Virtual meetings can be a huge time and cost saver, but the last thing you need is to be stuck on project calls that take up all day.
If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you will have been on calls where you’ve sneakily gone on mute because the meeting isn’t relevant to you, or you have nothing to add, or some other reason. While it’s better not to multi-task during a virtual meeting, and even better to not go to meetings that aren’t relevant for you, sometimes virtual meetings are a must.
You can make virtual meetings better. This quick video shares 3 easy tips for making virtual meetings that little bit more productive for everyone.
These tips came from a fantastic presentation on virtual meetings at a PMI event by Dr Penny Pullan. You can read more about that presentation here.
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In this instalment of What’s New In the PMBOK Guide®-- Sixth Edition, we’ve made it to the end of Project Resource Management. The only thing remaining to cover is trends and tailoring.
Trends and tailoring is a relatively short section for each Knowledge Area, but it is helpful because it reminds you that the book is only a guide. You can make it relevant to the way you work, your organisational culture and the needs of your team by tailoring the way you implement the processes.
So what’s it all about for resource management?
Trends and Emerging Practices
The big shift in resource management – although I’d argue this is hardly new and has been with us here in the UK at least for some considerable time – is the move away from the command and control structure of old. Collaboration and supportive management is in. Telling people what to do is out.
Because of the culture of businesses I have worked in, I find it hard to accept that this is worthy of mention as a trend, but I can’t speak for how things are in the rest of the world. Plus, I do know that despite businesses saying they are all modern and collaborative, when it comes to delegating decision making they tend to be a little bit more reticent.
There are some particular emerging practices called out.
The main guidance in the PMBOK Guide®-- Sixth Edition is to look at what is in operation in your business and manage your project in line with that. If your company has adopted Kaizen, just in time manufacturing, or any other management buzzwords for productivity and managing throughput of work, then you’ll need to make your project management practices fit around those.
Given that Anthony Mersino’s book on Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers came out in 2007 (and is now in its second edition), this again feels a little behind the curve. However, we are all a work in progress and it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that a team with good EI skills are more effective and benefit from a reduced staff turnover.
As more and more projects take on agile approaches, teams become self-organising. I like this way of working. I think that trusting people to get the job done is empowering and teams can be very effective this way.
However, as with all teams, I do think you need to keep an eye on how things are going to make sure that everyone is contributing and that the right things are being worked on.
Self-organising teams seem to work best when the work is generalist and the people are generalist i.e. they can serve multiple roles within the team to get the work done. You couldn’t have a self-organising surgical team, for example, but it can work with multi-skilled IT roles.
The personalities in the team are also important. You want people who can take feedback on board and flex to the ongoing needs of the team and the business. And they need to be able to provide feedback as well.
Virtual, or distributed teams are also not really a trend in my opinion. I remember speaking about the rise of virtual teams at a conference over a decade ago. Personally I don’t think it’s relevant to include them as a ‘trend’ but they are definitely a cause for tailoring your project approach. You need diffferent tools and techniques to get work done in a virtual enviornment.
Communications technology becomes even more important, as does trust. You need to work harder to build a sense of team and shared goals, because working virtually can feel lonely. Plus you have the practical concerns of time zone differences, culture and language.
Take all of the above into account when thinking of how you are going to make your own personal project managemetn of the team work. The PMBOK Guide®-- Sixth Edition calls out several areas to consider:
These are all good questiions to be asking yourself about how to manage project resources.
Agile/Adaptive Environment Considerations
Finally, the section on ‘making project resource management work for you’ ends with considerations for teams working in an agile or adaptive environment.
The PMBOK Guide®-- Sixth Edition makes the point that if your project has high variability, you may be best served with a self-organising team of highly skilled and multi-skilled individuals who can work collaboratively. People who have worked in an agile environment for some time won’t see this as news, but it is a helpful reminder for businesses who are just starting out with adopting agile. If you don’t provide the environment for collaboration and productivity, you won’t get the benefits of being agile.
And there ends our tour of Project Resource Management in the PMBOK Guide®-- Sixth Edition!
Recently I spoke to Nick Nuss, data manager, Excel expert and blogger. I like to think that I’m OK at using Excel, but one of the things I don’t understand is pivot tables. So I figured it was about time I learned how to use them.
Luckily, Nick was on hand to explain all.
If you’ve ever struggled with pivot tables, you’ll want to read this interview.
Nick, how can I use Excel to better report on data?
Excel is very versatile. You already know this. As a project manager, you probably have Gantt charts and templates saved out. Excel solves many of your data problems. As a data manager myself, I use Excel in a variety of ways but the functionality I use most is the pivot table.
OK, basics please. What does a pivot table do for me?
Pivot tables allow a user to report on a large data set in a table format. For instance, if you have to track anything in excel, you can report on it. Financials, time, counts of sick days, anything that you can lay out in a table, you can report on it.
So what do I need to know?
First, I want to tell you about table design. Then we’ll move on to creating your pivot table. Lastly, I’m going to dive into how to best use the pivot tables.
Great. Tell me about tables.
Good table design is essential for good reporting. Garbage in is garbage out in the data world, so if you create your table in a poor way, your reports will not be accurate.
Let’s talk lingo for a second. I will be referring to rows as “records” and columns as “fields” from now on. When we have a record, it will be a unique instance that we want to track. This can be per person, per date, per person per date, etc.
The lower down you go, the more information you can get later on. By tracking at a department level, you may not get the results you want later had you tracked things at an individual level.
What about fields?
Fields are what we will use in the pivot table to describe the records. These can be dates, IDs, financials and numbers to tell us information about what has or is to happen.
It’s important that fields have the correct formatting. For instance, financials should always be listed with the financial signs, and dates should always be listed as a date. Without the correct formatting, when you go to use the data, your dates may not calculate correctly (i.e. the difference between 11/30/2017 and 12/1/2017 is one day, but if you do not have it in date format, excel may calculate it as 1212017 - 11302017 = -10,090,000!).
Got it! Anything else I should know about fields?
Fields can be further broken down into two levels; descriptors and metrics. The descriptors are ways to split the data, such as department and job role. The metrics will be the things you want to control down the road, like your financials or hours.
You can certainly use metrics as descriptors, such as people who work more than 40 hours per week, against people who work fewer than 40 hours.
How do I do that?
It is usually easier to create the data table before creating the pivot table. You can create these metrics with functions like “=if()” which will take on one value when logic is true and another when logic is false. You can even have the function return “true” or “false” if you don’t enter what to do.
To do this, set up this equation =if(CELL >= 40, “what does it do when true”, “what does it do when false”). Be sure to replace “CELL” with the correct cell for your records! You can then click and drag this down your table to auto populate.
This image shows the beginnings of a data table with the IF formula for working out whether someone works more than 40 hours a week.
OK. Any other tips for the data table?
A good rule of thumb is to also have one field set as “count” where you enter a 1 for each record. This allows you to report on the total number of records later that meet a certain criteria.
Keep your records clean as they are created. Fill in each field for the record and keep them accurate. If you can track numbers as a decimal, do so. The more exact you are, the more exact future reports will be.
Each field needs a label name in record one for a pivot table to work. Be sure to name these with descriptive names that you can use later. These labels should be unique for later on. It’s also good practice to label these with the field type in case you forget. Keep “date” in the name for any dates and “amount” for any financial values.
Now I’ve got a good quality data table. Are we on to the pivot table?
Yes, creating the pivot table comes next. Go to a new tab within Excel to keep your table data separate from your pivot table. Select cell D6, which will give ample space for your pivot table to populate. This is will be the upper left of your new report. When we discuss how a pivot table works, selecting down and over will make more sense.
Now, in the ribbon at the top, navigate to the “Insert” tab and select “Pivot table” from the left.
This will open the data selection. Click where it asks you to enter the range for the data.
Now, click on the worksheet tab where you entered your data and select the upper left cell of your data (this will be field A and row 1). Next, press ctrl+shift+end on the keyboard (PC shortcut). This shortcut will select all records and fields in the table. Press enter and you have successfully created your pivot table!
This image shows selecting a portion of the data source for creating your pivot table. The full data table is shown below.
Pivot tables work best with lots of data. In this table you can see resource names, hours worked per week, whether or not the hours are above 40, a field for 'count' and the week number. That gives lots of metrics to analyse and report on.
Excellent! Is that it?
Not quite. The third step is reporting from your pivot table. By selecting the area of the pivot table that we had before, a wizard will appear at the right. The top section will show all of your fields from the data table and the bottom will contain four quadrants. The lower left quadrant will be where you place what descriptors you want for your data. In the lower right, you will place the metrics you want to display. You can still use your metrics in the lower left quadrant, but you cannot report on descriptors in the lower right.
In this pivot table, we've calculated sum of hours per person worked on the project overall during the first 3 weeks.
My favourite part about metrics is you can use the drop down to select properties, and display an average, sum, or percent of the total.
The top two quadrants are used for additional analysis. If you wanted to cross your descriptors by ANOTHER descriptor, you would want to place the second criteria in the upper right. The upper left quadrant is used as a filter, which tells your report “only by these records.” This limits the records to certain selected values, but they do not necessarily show in the report.
This pivot table shows average hours worked by employees who work over or under 40 hours. We can also add in more columns and see hours worked per week per employee as in the screenshot below.
That’s really helpful! I think I get it. Anything else I should know?
You can create any number of robust reports using a pivot table. The value of using pivot tables grows with the size of your data table. The larger the table, the better analysis you’ll get. Pivot tables are fast and easy to create. You will be amazed at how quickly you can report on things in Excel using pivot tables.
For more advanced pivot tables, you could also get data out of a database or Access file as long as you select the data as an import. You can do this from the data tab to allow you to select the information in a pivot table! Excel is amazing.
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3 Project Budget Mistakes [Infographic]
I know this is a topic I have returned to several times, but I feel really strongly that project budgeting shouldn’t be hard, and we should all learn from past experiences. In the infographic below, I share three really common budgeting mistakes that I see happen time and time again, especially with project manager who are managing project budgets for the first time.
I’m sure you can think of other errors that newbie budgeters might face. Why not leave a comment below and share some of your tips about what to look out for when creating a project budget for the first time?
For more on the tax issue, take a look at this article, which discusses common budgeting mistakes and especially the tax thing, in a bit more details.
Project Risk Management Roles: Who Does What
Project risk management is a team effort. As the project manager it might feel like you are taking the lead role, but overall it shouldn’t be a one-person job. You need to work together to identify the risks on your project and do something about them.
You can’t work as a team if you don’t have a team. So, you should identify your risk management team as early as practical in the project. That’s what textbooks would recommend, but in my experience you don’t always know who is going to be the right person to be the risk owner for a particular risk until it makes it on to the risk log – then you need that person on your team.
However, there are some common roles you will definitely need involved in risk management. Identifying who is going to fill those roles will save you time later. When a risk is uncovered, you don’t want to be waiting around trying to work out who is going to look at it. You want to know, broadly, who is going to help you deal with it.
Let’s look then at who does what in risk management on a project. These are the people you need to inform about the risk management processes and get them lined up to act when something is brought to your attention.
You might think this is obvious – many of you reading this will be project managers. But if you are an IT workstream lead or a Scrum Master, or Product Owner, then maybe you will be working alongside the project manager.
The role of the project manager is to create the risk management plan. The risk management strategy is likely to be set by the Project Management Office, but you might need one specifically for your project. It is more likely that you’ll take the risk management policies for the business and the PMO and make them actionable and meaningful for your project.
Another role for the project manager is to update the risk log. Unless you have a dedicated risk manager working alongside you, that job falls to the PM.
Finally, the project manager should take a role in the governance of risk. That involves ensuring risk management actually happens and that people take the process seriously. They should know what the process is and follow it. You can check that there is enough attention being paid to risk overall and provide oversight. For example, make sure you have risk management as a standing item on your project board agenda.
Second, we have the role of the project sponsor. They may not take a hands on role in doing mitigation actions (although they might, depending on what is required). However, they are going to be a huge influence on how risk is managed.
The sponsor will set the risk appetite for the project. That means they are accountable for the risk profile of the project (making sure it isn’t riskier than they would like) and ensuring it fits within the risk appetite for the business overall.
The sponsor also acts as the escalation point for the team. They are able to resolve risks that the project manager and team can’t. And if it needs to go even higher, the sponsor is the person to do that.
Next we have suppliers. This is shaping up to look like a list of people who are involved in your core project team and project board, and that is not a coincidence!
Suppliers and the work they do also carries risk. They have responsibilities around risk management, namely making sure that they flag anything important to the project manager. They may maintain their own project risk log, but they should also be passing up significant risks to the project manager.
If a supplier tells you that their work is creating no project risk and there’s nothing for you to be notified of, be very suspicious! That to me would sound like someone who doesn’t know what risk management is or what they should be doing.
Many risks relating to your supply chain are going to carry a financial risk. For example, if the supplier can’t source the correct parts for your machine, then you’ll have to get them elsewhere at a higher cost. Make sure you factor in risk management plans for supplier risks because they could leave you significantly out of pocket.
Your core project team are essential people to work with you on risk management. You’ll involve them in risk identification at the beginning of the project and throughout. You’ll rely on their expertise to put together risk management plans and own the actions. You’ll need them to help you spot new risks or to deal with risks that become issues.
The day to day risk management activities are going to be carried out by the team.
Project Management Office (PMO)
Before you get too far into a project at a new place, talk to the PMO. What they expect you to do for risk management is going to follow the normal pattern: identify risks, manage them, report the big ones, but there might be specific processes or templates they expect you to use.
You might also be subject to internal audit or project assurance. The PMO may get involved in this and it would be natural to expect them to see your risk logs as part of any review.
The PMO’s role isn’t all about governance and holding you to account. You may also be able to draw on them for support. Sometimes project coordinators sit within the PMO and can be ‘loaned out’ to project managers for project admin or support tasks. This could include coming to risk meetings to take notes, updating the risk log, chasing team members for updates and things like that.
Think about who you are going to need for risk management on your project, just like you think about what resources you need for every other area of your project. Identify the types of people who will need to know about the process. And then involve them early.
Let them know what you expect of them and what the process is going to be. The earlier you do this on the project, the easier you will find the later stages of risk management because everyone will know what the whole thing is about.
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