I remember the day I gave up maintaining the project schedule. It all took place a few years ago at a little Thai food restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan.
The best Thai food place in Metro Detroit is hands down Bangkok 96 on Telegraph Road and Michigan Avenue. The food is so good that if you don’t get to the restaurant by 10:45 a.m. you won’t get a seat when the doors open at 11. To complicate matters, it was a Friday (a.k.a., Good Soup Day) where they serve one of the best hot and sour soups I’ve ever had.
I was meeting a professional colleague of mine, Darren. Bangkok 96 was our go-to restaurant where we could catch up and talk about our respective jobs and the projects we were working on. Just as my Gang Gai chicken was being served, I launched into my dread of my upcoming afternoon: chasing down task statuses from team members in order to update the schedule before week’s end. I ran through the frustrating process:
“I have to get a hold of my development team to do the usual updates. I also need to get a hold of Jerry and his infrastructure guys to confirm that the servers are being stood up in time. It’s a pain trying to get a status from all these individuals, who also have their own schedules. I get it. Everyone is busy but how hard is it to let me know how much work is remaining or if the target date is still on track?”
Darren nodded as he stuffed a forkful of Kraw Time Prik Thai into his mouth.
“When do you host your schedule update meeting with the team?” I asked.
“I don’t,” he answered.
“What do you mean you don’t? You’ve got a project schedule to maintain, right?” I stuffed a forkful of Gang Gai into the complimentary Shrimp chips which makes a fantastic mini Thai taco.
“Yep,” he replied.
“Ok Obi-Wan, expand.” I was about to extol the importance of updating Microsoft Project.
“Well I don’t maintain the project schedule, the team does,” Darren explained. “A few months ago, we invested in a cloud-based, collaborative project management tool. It’s fantastic! Now, I don’t waste my time following up with every team member. Everyone on the team tracks their time each week, and we bill that time, and manage it, against the activities in the project schedule. We input the amount of hours we spend on work on a project, and how many hours are left and the tools do all the updating.”
“Yeah but you have to build the schedule, right?” This was sounding too good to be true. “Isn’t it a pain trying to detail all the tasks and delegate them out?”
“Nope. The entire team builds the schedule—together,” Darren continued. “I develop a high-level breakdown of all the stuff we need to deliver and the team develops their own tasks within the tool. I found we actually get better estimates and buy-in from the developers because they create the tasks and are held accountable for the estimates they provide.”
“Do you still have to get through a lot of email?” There had to be a catch.
“Not really,” he shrugged. “We even use the tool to host our discussions on the assigned tasks. On each task in the schedule, team members can attach documents, leave comments or have discussions within the tool itself. We encourage the team to maintain conversations in the tool rather than get into a game of email ping-pong.” Darren explained.
I knew the game of email ping-pong all too well. Heck, I’ve even been guilty of pushing off work because I “sent you an email” asking for clarification.
“We even took document management to the next level,” Darren continued. “We used to send Excel spreadsheets and Word documents via email as team members didn’t always keep the most up-to-date documents on the Sharepoint site. Now I tell the team I won’t look at any file they email me. They need to point me to the URL where the file is stored in our tool. It’s usually found within the assigned task and that is the version we keep maintained.”
I was amazed at his efficiency. By leveraging a collaboration solution, he escaped the schedule management purgatory that can occupy painstaking hours of a project manager’s time. I loved the idea of having the team build the schedule in the tool and then giving the project manager room to “tweak” and adjust as necessary.
“You have to give the name of this tool. I’m going to check it out after lunch,” I said as we received our bill. “But what do you do with all your time if you’re not updating the schedule and chasing down status?” I was joking—sort of.
His reply was a simple one.
“Lead. Isn’t that what project managers should do?”
Lunch was on me that day. That afternoon, I signed up for my free trial.
What’s almost as good as a Project Management Process eye-opener over Gang Gai chicken? A Project Management Health Check Tool. This 9-question multiple choice quiz will tell you how effective your PM methods are, and will follow up with solutions and a new tool that can save you and your team hours on status-chasing.