Category Archives: Teams

Getting Your Team to Use LiquidPlanner: Sell Benefits, Not Features

Congratulations–you’re the proud owner of a new project management tool. You made it through the evaluation process, the trials, the executive sign-off.

But your greatest challenge still lies ahead: convincing your team to actually use (and perhaps even enjoy) this new tool.

This challenge is not to be taken lightly. Do it poorly, and you risk failure. You don’t want that. Your boss doesn’t want that. The business definitely doesn’t want that.

So you have to do it right–the first time. Just one slight problem…

Change is hard.

“We’re too busy to learn a new tool.”

“Our current process is working fine. Why change?”

“I don’t use our current tool. A new one won’t help me.”

Convincing your team to adopt (and love) LiquidPlanner will take some work. But it’s definitely possible, and we’re going to help you do it.

Sell Benefits, Not Features

“Features tell, but benefits sell.”

This common refrain, uttered in marketing departments the world over, serves as a reminder to ask, “What’s in it for our customer?” In this case, your customer is, you guessed it, your team.

If you start by rattling off a whole lot of features, you’ll quickly lose their attention. Persuading your team requires a mix of features and benefits. To get to those benefits, you want to use the “So what?” trick.

Here’s how it works: Pretend you’re selling an in-window air conditioner to your team. (Just stick with me here.)

The particular air conditioner comes with a mounting kit.

So what?

It can be safely and easily secured in most windows.

So what?

You can use the unit in any room in your home.

So what?

The in-window air conditioner can be safely and securely installed in any room of your home. You can enjoy the cooling satisfaction of air conditioning without the high costs of installing and maintaining a forced air system. It’s an effective, efficient, and inexpensive solution for hot days.

By using the So what? method, you’ve shown how this solution can meet their needs. This method works for any product, including project management software. Use it to start brainstorming about ways to position LiquidPlanner as a solution to your team’s needs.

To get you started, we’ve compiled talking points around three team-focused benefits: consolidation, collaboration, and autonomy.

Benefit #1: Consolidation

On the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, the New York Times published a video about “all the things this ubiquitous gadget has laid to waste.” The list runs the gamut, from taxis to cameras to small talk in elevators.

What would have once filled a box (address books, photo albums, day planner, alarm clock, watch…you get the point) now fits in the palm of our hand. It’s an amazing feat for something that originated as a way to make telephone calls.

Were you anticipating this metaphor? Here it is: LiquidPlanner is like the iPhone.

Yes, I know. Project management software will never be as far-reaching or monumental as the iPhone. But, for the people who use the tools on a daily basis, it can sometimes feel like it, for better or for worse.

Like the iPhone, LiquidPlanner combines several tools into one:

  • Email (You can’t rid yourself of it completely, but the number of emails sent and received can be reduced.)
  • Slack, Yammer, and other IM communication platforms
  • Time tracking software
  • Spreadsheets
  • To-do lists
  • Calendars

If your team spends a lot of time jumping between different applications, this could be a major selling point. Consolidation also reduces time spent copying and pasting the same information across different applications. All conversations, documents, and plans are in one place.

Here’s a video you can share with your team to give them a quick overview and get them excited about LiquidPlanner:

Pitch It to Your Team

With LiquidPlanner, we can consolidate our project toolkit, workflow, and project plans into one. We’ll no longer need to juggle multiple applications, saving us time and headaches. Plus, we’ll all have real-time visibility into our projects with just one click.

Benefit #2: Faster Communication

Communication is almost always listed in those “5 Top Skills for PMs” listicles. If that’s the case, then why do so many project management tools make it so hard to communicate with the team?

LiquidPlanner knows that teams are often swimming in emails, attachments, and random Slack messages. That’s removing these roadblocks and making communication much easier is a major component of our tool.

Why teams love collaborating in LiquidPlanner:

  • Built-in collaboration features: Commenting within LiquidPlanner moves conversations out of email and IM, creating a “paper trail” that’s linked to the specific project task. @mention comments can be used to call team members’ attention and keep conversations focused.
  • Open, transparent environment: With a shared workspace, everyone can see all the tasks that make up the project and the schedule for project completion. This transparency makes it clear what needs to be done, who’s responsible for doing what, and when tasks needs to be completed.
  • Single, centralized workspace: A project workspace hosted online gives the whole team access to the information they need and a means to collaborate, via any Internet-enabled device. For geographically distributed teams, nobody loses out due to location or time difference. Information is available to the whole team 24/7, and team members don’t have to ask the project manager or wait to be spoon fed information.
  • Documents housed in one location: Team members shouldn’t have to visit several different repositories for documentation or other information they need to get the job done. This eats time and introduces version control issues (e.g., many different versions of the same document being emailed around). Documentation can be stored in the workspace itself, ideally with any associated tasks linked to it, which makes navigation a breeze.

Pitch It to Your Team

Everyone will know who’s doing what and when without having to search through email chains and multiple applications. Documents will be easier to find and organized within project plans and tasks. We can easily share documents, updates, and statuses through LiquidPlanner, giving 24/7 access to everyone.

Benefit #3: Increased Autonomy

Employing practices that make employees feel like robots on assembly lines, micromanaging for example, is a really effective way to reduce employee engagement. This leads to increased stress, higher turnover, and less effective employees.

But give them room to make their own decisions, think for themselves, and take ownership, and motivation will steadily begin to rise.

In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Really Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink cites a study conducted at Cornell University that looked at the effects of autonomy at 320 small businesses in the United States. Half of the companies granted workers more autonomy, the other relied on top-down direction.

Those businesses that gave employees autonomy:

  • Grew four times faster than the businesses using command and control management.
  • Experienced one-third of the turnover.

Obviously, there’s a fine line between giving employees autonomy over their work and letting the inmates run the prison. And, that’s where a project management tool like LiquidPlanner comes in.

One of the major differences between LiquidPlanner and a tool like Microsoft Project is increased visibility. With traditional PM tools, it’s difficult to fully collaborate. Sometimes only one person has access to the actual tool and, thus, the actual plan. Cloud-based tools allow all team members to access and work within the tool autonomously. No more waiting for updates. No more wondering what to work on next.

Now, everyone will have access to the same information at the same time. It’s easier to stay on top of what’s going on and know what needs to be done next.

And, greater autonomy = greater employee engagement.

Pitch It to Your Team

No more tracking down status updates and wondering what’s next in the project plan. With LiquidPlanner, every member of the team has 24/7, instant access our project plans. That means fewer surprises, less wait time, and the ability to see what upcoming work.

Tying It All Together

You now have three solid talking points you can use to describe the benefits of LiquidPlanner to your team. But don’t stop there. Seize the excitement and momentum of this conversation by introducing your plan for implementation.

These resources will help you build a successful rollout plan:

5 Steps to a Successful Rollout of LiquidPlanner

Preparing for Liftoff: Building an Implementation Plan

Getting Started Video Series

6 Things You Can Do to Keep Challenging Personalities in Check

It doesn’t matter what field you operate in, as soon as you bring in creative experts the potential for both personality and technical conflict increases. The why is understandable: truly creative designers and engineers who have established themselves as experts will tend to have a very strong mental model of what should happen on a project. Sometimes this vision of the future conflicts with the reality of the project scope, schedule and cost.

When this happens, it’s not a human resources issue. It’s a leadership and a project team issue that you need to resolve.

So, let’s start with why some creative-types generate so much drama in the project team. Coming from the perspective of a “creative-type”, I can understand why some skilled engineers and designers can be difficult to work with:

  • Feelings of not being heard has led them to become the loudest voice in the charrette.
  • They have a sense of entitlement built on a track record of success in their designs. This has now gone to their head and they let their ego run rampant.
  • The individual is truly a savant who happens to have a low emotional intelligence (EI) functionality.
  • They are a product of their past, with previous project managers allowing them to behave outside team norms because their technical or aesthetic designs are astounding.

Challenging Creative People Make for Better Project Deliverables

I developed my project management and leadership bona fides in an organization where you didn’t have the chance to simply drop people from the project team. It was my job to create excellence from the people presented, no matter their technical or interpersonal skills. While you may operate in an environment where you can vote challenging people off the team at the first sign of resistance, don’t.

Leadership isn’t about eliminating dissent in a team, it’s about forging a team that accepts and thrives on supportive dissent. What’s that? It is dissent intended to challenge or eliminate group-think and to ultimately lead the project team towards delivering the best quality design that meets scope, schedule, cost and quality. This isn’t going to happen in a homogeneous team where no one questions the design approach or unique risk mitigation strategies.

It’s important to have a status-quo-challenging creative person on the team. It is equally important to ensure that you set parameters, expectations and keep the creative team member on vector.

How to Lead a Creative Team Member for Team Success

In my mind, project leadership entails maximizing the effectiveness of each person on the project team. Most situations will not give you the luxury of selecting each member of the team, so you will be faced with forging an effective team with the people you’re assigned.

Even in situations where you recruit and hire specific team members or bring in outside consultants, you can miss the challenging personality trait and be faced with a challenging personnel problem.

Short of kicking the challenge off the team, let’s consider some actual leadership actions you can take to set up the creative person and entire project team for success:

Establish Expectations Early. Have a one-on-one meeting with the person to explain the norms of behavior, language, etiquette, and meeting protocols. If necessary, set up some type of sign that you give the other person when they are starting to agitate or stir the pot too much – e.g. tugging your left ear lobe or saying a phrase like “that’s interesting” while you stare directly at them.

Main point: ensure they know you will not tolerate disrespect of your project team members.

Prepare the Project Team for Personalities. If you know that a particular incoming project team member will be a personality challenge, don’t surprise the project team. For instance, let’s say you have a design or engineering consultant attending an upcoming charrette who you know to be a challenging personality.

It’s incumbent on you as the project manager to make the project team aware and to let them know why this person is being brought in. Talk about how you’ll react, as a team, to awkward situations (e.g. hot tempers or open challenges to opinions or technical ideas) so everyone is prepared.

As the project manager, visualize how you will react to these situations and at what point you’ll intervene to call a coffee break. Main point: prep the team for the personality and keep your eye on delivering a successful project.

Set a Strict Agenda in Meetings and Charrettes. If you have a full-time project team member who is a personality challenge, ensure meetings are run with a very strict agenda. This means both topical (what is discussed) and time (how long).

Don’t allow a meeting to run any longer than scheduled and if the challenging personality starts to pontificate or derail the meeting, give them the “sign” the two of you established in your one-on-one. If that doesn’t work, simply tell the person that the issue at hand will go “off-line”, meaning it will be discussed outside the current meeting. If you have a temporary team member participating in a charette, such as a consultant or individual on loan from a different division, consider having an outside facilitator run the event.

This person needs to be one with the skills for working with creative designers or engineers, and thus understands how to manage technical personalities and still deliver highly effective results.

When All Else Fails, Document. Not every situation with challenging people works out and you need to be prepared for this. That preparation starts with documenting the individual’s outbursts, inability to work collaboratively, or other instances of friction.

Be certain to highlight what the specific, negative impact is to the project in each instance. You can’t simply indicate that on “Tuesday at 3 p.m., Ted was a jerk”. Be specific and concise, while also being unemotional.

The reason you’re documenting is so that you have a record of performance you can use in private consultation with the challenging individual. If the person is part of your company, make certain that the individuals supervisor (and yours) are informed of the general situation as it develops.

Bad news isn’t like a fine wine, it doesn’t get better as it ages.

Limit Contact. Depending on your project, you may be able to limit the number of people who have to work directly with the challenging person. For instance, let’s say your project has multiple sub-components.

An outside consultant with a challenging personality is only involved in one of these sub-components and that only involves three members of your ten-person project team. Don’t expose everyone to challenging person! Limit the friction and keep the team moving forward.

When All Else Fails, Fire the Person. If, despite your best leadership efforts you can see that the project may fail because of the friction the challenging person is generating, sack them. Terminate their project team membership and ship them back to their division or terminate their contract.

If the individual is part of your company, and you have been documenting performance and sharing your concern with their supervisor, arrange a meeting with HR and their supervisor to close-out the situation. If the individual is an outside contractor, terminate the agreement with specific details on why and the negative impact on the overall project.

In the end, successful, challenging projects require subject matter experts who themselves can be challenging. Effective project managers expect that some people will bring challenging personalities into the project team and visualize how they will handle these situations. Treat this preparation just as you would treat developing risk mitigation strategies. By doing this, you will be prepared for channeling the creative energy people bring to the project while at the same time minimizing the potential for collateral damage that might derail your project.

Looking for more project management and career advice?

How to Win Project Buy-In from Senior Stakeholders

In the complex world of project management, some projects go smoothly and according to plan, completing on time and under budget, while others are fraught with problems. While there are many reasons why projects go off the rails, one of the most common is a lack of buy-in from the stakeholders, including members of the senior executive team.

There is more to senior stakeholder buy-in than simply approving the funding for the project. During project delivery, there will inevitably be key business decisions to make, and this will require the engagement of senior executives in the project to help make them.

Successful engagement can be at the mercy of the boardroom politics that can come into play.

Some executives will engage with a project as far as the sign-off stage, before shifting their focus on to the next new thing. Others, who by nature are resistant to change, may never really be engaged from the outset.  Then there are the newcomers to the top team, who, anxious to stamp their mark early in their tenure, start off downsizing the project portfolio.

Project buy-in at top level is invariably the result of inclusive negotiations that clearly define the various stakeholders’ roles within the process. Without that, senior executives can become disillusioned and ultimately disengaged.

So how does the PM win over the boardroom, and secure the buy in that is crucial to project delivery?

Answer “What’s In It for Me?”

Senior management stakeholders are notoriously time poor and under constant pressure. A lack of buy in to a project doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest. They may not consider it a high enough priority to devote what little time they have.

The PM needs to find ways to make it easier for them to engage with the project. The situation could be improved simply by rescheduling project meetings, or changing the way that project updates and other information are presented to them.

Their interest in the project is also more likely to increase if they can see the benefits. “Projects should be aligned to corporate objectives, but PMs need to be able to answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’,” says Karlene Agard, a risk and value management professional who works with project managers.

Build a Business Case

New technology is playing an increasingly important role in project management, particularly within the manufacturing, engineering and construction industries, and this too can place senior stakeholders under pressure.

Some executives view automation and technology trends with suspicion; they see money being allocated and spent, but no immediate, tangible sign of any benefits. The reality is that while technology develops at a rapid pace, many senior business people are struggling to keep up with it and to understand the business benefits.

The PM may have to justify the investment in new technology and automation in order to win their support and engagement in the project.

A compelling argument should focus on benefits, such as higher output and revenues and lower cost structures, along with greater opportunities to mitigate risk and pursue business growth. Computer simulations can be helpful in demonstrating to the board members the impact on things like shop floor and production line operations.

If a project is to have any chance of success, it is vital that risks are controlled and contained. Reassurance that risks will be properly managed and not affect the delivery of the project will also be pivotal to winning senior stakeholder backing. A robust risk assessment will demonstrate to senior executives that the PM has considered the project from all angles and put strategies in place to overcome any potential challenges.

“Projects that go beyond a business case to show leadership and demonstrate strategic enterprise thinking make it easier for C-suite buy in,” says Joe Britto, founder of management training consultancy innateleaders.

Make Stakeholders Feel Valued

Sometimes, a lack of senior stakeholder engagement with a project isn’t a resource issue at all. It could have a more deep-rooted cause. For example, an executive might feel that their contributions are not being considered seriously, or they suspect that the project outcome will not meet their expectations. Rather than voice their concerns or objections, they simply detach from the project and withdraw their support. In these situations, the only way the PM can move things forward is to have an honest discussion with them.

An effective strategy is to ask them for their feedback, for example, their input on any aspects of the project they feel have been overlooked, or suggestions on where things could be improved. This helps to build trust and strengthen the relationship, so that they can voice any concerns they have about the project.

Good communication is crucial to successful project management and has been described as the fuel that keeps the project running smoothly. Once senior level buy-in has been secured, PMs must provide clear communication around project timelines and objectives, and progress, in order to keep those executive stakeholders on board.

Agile Team Transitions Are Not Always Textbook

Project teams transitioning to Agile can often struggle with project roles and the overall team structure. Transitioning to an Agile team is a change in mindset, team organization, and the team’s culture.

Common questions include:

  • Where does the project manager fit into the team?
  • Isn’t the Scrum Master the project manager?
  • Who sets the priorities for the software developers?
  • Who gathers the requirements?
  • How does Agile “really work” in an enterprise organization with global teams?

To understand how Agile teams are different, it is helpful to understand how traditional teams are organized.

Traditional Team Organization

The traditional software development team is comprised of the following roles:

Role Responsibility
Business Customer / Client Provide the business process knowledge and requirements subject matter expert
Project manager Manages the project management processes to successfully deliver the project – initiation, planning, execution, monitor, control and close
Technical lead Leads the technical solution delivery and directs software development team
Application architect Designs the application architecture based on the company’s standards, computer infrastructure and network environment
Business analyst Gathers requirements from the business customer
Systems analyst Translates business requirements into specific system requirements for software development
Developers Design, code, and unit test the software solution
Test lead and test analysts Coordinate testing efforts and verify the software solution meets the business requirements
Infrastructure lead Coordinates the infrastructure and server setup
Database Administrator Creates and maintains the database

All of these resources typically come from different resource pools. Delays are introduced as each resource completes their unit of work and submits request to the next team member to complete additional work. If you’ve ever had to introduce new architecture, stand up a server in an enterprise data center, or modify a development, QA or production database, then you’re very familiar with the constraints in this model.

Agile Team Organization

If you pick up a book on Agile or Scrum, you’ll often read about the best teams are self-organizing, cross-functional, and self-directed. The Scrum Guide only defines the three main roles in Scrum: the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team.

Role Responsibility
Product Owner The single person accountable to the product and responsible to ensure the requirements in the product backlog are clearly defined, prioritized, and communicated to the team
Scrum Master Facilitates the Scrum practices, supports the product owner in managing the product backlog activities, coaches the development team,
Development Team The group who does the work to deliver the product

Teams transitioning to an Agile model will wonder what happens to the analysts, the technical lead, the project manager and other traditional roles. Depending on the Agile maturity in the organization, these roles will still exist within the team.

Remember the development team is the group that delivers the product and that can still include a project manager, a test lead or business analysts.

Many organizations talk about being Agile but don’t always have a dedicated product owner who fulfills the role of the product owner. In this case, the team needs to supplement with an empowered business analyst. The project team may not have implemented test automation or test-driven development, so traditional test lead roles will exist.

One of the concepts with mature Agile teams is the team members are cross-functional. This means the skills for business analysis, systems analysis, database development, test automation, and project management exist within the team instead of having separate roles for separate people.

Think about the last high performing team you worked with. The individuals likely shared all these skills instead of relying on separate individuals. My strongest performing team still had a project manager, but that same resource understood business and system analysis as well as testing best practices. The development team also understood the business context and had database development skills.

Conversely, my worst performing team had these skills separated across individual roles. To make a database change in the development environment, a ticket had to be submitted to the DBA team, then escalated because the team wasn’t responding in time. Separate testing resources were allocated for a fixed period of time and often couldn’t test in a timely manner. Consequently, velocity suffered and the team motivation declined.

Not very Agile huh?

Improving with each sprint

Building a team that is cross-functional, self-organizing, and self-directed is an evolution in Agile maturity. The teams I coach today still struggle with reaching this state as many organizations have the silos that prevent teams from working efficiently. Other teams simply struggle with the change from top-down direction to a team centric approach. The good news is adopting Agile practices provides the feedback loops for the team to improve.

During a product backlog grooming session, one of my teams was hesitant to provide individual story point estimates. Team members would look to the team lead for approval because previously the team lead would direct the work. It took a few sprints but eventually the team became comfortable with the new processes. That team is still progressing by adopting different Agile techniques, but they are improving with each sprint.

Transitioning isn’t textbook

If you are implementing Agile practices in your organization, you likely recognize it isn’t a textbook transition. Self-directed, cross-functional, and self-organizing teams don’t appear on Day 1. Until those skills exist within a self-contained team, supplementing with traditional roles is fine. Project teams need to deliver, and adopting an Agile or traditional team formation is still influenced by the leadership team and the existing team skill sets. There are many different approaches to project execution, but I know which team structure I’d prefer!

Low-Stress Ways to Keep Your Remote Team on Track

Chances are, you’re reading this at work, but you’re not in the office.

You may be on your way to a meeting, and you’re catching up with your favorite websites on the journey. Or you’re stuck at an airport. Or waiting in a coffee shop.

Or you might be working, but not actually in the office.

Remote work is most definitely a thing these days, and it’s not only for people who own their own business or work as contract project managers. Global Workplace Analytics, which studies trends in working life, says that working remotely, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 115% since 2005. That’s nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce.

These numbers show that it’s people in more well-paid jobs, like project management, that have the option for working at home. A typical remote worker has a college education, is 45 years old or older (that seems quite old to me – I know plenty of younger project managers and IT professionals who have flexible working arrangements with their employers), and earns an annual salary of $58,000 at a company with over 100 employees.

Even I do it. I’m writing this at home, waiting for my Pilates instructor. (Yes, really! She comes to my office. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t exercise at all.)

I love the flexibility of remote working, and it’s definitely something that is a helpful recruitment and retention tool when looking for talented people to join my project teams.

However, when your team is scattered across the country, and possibly even further afield, it’s important to think about how you are going to keep them on track and engaged with the work.

You can’t have a quick huddle on a difficult day and boost everyone’s morale. There isn’t the option of popping out and bringing ice creams back for the gang as an afternoon treat. Sometimes it can feel like all you do is message and call people to keep them on track. So how do you keep a sense of team when your team is everywhere?

We’ve got some low stress tips to help you out.

Keeping The Communication Going

You already know that communication is important for successful projects. Keeping the communication channels open even when the team isn’t physically situated together can be a huge headache, but it doesn’t have to be.

Batch your communicating.

Block out a day where you do all your catch up calls and speak to your whole team. If you can, get small groups of team members on the phone together.

Block out time to speak to stakeholders as well.

Your project customers are just as important as your team members. Sometimes, in the effort to keep the team moving, we forget about the people we are doing the work for. Put regular time in your schedule to do your comms activities – invite people to standing meetings if that helps.

Remember to cancel any sessions you feel you don’t need to avoid wasting people’s time.

Automate as much of the “management” comms as you can. Set up LiquidPlanner to send email alerts for when tasks are due, and reminders for upcoming deadlines. That’s at least something you won’t have to remember to do manually.

Supporting Remote Team Members

Sometimes team members need more than a check-in and reminder about the top tasks they should focus on this week. Supporting team members remotely is hard, because ideally you’d want to be sitting at their desk coaching them through a task.

Use tech to help you.

Whiteboarding apps, mindmapping apps, screensharing tools: all these offer the opportunity for you to virtually collaborate with a colleague and to see what they are doing so you can help, coach, and mentor from your home office.

Encourage them to help each other too.

Make sure your team members have access to the tools they need to be able to work in pairs or small groups.

Staying on Track with Projects

Use a tool that will help you stay on track with your project, even in fast-moving environments. When the culture of your team is that everything goes in the tool, it’s easy to see changes in real time and react to them.

This is probably the biggest change for most teams, even though technical teams will have been working with project management and coding solutions for years. The mental hurdle is to open the tools you need in the morning and then stay in them all day, keeping everything updated in real time.

It’s actually easier than it sounds. Once you see the benefits of doing so, you’ll find it relatively easy to switch from your old ways.

The biggest benefit is having total visibility about the project, which helps your whole team stay on track. Or pivot as required, if you sense that something isn’t working out as it should.

Maintaining Motivation at a Distance

This is probably the hardest thing to do with a remote team. It’s also the hardest to give advice about because people are motivated by different things. Get to know your team members so that you can tailor their work (as far as you can) to the things that interest them and motivate them.

Then create a motivating environment.

Here are some ideas for that:

  • Ensure everyone is treated equally and that decisions are made fairly.
  • Ensure everyone has the training and the systems they need to do their jobs.
  • Create a sense of trust and call out inappropriate behavior and poor performance when you see it.
  • Create a strong vision for your project and make sure everyone understands why it’s important and how it contributes to the business.
  • Have fun!

You can do all of these with a remote team, although you’ll have to get creative about ways to have fun. You can’t all pop out for sushi at lunchtime. Think quizzes, contests, fundraising, sharing photos, and creating time in your virtual meetings for the small talk that builds positive working relationships.

All of these take a bit of thought, but once they are in place they are low stress ways to engage your remote team and keep your project moving forward. What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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.”