We are facing unprecedented
times, and businesses across the globe are having to adapt rapidly to the new
challenges presented by the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home will
become the new normal and in many instances the necessity for the well-being of
Being able to play a critical role while delivering projects during testing times will not only the lead to the success of the team but just as importantly the overall well-being of the team. As organisations begin to make this shift to working remotely it is crucial that employees or team feel they are still in touch with each other and have the opportunities to thrive!
It is best to be equipped with the tools needed to maintain ‘business as usual’ as much as possible, and inoculate the team and company against the uncertainties of the current health crisis.
In particular tools to master strategies to boost productivity and eliminate procrastination. By fostering healthy work cultures that transcend geographical obstacles and hone sophisticated communication skills to enhance collaboration.
Remote work has been a catchword in the financial papers, but for many it’s never been a reality until faced with a worldwide pandemic. What to do when the office isn’t open, but still expected to carry on and keep up productivity? There are tools and practices already in place to ease the transition to a remote working environment. The following is a collection of the best tools to maintain connectivity, in communication and collaborating successfully.
Projectmanagementcompanion.com is an online reference tool which provides access to the most common online project management software that lets teams plan, manage and track projects together in real time. Everyone on the team is connected no matter the location or time. Tasks can be provided to the team from any of the multiple project views, such as the Gantt chart, and attach directions and documentation as needed. Team members can manage their work with a task list, calendar or kanban board view.
Once an assignment has been sent, working together with teammates is easy. Projectmanagementcompanion.com references collaboration by creating a virtual office space. Team members can comment on their tasks and bring others in on the conversation by tagging them. They can also add as many files and images as needed to communicate effectively. No more scrounging through email histories; the information they need is always at their fingertips.
The online tool should enable team updates, always be available, and project progress is visible. The real-time dashboard should reveal task progress, project costs, project slippage, team workload and more—as it happens. This high-level view keeps everyone on the same page.
When a more granular view is needed, ensure the tool has one-click project reports for a variety of different metrics, including variance, progress and cost. These reports can be filtered to show just the data needed. It’s an ideal feature for tracking team productivity, but also for reporting back to stakeholders and showing them that work is getting done, even if the office is dark.
It can be difficult to know if people are overworked or have nothing to do when they’re not in the office. All of the better online project management tools provides a workload page that is colour-coded and shows at-a-glance who has too many tasks and who doesn’t have enough, so keeping track of work balance across the team shouldn’t be an issue.
Other tools to consider are;
Slack bills itself as an alternative to email, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an online communication and chat tool that keeps the entire organization connected. Organizations might already have embraced the technology. It’s become a darling of the working world and for good reason.
Slack makes email all but antiquated. Attachments can be added and messages sent individually or in groups. Groups can be set up to include company-wide correspondences, which is great for general announcements. Channels can be set up as well for more targeted sectors of your company, such as IT, marketing, etc. Plus, GIFs and emoji’s add much needed levity to lessen the sense of isolation and stress because of the coronavirus.
3. G Suite
G Suite is Google’s answer to Microsoft Office. It offers a number of online tools, but Google Docs, Google Sheets and Google slides are the most useful for collaborating on work. Unlike MS Office, it’s free, at least for personal use of up to 15 GB. That means a word processing program is available, spreadsheet and slideshow software for free.
G Suite helps with collaboration, as files can be private or shared. When they’re shared, they’re updated in real time, so there aren’t multiple versions of a document floating around and creating confusion. Instructions can be given, comments can be made and teams can work together on tasks.
Dropbox is like a digital file cabinet that’s been supersized. It’s a cloud-based way to share files, so it keeps all of your company files in one place. These files can be shared or kept private.
From a home office, with only a few keystrokes, get the documents and assets needed to complete tasks.
Dia is an open-source tool for making network diagrams. Possibly considered as a free version of Window’s Visio, though it’s more for making informal diagrams for casual use.
It can make many different kinds of diagrams, such as relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams and others. These diagrams can help illustrate ideas in an email or during video conferences. They can be saved and exported in a number of different formats.
Evernote is a cross-platform app (desktop, apps, web apps, mobile apps) for taking notes. Notes, of course, are the seeds from which great ideas spring. Evernote makes it easy to jot down a note or share ideas with others, even while in the middle of working.
But, Evernote does more than simple note-taking. It integrates with many other app, has browser extensions, syncs with iOS and Android devices and can even save a web page with just one click. Wherever information is being collected, it’s all saved and easily accessible in one place. It’s safe, simple and makes sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Zoom is a virtual meeting space. Meetings will not be denied, coronavirus or not. Teams will need to talk, and managers will need to lead. Zoom provides a virtual conference room for anyone with a computer and an internet hook-up.
Zoom acts as a phone, instant messenger for business, video webinar and a conference room. It’s a social way to stay socially distant.
OFFTIME is an app for iOS and Android devices to curb social time. Social distancing doesn’t apply to social media, but when it comes to wasting time its epidemic. People can’t help but distract themselves from a stressful assignment with cute cat pictures.
OFFTIME restricts social media time on smartphones, it can set limits on usage and schedule timeouts.
Pocket enables articles to be saved whenever something interesting is encountered. When in the course of a day, an article or video is shown that captures interest it can be saved. Pocket allows saving, no matter where it was published. That way, remaining focused without getting pulled away from work.
Noisli is an app that uses music to both soothe and be more productive. It doesn’t provide pop, classic rock or hip-hop, but the app does have over a dozen sounds, from nature to trains and coffee shops.
Noisli sets the mood and creates an aural soundscape that improves focus and productivity. The sounds can be mixed, adjust levels and curate a perfect chill vibe to provide calm during stressful times.
Tips for Working from Home with Remote Teams
Now that tools have been covered, the following are some tips that will help better regulate time and improve ability to collaborate, even with people in different time zones.
One thing is the daily scrum. Scrum is a framework for working in a more agile fashion, which means faster and more iterative. An essential part of scrum is the daily scrum, a meeting where the team gets together and briefly states what they did yesterday and what they are doing today.
Whether working that way or not, just having a moment at the beginning of the day when the team can video conference and talk about what they’re all working on is helpful for context and morale.
Set Up a Productive Work Station
If forced to work from home, then a workstation would need to be setup, a quiet location away from family to ensure concentration. Therefore, find a private place, preferably with a door that can be closed, so there is space and silence necessary to work. Ensure there is a good desk, chair, computer, lighting, etc., just like it would be expected in a work office.
Keep Regular Hours
It is suggested to keep regular hours when working from home. By setting a schedule and sticking to it, at least most of the time, it will give the day more structure.
With structure comes discipline and, believe it or not, most will need more discipline without the group modelling productive behaviours. So, follow the same morning routine every day to get in the right mindset, have lunch at the normal time and take periodic breaks—but act as if the boss is watching.
It might sound counter intuitive with a pandemic, but leaving home is important. It is possible to go stir-crazy being locked in a house. That’s not going to help with productivity.
A change of environment is essential. It refreshes the senses and brings you back to your desk with a new and better perspective to handle the coming challenges of the day.
Considering the infectious nature of coronavirus, though, keep away from public spaces, don’t go to coffee shops or restaurants and keep a safe and recommended distance from other people. But do get out and walk.
Stay Sharp by Diversifying your Downtime
Finally, take advantage of your home office. Instead of taking a break and chatting with a co-worker, do the laundry, prep for dinner or take a break to read. That doesn’t mean slacking off on work responsibilities, but rather managing time wisely.
Tracking a team’s progress with one of the online tools found in Projectmanagementcompanion.com and daily scrum meetings will also help, but there are other things that can be done to make sure the team is focused and staying productive when working from home. For example, set more aggressive deadlines for the team and assign them concrete tasks. This will promote productivity.
Experienced project managers understand the importance of stakeholder management. Stakeholders can influence many aspects of a project, including its budget, resources and overall progression. In order to manage stakeholders well, a fluid line of communication must be established. This requires that a project manager deliver regular reports to stakeholders and actively listen whenever stakeholders provide feedback. To properly communicate this with the stakeholder then they should be identified first.
The term stakeholder includes anyone that is affected by the project, both within the organization and without. Typical stakeholders can include investors, regulatory bodies, vendors, project teams, senior managers, board members and more. Obviously, not all of those stakeholders will be impacted by the project to the same degree, so the next step is to identify how and to what extent each stakeholder is affected.
Once the stakeholders have been identified, then analysis must take place in respect to their interest in the project and their influence on its outcome. These two metrics combined will help prioritize which stakeholders to focus on as the project is being managed.
For example, if a stakeholder has a lot of influence over the project, but isn’t that interested in its daily progress, then they shouldn’t be pestered with status reports every day. For help with prioritizing project stakeholders, it’s common to perform a visual process called stakeholder mapping.
Keep in mind that a stakeholder mapping matrix will only give part of the story, as stakeholders are human beings and will naturally react to events and communications in unique ways, even if they have similar levels of interest and influence. Some individuals might have endless patience, while others might be quick to anger. This is important to consider as communication plans with the stakeholder is being composed.
Once this has been conducted, then it is time to create an overall plan for managing them as the project progresses. Because without an agreeable relationship with stakeholders, the project is in for some rough sailing.
Communication is essential for a positive relationship with each of the stakeholders. Stakeholders need clear business communications, free of jargon that fits busy schedules and provides the information that applies to their project interest. Some stakeholders will like phone calls, others emails. Some stakeholders will demand in depth task reports, while others will want overall project status reports.
If a project management software is chosen, it must be able to efficiently communicate with the stakeholders, allowing for leverage of relationships and promote progress and avoid any bureaucratic roadblocks. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a selection of easy reporting tools that can create status reports, task reports and project progress reports, making it easy to quickly distribute tailored reports to stakeholders.
Remember communication is a two way street, the stakeholder must be listened to throughout this process, and not just feeding them with reports and updates. That’s where a strategy to adapt to changes comes in handy.
It’s important to actively listen to the stakeholder when feedback is given. Always ask questions to really understand what they are wanting from the project. It’s better to ask questions now then have to deal with another meeting later that takes up even more time. Of course, implementing changes to a project plan will require a redistribution of resources. Resource management tools can be absolutely critical in this instance.
Use software which has workload tools that allow quick overview of the workload assigned to the entire team on a single calendar view, and then easily reassign work and project resources with just a few clicks. This allows the adoption of changes put forth by stakeholders in just a matter of minutes.
Naturally, the stakeholder won’t always be right, ensure to pick battles carefully. It’s okay to say no to a stakeholder, be ready to defend the argument with solid data.
Use regular communications with stakeholders to not only converse, but to monitor their emotions and reactions. If there are any abrupt changes in attitude noticed, then something might be amiss in the relationship.
Stakeholder relationships can also take a hit if there are errors in the overall project execution, such as missed deadlines, inaccurate budgets or employee turnover. In such instances, it’s smart to make an extra effort to reach out and keep everyone informed.
In addition to managing the stakeholders themselves, it’s also import to monitor any project changes they might have suggested. The best way to do this is with a project dashboard that provides a bird’s eye view of all the important data.
Given everything that’s been mentioned, the importance of project stakeholder management is clear. Without their cooperation, it’s impossible to bring a project to a successful conclusion. That’s why, as a project manager, it’s critical that an atmosphere of positive stakeholder relationships will leave them happy with the team’s performance, the project manager, and outcomes.
Resourcing is a key component of any projects success or failure, to underestimate the importance of a project team, is at the project managers peril. Frequently, projects are executed with teams of inadequate size and composition, due to budget or internal skill-set. Other factors include poor comprehension of the nature and amount of the work to be done, and a superficial or in-existent analysis of the required skills in the team members.
To engineer the project team is an important process to be done carefully. To do that, it’s fundamental first to have a clear understanding of the nature of the scope of the work. A good requirements elicitation, a correct project scope definition and a detailed work breakdown structure are key process to ensure the comprehension of work that the project involve.
Once the work breakdown structure is clear, is the moment to meditate on the preassigned human resources to the project team. Is it suitable in quantity and quality? The organization has a fixed staff, or the organization hire people to create a dedicated team for the project? Probably the answer will depend on the organization and in the particular project.
To define the team, the first step is to assign to each activity or work package, the required number of people with their associated qualifications or expertise. Once finished this exercise, it’s necessary to check the time frame of the execution of the tasks. For instance, if several activities that requires the same specialists can be done in sequence, the number of persons to consider in the team are few than in the case if the activities should be executed in parallel.
This optimization can only be possible when the problem is quantitative (number of people), but not in the case in which the resource gap is qualitative. For instance, if the project requires a doctor in robotics, the project cannot be delivered with who don’t have knowledge in robotics, even if sponsors provide double or triple the time. This is obvious, but frequently is forgotten. In this instance there is a degree of freedom: by trading off the number of people with the execution time. The same set of activities can be executed slower with less people or faster with more people. Therefore, there is an optimization analysis to be done. Off course, this analysis is constrained in certain limits. For example, a task originally planned to do with three people can be accelerated if there is an introduction of two additional persons, but if ten extra people are added, they will obstruct the fluid development of the task. In this case entropy is being produced, and the task will not be finished early.
An instrument or tool to identify the gap of skilled people in the project team is the resource gap table, as depicted below
Being conscious of the project team resource gap is important in the planning process. It is useful to ask for resources, time or, in the worst case, at least to be conscious of the risks and communicate them opportunely to stakeholders.
Without good communication, very little of quality can get completed, as it is the foundation of a strong and healthy relationship, partnership or friendship. In particular, within the realm of Project Management it is the way projects work as well. For without good communication, things can become over complicated. Even with an airtight project plan, it will be difficult to achieve the first milestone without proper communication management.
Project communication is the process of identifying key information that will be shared with team members and stakeholders throughout a specific project. This includes listing out stakeholders and identifying team members that will be on project communications. It’s key to outline out how communication recipients will receive project updates, the frequency they’ll receive it, as well as the points during the project they’ll receive it.
As the project plan is developed, the communication plan should also be developed along with it so everyone has the necessary context and can do their job effectively at each step. The points of communication, along with the contact list, will be in between each of those steps as they would need to get edits, comments and ultimately, approvals.
Communication management is everything, a project plan cannot be created and then hope everyone sticks to it. Once the plan is created and everyone is on board, a resource should be allocated as the key contact to manage the plan throughout the entirety of the project. This could either be the Project Manager or another resource, normally someone who has a good sense of communication. For example, a project manager can manage the deliverables on the agency side, and an account manager can manage all communications on the client-side, working as a tag-team to make the project successful.
To ensure solid communication management throughout a project, a communication management plan should be created. The benefits of a communication management plan are five-fold:
- A written framework that both client/stakeholders/team members can reference. This can help in case there is any need for mediation. There is a written paper trail which can be referred to, should it be needed. It can also be beneficial for accounts payable to reference in case there are gaps in time tracked for the project.
- The plan itself will manage expectations from stakeholders to not anticipate a finished project before the deliverables have been tested for quality assurance.
- The points at which communication is shared allow both stakeholders to provide valuable feedback to the project process as well as the final product, and give team members a chance to brainstorm ideas together, bridging the divide between the two groups.
- It allows all involved to better discover risks and issues early on.
- It helps to eliminate the need to hold unnecessary meetings on the books, saving both time and money.
Understanding why communication management matters might sound like a normal requirement for any organization, it’s not always accomplished well.
Communication can be bolstered by having an online project collaboration tool, like the ones found at Projectmanagementcompanion.com. Online Project Management tools allow managers to roll out project plans, and then disseminate information to team members at the right time for the right task. Tasks allow for comments, attachments, embedded links, descriptions, to-do lists and more, so everyone gets the directions right the first time.
How is communication achieved in such a way that it effectively cuts down on lost productivity time?
The following are some tips and techniques to ensure communication management plan is performing at optimal levels.
- Include a description of the project landscape in the original plan: Give the project a background including the organization’s short-term and long-term goals, who the stakeholders are, who the team members are, how much budget will be involved, what resources will be needed and how much time the project is expected to take. Include objectives as well as the project vision to ensure that the background isn’t just an outline, but a robust, fully-developed and communicated plan so that it can better generate project buy-in.
- Assign an owner of the communication process: Depending on the size of the organisation, this could be divided between the Project Manager who is focused on delivery and the Account Manager whose job it is to communicate.
- Include a review process: Setting up a formalized review process will ensure that no one will miss a beat when it comes time to assess the project.
- Set up a system for messages to be delivered: Determine if a project management software or Microsoft Excel is to be used. Is communication occurring via Slack, Skype, or just email? Include all of this in the plan so that everyone knows the best way to make contact.
- Meeting Management: This pairs along with creating a stakeholder management plan. Meetings can be a waste of time (and a lot of the time, they can be better said in an email). Make sure meetings only include the stakeholders who will be involved in the decision-making process and then create an agenda for each meeting for everyone to follow. This will help the group to stay on task and on topic.
There are many ways in which good communication management can save a project from disaster and keep everything working at optimal levels. But what happens when leadership (or the project communication owner) displays ineffective methods of communication? The project can quickly fall into peril.
Here are some communication management mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t be passive-aggressive: Refusing to speak directly to a co-worker, team member or stakeholder can limit the project’s progress entirely. Passive aggression can also look like one is avoiding a task or a project because of the people involved. Passive aggression in the workplace can be the cause of missed deadlines, wasted time, lost revenue and more.
- Don’t micromanage the project process: Micromanagement is damaging for any work environment in a myriad of ways; it increases health risks, affects employee turnover, decreases productivity and slows down project progress. Trust team members and stakeholders to deliver results on time and on budget, this should make for a happier, more effective product outcome.
- Don’t rely on electronic communications: A lot can be lost over text or email. As facial expressions, tone of voice can be missed, and can thus misunderstand what is being requested. Additionally, while meetings slow down workplace productivity, a deluge of emails can have the same effect. Remember that the best ways to communicate, especially during project milestones, are face-to-face.
- Don’t forget to document everything: The only way to properly review the success of a project is by looking back at the data via documentation. With documentation, it can be determined who did what, which tasks were delivered when, and how much the project cost overall.
Managing communications for the duration of a project is never an easy task. The assistance of a reputable project management software tool can assist in helping teams collaborate effectively across multiple platforms. Sign up for a free 30 day trial and see for yourself.
Managing conflict during the course of a project is natural, so many people involved all with differing opinions and attitudes. The difference for a project manager being burnt by those conflicts or resolving the dispute is what separates the real good project managers from the rest. Anger often surfaces when one strong opinion differs from another and hence an opinion fight occurs.
One of the most critical skills for managing conflict is the ability to go beyond anger and allow the right degree of reason to moderate emotions in order to steer the mind towards greater understanding. Greater understanding leads to more effective conflict management resulting in better decisions, healthier relationships and optimal solutions that seek to satisfy the needs of all parties.
Within a project context, a conflict is any issue that keeps people from coming to an agreement. It might be called a dispute, disagreement, issue, problem, or any number of other things, depending on its complexity and the intensity of the differences among the people involved. Managing conflict is more of an art than a science. It seeks to reach a resolution or the acknowledgement that no resolution is possible. It requires balancing mindful awareness, emotions, intuition, rational thinking, empathy, and effective communications to creatively navigate the relationships among the parties to the issue. An intention to act with compassion, to reach win-win resolutions, plus an attitude of mutual respect is important ingredients for effective conflict management.
Interpersonal relationships are at the heart of effective conflict management, which can be complex at best. The ability to trade anger for understanding is a great skill to have, but this doesn’t come by easily, as at times it implies that one is more likely to be successful in resolving conflicts if one avoids the knee jerk reaction to convince the other guy. Instead, one turns attention to finding out what he or she is thinking and why he or she is thinking it. To understand requires stepping back, opening the mind and objectively “listening.” Not just listening with the ears but with all the senses.
We as humans have a capacity to process cues, some obvious, like words and overt behaviours, and some more subtle, like body language, eye movements and tone. To better understand where another person is coming from and why, cultivate that capacity and the mindfulness and concentration to enable objective observation. Then, fold understanding into the decision making and conflict management process.
Anger, ranging from mild frustration to rage, is a common emotion when dealing with conflict. Anger arises out of the fear that we won’t get what we want. Fixation on the desire to have things just as we want them closes the rational mind. Anger is a powerful emotion; an energy being sensed in the body and mind. Anger is both understandable and not to be suppressed. However, left unchecked it blocks reason leads to division, poor decisions, and verbal abuse and at time possibly worse. It makes understanding more difficult, if not impossible.
Anger breaks down the conflict management process. It is more damaging to the one who is angry than to the subject of the anger, particularly when the cause of the anger is in the situation itself. For example, anger at a system that throws up political and bureaucratic obstacles to getting projects done on time and within budget can damage individual and team morale. Anger channeled skillfully can fuel sharp thinking. Use it as an alarm to signal over attachment to ‘the only way’. Transform anger into crystal clarity and wisdom. Use the energy of anger to seek understanding.
Understand several things about the players in the conflict, including you. What is their motivation? What are their needs and wants? What do they believe winning means? Who are they trying to please by winning? What do those external players (sponsors, executives, managers, clients) really want? What expectations, biases, cultural norms, external constraints, values and models do they bring to the table? What is their conflict style – Forcing, Avoiding, Collaborating or Compromising? Are they more likely to be driven by their emotions or are they more inclined to be caught up in their analysis to the exclusion of emotions and intuition?
When we understand others and ourselves, we recognize that we are not so different from our adversaries. Compassion emerges to fuel mutual respect and a desire to reach win-win outcomes.
Conflict is a fact of life. Managed well it is a critical factor in successfully achieving objectives, including the objective to make relationships as healthy as possible, both in the short and long terms. To manage it well goes way beyond bias and insisting on “my way or the highway.” To do that, cultivate the ability to step back and understand the dynamics that are in play. Avoid reactivity to maximize responsiveness. Rely on intuition and analysis based on understanding.