48 posts categorized "Implementation"

05/24/2011

How to Make Automation (or Project Management Software Tools) Work

IStock_000010045800_web In the midst of doing some research for a post on the Flying Into Project Management blog on team interactions, I came across some relevant lessons to this blog on project tools.  Specifically, I was looking at how the aviation field makes automation technology work in today's airline cockpits.  There were some interesting insights, parallels, and lessons to how organizations can make project management software tools work for project teams.

First of all, what is automation?  I am simply referring to technology that automates certain tasks.  That could be a number of things such as finding out the current status, identifying problems, generating alerts, seeing where you have been, visualizing the upcoming plan / path, etc., etc.

Automation should have two goals:

  1. Improve situational awareness (the awareness that one has about the true, real state of the project or portfolio of projects).
  2. Decrease the workload required to maintain situational awareness.

In other words, our automation tools should always enable us to know what the real state of our projects are, and they should reduce the work that is required for us to know that state.

There are some common responses that people have to automation technology:

  • They look at it as helpful (this is a real plus and saves me time).
  • They look at it as confusing (what is it doing now?).
  • They look at it as unneeded (why do we need this, we've always done it this other way).

That means that automation technology needs to:

  • Fulfill a real need.
  • Fit seamlessly into a person's / organization's process.
  • Be easy enough to earn a person's trust.

In a follow-up post, I will discuss some practical lessons as to how to make automation technology work in light of these insights.  Please note that much of this insight came from the source www.crewresourcemanagement.net.





05/20/2011

7 Ways to Improve "Garbage In, Garbage Out" in Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000004341760_web_rc In my last post, I discussed the issue of "garbage in, garbage out" in our project management software tools.  In other words, if we do not have good data going into the tools, we will not have good data coming out of the tools.  And that is a problem, since retrieving good data is a fundamental reason to have a tool in the first place.  There are a variety of causes for this that we discussed in that post.

Fortunately, there is hope.  Organizations have overcome this problem and produced a useful tool with useful information.  Here are seven ways that you can overcome this problem in your own organization:

1.  Make it public

Collin wrote a comment on a previous post on the importance of visibility.  Don't hide the information in the system.  Make it visible to everyone.  This produces natural accountability.  Who wants to be the one that is "holding up the system" and whose area is clearly lacking with input into the system?

2.  Use it

If you do not use the information in the system, why would anyone take the time to accurately enter that data?  Do not expect people to do so.  However, if you consistently use the data and expect the data to be accurate, people will start to realize this is serious and will enter the right data.  For example, instead of asking people to write up a report and email it to you once a week, insist that they use the project management software tool.

3.  Implement Accountability

There has to be some level of accountability to use the tool.  If there is not, many people will do what is most comfortable: doing things the way they have always done them.  We have discussed this more than one time in the past and so do not need to rehash this here, other than to re-iterate that accountability is a key component.

4.  Train

You cannot expect people to enter accurate data if they do not understand how to enter accurate data.  They may simply be lazy in not entering accurate data (or no data).  But they may also be sincere and simply do not understand how to enter the data correctly.  Or they are reticent to use the system to enter data because they do not understand it.  This is where training comes in.  Hold some brown bag lunch sessions that cover the process (not the features) that you want them to follow.

5.  Set expectations

Expectations can be a wonderful thing.  If I expect my kids to do something and I act that way consistently over time, they will often (not always) rise up to my expectation.  If I do not raise my expectation for them and act accordingly, they will almost always revert to the lowest common denominator.  I believe the same is true for our project teams.  If you set the expectation - i.e. that the important information you use weekly will be pulled from the project management software system - you inherently raise the bar.  But you have to act appropriately.  Meaning, you go to the system and expect the information to be there.  That is just how things are done.  I am not saying that is a magic bullet and it is that easy.  But I am saying that plays a key part in raising the bar for your organization.  Your organization (whether a corporation, company, group, department, or team) will only match the expectations that you have for it.

6.  Understand it is a process, not an event

Getting accurate, good, actionable data into your project management software tool is a continuous process, not a one time event.  You need to continuously do these things, talk about it in your meetings, and make them an integral part of your processes and culture.

7.  Understand it is a management issue, not a technology issue

In most cases, getting garbage in your project management software tool is not a technology issue.  It is a management issue.  It is a matter of managing the team and organization so that they indeed do enter quality data into the system.

Choose at least two of these things to work on and pay attention to the level of quality in your project management software tool.





05/05/2011

Whitepaper: Understanding the 5 Purposes of Technology in Project Management

I just completed a new whitepaper on understanding the 5 purposes of technology in project management.  The idea behind the whitepaper is to provide a broader perspective on the role that technology (especially project management software) should play so that organizations can achieve much greater value from it.  Often times today, I find that organizations severely limit themselves with their perspective for technology.  For example, they look for a project management software tool that can "do Gantt charts" or a "task list."  There is nothing wrong with that except that it limits what you can do with even the most basic technology.

This whitepaper was derived from a series of posts on the Flying Into Project Management blog.

This whitepaper will be published shortly.  You are the first to see it.  I encourage you to download and read it and provide me with your feedback to blog@teaminteractions.com.  I would love to hear it.

Download Whitepaper





04/26/2011

Organizational Network Analysis

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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.

 





04/19/2011

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.

 





04/12/2011

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.

 





04/08/2011

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.

 





04/06/2011

5 Mistakes You Are Making With Your Project Management Software

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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.

 





03/17/2011

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.





02/11/2011

4 Ways to Get More Out of Your Project Management Software

IStock_000005305116XSmall Project management software is bestowed with promises of higher productivity, better efficiency, and a host of other benefits.  And rightly so - there is a lot of benefit to the right system being installed in the right away for the right organization.  Like any organizational tool however, it does not always live up to expectations for a variety of reasons.  Here are four ways that you can get more out of your project management software today.

1.  Hold Brown Bag Lunch Sessions

A common issue is that no one has (or takes) the time to talk about how the organization is using the software tool, much less do any type of training on it.  The solution?  Hold brown bag lunch sessions.  These are great ways to informally communicate, discuss the use of the system, and even do some training in bite size pieces.  It does not matter if you are using spreadsheets, a complicated enterprise-wide tool, or a middle of the road tool (like EnterPlicity), there is always value in this.  You may very well find that not everyone has the same perception of how the software should be used, and that everyone is not using the software the same way.  You will come away with insight into some not-too-difficult things you can do to increase value, and the participants will come away with more knowledge and understanding of the how's and why's of the system.

2.  Put Together Cheat Sheets

Organizations use project management software differently to implement different processes for meet different needs and objectives.  A lot of focus is put on how to use software features.  Instead, create cheat sheets on how to accomplish key processes within the software.  For example, create a cheat sheet for creating a new project noting the information required, the specific steps in the tool, and even any steps outside of the tool (i.e. job numbers to be created in the accounting system, or documents to be created for customers).  In other words, what are the expectations and process for people to do their job?  These are not vendor documents - those will be focused on features.  These are your internally generated cheat sheets focused on your processes.  People will appreciate the clarity and the focus on what they need to do (and not unneeded feature information).

3.  Eliminate a Manual Process

It is not difficult to find a process being performed manually now that could be done with your software tool.  Perhaps someone is manually entering information into spreadsheets and someone else is spending hours compiling information from various spreadsheets for a weekly status report.  I almost always find ways to streamline and even eliminate manual steps.  It may take some technical work, but sometimes it may be as simple as streamlining how people are entering the data.  You would be surprised at what you can find to streamline when you put a laser focus on that objective.

4.  Create an Internal Help Resource

I recommend putting in place an internal webpage, blog, or similar resource that everyone can go to for all information on your software system.  This sounds more complicated than it has to be.  It could simply be a page that contains all of your cheat sheets and links to vendor training documents.  It could be expanded with information on upcoming updates, brown bag lunch sessions, how-to's, faq's, etc.  The internal aspect is because this is not focused on how to use the tool, but how your organization uses the tool to accomplish its objectives.

What other ways have you gotten "more" out of project management software for your organization?

 






 

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