Kickstart Your ToDos & Priorities
Categories: Decision Making
Situation: You need a quick new way to rank priorities or sort your ToDo list.
Kickstarter projects are sometimes useful, sometimes not - but always interesting. Today, I ran across a rather interesting project that's not complicated, but could be quite useful. This project covers two products:
Check out the Kickstarter video and see what you think...
| Situation: You've been thinking about the big picture.|
Over the last couple of years, I've listened to PMI's CEO, Greg Balestrero talk A LOT about sustainability at PMI Global Congresses and other venues. In fact, I believe it gets more air time than any other topic he speaks on. While I'm a big proponent of "getting more green" in everything we do, I've been surprised with the way that he connects it to project management and to our responsibilities as project managers. In his mind, it should be central to what we all do - not a "nice to have". Something he said in a recent press release caught my eye, summarizing his view on the topic.
"Integrating economic, social and environmental value into all portfolios,
So I followed up and asked him a few questions at the PMI Global Congress in Orlando. Again, I know we should all do what we can as individuals to promote sustainability, However, can and should project management practitioners integrate economic, social, and environmental value into [their projects, programs and portfolios]?
After a brief conversation, I believe I understand his perspective a bit better. I'll put it in my own words and see what you think.
- that all projects need to focus on sustainability.
- that you need to add cost to your projects to ensure they have a positive impact on sustainabilty.
- that sustainability is something that should be considered ahead of the project requirements you already have to deal with.
Here's my version of the case for making sustainabilty a key part of your project management approach
As an ethical Project Manager, you need to think about longer term financial and environmental results and factor the benefits of sustainability into your ROI analysis and execution plans. If you consider sustainable approaches, materials, etc. for every single project. They may only make sense SOME of the time, but with your help, they will at least be considered. In this way you can ensure that sustainable approaches that make sense are used. Making sustainability part of what you do implies you must make it your business to learn about and introduce sustainable approaches to your work. If you don't, chances are that no one else will. For this reason, Project Manager - you need to be the change.
The actions that you could take to make this happen include:
- unearth potential sustainable approaches within the context of your project.
- understand how specific sustainable approaches relate to the financial success of your project so that you can propose them as appropriate.
- find out if a sustainable approach to your project could help your company from a PR perspective.
What do you think? Is this something you have time for and feel is important? Should it be a key focus for PMI? Should it be a key personal focus for you?
| Situation: You find yourself asking - What did we decide about that?|
Decisions made in a structured way often happen in meetings. They get captured in meeting notes and that's great. Decisions made in reaction to new situations pop up every day. We have a brief email exchange about them and we at least feel like we've made a decision. -- or maybe some of us do. In the end those exchanges just create more loose ends.
We recently talked to Chris Bright, from Zapproved about yet another simple, cool PM tool that addresses a critical issue - decision-making. I think his responses to my questions are enough to at least get you thinking about how you handle and document decisions.
Q. How do you see Zapproved being used within the context of projects? Is it used more for sign-offs or for every day decision-making?
Chris: We have users utilizing Zapproved for consensus building around big milestone approvals involving many participants on down to approval of routine, everyday decision-making between individuals. The feedback we get is that the app is helpful for keeping momentum in organizational processes and for tracking and recording tasks. Since a significant portion of any project is collaborating with others, Zapproved offers a solution that is easy to implement and that “sticks.”
For larger groups, Zapproved offers several advantages. As is typical, most decisions are being made via email. That presents problems because one decision can fill up inboxes with long email chains that can be difficult to drive to conclusion. Plus, some people do not participate for reasons of travel or to passively resist the group. Tech blogger Robert Scoble posited that the number of emails required to do something in email is equal to the number of participants squared. That feels about right to me!
Zapproved hosts the conversation in a single place online so everyone can see comments and feedback at one time and out in the open. If someone has not responded, it is clear that is the case. By bringing decisions into the daylight it puts pressure on laggards to not block the group and reduces interference of politics and personalities.
On more routine tasks of acknowledging status reports and procedural steps, scheduling meetings and calls, approving travel requests, new hires, and other decisions that are plentiful but tend to not get tracked well, our system puts them in a repository and associates them with explicit approvals. This can help keep things moving smoothly since it reduces organizational friction around procedural steps.
Q. Could you give us a couple specific examples (from your current organizational clients) of decisions that people manage within Zapproved?
Chris: I’ve provided a few examples below of how our users are utilizing the system:
Q. I could see people using Zapproved as a way to track action items that come out of status meetings. Do know of any best practices around that? How is Zapproved used in that situation?
Chris: Yes, I have spoken with a few people who use it for task management in the way you are describing. After a status meeting, the project manager sends task notifications to the appropriate people that scopes the task and provides a deadline. Once the person completes the task, they can “Approve” it to signal that state or “Deny” it if, for some reason, it was not done or no longer needed to be done.
Q. You talked a bit about how Zapproved changes the behavior of people whose it, versus those who use email threads to document decisions. Could you describe those differences in terms of approach, wording, and structure?
Chris: Yes, once people start using the system there are subtle shifts in behavior that managers find helpful. When someone is submitting a proposal they know that at the bottom of the message it says “Approve” and “Deny.” Email tends to have a casual tone so people are reluctant to write in an actionable way, i.e. citing outcomes and deadlines, because it comes across as awkward. We see emails ending with phrases like “let me know what you think” and other casual, polite words. Not the best approach when driving something to closure.
In Zapproved the context of the system compels users to write in an actionable way. That simple shift helps enormously because it drives explicit statements such as “I am seeking your approval on this item.” As a manager, the amount of energy required to respond is reduced dramatically. We hear time and time again of how group productivity increases by providing a simple framework for process in teams.
Q. Which types of decisions are best left out of Zapproved?
Chris: Most decisions adapt well in Zapproved especially when transparency and an audit trail are key. Even though approvals in Zapproved are legally binding, one may want to check with an attorney before using it as the final sign-off on a multi-million contract. We are working on e-signatures that would add higher levels of redundancy on identity, so we hope that we will be able to fulfill even that role in the future!
Q. How do you deal with decision-tree sorts of situations where decisions are linked to one another?
Chris: At this time, that is an ad hoc situation that teams organize as needed. One of our users has built an e-procurement system on Zapproved with hierarchical workflows and it works well. It saves on paper and the alternative of an expensive, complex tool would have absorbed much more energy and resources. However, we are planning to build that functionality into Zapproved in a way that is easy and intuitive to implement.
Q. How do you filter out the smaller decisions from the larger ones? Can you tag them with project or category names?
Chris: Every proposal has a “Project” field that can be defined by the user. Once a person has entered text in that field, it is stored and is available in a drop-down menu for any future proposals. This helps group and track decisions around a single project (i.e. “NASA Hydrogen Propellant Proposal”), or can also substitute for flagging more routine processes such as “Vacation Requests.” It is an easy way to put proposals in various buckets that makes sense for a team.
Q. What’s at the top of the list for future enhancements?
Chris: Our development paths are focused on adding functionality and increasing integration. As I mentioned, we are working on creating decision-tree workflows, embedded forms and even e-signatures. Looking at integration, we see Zapproved as a strong complement to other tools. Last month we introduced an add-in for Outlook and we want to expand access to Zapproved through other business applications as well as mobile platforms.
| Situation: You want better assess project risk.|
ITProjectMetrics.com is a rather crude looking online tool - but the people who put it together may have really hit on something. The site gathers project information (both demographics and performance data) from people like you, then lets you know how different factors might affect project success. At this point the sample size is too small (86 projects), but we could all help change that if we were so inclined. Everyone wants benchmarks and everyone wants to better understand risk from every angle. These sorts of things help you define success and make sure you don't stumble over common obstacles that should have been avoided.
You only enter project data on completed efforts. Here's what the current breakout looks like:
Here are a few examples of the data you'll get back from the site:
| Situation: You are thinking about how PPM fits at your org...|
I recently spoke with Demian Entrekin, CTO of Innotas about the trends his organization is seeing in the marketplace. Although every tool vendor obviously has an angle to sell, Demian isn’t your typical product pusher. Together we worked through what's going on now (at a high level) as more companies take on serious PPM efforts. Hopefully this will be helpful if you're in one of those companies where PPM is a promising new approach or you're giving it a second try after a lackluster first effort.
SaaS vs In-house Implementations
A key choice up front in the selection process is whether your organization is biased toward SaaS or in-house solution. Take a look at each of the drivers listed and see which way our company inherently leans. Some say that people don't change. The same sometimes holds true for companies. So this table could give you a real view into the future. Based on our conversation, here are some key drivers.
This is, of course, just a high-level review of selection criteria. Hopefully enough to “get smart” quickly as you begin your search. If you want a more detailed look at selection criteria, take a look at the selection tool published on Projects@Work.
Who Feels Your Pain?
Demian tells me they see three basic problems (pain points) when they approach a new customer. They try to focus on ONE at a time. If you think about the pain points in the chart below, it’s very much a question of maturity. It's likely that the success of your first efforts will depend not on having project prioritized right away, but on achieving that next level of maturity.
So as you look at tools, think about the maturity of your organization and how well each candidate tool will support your efforts in that next critical area. This applies not just to the tool itself, but to the services and best practices that come with it. Many of these efforts are half tool and half process. As you narrow your search, map out how you will tackle each pain point and think about which has the greatest chances for success.