Project Management

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Some Project Management uncomfortable truths

Project Managers can be positive about the outlook of their projects, especially when armed with tried and proven methods and tools. Unfortunately, there are aspects of projects which can limit its success. As project managers we have to face some uncomfortable truths.

Stakeholders have the last say.

No matter how well you manage your project, ultimately success is not down to you. It will be your stakeholders who decide whether to:

  • Adopt the processes you build
  • Use the systems you create
  • Buy the products you launch
  • Employ the assets you deliver

Hence regardless of all the project management processes and disciplines, stakeholder engagement is paramount.

Communication is paramount

Communication is one of the most important factors when managing a project. There must be transparency, willingness and dexterity when communicating to a wide range of stakeholders. Although the role is not to be political in approach, engaging in project diplomacy is almost a must.

The Project Team

If stakeholder engagement is about communication, then the team comes in a very close second. Ultimately the team around you will need to deliver the project, and having the right resources to achieve this is mandatory. The investment you put into developing and nurturing your team will dictate the quality of teamwork and individual commitment you will get out. The mantra of being transparent when communicating with the stakeholder is also the case with your team.

Controlling the environment

Although not necessarily focused on control, the job is to bring control to uncertain, complex, shifting and sometimes confusing environments. The methods and tools used to deliver a project have been designed to provide control.

Traditional vs. Agile

In traditional, predictive project management, there are designed processes and tools to anticipate the next steps and plan for risks and contingencies. However within large-scale software development, it may be difficult to achieve. This is why agile methods were created, to place new frameworks around lower-certainty endeavors. When conditions require both certainty of planning and estimating, which do not encompass either approach, then the use of a hybrid approach that take the most relevant aspects of each should be used.

Conditions are not supporting you.

As project managers, there will be times that outcomes cannot be controlled. However, controlling the preparation and readiness for the unexpected will assist in avoiding this situation.

Stakeholder disapproval

Depending on the size of the project, there could be multiple stakeholders with varying interests of the outcome and how it is achieved. Although project scoping should alleviate any delivery discrepancies, it is one of the hardest parts of a project. As reconciliation of all the different points of view are required at this point. No matter how hard you work, and how ingeniously negotiated, there will often be some stakeholders who will remain unsatisfied.

Projects Are Political

Project managers cannot avoid politics. Scoping is only partly about negotiating the best mix of functionality, specification and quality. It is largely about finding the right political compromise. This is one that respects the relative power of competing stakeholders.

Remain Available

Once you are considered a good or possibly a great project manager, then there will be big demands on your time and the number of projects which are worked on simultaneously. Spreading yourself thin in this instance can affect not only your project but reputation. Ensure you are able to concentrate on the task at hand; otherwise failure will be a very real alternative.

Constant Monitoring and Control Cycle

The more frequently a project is monitored, the sooner an issue is evident. If picked up early then what could become difficult to resolve is not. Failure to monitor often, the first time a problem is noticed could make it almost unresolvable without detailed intervention. If it’s a while before you can check-up on it, any residual issues can quickly blow-up, out of control. Project managers need to be present, to monitor and control projects. If not, then they are not being managed correctly.

Factors beyond the project occur

Because project exists within a wider context of the environment it will be delivered into, then it must be known that the following can occur:

  • Shifting politics
  • Evolving technology
  • Unstable economics
  • Commercial disruption
  • Legislative and regulatory churn
  • Threats to security

All of which affect planning.

Problem solving

At times projects can be predictable and hence become a “Slow Burn” .However on occasion during the project, challenge or problem solving emerges, this provides a sense of achievement, if resolved quickly and effectively.

Attention to Details throughout the entire project

Do not ignore the process of project closure that is handover to support staff, and the release of resources who in turn can work on the next exciting project. Part of the project managers role is to manage resource exits, and into new placements.

If a project manager abandons a project before it is finished, or ignores the details because they are administrative, there’s a price to pay. After putting in 80 percent of the effort the project could be only 20 percent of the success it should have been. Attention to detail is crucial because without it, a successful project could become a sad failure. Truths don’t get more uncomfortable than that.

One final uncomfortable truth: you can’t do it alone. Yes, you need a great team, but don’t forget to give them the tools they need to succeed. Projectmanagementcompanion.com provides cloud-based project management software with a real-time dashboard, online Gantt chart and collaborative features to serve you and your team. See how by taking a  free 30-day trial.

Quick look into Project Management

Project management can seem like a daunting discipline, but once you get a grasp of the fundamentals, and combine that with some intuition, you’ll be on your way to leading successful projects, no matter your situation.

Perhaps you have unexpectedly been assigned to lead a project and a big promotion is on the line, or maybe you’re a team member who wants to better understand their role in the project. Regardless of the situation understanding the fundamentals involved in project management is important. There are many articles within the project management companion site which can assist you in broadening your outlook of project management so you can reach your true potential.

What Is a Project?

A project is a sequence of tasks that lead toward a singular goal. Projects have boundaries, such as the time, people and resources needed to complete the project. These all depend on what results you want to achieve and when you want to achieve them.

Those results are your outcome, which produce something called deliverables, which is produced or provided because of the project. Deliverables can be both the result of the project itself, but also results of the process of the project, such as the project plan, reports or other documents.

Projects are made up of deadlines. Each task and phase of the project has a due date derived from a schedule.

Budgets are also part of a project. You need money to pay for the resources to meet the demands on the project within the time allotted. Typical resources include the workforce, work supplies and equipment. A project budget outlines these expenditures.

Most projects have five phases:

  1. Initiation: Here is where you set out the project scope, the goals, the organization of the project, its business case, its constraints, who the stakeholders are, what the risks are, the project controls, the reporting framework, etc.
  2. Planning: This is where you build the roadmap to take you from Point A to Point B, which means creating a schedule of the tasks, deadlines and resources needed to complete everything on time.
  3. Execution: The project begins and the project plan is put into action.
  4. Monitoring & Controlling: To make sure the project is proceeding as planned, you need to set up mechanisms for monitoring progress. If the project isn’t proceeding as planned, work to control and resolve issues before they become problems.
  5. Closing: Projects are temporary endeavours, so they eventually come to an end and need to be formally closed. But it’s not as simple as producing deliverables, there’s paperwork to sign off on, resources to reallocate and other loose ends to tie up.

Projects Require Task Management

Effective project management requires effective task management because a project is broken down into tasks — smaller, more manageable pieces. Tasks are temporary activities with a either a defined duration or a deadline.

Because the success of a project is dependent on tasks being done in a timely manner, tasks are often prioritized and then scheduled across a timeline. Some tasks are standalone acts, but others are dependent on the completion of one task to start another. These are called task dependencies. It’s critical to stay on track and get these tasks done so that the project proceeds according to its schedule.

What Tools Are Used in Projects?

Projects can be complicated, the bigger the more complicated. You plan, schedule and monitor to make sure all elements of the project are running smoothly. The more tools in hand, the more manageable the project and your tasks. Project management software can contain all the tools needed to help project managers and team members with every aspect of their projects.

When that project management software is cloud-based, data and collaboration can happen in real-time, which provides a more accurate picture of the project and helps in decision-making. Plus, project management software often contains many of the major tools for managing projects, like those discussed below.

Dashboards

Project dashboards  gather metrics from all parts of the project. Those numbers are then displayed in easy-to-read charts and graphs, giving a manager or a team member a live look at project progress and data. Dashboards can also assist in reporting. Running a project means reporting to the project’s sponsors on the progress of the project. Graphs and charts can be filtered to deliver just the data you need for targeted reports.

Gantt Charts

Online Gantt charts are great tools for planning because they display your task list graphically over a timeline. Each task has a deadline, which creates a line marking the start and finish of that task. Tasks can then be linked, if dependent.

Ideally, you can share the Gantt with your team and track their progress as they update their statuses. With some Gantt charts, the bar between the start and finish dates will fill in as the team works on their tasks, and if you need to change the schedule, you can simply drag-and-drop the bar to reflect the new due date.

Task Management Tools

There are task management tools that allow you to create to-do lists for yourself and assign tasks to team members. These tasks can sometimes have notes, files, links and images attached that relate to the task, and team members can dialogue and collaborate at the task level. You can also automate email notifications to know when a task is completed and to remind people of impending deadlines.

Timesheets and Workload Tools

In terms of managing the people working on the project, which can be a project by itself, there are timesheets. These are online documents that make it easy for each employee to track and record their hours worked, and they can be filed to the manager when complete for sign-off.

When it comes to managing the workload, resource allocation tools allow you to see at a glance if you’ve allocated your resources properly across the project so that everyone is working and the workload is balanced. In some cases, you can run reports from your workload management software, too.

Who Is a Project Manager?

The project manager leads the project through every phase. That means they’re responsible for first selling the project to stakeholders, then planning and defining the scope of the project. Project managers figure out all the tasks necessary to achieve the project goals, then they sequence those tasks into a schedule. Those tasks and schedules are then given the resources needed to achieve the project’s objectives. That means assembling a team, getting the tools they need, supplies, securing a site and any necessary resources.

The project manager is also the person who creates the project budget in order to pay for those resources. They are responsible for managing all the documentation, and then archiving those documents at the end of the project. They also manage risk and monitor project progress to make sure people are working unobstructed and within the schedule and budget.

So essentially, anything project related is under the purview of the project manager. They are the leaders of the project and manage the teams that are executing the project plan. However, they’re not the boss. The project manager has sold the idea of the project to a sponsor or stakeholder, and they report to them on the project’s progress.

Therefore, a project manager is a very well-organized person, one who is goal-oriented and passionate about process. A project manager must work well under pressure, provide leadership and know how to motivate people to do their best. Beyond people skills, communications skills are paramount. And they must know the methods and techniques that help deliver projects successfully.

Methods of Managing a Project

There are many ways to structure a project’s process, and project managers are experts in one or more of them. The most traditional is called Waterfall, which follows a linear approach to managing a project, breaking down the project into a very structured sequence.

A different approach that is gaining popularity is called Agile, which comes from software development. It is a process that works in small phases or cycles called “sprints,” and lends itself to small teams. Like its name, the process embraces change and is flexible and is continuously changing direction according to client feedback.

Then there are hybrid methodologies that take one or more methods and combines them. 

The Triple Constraint

Regardless of the method you use to manage a project, understanding the triple constraint is key. All projects are carried out with certain constraints. These are cost, time and scope. That is, projects must come in within budget, be delivered on time and meet the agreed upon scope.

If you think of the triple constraint as a triangle, then if you’re managing the cost, time and scope, the triangle is quality. So, if you’re managing the cost, time and scope of the project, then you’re going to meet the customer’s quality requirements.

But the triple constraint is more than that; it’s like the ballast on a ship, and keeps the project balanced no matter how rough the waters get. For example, if you need more money, then you’re going to have to adjust the time or scope of the project. Accordingly, if you’re short on time, then the budget or scope will have to change.

If you keep the triple constraint in mind while managing your project, along with the project phases and management tools, then you have the means to make the necessary adjustments that can keep the project on track. It’s the formula for success.

Of course, there’s more to project management than this Project Management 101 article. It gets deep. And it’s constantly evolving. However, there’s one constant in the eye of the hurricane that is managing a project: tools. If you and your team are equipped with the right tools, then you’re ahead of the game. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a list of cloud-based project management software with real-time dashboards, online Gantt charts and features to manage workload, resources, schedules and every aspect of your project. See how it can help you succeed, by taking a free 30-day trial today!

Free Network Creation Diagram Tools

What project management is good at is making the complex simple, or at least manageable. There are, of course, lots of different ways to achieve that goal, many of which are employed during the life cycle of a project.

A project network diagram is one such tool that helps simplify a complex project plan, enabling a project manager to see the big picture. It’s important to have an overview of any project, see when it starts and finishes, and quickly note all the points in-between that intersect and how they work together.

But some might avoid network diagrams, thinking of them as those dense schematics that depict the nodes and connections in a computer network. That would be a mistake. Project managers need tools, and the project network diagram is a great one.

What Are Project Network Diagrams?

A project network diagram is a visual representation of the workflow of a project. A network diagram is a chart that is populated with boxes noting tasks and responsibilities, and then arrows that map the schedule and the sequence that the work must be completed. Therefore, the network diagram is a way to visually follow the progress of each phase of the project to its completion.

Project managers use a network diagram to track the project, allowing them to see the progress of each element. Then they can share the status with the rest of the project group. This is especially helpful for those who better understand information that is delivered visually. For those team members, network diagrams will help with the performance of their tasks and increase the project’s productivity.

Another aspect of the network diagram is that it literally illustrates the project’s scope. That’s because the network diagram collects all the actions and outcomes of the project.

Types of Network Diagrams: ADM & PDM

Network diagrams can be divided into two types, the arrow diagram method (ADM) and the precedence diagram method (PDM).

As expected, the arrow diagram method uses arrows to represent the project activities, with the tail of the arrow being its start and the point the finish. The length of the arrow is the duration of the activity. The arrows connect nodes or boxes that are symbols of the start and finish of the activity in sequence.

In the precedence diagram method, each node or box is an activity. There are arrows, but in this case, they represent the relationship between the activities. That relationship can be one of the following:

  • Finish to start: This means an activity cannot start before another activity is finished.
  • Start to start: Use this when two activities can begin simultaneously.
  • Finish to finish: Use this when activities must finish together.
  • Start to finish: Use this when one activity cannot finish until another one starts.

 

Advantages and Limitations of Network Diagrams

Now that you know what a network diagram is, let’s take a more critical look at the pros and cons.

Pros of Project Network Diagrams

Starting with the pros, network diagrams are a boon to project planning. The technique collects all the necessary tasks that are needed to complete the project successfully. This attention to detail before starting a project will help identify the critical activities and where float, or the time a task can be delayed, might exist.

Having made a network diagram is also a great way to set deadlines and, having all the tasks laid out on one chart, it makes it easier to order the material resources and equipment needed to accomplish them. This description of resources will help with cash-flow and assembling the right team. Additionally, having the tasks on a network diagram, and being able to see where they’re dependent on other tasks, can help resolve issues as they arise during the project.

Cons of Project Network Diagrams

There are also limitations. Making a project network diagram takes time and costs money to produce. Also, the network diagram, depending on the project, can be overly complex and difficult to discern visually. That defeats one of its main purposes. Of course, there can be errors when making it or other unknown factors that can influence it outside of the data collected; all of this can make the network diagram misleading and potentially damaging to your project.

Some don’t believe in the necessity of a network diagram, that there are other tools that cover the same ground. For example, there is the Gantt chart, which is also a graphic representation of the project timeline with tasks, duration and dependencies. But a Gantt chart can also allocate resources, update project status and track tasks and time.

Free Tools for Making Network Diagrams

There’s only one way to know if a network diagram is for you or not: try it. Lucky for you there are a lot of free online choices.

Google Draw

Google has a tool for everything you do, so it almost goes without saying that they have one for network diagrams. Google Draw is completely free, it can help you make flowcharts, UML diagrams, entity relations, mock-ups and, of course, network diagrams.

Data is stored on the Google Drive, but it can also store data on Dropbox and OneDrive. Google draw can import from a variety of different file formats, and it has 27 languages and is easy to share. It’s fast and has real-time collaborative support when connected to a Google account.

On the downside, there aren’t a lot of templates and shapes to choose from. It can be a bit of an uphill battle to learn if you don’t have a design background. Google Draw is best if you want to collaborate with other Google features and only make network diagrams occasionally.

Dia

Dia is an open source tool that can be used to make network diagrams. It’s fairly easy to learn and can make basic network diagrams. Dia saves XML formatted documents, which are reduced automatically to save space. It’s available for Linux, Mac and Windows.

Dia is free and makes a good entry-level option for people looking to get familiar with making network diagrams, as well as UML diagrams and flow charts.

The software has a good user interface, which helps users, and is also easy and fast to install because of its small file size. However, the software doesn’t have visual appeal. It’s a bit too simple, and some have criticized it as ugly because of its black and white design, which could be improved with color.

Gliffy

While Gliffy is free, the free version is very limited. If you like it, you’ll probably want to pony up for the full version, with a subscription cost. The cost is tiered, $14.85 every three months for a single user, which can make 200 diagrams, but none of which integrate with Google Drive. A single user business account is $29.85 for three months, which includes unlimited diagrams, but it still won’t integrate with Google Drive. For that you’ll need the business team package, which costs $59.88 a year. The fact that the diagrams are easy to make and collaborate with will probably help with the transition from free to paid.

Gliffy is a web-based app and not suited if you’re looking to make more technical diagrams. However, for a project management network diagram, this is a good first step into network diagramming.

After you’ve given these free network diagramming apps a spin and get a feel for how they handle, take a look at the list of cloud-based project management software on projectmanagementcompanion.com.  Try them free for 30-days with this trial.

How to Create an Action Plan

How to make an action plan

An action plan is a proposed strategy or course or action. Specifically, in project management, it’s a document that lists the steps needed to achieve a goal. That is, an action plan clarifies what resources you’ll need to reach that goal, makes a timeline for the tasks to get to that goal and determines what team members you’ll need to do it all. The information from the action plan will assist in the creation of Gantt Charts, project schedule or plan. So what are the fundamentals in the creation of an action plan, the following are a few tips on how to build one.

Commence by creating a simple template to save time. The template should consist of action step, due dates and resources who have been assigned the task. It is best to use a tool to keep you on task. By using a tool, a specific online tool that everyone’s using, then everyone has access to online and real-time data.

And number three is you need to on board everyone into the tool, so that it works for everyone and not just a few people. By having everyone committed to using the same tool, then you ensure that you have real-time data that everyone can access.

The fourth one is to set up alerts that work to help you become more efficient. These could be things like tasks. By having alerts on when tasks are added or changed, it helps you become more efficient in what you’re doing, helps other people on the project be alerted to the changes. Also, when milestones are completed, that way, everyone knows when major tasks have occurred or completed on the project.

And then notes. Notes are great for collaborating on tasks or even documents, such as a requirements document or some other documents that are important for the project.

The following are some considerations;

Number one: focus on the priorities of what is due now. That way, people, or team members, don’t get overwhelmed by looking at all the things that are done, but they get focused on “Let’s get these completed now.”

Number two: mark completed tasks as completed. That way, you don’t have to keep looking at the same tasks. They’re already finished, done, completed. Get them out of the way, so you don’t keep looking at them.

Number three, assign someone to every task. Be sure that you know who is accountable for every task. And that way, if you have questions, something’s not getting done, you know who to go to.

Lastly discuss pending or late tasks, ensure that you find out when there are barriers or reasons why some things aren’t getting done. Sometimes they need you and your help to get things done.

So, these are the fundamentals and a few tips to help you make your action plan. And if you need a tool that can help you manage and track your action plan, then review our software tool reference page.

PRINCE2 Process: The Reigning Project Management Methodology

We continue our series on PRINCE2, as previous posts covered PRINCE2 Fundamentals and roles. This post is concerned with the 7 phase processes of PRINCE2.

The 7 phase process of PRINCE2

The PRINCE2 process is broken up into 7 (surprise!) phases:

1. Starting up a project

  • Someone submits a request for a new project, called the project mandate. The project mandate is very brief, covering only why the project is necessary and what it will ideally accomplish.
  • Someone assesses every project mandate to make sure the company is capable of taking on the project.
  • If approved, the person who initiated the project then submits a more detailed project brief, which covers the actions, resources, manpower, etc. needed to execute the project.

2. Directing a project

  • The project board reviews and evaluates project briefs based on business justification and viability for another round of approval/disapproval.
  • The project board decides what it needs to do in order to organize and execute each approved project, and what/how they’re going to delegate to the project manager.

3. Initiating a project

  • The project manager creates the Project Initiation Documentation, including a comprehensive project plan and baselines for 6 performance targets: time, cost, quality, scope, risk, and benefits.
  • Initiation documents are sent to the project board for approval. Once the board is confident in the project plan, they give their approval once again and work begins.

4. Controlling a stage

  • The project manager breaks down the project into smaller “work packages” and passes them off to team managers and teams to complete.
  • The project manager oversees the progress of work packages during each stage and steps in to help overcome roadblocks or correct any mistakes, if necessary.
  • Team managers coordinate detailed daily work and act as the link between the project manager and individual team members, helping to make sure everything goes according to plan.

5. Managing product delivery

  • The project manager checks progress against the project brief and makes sure deliverables meet PRINCE2 quality expectations.
  • The project board evaluates completed work packages and either approves them or requests revisions/changes.

6. Managing stage boundaries

  • The project manager and project board review each stage to make sure the project is progressing according to plan and meeting project assurance requirements.
  • At each review, the project board decides whether to continue with the next stage or to abandon the project completely.
  • Project managers hold a retrospective with the project team to record any lessons learned and improve the next stage.

7. Closing the project

  • When the project is complete, the project manager wraps up any loose threads, including PRINCE2 documentation, outcomes, and reporting.

Types of PRINCE2 documentation

Throughout the 7 stages of PRINCE2, records are kept so the project stays organized and on track. These records are also used to report to the project board, check deliverables against quality requirements, and improve future work processes.

  • Business case: Detailed description of why the project is needed and its expected benefits to users and the business.
  • Risk register: Lists the probability and potential impacts of risks and opportunities.
  • Quality register: A running log of quality checks that ensure deliverables meet expectations.
  • Issues register: A list of problems and concerns from project team members.
  • Lessons log: Notes on lessons learned to apply to the next work stage and/or future projects.
  • Daily log: A daily diary written by the project manager that reports activity and progress.

PRINCE2 in project management

Interested in learning more about project management? Check out our Project Management Certifications, your ultimate introduction to the fundamentals of project management, curated best practices and resources for project management beginners, all in one place.

MAKING THE MOVE INTO PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Taking the first step in any career is never an easy task, and this certainly applies to the Project Management discipline. The following are some observations made when making the transition into such a challenging and rewarding profession.

1. Choose the right organisation and the right job scope.
If you are taking your first step into Project Management, it’s very unlikely that you will land a role immediately. Most Project Management professionals establish their career in operational roles, with a certain amount of exposure to various projects. Hence, it’s really important for you, as a starter, to choose the right organisation, and a job scope that will give you good exposure. This will enable you to transition into Project Management gradually. The organisation should ideally run lots of projects and allow you to work with different people.

2. Take the opportunity to assess your suitability.
Once you have gained some exposure to projects you should take the opportunity to assess yourself as well. Make sure you can say “YES” to the following questions as well. These are the key questions that will tell you if you are ready for a career in Project Management.

  • Can I communicate well with different people?
  • Do I have the interpersonal skills to deal with different types of stakeholders?
  • Can I work under pressure to meet tight deadlines?
  • Do I have plans for all my activities, priority lists for my tasks, and targets for my performance?
  • Am I a detail-oriented person?

3. Get qualified!
In the Project Management discipline, recognised qualifications are just as important as experience. You will improve your credibility and reputation within the organisation by demonstrating your willingness and ability to learn, your level of commitment, and your passion for the discipline. The Association for Project Management (APM), APMG-International, and Project Management Institute (PMI) are the three most important bodies offering globally recognised qualifications such as APMP, PRINCE2, CAPM, PMP, PgMP, etc. They will offer an excellent grounding in best-practice project management methodologies and principles that you can apply in a wide variety of workplace scenarios. The type and level of qualification will depend on your experience, the expected performance and the scale of the projects. They can range from introductory to very advanced level. Do some careful research and decide one that perfectly aligns with your needs.

4. Continue learning and create your own opportunities.
Professional development is a never-ending journey. For any project that you work on, be it big or small, the key thing is to keep learning. Lessons learned from one project will be a massive benefit on another. You will find out that the best project managers are those who know how to identify problems that they encountered in the past, admit them, and figure out how to eliminate such issues moving forward.

5. Raise your profile.
Finally, make yourself known to the managers as well as HR by continuously showing your desire, your goals and your competency. This will make sure that when a good opportunity comes, or there’s a need for a bigger challenge, you will be among the first to be considered.

The Project Management profession is very rewarding, especially if you get a sense of fulfilment delivering a concept into practical working outcome.