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8 posts from March 2011


Project Management and Cloud Computing

This must be the week to share with you insight from other's blog posts because I have another one for you.  Cloud computing is another one of those "hot terms."  It simply refers to delivering hosted services over the Internet.  From a project management software tools perspective, cloud computing has certainly caught on as a way to scale project management software tools within an organization easily.  But how do project management and cloud computing really interact?  What are the benefits of cloud computing for project management?

Enter a blog post that I read on allPM.com by AndrĂ©s Cuevas Ortega.  Andres talks about this very subject, including the benefits of cloud computing from project management perspective.  From my perspective, cloud computing is simply another tool that can work well when integrated with proper project management discipline, as Andres also states.

Read the blog post here.  I believe we will all learn something.



Checklists: A Great Project Tool

IStock_000005289430XSmall Sometimes an organization needs sophisticated project management software because there is just too much information to manage in spreadsheets.  You need the Gantt charts, collaboration, reporting, and such.  Sometimes the simpler solution is the best solution.  Checklists are just such as solution.  Whether they are done with spreadsheets, within your project management software system, on paper, or on a whiteboard, checklists are a great tool incorporate into your organization.

I read a blog post by Craig Brown at Better Projects on the benefits of checklists.  He made three points as to the benefits of using checklists:

  1. They help us be complete and avoid mistakes of omission.
  2. Filling in a checklist, or verbally going through it with a colleague, elevates quality.
  3. The act of creating a checklist causes you to research and learn from peers in your industry.

I agree with his points.  Human error is inevitable and checklists (especially done with a colleague for a check and balance) help to detect errors and mistakes.  I would add that checklists are a great way of incorporating process into your organization.  In other words, set the expectation that people will use checklists to perform a task and make sure the checklist follows your pre-described process.

A checklist can be incorporated as a form in a good project management software system.  The value of that is for tracking.  It is hard to track down a paper checklist to see if it was completed or not and by whom.  An online checklist incorporates that type of tracking which can be valuable.  But it does not have to be.  Any type of properly created and managed checklist can be a great project tool for your organization.

Pick a process that routinely produces errors and mistakes, create a checklist with the right process steps, and pilot it.  Make adjustments and roll it out.  Then continuously evaluate the execution and content of the checklist for continuous improvement.



Mining for Project Risks: Watch NASA TV

Sometimes I will have a topic that I am exploring in the Flying into Project Management blog that I believe is also relevant to project management software tools.  This is one such occasion.  Mining for project risks is an important part of a good project manager's job.  It also plays into the tools that we use (or need to use) to be able to identify risks from the project information that we do have.

Read this post from the Flying into Project Management blog which delves into this further and tells you about a NASA TV episode that I think we could all learn from.


The Importance of a Pilot Phase

IStock_000005461904XSmall_w The implementation of project management software tools (or any tool) needs a pilot phase.  In fact, I would say that it is vitally important to success.  This may seem elementary but it simply does not always happen.

But first, what is a pilot?  A pilot is simply a test or a trial.  It is the validation that the system works as intended and that it is setup in a way that properly supports your processes.  In other words, do the screens collect the right information?  Are we getting the reports out that we need?  Do we have the situational awareness that we need to make decisions?  Does the process make sense to the users?  These are the types of questions that are answered in a pilot phase.

I find that I am an optimist about most things.  It seems that many of us in project management are optimists.  We believe that the work we have done is good and will be successful.  However, in reality, we never know until it is actually used by someone else.  They have different perspectives and viewpoints.  We may not have considered everything.  There are unknowns there that we need to find.

That is why it is important to go through a pilot phase when you implement any sort of project management software tool, even a spreadsheet system.  You need to validate, make changes as necessary, and re-pilot before going live.

Do you know what the number one reason is for a pilot phase?  Expectations.  If you do not communicate and plan for a pilot phase, people will expect that the system will be perfect from day one and it will not.  That leads to frustration, not because of any big misdeed, but just because of unrealistic expectations.  I have been bitten by this myself and have had to learn the hard way.

When you go through your pilot, talk to people.  Don't be afraid to solicit positive and negative feedback.  That is what you need to make the system and the process better.  You may be limited in what you can change, but there is often a way to at least make the process better.  You do not want to think that the system is well received, when everyone in reality mutters bad things under their breath.

This simple rule of running a pilot eliminates a lot of headache and frustration, and makes you look much better in the end.


What is Online Database Software and Should You Care?

IStock_000006236867XSmall_w I have seen the term online database software more lately.  What is it and why should you care?  First, what is a database?  A database is simply an organized system of related information.  It could be a system of related information about health records, or car registrations, or in the case of project management perhaps resources, projects, or tasks.  In many ways, the project management software tool that you use can be considered a database.  Even a filing cabinet could be considered a database - an organized system of related information.

Online database software refers to an actual software tool that is used to organization your related information into a system.  "Online" in many people's minds also refers to something accessible via the Internet, but I would broaden this to any software tool available to lots of people.  An online project management software system is really online database software.  It just happens to be organizing project-related information and providing tools to manage project-related information.  So in some respects, if you have an online project management system, you already have online database software.

However, I believe that the term refers to a broader scope than that.  I believe it refers to the ability to manage any type of related information.  In other words, many tools limit you to manage only the information that they are already programmed to manage.  You cannot manage any information outside of that.  You would have to use a different tool.

Why is this important and why should you care?  Because information is very important today.  Information is scattered around everywhere - in filing cabinets, in documents on people's own computers or network drives, in emails, in spreadsheets.  Decisions cannot be made with supporting information because it is too hard to aggregate and get the information.  People spend a lot of time trying to find information.  Problems cannot be identified because no one can see the big picture.  In other words, we have all this information but not in an organized, useful system.  And information that is useful is a competitive advantage.

Online database software is important because you don't know what information you will need to manage.  It is constantly changing as your organization and process evolves.  Time and again I have seen organizations mature and have expanded needs to manage more and more information efficiently.  If you have the capability of an online database system, you have the flexibility to manage any information that you need to now or in the future.

Some of these software systems are separate tools.  Some project management software systems (such as EnterPlicity) have online database capability built into them.  The point is that whatever tool you are using, you want to ensure that you have the capability of managing a wide-variety of data.

What does this look like in reality?  Here is an example.

One of our clients started off simply wanting to manage projects, tasks, and their status.  That's it.  That's great and a good starting point.  Well, guess what?  As organizations mature in their project management practices they realize there are some pieces of low hanging fruit that will allow them to take additional steps.  This particular client wanted to track internal requests for work.  They currently did this but with an outdated system.  They wanted to do it in one system because it was related to project work and they didn't want the cost of maintaining the extra, older system.  They also wanted to match very closely the existing process because the process itself was working.  That means that they had very specific data elements that they needed to duplicate.  This was not something that they envisioned in the beginning.

With online database software capabilities, it made it easy for them to do something like this.  They simply created the database elements they needed to track the information that they currently track.  That is the value of online database software - the ability to maintain flexibility to meet any sort of data tracking need in the future.

The point?  Whatever tool you use / choose, don't get caught down the road with being limited in your data tracking capabilities.  Be sure you maintain that flexibility because as you mature, you will need it down the road.


Why You Should Use KPIs

IStock_000006399293XSmall A KPI is a key performance indicator which essentially is a measure of performance that you can use to manage your projects or portfolio of projects.  Why is this important?  Because a KPI provides a quick indicator of what action needs to be taken.  KPIs need to be established based on your strategic objectives and success criteria.  In other words, you need to establish what you need to accomplish, and then create and monitor KPIs to ensure you are doing it.

I read about seven key characteristics of key performance indicators in Skip Reardon's blog post.  Skip was actually referencing David Parmenter's book "Key Performance Indicators: Developing, Implementing, and Using Winning KPIs."  I have not read the book but it sounds promising.

Here are the seven key characteristics:

  • They are nonfinancial measures
  • They are measured frequently
  • They are acted on by the CEO and senior management team
  • They clearly indicate what action is required by staff
  • They are measures that tie responsibility down to a team
  • They have a significant impact
  • They encourage appropriate action

 I would modify this list slightly as follows:

  • They are acted on by the manager.  Your own group could implement KPIs at its own level.  If you wait for the whole organization, who knows when that will happen.
  •  Sometimes financial measures should be included in KPIs.  KPIs such as profit margins or cost indexes may be a central and very important part of a team's success factor.  It makes sense to me not to exclude these.

Since this is a project management software tools blog, let's take this a step further.  Your project management software tool, whatever that may be, should allow you to create and monitor KPIs.  That means that your tool needs to be flexible enough to create your own, unique KPIs that take your project data and spits out a key indicator based on that data.

The most important point is to establish your objectives and success criteria, and then establish some KPIs to monitor your progress and when you are getting off track.





Flying into Project Management

Fipm_planeIf you get to know me, you will find out that I am an aviation nut.  I love flying and airplanes.  That does not mean I love being squished into an airline seat, but I do love the general sport of flying.  A while back I was reading an article in a flying magazine that I read.  The article was titled something along the lines of "Top 10 Ways to be a Better Pilot."  I thought of the similar types of articles I have seen related to project management..."Top 10 Ways to be a Better Project Manager", for example.  It got me thinking about how far aviation has come in learning how to create predictable outcomes, safe results, and managed risk.  It also got me thinking about how project management needs to do the same, and how it can learn from the lessons that aviation has already learned (and is learning).  Perhaps we just do not take it quite as seriously because the consequences of failure are not as dire.

I say all of that to let you know that I have started another blog "Flying Into Project Management at www.flyingintoprojectmanagement.com."  I have a lot of material and lessons to share with you that provide a different way of looking at and learning project management principles.  I hope that you will check it out and follow along!



3 Pitfalls of Project Management Online

IStock_000000548970Small_2 Last time, we looked at online project management and some of its obvious benefits.  If you missed it, you can read it here.  I am a big fan of project management online because of the many benefits and how easy it is to implement today (plus in full disclosure we develop an online project management tool).  But nothing is ever perfect, plus what works well for one organization may simply not fit with another organization.  So it is important to also look at the pitfalls of project management online, which is what we are going to do now.

Here are three pitfalls of online project management software:

1.  You cannot take it with you.

This means that typically you have to be connected to your online site in order to do online project management and use those software tools.  If you are someplace without Internet access or for some reason your Internet access is not currently working, you are out of luck.  You cannot use it.  Now, with the advent of smartphones, this is lessened more and more via the use of such phones to use your online project management tool.  However, it should still be noted as a pitfall.  Unless it is outfitted appropriately, your cabin in the wilderness may leave you stranded.

2.  Security

Security is less and less of an issue with online project management software and tools, but it should never be left out of the equation.  What I mean is that the technology and tools exist to make your site secure today.  If security is important to you, you need to be sure you are using the right tool that provides security and make sure that you have the right processes in place (a tool may be very secure but not if you don't set it up to be secure).

Obviously the only way to absolutely lock something down is to not grant anyone access to it.  That sort of defeats the whole purpose however.

The point is that online project management tools can be secure, but you need to take the steps to ensure that it is so and have a security policy in place.

3.  Performance

Performance of online project management software tools should always be considered.  You always need to consider the bandwidth that you have between the tool itself and the people that are using the tool.  Online project management software systems should be built with technologies such as caching, AJAX, and other technical "terms" to make normal operation fast.  However, there are some things that you cannot get around.  For example, take documents.  If you need to transfer large documents to and from your tool, you need to do some evaluation.  It doesn't matter how good the tool is, you still need to transfer those large documents back and forth between your computer and the online project management tool.  You need to be sure that you have enough bandwidth to make this easy to do.

As with any project tool, you need to evaluate the benefits and pitfalls, and determine what matches best with your organization's goals, culture, needs, and objectives.



The EnterPlicity Project Tools blog covers all areas of effectively tracking, managing, and using your enterprise project data.


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What is EnterPlicity?

EnterPlicity is project management software that enables your organization to extend project management software tools to everyone, share any project information, automate key processes, and analyze project data in a single, easy to implement system.