You want your projects to get off to a good start and end without major glitches. However, what typically happens is that projects begin with many unknowns and continue to progress with more unknowns. Not only that, projects hit many bumps along the way — and you are constantly addressing problems, attempting to resolve issues and rallying to minimize risks.
Faced with this, I recommend approaching projects with a “project network diagram” mentality. (A network diagram is a planning tool that shows sequences of tasks, dependencies on tasks and impacts on a project.) Here are tips on using a network diagram mentality for managing project schedules:
1. Count backward. There are tasks that inevitably depend on each other and have specific time frames. For example, it might take 10 days for one task to be done and 15 days for dependent tasks to be complete. So right away, you know you already need 25 days for that project. So these start-to-finish and other connecting relationships matter when building a schedule, as do float, slack and critical path times. These are all time factors you consider when doing backward counting. The technique of counting backward helps define the schedule because you focus better so as not to miss a number or a task.
2. Look in other directions. A horse can see in one direction with one eye and in the other direction with the other eye. A project manager needs to do the same and constantly be aware of the surroundings. A network diagram offers this peripheral vision by encompassing all the aspects that matter to the project — and helps you set boundaries. A view in one direction can focus on what’s happening in the project. The other direction could be the bigger picture of your project. Let the boundary be what could potentially surface from either of those directions. For example, say your company has a portfolio of projects it has to complete. So at the same time you’re keeping an eye on the spending on your project, you also want to be aware of whether the company will be able to maintain your resources over the length of the project, especially in an economy in which layoffs happen all the time. If your company has to release some of your resources, what then would be your contingency plan to still make sure your project can be completed?
3. Keep the end in mind. Have an idea of the goal the project should achieve. Encourage team members to maintain a layout of their tasks in a way that identifies and prioritizes what must be done and can be done to reach that goal. Then, inspire your team to approach all tasks with confidence. In a network diagram, after having laid possible connections together, the project manager sets controls in place, giving him or her the capability for more optimal opportunities of project success. Manage your time and your project team’s time based on making it to the finish line.
What method do you use to help you prepare for and better manage project schedules?
|Recently I came across an ad for a project management technology application. It was a picture of seven robots in a group, which symbolized humans. The slogan read, "If your team looked like this, any PPM solution would work."|
It made me wonder how many organizations actually believe that technology applications do the work and produce results -- not humans.
How many organizations and project managers sufficiently analyze their project needs and the compatibility of new technology to their organizations' existing set-up and processes?
Companies often buy expensive project management applications and then force teams to conform and adapt to the application rather than customize the application to the needs of the people and project.
But buying applications because other organizations use them does not by default mean you, too, will become a leader.
Like with best practices, experience has taught me that technology and tools are valuable -- but only if they fill gaps and needs effectively.
Technology is important and can increase efficiency, but in the correct setting and context. Projects are planned and executed by people -- therefore technology must complement and be understood by the humans who use it.
Before investing in new project management applications, you must consider things like training, costs and your team members' willingness to use the tools. Otherwise it could amount to an expensive burden.
What experiences can you share of failing to engage stakeholders before investing in technology?
What factors should be considered before investing in new applications?
What Do You Look for in a Collaboration Tool?
|With so many project management collaboration tools out there, what is a useful, intuitive and inexpensive tool to use? It all depends on what you look for in a tool. |
I look for the ability to assign tasks to team members or teams. I also like to be able to add notes and collaborate with team members through the tool, specific to the tasks they're assigned or the work they are doing. These capabilities cut through many unnecessary meetings and allow you to see real-time progress of the assigned work.
I use a web-based software called IntervalsTM. I create my projects and tasks, and then add my team to the projects and assign each of them their respective tasks. While I may create an MS Project-based project plan, I would use Intervals to manage the actual tasks, time and budget.
It's also a great tool for assessing how much time various tasks take and getting a more accurate measure of the time spent on the tasks. This tool has built-in timers for each task and general timers that make it easy to track your time.
Timesheet management is quite easy as well. I get my team to submit the hours they spent on a regular basis. At the end of the week, they submit their timesheet, which I either approve or reject -- it all happens online.
Another great feature is the executive role, which allows an executive or sponsor to see the latest progress on a project without having to be involved in any other details. The progress can be seen at any time online, by anyone provided such access.
What are your favorite collaboration tools? Are there any tools you use that achieve all these abilities?
The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.
|Agile teams often rely on burn-down charts to show how much work remains in each two-week sprint. The starting point represents the total work to be done and ends at zero when it's finished. There's no detailed plan of how much work is done each day -- teams just draw a line from start to finish.|
But two problems can arise:
1. Teams get used to collecting data, but forget to interpret and take action on it.
2. Executives may look at the graph and become concerned if the actual numbers don't track precisely to the projected line.
So how do you know when to be concerned versus when the numbers are varying normally? An average of 20 percent variance is a good rule of thumb. Anything less is a false alarm. Anything more demands attention.
Here are some models I've created of possible scenarios, but in reality, progress is more of a wandering curve. The vertical axis shows how many hours are left and the horizontal axis shows how many days are left. The straight blue line represents the planned amount of work left each day in hours, while the red line shows the actual hours left.
Case 1: Under the line
The team consistently finished more work than expected. Does this represent an error in estimation or natural variance in the system?
Case 2: Above the line -- but okay
The team is running behind, but is close enough that it will still complete the work for the iteration.
Case 3: Above the line -- in trouble
The team is so far behind, it must stop and take action to address the problems or re-plan the work. This progress line is a powerful warning signal.
How do you use burn-down charts?