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6 posts from April 2011


4 Non Software Project Management Tools We Overlook

We (myself included) often get caught up in software when we talk about project management tools.  Perhaps this is rightly so as the right software - one that matches your organizations objectives and needs - implemented correctly can be very effective.  However, there are a number of non-software "tools" that we can also use effectively.

Here are four non-software tools that we sometimes overlook that can also be very effective in the right circumstances.

1.  Command Center

This only works when the team is in the same geographic location (which is less and less the case these days).  Try designating a room as the "planning room" or "command center."  Perhaps it is not a room, but a central thoroughfare.  In this location you could hang a whiteboard, display reports or lists, and post announcements.  For example, you could prominently display the current goal with progress towards the goal.  You could display awards (who has gone above and beyond), what has been accomplished, or the objectives for the week.  You could be creative with this and use it as a fun communication tool.

2.  Meetings

The word "meetings" invites feelings of angst and discomfort.  We hate meetings.  However, meetings can be very effective, provided they are run correctly.  I love meetings where they are short, on topic, and effective.  If I can attend a meeting, get decisions made, share relevant communication quickly, and get a lot accomplished in a short time, I love that.  If it would otherwise take hours to track down decision makers, get them to make decisions, find information, etc. then I would much rather have a meeting.

However, as we all know, you have to proactively make sure this is the case.  You can search for all kinds of meeting advice on the web, but I would suggest the following:

  • Keep your meetings short and hold to it.  You may want to consider a standing meeting (some organizations, such as agile software development teams, hold something like a daily 10 minute standing-only meeting).
  • Make sure decision makers are there and that they will make decisions.  Otherwise it is fruitless.
  • Follow a format.  Make it routine so that people know what to expect and you don't sit down and simply "let things happen."
  • Expect people to be prepared.  They should come prepared to share information that is relevant to the meeting.
  • Don't allow rabbit trails.  There are lots and lots of topics that could be discussed, but that tends to waste everyone's time.  Deal with the subject and objective of the meeting and get out.

3.  The Telephone

In this age of online collaboration, email, documents, etc. we sometimes fail to use the telephone.  There are times when you simply need to pick up the phone and talk with someone, listening to the inflection of their voice.  Do not always depend on email.  Use the telephone at times to get the information you need.

4.  Lunch

Ah, something with food in it.  You just can't beat that.  How is lunch a project management tool?  Simple.  Do you know what can be accomplished by simply going out to lunch with someone?  If you are trying to establish a rapport and relationship with someone or want to drill down into something further with someone, going out to lunch can be a great thing.  There is just something about being informal, sincerely wanting to learn about another person, and being away from the office.  Things can be accomplished that are more difficult in the formal office setting.

Try these "non-software" tools and share others that you have found to be effective.


Organizational Network Analysis

Last week, I was at a regional project management conference, the PMI Mile Hi Annual Symposium in Denver, Colorado.  I participated as part of the EnterPlicity vendor exhibit, but was also able to catch some highlights of the symposium.

One of the workshops was on the topic of organizational network analysis.  It was a case study presented by Greg Tornrose and Micki Nelson.  This blog deals with tools that can be used to support your project management processes, and this analysis tool can be an important tool in your project tools arsenal.

What is organizational network analysis?  Many times we look at an organization in terms of its organizational chart - the formal staff breakdown.  However, that is often (if not most) times not how an organization actually works.  Many times there are key people that hold the key information.  An organizational network analysis identifies the communication paths to that information, who the key information holders are, and how work actually gets done.  It identifies how far away everyone is to the information that they need.  In other words, "Mary" may be low on the organizational chart, but she may be a central piece of the organization in terms of the information that she has that everyone else needs.

This is one of Rob Cross's specialties.   While searching for more information, I found a nice page by Rob that explains organizational network analysis far better than I just did.  You can read it here.  If you want to see the Powerpoint presentation from the conference workshop, you can find it here.

I encourage you to read up on this.  Two key points that I see:

1.  We need to be proactive about the flow of information from the right people to the right people.  After all, that is what project tools are all about, correct?  But if we do not know who holds the information and what information is actually important to get work done, the best project tool in the world will lose its value.

2.  We need to provide the right tools to provide the desired information flow.  In other words, even if we know what the information flow needs to be, it does not good if there are not good tools to enable that information flow.

This is yet another point in the case that project tools, combined with good process and objectives, are invaluable when implemented strategically, methodically, and with a purpose.



5 Insights To Ensure "Truth" In Your Project Management Software Tool

IStock_000004563504X_web Last week, I wrote a post on What is Truth?  How do we know, or better, how do we create an environment where our project management software tools reflect truth and reality?  If you commented or emailed, thank you.

Here are 5 insights that I extrapolated as to how to get your tools to reflect truth.

1.  Hold People Accountable

Collin wrote that "the best way to get any system to reflect the truth is to hold people accountable to it."  I agree.  Accountability can be done in various ways, including positive reinforcement, but if people are not accountable for making sure that the tool represents truth, good luck.

2.  Make the Information Public

Collin also wrote in his comment that the information should be public.  I agree with this point as well.  If the information is public, there is something about it that causes most people to make sure it is accurate.  After all, everyone can see it.

I do wonder if there is a dark side to this, however.  That would be the scenario where people enter the data that makes them look good.  Perhaps this is the topic of another post.  However, I believe the benefits of making information public outweigh this, and that there are strategies to tackle this.

3.  Perform Quality Checks

There was also the idea of quality checks.  I agree that someone needs to be ensuring the information is always accurate.  By the way, this applies to any tool - whether it is  simple spreadsheets on up to a high-end, sophisticated system.  Someone needs to be sure that the tool is useful, the data is correct, and it is being used properly.  In other words, they need to do some quality process on it.

4.  Ensure Management Buy-In

I suppose this relates directly to accountability, but management needs to be commited to the project management software tool.  They should set the expectation that what is represented in the tool should be truth.  If they do not, it will be very difficult to enforce any sort of accountability and you may need to work on a group or division level.

5.  Wrap a Key Process Around It

I find that almost every organization has some key processes - those processes that are necessary to run the operation.  For example, a services company may have a new project process (from generating a proposal to estimating the resources to getting client approval to kicking it off).  Wrap this process into the tool.  In other words, make the tool indispensable so that it is required to perform the process.  This will also help to encourage that truth is represented in the tool, and that the tool is used.

Thanks for the feedback.  Feel free to comment or email blog@teaminteractions.com with any more ideas that you have experienced.



What is Truth?

IStock_000001717253_web Truth is defined as the true  or actual state of a matter; conformity with fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like.  Here is a question for you.  Do our project management software tools (whether high-end, low-end, spreadsheets, or whatever) reflect truth?  And if not, what is needed for them to reflect truth?

I would say that most tools do not reflect truth.  They simply reflect whatever was entered into the system, which may be true or not.  One of the primary objectives when implementing any type of project management software system is to ensure that what is there is true.  Otherwise, it is not useful.  Is this easy to do?  No, it is hard.  Is it worth it?  Only you can answer that.  What is the value of being able to, at any point in time, look at information, know that it is accurate, and be able to make a good decision on the spot?

What are some ways that you believe are necessary to ensure that what is displayed is true?  Comment or send them to blog@teaminteractions.com.



5 Fresh Ideas To Implement Project Management Software Accountability

IStock_000000314312_web Here we go again...talking about accountability.  After my last post on mistakes you may be making right now with your project management software, I got to thinking about accountability.  Accountability is so important, yet frowned upon.  People are afraid to implement accountability.  Yet you cannot implement your strategic objectives without accountability.  I began to think of some new ways that we can implement accountability to be sure that people are using our project management software tools effectively (although these could be applied to any project management area).  Here are five ideas.

1.  Reward People

Accountability does not have to always be negative - i.e. you did not do this.  Turn it around.  Reward people who have done what you asked them to do.  Give them a certificate.  Praise them in front of their peers.  Give them recognition.  Let them go home 2 hours early on Friday.

2.  Hold a Contest

A manufacturing company that I worked for in the 90's went through an ISO 9001 certification process.  They held a contest.  If you were "caught" following the new quality processes that were being put in place, you received an "ISO buck."  These "ISO bucks" could be put into a bin.  At the end of the "push phase", these "bucks" would be randomly selected for prizes.  It worked.  Of course, in the interest of disclosure I do have to admit that I won a very nice bbq grill.

3.  Thank Them

This is so simple we overlook it.  How about a simple thank you?  Just say thank you to someone who did what you asked them to do.  They will appreciate it, especially if it is sincere.

4.  Do Something For Them

They did something for you.  This is not a quid pro quo, but it doesn't hurt to look for ways that you could reciprocate.  Perhaps you could give them time to express an idea, help them with a report they are producing, or remove a roadblock for them.

5.  Ask Their Advice

Ask them what they think about the new tool or process and how they would make it better.  Ask them their thoughts on advice on something unrelated.  And mean it.  They will appreciate that you sincerely covet their thoughts.


This all is not to say that you can get away with only doing these.  I do believe there has to be real accountability in terms of when people consistently do not do something.  But try two of these and see if it doesn't have a positive impact on your accountability efforts.



5 Mistakes You Are Making With Your Project Management Software

Do you think you are using your project management software tool effectively?  Here are five mistakes that you may be making right now.

1.  You only use it for scheduling.

A LOT of organizations (aka people) look for a tool they can use to create and update a project schedule.  Project management is not all about schedules and project management software tools should not be either.  Think broader.  Start delving into status updates, time tracking, document sharing, comments, resource allocation, and the many other things that add value.

2.  You have not tied any strategic objective to it.

Often times project management software is implemented and is left to go its own way.  Sort of like a drifting sailboat.  It is there to do things with (such as create tasks and schedules), but there is no organizational purpose to it.  Why are you using it?  What is it meant to accomplish?  What are you trying to strategically solve?  Are you trying to get a handle on resource allocation?  Are you trying to deliver to your clients on time?  You must have a clearly defined purpose.

3.  You have no accountability.

People (my teenager included) do not like change.  They will use any possible reason to revert back to the "way we have always done it."  If you are trying to accomplish a specific objective with your project management software tool, you cannot throw the software out there and politely ask people to use it.  It just doesn't happen, except in the rarest of organizations (and no, not yours).  You must implement some accountability and hold people accountable for using the system.  Accountability has a negative connotation, but what is the point of doing this in the first place if you do not expect people to use it properly? 

4.  You do not have anyone overseeing the system.

Unless you have a big organization, you do not need someone whose full-time job it is to oversee your project management software system.  However, you do need someone tasked with overseeing and pushing it as part of their broader responsibilities.  That may be a little bit of time per week, it may be more at first.  Someone needs to help drive it, make sure people are using it, make sure people understand it, help people, hold brown bag lunch sessions, etc.  This could be one of your staff or a vendor's staff (although having someone on your own staff is far more beneficial and cost-effective long-term).  Like it is often said, everything rises and falls with leadership, and this is no exception.

5.  You are not using reports extensively.

Reporting (aka data mining) often times is THE reason for project management software in the first place.  If you have done things right, you have a gold mine of information out there waiting to be mined.  There are a ton of questions you can start to ANSWER, not just ask.  How many tasks are falling behind?  Who tends to be the bottleneck?  What types of tasks tend to be later than others?  Who is the most allocated of our staff?  Who gets the most done?  What type of staff will we need in the future?  How many projects did we complete last year?  On time?  We could go on and on.  The purpose is not just to see interesting information, but to make decisions and take action.  If you are not using this information, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to stop fighting fires and start improving your processes and operations.




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


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