Category Archives: Project Management

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

7 Signs You Don’t Have the Right Project Management Tool for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Vector illustration. Turning oil barrels into gold bars.

 “Adapt or perish,” said H.G. Wells, the father of science fiction. Some of us know all too well how right-on this quote is to succeeding in business these days—especially when it comes to staying competitive in what’s being called the  Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It’s an exciting time and a challenging time. Advanced technology, like in the previous industrial revolutions, is increasing the speed of manufacturing and doing business. This means that organizations and their product teams need to use software that supports faster turnover and accomplishes more with fewer resources.

Beware the trap of using yesterday’s tools 

Being flexible is going to be the key to managing productivity and to business success in Industry 4.0. Most importantly, teams will need new world tools to manage new world demands. In a recent LiquidPlanner survey of more than 100 manufacturers across the U.S., 62 percent of respondents said they were looking to build revenue and cut costs over the next year by “boosting productivity.” At the same time, almost 80 percent of respondents said they use spreadsheets to manage their projects. But. But—

How do you do increase productivity in a new world when using old world tools? Consider this: Gantt charts were first developed in the 1910s, a tool that uses rigid start and finish dates, which don’t reflect changes in real time. The first spread sheet was invented in 1979—and spread sheets still require manual updating. Consequently, they are famously neglected and out of date.

Signs you’re using the wrong project management tool for Industry 4.0

  • Interdependent teams work at cross-purposes because they have no way to stay on top of each other’s progress.
  • Projects and deliveries are often late.
  • Your supply chain is over-extended and chaotic.
  • A chronic state of panic runs through your projects.
  • Customers are dissatisfied. You’ve even lost a few over the years. Some are hanging by a thread.
  • Employees are leaving. Team members are overworked and burnt out.
  • Competitors are beating you to market. You risk becoming irrelevant.

Being flexible and using a platform that can respond to change and predict finish dates is going to be key to managing productivity and business success.

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

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Advice for Project Managers: The Productivity Roller Coaster and Starting Projects too Soon

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:
I run a product team that responds to seasonal demands, and our output fluctuates. We have times when we’re very busy and then a couple of weeks where it’s slow. There’s always work to be done, but when demand ebbs, people’s productivity and engagement does as well. How do I keep my team engaged and motivated during these slow periods? – Riding the Productivity Rollercoaster

Dear Riding: Let me be a little bit controversial here. How much does it matter if your team has a slow period? If demand is down, and that’s affecting their engagement and motivation, unless they are being downright unprofessional, perhaps you could cut them some slack. It’s hard to remain 100 percent motivated every day of every year, and engagement wanes too.

Not having an interesting piece of work to do is naturally a bit demotivating but that doesn’t stop them switching to “motivated mode” as soon as the next big assignment comes in. As long as they aren’t using your resources to print out copies of their resume then maybe you want to let them off. Think of it as time that they are using to recharge their batteries until the next busy period.

Having said that, I know why you want to keep the team engaged and motivated, so let’s get back to your question. The first thing to look for is whether there is a pattern. Can you predict when the slower times will be? If so, think ahead and start looking for activities to fill the gaps. These activities might not be what you might call true work but you could organize a staff conference, a team building event, or schedule some professional training for the team. It’s also a time for cross-skilling, where team members can teach each other their particular expertise so you have more cover for vacation and sickness, as well as a broader skill base in the team.

It’s hard to give a blanket recommendation for how to motivate people because everyone is motivated by different things. Some may appreciate the ability to take some extra time off in lieu of hours worked during the busy times. Others may find motivation in being asked to step up and take on more responsibility, such as helping to plan the next big push. Tasks that might take longer if someone less experienced did them would be good to schedule in the slow periods too, as a way of building confidence and leadership in the team.

Dear Elizabeth: I work on a product team with a very efficient manager—too efficient!  In her efforts to make deadlines, she often has us start early on work—before we have all the requirements. It feels productive at first, but then as requirements change, we end up going back and redoing or fixing work and start to fall behind. And we look bad. I’ve tried talking to my manager but she still has us do these early project starts. She doesn’t understand that waiting for full requirements actually saves time. Advice? – Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: That’s a hard one. The issue isn’t the early starts but the fact that she doesn’t listen to you. It’s great that she’s efficient but her method doesn’t work and you’ve offered constructive advice which she has ignored. So let’s think about some ways to get her to take your advice seriously.

First, would it be more effective coming from someone else? Please don’t take this personally but it’s often the case that individuals are influenced more by their peers or managers than their subordinates. While it’s grating to think that if she heard the same thing from a peer she’d act on it, when you’ve been telling her and getting ignored, the end result is the same and it’s a win for you. So if you can take your own ego out of the situation and work on ways to influence her through the people she listens to, that could work.

It might be hard to approach her boss, but if you have relationships with other managers who could take your side, then that’s a route to try.

Another option would be to ask your customers to provide feedback. Maybe she’d listen if she heard it directly from them? You don’t have to be blunt about it: do a client survey and ask what went well and what didn’t, and try to get some commentary around how they felt about the delays and what they felt could have been done differently to avoid those.

Finally, (and this can be a risky approach!), just say no. “Thanks for the suggestion that we start work now but I’m going to wait until we’ve got the full requirements. That will be at the end of the month so what I can work on before then is X, Y and Z to be totally ready.”

This approach is one that I wouldn’t advise in all cases. Also, I don’t know enough about your workplace culture and your boss to know if it is going to be suitable for you – but you’ll know if you or a more senior colleague have enough confidence and credibility to pull it off. Directly challenging your boss in a nice way might get the result you’re after.

As a general comment on saying No to your manager, I speak to a lot of people who would never dare challenge their boss. But they are just human, like you and me. Be empowered and take responsibility for your own success, and be excellent in the work that you do. If your manager challenges you back, go with it and put your objections in writing (nicely) so you’ve got some kind of comeback if they then blame you for the late finish later.

Good luck!

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

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

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

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

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

Download the eBook now!

Are You Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

3 Product Updates Corral Project Data More Efficiently Than Ever

Custom Field

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

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

These updates are:

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

Here’s a look at each update.

More Custom Fields

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

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

r74 custom fields

Dashboard Archives

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

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

r74 dashboard

Analytics Summation

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

r74 summation

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

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

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

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

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What Puts Manufacturing Teams Ahead: Lean Six Sigma

Manufacturing Six Sigma

In any given year, I attend a lot of project management conferences. There are always common themes that come up at these conferences, but these days it seems that you can’t turn around without getting smacked in the face by Lean Six Sigma. It’s everywhere, and it’s not a fad. Lean Six Sigma has been growing up for quite a while now. It’s no longer the new kid on the block. It’s more like the youth who went away to school and returned as a ripped 26-year-old athlete. It has matured in all the right ways, and right now it is entering a golden age.

Before we go any further, allow me to make a confession: I believe that Lean Six Sigma is the dharma path for much of manufacturing. That is true, at least, until someone discovers a better way, which they eventually will. It’s true for manufacturing projects, but innovators are also extending it to projects trying to create a standardized outcome for their service delivery. Quality is quality, and Lean Six Sigma can push yours higher.

Why Lean Six Sigma Now?

Manufacturing had a long, slow progression up until the industrial revolution when the shift from the craftsman to the assembly line changed everything. Despite the fact that we lost some of the handmade beauty, we gained two really powerful things: predictability and repeatability. The trouble is, just because something is predictable and repeatable doesn’t necessarily make it good or high quality. When I was growing up, my friend had a 1971 Pinto. It was very predictable, and we spent a lot of time on the side of the road as a consequence.

This is where Lean Six Sigma enters into the equation. It basically looks at the process, the design, and the outcome and makes data-drive decisions to guide you in improving them. Companies like IBM and GE that have implemented this have seen incredible results that translated into economic growth.

What Makes Lean Six Sigma So Great?

Lean Six Sigma tools and methodologies are a gift to project managers who are responsible to deliver world-class quality as part of their outcome. Here’s why: As the name implies, Lean Six Sigma is a philosophy and a toolset made up of Lean principles and Six Sigma methodologies.  The Lean component focuses primarily on efficiency and eliminating waste, while the Six Sigma component helps make things consistent and predictable. Together this is a combination that has not been surpassed. Seriously—it’s better than red wine and dark chocolate.

Lean Six Sigma strips down all of the processes to their shiny, bare essentials and then tunes them to be highly reliable. When it’s done right, your manufacturing project hums along like a finely tuned engine. In my opinion, getting to this stage is some of the most important work a project manager will do or oversee.

Waste relentlessly creeps into manufacturing projects from multiple angles. It is a distraction and a drain on profits at best, but it can sink successful companies when it rises to even moderate levels. The Lean community looks for waste in Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Overproduction, and Defects (abbreviated as TIMWOOD). Lean’s goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate waste in these areas, and it’s not a one-time activity. You perform it over and over, constantly seeking to improve your practice and waste less. The tricky part is that waste can sometimes be easy to see but difficult to eliminate. The good news is that once you do eliminate it, everyone benefits—your employees, the customer, and the performing organization.

The Six Sigma component seeks to make your quality consistent and to improve it to world-class level. It gives you tools to track issues, prioritize them, and systematically eliminate them. Six Sigma looks at the raw materials, the work being done, the product’s design, and the end result in order to tune them for improvement.

When Lean and Six Sigma are combined properly, it can create a magical benefit where your organization not only gets better, but it can achieve the mythical unicorn status of getting better at getting better. It’s like unlocking a secret level of efficiency.

How to Get Started

So If you’ve decided that Lean Six Sigma might be useful, where do you begin? Here are four steps to help you get underway.

1. Stop and look at your process.

Take a step away from your current process, and use fresh optics to take it all in from the top down. One great way to help with this is to create a Value Stream Map. This is where you map out the entire workflow, step by step, and carefully examine each element. Then you determine whether or not these steps add value. If it does not add value, then the step is flagged for elimination. A good Lean Six Sigma initiative puts a lot of energy into streamlining processes.

2. Measure and collect data.

If you have a manufacturing process as part of your project, then empirical measurements become all important. This is particularly true when it comes to issues and defects. Collect the metrics that tell the whole story. As Peter Drucker famously said: “What gets measured gets improved.”

Whenever something undesirable happens, lead your team through root cause analysis to understand the fundamental reason why. Then you attack these underlying causes, starting with the ones that will have the largest impact. Your goal is to get it right and then to remove any variance at production levels. In other words, nail it and scale it.

3. Train your team.

One reason training helps is that it develops a common vocabulary when it comes to production quality; another reason for training is to keep the concepts front and center. Lean Six Sigma can give quick benefits, but it’s arguably like exercise. The best benefits are realized over a long period time.

4. Focus on the Process

If you get the process right, the outcome will follow. Sometimes it takes time, but the process always drives the outcome. Be patient and relentless when it comes to this.

Even if you are not ready to commit to an entire formal Lean Six Sigma program, these steps will help you get started on the path. And this path is the one which separates the best companies in the world from all the rest.

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

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

5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some project management trends we can expect to see in 2017. With all the talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and anticipation among future-thinkers and business leaders around Industry 4.0, a lot of industry trends and processes are focused on how to succeed in a new world of technology, market demands and productivity requirements.

2017 project management trends

As always, market forces continue to influence how businesses manage their projects. To prepare for what’s ahead, here are five project management industry trends that will gain traction in 2017.

1. IIoT becomes a project foundation

While IoT made our 2016 project management trends list, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is going to hold sway over manufacturing project teams in 2017 and well beyond.

Open source development platforms will make IIoT development possible for even smaller to mid-sized manufacturing firms. Each of those IIoT devices implemented across a manufacturing facility will generate data on the health of the machinery. That data, in turn, will be a foundation for new implementations, maintenance, and just daily operations.

IIoT will bring changes to project management, including:

  • New challenges to support a constant availability of systems
  • More analysis work on part of project managers and their teams because of the explosion in data that  IIoT bring to the company
  • The need for an IIoT strategy across the manufacturing floor.

Such a fundamental change in the foundation of projects will drive project managers to adjust their frameworks, strategies and how they deliver projects to their customers.

2. Big data and analytics join the project team

Big data and analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry. I’ve been tracking the influence of big data and analytics in IT project management, but manufacturing project management is going to take these technologies to a whole new level.

With IIoT, project teams will be building out more analytics tools and dashboards to give executive management insights into the manufacturing systems under their control.

Analytics will also have some profound changes over project management because of the unprecedented access to analytics including:

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

While prescriptive analytics might seem a bit Star Trek, think of how simulation algorithms could improve how you plan projects and even staff scheduling!

3. Flexible knowledge management

The changing workforce in manufacturing is going to require project managers to keep knowledge management (KM) flexible to meet the learning needs of a transitional workforce on the manufacturing floor. You can expect to see more KM in the cloud, as more companies retire legacy KM solutions that have been cobbled together over the years. Don’t expect to see any new KM platforms entering the market; with the volume of data and documentation that manufacturing project teams produce, cloud collaboration platforms (with full featured mobile clients) will effectively handle the growth in KM.

2017 will also mark more decentralization of KM because of the growth of the cloud inside the manufacturing enterprise. Project teams will add KM to their already growing list of tasks.

4. Project management platform by API

Project management tools started on paper, moved to the desktop PC, then evolved into the cloud and mobile. You can expect to see what I call project management by application programming interface (API) as a future trend. It’s where project management extends beyond your cloud project management platform of choice through integration with other backend business platforms–whether it’s your enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, customer relationship management (CRM) platform or some legacy applications your internal development team has already migrated to the cloud.

Digital transformation and the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will start pushing this trend in 2017 and over the next few years.

5. Mobile project management tools and strategies

The primary interface to project management applications in a manufacturing environment is going to be mobile first. Project managers walking the floor, going to meetings, and working with machinery will need real-time access to project management data anytime, anywhere–and not just from their desk.

Mesh networks and next-generation WiFi will help push this trend forward. Not to mention, project management tool vendors must continue improving user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) to push this trend fully to its potential.

Look for service engineers to get their assignments and report on their activities directly from their mobile or handheld devices. Some are saying that mobility faces an uphill battle in manufacturing. I see project management as the best on-ramp for firms to go mobile. I see shadow IT and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) igniting this trend inside mid- to large-sized companies until budgets and the IT department align.

To a successful 2017!

It will be interesting to see how this year takes us further into Industry 4.0. However the markets unfold and affect businesses, the way teams manage projects is changing to keep up with shifting productivity demands. The organizations that can harness these trends will find themselves as leaders in their industries.

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

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