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4 posts from August 2011


How an Airline is Using Better Tools

This is a bit of a side note, but I read an article this week with a lesson for those of us that use (or need to use) better project management software tools.  The article was on how United Airlines will now be using iPads for all of its pilots.  The purpose of the iPads are to get rid of the reams of charts that pilots have to carry around with them all the time.  These charts are necessary to always have the current navigation charts, airport diagrams, and other pertinent information about each flight.

That is a big change to a decades-old procedure.  Do you ever find that the reason you are using the tools and procedures that you do, is because "we've always done it this way"?  We should not implement technology for the sake of technology, but conversely we should not eliminate technology opportunities simply to keep a decades-old process.  The right technology matched with the right problem and implemented in the right way can reap big rewards.


Are Tools Necessary for a Successful PMO?

IStock_000000418676Small_2 Project management organizations (PMOs) have taken off in recent years.  In fact, in its State of the PMO Report for 2010, PM Solutions found that 84% of survey respondents had a PMO.  In 2000, the number was 47%.

My question is whether or not tools are necessary for successful PMO?  I am using the term "tool" to mean a central planning tool.  That could be almost anything, from a full blown project management software or PPM solution to something more simple, but that still centralizes information and plans.  It may even be a set of tools.

Fundamentally, processes are going to be much more important to a PMO.  You have to have the right organizational processes and procedures in place to deal with things like how projects are prioritized, how projects are run, how resources are assigned, and other key functions.  While a tool that shows you centralized views of projects and related information can be very helpful, it is not absolutely essential.  After all, you could do that in an Excel spreadsheet or SharePoint portal.

However, there is one area where I believe a tool is necessary and that is the area of resource management.  In its report, PMO Solutions also found that "resource management" was the top issue and priority for PMOs with over 64% of respondents indicating that improving resource planning and forecasting was their top priority.  This is understandable.  Resource management with or without a tool is difficult, especially when you throw in contentions, politics, changing demands, and personalities who want resources on their projects.

Fundamentally, the technical aspects of resource management are difficult to do without a supporting tool, which makes the management aspects more difficult.  I would say that there are some basic fundamentals that need to be tracked / tackled:

  • Creating a central resource pool (a central list of resources from which to assign projects)
  • An overall view of where resources are assigned and how they are allocated
  • Prioritize projects

These items are difficult to do in a flat Excel spreadsheet.  They also imply that you need to aggregate information and cannot maintain it separately.

So while there are many things that could be done without a central tool, resource management is not one of them.  Agree or disagree?



3 Tips to Evaluate a Configurable Project Management Software System

IStock_000005289430_web A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the characteristics of a highly configurable project management software system.  You can read that post here.  Now let's answer the question, how can you know if a system is truly configurable?  Here are three tips that you can use to evaluate a system.

1.  Test a Key Process

First you need to choose a key process that your organization executes.  Don't have one?  Stop!  You need to work on your processes first before getting a tool to support a non-existent process.  You'll never be able to do a proper evaluation otherwise, much less get real value from implementation.  Now, let's assume you have a process and it is documented.  Perhaps it is the process for creating and launching a new project.  Take that documented process and implement it in the tool.  See how the tool can mold itself and be configured to implement your process.  You may need to add some database fields to capture key data elements, you may need to create a template, or you may need to generate a notification to key individuals.

After you have done that to your satisfaction, change the process.  Pretend that you are a year down the road and your process is changing.  Make up something.  Now see how easy it is to change the process in the tool.  That will reveal a lot about how configurable the tool really is.

2.  Extend the Tool

Create some custom fields.  Change a screen or a form.  See how easy it is to change the information that is shown and collected on the screen.  This will be important as you grow and mature in your processes.

3.  Create a Reporting Factory

Reports are king.  You have to be able to analyze your data.  Don't be satisfied with the canned reports in the system.  Dream up other reports that you can run, lots of them.  Create them in the system.  How easy is it to create them?  Can you create them?  If you don't know what reports you need, you probably should step back and think that through.  Then try and create them.  This should include reports that are centered around projects, tasks, and resources at a minimum.  It may also be reports around time or costs.  Even if you do not think you will need that information, you may in the future and this will help you evaluate how you can adapt to your changing needs.



4 Ways to Ruin Your Day With Poor Resource Management

IStock_000005305116XSmall Resource management is important.  It can and will make or break your project.  If we have the right people, managed correctly, the opportunities for our project to succeed go way up.  If we have the wrong people, or manage our resources poorly, it will be a rough day.  For that matter, it will be a rough month.

What are some things to watch out for?  Here are four “gotchas” to watch out for to be sure that you don’t fall into the poor resource management trap as you maintain your project management software tool.  In this post, we are primarily focused on human resource management – people.

1.  Not factoring in non-project work.

It is extremely rare these days where a resource is working exclusively on your project.  People are more often working on multiple-projects at the same time, multi-tasking, and being pulled in a lot of different directions.  They may be working hard on your project, but also have to take care of operational duties.  They also must spend time answering emails, phone calls, and going to meetings.  You must factor in this non-project time.  If you need a resource to give you a solid 20 hours of work, you cannot expect that to be accomplished in 20 hours because they will be working on other things.  I have heard, but cannot immediately find validation, that 6 to 6.5 hours per day is a benchmark.  That sounds high to me.  You know your organization and its culture better than I do.  In a typical project management software tool, this will be referred to as their capacity.

2.  Not accurately estimating the amount of time you need the resources.

You need to accurately know how long you will need your resources.  This means that you need to follow good project management techniques, including building a solid work breakdown structure, and setting up a good schedule.  How long have these activities taken in the past?  How long do the resources themselves estimate that it will take this time?  Have they done these activities before so that we know their estimate is probably accurate.  These are questions you must ask so that you can accurately estimate the resource quantity (aka time) needed.  I would rather estimate more than I need and actually take less, then estimate less and take more.

3.  Not considering the difference between effort and duration.

Effort (sometimes referred to as "work") is how much time or how many hours a resource needs to work on a task uninterrupted in order to complete.  Duration is how much calendar time it will take to complete that much effort (and thus complete the task).  For example, the effort required for a task may be 20 hours, but it will take 5 calendar days (40 hours) before the task is actually completed due to other work and priorities.  Be sure that you are estimating both of these.  Do not confuse effort for duration.  Otherwise, in 20 hours you will wondering why your task is only 50% complete.

4.  Not understanding the impact of other projects.

You need to constantly be on the lookout for other projects that will become a higher priority and siphon off your resources.  This may be perfectly legitimate because another project may be more important to the organization as a whole.  However, you can and should still plan for this.  For example, if you are delivering something to a client and you need a high-value resource that “everyone” needs, plan for that.  Build some margin into your schedules to allow for this.  Set the expectations up front.  But don’t bury your head in the sand, pretend that it will not happen, and then get upset when it does.

This is obviously not an all-inclusive list.  Leave a comment if you have made some mistakes that will help someone else with their resource management.




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