Tag: Project Management
Risk in projects is inevitable, and it is how they are treated and mitigated which can influence success. Risk management is a routine used by project managers to minimize potential problems that can affect the project.
Risks are possible events that can impact resources, processes, technology, or project participants during the system development lifecycle (SDLC).
The results of risk are often unclear before it strikes. Through risk management, threats can be estimated beforehand and control measures put into place if necessary. Risks can arise from anywhere in the SDLC. Even as organizations venture into new projects, there is a need to monitor the ones in operation. For this reason, risk management is continuous.
Risk assessment and management can be made less tedious by creating a risk management protocol. It may comprise of a consistent set of tools and templates as well as training of project participants. By embedding risk management into a daily routine, the company can assume better health and overall performance.
The 6 steps to risk management is outlined below, they can be eliminated, mitigate its impact, or accept if the consequences can be accommodated. However, the course of action should be a result of careful consideration and collaboration.
1. Risk Identification
It’s impossible to solve a problem that can’t be pinpointed. Risks can be identified in different ways, via interviews, brain-storming, root analysis, and more. Visualize the project as if it’s complete and running. Think about what could go wrong and note any fears down. Historical data should be analysed, lessons learnt is a great way in reducing the impact of a risk, and record any deficiencies found.
Set up interviews with the help of the project team, colleagues, and stakeholders to gather information on issues to emphasize. Consider inviting people known for critiquing. Their opinions can divulge essential insights which could have easily slipped through the cracks.
2. Risk analysis
After populating a list of potential problems, the next step is to determine the likelihood of each. Fill this information in the risk register and think about the possible consequences if the risk came true. Some questions to ask at this stage would be:
- Can the risk lead to project failure or delay?
- Will it raise regulatory issues?
- Is there a likelihood of legal disputes?
- How does it relate to various compliance standards?
Evaluate all possible outcomes if the risk happens no matter the magnitude. The process can be tricky because there is never enough information. Find out if the organisation the risk assessment is being performed for has a checklist. Compute the risk factor associated with each risk to estimate the severity of the probable impact. Qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques and tools are useful in risk analysis.
Once various risks have been analysed, a picture of their effect on the budget, scope, and the timeline of the project should be formed. At this stage it could be defined how the risks can affect the quality of your project.
3. Prioritization of Risks
Risk levels are different, and there is a need to distinguish them based on severity. Without this knowledge, appropriate control measures cannot be put in place to tackle the threat. Unpreparedness often leads to project failure or over expenditure when fixing issues.
An extensive list of risks can be intimidating, but they can be handled by classifying risks as either low, medium or high. Address high risks as soon as possible, an e.g. in IT projects is poor data integration between two technologies.
Medium-priority risks are worth attention, they’re impact can be mitigated with appropriate controls. Low risks may have little to zero influence so they can either be controlled or accepted.
4. Risk Assignment
For tracking purposes risks should be assigned to someone, look for talented individuals within the team and let them oversee risks. Apart from monitoring, they should spearhead the resolution efforts for the uncertainties. Failure to assign risks negates the effort of identification and prioritization. The project would ultimately suffer the maximum impact, accumulate more risks, and likely fail.
5. Response to Risk
Once the threats are known and they are ready for resolution, before any action is taken, separate positive risks from negative ones. The latter represents events which threaten to cause harm. A positive risk is an unplanned situation that can be exploited to benefit the project. Some people look at it as a condition that produces too much of the desired deliverables. Decide the action to take.
Create a plan to mitigate all risks that can hurt the project. The strategy can be through preventative measures or a contingency plan. Together with the risk owners, decide which approach solves the problems best.
6. Risk monitoring
The risk owner will continue tracking the risk to see how it responds, and determine any new threats that might develop. It’s crucial for all parties in the project to understand risk management measures. When they are transparent, the team will be proactive as they will know what to do. Set up different channels for efficient communication with the team.
How Risk Management Relates to Compliance
Modern SDLC relies on agile development, a methodology based on the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. Agility, in this case, means that the software product can adapt to changes through its lifecycle, as compliance projects are assuming the shape of agile development.
Government compliance regulations are continually developing. Therefore, these policies affecting the organization and implement should be known within the project. These include standards established with the industry as well as external regulations that touch the business. Compliance can be accommodated by planning project management to identify risks emanating from the outside.
Automation for Agility in Compliance Projects
Since compliance mimics software development projects, automation can enable organizations to meet standards effortlessly. For vendors to satisfy the needs of their customers and protect their information, they must be compliant. They can generate and monitor customer risk profiles and act accordingly to maintain trust.
By providing communication tools and motivating stakeholders, promote compliance in the organization. Self-assessment and audits inform the compliance department whether their controls are adequate.
Businesses should provide compliance officers with the tools they need for compliance projects. By so doing, customers and partners will rest assured organizations are at par with standards.
If you are spending a lot of time in meetings, then it would be a good idea to try and get the most out of them. It is well known that meetings for meetings sake is a waste of time, erodes productivity and hence becomes a liability. However, meetings which are constructive and produce results are invaluable, but how is that fine balance achieved? A project management meeting can be divided into three parts, one that obtains a result before the meeting commences the contents of the meeting and finally the actions from the meeting.
Being prepared for the meeting is the first step, once the meeting invite is accepted, then make the most of any available time leading up to the meeting to prepare. This will ensure that time is being used to good effect. Read the agenda and any accompanying documentation; think through which parts are relevant and where more information is required. This may seem “common sense”, but it is a surprise on how this simple step is often missed.
The following may seem like a waste of time, but if decisions are really needed then a pre-meeting should be conducted. People often decide on the issues before they turn up. They use the meeting to showcase their stance. So, avoid the risk of the project meeting going off the rails by taking and setting the tone in advance. If holding a pre-meeting, meeting is not possible due to scheduling conflicts? Create a list of items to discuss by using online software that can be shared and collaborated on.
Good meeting etiquette is to ensure that the meeting starts on time and not to wait for late arrivals. If for any reason most of the participants are late, especially those participants who would have the most input, then don’t waste the time of the few who did turn up, defer the meeting. Or just ask the people who are present, “What could this group best use our time together for?” the answer may surprise.
As the chair of the meeting, it is understood attendees know each other, if this is not the case then do a round of introductions. If the attendees are not known, a suggestion to remember who they are is to draw a map of the table, in a notebook. Then fill in the map, so names and affiliations of everyone at the table are then known.
Commencing a meeting on a positive note normally draws out the best results. A great way to do this is to ask about people’s biggest successes since the last meeting. Determine the best method to obtain the information, after all meetings are conversations, and the structure should match this conversations need. Think about which format will work best for each agenda item:
- One-way briefing or lecture
- Free-flowing dialogue
- Structured debate
- Round-robin sharing
The workplace is made up of many different character types, and meetings are no different, it is normally quickly determine who the assertive, dominant, talk-about-everything people are. When they start to dominate or take away from the meetings desired outcome, thank them, and ask to hear from someone who does not contribute as readily. Those people have just as many good ideas and their opinions are equally helpful. So, invite them in, and give them space to be heard.
This will then lead to a positive culture in the meeting, which provides a real boost in the mood of the meeting. Creativity will increase and people will build on the germ of a good idea, rather than knocking it down. Rapidly call out any disrespectful behaviour and celebrate evidence-based and courageous contributions. Build on good ideas, and ask for concerns and counter-evidence when one idea seems to dominate
One method to remove any knee-jerk negativity is to give anyone a minimum of two minutes to make their point before anyone can jump in and challenge it. It compels people to listen and hear the whole point, rather than reacting to their first impression. It has been often found that during the course of the meeting its perspective can shift. As the person who leads the meeting can force a particular perspective, and stifle innovative thinking. Wherever possible, ask the question to which the statement itself is the answer. This lets the group find it for itself, or possibly a better answer is provided. Another approach is to ask the meeting about how other stakeholders would react to the conversation. Or what they would say if they were in the room. This achieves a better decision, perspective and richer solution.
Remember to remain alert to signs of rising tensions during the meeting, cool them early, before they have too much heat in them. Ask clarifying or checking questions that move people to become analytical about what they are saying. This dampens their emotional responses. One way to quell any tension is to label the emotions around the table and ask about them: “I see you are becoming agitated; can you tell me what’s triggered that?”
Ensure the meeting remains on track at all times reduce the chance of the meeting slipping, start each part of the meeting by writing the objective on a board. If the meeting goes off-track, allow anyone to re-assert the objective by pointing it out. And then place any new topic that has started to take over on a “parking lot” part of the board. Now the group can return to its original topic, and pick up on the parked idea later, if it is genuinely valuable.
A conclusion to the topic must be achieved before moving off the point. Summarize up to the point which was reached, and state clearly what the group needs to do to finish the conversation. Then kick-off again with an invitation to take the next step. The meeting should have a satisfactory conclusion, decisions need to be owned by the group, but individuals may assert their opposition. Actions need to be owned by the people who have accepted them. Before the meeting is disbanded, re-affirm decisions taken, and secondly firm up commitments to action.
Once the meeting is closed, then the following should occur, schedule some time shortly after the meeting to review notes, follow-up on actions, and consider what was learned. If time has been taken to prepare for the meeting then it should also be taken at its conclusion.
Meetings are just a way to disseminate information to a group and get feedback, too. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a selection of cloud-based project management software that helps plan, monitor and report on the progress of any project. There are great tools to control each stage of a project. A real-time dashboard not only provides up-to-the-minute data but makes graphs and charts targeted to meeting needs, whether with stakeholders or the team. Try one today free with a 30-day trial.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Execution: The project begins and the project plan is put into action.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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 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 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.
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.