

It can be safely and easily secured in most windows.

So what?

You can use the unit in any room in your home.

So what?

The in-window air conditioner can be safely and securely installed in any room of your home. You can enjoy the cooling satisfaction of air conditioning without the high costs of installing and maintaining a forced air system. It’s an effective, efficient, and inexpensive solution for hot days.

By using the So what? method, you’ve shown how this solution can meet their needs. This method works for any product, including project management software. Use it to start brainstorming about ways to position LiquidPlanner as a solution to your team’s needs.

To get you started, we’ve compiled talking points around three team-focused benefits: consolidation, collaboration, and autonomy.

Benefit #1: Consolidation

On the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, the New York Times published a video about “all the things this ubiquitous gadget has laid to waste.” The list runs the gamut, from taxis to cameras to small talk in elevators.

What would have once filled a box (address books, photo albums, day planner, alarm clock, watch…you get the point) now fits in the palm of our hand. It’s an amazing feat for something that originated as a way to make telephone calls.

Were you anticipating this metaphor? Here it is: LiquidPlanner is like the iPhone.

Yes, I know. Project management software will never be as far-reaching or monumental as the iPhone. But, for the people who use the tools on a daily basis, it can sometimes feel like it, for better or for worse.

Like the iPhone, LiquidPlanner combines several tools into one:

  • Email (You can’t rid yourself of it completely, but the number of emails sent and received can be reduced.)
  • Slack, Yammer, and other IM communication platforms
  • Time tracking software
  • Spreadsheets
  • To-do lists
  • Calendars

If your team spends a lot of time jumping between different applications, this could be a major selling point. Consolidation also reduces time spent copying and pasting the same information across different applications. All conversations, documents, and plans are in one place.

Here’s a video you can share with your team to give them a quick overview and get them excited about LiquidPlanner:

Pitch It to Your Team

With LiquidPlanner, we can consolidate our project toolkit, workflow, and project plans into one. We’ll no longer need to juggle multiple applications, saving us time and headaches. Plus, we’ll all have real-time visibility into our projects with just one click.

Benefit #2: Faster Communication

Communication is almost always listed in those “5 Top Skills for PMs” listicles. If that’s the case, then why do so many project management tools make it so hard to communicate with the team?

LiquidPlanner knows that teams are often swimming in emails, attachments, and random Slack messages. That’s removing these roadblocks and making communication much easier is a major component of our tool.

Why teams love collaborating in LiquidPlanner:

  • Built-in collaboration features: Commenting within LiquidPlanner moves conversations out of email and IM, creating a “paper trail” that’s linked to the specific project task. @mention comments can be used to call team members’ attention and keep conversations focused.
  • Open, transparent environment: With a shared workspace, everyone can see all the tasks that make up the project and the schedule for project completion. This transparency makes it clear what needs to be done, who’s responsible for doing what, and when tasks needs to be completed.
  • Single, centralized workspace: A project workspace hosted online gives the whole team access to the information they need and a means to collaborate, via any Internet-enabled device. For geographically distributed teams, nobody loses out due to location or time difference. Information is available to the whole team 24/7, and team members don’t have to ask the project manager or wait to be spoon fed information.
  • Documents housed in one location: Team members shouldn’t have to visit several different repositories for documentation or other information they need to get the job done. This eats time and introduces version control issues (e.g., many different versions of the same document being emailed around). Documentation can be stored in the workspace itself, ideally with any associated tasks linked to it, which makes navigation a breeze.

Pitch It to Your Team

Everyone will know who’s doing what and when without having to search through email chains and multiple applications. Documents will be easier to find and organized within project plans and tasks. We can easily share documents, updates, and statuses through LiquidPlanner, giving 24/7 access to everyone.

Benefit #3: Increased Autonomy

Employing practices that make employees feel like robots on assembly lines, micromanaging for example, is a really effective way to reduce employee engagement. This leads to increased stress, higher turnover, and less effective employees.

But give them room to make their own decisions, think for themselves, and take ownership, and motivation will steadily begin to rise.

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink cites a study conducted at Cornell University that looked at the effects of autonomy at 320 small businesses in the United States. Half of the companies granted workers more autonomy, the other relied on top-down direction.

Those businesses that gave employees autonomy:

  • Grew four times faster than the businesses using command and control management.
  • Experienced one-third of the turnover.

Obviously, there’s a fine line between giving employees autonomy over their work and letting the inmates run the prison. And, that’s where a project management tool like LiquidPlanner comes in.

One of the major differences between LiquidPlanner and a tool like Microsoft Project is increased visibility. With traditional PM tools, it’s difficult to fully collaborate. Sometimes only one person has access to the actual tool and, thus, the actual plan. Cloud-based tools allow all team members to access and work within the tool autonomously. No more waiting for updates. No more wondering what to work on next.

Now, everyone will have access to the same information at the same time. It’s easier to stay on top of what’s going on and know what needs to be done next.

And, greater autonomy = greater employee engagement.

Pitch It to Your Team

No more tracking down status updates and wondering what’s next in the project plan. With LiquidPlanner, every member of the team has 24/7, instant access our project plans. That means fewer surprises, less wait time, and the ability to see what upcoming work.

Tying It All Together

You now have three solid talking points you can use to describe the benefits of LiquidPlanner to your team. But don’t stop there. Seize the excitement and momentum of this conversation by introducing your plan for implementation.

These resources will help you build a successful rollout plan:

5 Steps to a Successful Rollout of LiquidPlanner

Preparing for Liftoff: Building an Implementation Plan

Getting Started Video Series

August Product Update: Make Changes in a Flash with Inline Editing

At LiquidPlanner, we’re all about boosting productivity with time-saving shortcuts. That’s why we’re excited to introduce our latest product improvement: inline editing.

Whether you’re adjusting, updating, editing, or renaming fields, you can now do it in a single click. You’ll no longer need to open Edit Panel to make changes in LiquidPlanner.

Simply click on a field and the data will become editable. All changes are saved immediately, so you can quickly move on to the next thing.

Click. Edit. Tada!

Managers can make quick adjustments to assignments and deadlines, while team members can easily update their estimates―all directly from the Timeline View on the Projects tab.

These fields can be edited inline:

  • Item Name
  • Owner
  • Remaining Effort
  • Logged
  • Custom Fields
  • Deadline
  • Delay Until
  • Daily Limits
  • Max Effort
  • Reference
  • Contract Value

Inline editing is available to all LiquidPlanner customers. Sign in now to give one-click editing a try.

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

Not a LiquidPlanner customer? If you’re looking for ways to get better visibility into your projects and their performance, try us out!

A Look Inside Project Management at StarFish Medical

Before a medical device reaches a patient’s bedside, it must go through a rigorous multi-step process that includes design, development, testing, regulatory review, and manufacturing.

Andrew Morton, Engineering Project Manager at StarFish Medical

StarFish Medical, a product development consultancy based in Victoria, British Columbia, helps companies large and small navigate this process and create breakthrough products for a number of medical specialty areas.

They couldn’t do this without some serious project management muscle.

We talked with Andrew Morton, PE, PMP, who manages the project management group, to learn more about the medical device design process, how StarFish Medical project managers collaborate with clients, and what it takes to be a project manager in the medical device space.

Can you tell us about the role project management plays at StarFish Medical?

We have a project management office. At a very high level, the PMO is looking for consistency on projects. Do we have the minimum set of processes on our projects? Is that satisfactory to be successful for both internal tracking purposes, as well as to satisfy the needs of our clients? Are the PMs following those processes?

Being a consultancy, we have a lot of different clients and customers. The needs are very diverse. It’s often a tradeoff between what might work for 50, 80, 100 percent of the projects. We try to balance the needs of the majority with the needs of everything.

What was your path to project management?

My background is in engineering. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering/physics, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Most of my professional experience has been in project engineering or project management. I’m a certified PMP.

I started in engineering and was always very interested in the coordination piece. Bringing together the efforts of many different functions within the organization and doing that in a structured way to get something really meaningful at the end of the day has always been appealing to me.

Photo courtesy of StarFish Medical
And what drew you to the medical device industry?

There are three things:

Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be meaningful. It helps substantially. The day-to-day challenges are diminished when you think about the impact our work has on people’s lives.

Cutting-edge technology is a huge interest of mine. New medical device design is very much in that area. We are pushing the boundaries of technology and finding ways to apply that in a meaningful way for people and patient outcomes. For me, it’s also interesting to be in a cross-disciplinary design environment, where we’re working on hardware and software.

What attracted me to StarFish is the company’s great reputation for excellence. Being a consultancy, we work on many different products at any given time. Everything we work on is quite diverse.

How does StarFish Medical help clients from move medical devices from ideas to manufactured products?

Within StarFish, we have design, regulatory, and manufacturing capabilities.

We have a phase-gate design approach. Phase 0 is our proof of concept, development process. Phase 1 is detailed design. Phase 2 is transfer to manufacturing.

In Phase 3, which is less common, we focus on sustaining engineering. This a product that is already being manufactured. There may be enhancements or feedback from the market about needed adjustments.

We touch all of those in our different phases. Sometimes we only help a client with a piece of Phase 1. Sometimes we get involved in the whole lifecycle, moving from Phase 0 to getting the product to manufacturing.

Photo courtesy of StarFish Medical
What are some of the differences between being a project manager in the medical device world, versus other industries?

A lot of our work is around first of a kind development. I would put us in the category of new product development project management.

We are innovating a lot, and the path forward is uncertain. A lot of our projects lend themselves to Agile methods. We also do Phase 2 and 3 projects, in the manufacturing realm. Those are going to look like more traditional Waterfall approach to project management, where there’s very little design activities to be done.

Our project managers tend to focus more on the front-end design work, which I would put under the umbrella of new product development.

In regards to new product development, I think the major difference is that our products eventually need to be sold in a regulated environment, complying with FDA or Health Canada regulations.

While the regulatory piece is not uncommon in project management, I think it’s uncommon to be looking be looking at regulatory at the same time in new product development. We’re doing that from day one.

Photo courtesy of StarFish Medical
How are the project teams set up at StarFish Medical?

It really depends on the project. The one universal is that every project has a project manager. From there, one project can look very different from another.

Why is that?

Sometimes the client is one person, and he or she has a big idea. They have funding, but they don’t have any engineering capabilities themselves. They come to StarFish to do it all. In that case, there’s a project manager supporting them, and, basically, StarFish is wholly owning the design.

Or, a client has a team of their own. They may have a mechanical engineer and a software engineer, but they don’t have electronics and industrial design. They come to us to do those pieces. For that project team, we’d build around their capabilities. If the scope was fairly small, then maybe the project manager’s only spending half of his or her time on that project.

Sometimes a project may be a derivative of a project that the client already has. We have our own internal team, but we’re interfacing regularly with technical leads on the client team. The client wants ownership of the engineering, but they don’t have the resources at the time. Generally, they’re too busy.

The client team then becomes very embedded in the work that we are doing. We have to keep them updated more regularly than other projects where the client is very hands-off. We may have a weekly call or daily scrum just to touch base.

The teams look very different, depending on our clients’ needs. Having a dedicated project manager gives the clients a single point of contact.

What do you enjoy about your work?

The rewarding part is being a part of clinical trials. We get to see how products improve things. At the end of a project, our clients will hopefully be able to commercialize and manufacture the product. Being attached to this work is very rewarding. That’s true for everyone in the building. Everyone is very motivated by success in this space, which means it’s both helping people as well as getting products on the market.

Photo courtesy of StarFish Medical

What’s it like to hold that actual medical device in your hands, once you’ve gone through the whole process?

It’s hard to describe. It can be pretty amazing when you think of the effort that went into it and all of the challenges that were involved to bring it to life. It’s extremely satisfying. When you look at a finished product, it’s easy to underestimate the effort that goes into making these products come to life.

What qualities do project managers need to succeed in the medical devices field?

You need to have a good working knowledge of product development. There’s a whole set of processes around making something that wasn’t there before.

Systems engineering is also a key piece. It ties back to product development and what the FDA expects for regulatory submission, which is a structured design approach where you create requirements, specifications, and you go through the process of formally verifying and validating. It’s a pretty big part of medical device design.

On a personal level, one of the things that goes a long way is having the passion for improving lives. It can be difficult at times. There are a number of obstacles along the way.

That passion goes a long way in reminding yourself of what you’re doing, helping you reframe things, and moving past obstacles. The project manager is leading a team; that passion can help keep going and stay motivated.

July Product Update: Seamlessly Allocate and Schedule Resources with Project Limits

Dedicating all of your work hours to a single project is becoming a rarity in today’s multi-tasking work world.

For many teams, working on multiple projects at the same time has become the norm, which makes effective management of resources and timelines even more important. Without it, project managers may spend hours seeking out status updates; team members don’t always know what work is the highest priority; and managers are left wondering how their team is allocated. This balancing act is time-consuming for everyone involved. (Been there, done that. We’re speaking from experience here.)

That’s why we’re excited to introduce Daily Limits on Projects. This new feature offers managers the ability to set a max number of hours per day for team members to work on a project.

For organizations that run multiple complex projects at one time, Daily Limits makes scheduling people and projects much easier. By setting Daily Limits, project managers can instantly see how their team’s limits impact delivery dates across the entire project portfolio.

Daily Limits offers managers the ability to set a max number of hours per day for team members to work on a project.

 

Daily Limits can be set on both projects and tasks. The applied Daily Limit will cap the amount of time that a team member is scheduled on a specific project or task for the day, which frees up their remaining availability for their next highest priority work.

In a world of competing projects and tight deadlines, Daily Limits helps teams understand these constraints and work more efficiently to get the job done.

Learn More About Daily Limits

Daily Limits is now available to all Professional and Enterprise LiquidPlanner customers. Not a LiquidPlanner customer? You can try out Daily Limits by starting a free trial.

To learn how to setup and manage Daily Limits, check out the video below, as well as this help article.

5 Ways Cloud-Based Project Management Software Saves Time and Money

It’s official: the cloud has gone mainstream. While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of cloud-based solutions for years, larger organizations, as well as those facing hurdles with new technology, have been slower to adapt. But, according to recent research from Gartner, Inc., that’s changing.

Recently, more organizations, even large enterprises and slow adopters, have begun turning to the cloud. The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 18 percent in 2017 to total $246.8 billion, up from $209.2 billion in 2016, according to Gartner.

“As enterprise application buyers are moving toward a cloud-first mentality, we estimate that more than 50 percent of new 2017 large-enterprise North American application adoptions will be composed of SaaS or other forms of cloud-based solutions,” says Sid Nag, research director at Gartner. “Midmarket and small enterprises are even further along the adoption curve. By 2019, more than 30 percent of the 100 largest vendors’ new software investments will have shifted from cloud-first to cloud-only.”

Quick Cloud Stats

Larger organizations are now learning what early adopters have known for years: cloud-based software can help you save time and money.

Here are some reasons to consider the switch to cloud-based project management software.

Anytime-anywhere access

Design team in Seattle, and production facilities in Detroit? No problem. Cloud-based project management makes collaboration across distances easy. Thanks to the connectivity of high-speed Internet, it’s now possible to work closely with someone you may never meet in real life.

For international companies like Rotork, a leading manufacturer of industrial valve actuators, the ability to access information from anywhere in the world, on mobile or laptop, is invaluable. The company’s gear design team is based in England, while their manufacturing team is in the Netherlands.

With LiquidPlanner, “everybody can access their projects and tasks from different locations and different time zones in the business. We can share information and keep our plans up to date, which will also let us manage common resources across multiple projects.”

–Steve Watkins, R & D Engineering Manager at Rotork

Learn how the Rotork teams use LiquidPlanner to hit their deadlines.

Less time lying awake at night, wondering if your data is safe

Security concerns stop some companies from switching to cloud-based solutions. The idea being that having physical control over one’s servers makes it more secure.

However, cloud software can be just as secure as on-premise. Most reputable cloud-based applications have strong safeguards in place to protect customers’ data while in-transfer and at-rest. For example, LiquidPlanner is hosted with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Our customers’ data is housed at AWS data centers in different geographic areas that are completely independent from one another. With servers in multiple zones, failure in one zone won’t disrupt service.

Here are some of the security headaches avoided by using a reputable cloud software service:

  • Data replicated to servers in multiple geographic regions to guarantee maximum availability.
  • Daily data backups.
  • Uninterrupted power supply, guaranteed with generators.
  • Fire detection systems, temperature and climate control, and video surveillance.

Security is a genuine concern, so be sure to thoroughly vet any cloud-based software providers you’re considering. See the steps LiquidPlanner takes to protect customer data.

Fewer emails, less time searching for documents

How many times have you scrolled through a never-ending email chain, looking for that paper clip icon. “Aha! Here’s the file,” you think, only to discover that this attachment is not the final version. Or is it? The document has been updated so many times, you’ve lost track. Now you have to ask your colleague for the final final version. And wait.

Meanwhile, your manager is asking for updates because she was left off the email chain and has no idea what’s going on. Hopefully, your colleague will issue the final version quickly, so your manager’s questions can be resolved and the new final version distributed to the team.

With cloud-based project management, you can cut down on back-and-forth emails and multiple versions of documents. Everyone on your team can quickly access the latest document. Changes, status updates, and comments are automatically sent to everyone who needs them.

For companies like scientific equipment manufacturer Lake Shore Cryotronics, cloud-based project management means better organization and a reduced dependency on email.

“Many team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner to communicate and provide task updates. In the past, these project artifacts would have been buried in emails, with little in the way of organization or visibility. Now, comments are tied directly to the tasks and items they’re relevant to, in a way that provides visibility to everyone on the team.”

– Rob Welsh, Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics

Learn how Welsh’s product development team uses LiquidPlanner to track and manage its complex workload.

Lower upfront costs: no investment in server infrastructure required

On-premise systems tend to cost more upfront, due to onsite software and server installation, software license investments, and the extra IT staff needed to configure and maintain the system. With cloud-based applications, all you need to get started is an Internet connection and a device.

When comparing the costs of cloud-based and on-premise systems, you should also take extra costs like monthly maintenance, hourly customer support, backup software, and electricity consumption into consideration. With cloud-based applications, you won’t need to worry about electricity and backup software fees. Most offer online help articles and resources, as well as customer support and troubleshooting assistance.

If you’d like to compare the total cost of ownership over several years for an on-premise system and a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) system, we recommend this calculator from SoftwareAdvice.com.

Zero time spent on software updates

You’re right in the middle of something, just hitting your groove, when a notification appears on your screen. “Restart your computer to finish installing important updates.”

Nooo. Not now, you think. And you ask for a reminder in one hour. Then you delay it again. And again. Before you realize it, you have 38 updates waiting for you.

With cloud-based solutions, you don’t need to stop your flow for updates. Once new features or updates are live, you have instant access. No download or upgrades required.

Many cloud-based solutions also offer integrations with tools you’re already familiar with. LiquidPlanner, for example, integrates with Google Drive, Salesforce, Zapier, and more. Also available is an open API, enabling you to build integrations with other tools.

Taken together, these five things make a compelling business case for switching to a cloud-based project management solution. Are you ready to join the millions of businesses who are managing their projects in the cloud? Start a free trial today to start saving time and money with LiquidPlanner, cloud-based predictive project management software.

5 Ways AI and Automation Will Change Project Management

Technology has made our lives easier. If you don’t believe that, go watch a few episodes of the PBS series, The Frontier House. While technology and automation have lessened some of the strain, they’ve also stirred up a lot of fear.

The Luddite movement in the early 1800s is one of history’s more famous examples of humans lashing out at automation. During a period of low wages and England’s war with France, English textile workers saw automation and textile machinery as a threat to their livelihood. The Luddites burned and smashed looms and other machines they believed were destined to replace them.

Since then, there have been numerous backlashes against technology and automation. In the 1980s, United States postal workers protested the introduction of letter sorting machines. Today, taxi drivers are protesting over ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber.

At its heart, automation is about solving a problem or a task that can be reliably offloaded from a person to a machine. Manufacturing has seen amazing progress due to automation, and now there are several opportunities for automation in project management to make our lives easier.

Rather than replace the role of project manager, which I don’t see happening any time soon, I think automation will relieve us from some of the more mundane tasks and help bring consistency to our daily lives.

Technology has been steadily impacting the jobs of project managers for years now, but recently the pace has quickened dramatically. Now project managers, like almost everyone else, are seeing automation on the horizon. Rather than run in fear, I suggest that we may find this technology is the friendly kind that can help.

Here are five ways I believe automation will impact our jobs in the near future.

1. Offloading Truly Routine Tasks to Increase Value

We are already making progress in automating things like tracking time, updating estimates, and reporting schedule progress. When put together, these have the potential to reduce meeting time and improve accuracy. All of this can free up your team to focus on the more valuable tasks.

The project manager can use a central hub to collect information and updates from team members, which will help ensure that updates are timely and thorough. We have seen some of this already. But, with heuristics and quality assessment algorithms, the best is yet to come.

2. Improving Assessments to Identify Risks

In the 2002 movie Minority Report, authorities were alerted to serious crimes before they even occurred. You would think all of this proactivity would make life easier, but that would have been a boring story.

Imagine, however, that you had a list of likely delays, risks, and problems before they occurred. This technology already exists in the supply chain world, and it’s only a matter of aggregating the right pieces of data for it to work for project teams.

Some projects already receive weather, traffic, and shipment notifications to alert them to problems before they manifest. Add to that the possibility of supplier problems, failed quality checks, delays, and personnel issues, and suddenly you have the potential for a robust risk tool.

3. Employing Metadata to Detect Problems

You may have noticed how your phone has become smarter in recent months. It can predict what you are going to type next and even anticipate where you are walking or driving. While this is the result of a relatively straightforward process of monitoring and then predicting your behavior and routines, the impact is downright amazing.

We now can unobtrusively collect metadata and look at how team members do their jobs. Many thought leaders believe that we can understand more from this metadata than by looking at the actual work product. There is a gold mine of information waiting. We just need to learn to mine it effectively.

In fact, many industries, including credit scoring, counter-terrorism, and financial institutions, are using metadata to predict events before they happen. In my community, a large EMS provider uses metadata and analytics to predict where and when traffic accidents will occur and proactively station ambulances near those intersections. The results are uncannily accurate.

Soon, project managers will have tools that give us a treasure trove of information about our teams’ performance. A lot of predictions can be made by analyzing the habits, the communication, the focus, the time spent on task, and other attributes of the person responsible for doing the work.

4. Facilitating Communication to Improve Accuracy

Automation can offload mundane tasks. For example, an application could get updates from the team, produce key reports, and raise triggers and alerts when problems were detected. Communication is one of the trickiest areas for a project manager to master. Software already exists to correct grammar, but other algorithms are being deployed to help identify potentially problematic phrases, and improve accuracy and truthfulness

5. Coordinating Tasks to Increase Efficiency

When I started out in project management, the ideal project manager was a directing and controlling figure who handled everything and everyone. Over time, the idea of monitoring more and controlling less has emerged. Today, the role of a project manager is trending toward that of coordinator and coach and less of dictator. This concept of monitoring becomes important because the project manager is supposed to be proactive, and if something can alert us to an emerging problem then we are ahead of the game.

And the good news is that coordinating is something software can help with. Everyone is connected, and now real-time decisions can be made about tasks and their priorities. This allows an algorithm to make decisions about who completes which task in a way that can optimize the project. This has particular potential with agile projects where “generalizing specialists” who can be deployed somewhat interchangeably within the team are favored over siloed individuals. All of this holds the potential of freeing up the project manager from refactoring the schedule repeatedly.

There will always be the need for project managers to get things done (or as Snoop Dogg says, to “put paint where it ain’t”), and the fundamentals of project management remain the same today as they have been for decades. It is our job to develop a solid understanding of success, build a good team, plan carefully, communicate well, adapt, resolve conflict, and manage the value delivery. Automation has the potential to make many of those tasks easier, but it likely won’t replace people any time soon.

June Product Update: New Custom Fields for Better Work Management

Custom fields are the perfect way to track and report on any part of your workflow. This month, we’re excited to share several new Custom Fields updates that offer increased visibility, insights, and customization.

Now you have more ways to capture and report on the things that matter to your team, like project health scores, approval dates, and project costs.

Add New Color to Your Dashboards

Bring your dashboards to life with new color indicators. Administrators can now set colors for Pick List Custom Fields on the Custom Fields settings page. Colors can be used to convey project status within the Projects tab, quickly visualize project status, and customize executive reports. The selected colors will show wherever Custom Fields are exposed: on the Edit Panel, in your Personal Columns Display, in Analytics Reports, on Dashboards, in Resource Workload Report, and on the My Work Tab.

To display Custom Field colors on a Dashboard Donut Widget chart, set the Ring Emphasis to your color-coded custom field and select the “Default” Color Palette.

Dashboard Donut Widget chart with colors assigned to custom field values.

Track and Report the Values Unique to Your Business

LiquidPlanner already allows you to track, monitor, and report on things that are common across business and industries, such as estimates and hours logged.

With our latest update, you can now create date, number, and currency fields to track and monitor what’s unique to you.

Date fields can be used to house and track important dates in the life of a project (e.g., kickoff dates, customer sign-off dates, ship dates). Currency fields will now create consistent formatting across all of your custom financial metrics, such as contractor costs or material budgets that are attached to your projects. Number fields can be used to track numeric values, such as quantities and weight of parts.

Ready to add that extra bit of personalization to your workflow? Log in now and give the new colors and custom fields a try.

To learn more about these updates, read the release notes.

The Case for Multiple Project Management Methodologies

A multiple-methodology approach to project management may lead to happier project teams, according to a new report by LiquidPlanner.

The 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report found that 74 percent of the respondents who said they were highly satisfied with their existing project management methodology actually used a combination of methodologies.

At first glance, using multiple methodologies seems odd, especially in manufacturing organizations optimized with repeatable processes. The natural reaction is to respond “What’s wrong with my methodology?”

PMOs and process specialists spend months developing standard processes, methods, and templates to achieve predictable results. Believe it or not, the PMO doesn’t create a new template or a new process out of sadistic pleasure. Many PMOs seek to provide structure and guidance while letting project teams adjust and scale the methodology to the project.

Despite the amount of focus user group surveys, subject matter expert collaboration, and thoughtful process analysis, there will never be a single, perfect methodology for getting work done. It’s natural for project managers and teams to use a combination of processes and templates from multiple methodologies, such as waterfall, scrum, lean, and Six Sigma.

Here are six reasons why:

1. Methodology is not a silver bullet.

A methodology is merely a tool in a team’s toolkit to guide them to a successful outcome. The team delivers the project using methodology as a guideline. Effective teams still need strong leadership, project management, and clear communication to deliver. The best methodology in the world won’t help a struggling team from failing; it will help them fail according to the standards. This is why effective teams know to pick the best tool for the job, independent of prescribed methodologies.

I’ve participated in several project turnarounds where the project manager followed the methodology but failed to actually lead and manage the project.

One of my favorite projects successfully launched and delivered its objectives without a signed project charter. Methodology should be used to provide directional guidance and teams need to know how to adjust accordingly.

2. Projects don’t always follow a predictable path.

Projects are not a production assembly line. Methodologies are developed to provide guidance to produce a predictable result. However, few projects follow a predictable path.

When you’re working on a project, it’s likely that there is a methodology to follow. Yet, the journey to get there won’t always be a predictable journey. No two projects are the same; the people, environment, project constraints, and potential risks will be different.

Even my commute to work doesn’t follow a predictable path, and I drive it every day! Traffic, weather, and delays getting the kids into day care all impact my “project” to drive to work. If we can’t exactly predict when we’ll get into the office, how can we be expected to be 100 percent accurate on project end date six months out?

The key is to adapt and adjust. This also means tweaking the methodology.

3. People deliver projects, not methodologies.

We staff projects with talented people to leverage their professional experience and ensure project success.

I’ve met several certified PMPs, Black Belts, and Scrum Masters who shouldn’t ever lead or manage a project. People may be experts in a methodology, but if they lack the professional experience and subject matter context, the chance of project success is lower.

A few years back, a process quality assurance (PQA) analyst wrote me up as “out of compliance” because I wasn’t using a prescribed methodology template for meeting minutes. Instead, I used a mind mapping tool to capture the notes and actions and sent them out in a Word document. The team found the mind mapping format easier to follow and it actually lowered the administrative burden.

I understand the PQA analyst had a role to play, but it wasn’t in delivering the project.

4. Methodologies lag behind best practices and feedback loops.

The time it takes to introduce methodology changes, gain consensus, update documentation, and communicate the change doesn’t enable a project team to shift easily. Within the PMO, methodology changes can be launched quarterly to ensure best practices are incorporated and teams have time to learn and adjust. The lack of an updated methodology should not stop a team from implementing their own best practices.

Project teams need short feedback loops (an Agile principle) and should be encouraged to fail fast and experiment to find the best solution. Just because a methodology has a design phase, doesn’t mean the team can’t run small incremental proof of concepts to validate the design. As humans, we do this all the time and course correct.

5. External pressures and politics influence project decisions over process.

How many times have you presented a project launch date only to be told “not acceptable” or “go back and sharpen the pencil”?

You can incorporate every step of the methodology into a project schedule, but senior management’s requirements (or mandates) will always have an impact on the project.

After all, people are not machines. Politics play a role in project decisions and predictable outcomes. Unfortunately, teams that seek to skip “all that process stuff” end up with a troubled project that fails to deliver the intended result. Consequently, teams look to multiple approaches to solve project problems.

Project teams will always find a reason why a specific methodology won’t meet their needs because their project is “different”. Rather than constraining them to one methodology, allow them to pick the best tool for the job.

Of course, project governance still needs to be in place to ensure the project doesn’t “run off the track.” At the organization level, a portfolio manager or the PMO needs to ensure standard project milestones and checkpoints are being met regardless of the tools, templates or processes used in specific methodology. If project teams are encouraged to use the tools and processes that best fit their projects, the PMO and the project team need to align on the approach upfront.  Otherwise, some project teams will take this advice as not following a methodology at all.

The best way to strike a balance between methodology, delivery, and process-centric organizations is to tailor the methodology to the project and gain agreement. If I had done this one my past project, I may have avoided a non-compliance report from the quality assurance analyst!

After reviewing the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report, it doesn’t surprise me that more than half of respondents use a combination of methodologies. Those teams are selecting the right tool for the job. While that may not be 100 percent process compliant, it sure is smart!

Case Study: Scientific Equipment Manufacturer Adopts LiquidPlanner for All Product Development

At Lake Shore Cryotronics, a scientific equipment manufacturer, the lack of a project portfolio solution for project management made it difficult for the company’s 50-person product development team to track and manage its complex workload. The company’s move from Microsoft Project to LiquidPlanner gave the team a single view of resource allocation across all projects, including sustaining engineering work. The team can now quickly adjust to changing priorities, and is working together more effectively because LiquidPlanner pulls the entire team into the project management process—in a way that’s easy and natural for all.

 

 

Founded in 1968, Lake Shore Cryotronics develops, manufactures, and markets measurement and control sensors, instruments, and systems for precise measurement and control of temperature and magnetic fields. Users of these products are typically scientists, physicists, and researchers in universities, aerospace, government, and corporate R&D labs, with applications that range from electronics and clean energy to nanotechnology and deep space.

Download a PDF of this case study here.

The product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics consists of about 50 people, including engineering technicians, design engineers, manufacturing engineers, software developers, and managers. At any time, the team’s workload includes roughly a dozen new product development projects, as well as a continual stream of sustaining engineering efforts. All team members support multiple new product development projects and are expected to ensure that sustaining efforts remain a high priority.

Lower Participation, Inaccurate Schedules, and Reduced Visibility

Prior to mid-2016, the product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics lacked a comprehensive solution to all its project management needs. At the time, the company used Microsoft Project Professional. Each project resided in a standalone Microsoft Project file, and the team’s single Development Process Manager was the only Microsoft Project user.

“We chose to have only one person manage schedules due to the complexity of Microsoft Project,” says Rob Welsh, who assumed the role of Development Process Manager a few years ago, when the company decided it needed a full-time focus on project and process management.

During the planning phase for each new project, Welsh would work with that project team to define a work breakdown structure and project schedule, upon which Welsh would create a new Microsoft Project file. As the project progressed, Welsh used Microsoft OneNote to collect status updates from the project team. “We utilized OneNote to maintain project records and help keep project schedules updated,” explains Welsh. “Every week, for each project, I would create a table of current tasks in OneNote and ask the resources to update their progress and estimate remaining work. After I received that information, I used it to update the project schedule.”

The major problem with this method was that projects often deviated from the original plan very quickly. Technical issues, changing priorities, new tasks, and changing resource availability all resulted in the tasks that Welsh was asking people to update in OneNote each week not matching what they were actually doing. “The result was lower participation, inaccurate schedules, and reduced visibility to what people were working on,” says Welsh. “The only way to counter this was with frequent meetings that pulled entire project teams away from their work and negatively impacted project completion.”

As Welsh points out, all of this wasn’t due to poor planning or coordination. For example, during the course of a project, the team would often find a way to deliver greater value for customers. “The problem we had, however, was that we had no good way to determine the effect of that change on that project or other ones that shared the same resources,” Welsh explains. “This made it difficult to examine the tradeoffs, if any, and make quick yet fully-informed decisions on how to reallocate resources.”

A Better Way

Lake Shore Cryotronics now uses LiquidPlanner for all its project management needs. “Our adoption of LiquidPlanner was something that I initiated; there was no mandate from management,” Welsh explains. “We had already tried several approaches—to the point that most people were experiencing ‘changing project management methods fatigue’ and there was much skepticism with trying yet another method.”

However, Welsh was dealing with the issues the team faced on a daily basis, and wanted to find a better way. “I kept looking for a project portfolio solution where we could view all projects and tasks in a single place, a collaborative platform that was easy to use by all team members, and a tool that people would want to use because it would help them get their work done,” he recalls.

Welsh found LiquidPlanner through a simple web search. “Upon visiting the LiquidPlanner website, I immediately jumped to the FAQ section, read the paragraph on ‘Why should I give up on traditional project management tools?’, and was intrigued by how well it described our current situation,” he recalls. “Upon closer inspection, LiquidPlanner offered just what we needed: a priority based scheduling engine, a project portfolio solution, and accessibility for all team members to enter and update tasks.”

After signing up for a trial subscription and confirming that LiquidPlanner could indeed meet his team’s needs, Welsh took his recommendation to upper management. Their response: “We now have a new requirement: whichever solution we adopt has to integrate with our ERP system for time tracking.”

Fortunately, LiquidPlanner was built to do so. Welsh spent a few hours designing such an integration, had it setup and tested in less than a week, and received the go-ahead to purchase LiquidPlanner subscriptions for all team members in June 2016.

Today, Lake Shore Cryotronics manages all product development using LiquidPlanner. This includes more than a dozen new product development efforts, which typically range from 3,000 to 5,000 hours of effort. “Users took to LiquidPlanner right away,” says Welsh. “The entire team is using it for all aspects of our work, including electrical design, mechanical design, firmware development, software development, user manuals, marketing literature, and manufacturing process development.”

The product development team at Lake Shore Cryotronics is benefiting from its use of LiquidPlanner in many ways. Schedules and tasks are continually updated throughout the day, with at-a-glance visibility into potential issues and estimated completion dates. Ranged estimates make it easier to estimate tasks, enabling people to apply a best case/worst case approach instead of trying to come up with a single, hard number. All team members now have a consistent method for planning their work, always know their top priorities, no longer need to report their hours in two places, and are able to collaborate more effectively.

“LiquidPlanner is enabling us to work together more closely as a team,” says Welsh. “The key enabler: users have access to relevant project data, including the ability to add, modify, and report on tasks. It’s much more efficient than our previous process, where I had to query all users on a weekly basis, collect their information, and then update the project schedules manually. It also promotes more accurate and complete schedules because it takes the ‘middle man’ out of the process. In the past, with weekly updates, schedules were usually out of date. Now, with the LiquidPlanner scheduling engine always running, our schedules can be considered ‘real time.’”

Read the full case study here.