Category Archives: Teams

5 Time Tracking Myths Debunked

Hello! You’re probably here because you don’t track time on your projects. I’d like to convince you that you should.

I get why you don’t – I really do. For a long time, I resisted timesheets too. They took too long to fill in and weren’t accurate enough to use for any serious management information.

We used spreadsheets. We don’t do it that way any longer.

Time tracking is all grown up, and it’s a totally different game today. Here are 5 of the most common myths about tracking time. It’s time (did you see what I did there?) to shake off those limiting beliefs and embrace digital time clocks!

Honestly, it’s worth it. This first myth will tell you why.

Myth #1: Time Tracking Adds No Value

I hear this myth the most, so let’s address it first. Time tracking for time tracking’s sake adds no value. That’s the same as anything else you do that delivers no benefit and is just an administrative overhead – any process can fall into this category. And you strip those out pretty quickly, right?

There is immense value in time tracking, if you know what you are looking for.

First, tracking time on projects records how much effort was spent on particular tasks. LiquidPlanner has intelligent scheduling, and the data feeds into that. The more data you feed the engine, the more accurate your schedule becomes. The better your schedule, the easier it is for you to plan upcoming tasks, anticipate future problems, and help steer your project over the finish line.

Second, tracking time gives you accurate management and status reports. Automating reporting takes a whole extra task off your plate. And off your team’s plate too. They’ll no longer need to complete timesheets and report their hours to you. Because you’ll already know.

Third, you get to find out how much time work takes. This is gold! You can plan better. You can put together more accurate proposals for new clients. You can schedule your recruitment based on upcoming work and be able to justify to senior management why you need the extra hands. And you can be confident when you tell clients when their job will finish.

Truth: If you set it up for success, you’ll get a ton of valuable data out of your time tracking system.

Myth #2: Time Tracking Leads to Employee Burnout

You think your team is going to work more hours because they are tracking their hours?

That might happen for a week. Then they’ll realise that you aren’t measuring them on hours worked, or expecting them to do more. Modern businesses judge by results and help employees be productive while maintaining a work/life balance.

Share the data from the timesheets with the team so they can see what they are being used for and how helpful the data is for their future estimates. You need to help them move beyond thinking timesheets are a tool to beat them with. See Myth #1 for all the good stuff you get from time tracking.

Truth: The benefits far outweigh any frustrations the team might have at the beginning.

Myth #3: Time Tracking Is Only Ever a Guess Because People “Forget” To Do It

Nope. Putting off your timesheet is an excuse that might have worked a few years back. But tech moves on.

LiquidPlanner makes it easy to report your time because time tracking is built in right across the app. It’s just there in front of you.
Start the timer when you start work on a particular item and update your timesheet in real time. The system will also prompt you to add time as you add each task.

No more excuses. You don’t have to guess. You just have to click and start tracking in real time.

Truth: You can track activity in real time if you make the system simple to use.

Myth #4: Time Tracking Is All About Micromanagement

While I know there must be micromanagers out there, I haven’t come across them in the nimble organizations that make a success of their industry. They don’t last. And if your boss is great in all other respects, having timesheets isn’t going to suddenly make her a micromanager.

I guarantee that your normally-sensible line manager is not going to pour over your timesheets like they’re the latest J. K. Rowling novel. He might get over excited at first with all the lovely rich data that’s coming out of them, but very soon you’ll all come to expect that level of management information to help you make the best decisions.

Truth: Managers are looking for trends and big picture data, not how you spent your last hour on Friday afternoon.

Myth #5: Time Tracking Takes Too Much Time

Well, it might, if you ask people to keep spreadsheets of their hours and then you have to collate the team’s timesheets manually each month. Ain’t no one got time for that!

But that’s old-style thinking. Cloud-based tools offer fast, slick solutions to tracking time, all of which take you minutes per week.
The Timesheet tab on the LiquidPlanner workspace lets you see a list of all your work sorted by weeks. Everything is there: your top priorities for the day, last week’s tasks, and what you’ve got planned for the future. It’s simple to add time to the tasks in this view, or add the hours as you work on the tasks if you prefer. You have options. Pick the one that works best for you or mix and match depending on how you are working that day.

Truth: You can complete your timesheets quickly if you use the right tools.

Time tracking’s all grown up. It’s frictionless. The hurdles and hoops are gone and the benefits are huge. What’s still holding you back from gaining a better view of how your business makes and spends money?

AskElizabethCTA

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

How to Run an Effective Meeting: Lessons from Pixar, Apple, and Amazon

Every day, millions of Americans lose precious minutes of their lives to meetings. Boring, unproductive meetings.

Harvard Business School professor Nancy Koehn estimates that Americans attend 11 million formal meetings every day, about 4 billion meetings a year. And over half of the people her team surveyed said the meetings were unproductive. Ouch.

Don’t despair just yet. Forward-thinking executives have found ways to make their meetings more productive, cost-effective, and efficient. Borrow some of their strategies for making meetings less of a timesuck:
 

To get the best ideas, invite candor and constructive criticism into your meeting room.

 
It’s a common refrain echoed in many corporate rooms around America: leave criticism and negative feedback at the door. The idea was first championed by Alex Osborn, an advertising executive who pioneered the brainstorm.

In his book “Your Creative Power” he writes, “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud.”

While it sounds good in theory, many researchers have argued that this approach often results in fewer ideas and less creativity. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney, would agree.

Catmull has built a culture where people feel free to share their ideas, opinions and even criticisms. In his book “Creativity, Inc.”, Catmull writes that candor is the key to Pixar’s success. Rather than checking opinions and criticism at the door, Catmull encourages his team to embrace and share them.

He writes, “Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so–to go, as I say, ‘from suck to not-suck.’”

While Pixar president Ed Catmull uses the word candor to describe his meeting style, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s style could be described as confrontational. One of Amazon’s Leadership Principles sums it up: “Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting.”

Bezos is well known for hating “social cohesion”, our human tendency to seek agreement and consensus. Like Catmull, he encourages his employees to call out bad ideas, disagree, and challenge each other.

In your next meeting, encourage open dialogue and embrace candor (and maybe even a little conflict). Don’t be afraid to debate ideas, ask questions, and push ideas toward excellence.
 

Keep it small, smart, and simple. (Or, would two pizzas feed everyone in this meeting?)

In his book “Insanely Simple,” longtime Steve Jobs collaborator Ken Segall tells the story of a weekly meeting with Apple’s ad agency. Jobs had just begun the meeting when he noticed someone new. “Who are you?” he asked. When her answer didn’t suffice, Jobs replied, “I don’t think we need you in this meeting. Thanks.” As she collected her belongings, Jobs continued the meeting as if nothing had happened.

This principle of keeping meetings small is part of Jobs’ larger focus on Simplicity, one of the driving forces behind Apple. “When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential participant. Spectators were not welcome,” Segall writes.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos follows the Two Pizza Rule. When you’re creating a meeting invitation, consider the number of people you can feed with two pizzas. That’s the most you should invite.

The idea is that smaller teams can help reduce groupthink, wasted time, and watered down ideas. Keep it small, simple, and don’t let anyone go hungry.
 

Ban presentations and replace bullet points with narrative.

 

Jeff Bezos doesn’t have time for PowerPoint presentations. He’d much rather read a 6-page memo.

Seriously. Executive team meetings at Amazon begin with everyone absorbing the written word – sometimes for 30 minutes. These memos, which the executives call “narratives”, have four main elements:

  1. The context or question.
  2. Approaches to answer the question – by whom, by which method, and their conclusions.
  3. How is your attempt at answering the question different or the same from previous approaches?
  4. Now what? – that is, what’s in it for the customer, the company, and how does the answer to the question enable innovation on behalf of the customer?

While it would be easy to quickly gloss over these points in a presentation, writing a structured narrative requires the author to form coherent thoughts, dig deep into the subject, anticipate tough questions, and formulate responses. The narratives also give everyone a chance to be heard, especially those who prefer to “speak” through writing rather than an oral presentation.

If you start asking your team for 6-page memos before every meeting, you could have a mutiny on your hands. But, you can encourage your team to spend less time creating beautiful presentations and more time on thinking through the real meat of the subject they’re addressing.
 

More Meeting Tips from Executives

 
Here are some additional tips from America’s top executives:

Have a stated purpose or agenda. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer requires an agenda in advance of every meeting. By sending it in advance, participants can prepare, know what will be discussed, and see if they’re relevant to the meeting versus being part of a blanket invite. Sticking to prepared agendas during meetings helps attendees focus on the goal and what needs to be achieved.

Create a list of action items at the end of every meeting. The follow-up memo was a go-to tool for Alfred Sloan, who ran GM from the 1920s to the ‘50s. After each meeting, he would send a memo to all participants that outlined decisions made, action items, deadlines, and the executives responsible for each item.

Set an end time. Constraints, deadlines, and limitations often lead to bursts of creativity, while a meeting with no end leads to…well, not much. Need help keeping yourself accountable? Try setting a timer.

Have you tried any of these strategies? If so, what has (or hasn’t) worked for you in the past?

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”, as well as our productivity toolkit.

5 Practical Habits for Today's Project Manager

How Market Research Firm PortMA Stays Organized with LiquidPlanner

organized

At LiquidPlanner, we love hearing how teams are benefiting from our project management solution. Recently, we came across an article written by Chris Clegg, President of PortMA, about how his team of remote workers stays organized when there are a ton of complex projects running at the same time.

PortMA, or Portland Marketing Analytics, is a market research firm that specializes in the measurement and analysis of event marketing return-on-investment and advertising communication. In this work, they service a number of marketing and advertising agencies in the U.S. with design, data collection, analysis, and reporting services, doing anywhere from 50 to 70 projects per year in a wide range of industries.

After reading Chris’ article, we reached out to find out more! We asked Chris how he found LiquidPlanner and how LiquidPlanner has helped his team.

What prompted your search for a new project management solution?

“We outgrew Basecamp. As that platform advanced, it moved away from what we needed. At the core, we needed templates, task dependencies, resource planning, and risk management tools. LiquidPlanner fit the bill on all fronts and has shown us a number of additional features we didn’t know we needed. We’re a better, stronger business because of what LiquidPlanner allows us to do.”

 How does LiquidPlanner help your team?

“We work entirely from within LiquidPlanner. All of our internal and external project work is spec’d out in detail with time estimates, assignments, and work orders within the LiquidPlanner system. And then our daily time tracking is submitted against LiquidPlanner tasks to help us monitor our progress against contract deliverable items in real-time. Research Managers and supporting staff are updating their projects and related tasks on a daily basis to keep things moving smoothly. At any given time, we might have 15 to 25 contracts running simultaneously, each with dozens of weekly task items. Without LiquidPlanner we’d be so lost in the weeds, we’d never get anything done. The flat resource planning model and how it defines deadline risks allows us to deal with reality and not bury staff under unreasonable deadlines.

Finally, I’d mention that the template function really serves as our playbook. We’ve built out detailed project templates with descriptions on what each task is, how it’s done, and why. We’ve then added extensive checklist items to define the specifics of what is expected on a given task. This services as our documented corporate processes that allows for work to be quickly handed off from one person to another seamlessly without cutting corners.”

Take a look at the original article “How To Organize A Team Of Remote Knowledge Workers” written by Chris Clegg, President of PortMA.

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

Take the assessment!

The Real Story Behind Why Your Organization Wants You to Track Time

 

track time

For organizations that track time, there’s always going to be some resistance—or at least questions about it. Even if nobody says it out loud, I’ll bet your employees are at least wondering: “Why on earth is my company making me track time?”

It’s easy to feel like tracking time is a way for leadership to keep an eye on the rank and file. But that’s far from the truth—leaders are busy people. And remember, if you’re tracking your time, your managers probably are too.

Time tracking isn’t about keeping an eye on teams’ productivity as much as it is a smart business move. Think about it: Time tracking yields data that is critical for monitoring business and employee performance. Timesheet data provides businesses with the ability to not only benchmark, but even more importantly, to forecast. Time tracking data surfaces project cost, project profitability, employee availability, employee cost, and so much more.

Whether you’re a project team member wondering “why on earth…?” or a manager who needs to answer this question—here are some ways to talk about time tracking that will get your teams to understand, and feel good about starting their timers.

For projects, time tracking is important because it:

  • Surfaces key operational metrics that might otherwise remain hidden.
  • Allows businesses to measure the true costs of any project.
  • Offers real-time visibility into work that’s been done and work that’s left to do.
  • Helps companies stick to timeline or project budgets.
  • Enables managers to understand employee utilization and capacity—and allocate accordingly.
  • Creates a historical record, enabling you to estimate future projects with greater accuracy.
  • Can save you money especially when working on a retainer basis. Time tracking is critical for preventing over-servicing.
  • Helps answer the question: “Can my team take on this new initiative?”
  • Allows for continual processes evaluation and improvement.

For employees, time tracking is important because it:

  • Gives insight into how much time is going into different tasks and projects.
  • Yields data that can be used to ask for more resources, a raise, even a promotion.
  • Fosters autonomy.
  • Helps keep track of remote or freelance workers.
  • Provides insight into what an ideal work process looks like.
  • Helps stay in a productivity flow, and limit interruptions.
  • Empowers employees to use their own data for goal setting and/or decision-making.
  • Provides data that can be used to reward employees who meet or exceed project deadlines, budgets and goals.
  • It keeps employees from being overschedule and overworked—which improves engagement, boosts morale and increases productivity.

Let your employees in

Time tracking comes alive when teams feel like they play an integral part of the work being accomplished. So, if you’re a team leader or a manager, provide knowledge. This means letting your team in on the story of why everyone’s doing the work they’re doing: what the purpose is and how a particular project moves the business forward. Address what’s in it for them and their career, too. Empower individuals—give each person the right amount of autonomy to make decisions, so team members feel like they’re contributing to the momentum of this larger story. Make people feel that they’re a key to success. Once team members feel like they’re part of things, they can begin to understand the value of tracking time—because it will matter to them as well.

Time tracking is a common project management challenge. Want solutions to more? Download our eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How to Create an Innovative Project Team

Innovative project teams are increasingly becoming an invaluable asset for corporations. Not only is it becoming vital that project teams make use of the latest technological advancements in the products and services that they’re developing; it’s also vital that teams continuously improve the way in which they work—and that they find new and innovative ways of cutting costs in order to stay competitive.

product team

Not long ago I went to China to coach a team from a global electronics firm. They are market leaders, renowned for their quality and cutting-edge products. Still, this organization is facing strong competition on price from other players. Consequently, each year the head of product development challenges the teams to cut costs—sometimes by up to 20 percent—to stay competitive. When looking at how to cut costs, the teams have to be exceptionally innovative in the way they approach the design and production of their products.

Continuously coming up with new ways of working and developing products and services is a skill—a dynamic property that all successful teams will need to develop to lead the competition.

How do you create an innovative team, and encourage cutting edge ideas? Here are five ways to play the innovation game:

1. Seek inspiration from outside the team

Innovation isn’t necessarily about inventing something that’s totally unique and has never been done before. Instead, it could be leveraging an existing idea or technology from another industry and embedding it within the team’s products and procedures.

As the artist Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy; great artist steal.” Most industries are advancing at a faster pace than ever before, and there are lots of ideas that can be transferred if you keep your fingers on the pulse. Innovative teams keep abreast of what’s happening in the world around them. They read blogs and trade magazines, attend conferences and trade shows and spend time with other teams who they might learn from and get inspired by. If teams work in silos and rarely get exposed to other ways of working, they’re a lot less likely to come up with new ideas. Innovative teams and people look outside of themselves for inspiration.

2. Share information effectively inside the team

It’s not sufficient for teams to get inspired by new ideas from the outside world if the information isn’t shared with the rest of the team. It’s the team that has the power to collectively do something with an idea—from improving it to ultimately integrating it.

Every team member plays a pivotal role, and every team member is kept in the loop of the latest thinking so that they can be effective in their roles and further develop the ideas. Innovative teams are great communicators and have an effective way of disseminating information between its members. It’s been proven that one of the most efficient ways of encouraging the flow of information is by spending time face-to-face. And this is exactly what innovative teams do. They physically sit next to one another where possible; when it’s not possible, these teams spend time on video conference, sharing what they know.

3. Be a leader who stimulates creativity

Innovative teams are led by someone who recognizes that if you don’t enable people to innovate then it won’t happen. We could call such a leader a Multiplier. A Multiplier is skilled at getting the best from people and at creating an environment where the best ideas surface. These leaders stimulate creativity by asking why and what-if questions and by shifting the burden of thinking onto the team. Multipliers want to learn from people around them, so instead of providing the right answers they simply ask the right questions. In other words, they create debate and invite the team to fill in the blanks.

Teams who are led by the opposite type of leader – a Diminisher – will feel stifled. Diminishers tend to be controlling and want to take the credit for innovative ideas themselves.  Instead of shifting responsibility to the team, they stay in charge and tell others – in detail – how to do their job. Invariably, innovative teams would never be innovative if they were lead by a Diminisher.

4. Take time to experiment and play

Put a value on taking the time to come up with new ideas! Teams that work to a tight delivery schedule and who are frequently being monitored and controlled will tend to come up with fewer new ideas because there’s no time devoted to them. Innovative teams, on the other hand, create the time and the space to consider how something can be done differently. They take time out to experiment and to play; their physical work environments will often stimulate idea generation.

In some cases, innovative teams are given an amount of unstructured time where they can work on anything they like, as long as there are results to be shown—made famous by Google back in the day. When teams play and experiment, some ideas will invariably fail—something that innovative teams see as a necessary part of the process, which helps guide them in the right direction.

5. Hire a mix of skills and personality types

Innovative teams are made up of people with a range of personality types and a mix of skills. When teams become too uniform they don’t have enough breadth to fully develop and implement new ideas. An innovative team isn’t just composed of creative types, but also of people with deep technical knowledge who have a more pragmatic approach.

Generating new ideas is one thing, but choosing the best one and successfully implementing it is something entirely different. In spite of their diverse strengths and skills, innovative teams are exceptionally supportive of each other, and are what psychologists call, socially sensitive. This means that not only do team members respect each other and make space for each individual to contribute on equal terms, they are also sensitive to each other’s moods and behaviors. This sensitivity creates a safe space for people because they know that their thoughts and ideas will be encouraged and listened to.

Step bravely and uniquely into the future

Increased competition and technological advancements mean that it’s becoming more important for successful teams to be innovative. Forward-thinking teams are aware of the world around them and willing to take risks; they know how to move on from mistakes and keep executing until they hit on a new market need or improve on an existing one.

Put these five practices into action and you could be surprised what your team is capable of. This might be your best year ever!

The future of industry is changing. Innovative teams are turning to new dynamic processes and software to support the speed of doing business. To learn more about how LiquidPlanner supports innovative teams, read our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management Software.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Advice for Project Managers: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Setting Goals

Advice for project managers
 

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

 

Dear Elizabeth: My company’s management team is talking a lot about the incoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. I’m hearing a lot about how we’re going to have to increase productivity and flexibility in our processes. As a product team manager this sounds exciting but I’m not sure what to do to prepare. Advice? –Lagging Behind

Dear Lagging: Industry 4.0 is all about the Internet of Things and bringing computers and automation together in an entirely new way. It’s pretty cool, and it’s great that you are thinking about it now.

Being more flexible and increasing productivity is something that managers through the ages have aspired to. The reason we have robots on manufacturing lines is because someone wanted better productivity than what could be achieved with human workers. So in many respects, the ideas are things that you’ve been subconsciously aware of for some time.

I would start by looking at the flows of work in your area and around your product. Approaches like Six Sigma and Lean can help here: Ultimately you are trying to find duplicated effort and waste in the process so that you can strip it out. I’ve always thought that was a good starting point but it doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes you’ll need to totally re-engineer a process to make it incrementally more productive and your team might already have some ideas about how to do that. Why not ask them?

Aside from that, think about the tools you use and how they are going to support you. Software like LiquidPlanner allows you to stay flexible and shift between priorities, so make sure that you have the underpinning infrastructure and systems to meet the demand for flexibility when it comes.

Dear Elizabeth: It’s that time of year again—reviewing the year gone by and preparing for 2017 goals and commitments. I could use some new ideas to get myself and my team excited about reviewing what they’ve accomplished and using that to set up some goals they’re excited about. Any tips? – Goal Tender

Dear Goal Tender: First, congratulations on caring enough about your team that you want them to be excited about the coming year and what they’ve achieved. Far too many people in your situation see end-of-year reviews as a bureaucratic process to get through before they leave for the holidays. So, kudos to you!

I find that team members have short memories and will often only bring to the table things that they have achieved in the last few months. You could give them a template that says things like:

  • In March I achieved . . .
  • In April I delighted this customer . . .

And so on. Ask them to go through their project plans, notebooks and emails to find the examples if they don’t immediately spring to mind. There are a ton of achievements stored in their project management software so they will be able to find something, I promise.

As for 2017, you could think forward and ask them to imagine what their 2017 end of year review would look like. What do they hope they have achieved? What projects would they like to have worked on, or what skills would they have developed? This can help build a sense of interest in the coming year.

Finally, use the end of year conversations with your team to share with them as much as you can about the wider business plans. People are inspired when they know they are part of a company that is going somewhere. Talk about the plans you have for new clients and new projects and business developments. Show them what they could be part of over the next 12 months.

Have a question for Elizabeth? Email:  MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.”

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?