All you need know and have to take a look into when managing projects today. Our best effort to offer you a complete overview of this amazing exercise of project management. Is not all the information there is, but is certainly a good start.
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- Only 21% of companies have standardized project management systems like waterfall and agile in place
- 1 in 6 projects have a cost overrun of 200%
- 41% of businesses with a high project failure rate blame a lack of involvement from higher-ups in project management
- 41% of businesses reporting poor project performance say they don’t get enough support from project management and project sponsors
- Project management challenges cost $109 million for every $1 billion invested in a project
The universe of project management is packed with resources to make us more productive and display a better performance at work. Any respectable project manager needs to know and understand these basic principles of their mission critical profession.
You have different tools for specific uses, different approaches and methodologies to put into practice. Organizing work is almost an art form of resource allocation. Where the final end is to have some visibility and clear useful analysis along the project unfolding and development.
Among the critical aspects - communication - you need to consider how information is centralized and files are managed?
Also, you need to manage meetings, events, tasks and dependencies. Finally one choice to make: you need different ways of looking at your projects.
So for starters and to awaken your appetite let’s take a look at the different tools available and their main objective.
Get the right tools for your projects
There are numerous PM tools in the market, the most important thing is to clearly understand your particular needs to adopt the best solution for your business. We can use a single project management tool with a more complete range of functionalities or keep it more simple using tools that focus only on task management. if that suits your activity. This choice depends on your way of working and how you handle the structure of your projects.
Then the second and not less important aspect to consider is the collaboration part. Some PM tools integrate this functionality as well and you need to put in place a solid platform where the team can rely on to participate in common projects and perform a real collaboration.
The third crucial point is the limited resources that have to be considered aside with the workflow, and the project roadmapping. There are a number of specific or more general tools available to help us out. They turned out to become very interesting and versatile tools for each specific use or a collection of functionalities. But we are still pending on the PM tool that makes coffee.
Managing your tasks, what to consider...
Let us take baby steps: the first thing is we need to define the specific tasks in which work is broken down. You need to set the priorities and define the dependencies within the different tasks. From there, an estimation and needed effort are to consider.
So first things first and that is to define all the tasks to be accomplished throughout the project. Think carefully about the milestones and perform a good breakdown of all the work you need to produce. For example if by any chance you need two team members or colleagues to perform one task you're doing it all wrong, rethink your approach and divide the workload in a better way. So you need one person to perform a single task.
Prioritize your work. What needs to be done first in order to move forward fast and smoothly. Think of possible roadblocks in your way, and dependencies. What can be started without any previous activity whatsoever is a starting point, the planning.
What needs to be completed before the following task guests flagged to initiate (end 1, to start 2). What can be done simultaneously because they have no dependencies whatsoever (start 1 and 2) and what is not done until another task is not completed (end 1 and 2).
Effort and time estimation are subjective so to plan them it is reasonable to use ranges. Think about being in great shape: how long would it take you to perform one task?
One project let’s say is making a blockbuster film.
Une initial task is to pitch the argument over the phone, the presentation call is going to be 30 to 45 minutes long or shorter?
You already have the perfect script, prepare your visual support, and practice like a child learning their first poetry in elementary school. We bet you the first pitches are going to be a little bit longer and painful because you don't quite know what you’re doing.
By the end of two weeks, you’ll be singing it smoothly like a Sinatra song. It's your one-man show and you’ll be willing to sing it all over again every day and teach it to the happy few crew members on the team to get the feeling, the tempo, and the melody that make the whole sense to make a compelling argument to producers.
But if you’re sick, or feeling upset because nobody sings along or claps in a standing ovation at the end of your presentation. And producers are not lining up at your door to finance your great idea of a movie and the financial resources are not skyrocketing to make it the best film ever made and you don't feel like a money maker.
You need to do something right?
Why things are not happening as you see them unfold throughout your plan. This means your story, the movie script or the pitch presentation are not working. You need to change the approach, maybe the idea is too old-fashioned, or dead to keep using it because it has become a huge cliché.
Even though Sinatra represents your dearest musical icon, you need to change your business approach and find another way to talk to producers. Maybe your audience likes Johnny Hallyday, the famous French rockstar fan that only a happy few people care and know about. But they are absolute raving fans. And won’t listen to any other rockstar icon because he is the only one they care about and they are willing to finance your project exactly as you dreamed it.
So what do you do? You change gears and start singing like the french rockstar right? This new approach runs a lot more smoothly and the raving fan Producers line up to finance the movie and now you get to choose the happy few ones that best fit your vision. You can now continue with your production process.
To continue to unfold your film project now that the economic dependency has been unblocked, you continue with the further steps, and then again, you have to consider priorities and dependencies within the following tasks. Cost and effort need to be taken care of and carefully estimated. To do that, the following step is to choose the right methodology to develop your project.
Have the right Processes and methodologies... Choose your path padawan!
There are a number of processes and methodologies developed through the history and evolution of project complexity. The classic, mainstream, and most important to know are the waterfall, Agile, Lean, APM, and Prince2. Know them, learn from them and apply the most convenient mix according to your needs.
Every methodology has its perks, the good things, and the bad things. But not having a process and a clear methodology is worse.
So in a nutshell:
Waterfall project management implies mapping out a project into different, sequential phases, with each new phase beginning only when the prior phase has been completed. The waterfall system is the most traditional method for managing a project, with team members working in a linear way towards a set end goal.
Agile approach refers to a group of methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.
APF is an iterative, adaptive, and agile approach designed to deliver maximum business value to clients within the limits of their time and cost constraints where the always variable scope is adjusted at each iteration
Prince2 is a process-based approach that focuses on organization and control over the entire project, from start to finish. That means projects are thoroughly planned before kickoff, each stage of the process is clearly structured, and any loose ends are neatly tied up after the project concludes.
Lean methodology is a way of optimizing the people, resources, effort, and energy of your organization toward creating value for the customer. It is based on two guiding tenets, continuous improvement, and respect for people.
From our humble perspective, no single methodology works out entirely by itself. And this is a rather limited compendium, you can research further to find other ways to tackle your process. The best way to approach is to mix a couple or even three methodologies to accommodate the best of your processes. Never give in, search for continuous innovation and improvement in both process and methodology. Reach out and be creative like us.
Don’t settle, always searching for an improving method / Get nerdy!
Productivity and effectiveness are doing the right things. Planning and organizing your work is an ability you can train so you always work on your highest value tasks to determine your success. Fortunately, we have a variety of ways of organizing, as we have personalities and types of flowers in nature.
The Brian Tracy method is once you have determined your major goals or objectives, apply the A-B-C-D-E method. You place one of those letters in the margin before each of the tasks on your list before you begin. “A” is for “very important;” something you must do. “B” stands for “important;” something you should do. “C” stands for things that are “nice to do;” but which are not as important as ‘A’ or ‘B,’ tasks. “D” stands for “delegate.” You can assign this task to someone else “E” stands for “eliminate, whenever possible.”
When you use the A-B-C-D-E method, you can very easily sort out what is important and unimportant. This then will focus your time and attention on those items on your list that are essential for you to do.
Another interesting method is the MoSCoW Method, which is a prioritization technique to reach a common understanding with stakeholders on the importance they place on the delivery of each requirement. The term MoSCoW itself is an acronym derived from the first letter of each of four prioritization categories: M - Must have S - Should have C - Could have W - Won't have
The Pareto principle states that for many outcomes roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. Other names for this principle are the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few.
If you allow me here, our best advice is to shake it up, and stir and fry your very own methodology recipe until it suits your own particular needs, strategic thinking, and business scope, and of course seasoning and taste over time, don’t settle and never be afraid to evolve.
You have a number of cards to play the game / Joggle all the right balls!
Time to assign work and allocate resources. This is no guessing game...Unfortunately, many people do play the lottery here and just try to find the best way to move things forward. But no real process is in place.
Now that you have broken down the project and defined your tasks, you have to consider the skills you need to perform the tasks. The experience accumulated by the team members plays a role in the time they would take to achieve the set objectives. Then, the workload. You have to be as fair as possible when considering the task distribution.
The time-consuming variables are meetings, days-off, and team member general availability. Maybe your team is spread out in different time zones?
The strategy is no guessing game or a moving work forward approach. Strategic thinking means there better be a process in place to accurately calculate the result of all the variables. Like a poker game, you don't play poker like you buy a lottery ticket to wishfully think to be rich the next day. Poker is a strategic thinking game where all the players at the table are counting cards and reading each other gestures to make a decision and play the right cards. The deck has 54 cards and only two jokers. You know the variables. Expect luck to be the only success factor is naive.
Take a look at the planless approach and try out planning automation and see how a lot of the guessing and improvising are solved by automation and the AI layer of auto planning. If you think this timesaver approach suits your planning needs, the first strategic thinking task is solved right away in a second not to brag about the algorithm but is in fact milliseconds.
Get 360 degrees of visibility over the past, present, and future
To know and evaluate your present, where you’re standing, you have to know where you’re coming from and learn from your past. This status evaluation and knowledge may give you some clues and scenarios to predict the future. And this is pure value!
Visibility and analysis are key to properly plan and manage your projects. Excellence comes from practice. And there’s no better way of learning than from your own mistakes.
Increased visibility ensures everyone involved in the project understands what the objective of the project is and their role in meeting this goal. No doubt, visibility conjures images of real-time reports, portfolio dashboards, metric tiles, and scorecards. These tools are vital to project visibility, but they are only part of the puzzle.
Project visibility also requires strong communication and collaboration.
Visibility impacts the team, the project manager, and stakeholders in different ways you need to find an effective way to round it up! And next? Get organized!
Information on a silver plate.
Create a Project Communication Plan to provide essential guidance as to how and when project updates will be shared, and with whom. Having a communication plan in place before starting the project will eliminate confusion later on.
When creating your plan, be sure to include some details on when to use email and chat, and how to report risks. Adding the document to your project site for easy access might be great advice.
Remember there are a number of techniques to keep track of your progress. You may simply use pen and paper, a drive or a cloud, or a self-hosted information server.
Pen and paper are great for keeping your side notes and insights in meetings but is the best way to lose track of project evolution and waste time. They are not secure, they might get lost, misunderstood and they are personal so no great for sharing.
The drive is an alternate solution to share files within a small team but there’s a limited capacity for having a common understanding of the file order. But it is certainly progress compared to pen and paper.
Self-hosting is the practice of locally hosting and managing applications instead of renting from SaaS providers. This is a list of Free Software network services and web applications that can be hosted locally. Non-Free software is listed on the Non-Free page.
If you are using project management software, take some time to look at key reports and dashboards to track progress. Always forecast the type of relevant Key Performance Indicators KPIs relevant to your project so you can perform an accurate benchmark on the solutions available in the market. And make sure this solution is well packed and able to provide you the critical strategic information you need for decision making.
The thing is if you don't choose wisely some problems may overwhelm you from the start: work would be duplicated, things may get forgotten, people would lose time searching for accurate information and the updated files and this may have them blocked and unable to move forward.
Once information is well centralized you can continue your planning paying special attention to consider the time spent on meetings.
Think about the time spent on meetings / Keep it military : precise, concise, and effective!
Before work starts, run a kick-off meeting with your project team. Use this session to explain the objectives of the project, the timelines, roles and responsibilities, and so on. Encourage individuals to ask any questions they have about the project before work begins.
Hold Weekly Team Meetings weekly team meetings are an easy way to get insight into your project – if the meeting is productive.
Try this sample agenda in your next meeting as a starting point:
- Review and agree on the agenda with the team.
- Review, discuss and resolve open issues. Be careful that the issues are “real issues”
- Look at upcoming tasks for next week.
- Project process and approach – any adjustments needed?
- (Time Permitting) Look at tasks achieved last week, or at least, the highlight tasks from last week.
- Any Other Business (AOB).
- Summarize the meeting outcomes.
Remember there are a number of amazing tools available in the market. A range from simple scheduling to more complex planning tools. Some of them with amazing features of automation. Our in-house favorite solution Planless.io with great features to incorporate recurring work and planning automation.
With timeline, kanban view, conversations, real-time collaboration chat, and more, Planless is becoming very popular. It's easy to bring both collaboration and project management tools together.
This way, your team can work using the best tools for the job without creating too many silos or confusion. You may also find that using a tool like Planless reduces the number of meetings and email chains needed to solve a situation or get opportune heads up and tasks updated. Now is time to think of dependencies.
Map your dependencies
Dependencies are the relationships of the preceding tasks to the succeeding tasks. Tasks may have multiple preceding tasks and multiple succeeding tasks. The most common dependency relationship is a finish-to-start relationship. Task P (predecessor) must be finished before task S (successor) can start.
And it’s important to map them out to allow us to visualize the critical cross-project dependencies throughout the duration of the program.
The Dependency Map should not be confused with the Program Plan, which shows the milestones of the different projects and the points at which benefits can start to be realised during the program.
Let’s start by identifying the types of dependencies you have on the project. That will give us a head start at looking at how these can be best managed.
There are several different ways of thinking about dependencies. The easiest way, and the way most scheduling software works, is to think of the impact on your timeline.
Tasks can link to each other in four common ways:
- Start to Start: The start of one task links to the start of another task; i.e., both tasks start at the same time.
- Finish to Finish: The end of one task links to the end of another task; i.e., both tasks finish at the same time.
- Finish to Start: The end of one task links to the start of another task; i.e., the tasks happen one after the other in a sequence.
- Start to Finish: The start of one task links to the end of another task; i.e., the first task must start before the other task can finish.
You can set these types of dependencies within your project management software. However, these sequential, task-based types of dependencies are not the things that will derail your project.
Now that you know what your dependencies are and the areas that they affect, you need to consider the risks they present to the project. But that is a whole other subject and we would explore it in a further article.
Look at each dependency and work out what their risks would be. A to take a look at that we have a variety of possibilities. Choose the one that better suits your particular needs and brain structure.
Each way of viewing your project reveals different and important aspects of it.
PM tools are packed with very useful task lists, some use Gantt charts, and amazingly useful Kanban views, or have sticky notes (all over the place… seem messy for me).
But some awesome tools have our all-time favorite, the timeline view. See I'm in the creative business, we lose track of time when riding our flow. So timeline views better suits our particular needs.
Kanban and Timeline are our top choice with a side task list to complete our working day. That allows me to keep connected to our team, meet our objectives on time, and our vision concentrated on the right path to success.
To wrap this all up, in a nutshell, is going to be a synthesis challenge so I’ll do our best to KISS (Keep it simple stupid) The most important thing above all get the right tools for your projects, consider what are the tasks to manage. Have the right processes and methodologies clear and very well understood by the whole team this represents the heart of your strategy.
To start your planning you need to consider when assigning work and allocating resources. Opt for a 360 visibility of your process throughout its unfolding. Be super organized: centralize information and files, avoid being all over the place. I mean your information must be presented on a silver plate and I mean french pastry level quite exigent, appealing to read and presented with style.
We hope this a little over-length compendium was helpful for you as it was for me. All the research we made to better understand the history of project management and possible evolution and explain to you the key aspects to consider when thinking about project management.
Please make our research and creative writing time worth a while and share your comments. We would be happy to discuss PM further with you and if there’s something in particular that intrigues you and you want to know more about please feed our inspiration.
Happy thoughts everyone and awesome planning.