Determining project objectives and goals provides the scope of a project, known as the planning process. This lays the foundation in running a successful project. Taking the planning process seriously is mandatory and using the right tools will assist in documenting project scope and objectives. Once the information is gathered and collated, it can all be communicated to the sponsor and stack holders.
The required tools
There are many project planning software tools available which will assist with the planning process and continue to help with execution and monitoring of the project. Project management software offers a wide variety of features, but it’s the following that will be more important during the project planning phase:
- Online Gantt Chart
- Resource Management
- Task Management
The following offers a closer look of each feature.
Online Gantt Chart
A Gantt chart is an ideal way to visualize the schedule across a vertical timeline. If the required tasks to achieve the goals have been written down on a spreadsheet as part of the planning phase, then importing is easy and seamless. Importing can occur from any number of formats, such as Microsoft Project, Excel or CSV files and still keep the original formatting.
Using a spreadsheet initially is a process many Project managers use but is not necessary, it depends on the individual. Otherwise using a Gantt chart directly by inputting data on the left hand side is fine and saves time. This information will then populate the right-hand bar-chart side. If a task list is written on a Word document, it can just be copied and pasted into the appropriate field.
Once tasks are injected in the Gantt chart, next is to assign a due date to each. This will create a timeline on the right-hand bar chart in which the duration of each task is shown across a calendar grid. This will then indicate how long tasks will take against the backdrop of the project time-frame. It is at this point team members can be assigned specific tasks.
Using an online Gantt chart, the project team’s statuses are updated automatically, displaying how the project is actually progressing against original estimates. An added benefit is the use of automation through email notifications when tasks have been updated, so everyone is on the same page.
Defining resources once the tasks are organized, the resources in this instance are the team, space the tools and equipment needed for the project. A good project tool is going to offer a view of all work across the team on a single page. With this overview scheduling ahead is made easy. This provides work load balancing among the team.
Using an online tool provides easier insight on any over-assigned resources, and if this is the case then with a click they can be reassigned tasks. Color coding also assist’s in providing a glance on who is over-allocated, unallocated or when holiday and vacation days are scheduled.
When the project has started, this planning tool gets updated in real-time to help view a team’s workload. This allows any further tweaking of the project plan even when the project planning phase has passed into action.
The more comprehensive the task plan is the more productive the project will be. Project planning software displays the due dates for all tasks and, provides percentage complete as tasks are executed.
The view can be filtered to display tasks by due date, owner or project if working on a program. This helps in displaying only the information needed when planning to assign the tasks. Notes, files and links can be added to provide comments, production notes and document hand-offs once the project has initiated.
While the dashboard is mostly thought of a way to monitor a team’s progress and the project’s health it is a must have tool. The Dashboard can be used to provide an overview of the project plan during the planning phase. From this one page everything about the project can be seen and if all the pieces are working together.
The dashboard collects all data and displays it in colour graphs and charts that are easy to print out or share online when presenting the project plan to the sponsor and stack holders. It also is a place where budget tracking can occur and make sure enough funds has been allocated to cover the costs of the project.
Project Planning Software provide Control of the Plan
With the right project planning tools it’s easier to manage the planning phase of a project. As there is a way to collect and organize all the data for the coming project and make sure the team has assigned tasks that can be completed within the project time-frame.
Planning a project using the right tools is mandatory, as they allow better management of project work. Look no further than the software tools referenced in projectmanagementcompanion.com, providing insight on cloud-based PM tool; try one of the free software with a 30-day trial.
Projects come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. Much of effective project management is based on experience. Regardless, even the experienced project manager should be abreast of any recent developments and certifications. That quest for knowledge should extend to furthering skill and ability for the job at hand. There are different levels of certification and training available. While knowledge is a great thing, seeking out the highest level isn’t always the ideal direction to pursue.
Not every project needs an MBA qualified individual for it to be a success. Acquiring skills via certifications could eventuate in a waste of time. If an opportunity to put into practice newly learnt theory doesn’t eventuate, then it may result in those skills becoming rusty and forgotten. Selecting the right training for a job starts with knowing and understanding what level of expertise is needed for the type of project being worked on.
There are components to factor in when determining the level of training required and certifications to obtain in order to work and achieve the desired result. These four processes are to be considered when trying to identify the right levels for effective project management. It can be thought of as a four-step process for acquiring the amount of project management skill for a particular position. It starts with examining the situation and concludes with putting a right-sized repertoire of abilities into action.
Drive involves asking and answering the question of why someone wants or needs to develop project management skills. The motivation behind the drive, it could be only to occasionally work on projects as a member of a cross-functional team. There may be a requirement to act as project manager regularly as a part of the job. It can also be the case that someone needs to be able to show project management knowledge in order to be eligible for their next promotion. What drives a person to acquire PM skills can be as diverse as the various types of projects. That drive will also directly influence the types of skills necessary to achieve their project management goals.
Determining the depth of knowledge required for project management can be a direct correlation with the motivation and the selection of the right set of tools for the job. In this step, an individual needs to determine the type of knowledge that they need and how much of it is necessary. This way, they can focus their efforts on learning what is needed to be known. For example, the person occasionally working as a team member of cross-functional project team will need to know the basics of the methodology they will be working on. Key concepts like deliverables, success criteria, sprints, and documentation procedures are what will help the most. The regular project manager will need more extensive knowledge of the methodology, as well as details for team coordination and procedure implementation.
Once the required project management skill is understood, the next step is to go out and get them. With the necessary skill set identified, an individual can find the training to acquire those skills. This is the development step in the process, where an individual goes out and develops the project management competencies they identify for the depth of skill they require.
With the new project management skills learned and developed, it’s time to put them into practice. Theoretical knowledge that can’t be used is nothing more than useless information. In the deployment stage, individuals can take their newly acquired knowledge back to their professional settings and put it into practice. This means managing project, working on project teams, overseeing project portfolios, or any other activities where the new project management skills will be useful and beneficial.
Also important in the deployment stage is to look out for repetitive opportunities. These are chances for people to use their project management skills again, and again, and again – pausing in between each time to look for chances to improve. Every new endeavour is an opportunity to learn and progress, but only if time is taken to use them.
Work environments are constantly changing with new challenges and situations arising from anywhere, it’s important to regularly revisit and reassess the types of skills needed. By focusing on the immediate and near-future requirements, a person has the chance to learn not only the skills they need for the moment, but the skills they will actually have the opportunity to use, practice, and master. So when the time comes to move further up the ladder, they will have a strong foundation to start from before taking the next step.
If your role is at the forefront of a team within an organisation, then as the point person it is more than likely there is a frequency in receiving incoming project requests. Received via email, instant message threads, or possibly mentioned during a meeting. Sometimes there might not be any real formal request at all. As information is coming in at all angles, time can be wasted in deciphering what is real and what is just noise.
Avoid situations similar to these scenarios by creating a process that can be replicated over and over. The best approach is to create an intake process template that can be used to streamline work requests and set the team up for success.
The benefits of creating an intake process template
Standardizing the work intake process flow will require some work up front, but the numerous benefits make it well worth it. Below are just a few of the many reasons that project leaders should consider creating a project intake process template.
It improves consistency
Without a defined process in place, it’s far too easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. Project requesters have little understanding of what’s required of them when outlining a project. If there is no established way forward, it can cause confusion and delays.
A well-defined project intake process eliminates that confusion by giving everyone a prescriptive set of steps that must be followed in order to request work from a team.
That streamlined process makes it easy for everyone to know what needs to happen, as well as what will happen next.
Only the needed information is received
It can be a struggle to get ready for a project, ensuring all the required information is received. Then once commenced, there is a vital piece of information missing. Then time is wasted tracking down those important details. The template is used to gather information; the best way to obtain the information needed is via a questionnaire or creative brief that requesters need to fill out. The form should have mandatory fields so the team has all of the information needed from the beginning.
Automation of Information
There is a great possibility that the current project management intake process involves many repetitive tasks, such as project setup, assigning owners and establishing deadlines. Using a template makes it easier to spot repetitive or mundane pieces of the workflow that can easily be automated.
With the centralisation of information and following a template there is a solid grasp of all projects a team is currently working on. A better understanding of workload provides an insight on deadlines and resources and avoids a team being spread thin.
Receiving information via this mechanism is a time saver; this is one of the biggest benefits of using a template to gather information. , Once in place the wheel is not being reinvented each time a new request is received.
The following are the questions a project intake form should include; remember the questions can vary depending on the team setup and the type of project being worked on.
1. Who is the main contact of the project?
Understanding who owns the project is important, so they can be approached for information should clarity or direction be needed.
2. The type of project?
The intake form should ask, what type of project is being requested. It should provide the detail that is needed from the start, so the context of the project is understood. A project management software tool can assist by being used to make it easy to tailor the rest of the questionnaire based on this initial response. Depending on the answer, the subsequent questions will only relate to that type of project, and won’t need to answer any irrelevant questions.
3. The main objective of the project?
The question relating to the overarching objective of the project is important and needs to be understood. That’s something that requesters should be able to clearly articulate when completing the intake form. It should also indicate a key metric for monitoring purposes, so the same information about how success will be defined is understood.
4. The project audience
Every project has a specific audience, and that’s an important perspective to be keeping in mind when working on the requested assignment. Within the intake form, requesters must indicate who the intended audience is, as it could be from an internal team, board of directors, clients or customers or a specific subset of those.
5. The project financials?
The financials or budget is a very important component, it needs to be understood how much can be invested in the project before any commitment of resources is made. The intake form requester should indicate any budgetary constraints, or provide a range that the project needs to fall within.
6. Preferred project completion date
Teams deal with multiple projects at a time, constantly handling these requests from various departments or clients can be challenging. In order to effectively prioritize those, it has to be understood when each project needs to be completed.
Requester should indicate their desired completion date for the project when submitting the initial request. Although not a guarantee, there should be an indication when the project is to be completed. As a project manager best efforts would be made to deliver upon the requested time frame, but it also depends on how much work is being done at the same time. Being able to prioritize is a must here. A note on the form should specify how much notice is needed to complete a typical project.
The following are some other potential questions which an intake form can ask
- Who approved this request?
- Are there any existing files or assets which can be used?
- What call to action should this project include?
- What else should be known about the project?
Remember the process intake form is only the start, as it is best to use templates for the entire project kick off process. So once that form is completed and submitted, then there are other steps to be taken for the request to be placed into the system and it then becomes a project.
By creating and streamlining the intake process by using a template makes the task of deciphering information easier. There are numerous benefits on offer, including improved consistency and plenty of saved time. A process intake form structure should include:
- Receive a completed work request form
- Automatically create tasks and projects
- Automatically assign tasks
- Review the request and relevant tasks
- Confirm request receipt and project timeline
- Host a kick off meeting
By doing this for each and every project request, less time will be spent managing the process and more time focusing on what matters, such as completing the project.
Project Management in an Agile environment engages stakeholders with interaction between developers and customers. This occurs to deliver a satisfactory outcome for the customer and the organisations requirements.
Taking on and making an Agile approach in this instance successful. Effective leadership over multiple levels, that is from executive, functional and project/program management, and team is required. In its core the Agile approach challenges those who are anchored in hierarchies and a command and control management approach. As a greater number of executives realize that agile leadership can overcome the job dissatisfaction caused by authority based, non-caring management, agile leadership is being recognized as an effective leadership style for any project or process.
The Agile Leader
Agile leaders use principles of the agile approach to go beyond outdated traditional leadership approaches. It values delivering useful outcomes with individuals and interactions working together in healthy relationships, and responsiveness to change. Processes, tools, plans, documentation and contracts are recognized as valuable though not as valuable as relationships and adaptability founded on the goal of satisfying the customer.
Agile leaders are known as facilitators and servant leaders who provide an environment in which people can learn, grow and perform. They buffer the team from disruptions and distractions, promoting continuous improvement by establishing a safe environment, providing performance reflection. Defines and makes sure everyone understands the goal and is doing what needs to be done to achieve it.
The foundation for effective leadership is made up of mindfulness, intelligence and a sense of servant leadership. Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose without judgement. It is stepping back to observe whatever is happening within and around oneself. Mindfulness enables resiliency, non-reactive behavior and an experiential understanding of the interconnection among people and systems.
Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply skills and knowledge. The kind of intelligence required is not just cognitive intelligence as measured by IQ. It includes social, emotional and spiritual intelligence – the foundations for building and sustaining effective relationships.
Servant leadership is a leadership approach based on the idea that the leader is dedicated to making sure that those being served build upon their skills to grow as people, to become optimally effective, healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely to become servant leaders.
The leader of an agile team is charged with enabling the team to deliver useful product to satisfy the requirements of clients and product users by making the team self-managing and protecting it from disruptions and distractions.
For example, the agile leader will use formal processes to enable and at the same time moderate the effects of change. In a project using an Agile methodology, the project manager and team of developers and customers get together to review a backlog of requirements and agree upon the requirements for the next iteration of development. The customers agree to minimize change within the iteration and any changes in scope are documented and justified. The intention is to enable change while recognizing that changes, particularly those that take place while work is going on in iteration, are expensive and disruptive.
Mindfulness and intelligence come into play when it becomes clear that powerful customers may attempt to make excessive changes in requirements during iteration. Perhaps these customers do not spend enough quality time thinking through the requirements or do not care about completing the iteration in a timely way. Maybe, they believe that the developers can just adapt and deliver on time anyway.
Mindfulness ‘sees’ what is happening, objectively. The mindful person observes the behaviour and observes his/her and the team members’ feelings of frustration and fear.
Emotional intelligence is founded on being mindful of the arising of emotions. It comes into play when the fear of confronting the customer begins to get in the way of protecting the team from the disruption of uncontrolled change. It also influences the way the leader responds and communicates with the team to moderate behavior and, if the disturbing behavior continues, to handle it in a practical way. The ability to recognize and soothe the team’s concerns is an expression of social intelligence.
Conceptual intelligence comes into play as the leader finds the right way to state the problem and come up with a viable solution for the current situation.
Servant leadership and spiritual intelligence kick in to ensure that the team is protected from unnecessary stress brought on by irrational beliefs and behavior that violates basic agreements among the team members. It also influences the desire to promote learning and personal growth by holding performance reviews and addressing issues candidly.
The Power of Agility
An Agile approach, applied correctly in the right situations, enhances the ability to satisfy customer expectations while enabling healthy relationships among all project team members. By breaking up the work into small “chunks”, delivering product quickly, and by working in a team that combines customers and developers who reassess the plan frequently and collaboratively, the Agile approach to project management promotes agility – the ability to move quickly and easily, particularly in the face of change or challenge. The power of agility is to manage interactions among stakeholders to enable fully engaged customers in the effort to deliver products and services that satisfy their needs, even in the face of volatility, uncertainty complexity and ambiguity.
To be successful, an Agile approach needs agile leadership with its collaborative, service-based approach founded on mindfulness and the enhanced intelligence mindfulness enables. Without this kind of leadership it is likely that the Agile approach will be ineffectual – either too rigidly adhering to an impractical set of rules, or not applying the right level of discipline. This will cause team members to be unmotivated and performance will suffer. With agile leadership the team gets the support and direction it needs to grow and to perform optimally.
There are benefits associated with automation of marketing by streamlining project management. The question can be asked, as to the benefits in using marketing automation over other management strategies. These can be broken down into benefits and how to apply into project management to achieve results.
Real-time Implementation and strategic planning
Data collection can be very time consuming when planning how a project should proceed, and the steps to success. It can take weeks, even months to collate the information. This has been made easier with the introduction of marketing automation, as collection can be made in real time.
When real-time information is readily available, plans can be made easily and changed to match the result. The outcome, planning and implementation cycles become shorter.
This permits strategic planning based on actual sales instead of customer perception and market estimations. This enables unsuccessful strategies to be modified as early as possible.
Real time information can be beneficial to both small and large business, as it allows adaption of the market and determines the niche where maximum revenue and minimize costs can be achieved. If and when sudden changes in the market place occur, it may not be as disastrous, because information is collected in real-time.
Targeting and Lead Scoring
Tasks can be simplified within the expansion of a business towards new markets. This relates to targeting new markets and using lead scoring which can be aided by marketing automation. Instead of real-time information, the purpose of using automation is to be able to handle different sets of data at once to create an overview of the market’s readiness for the product.
Wider coverage can be easily handled with the use of marketing automation for lead scoring. Automation also collects more accurate data without consuming too much time. Instead of manually collecting data, the available time could now be spent for analysing opportunities and creating marketing campaigns. The use of automation definitely is an upgrade in this case because of how it streamlines the whole process.
It may seem that larger companies are the biggest beneficiary of such technology, smaller businesses can benefit as well. By performing tasks that require a lot of teams to previously complete. By spending for marketing automation, small businesses have acquired a comparative advantage that would usually require paying for a few regular employees glued on the task.
Project management streamlining is an advantage and benefit of market automation. Because it allows different sets of information to be collected and handled automatically, the different teams are freed from menial tasks and are able to collaborate towards planning and implementing strategies and campaigns.
The integration happens through the automation’s capacity to generate reports instantly. Different sets of data can be cross-referenced with each other to produce results that can help departments decide. There is no longer the need to send a long paper trail of documents between and among departments. The automation does the work for everyone.
The system can also be automated to send the generated reports to a list of emails. Updates can be made at any chosen interval, whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly. All that needs to be done is to make sense of the available reports and use the data to come up with clever strategies that can bring in sales and revenue.
The Impact on Smaller Businesses
The beneficiaries are those who belong to a small business, whether it’s a personal online store or a recently-started business. Marketing automation may continue to develop and be able to do all the simple work done by employees in companies. What’s left is for the business owners to do what automation cannot: to create plans and be creative in developing campaigns.
The popularity of marketing automation is expected to remain, because of the efficiency it brings into businesses, regardless of size. Its strength is that it could do the menial tasks all by itself and do it with less time required compared to doing these tasks manually.
Its added value is the ability to bring accessibility and comfort to marketers since the amount of repetitive tasks is reduced. The flexibility that marketing automation provides project management is a definite for companies looking to cut costs and reduce the time spent on different projects.
Marketing automation should always be a serious consideration. These are just some of the ways on how marketing automation is currently being used. Over time, other tasks will soon incorporate this technology to create productivity and efficiency.
It can be a balancing act as a project manager when reviewing a team’s to-do list and also ensuring that the workload is equally shared. A critical component of this is getting the balance right. Project teams look towards the leader for clarification on what task to perform and when. Remember, no one works well when a project manager is hovering over their shoulder as tasks a being completed.
There are 5 steps which should be considered to ensure a team remains focused on the task at hand, and also make it easier for the project manager to manage the workload, without the team being micro managed.
Current Workload Review
If commencing from scratch, then a review of what is currently happening is required. This could have been initiated by a resource suggesting they are doing too many tasks, or from another team manager who has contacted the project manager stating that team resources have missed a deadline.
The project Manager must be mindful that they can only manage on what is known. Within a matrix environment, some of the resources are only available to work on project tasks for a portion of the week, so clarity is required.
Pinpoint over allocated resources
Look for people on the team who are over allocated. That just means resources have been given more work than they can actually do in the time available. A good rule is that people should be allocated to specific tasks only 80% of their time. The remaining 20% will be for answering phone calls, attending team meetings, dealing with the customer who calls with an urgent problem and so on.
The 20% should be spread out across the week; it’s better to fill people’s time for, say 6 hours per day, than give them every Friday with nothing to do apart from catch up on the things they weren’t able to finish earlier in the week.
Identifying under allocated resources
Constant review of resource reports and dashboards should identify resources that don’t have enough work to do. Keep the team motivated by ensuring they have meaningful tasks to fill the day.
In reality, team members will always make themselves look busy. They will find things to work on, perhaps taking on tasks of their own accord or helping out one of their colleagues. The time management system will help you understand if they are working on tasks that are deemed to be priority.
Clues to resource allocation in respect to over or under allocation can be extracted from them directly. Resources may ask for more work or point out that they can’t take on another assignment. This is where professional judgement is activated, meaning are they genuinely too busy or just working on the wrong tasks? Or possibly being unproductive? The better their strengths and work patterns are understood, the easier it will be to interpret what the time sheet system is indicating.
Skill sets and absences
A team’s workload can be better managed if it is known when resources will be available. Speak with them regarding upcoming leave, which should be included in any planning so work is not assigned to a resource that won’t be available.
Checking in on the team from time to time and discuss if their skills are up-to-date. This could eventuate in a resource being able to work on more projects than was originally anticipated, especially if they have developed new skills.
The fine line of balancing workloads is a skill, commence with the people who have too much work assigned to them. Split up the big tasks into smaller chunks and assign someone else to help them out. Or make the task stretch over a longer period so they have fewer hours to work on it each day. Consider moving some of their work to another member of the team who doesn’t have enough to do. Boost someone’s workload by asking them to take on another project, develop their skills or involve them in planning for next year.
Considering a change of assignment within the resource planning system, remember to speak with the resource involved first. That’s one of the key ways to ensure the team is content. This can be achieved by shifting resource requirements around to balance out the work and that it is not a reflection on their performance. In fact, as a result of workload planning the resources may end up with even better assignments.