Category Archives: Project Management

Ask a Project Manager: School vs The Real World

 “Dear Elizabeth: I am a new project manager in my first internship. I’m out of my depth and overwhelmed with the new jargon. In particular, what I’m finding is that my work environment isn’t exactly like the theory I learned on my project management degree course. What tips do you have for me?”

 

Ah, are you finding out that real life isn’t like the textbooks? Yes, we’ve all been there. I met another intern recently who said to me that he’d learned more in the last 10 months working in the PMO than he had on the previous two years in his business management degree. There’s nothing like a bit of workplace reality for bringing home the skills you really need to make a success of a your career.

First, I should say that the great stuff you learned in your courses is not at all wasted. Please don’t feel so overwhelmed that you start to doubt the value of your education. That has given you a solid grounding in theory, vocabulary, and the concepts you need to be able to work in a project management environment. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now – trust me, you know more than you think you do.

So, some tips for dealing with the new job.

Learn the jargon.

What you learned in your course might not be the exact terminology that your colleagues are using. There are lots of words that mean ‘risk log,’ and they are virtually interchangeable. However, you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll fit in more quickly if you use the vocabulary that everyone around you is using.

Start a glossary and note the commonly used terms. If you hear one in a meeting that you don’t understand, write it down and ask someone later what it means. (You can ask in the meeting if you like, but I know it can be difficult to get up the courage to interrupt the meeting to ask newbie questions.)

Find out what your colleagues do.

Everything is less overwhelming when you know who is responsible for what. Then you know who the subject matter experts are when you need assistance.

Ask people to spend 30 minutes of their day with you and talk to them about their job. Where do they fit into the hierarchy? What does their team do? What do they need from your team? And, is there anything you can do to help while you’re here as an intern? Explain that you’re learning about the business and you want to be as useful as you can while you’re there.  I have done this every time I start a new position, and it’s helpful. I have never yet had someone say they didn’t want to talk to me about themselves and their expertise. Reach out. Book five meetings this afternoon.

Do your job.

You are there for a reason, right? At this point in your career, my best advice is to get on with what you’ve been asked to do. Make a good impression and do the work to the best of your ability. If you can offer something more than you’ve been asked to do (for example, an intern I once worked with completely redesigned a tracking spreadsheet I asked him to update, and made it a million times better and less work), then ask if you can do that and deliver it.

The reason I put this point in is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the business as a whole. Depending on where you are, you could be a small cog in a team of hundreds. Your day-to-day priority is to turn up and work through your To Do list. When you can break down your responsibilities into smaller chunks that you can do without feeling overwhelmed, then you can see yourself making progress.

It is helpful to understand the bigger picture, and I encourage all project managers to boost their business acumen skills and learn about how the company functions as a system. When you are struggling, it often helps to just think about putting one foot in front of the other.

Besides, you’ll be surprised at how much you absorb and learn just by doing that.

Connect your job to your course.

In no time at all you’ll be making connections between your tasks and what you learned on your course. Try to identify where someone is using a management style you’ve learned about, or what part of the project management process you are in now. Think about how you would identify stakeholders or run this phase, if it was your project, or what tools you would use that you studied that would help you at this point.

You won’t win any friends by going around saying, “In my course, I learned this…,” and, “I just realized your using situational leadership!” But, if it helps to share those thoughts with your mentor or manager, then do. It’s more important to try to associate what you have learned with what you do in the office so you can see the practical implications of using the techniques you studied.

And congratulations on your degree, by the way! That’s a big achievement, and if you can do that you can definitely succeed in your new position using the same skills.

What Project Management in Manufacturing Looks Like Today [Infographic]

Manufacturing is essentially a series of sequential steps in a longer process. Because each step must be completed before moving onto the next, even the smallest delay can have a significant impact on delivery. That’s why proper planning, scheduling, and risk management are so important.

We recently asked more than 100 manufacturing executives, engineers, and project managers about their day-to-day project management practices and how these play a role in their work and businesses. To learn what they had to say, check out the infographic below.

Want to read the complete findings? Read our 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report.

 

 

5 Stats You Need to Know from the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing Report

In manufacturing, time is money. Every delay, machinery breakdown, and defective product adds up and, ultimately, hurts the bottom line.

But following structured project management methods can help companies reduce delays, stay on budget, and deliver quality products.

To better understand how manufacturers practice project management, we surveyed more than 100 executives, engineers, and project managers, resulting in the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report. It details project stats and methodologies, the lowdown on major challenges, and a look at manufacturers’ plans for cutting costs and building revenue in the coming year.

To learn more about the challenges facing manufacturers today, download the free 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report here.

Here are some of the most interesting highlights from the report:

1.) More than half of manufacturers use a combination of project management methodologies.

Waterfall, agile, scrum, critical path—there’s a wide range of project management methodologies, and they’re rarely one size fits all. In fact, 57% of respondents use a combination of methodologies to keep their projects on track. Manufacturing is an industry that’s built on the principle of continuous improvement, and a hybrid approach allows for increased flexibility.

Fifty-six percent of manufacturers use a combination of PM methodologies.

2.) Those who use a combination of methodologies are also the happiest.

Of the respondents who said they were highly satisfied with existing PM practices, three-fourths use a combination of methodologies.

3.) “Work smarter, not harder” could be manufacturers’ motto in 2017.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that revenue growth and cost reduction are equally important this year.

4.) This focus on building revenue while cutting costs is leading many manufacturers to invest in new technologies and solutions.

As we move into Industry 4.0, manufacturers need to invest and experiment with new solutions or risk falling behind their competitors.  Supply chain management (56%), Lean manufacturing (52%), and cloud computing or SaaS offerings (47%) are the top three technologies manufacturers are looking into this year.

This focus on building revenue while cutting costs is leading many manufacturers to invest in new technologies and solutions.

Learn more about Industry 4.0 in this eBook.

5.) Deadlines, costs, and communication are the top project management challenges that manufacturers face this year.

Like many project teams, manufacturers’ cited managing project costs (50%) and hitting deadlines (46%) as their top challenges. Sharing information across teams came in at number three (44%).

A-20_State_PM_3

 

Intrigued? This is just a preview of the insights found in this report. Download the free 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report to discover how manufacturers practice project management across their organizations.

Download the free report.

Advice for Project Managers: How do I measure the success (or failure) of my projects?

ADVICE_COLUMNIST-1-1

“Dear Elizabeth: I want to get better at measuring the success (or failure) of my projects. What project management metrics should I be focusing on? And how can I use these metrics to improve project performance?”

OK. I don’t mean to start off by being controversial, but you’re asking the wrong person.

It’s your project stakeholders who decide if your project is a success or a failure. So what you should be asking is: how will they judge me?

Do they care if you are late by a few weeks as long as you deliver something of supreme quality? Is it essential that you hit the delivery milestone by any means possible, even if that means sacrificing a few bits of functionality?
You can measure time taken to fix defects, number of change requests, deviation from schedule baseline, percent complete, burn rate, or anything else you want. These measures will give you some interesting management information and might help you manage the team. But if your sponsor is unhappy in the end, she won’t feel any better by you telling her you were under budget by 1.3 percent.

So, let’s split your question.

First, talk to your project sponsor and the important stakeholders about what they value. What do they want to get out of the project? How will they know if the project has been a success? Typically, they’ll judge on time, cost, or quality, but it could also be customer/staff satisfaction. Or, they might rate something else. When you know what it is, you can measure it, track it, and prove that you are doing it.

The thing to bear in mind here is that expectations will change as the project progresses. The sponsor who thinks he wants you to hit the delivery date at all costs might change his mind when he realizes he can have extra functionality that’s going to boost customer retention by 20 percent — if he’s prepared for the schedule to slip by a month.

You need to stay close to the expectations of your project decision makers. Keep checking in with them and seeing if their definition of success has changed. Talk to them often and tell them how you are doing against meeting the targets they set with you and the targets they think are important.

AskElizabethCTA

At the end of the day, the stakeholders decide if you met their needs and if the project did what they wanted. You can deliver something on time, on budget, and to the specified scope, and they will still be unhappy. I don’t want situation for you. So check it out with them in advance, and tailor what you measure to their expectations.

That will give you clarity on what success (or failure) looks like and how best to track it. But for your project management purposes, you probably want some other metrics to go on.

Performance metrics help you see how the team is doing and let you spot where there might be problems. If this is the first time you’ve really focused on measuring project performance, don’t make it too complicated. People hold up Earned Value as the way to go for the ultimate in performance tracking, but it’s overkill for most projects.

Try these:

Schedule Variance: Plot your baseline project schedule. Then track your actual performance. Measure the difference between where you thought you’d be and where you actually are. This can be represented as a discrete number of days (“We’re 10 days behind.”) or a percentage (“We’re 6 percent ahead of schedule.”).

Cost Variance: This is the same principle as schedule variance. First, establish your budget baseline. Then, track what you actually spend and compare the two. You’ll end up over- or underspent (it’s rare that you’ll be exactly spent in line with your baseline, but good for you if that happens). You can represent this as a fixed price (“We’re underspent by $5,000.”) or a percentage (“We’re 10 percent over budget.”).

Number of Change Requests: This useful measure offers an indication of how good your requirements were at the beginning. When people want to make a lot of changes, it means you didn’t really know what you were doing upfront. That might be an issue for you. It depends on the methodology you are using. Agile methods tend to be more flexible in dealing with change. Waterfall development methodologies are less good at coping with change to the extent that adding more changes late in the project can be very costly. Either way, tracking trends on the volumes of change requests will let you spot if it’s worth taking a deep dive into requirements or your backlog again.

When it comes to metrics, it’s the context that makes the knowledge valuable. Knowing you are six percent ahead of schedule is meaningless without some narrative that explains why. Perhaps you just cut a huge portion out of your scope, so it’s obvious that you are ahead–you have less work to do overall. Perhaps you got a new starter on the team who is picking up the tasks at a rapid pace (but costing you money on your resource line).

Whatever you choose to measure, make sure you can interpret it intelligently and use your professional judgment to help uncover what it really means for your project. Then you can explain it to your team, use the data in a helpful way, and make better decisions about how to manage your project.

I’m sorry if you just wanted a few easy answers! I think it’s better to give you a realistic view of how to manage successfully than a list of bullet points that make an attractive but pointless project dashboard.

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

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is a project and programme manager with over a decade of experience. She writes about project management and careers at her website, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.

May the Fourth Be With You: Project Management Lessons from the Star Wars Rebel Alliance

In honor of today’s celebration of all things Star Wars, I thought it would be worthwhile to mine this epic tale for project management lessons. While many have written about the Empire’s challenges constructing the Death Star, I’m interested in what can be learned from the victors, the Rebel Alliance.

Build a Diverse Team

The project team in A New Hope was fairly diverse. (Okay, not great gender diversity, considering everyone but Leia was male). Their ages varied, ranging from 19-year-old Luke and Leia to 200-year-old Chewbacca. Some were biological; others droids. Some were experienced; others less so. Some thoughtful, others prone to action.

Obi-wan was a Jedi master and military commander. Leia, despite her young age, was an experienced diplomat. Han and Chewie had extracted themselves from many a tough situation. And Luke was courageous, enthusiastic, hardworking, and force-sensitive. R2-D2 was a veritable Swiss Army knife of capabilities. His tools and skillset included the ability to communicate with main frame computers, a fire extinguisher, spaceship repair, and data storage. C-3PO was good for comic relief without being too annoying (see Binks, Jar Jar). Everyone brought their unique gifts to the team, and gave 100% (except C-3PO).

Better to have diversity than a team who are all very good at the same thing. Diversity brings different approaches, which makes innovative solutions more likely.

I once worked with a team of smart, young engineers. They were great about asking the experienced engineers for design reviews or brainstorming sessions. They were open about trying new ideas and quickly built prototypes to test their ideas. In a few weeks, they had a working proof-of-concept for a problem that our client had worked months on without progress. A team of just the “grey hairs” or just the young’uns would not have been as effective.

Work the Problem

When presented with a problem, our heroes never gave up. They continued to work whatever problem they were presented with. When Han, Chewbacca, Luke, and Lela were trapped in the cell block on the Death Star, they just kept working the problem:

  • Escape the attacking storm troopers by shooting open the garbage chute and jumping into the trash compactor
  • Shoot the door, which was magnetically sealed, so that it would not open
  • Save Luke from the monster
  • Use material in the compactor to keep from being crushed
  • Call C-3PO and R2-D2, who stopped the compactor and opened the door by talking to the main frame computer

Sure, there was some insults hurled and not every idea worked. But they kept at it until they had a solution.

Often when working on a project, things don’t go as you planned: one of your risks becomes an issue, a requirement changes, or a key contributor leaves the team. Focus on the problem that you need to solve, not the one you planned to solve.

It’s also important that your stakeholders know how things have changed. It’s possible that the proper response to the new situation is to cancel the project, and the stakeholders must be given an opportunity to recommit to the new plan or cancel the project.

Share Your Plan

For project managers, creating a plan and not sharing it with the entire team is a common mistake.

In the beginning of A New Hope, the construction plans of the Death Star are uploaded by Leia into R2-D2, and no one else sees the plans until the team arrives at Yavin IV. Until then, R2-D2 is a single point of failure. If he’s destroyed, the project fails. [Spoiler Alert] The Rebel Alliance does not learn of the weakness designed into the Death Star. And, thus, Luke cannot destroy the Death Star.

Why not give everyone a copy, so that if anyone gets to the Rebel base, the project will succeed?

Have you ever worked on a project where the PM has created a detailed plan in MS Project, and the only copy of the plan is on the PM’s computer?

Even if everyone had a copy of the .MPP file, most engineers don’t have MS Project on their computer. Maybe the PM converted the plan to MS Excel. But now the plan doesn’t have the dependencies and critical path clearly labeled. The team can’t interact with the plan and point out where it’s out-of-date.

That’s why I prefer using web-based tools, like LiquidPlanner. It’s easy to share the plan with the entire team and easily get their input in the creation of the plan.

Use the Force (Go with Your Gut)

The most important lesson from the rebels is that sometimes you need to “use the force” to make decisions with incomplete information.

I’m not suggesting we go through our project with the blast shield down, unable to see what’s is right in front of your face. But there are times, especially early in a project when there’s a lot of uncertainty, that even with your eyes wide open there’s no way to be certain what the right path is.

That’s when you use the force to understand what is that best path through the asteroid field.

As project managers, it’s nice to be able to look at a plan, focus on the work breakdown structure and critical path, and know what the most important tasks are. But sometimes things aren’t that clear, and you’ll have to fall back on experience to provide direction. Tools like a risk register can help, but they don’t stand in for being force-sensitive.

Your mission may not be “vital to the survival of the Rebellion”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Every project deserves a solid team with the needed skills and a “work the problem” attitude. Every project manager needs to share their plan and communicate to meet their stakeholders’ needs.

And sometimes, you just need to set the flight computer aside and pull the trigger like you’re shooting womp rats back on Tatooine. Maybe you won’t get a medal at the end, but neither did Chewie or R2-D2. They understood that success is its own reward.

7 Signs Your Project Management Tool is Working for You

Imagine this. You walk into your Monday morning stand-up meeting. Everyone’s there, coffee in-hand, smiling. Why are they smiling, on a Monday no less? Because last week’s project was completed early and under budget.

Smiles on a Monday morning is just one sign that your PM solution is working. Here are seven more:

Your project schedule is up-to-date and reliable.
When each team member is responsible for updating project progress and communicating changes, your project management solution becomes integrated into your daily work. Your project manager is facilitating the project and working with the team, instead of chasing them for updates.

Priorities are clear.
When projects and tasks are organized by priority, you never doubt what you should be working on. A solution that notifies you when priorities change gives you access to the most up-to-date project plan.

You know what your team is working on.
At any moment you can see what your team is working on, what they have done this week, and what is coming up. You have complete visibility. You never worry about a project slipping due to a communication error because all project information is in one location.

Your project deadlines are realistic.
Your project deadlines are based on ranged estimates that account for uncertainty. At-risk items are flagged so you can react fast. Deadlines are reachable, and you have the data to back that up.

New work doesn’t destroy the plan.
With an agile, flexible project management tool, you can easily see if you have the bandwidth to take on more work and who has the flexibility to work on this project. Or, you can use data to explain why a new project needs to be pushed off.

Resources are not overbooked.
You know how to reallocate team members when deadlines change. You have the ability to look at each person’s workload and decide who has time to take on more work or if you need to recruit more help.

Your relationship with clients and stakeholders is strong.
If you have a reliable project plan, you can give your clients and stakeholders real information. You can show them why a project will not reach a deadline or what will happen if they make a change to the plan. Rather than guessing or giving false information, you are giving them answers based on data.

So, did you find yourself nodding along? Or does your project management tool leave something to be desired?

Take our project management heath check to find out if your project management tool is working for you or against you!

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.

Looking for more project management know-how? 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

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