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From To Do Lists to Managing Projects – The Path From Personal to Professional Management

By | October 29th, 2013|Project Management, Project Management Training|Comments Off on From To Do Lists to Managing Projects – The Path From Personal to Professional Management

from personal to professional

Personal life is a good place to start testing the managing skills and also to improve them. Once someone gets to the point when he thinks he is the master of his day by day life he can start extending his skills on his professional life.

No one was born an expert. We all start from low and through study, hard work and exercise will eventually get there. But in time and with patience… This process should start in childhood with the help of parents and continuously evolve in time. Being an organized person will always help in any working domain. Personal life is the right place to practice on. And the best part is that it can be done for free, without constraints and with minimum failure risks.

Know what to do and when

In order to reach the final outcome for any type of work it is important to know what needs to be done and when. Once it is established a to do list it is a good practice to prioritize it. A logical pattern should be followed to reach a goal. One must decide what is going to have the biggest impact either in good or in bad on the final deliverable.

Prepare for battle

Knowing what to do is not enough to be efficient. Nowadays people tend to have so much things to accomplish that they just get distracted from one objective to another. Meditation and exercise are some of the tools that should be used to refocus, that will help anyone to move from one day to another and to stay on track.

A well done plan is the key to efficiency. One solution to achieve it is to do part of the work in the evening – organizational stuff – that will set you up in no time for the next morning. Dead simple: prepare it and then just jump in to get it done.

To mix or not to mix – that is the question

OK, suppose one has what it needs to manage both his life and his job. But is it a good thing to mix them? For simple tasks this may not be a problem but if things get more complicated at work it is a good idea to separate them. Failure in personal life has a smaller impact and will influence only the close people. However not meeting a deadline within a project can be a major risk with a large impact over many people and with high costs… (more…)

Dynamic Project Planning For Increased Productivity and Flexibility

By | August 15th, 2013|Project Management, Project Management Software|Comments Off on Dynamic Project Planning For Increased Productivity and Flexibility

Every project starts with a well-defined plan and schedule. But the reality offers a lot of uncertainty so the project may very well not evolve according to the initial plan. The result is that measures are required to adjust the state of the project to reflect the new reality.

Planning a project is not an easy job. It requires some knowledge and an amount of experience. The steps are simple… Create the list of activities that need to be performed, structure them accordingly in phases and sub-phases and establish durations (or amount of work depending on the types of tasks). Next create the project flow by adding dependencies between tasks. This way it is established the order in which tasks are executed.

Up to this point there is nothing related to time and this is the biggest hint to keep in mind: avoid hard constraints. As long as tasks are scheduled to start as soon as possible then every task will depend only on its predecessors and on the project estimated start. This is the perfect project template that can be easily shifted in time by just changing the project estimated start.

It is unlikely that a novice project manager will be able to produce such a scalable project plan… There are situations when it is just impossible to keep a project flexible even for a senior project managers. But this is due to the nature, the requirements and the constrains of the project.

How To Adjust The Schedule

So the schedule is done and the project is ready to go. But it may take no more than one week for the project plan to stop corresponding to the reality: some tasks take longer than estimated, others are executed faster or even worse the project is put on hold for various reasons (lack of funds or personnel, a financial crisis period, bad weather conditions and the list can continue). What now? Synchronizing the old plan with the reality takes some effort and attention.

It is obvious that the already completed or started tasks will remain at their location. The only discussion is about moving the uncompleted ones and/or splitting the tasks that are partially completed. This adjusting process is similar to planning the project but done on a smaller scale. If the initial plan was not time flexible then each particular conflict needs to be manually solved.

As mentioned above the best case is the one when the plan was created with as few as possible hard constraints. This allows an increased flexibility when it comes to shifting the activities in time. (more…)

Working With Project Management Software – Who Is Managing Who?

By | July 9th, 2013|Project Management Software|Comments Off on Working With Project Management Software – Who Is Managing Who?

Managing projects is not an easy job and in most cases the manager would greatly benefit from the use of a dedicated software. Starting from this necessity project management tools were created. But the main problem is if these tools are a real help for those that are using them or it is just a loss of time.

It is a well-known fact that computers became a necessity in our lives by simplifying our work. Increased computational speed, huge memory and lack of fatigue are the main reasons why computers have so much success. Let’s admit it: in certain aspects robots are better that humans. So why not use them for such purposes? It is obtained an increased execution speed and accuracy. But all these come with one cost: time. Someone has to lose some time to teach computers how to do the job right.

So a project manager and his team can ease their work using specialized project management software. But is it worth it? Well… it depends if they are using the right tool: it should be easy to use and to configure and to not require to invest too much effort in using it. Time is precious and should be used to manage the projects and not the software. If one is using considerably more time to handle the software rather that working on its projects then that software is useless. In this case a replacement should be the right thing to do.

The sad truth is that for the most part, teams have absolutely no idea how to use their project management tools even months after they’ve supposedly integrated the system into their workflow. And it’s the same with other software… Some vendors just make complicated software that have far too many steps and users end up working more on their project management software to enter tasks and communicate than they do on getting the project done.

A well designed project planning system should allow users to easily create entities like projects, tasks, resources, clients and to add details – data input is a time-consuming process. Another point to keep in mind is that computed data should be always at hand and easy to follow. Navigation between any two views should not require more than a few mouse clicks. An intuitive interface is a big must: the users need to find fast what they are looking for. (more…)

Project Management Software for Traditional vs. Agile Environments

By | May 7th, 2013|Project Management Methodology, Project Management Software|Comments Off on Project Management Software for Traditional vs. Agile Environments

Agile vs. Traditional project managementHow much does an agile project management software differ from a traditional project management software? On short: pretty much. But on the other side both types of products have many things in common.

Many say that agile is not a project management methodology but rather a product development methodology. But in many cases the companies prefer to treat the development as a project and hence the notion of agile project management. Now the agile and traditional approaches are totally different so the first thought would be that the software used to manage each type of projects to be different. The idea is that agile PM is not a method per se, but rather an umbrella term for different processes. In turn, agile processes are very different among them.

In Scrum there are small teams, usually collocated, no project manager, and very often there is no need for a software for the managing the project. The team is self organizing, team members are doing daily meetings, and the project is split in iterations that take maximum one month. At the end of each iteration it is decided the next one and so on… No one wants to loose time by updating a plan that keeps changing or to monitor the daily progress of the team with a project scheduling tool.

In other agile processes the iterations take longer but the main idea is that the project plan, the requirements and the product specifications are subject to change. So a traditional project management software does not solve these needs. Indeed it is necessary to have a monitoring process for the project and the team, a system for client communication etc. but due to the dynamic nature of the processes there is no needs to have fancy or complicated features. An agile product should be light in functionality, easy to use, easy to access and highly portable. (more…)

Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage and Project Management Software

By | April 15th, 2013|Cloud Project Management|Comments Off on Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage and Project Management Software

cloud project management softwareThe demand for distributed data and services is increasing as big companies are more and more spread across the world. Smaller companies are also starting to use distributed systems once the prices have lowered due to the increase of such offerings. As many other domains project management is also embracing this new wave.

Cloud services are raging from simple storage and up to complex computing processes. Depending on the needs there are products that run completely into the cloud while others are just storing the data into the cloud. In the last few years there is a battle that is given between desktop based applications and cloud based ones.

Web-based Project Management Software

The notion of web-based products refers to software that runs within a browser on the client side. Generally the central computing part is kept entirely (computing and storage) within the cloud on the software provider side. However for certain offerings like RationalPlan it is also possible to have the central computing unit as a server module on the customer side. This might be a security measure for some customers.
In both cases there is no need to install any software on the users computers meaning that low-power PCs can use the tool. All it is required is a browser.

Desktop Software

Desktop tools require hardware maintenance, software upgrading and database back up. But part of this hassle can be reduced by using a solution that uses cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box etc. where the data backup is already done. However the hardware maintenance and new versions upgrades still need to be handled by the customer. This is a good choice when companies just needs to have access to project data from multiple places but there is no need for more powerful features like concurrency access and when the software can easily be maintained in house.

Cloud-based Solutions

With cloud-based project management tools everything is backed up into the cloud on remote servers. In case of an emergency all the data is restored quickly so the projects remain on track. Plus when the tools are upgraded to newer versions users just need to log in and the latest version is there. This solution is suitable for the case when the project management products requires complex installation and upgrades steps. (more…)

How to Minimize the Risk of Delaying Your Project by a Customer

By | March 29th, 2013|Business Management, Project Management, Risk Management|1 Comment

How to minimize risksWhen it comes to project delays there are several factors that can lead to such situation. The customer is one of them and there are two issues that can be discussed: what to do when the delay already happened and the other how to minimize the risk of happening such a delay.

Customer delaying the project is a major risk that should not be overlooked in any project. Minimizing this risk is not easy to be accomplished and its probability differs from client to client. But in case it happens mitigation actions must be performed.

Write clear specifications

In order to keep things clear and avoid misunderstandings it is important to create a solid project plan with clear specifications regarding possible project delays and the measures and penalties that apply. When it happens communicate clear factual evidence of the cost and timescale impact of delays caused by the customer. This is very important to keep things clear and to avoid the situation when the customers may argue that it is his fault and the contractor is suspected for hiding other delays behind those caused directly by them. Issues need to be resolved in a timely fashion to minimize risk and loss on both sides.

When dealing with external clients and when creating a contract it is advisable to add a clause that states that the client is responsible for prompt responses to ensure the project is not delayed. If the client provides delayed responses, actions etc. that lead to project delays then it nullifies timeline clauses in the contract. If the contract doesn’t have this kind of specifications then it is preferred to get a lawyer, or a better one in case a lawyer already exists.

In return when dealing with internal team the project manager has to take the same actions. Although there are no contractual terms that can generate a direct financial penalty, it will get noted at review time and possibly no raise…

Know the customer management

Avoiding the project delay problem is not a healthy thing to do. Escalation might reveal there are issues on the customer side where their project manager is not communicating clearly enough internally. This is why when contracting a new project it is good to know the customer and almost a must to know his management team. Knowing what to expect from them can decide whether to accept the new contract or to reject it. And even if the project is accepted contractual terms can be added to compensate the lack of professionalism on the customer management side. (more…)

How To Convince People To Start Using Project Management Software

By | February 6th, 2013|Business Management, Project Management Software, Time Management|Comments Off on How To Convince People To Start Using Project Management Software

scheduleEducated management can start from childhood or at older ages. Earlier is the best. And management can apply to many things: money, work, time etc. Certain kids might have been forced by circumstances to start managing their allowance. This can be a big advantage for them as grown-ups when it comes to finance management.

But what about project management? Many users tend to think that everything can be done using spreadsheets because this is what they used since ever. OK you can do a lot of things with them but not all. When it comes to planning and scheduling projects there are some special requirements that must be addressed with more specific tools. But how to determine people to start adopting such tools?

Work must be done fast and easy

For many people, productivity software does not increase their productivity but rather reduces work effectiveness. Instead of spending the time in solving the problems users spend it with using the software. This is an important point to keep in mind and to make sure the right software is selected. The users need the work to be done fast and easy.

Give an example to users by starting using it

One solution to get the team adopt project management tools is for the manager to start using it. He can delegate tasks and include the coworkers in conversations about those activities. This way they will receive email notifications with assignments sent automatically from the PM system. Over time, maybe some of them will also begin to feel more comfortable in working directly on the assigned tasks instead of replying to incoming emails.

Identify benefits in using project management tools

Another idea is for the manager to identify and point benefits for them of using the tool. More exactly the users must find some benefits for their own and not just for the organization. It has to be a “win-win” situation: both for the person and for the business. “How will this tool make your work easier, your outcome better, your day to day tasks more smooth, save time, be on time, but not in these generic terms but very down to earth and specific to their goals, tasks, responsibilities and duties.” says Carlos Miranda Levy, a Social Entrepreneur. (more…)

How To Increase Productivity – Choosing The Right Project Management Software

By | January 16th, 2013|Project Management, Project Management Software|Comments Off on How To Increase Productivity – Choosing The Right Project Management Software

Every person at some point in his life starts to feel the need to get more organized for a better productivity. Some have this revelation sooner, others later and a few of them will never have such needs… Depending on each individual a better organized work style may be reflected in the use of different productivity tools: pencil and paper, To Do lists, task management software and even project management software.

In what follows we shall exclude the classic tools like agendas, pencil, paper, white boards etc. and focus only on the software products. When it comes to organizing their lives things are simpler since the needs are not that big. There are many good solutions on the market to manage your personal list of daily activities and many are even free. All it needs is to be able to create simple items with a start date, completion status, a duration and maybe a priority.

Things get more complicated when someone needs to handle more details for his activities… And now we are talking about issue tracking systems or task management tools, tools that go beyond personal life and intersecting with the daily work from the job.

And at the top there are complex solutions that range from project management software to enterprise resource planning systems. This category of products only apply to business management and are used mainly by companies.

General recommendations when choosing productivity software

No matter what type of productivity tools one needs there is a set of general recommendations that should be taken into consideration. For start it is best to find a user friendly software. The easier it is to learn how to use it the faster you get more productive. Plus there is no need for trainings hence no additional costs. And if still the case, when in need for help a rich user community with active forums or social networks might do the trick for you. (more…)

Clients And Access Rights to Project Management Software

By | December 10th, 2012|Project Management Software|1 Comment

Client access rights in project management softwareEvery project either small or big has its stakeholders. The way the communication between them is done can keep relations on a happy note or can put some hurdle between them. The second situation might influence both the current project and the future ones in a negative way and should be avoided.

Examples of project stakeholders include the clients, the user group, the project manager, the development team, the testers etc. practically anyone who has an interest in the project within or outside an organization. It is obvious that either part has a well established procedure or process when it comes to managing a project. But are the processes from the two sides compatible and if yes at what degree? If everyone is working using the same project management methodology or the same software solution then all it is fine. The problems start if this is not the case…

What project management solution side to choose?

There are three possible solutions that can be chosen:

  • each part uses its own solution
  • everyone is using the clients solution
  • or everyone is using the management team’s solution

As early as possible in a new client relationship, the manager needs to ask his client how he usually works. This is a very important factor in deciding which project to undertake. It is necessary to know if the clients are comfortable with the system because many clients will expect the manager to work through their software. Bottom line is that an easy communication will also indicate an easier management over the project. (more…)

Creating Budget Or Cost Baselines For Projects

By | October 10th, 2012|Project Management|Comments Off on Creating Budget Or Cost Baselines For Projects

Cost Baseline in RationalPlan Project Management SoftwareIn Project Management, the term project baseline refers to an accepted and approved project plan. Besides the schedule baseline, the cost/budget baseline is the most important part of  a project baseline. The cost baseline is that part of the project baseline that handles the amount of money the project is predicted to cost and on the other side when that money will be spent. It is an approved budget usually in a time distribution format used to estimate, monitor, and control the overall cost performance of the project.

In some cases there can be several intermediary baselines. This happens when either the project was not well planned or when significant changes appear to the scope of the project. However the initial baseline is usually what gets budgeted in the company’s financials. All types of baselines are closely related and changes to one of them will result in changes to the others. If a change is made in the project scope baseline, the schedule baseline gets adjusted and hence the cost baseline will probably have to be changed as well.

How is cost baseline created

When it comes to computing the total cost of the project some estimates need to be done. Once the project schedule is ready and approved, a bottom-up procedure should be used where for each activity of the project it is estimated a detailed cost. This way a total cost for each major phase and for the entire project gets computed. These initial costs of all of the planned activities will become the initial estimated budget.

Cost Analysis

According to PMBOK the cost baseline is a “time-phased budget that is used as a basis against which to measure, monitor, and control overall cost performance on the project.” But many factors can affect the cost performance of a project so the above estimated costs established during the planning phase might not be estimated that well. The true costs of certain tasks may not be well known at planning time. If a given price for materials, trainings or travel costs was taken into consideration at planning phase but at execution time these are increased there is an unforeseen additional cost. (more…)