Category Archives: Software

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.

7 Signs Your PM Tool Isn’t Working for You

Broken Robot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

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

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

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

Download the eBook now!

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

3 Product Updates Corral Project Data More Efficiently Than Ever

Custom Field

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

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

These updates are:

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

Here’s a look at each update.

More Custom Fields

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

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

r74 custom fields

Dashboard Archives

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

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

r74 dashboard

Analytics Summation

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

r74 summation

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

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

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

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

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What Project Teams Need to Succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

project team

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Get Ready for the Smart Factory

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

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

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

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

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

2. Big Data for Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Get Behind Automation on the Manufacturing Floor

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

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

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

4. It’s Also the Mobile Devices Revolution

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

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

5. Cloud Computing Powers the Smart Factory

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

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

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

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

Change Strengthens Project Teams

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

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

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

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

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

Empower Your Team With the Final LiquidPlanner Update of 2016

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

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

panel_summary

 

What’s new?

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

Familiar Functionality, Cleaner Design

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

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

planning

 

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

panel_projectteam

 

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

comments-_-history

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

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

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

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

 

The Top 3 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a SaaS Provider

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

evaluating SaaS products

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

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

Two words: Information overload.

The Decision Process Problem

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

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

1. What are the problems your organization solves?

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

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

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

2. Who are your most successful customers and buyers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other questions to ask:

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

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

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

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

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

Take the assessment!

Are Your Project Plans Helping You Execute Successfully?

“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.

project management

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.

These are the core principles of Dynamic Project Management (DPM). Teams who have adopted DPM say that it has helped them execute better and faster.

Tim Hughes, Director of Solutions and Services at Taghleef Industries, says that DPM “transformed the way [the team] performed and acted and changed what they did to meet the deadlines. You don’t argue with the estimates. You change your plan so that it will work. We actually ended up finishing the project a few days early.”

Since using DPM, John Person, Vice President of Engineering, estimates that his company, Tangent Engineering, has seen a 30-40% increase in the amount of projects it can handle. “We had a project recently that normally would take three to six months to complete, but with [DPM] we laid out the plan and executed and delivered in six weeks.”

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.

Could your team benefit from Dynamic Project Management? Take our project management diagnostic to get a sense of the health of your current project management system.

To learn more about Dynamic Project Management, download our ebook:

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How Project Management Accelerates Product Development

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?

project management

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Project Management in Manufacturing: Solving the Resource Management Issue

resource management

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.

Boosting Productivity

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 be invaluable 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 more! Managing resources is a tricky business—and well worth doing impeccably! To learn more, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”

5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Accurately