Friday, June 9, 2017

How to Manage Your Project Tasks?

As a Project Manager, you usually have too much work to do and not enough time to do it in. The trick is to manage your daily tasks carefully. If you have great task management skills, then you'll be more effective with your time and deliver projects earlier as a result. Here's how to do it.
How to Manage Your Tasks
Manage your tasks by taking these 5 simple steps...
Step 1: Consolidate
You probably have tasks written down on your desk, in your calendar, in documents and email and maybe even on your mobile phone. The first step is to consolidate all of these tasks into one simple list.
Make sure your task list is easily accessible because if it's not, then you'll end up with a splattering of tasks around your office within no time. Try putting your task list online using your intranet software or connections available so you can share it with others and access it from anywhere, anytime.
Step 2: Prioritize
With all of your tasks in one place, prioritize them by moving the most important tasks to the top and the least important to the bottom. In this way, you can work from top to bottom in your list knowing that you are always working on the right thing at the right time.
Make sure you prioritize your tasks based on the right criteria. Don't always put the easiest ones at the top. The “highest priority” tasks should be the ones that either deliver the most value, are critical to the project or must be done before others can commence their work.
Step 3: Schedule
With a clear view of all of your tasks and their priorities, you now need to estimate how much time it's likely going to take to complete each task on the list. So write down the effort needed for each and try and make it as realistic as possible.
Then create a schedule so that you know which tasks you are going to work on and when. Having a schedule is great because it allows you and your team to forecast the workload ahead.
Step 4: Update
At the start of every day, update your schedule by marking the tasks you've completed and re-forecasting the tasks you still have ahead. Only then will you know if you're on track.
If your schedule gets out of date, it will quickly become useless. However by keeping it up-to-date, it will become a powerful tool as it will give you and your team a roadmap ahead.
Step 5: Communicate:
People around you will want to know what it is that your working on and when it's likely to be completed. So share your schedule with them, helping them to keep informed along the way.

How to Manage Your Project Risks?

How to Manage Your Project Risks
A risk is something that might affect the success of your project. Like, if you're going out - you'd consider the risk of it raining today. You'd be sure to pack an umbrella if you thought the risk was high!
You'll find risks on your project too, and the difficult thing is that you never know exactly if and how they will affect you. The best you can do is plan to mitigate the risk (like packing your umbrella) or work out how you can stop it happening in the first place.
Here is a simple 5 step process that you can use to effectively manage risks on your project.
Step 1: Identify risks
First, you need to know what could affect the success of your project. List everything that you are aware of that could be a potential problem. You can group risks into categories like Financial, Operational, Planning and so on if that helps.
Step 2: Assess risks
Once you have your list of risks, you can work out what sort of impact they will have on the project if they happen. Some won't present much of a problem at all. Others will be a significant issue. If you have limited time and money to address them all, prioritize the most important ones.
As well as looking at each individual risk, use a report or dashboard to show you the overall risk profile for your project—that is, whether your project has a high, medium or low level of risk overall when all the risks are taken into account.
Step 3: Plan some actions
Now you know the most important risks, you can work out what you need to do to address them. These are your mitigating actions, or the steps you should take to either stop the risk from happening or make it have less of an impact if it does. Delegate the tasks to your team using Risk Management Software, which easily allows you to assign work to your colleagues.
Step 4: Carry out your plan
As all your actions are stored in your project management software, you can easily track who is responsible for what and how much progress they have made. Check that each team member is on target to finish their risk mitigation activities before you think the risk might happen!
Step 5: Review risks
It's not enough to carry out all these steps as a one-off exercise. You have to periodically review your risk log and check that there are no new risks. Equally, there may be some on your list that you can remove as perhaps the danger has passed or they did materialize and you dealt with them as part of the project.
Schedule a task on your project plan to regularly review your risk log with the team. You can use this time to check any outstanding actions and to make sure that everyone knows what the priority risks are. Then you can collectively focus your efforts on making sure that they don't occur—or if they do, that the impact they have will be small enough to manage easily.

How to work with Gantt Charts?

How to Work with Gantt Charts
A major challenge on projects is that you make sure you have a robust, detailed project schedule. A schedule helps you see how long the project will take and how much effort needs to go into it. If you get it wrong it can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.
Gantt charts are a great tool to display your project schedule in a way that makes it easy to see what needs to be done on the project. So here are 5 steps to working with Gantt charts...
Step 1: Create your task list
First, you need to know what tasks there are to work on! Brainstorm with your team and come up with a complete list of tasks required for the project. Make it as comprehensive as you can. It can help to do this over a couple of days so that you have time to reflect on what really needs to be done.
You can also upload task lists from other software such as Microsoft Excel, Word or Project, so it will save you time at this step if you already have task lists in different formats. The task list forms the basis of your Gantt chart.
Step 2: Link tasks together
Some tasks need to be done in a particular order. Gantt charts show you the dependencies (links) between tasks. If a task has to start after, before or at the same time as another one, you can add these links into your project schedule. Then those tasks will always be linked together.
Step 3: Set start and end dates for tasks
Linking tasks is the first step to creating a timeline, but you will probably have to schedule some start and end dates manually. Go through the list of tasks that you have created and set dates for your activities. These will depend on how long each task will take. The bars on the Gantt chart will change length to represent how long each task is.
Step 4: Add some milestones
A milestone is a point on the project which marks an achievement. It is normally shown on a Gantt chart as a diamond, and it represents a task with a duration of zero days. You can link tasks to milestones. Milestones can mark the end of a phase, the completion of a big task or series of tasks or the start of a new stage. Aim to schedule milestones regularly throughout your project plan as they will help you track if you are on schedule.
Step 5: Add resources to tasks
You may have to change some of the project dates if you find that someone on the team has too much to do. They won’t be able to work on dozens of tasks all at the same time, so adjust your schedule as you need to. Software can help you do this which takes the time-consuming analysis out of calculating what you need to amend. You can display the names of team members working on tasks directly on the Gantt chart too.

Few Tips for Starting Your Projects

When you're starting a new project, it can be a confusing time. Everyone is trying to set priorities and get the work moving. It doesn't have to be hard if you follow these...
Tips For Starting Your Projects
Tip 1: Develop the Project Charter
The Project Charter is a document that includes high level information about the project including key milestones, an overview of the budget and of course, the aims and objectives of the project. You will be key in preparing the document, but it should be owned by the project sponsor who takes responsibility for the project overall. Oh, and if you haven't already, make the time to meet your project sponsor! Ideally you should work on the Charter together so that you have a common understanding of what is to be done.
Tip 2: Identify Stakeholders
Who is going to be involved on your project? The project initiation phase is the perfect time to identify everyone who will have an input to your project or who can influence the work. The Charter gives you a starting point as it will help you see which areas of the business are going to be affected by the new project. You can also talk to your project sponsor to make sure that you don't miss anyone out.
Tip 3: Select the Project Team
The next thing you need to do is to get some team members to work with! Think about the skills you will need in order to be able to complete the different project tasks. Most projects need a variety of different skills from subject matter experts. Then match these requirements to the skills of the available individuals and put together your team.
If you don't know how to start selecting suitable candidates you can ask other project managers or line managers for their advice about who would be able to contribute to the project.
Set up your team members. Then give them access to the right information for this project. Once that's done you can begin to allocate project tasks to them as the schedule is created.
Tip 4: Check the Business Benefits
Why is this project being done? It's important to understand the benefits and the rationale behind doing this project. Talk to your project sponsor if you aren't sure. Understanding the ‘why' will help you explain it to the other team members. You'll find that the team is more motivated if they understand why they are working on something and how it contributes to the business strategy and plans overall. If you can share a common understanding of the project's objectives this is a major step towards getting everyone on board.
Tip 5: Get started!
Now the preparation work is complete, you can get started working with your team and putting together your project schedule. Create a list of all the tasks that need to be done (with input from your team) and then add dates and milestones to form your schedule. You can then allocate tasks to the people who will be doing the work and instruct everyone to get started! Remember to set up your processes for monitoring and controlling the project work too so that you can keep on top of project status at any time.
Starting a new project can be a hectic time. However, it doesn't have to be difficult. If you are clear about the roles and responsibilities of the project manager during this time, you can start your project off perfectly.

How To Get Better Estimates From Your Team?

Good estimates tell you how long a task will take. They help you plan accurately and build a reliable project schedule. To get quality estimates you need to know...
How To Get Better Estimates From Your Team
These steps will help you get great estimates from your team every time.
Identify the Tasks to Estimate
Take a look at your project task list and identify which tasks need estimates. Strip out all the routine tasks like project meetings or workshops (you can put them on the schedule for a particular day). Anything else will need someone to work out the time it will take to complete the task.
Identify the Team Experts
The resources allocated to complete the task may not be the right people to do the estimate. You may also want to involve their managers or other subject matter experts. You could also bring in someone who did the task on a similar project – they aren't allocated to your project but they'll have a great insight into how long it takes to do the work.
Do this for every task so you know who to work with for your estimates. Group tasks together so you can hold estimating meetings with the right people and focus on their sections of the project.
Review Estimating Techniques
There are a number of ways to estimate how long a task will take:
  • Subject matter expertise: someone who knows a lot about the task tells you how long it will take based on their professional opinion.
  • Historical data: use the results of a previous project to estimate how long the same task will take this time.
  • Math: multiply how long it takes to do one unit of work by how many units of work are required. (Also known as "parametric estimating".)
  • A range: work out the most likely, best case and worst case timescales for the task and estimate from that.
  • As a group: use the wisdom of the crowd to debate the best estimate for the task.
Decide if your estimates will include contingency time or not.
Choose the Right Approach
Explain the different techniques to the team members involved. Then agree which technique you will use for each task. Different approaches work well for different tasks – for example, you can't use historical data to estimate if you don't have the data, and if no one in the company has worked on something like this, then your access to subject matter expertise is limited (although you could use a third party).
As your goal is to boost the estimating skills of your team, it can be useful to use two (or more) different ways to estimate one task. Compare the estimates you get and take a judgment about which one you want to use on the project. Keep a note of the other estimates you came up with for the task as they will come in useful later.
Create the Project Plan
Add the data from your estimating into your project plan. Assign a task duration to every activity. This will enable you to work out the overall length of the project.
Track the Accuracy of Estimates
Now you've created your estimates and used them for planning you want to be sure that your team did a good job. Track the actual hours spent on a task using time sheet data. Then compare this to the estimates (both the estimate you actually used and any other estimates you came up with during the process).
Looking at how much time you thought the task would take and comparing it to how long it really took is a fantastic way to see how accurate your estimates were. This useful data will help you estimate more effectively next time.
Project management software that tracks the actual time spent on activities and compares this to your estimates does a lot of the work for you. With tracking mechanism in place you can see how much time each team member is spending on tasks and whether that is in line with what you expected. A handy dashboard does the calculations for you, allowing you to focus on successfully completing the project.

How to do effective Project Tracking under Monitoring & Control?

You can plan a project, but if you don't have an efficient method to track it no matter how good that plan is it's going to run into trouble.
5 Steps to Better Project Tracking
But if you follow these tips on how to track your project, then you'll be able to act swiftly when you see an issue before it becomes a problem.
1. Focus on What's Important
The first thing you need to do is prioritize. You can't track everything, so decide what element of your project is most important. Talk to your team, get them input as well, for they'll be your eyes and ears on the frontline of the project.
But there are at minimum three areas of the project that are always going to demand close scrutiny when tracking performance. There's the budget, of course, and making sure you're not spending more than you've allocated. Make sure you're adhering to the schedule you set up. And don't forget the scope, make sure you're managing change effectively.
2. Create Targets
Now that you've prioritized, what do you expect the performance should be? For example, what is the resource utilization you want from each team member? How many risks will you allow to be tagged at any one time? How tight are you going to adhere to the budget?
Set your targets according to your goals. You can give yourself some flexibility. That's called "tolerance." It allows you to deliver a little above or below your target. So, the targets you create in this set are not points by ranges that are acceptable to you. You can also create a baseline, a snapshot of your project plan to look upon later as reference to your results.
3. Targets Should Have Metrics
The baseline comes in handy here as a way to check your actual versus estimated progress through the project. Comparing what you planned to how you executed that plan is the foundation of what project tracking is.
4. Always Be Reporting
Now that you've measured your progress, it's crucial that you share that data with the team, as they're the ones who are implementing the plan. They need to know what is working and what is taking the project off-track. Give them the key points to your data. Together you can create an action plan to address shortcomings and return the project to its right schedule.
5. Use Dashboards
Finally, customize dashboards to give you the information you need when you need it. This saves time and effort, and gives you a quick view on a single screen into the project, saving you from busy work.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How to Improve Your Personal PM Practices?

Project management processes are defined as "the methods taken to complete a project". Put simply, they are the sets of activities that a Project Manager completes to initiate, plan, execute and close projects. Project Managers use processes to manage a project - whether these are personal processes or a common set of processes defined by your organization. You should periodically take a step back to refine your processes so that they become more and more effective over time. 
The process to improve your processes is not so hard. You can boil it down to three steps.

Step 1: Identify Your Current State Processes
It will be hard to improve your processes if you cannot identify them to begin with. The first step to take is to review your current project management processes and answer questions such as:
  • Which processes do I have in place to manage my projects?
  • Do these processes result in the desired outcomes?
  • Who manages these processes?
  • Have any issues or weaknesses been identified?
  • Are my processes operating efficiently, without hassle?
Ideally, each process should result in the desired project outcome every time, without hassle. If you're not achieving this, then you will want to implement  improvements to improve them. 

Step 2: Identify Future State Improvements
With a clear understanding of the state of your current project processes, the next step is to identify any areas for improvement. Here is one way to do it:
  • Look for problems, weaknesses or risks associated with your current processes.
  • Compare those processes against the processes defined in the best practice project management methodology
  • Identify enhancements/improvements based on the comparison of your weak processes versus a best practice model
By comparing your current processes against a best practice methodology such as MPMM, you can easily identify the areas for improvement. 

Step 3: Implement Process Improvements
Now that you have identified the process improvements, you will want to carefully think about how to implement them. You'll need to:
  • Prioritize your improvements based on the intended benefits
  • Add the process improvement work to your project schedule
  • Communicate the improvements to your project team
  • Implement the improvements according to your schedule
  • Observe the improvements to see if they've had the desired effect
Process improvement work takes time, diligence and patience to implement changes that help you to manage projects successfully every time.
Top Project Managers continuously review their processes to make sure that their projects are completed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Regardless of your current level of experience and knowledge, you will gain substantial benefit from performing continuous process improvement. It will certainly help you to achieve project management success.

How to Solve Project Problems?

Having a structured approach to solving problems will help you resolve them more quickly and directly. Guessing the cause of the problem rarely works. You want to not only resolve this particular problem, but you also want to understand the problem well enough so that you can identify the root cause and ensure that this particular problem does not occur again. 

Use the following general process to identify and resolve problems.  
1. Identify the problem or symptom
You should not assume that everyone knows the problem already. Take the time to document the problem in clear terms that everyone can understand. If you cannot clearly document the problem, it will be difficult to solve it. Make sure that you also explain the impact of the problem to the project.
2. Identify the root cause (or causes)
This is the most important step, since you do not want to spend your time resolving a symptom that you think is a root cause. Instead you should be very clear on the root cause and explain how the root cause ultimately results in the problem. If you cannot track the root cause to the perceived problem, you have not taken your investigation far enough. There are a number of issues management techniques that describe how to focus in on the root cause.
That being said, it may be that the root cause is not within your power to resolve and you may be forced to try to solve a symptom. However, you want to still be sure to identify the cause(s) of the problem to make sure you understand if you are solving a cause or a symptom. 
3. Determine alternatives and impacts
The project manager may assign one or more people to determine alternatives. For each alternative, they should also address the impact to the project.
4. Select the best alternative
The project team and appropriate stakeholders can all be involved with determining the best alternative. This may include members of the project team only, or outside stakeholders. 
5. Resolve the problem
A plan is put into place to address the problem and implement the chosen alternative. This could just be one activity or it could be a complex plan of resolution. These activities should be moved into the project schedule to ensure that they are performed
6. Validate the problem is resolved
The situation must be monitored to ensure that the problem is resolved as expected. If the problem appears to be resolved you are done. If the problem or a related symptom still exists, you have more work to do. Return to step 1.

How to build an effective Communication Plan?

There are three types of communication that can be included in a Communication Plan. We find these three categories to be helpful when creating a well rounded Communication Plan. The three types are mandatory, informational and marketing.
This includes any communication that is required by your organization. There is no reason to worry about these or debate their value. If they are required just create them. Examples include:
  • Project Status Reports and status meetings
  • Meetings with steering committee
  • Required reports to shareholders or your Board of Directors
  • Government required reports, safety reports, audit reports, etc.
This information is “pushed” (sent directly to) to recipients.
This is information that you make available to people, but they need to take the initiative to access it. You put this information in a place that people can access and you tell them that it is there. However, it is up to them to seek out and review the information. Examples include:  
  • Awareness building sessions that people are invited to attend (these are not meant as training – just to build awareness of the project)
  • Project deliverables placed in a common repository, directory, website or library that people can access
  • Frequently-asked questions (FAQ)
This is referred to as "pull" communication since it requires the reader to take the initiative to review the information.
These communication events are designed to build buy-in and enthusiasm for the project and the solution you are delivering. This communication is especially important if your project is going to change how people do their jobs. These types of projects are culture change initiatives. Examples include:
  • Project newsletters with positive marketing spin
  • Traveling road shows to various locations to explain the project and benefits
  • Testimonials that describe how the project deliverables provided value
  • Contests with prizes to build excitement            
  • A count down until live date
  • Project memorabilia with project name or image portrayed, such as pins, pencils, cups, T-shirts, etc.
This type of communication is “pushed” to the readers.
The examples above show that project communication can take many shapes and forms. For large projects especially, the project team should be creative in determining how, what, to whom, where and how frequently the communication takes place. If the project is controversial, requires culture change or is political, the positive aspects of marketing communication become more and more critical
Image result for communication plan

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What are the main Project Organization Types?

There Are Three Main Project Organization Types.
Which Are You?
The project organization is described in the Project Charter. The way that the project team is organized is directly related to the way the entire organization is structured. There are three major organization structures to manage work and people.
Functionally Based
In a functional organization, a project team is generally staffed with people from the same department. All the resources needed for the project team come from the functional organization. For instance, if the project is related to the finance function, the project resources come from the Finance Division.
Another way a project is staffed in a functional organization is by executing portions of a project in separate functional organizations. For example, let’s say that a large project needed resources from the Finance, Purchasing, IT and Manufacturing departments. In a functional organization, the project would be broken down by organizational unit and each unit would do its own part relatively independently. At the end, all of the independent solutions would be integrated into one final solution.  
The biggest advantage of functionally-based projects is that there is usually clear authority, since the project managers tend to also be the functional managers. You also do not need to negotiate with other organizations for resources, since all of the staff needed for your project will come from the same functional organization. 
A major disadvantage of the functional organization is that your functional area may not have all of the specialists needed to work on a project. A Finance project with an IT component, for instance, may have difficulty acquiring specialty IT resources.
Project Based
When projects are large enough, it's possible to form functional departments around the project team. This is especially practical when a large program has hundreds or thousands of people assigned over a long period of time. Advantages include clear authority, since the project manager is also the functional manager, and a clear focus, since everyone on the team has only the project for their primary responsibility.
One disadvantage is duplication of resources, since scarce resources must be duplicated on different projects. For instance, a large project may have its own Human Resources staff, which could duplicate a central Human Resources Department. There can also be concerns about how to reallocate people and resources when projects are completed. In a functional organization, the people still have jobs within the functional department. In a project-based organization it is not so clear where everyone is reassigned when the project is completed.
Matrix Based
Matrix organizations allow functional departments to focus on their specific business competencies and allow projects to be staffed with specialists from multiple functional organizations. For instance, a Legal resource might report to the Legal Department, but be assigned to a project in another department that needs legal expertise.
The main advantage of the matrix organization is the efficient allocation of all resources, especially scarce specialty skills that cannot be fully utilized by only one project. The matrix-based organization is also the most flexible when dealing with changing business needs and priorities.
The main disadvantage is that the reporting relationships are complex since many people have multiple work managers - both a functional manager and one or more project managers. Staff members need strong time management skills to ensure that they fulfill the work expectations of multiple managers.
The matrix-based organization is the most common. Can you tell which model your organization uses? 

Effective Communication Basics in Project Management

Be Effective with The Four Communication Basics
There's not one 'best' way to communicate with your project team but rather a number of different things you can do to communicate. That being said, there are some fundamental communication options that are applied on most projects. Before you get too sophisticated with your communication approach, make sure you are very effective with these fundamentals.
1. Status meetings
There's nothing like a status meeting to communicate effectively with your project team. The best time for a group meeting is early in the week, preferably Monday.  The purpose of this meeting is to make sure that everyone is aligned, expectations for the week are set, and any issues or obstacles are addressed and resolved. Ideally, this meeting takes place face-to-face allowing everyone to contribute to the discussion and get the most out of it as possible. This is your opportunity as a Project Manager to address the needs of the group and make sure everyone is on the same page.
2. One-on-one meetings
Another great opportunity to manage your project teams are the one-on-one conversations you have with individual team members. This type of conversation can take various forms. A regular weekly meeting can be set up with team members that may be new or have minimal experience. This can take 30 minutes or less and serve as a time to touch base with them, make sure they are not having any problems in getting their work done, or discuss any other topics that would not be appropriate to bring up in a larger meeting. One word of caution... don't use this time to talk about any disciplinary or corrective actions that need to be addressed. That should be left for a separate meeting.
What if you have more experienced or senior members on your team? This is still a great way to manage your team, but it can take a slightly different form. First, it could be reduced to once or twice a month that you get together. Plus, the focus of the meeting can be to discuss any ideas or suggestions the team member has for improvement or making things better. At this point in their career they won't need too much direction, but they will appreciate the opportunity to provide their input.
3. E-Mail
In 10 years it is nor clear if we will rely so heavily on email for fundamental communication. But we do today. Email is a powerful addition to face-to-face talking. There are lots of uses for emails - one-on-one discussions, group discussions, one-way notifications, fyi's, decision making, problem solving, etc. If you are weak at email communication it can dramatically impact your ability to manage staff and engage stakeholders.
Be mindful to not let email take the place of face-to-face meetings when you have the personal meeting as a viable alternative. It's easy to go down this path feeling that it's faster or less complicated than talking in person. Email should always be in addition to, not instead of, talking to your team in person.
4. Reports
Reports cover a lot off ground - status reports, performance reports, issues reports, safety reports, etc. You may not typically think about reports as a way to manage your project team, but if you create your reports in the right way you will find they can be a useful tool.
What is the right way to create reports that can help manage your team? Make them actionable. Making a report actionable means that someone can read the report and then know what needs to be done next. The report will not be muddled with a lot of unnecessary details or information that could lead to confusion.
The four fundamental communication mediums above are practical ways you can communicate with and manage your project team. The spirit of managing your team can be summed up in two words... be available. Your staff will do well if your team knows they can reach you at any time with questions, issues, or suggestions and feel comfortable in doing so. Your group meetings, one-on-one conversations, email, and actionable reports will keep you in that position of availability.