Category Archives: Project Management

Boost Your Productivity with Kanban Boards

The Productivity Problem

If a project team is struggling, a common reaction is to host a daily stand-up meeting. The term “stand-up” has a wide interpretation. Many of the stand-ups I’ve attended have turned into sit-downs because the meeting lasted for an hour rather than a few minutes.
In these stand-ups, project managers typically review a project schedule, assign tasks, and discuss an open list of issues. In Agile projects, the stand-up is optimized to focus on existing work in progress, next steps, and current roadblocks.

Regardless of Agile or non-Agile projects, I’ve seen team struggle with these questions:

  1. Who is working on what?
  2. What is the status of a given task or deliverable?
  3. Why is the task taking so long?
  4. Why isn’t a team member pulling his weight?
  5. Why isn’t that task finished?

Project managers apply tools and project schedules to help track the work and answer these questions. The Gantt chart is a useful tool to determine who is working on specific tasks and to track task status. Despite its utility, an exhaustive project schedule can be overwhelming for team members, stakeholders, and even project managers.

KANBAN

The Gantt chart can be overwhelming on large projects as team members want to know what to work on now instead of all the tasks across the project lifetime.

An alternative solution is to use a Kanban board,also know as the Card View in LiquidPlanner, to bring clarity and focus to project delivery.

Kanban Board

The Kanban solution has its roots in Japanese manufacturing and is associated with instruction cards being sent through the production assembly line. Software tools have enabled the Kanban solution to work across virtual teams and promote better collaboration and productivity.

KANBAN

With a Kanban board, tasks start in a To Do column and move across different column statuses until the work is Done. Kanban boards can be setup based on a business process or a team’s workflow. In the example above I use the following columns with my teams:

To Do – Unstarted tasks

  • In Progress – Active unfinished tasks
  • Blocked – Tasks that are blocked due to an issue
  • Customer Review – Tasks ready for customer review and approval
  • Done – Completed tasks

As team members work on each card, they move their tasks across the different columns. By focusing on the work in manageable chunks, the team can see the status of the work in process. If tasks are blocked, the team can discuss the issues and work together to either remove the blockage or defer the task to another time. If the task is rejected by the customer or there is a problem with the deliverable, the card is move back to the In Progress column for rework.

Kanban Benefits

The Kanban board offers several benefits to help improve productivity, including:

  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Improved communication
  • Identification of project bottlenecks
  • Defined focus on specific work
  • Drive for completion

While a project schedule is an excellent forecasting tool and identifies who is responsible for specific tasks, the Kanban board is more effective to drive productivity because of the transparency provided to the team. If a team member is assigned a task and hasn’t moved it to the In Progress column or isn’t demonstrating progress, the entire team is aware. Teams can break down the tasks into smaller cards so progress can be visibly observed.

By glancing at the Kanban board, the team knows the status. It improves communication visually, identifies delays, and provides a subset of tasks for team to focus on and deliver. As cards move from To-Do to Done, there is a sense of accomplishment and drive to complete the set of tasks within the given time period. The transparency is also motivating as each person knows the team is depending on them for specific tasks especially when the board is reviewed daily.

Using the Kanban Board in Your Daily Stand Up

In my Agile teams, reviewing the Kanban board at the daily stand-up was instrumental in communication and improving productivity. In prior Agile projects, I’ve been on teams where the group talks about their accomplishments, roadblocks, and upcoming tasks but they never tied the progress to the board. If you’re not implementing Agile principles, the Kanban board can still be useful by focusing on the key tasks within the next couple of weeks on the project schedule.

Each team member should be working on one and only one card on the Kanban board. Working on the highest priority card first and moving it to done allows the team to focus versus switching between multiple tasks. I’m not a fan of multitasking as the switching cost kills productivity. If the card can’t be progressed any further, it is moved to the blocked column and the next item on the board can be started.

Switching between Kanban and Traditional Planning

The Kanban board is one tool to help improve productivity and works well with a subset of tasks. “Sprints” work well with Kanban boards because the cards represent a subset of the overall schedule. Using software-based Kanban boards provides better communication with other stakeholders and still lowers the project managers administrative burden.

With LiquidPlanner, the team member can click on a specific card and update the remaining effort, update sub-tasks, and provide collaborate in threaded discussions. Project managers can use the Kanban board to manage week-long execution and then switch to the Gantt Chart view to assess the overall project progress.

KANBAN

Give Kanban a Try

Organizations have a never ending stream of work and teams are always looking for better ways to communicate, collaborate and deliver work better. Kanban provides the visibility to team progress and accountability. It also reinforces each person’s individual commitment to “move the ball forward” on card at a time.

Is Your Team Wasting Everyone’s Time?

Learn how to ensure your team is working on the right task at the right time.

What happens when uncertainty and risk are poorly handled during a project? Almost always, it results in missed deadlines, wasted time, and unhappy stakeholders.

I once took over a project that did not have requirements documents. The developers were writing code without a solid vision of what it should do. When they shared their results, the stakeholders would complain and send them back to rework the code, which wasted everyone’s time. Later, we discovered the hardware would not work, requiring them to start over with a new architecture. That wasted even more time, and the project took twice as long to complete.

That’s what happens when uncertainty and risk are poorly handled.

For projects like hardware product development, where there is a lot of uncertainty and complexity, it’s critical to understand which tasks are most important. Otherwise, your team will find much of their effort is wasted. Successfully managing these projects requires a delicate balancing act between removing uncertainty, reducing risk, and progressing along your critical path. I call this approach “adaptive project management”, which takes elements from both waterfall/standard project management (which handles complexity well and uncertainty poorly) and agile project management (which handles uncertainty well, but complexity poorly).

Removing Uncertainty

Early in an adaptive project, your focus must be on removing uncertainty. How can you write code if you don’t understand the needs of your end-users or build prototypes if you don’t know what technology best meets your needs? At this point your focus will be engaging with stakeholder or end-users, exploring the capabilities of technologies you’re considering, and understanding resource and budget constraints.

This effort will continue throughout the project, but can drop off once you understand the project well enough to build a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS will include tasks to remove the remaining uncertainty. The nature of adaptive projects is that you march on with some uncertainties rather than drive them all to zero in the beginning, as you would in a waterfall project. As your uncertainties drop, your plan should start looking more waterfall.

Reducing Risk

Risks are set in the future; issues are happening now. The problem with risks is that they can develop into issues. Solving issues takes time, which can lead to delays and increased costs. The sooner you can turn risks into issues or make them go away, the better.

Once you have a reasonable understanding of your project, you need to build a risk register. Make a list of what might go wrong, how likely it is (probability), how bad it will be if it happens (severity), and what you can do if the risk occurs (mitigation). I prefer a ranking from 1 to 5. For probability, 1 corresponds to a likelihood of < 20 percent, while a 5 corresponds to a likelihood of greater than 80 percent. For severity, 1 corresponds to a small impact on the project that is unlikely to put any milestones dates or budget constraints at risk. A 5 means that the entire project might need to be canceled, possibly because a critical feature is not possible or our cost-of-goods sold will be significantly higher than expected.

I also include a column for importance, which is the product of probability and severity, and rank the risks in order of importance (see Table 1). Some of your effort should always be spent on reducing the most important risks, either by testing to see if they’re real issues or building the mitigation. This effort should be part of your work breakdown structure.  I also build the mitigations of high-probability risks into the plan, with the goal of reducing surprises down the road.

Risk Probability Severity Importance Mitigation
Unit fails electro-compatibility testing 4 3 12 Build Faraday cage around electronics
Passive cooling isn’t sufficient 3 2 6 Add a fan

Table 1: This is a simple risk register. More complex versions include things like discoverability (how likely it is the risk will happen, but you won’t be able to detect the failure) and contingency (what you will do if the mitigation doesn’t solve the problem). I find a simple risk register sufficient and easier to keep current, which is more important.

Progressing Along the Critical Path

Once you have organized your tasks and time estimates into a work breakdown structure, you can use project management software like LiquidPlanner to build your schedule and a Gantt chart. You can then select a milestone and filter to those tasks that are on the critical path (i.e. tasks that will cause delays if they slip by a day). While all tasks need to be completed, those not on the critical path can slip without impacting deliverables.

Use your tool to determine if deliverables will be completed in time to meet stakeholders’ needs. If not, work with your stakeholders to understand how important this deliverable is and whether it can be descoped. Another possibility is to transfer resources from risk reduction to critical path tasks. If you go this route, explain to your stakeholder that this increases the chance of an issue appearing late in the project, when it’s harder to fix.

A Good PM is a Tightrope Walker

The job of the PM is to balance these three areas. Overtime the critical path will become more important and reducing risk and uncertainty less so. But there’s no formula to answer what you should do. A tool like LiquidPlanner is like the pole that helps the walker maintain his balance.

In the end, it’s up to you and your team to understand if: you’ve reduced uncertainty enough that you can start to focus on risks; that you’ve reduced risks enough that you can focus on your critical path; and that everyone is working on the most important task at that moment. When you get it wrong (e.g. a low probability risk turns into an ugly issue late in the project), just smile and focus the team on what are now the most important tasks.

Looking for more tips to help you save time, increase productivity and motivate your team? Check out our guide, “5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”
5 Practical Habits for Today's Project Manager

April Product Update: Improved Reporting and Recording Functionality

In the world of project management, data is key. However, measuring and tracking the right information from project kickoff all the way to delivery is never an easy feat.

That’s why we’ve been cooking up product improvements that not only deliver better data for all aspects of your projects, but also give you a way to make sense of that data. Because data without analysis is just numbers.

This month, we’re excited to share two updates that will help you gain deeper insights, more accurately track information across all projects, and save time and money.

Track, Manage, and Organize with More Flexible Custom Fields

Every project is unique, and teams need to accurately track information that is specific to the way they work. There are a multitude of processes, communication, and metadata that needs to get captured, especially with more complex projects.

That’s where Custom Fields come in. You can track any aspect of your project by creating fields for things like project status, product lines, or business regions.

With the April update, we’ve added Text Custom Fields, a new type of field that offers even more flexibility. Now teams can enter a single-line text entry for specific task or project fields. Create fields for part numbers, unique codes, risk reasons, or any other part of your team’s process.

TextCustomFields

Workspace administrators can create Text Custom Fields in the Data Customization section in Settings. Once the field is created, anyone can add relevant information directly to their tasks or projects.

See the Whole Picture with Sub-Folder Reporting

Complex projects often have a number of distinct stages that project managers use to track progress or costs incurred. For some teams, getting meaningful data for these separate phases is just as important as reporting on the project as a whole.

That’s why we’ve introduced sub-folder reports to Dashboards and Analytics. In one click, teams can quickly see progress, financials, and risk information for any phase of a project.

Visit a dashboard to get a clear visual on how much work has gone into each phase:

sub-folders image

Or, run a Sub-folder Report in Analytics to see where you stand for your billable hours:

Sub-folder Analytics

Getting the right data and reports is only half the battle. It’s what you do with that information that makes project management a little bit art and a little bit science.

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

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

 

Advice for Project Managers: Finding Mentors and Collecting Project Feedback

ADVICE_COLUMNIST (1)
Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: marketing@liquidplanner.com. Anonymity included.


“Dear Elizabeth: I’d like to find a mentor to help advance my project management career. Do you have advice on what I should be doing to find the right person?”Searching for guidance

Dear Searching: Well done for deciding that you want to start a mentoring relationship. A mentor can definitely be a career boost, opening doors that weren’t there before.

But you’re correct. You’ll get the best out of mentoring if you can find the right person.

Finding a mentor should begin with an inventory of your needs and wants. What are your mentoring goals? Who do you respect? What area do you want to draw them from? What skills are needed to best serve and guide you in your career aims?

If your organization has a formal mentoring program, start there. In my experience it’s better to be in the formal system than outside it. Ask them to match you with a suitable mentor.

Don’t be afraid to say you want to switch if you don’t click with that person. An experienced mentor won’t take it personally. Good rapport is important. If it isn’t there, they’ll have felt it too.

If you don’t have a formal program to participate in, think about whether you want someone from inside or outside your organization. It may be easier to find someone internal, unless your firm is very small. External mentors can bring different perspectives, but they are harder to find unless you are prepared to pay for their time. Try going through your professional bodies or local networking groups. For example, Project Management Institute chapters’ mentoring programs match junior project managers with more experienced members.

If you’re looking within your organization, a good place to start is the peer group of your line manager or the next level up. Are there any managers in that group that you feel you could learn from? This comes back to your inventory of needs and wants. Do you need someone with deep domain or industry knowledge? Experience in project management? Or are you focused on building your business skills more broadly? Use your inventory to build a list of potential mentors.

When you’ve got a shortlist, just ask them! If they are interested, they’ll want to know what they are committing to before firmly saying yes. Have a frank discussion about expectations: how long and how often will you meet? Will it be over the phone or over email? Draft a mentoring agreement and discuss what you’re both hoping to achieve. That way, you both know what you’re getting into.

“Dear Elizabeth: I’d like to take a more formal approach to gathering my team’s feedback, especially at the close of projects. Do you have any suggestions for garnering constructive feedback?”Formal Feedback

Dear Formal: You need formal feedback on two things: the project management process itself (how the whole thing worked out for the team and what it was like to be ‘in’ the project management process as it unfolded) and the deliverables or outputs. Getting feedback on both of those will give you some great insights into how the project is going, but they need two different approaches.

It’s easiest to get feedback on the work you are doing and the deliverables you are creating. Add a standing agenda item to your regular team meetings and ask for feedback:

  • How are we doing with the scope of this project?
  • What’s the latest position on quality?
  • Are the customers satisfied with the outputs we are generating for them? How do we know?

You can also tailor these questions for your customers. Though you’ll want to ask them for feedback separately.

It’s less easy to get feedback on the project management aspects of the job. Sometimes people don’t understand those as well or can’t separate those from the output of their tasks. You can help get useful answers about this by asking probing questions:

Did we identify this risk in advance? If not, what could we have done differently so that we wouldn’t have got caught out? How did we end up in this situation? If we had managed communication more effectively on the project, would we have avoided it? So what should we be doing going forward to improve communication in the team?

These are examples; you’ll be able to think of some relevant to your project. The questions can be more challenging to identify and definitely more challenging to answer as they relate to working practices. No one likes to say that the way they did their job wasn’t as good as it could be.

So:

  • Manage the people in the room when you ask for constructive feedback. In my experience it works best when the most senior people on the team aren’t there. Talk to the sponsor or any senior managers separately.
  • Make it about the process, not the people doing the process. They couldn’t have done anything different (most of the time) because the process encourages them to work a particular way. Change the way you work to be more effective for everyone.
  • Encourage, listen and act! People will share if they think you are going to do something constructive and positive with the feedback. If they don’t see anything changing, what’s the point of them commenting on how things could be different?

You can get a head start on capturing formal lessons learned with this meeting agenda template designed specifically for lessons learned, and this meeting minutes template to record what came out of the discussion.

To help aspiring project managers, and accidental PMs build confidence and be great at what they do, we built the perfect handbook for you: Our Ultimate PM Guide!

Ultimate PM Guide

 

eBook: How to Manage Chaos: Advice on Project Management and Workplace Conundrums

Every month, project management expert Elizabeth Harrin fields readers’ questions about the challenges, risks, and rewards of project work on the LiquidPlanner blog.

We’ve compiled our favorite columns in this eBook. Over 30 pages, you’ll get Elizabeth’s take on a range of project management and workplace topics, including:

  • Ways to get more resources for your project
  • Strategies for juggling multiple project tasks
  • How to manage a micromanager

 

Download “How to Manage Chaos: Advice on Project Management and Workplace Conundrums.”

 

Embracing Uncertainty in Software Projects

Uncertainty in software projects is inevitable. Use these three strategies to plan for it, address the risks and reap the rewards.

How long will it take?

A seemingly simple question that can become a project management nightmare to manage.

If you don’t give an answer, you’re viewed as incompetent and unable to estimate. (How could you NOT know? After all, you’re the project manager!) If you give a qualified answer, you risk being held to that original date despite the need to analyze requirements further, discuss with vendors and do proper project planning.

If you’re right and the project delivers on time, you’ll be heralded as a “someone who can deliver.” If you’re wrong, you’ll be regarded as “someone who can’t deliver.” The reality is you’re only as good as your last project and achieving a project date given months in advance is based on leadership, a drive for results, successfully managing expectations and let’s face it—luck!

Instead of relying on luck to deliver our projects, we need to change the way we communicate a project’s launch date and overall project costs.

Why Change?

In over 20 years of working in the software industry, the only thing I am certain about is uncertainty. No two projects are ever the same. Even if you manage similar projects, the requirements vary, the people and stakeholder needs change, the technology platforms adjust and the business has different priorities and project constraints. Due to these ever changing factors, software projects are full of uncertainty.

Good project managers will put risk management, change control and communication plans in place to manage scope and balance uncertainty. However, even better project managers look to embrace change and uncertainty while planning for it! One of the reason’s Agile software management practices have been so popular is they help teams embrace uncertainty.

The Cone of Uncertainty has been around since the 1950s but is popular among Agile teams to explain why a project’s effort and scope could be either 4 times or ¼ the size of the original estimate. Over time, the estimation variability decreases as the project team understand more about the requirements and the actual effort to deliver the project.

How to Embrace Uncertainty in Software Projects

Project teams can help embrace uncertainty by applying several approaches, including:

1. Embrace rolling planning and incremental funding.

Rolling planning helps project teams and customers refine estimates and make better decisions across the project lifecycle. Instead of funding an entire project, fund an Analysis phase or fund a few sprints to develop a valid proof of concept. Once the analysis or the proof of concept is completed, the team will have better estimates and can refine the project dates and the project costs.

This approach impacts traditional financial processes and budgeting as stakeholders need to request a budget first but can’t commit upfront to the end date and final deliverables. Transparency, incremental delivery and upfront communication on project unknowns is critical to clearing this hurdle.

2. Use ranged estimation versus single point estimates.

The LiquidPlanner blog has several articles highlighting the benefits of ranged estimates vs. single point estimates. Team members will find it easier to provide a high and low estimate vs. a single point estimate as it gives them some wiggle room for unknowns. As the task progresses, the same ranged estimate for remaining work is provided.

Embracing_Uncertainy_

The team can speak to status using these ranges and over time they will have greater confidence in a project’s expected finish date. Knowing a tool like LiquidPlanner provides this level of estimation at the project and task level is very helpful in clarifying uncertainty.

3. Deliver highest value features first.

Another Agile concept to manage the Cone of Uncertainty is to deliver higher value features first. In a past Kronos timekeeping implementation for a manufacturing organization, my team focused on delivering the core timekeeping features early in the project before moving on to the workforce management features. The plant wanted the plant floor workforce management features but there were a lot of union specific rules that needed to be sorted out before the package could be configured (i.e. uncertainty).

By delivering the timekeeping features first, we met a critical business need. The labor rules were so convoluted that the workforce management features were never implemented. Focusing on the features that provided the greatest return improved the project satisfaction. Worrying about a resource indicator that would never be activated due to business and technology issues was non-value add.

4. Communicate the unknowns early.

Successful project management is based on trust, collaboration and frequent communication on the project health. By communicating the unknowns early and providing options to address uncertainty, both stakeholders have an equal opportunity to manage the risk affecting project timelines and deliverables. The problems start when the client and the delivery team fail to maintain trust and communication.

Project teams will always have challenges managing the project triangle of scope, cost and time. At the start of a project, uncertainty is at its largest and teams need to avoid making promises they can’t keep. A better approach is to work incrementally, provide frequent feedback and use effective tools to help forecast end dates based on actual data instead of emotion.

Uncertainty will always exist. The best approach is to embrace it rather than ignore it.

Managing projects is hard work. You need to have a wide range of knowledge and skills—from tracking schedules and satisfying stakeholders to juggling people and technical skills. This eBook, How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges, provides practical tips and solutions to common project management challenges. You’ll also see how LiquidPlanner helps you meet your challenges—and turn them into opportunities!

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

6 Steps to Achieving Realistic Deadlines for Your Manufacturing Projects

6 steps to achieve realistic deadlines for your manufacturing projects

As a consultant, I frequently work with companies that lack a unified business process and struggle to deliver their projects on time. Even though I hear the same story time and again, I’m surprised by how so many organizations function in a state of constant chaos. It doesn’t have to be this way!

With just 6 steps, you can go from missed deadlines and isolated teams to a shared process and on-time delivery. Before I go into detail on these steps, it’s important to understand how companies get to a chaotic existence in the first place and when it might be time to re-evaluate your own business processes.

A Familiar Story

I was recently consulting with a large made to order (MTO) manufacturing company that wanted to implement a software solution to improve throughput and on-time performance. At first, it seemed odd to me that the solution got more push back from floor supervisors than the management. It turned out that the floor supervisors didn’t understand how their disparate processes were negatively impacting the business or how this new system would benefit them– what motivation did they have to change?

To get a sense for how each group was running their projects, I conducted a survey of the different spreadsheet programs that were being used. Most floor managers were using Excel to manage their projects and more than a few had become Visual Basic experts, proud of their current methods. I ended the survey early, since it was clear that each group was using an isolated solution and process that was completely independent of other areas of the business.

This created a massive problem for managers and executives–they had zero visibility! There was no central source of truth to see how project plans and workload interacted across the organization. It also created problems for the floor supervisors who were using siloed spreadsheets. Since different teams occasionally shared resources, decisions made by one team could have damaging consequences on another, leading to finger pointing and blame as opposed to communication and collaboration. Managers had to rely on emails, phone calls, or walking out to the floor to understand an order’s status.

My client needed more than just a process overhaul–they also needed to implement dynamic project management software that worked across the entire organization.

A Process to Drive Positive Change

Over the years, I’ve found that the problems that exist in MTO environments mirror those in all other project management applications. According to a Gallup Business Journal article:

  • 39% of projects fail due to lack of planning, resources, and activities.
  • 57% of projects fail due to a breakdown in communications.

To overcome these two failures, I established a business process called Dependency, Variation and Analysis (DVA) that surrounds a dynamic project management software solution like LiquidPlanner. The DVA process has 6 components:

  1. A focused objective, such as “Delivering projects on time.”
  2. Clear metrics, such as “95% on time performance.”
  3. An agreed upon network with clearly defined tasks and resources.
  4. Captured variation in the form of best-case to worst-case task estimates.
  5. Establishing a completion date using “What If” analysis.
  6. A method of routine collaboration and communication.

Here’s how you can use DVA to improve your business processes and hit your deadlines.

1. Create a Focused Objective

One way to resolve conflict is make sure everyone knows why they are doing this work. It’s a simple one-sentence line, like deliver engineer-to-order projects to customers at our promise dates 95% of the time.

2. Identify Clear Metrics

The saying, “tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will react” should drive your business process to make the metrics clear. Ideally, there should only be one or two metrics to focus on. Too many metrics can cause conflict because teams often sacrifice one to improve another. For project management, they are typically based on delivering projects on time and under budget.

3. Plan the Network

The floor supervisors in my example ignored the impact that their decisions had on other groups. They started working on tasks before a dependency was complete to keep their teams busy and looking efficient. If a change notice was issued, the task that shouldn’t have been started had to be re-done, causing confusion, extra expenditures, and lost time. This also often generated a fair amount of finger pointing between the groups.

Network creation begins with the project team coming to a half-day meeting. Every person gets a package of sticky notes, a marker, and the assignment of writing down the tasks they think need to be included in the network. These notes are then placed on a wall, and duplicate tasks and those that don’t support the objective are removed. The order of tasks is established from left to right, and any dependencies are captured.

If the project team is not all in the same geographic location, however, this step becomes a little more complicated. This is where LiquidPlanner’s works well. Cards with task names can be added by team members in different locations. The duplicate tasks can be moved to their own column or deleted. Then, planned tasks are assigned resources and dependencies. Many tasks compete for time on the same constrained resource, so creating a schedule in priority order is important when managing a constraint.

4. Capture Variation

Capturing variation in tasks is the next order of business. The only way to do this is to estimate using a range. LiquidPlanner is the only project management solution I have found that allows teams to plan with best-case to worst-case ranged estimation and includes the variation as part of its schedule calculations. Because the people who are actually doing the work are the ones adding the estimates, the plan is much more realistic.
It’s important to realize that the worst-case estimate can have the biggest impact on the duration of the project, so we ask for team members to be a bit paranoid, but not “crazy paranoid,” in estimating their tasks.

5. Establish a Completion Date using “What If” Planning

The first predicted completion date is generated using LiquidPlanner and includes dates for the entire portfolio. If the finish date doesn’t meet our requirements, the team goes through a “What If” analysis to determine if changing assignments, priorities, or adding help improves the lead time. This “What If” process only happens once during a routine meeting (we’ll get to these meetings in the next step). By the end of the meeting, we have a solid plan in place that all stakeholders agree on.

6. Schedule Routine Communication

Once the network in place, a process must be established to keep projects on pace with their deadlines. This is accomplished with a daily 15-minute meeting focused only on projects that are in the red and strategies to get them back in line. The results of the meeting are recorded as a comment in LiquidPlanner. Team members that can’t attend the meeting update their estimates and leave comments as well. Having all team communication in one place increases clarity and eliminates the need for managers to chase people down in pursuit of answers.

Getting Results

Change is always hard, but it is necessary to get the results you want. My clients that implement the DVA process along with a dynamic software solution like LiquidPlanner see on-time performance reach or exceed 95%. They also notice a significant emotional shift across the team as chaos, conflict, and confusion are replaced with focus, clarity, and teamwork. Of course, increased profitability doesn’t hurt either!

If you would like to learn more about the DVA process and how I can help your organization establish a unified process, visit www.kohls-consulting.com.

Kevin Kohls has been using the Theory of Constraints in business for almost 30 years.  He developed GM’s Throughput Improvement Process (TIP), and is a past winner of both the Franz Edelman Operations Research award and the Boss Kettering Award for Innovation. He is current writing “Addicted to Hopium”, describing how to set up and run profitable improvement processes. 

Interested in learning more about LiquidPlanner’s dynamic methodology? Download the eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How to Scale Methodology for Your IT Project

project methodology

If you’ve worked for an organization of any size delivering software projects, you’ll eventually be asked to follow a methodology. In small organizations, it could be a common set of steps that are “light and nimble.” As the organization grows, more steps are added, additional teams are consulted and before long—you’re got a full-fledged methodology to manage.

Methodology is a tool, not a torture device designed to inhibit project teams. Methodology provides guidance across an IT organization in order to successfully deliver projects. As much as project managers like to control all decision-making in a project, there are times when IT project managers need to engage other IT teams like Architecture or IT Security. A few examples include:

  • Launching a new website
  • Working with systems that contain confidential or personally identifiable data
  • Ascertaining whether or not the server can handle all the traffic

In the following examples, team leaders probably should check with IT Security, Architecture and the Infrastructure teams while moving through a project. If you’re new to the organization, a standard methodology helps guide you on how to engage these teams to get the information you need, and give them a heads up about what’s going on that affects other departments.

When Teams Resist a Methodology

Here’s an example that might sound familiar: A project management office (PMO) or senior leader publishes standard steps, establishes checkpoints (tollgates) and project audits to ensure teams are compliant with the process. At the same time, various project teams squirm to explain why their project is different and how the methodology doesn’t fit. Agile project teams start waving the “Hey we’re Agile” flag and want the team to decide on the right processes and tools for the project, instead of a third party organization making process decisions.

Successful organizations will scale the methodology based on the complexity of the project. Methodology teams produce methodology frameworks to ensure teams follow a consistent process that integrates all IT and business stakeholders. However, projects differ in scope and complexity so the methodology should adjust accordingly.

The best way to align the methodology with the delivery team is to tailor the methodology to fit the project. Much like tailoring a suit, the process leadership and project teams work together to apply the processes that best fit the project.

Below are six steps your teams can take to successfully scale your methodology:

Step 1: Define the Methodology

If the organization is well defined, there should be a published methodology with all the processes, activities and templates needed in order to deliver a project. Some organizations publish a loosely structured framework and others have perspective steps based on the type of software project—Waterfall, Agile, a combination; Software As a Service (SaaS) or Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) packages.

Step 2: Identify mandatory and optional components

Review each process step, deliverable and template. The methodology will outline optional steps and the ones that are mandatory. With an increased focus on security and cloud-hosting, security scans and infrastructure assessments should be mandatory.

Step 3: Develop a tailoring process

When project teams implement projects, they want to know which processes are required and how to adjust the methodology to fit the project. Developing and communicating a tailoring process will help your team understand how to scale the methodology. Below is a generic tailoring process that includes the project manager, the PMO and any shared service team like security, architecture and infrastructure. If your organization doesn’t have a formal PMO, I’m sure there is someone overlooking overall quality and ensuring common processes are being followed.

project tailoring

Step 4: Tailor the Project

By reviewing the processes and deliverables upfront required to deliver the project, everyone has a common understanding of expectations. If a process step doesn’t make sense, remove it but at least get agreement from the key stakeholders in the IT organization.

If you’re deploying a new Internet facing website, you’re better off making the security scan or IT security review mandatory versus optional. However, if you’re delivering a second release of an existing software application, the project charter is likely optional.

Step 5: Execute and Adjust

Based on the tailoring document, the project will create the appropriate deliverables. During project execution, if a step no longer applies or if a step needs to be added, simply adjust the tailoring decision document and review with the process owners. In formal gate reviews, the tailoring decision document confirms that the correct processes are being applied, so it’s important to keep that document updated.

Step 6: At the end of the project, review and refine the methodology

It’s important that the project team provides feedback on the process; regular feedback helps improve the methodology over time. No one wants to be accused of “sitting in an ivory tower” and dictating process without understanding the impact. For example, the project team might find redundant processes or identify improvements to project templates. Over time, similar types of project tailoring will emerge and the organization can publish these tailoring decision documents as scaled versions of the methodology. Your organization will find the methodology will scale for outsourced IT projects, infrastructure projects, COTS implementations, business process outsourcing, Agile and traditional waterfall projects.

Methodology is a tool

Remember, methodology is a tool to help align all the IT teams and their respective processes. One tool isn’t a fit for every project so adjustments need to be made to ensure project teams are delivering in the right direction. Security, architecture, IT compliance and infrastructure teams all want projects to succeed and they define processes to ensure success.

The PMO or a senior IT leader’s job is to help standardize and communicate these processes as projects execute. Project teams can still be reluctant to follow a singular prescribed process. The best way to scale your project for success is to scale your methodology to fit the project and then agree to all decisions up front.  Remember: establishing a methodology, especially one that can flex to the changing needs of teams, is a tool to help teams deliver excellence.

Addressing, selecting and getting adoption on a methodology is one of the challenges to project management. To get more solutions to classic PM issues, download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

Advice for Project Managers: How to Save Your Job, and Process vs Tool

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

 

Dear Elizabeth: Process or tool—which comes first? Our executive team disagrees about this every time we evaluate our project and work processes and start to consider software tools—current and new ones. I fall on the side that process comes first, then you use the right tool to support it. Others argue that you get the right tool and processes fall into place. What are your thoughts? – Process Fan

Dear Process Fan: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I think in this case that you’re both right. Or wrong. Whichever way you want to look at it.

Tools are often built around industry-standard best practices. Adopting your work processes to align with the way the tool works can add efficiencies. However, every business has its unique quirks and you might find that there’s a particularly critical process for you that isn’t an out-of-the-box feature.

If you were starting from scratch, I’d say that a tool can really help you set up your business for success, as the built-in processes will kick start your own project management approach.

Since you’re not starting from scratch, I would say that an iterative, evolving approach is the best. Accept that your business process may have to change to suit your tool, but where your processes are “better” than what your tool provides (whatever “better” means for you) then you may have to customize the solution to make it work smoothly.

Your challenge now becomes being able to help your executive team move beyond the processes/tools discussion and towards one that revolves around outcomes and business value. When you focus on your end goal – something that you do have in common! – you’re more likely to have productive conversations about how to get there.

Look for a tool that is going to grow with you as your needs change over time. You’re going to have to tweak both your processes and the way you use your software to get the best performance for your team.

Dear Elizabeth: Budgets are getting cut at my current job, and I’d like to stay around! I work as a senior-level project manager in an IT organization. Do you have any advice or wise tips on actions I can take to make myself more valuable to my team? – Love My Job

Dear Love My Job: If budgets are being cut now it might be too late. But let’s plan for the best-case scenario and talk about what you can do to quickly show yourself as a really valuable member of the team.

  • First, make sure you are solid at the basics. Follow through on actions. Deliver on your promises. Be the safe pair of hands. If you have outstanding tasks, or people are waiting on you for things, smash through your list.
  • Second, cultivate a positive attitude. No whining, gossiping or moaning. Be a ray of sunshine for your office without being fake about it. People like to work with positive people.
  • Next, be assertive with your helpfulness. Be helpful and serve your colleagues, but without being a pushover. It’s great to show willingness; just don’t end up being the office doormat. Don’t worry that saying no sometimes will disadvantage you when it comes to the selection process. As long as you do it politely and with reason, it’s a show of assertiveness.
  • Finally, if you don’t do it already, think big picture. As a senior-level project manager, you should be always acutely aware of the business context of your projects and actions. Working in IT can get a bit siloed at times, so think about how your objectives fit in to those of the business overall. And then, make sure people know you are thinking. Find ways to demonstrate that you know how your piece of the business links to others and how your work adds value to the company.

Be awesome! And cross your fingers.

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

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