Distributed Project Management: Three Steps to a Living Project Plan [The Liquid Approach: Part 4/6]
Project plans have long been the domain of the project manager. Usually they’re written at the beginning of the project lifecycle, then filed neatly away and updated once or twice if time permits. This “map” of the project isn’t very useful tucked away in a drawer. And what team member is going to bother opening a Microsoft Project file every day?
Today, your project plan doesn’t need to be just an artifact of a last month’s planning session – it can be the compass that guides each day’s work. In LiquidPlanner, the plan is constantly shifting. And if it changes every day, that’s a good thing: it means the plan is keeping up with reality. Here are three steps to follow to get a living project plan that can guide your team through the ups and downs of every project:
1. Share the load
If updating the schedule is solely the project manager’s responsibility, it falls quickly out of date because of daily firefighting, coordination, and meetings. Only when a customer or exec asks for an updated plan does the project manager scramble to mark items 100% complete and “green up” the project schedule. (Sound familiar?)
At LiquidPlanner, we believe that when it comes to project administration, many hands make light work (and a more accurate schedule). If every team member takes five minutes a day to update their progress, re-estimate remaining work, and add necessary comments or documents, the schedule stays current and the project manager is freed up from a huge administrative burden. When self-updates become a habit, everyone benefits.
2. Change the agenda
Congratulations! If you followed step #1, you’ve just saved yourself at least one hour of project status meetings each week and probably some informal meetings, too. Instead of going around the room and finding out what’s done and what’s not, team meetings can now be spent addressing roadblocks, evaluating new work requests, analyzing workloads, and other critical business. This keeps projects flowing and communication strong, allowing leaders to make the best decisions possible.
3. Centralize communication and get out of email
Email overload is common disease, and it comes with some pretty costly side effects: huge amounts of wasted time, difficulty locating information, and “lost” business intelligence. But what if you could move conversations about tasks and projects out of your email inbox and into your project management system? That’s exactly what LiquidPlanner teams do, and they operate more efficiently because of it.
When you need to remember something about a task or project, ATTACH it to that item in the plan. When you need to communicate about a task or project, comment ON that item in the plan. That creates a public record and information archive for each piece of work, so no matter what happens to it (whether it’s marked done, escalated, or postponed), the critical collateral stays with it. And when you start work on a task, you don’t have to search through old email files to find the information you need to do the job.
An added bonus: your team can see what you’re working on (and vice versa), creating a better implicit understanding of how everyone is contributing to the team. It’s just like on Facebook – you don’t have to comment on each person’s status update, but when you see them, you have a better sense of what they’ve been up to. You might even find out that you share a common interest or challenge, and you can both learn from that.
Email has its place, but centralizing project communication alongside with the plan itself can make your project team even better.