Hello, project manager? You are needed in the meeting room; you are needed for an online chat; you are needed on the phone.
Typical, right? You may feel overwhelmed if you’re expected to be in all places at once. It can help to realize there are only three realms in which you’re truly needed: physical, mental and electronic. Here’s how to address each.
Physical: If possible, try to be physically present for your team. Walk around and talk to stakeholders, team members and others to gather details about your projects.
This provides you with the current status and tidbits that will allow you to be proactive on your projects. It also lets you build rapport with team members.
Mental: You don’t have to be an expert in a programming language or even in the company’s industry. It bodes well, though, when you have some idea of the jargon for conversations with your stakeholders. You’ll want to be aware of the environment—all the external and internal factors and their impact on your projects.
You’ll also need to stay abreast of the benefits your projects bring to the organization. Project managers have to stay mentally focused on their project’s objectives and bottom line.
Try thinking about lessons learned from previous projects to help you gain understanding of how to address potential problems. Investigate tools that allow you to present project results to all levels of management and team members, too.
A detailed report on planned versus actual data is a source that can be shared in various audience-specific formats. You may be called on at any moment for project results and can rely on these tools to support your efforts to be mentally there.
Electronic: Social media and mobile technology allow people to be reached easily. Apps let you track and stay in touch with others. You will want to take advantage of these programs to gain information and respond to concerns about your projects. In many cases, they allow us to address and resolve concerns more quickly.
No matter how you do it, being a project manager means you have to be accessible. We have to manage our projects, not let them manage us.
by Lung-Hung Chou
For practitioners who manage the construction of green buildings, projects can be complicated by different environmental standards around the world.
Taipei, Taiwan-based Sinotech Engineering Consultants, Inc. (SEC) set out to solve this problem by customizing a Building Information Modeling (BIM) software application used in the engineering and construction industry.
To help its project managers execute a project to build a new research and development building in Taipei, the organization incorporated environmental standards and concepts, along with a work breakdown structure (WBS) and critical chain approach to project management, in innovative ways.
Let’s take a closer look at this project, which PMI’s Taipei, Taiwan chapter recognized with a Project Management Benchmarking Enterprise Award.
A Solution for the Entire Life Cycle
Sinotech’s custom BIM application didn’t only collect different environmental standards for building construction that might apply to the project at hand. It also allowed standards to be applied at each stage of the building's progress from design to completion.
This means that during design, planning and construction phases—and even demolition and disposal—project managers could find the relevant standards and incorporate them into blueprints and project plans. For example, because the research and development building sought U.S. Green Building Council’s Gold LEED certification, the team imported into their plans the standards upon which that certification level is based.
Sinotech’s custom BIM application allows managers to comprehend all applicable environmental requirements throughout the entire life cycle of a building.The idea was to help project managers consider all green standards early in the project so they could be translated into specific design, planning and construction requirements.
This would allow architects and engineers to know—even before a single brick or slab of concrete was laid—if a building would meet a targeted environmental certification. If it wouldn’t meet the certification, inexpensive design changes could be made—and expensive changes after construction was underway could be avoided.
With all design and construction team members given access to the relevant information about green building standards, the custom BIM application strengthened communication—helping teams catch problems early in the project.
The Project Management Connection
By adopting a work breakdown structure (WBS) for all the different standards involved in any given building management project, Sinotech integrated into its BIM system an understanding of project management.
This meant that standards would directly correlate to the work packages required to meet those standards. With complicated environmental standards translated into concrete goals and work packages, managers and workers can avoid being overwhelmed by different levels of requirements and complicated information for each work item.
SEC also built a critical chain project management approach into the application. Suppliers and subcontractors, and the resources they require across the entire supply chain, can be efficiently scheduled in accordance with their cost and co-dependence by integrating an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system into the BIM system. This helps building projects move closer to lean construction.
The End Results
For green building standards to deliver their financial and environmental benefits, they have to be incorporated into every stage of the project.
By facilitating that process, Sinotech brought clear value to the organization’s project. As planned, the new research and development building in Taipei’s Neihu Light Industrial Zone obtained green building certifications including Gold LEED level and Taiwan Architecture & Research Center’s Intelligent Building Silver level and Gold EEWH level.
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.