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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Streamline your current processes or create new ones that account for the savings and other benefits automation brings to your manufacturing floor.
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.”
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ourProject Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Project plans exist for a reason. And while your odds of success improve if you actually use them, plans are all too often consigned to the rubbish bin during the execution stage of a project. Why? Even the most meticulously crafted plans get tossed aside because they struggle (and often fail) to deal with change and uncertainty. This uncertainty could be driven by changing customer demands, seasonal events, resource availability or even by a lack of sufficient historical data or analogous projects for estimation.
While project managers try to account for this uncertainty in the planning process, most traditional tools do a bad job of setting teams up for success. Project managers and teams have no choice but to move heaven and earth to ship projects on time, on budget, and to the quality standards that were agreed on initially. These heroics are not sustainable. They are also not scalable as companies seek to expand.
The Costs of Abandoning the Plan
Creating a project plan is the most effective tool in a project manager’s arsenal for aligning resources to the requirements of the project. This plan is what helps your business deliver on its potential and execute on strategy. However, a plan that doesn’t help a business cope with uncertainty can actually end up hurting the business when projects aren’t delivered on time or when projects aren’t flighted at all.
Not sticking to project plans can also hurt the team. Unclear and shifting priorities translate into randomized teams that aren’t working on the right thing at the right time. In addition, project contributors burn out when they chase deadlines that have become unreasonable because of some unexpected change. In a day and age when technical teams are stretched to the limit and it’s hard to hire new talent, this misguided commitment to unrealistic dates can be catastrophic to employee satisfaction and ultimately, the bottom line for the entire business.
Then, there are the personal risks for project managers. Committing to unrealistic delivery dates forces project managers to abide by a social contract based on bad incentives. If a project manager puts her name on a deadline and then doesn’t hit it, she feels incompetent, and she feels like she’s let the team and the company down. If abandoning plans is so painful, why then do we set ourselves up to fail?
Death by Uncertainty
The major driver that undermines the project manager’s best efforts is uncertainty. In spite of their textbook planning process, teams find that the reality that they encounter during the execution of the project is unforeseen, unpredictable, and sometimes just plain unfair. Static and rigid project plans are no help in dealing with this uncertainty.
The more detailed a static plan is, the higher the number of built-in assumptions, and therefore the more brittle the plan. This static nature makes it hard to adapt when assumptions or conditions change. A key driver of the static nature of plans is the fact that they’re based solely on tasks and dates.
Tangled in Tasks and Dates
Traditional project management systems like Microsoft Project and spreadsheets start and end the project planning process with tasks and dates. This approach causes teams to overlook the two major drivers of business success: people and priorities. The lack of connection between people and priorities on one hand and tasks and dates on the other is what makes project plans rigid and unresponsive.
Tasks and dates matter, of course. It’s just that they should enter the picture only after you’ve sorted out your priorities work items, and the people that will take on the appropriate set of priorities. This approach ensures that your allocation of resources is driven by your strategic business goals. It also ensures that you’re not over or under assigning work. Traditional tools often get this wrong because they treat resource allocation and work estimation as an afterthought. These traditional tools are also subpar when it comes to project estimation.
Inaccurate and Under-utilized Estimations
The best way to represent uncertainty in a project is by estimating the amount of effort required for the work. That being said, estimating projects is hard. The only time you know precisely how long it takes to complete a project is when it’s done. Up to the point of delivery, teams use educated guesswork to predict the future. And the bigger and more complex a project, the hazier that future. There are three reasons why faulty estimations let teams down.
First, project managers account for uncertainty as single-point estimates, that are typically padded guesses. When someone asks you how long it takes you to drive to work, you probably say something like, “somewhere between 20 to 35 minutes,” not “23 minutes.” Traffic, like projects, has a lot of variables. When plans are built off of single-point estimates, there’s no room for error or adjustments.
Second, people confuse effort with duration. Estimating work in terms of effort is very different from guessing the number of calendar days until a task will be done. If a task is estimated at 5 to 10 days, that means you expect to put in 5 to 10 full days of work in order to complete it; you’re not specifying when that work will be done. Since there are many other factors like dependencies, vacations, wait time, and availability that can impact the completion date of a task, making a guess about duration just isn’t good practice.
Third, traditional tools are designed to be used by project managers alone, so estimates are often out of sync with what project contributors know about the work they’re doing. Many project managers have good intentions when they spend a large chunk of their day checking in with their team and getting status updates. Then, they try to capture all of that input in their tool of choice, but by the time they’re done with this tedious process, it’s time to do it all over again because the project schedule is already out-of-date. No one ever has a good sense of how much work is left because the people that truly understand the requirements and constraints at the tactical level aren’t contributing to the plan.
The end result is pretty grim. Everyone seeks refuge in the siloed hell that is email inboxes and spreadsheets, expecting that those static documents will help them see the future more clearly–but they don’t. Teams deserve so much better.
A Better Way
The complex process of running a project in the modern age needs a new approach. It needs a system that deals with the reality of project planning and execution. What does this system look like?
It starts the planning process with people and priorities, and not tasks and dates.
It provides a mechanism for estimating in the form of best case / worst case scenarios so uncertainty and change is accounted for accurately.
It gives the team one central location to see priorities, update estimates, and collaborate.
It uses estimates to automatically update the project schedule anytime a contributing member makes a change.
It provides insights and analytics to project managers so they always have their finger on the pulse of the project.
Teams like Taghleef and Tangent found a better way that dramatically improved how they plan and execute their projects. Dynamic Project Management increased their confidence in the plan, and increased their team’s confidence in them, resulting in better execution of projects and saved time and money for the business.
Long ago, in a city not far away, I worked for a very profitable company that got its start in the garage of one of its founders. We had grown to about 120 people with worldwide sales. Our products were the undisputed gold standard of the field. The employees were well paid and generally quite content. What’s not to like?
But if you looked closer, there were some problems. Our product line had never been refreshed; 12-year old designs were getting harder and harder to build as components went end-of-life; the manufacturability and reliability of our flagship product was poor; new product development was sluggish and unfocused.
I joined the company as an engineer, but it was obvious that we didn’t need our twentieth engineer; we needed our first project manager. As such, I wrote the company’s first requirements document, and got the stakeholders to agree to the product definition. I did what I could to add rigor to the development effort.
When I took over the project to write the software for the refresh of our flagship product, I created a giant flowchart that showed every possible interaction that a user could have with the product.
This story almost had a happy ending
In the end, I couldn’t get any of the other project leads to follow my example and use a project management process. As a result, a redesign project that should have taken less than three years to complete took seven. Sure, there were challenges getting the hardware to work, but these challenges paled in comparison to the delays caused by the lack of project management and a product development process.
My experience at this company served as both a motivating force and a warning for the importance of applying project management practices to the product development process.
If your team struggles to develop new products in a reasonable time, you could be missing a simple tool: project management.
Here are four ways to incorporate project management into your product development process.
1. Have a requirements document
Every project should have a requirements document that describes what the goals of the effort are and what “done” looks like. The flowchart I mentioned earlier served as our requirements document: If it was on the flowchart, we’d implement it, otherwise we wouldn’t.
Your requirements doc can be short and simple or long and detailed, depending on the situation. More importantly, it should be approved by all of the stakeholders.
By putting requirements in writing, you can avoid false consensus, where everyone thinks they know what the end product will look like, and someone has a different idea. You will also need a process to update this document, because there will be changes as you progress. All of the stakeholders should understand what these changes are and why the requirement is changing. In the end, it’s much easier to move an arrow on a flowchart than to change code and retest.
2. Have a process to start and stop projects
Just like people, healthy companies must grow and mature. They go through stages of development, and project management should grow along with the company. Too often, as companies grow, project management is one or two stages behind where it should be.
As you grow, you’ll need a process to green light new projects, making sure you have a requirements document and the resources to do the work. You also need a way to kill the projects that don’t make sense as soon as possible. Having a prioritized list of every project will help when there are resource conflicts. Finally, have a list of pending projects, so that good ideas have a place to wait until you have the resources to start the effort.
3. Treat project management like your other disciplines
You want to grow your company’s project management maturity along with the size and number of the projects that are happening. If your company is big enough to have a director of mechanical engineering, it’s probably big enough for a director of project management who is responsible for mentoring the project managers and developing good process.
You should also make sure you have top quality tools. I’ve seen companies skimp on this one, and it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re paying your project managers and engineers a good salary, a tool that increases everyone’s productivity will have a positive ROI.
4. Always focus on adding value
You need to guard against process that doesn’t add value. To do this, update your old processes to make sure they fit the reality of what the company is and will become—not the company that was.
One process that always adds value is bug tracking. If you find a bug that you can’t fix right away, you need a proper database to store it. It’s better to ship a product with known bugs that you’ve decided are low enough risk than to ship with unknown issues. The truth is, there are always some unknown bugs. What’s unforgivable is when you ship with bugs that you’ve just forgotten about. All of the bugs in the database need to be prioritized. Prioritize them as compared to the other bugs, as well as to new features.
Proper process is critical to running a healthy company. If you just let everyone do what they want, a rogue trader may cost you two billion dollars. If you run a multinational corporation like a startup, there’s no way for management to say, “We need to focus on the internet” and make things happen. The key is to have the appropriate level of management that allows people with good ideas to bring value to their projects and the company while still allowing the management to set priorities and direction.
Is your project management process holding you back? Find out! This 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your PM tool and process.
If you work in manufacturing, you’re likely familiar with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Materials Resource Planning (MRP)—the system used to manage product planning, inventory management, production, fulfillment, and other aspects of production management and control. What’s more, you probably have a decent appreciation of how ERP/MRP systems have enabled manufacturing companies to optimize core business processes.
But what about the rest of the picture? Contrary to the “R” in the name, most modern ERP/MRP systems fail to fully address a key type of resource—namely, the people whose work supports and feeds into your core manufacturing operations.
Why an Optimized Manufacturing Floor Isn’t Enough
To remain competitive, you need to continually improve your products and optimize your manufacturing processes. Regardless of where an idea originates, the “heavy lifting” to make it happen isn’t done on your manufacturing line; it’s done by the engineers, designers, technicians, and other skilled professionals whose work supports—and feeds into—your manufacturing floor. And therein lies the problem that many companies face: after handoff to manufacturing, things go rather smoothly. Before that handoff, however, it’s likely to be much more of a free-for-all, with each person’s immediate priorities often based on who’s yelling the loudest.
More often than not, this is due to a lack of proper project management. Many companies still use spreadsheets to plan and track peoples’ work. Rarely does this yield more than a static, infrequently updated list of tasks.
While this approach may be OK for initial, high-level planning, it quickly falls apart as the rubber meets the road. Tasks take longer than estimated; customers submit change requests; team members get pulled off projects; budgets change; corporate priorities shift; and so on. There are endless examples. Regardless of the specifics, without proper project management, as things change, people waste time spinning their wheels—and decisions are made without full visibility into how they may affect other commitments.
The fact is that you need to treat each team member like any other enterprise resource—possessing a finite amount of output over time. And like any constrained resource, to get the most out of it, that resource’s output must be optimally orchestrated with respect to the work done by other resources.
While people aren’t machines, and the information or inputs they need to start a task are different than the raw materials that land on your loading dock, you can still think of the collective results they produce as a system of inputs, outputs, dependencies, units of effort, potential bottlenecks, and so on. Of course, unlike a machine that produces widgets at the rate of 600 per hour, when it comes to people, you’ll also need to take into account the uncertainty that comes along with estimating how long a task will take.
Given this, how do you best allocate the efforts of all team members to maximize your overall business throughput? That’s where the right project management tool can help.
A Better Way
You wouldn’t try to optimize your manufacturing operations without your ERP/MRP system, would you? Then why not take advantage of the same computational power that makes this possible to optimize how the people who support your production processes work, letting it do the “heavy lifting” (i.e., algorithmic optimization) to determine the optimal path forward?
A good project management tool, applied within a proper project management framework, can help you to:
1. Manage your team as a set of constrained resources. You need to apply the same discipline to planning and orchestrating peoples’ work as you do to optimizing your supply chain and production floor. This starts with realizing that, just like the machines on your production line, your team members are constrained resources—capable of doing one thing at a time, and capable of only so much output (or effort) in a given unit of time. A plan that’s effort-based (as in “this task will take between 35 and 40 hours”) instead of date-based (as in “management wants this finished by the end of the month”) will make sure your plans are grounded in reality instead of wishful thinking.
2. Create realistic schedules based on availability. Given the effort required for each task in a project, a project management tool that incorporates resources and availability into its scheduler across all your projects can help you estimate realistic delivery dates across your team’s entire workload. Delivering by the end of the month may be key to your job security, but without a plan that’s based on the actual effort involved and the availability of the people who will do that work, how much confidence will you have in hitting your date?
3. Handle the uncertainty of innovation. Unlike the amount of time required for a machine to crank out a widget, the effort required for an engineer to first design that widget is less deterministic. You never know what can happen, and a good project management tool can help you take that uncertainty into account. Look for a project management tool that lets you input task estimates based on best case/worst case scenarios—or, even better, one that lets the people who will actually be doing that work estimate the effort involved. This helps lead to a project schedule that’s grounded in reality, taking into consideration that you’ll probably encounter a few unexpected issues along the way—a common occurrence when attempting to innovate.
4. Make your team a part of the process. Modern project management tools are designed to tie team members into the project management process—enabling them to see their individual tasks (ideally in priority order); take ownership of that work from start to finish; and see how their efforts relate to the efforts of others and the bigger picture. Many collaborative project management tools also deliver other team-centric functionality, such as commenting, document sharing and notifications.
5. Monitor progress. As team members mark tasks complete, your project management tool can use that information to recalculate delivery dates in real time—provided you’ve chosen one that includes this functionality. This will help you quickly identify potential issues, such as a late task that’s threatening your delivery date, so that you can investigate further and take any necessary actions. Remember that, no matter how much you plan, things won’t go exactly as expected. The question is: Do you want to know about potential issues as soon possible, or do you want to hear about them for the first time in your weekly status meeting—if they get brought up at all?
6. Track time. In many companies, tracking time to project codes (think timesheets) is mandatory. Some project management systems have this built-in, eliminating the need for people to use a parallel process. Even if this isn’t required for your organization, the ability to look back on past projects can beinvaluable when it comes to refining your task estimates for the next project.
7. Adjust to changing priorities. Everyone working on the right tasks at the right time is essential to optimizing team output. A project management tool can help you easily prioritize (and re-prioritize) peoples’ work, in a way that’s clear to everyone on the team. While this can be invaluable within a project, with the right project management tool, as overall project priorities change, individuals can see this shift in their task assignments across all projects—and know that, every day, they’re focused on the same number-one priority as the company as a whole.
The above capabilities can help you apply the same discipline to managing peoples’ work as you do to your core manufacturing processes—think of it as “ERP for Your Peeps.”
So if you’re still using Excel to manage your work, it may be time to dump the spreadsheets, find a real project management tool, and put it to proper use. Before long, your schedule estimates and project plans will likely improve. And with team members tied into those plans, you’ll likely have a more accurate picture of project progress and potential threats to meeting your deadlines. Best of all, you’ll eliminate a good deal of the chaos, churn, and frustration that often accompany a lack of proper project management.
To learn about how other manufacturing companies have met their project management needs, read one or more of these customer stories: Rex Materials Group, bf1systems, and ETEL.
There’s a lot at stake for project teams and their managers. Big money’s on the table, commitments and partnerships have been made, and there’s a network of teams with skilled workers who are coordinating their efforts to make timely hand-offs and deliveries. In short, there’s endless stuff to accomplish and stay on top of. And if you don’t have a fast and flexible tool that helps you manage and track everything–you have every right to be very, very afraid!
However, if you institute the right project management process, you don’t have to stay up at night worrying about your project (or your business, or your job). Here’s a look at how swapping old-school project management processes (spreadsheets, non-collaborative tools) for a dynamic project management system can help you overcome six terrifying but common project management situations.
1. “I don’t think we’ll make the deadline!”
It’s not fun to sweat out a project because you established a single-point finish date that was A) established by a boss or client with no idea of how long each task would take, and B) didn’t account for unexpected risks that are now taking the project in a whole new direction. Big oops! A dynamic project management process lets you make ranged estimates based on best/worst case scenarios. This practice schedules uncertainty into your plan, and gives teams a range of finish dates that are based in reality—because the people doing the work are making the estimates.
2. “My team is putting in too much overtime again—I hope they don’t quit on me!”
An over-scheduled team is an unhappy (and eventually unproductive) one. The antidote to this is finding a system that integratesresource leveling into your scheduler. This way, as you create your project plan, the schedule will be built based on team members’ availability. No over-booking, no over-working. A happy, engaged, productive team.
3. “Did they get my email? Do they know what’s happening over here?”
It’s hard to establish impeccable communication streams when everyone is using a different tool to share information: email, chat, text, phone, video . . . But when everyone is working in the same tool, having conversations in context with the work being done, you create a storyline for your project work. This eliminates blind spots and unpleasant surprises; instead, any schedule shifts get communicated ASAP to the people that need to manage the changes.
4. “What on earth is my team even doing?”
The silos of spreadsheets and other static tools that are managed by one person make it hard to keep track of projects in real time. (Plus, they’re so hard to update, they’re hardly ever updated!) A dynamic project management tool is collaborative. It lets everyone participate in updating their work, inputting time and estimates to each task, and handing off or closing tasks. When all project information is stored in one place and updated automatically with every change, it’s easy for managers to eyeball the schedule and see who’s doing what—especially when you have a resource workload report surfacing team members’ activities.
5. “How do I keep my team focused on the right priorities?”
A dynamic project management process makes it easy to prioritize work—and re-prioritize work as things change. And here’s the best part: The tasks are clearly visible to all team members, so they know at all times what the top priority work is. Better yet, using a transparent tool means everyone can see how their work relates to the bigger picture, which builds engagement, autonomy—and top-performing teams.
6. “How do I stay connected to our global offices?”
Using online project planning software has the benefits of being accessible to anyone on the team, anywhere in the world. You could be working two feet away from a team member or across the globe—the work all shows up in the same place. Just account for time changes.
Could you benefit from adopting the Dynamic Project Management system? Take our project management diagnostic to get a sense for the health of your current project management system.
Lean manufacturing has become a popular way to eliminate waste, reduce costs and improve efficiencies. This philosophy originated, largely, at Toyota and is used to better align customer needs with manufacturing operations.
The challenge with lean is that, despite its attraction to many executives who want to cut costs and increase productivity, a lean process doesn’t happen overnight. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome—obstacles that are almost identical to the challenges of implementing projects successfully.
Even though lean and projects have these implementation challenges in common, my clients waste quite a bit of effort debating whether lean and project management can work together, or whether they’re at odds with one another. Of course, this conversation goes against the point of lean—to eliminate unnecessary waste—yet it occurs frequently. After 25 years of leading manufacturing operations, implementing lean principles and conducting hundreds of projects, I can assure you that the opposite is true:
Lean is supported by the basic tenets of project management.
The intersection point: a vast opportunity!
There is a point of intersection for lean and project management that will deliver substantial bottom line business results—growth, profit, cash and margin. But there has to be a level of commitment for this to work. Lean requires continuous, short spurts of excellence in execution and focus to accomplish results. To achieve this goal, you need resources, team involvement and collaborative goals. The reality is that most lean programs fail as executives lose interest.
Instead of creating these lean execution systems from scratch and letting the excitement wear out before meaningful success, the most successful organizations leverage an already-existing base that springs from project management fundamentals. Strangely enough, teams rarely follow this path because they think that lean and project management cannot play in the same sandbox. Those companies are losing out on a vast opportunity!
How do you take advantage of this opportunity? By knowing when lean and project management approaches work together, rather than in opposition. Here are four examples of how lean manufacturing principles and project management approaches intersect, and make your process faster and better:
1. Focus on the customer
One of the most important aspects of lean is the focus on the customer. Instead of creating elaborate systems to figure out demand, the idea is to find the most direct route to the customer and pull the demand. Here, “customer” doesn’t necessarily mean the end-user customer; lean principles view the customer as the next person to receive your work. Your customer can also be the person on the line if you’re a support role to the line (thereby including management). In other words, focusing on the customer can flip thinking upside down.
My most successful projects followed this same rule. When following the critical path, you should be thinking of what your customer (next person on the critical path) needs and when they need it by. Ask yourself: “What can I do to provide value within this critical path and how can I make sure work continues to move (flow) through the critical path?” These are project management principles.
2. Focus on value
Another of the key tenets of lean is the focus on value. Instead of getting caught up in non-value added yet wildly popular fads of the time, the idea is to focus on what will create value. Actually, lean manufacturing in itself is sometimes viewed as a fad. For example, I’ve had clients who want to implement lean principles, and at least 60 percent of the time these executives see it as a quick fix: Coordinate a few kaizen events, and the company will be in great shape. This is never a successful strategy!
Project management is the same. Spending days on project charters, complicated project plans and different resource task lists is useless if value is not at the crux of the plan. In project management, the key is to focus on the critical path. The critical path will align with those tasks providing value that will add up and achieve your end objective. Following the critical path aligns with how to implement the future state value stream map.
3. Be more Agile
Agile is at the intersection of lean and project management. An Agile approach allows you to break down lengthier projects with complex components into reasonable chunks. Agile yields a quicker process, as you’ll gain rapid feedback on the first chunk of work (which could relate to a milestone), rather than waiting to the very end and making complicated changes to the finished product. With Agile, you can incorporate continuous feedback into each chunk of work, or sprint, so that you continually improve the process as you go along.
In lean manufacturing, this same principle applies as you perform a kaizen event. The objective is to have a reasonable and achievable amount of work that will provide an end result that aligns with a step towards your end objective within a short period of time, typically a week. Once you perform the first chunk, you incorporate feedback and lessons learn into the next chunk. As chunks are added, layers of complexity are achieved. The bottom line is that smaller batch sizes of work are performed in an iterative fashion for the most successful lean and Agile approaches.
4. Give projects visibility
Lean manufacturing programs are known for making the process and associated metrics visible. For example, an aerospace manufacturer client I worked with had lead times of 6 -13 weeks involving several operations. It was complicated but critical to know if they were behind schedule long before the item didn’t ship on time and showed on a past due list. Thus, we chunked the work load into smaller buckets and hung work order packets on the wall by the machine or machine group. This provided visibility into whether a certain group of machines were getting overloaded. We also put problem orders into a separate section so they were immediately visible to everyone. Last but not least, we started showing the age of the work orders with color coding. This enabled us to manage work orders successfully.
The same is critical in project management. I’ve worked on countless project plans with hundreds of pages. Who can keep track of all that complexity (similar to the piles of work orders at my client)? Thus, my most successful clients have found a way to communicate project progress in relatively equal chunks of work with clear progress towards objectives in a visual way.
Often, this is supported by a project management tool with visibility into schedule. The result is a clear picture of a simple timeline with critical milestones in weekly or monthly buckets—and effectively show progress visually. Tasks that are ahead of schedule or behind schedule pop out immediately so that action can be taken. And, importantly, tasks that have been idle (no progress for a period of time) can be color coded so they’ll emerge and be visible.
A strong partnership for projects
Using lean and project management approaches together can take your production process to the next level. Instead of wasting time debating whether these two approaches can work together, look for the common elements. I see lean as uncommon common sense. And, in my experience, the most successful projects also followed uncommon common sense. If you focus on putting the best of both of these methodologies together (customer, value, Agile and visibility), business-winning results will follow.
Can your team become more Agile—and is it right for your organization? Find out by reading how Agile works for a variety of teams and businesses. Download our eBook, “Agile for Everyone.”