11 posts categorized "Justification"

08/26/2011

How an Airline is Using Better Tools


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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.





07/26/2011

4 Questions to Answer Before Presenting Project Management Software

IStock_000000077653_L2_smal We have covered a lot of ground in this blog about how to implement software, best practices, even how to select it.  One thing that we have not covered much is how to get buy-in from other people to implement project management software tools.  This can be hard to do for several reasons:

  1. People do not like to change.
  2. No one wants to take on another effort.
  3. People are too busy fighting fires, much less trying to address the root causes of the fires.
  4. People think what they are doing is just fine.

Just this morning I read a blog post by Ted Hardy at the Better Projects blog.  In his post, Ted walked through how he brought an idea to his team and achieved their quick buy-in.  I want to expand on Ted's post and give you four questions that you need to answer before presenting project management software to your organization.

What's the problem?

If you are going to implement project management software because it sounds like a good idea, don't bother.  It has to be tied to a problem.  What problem will it solve?  How will it provide value?  Ted's value proposition was that his idea would provide data that they didn't have today in order to solve quality problems. The problem should be your focus and will drive how you present it as well as how it is implemented.  Perhaps you have projects that are continuously late and no one knows why.  Perhaps you are making promises to your customers that cannot be kept, because no one has the data to say when something will actually get done.  Perhaps you know you have resource bottlenecks but have no data to prove it or to show where, how, and why the bottle-necks are occurring.  Perhaps you have documents or other information strung all over the place in spreadsheets, whiteboards, files, and post-it notes so no one can find key information when they need it most.  These would be examples of real, definable problems on which you can focus your "pitch".  If you have a solution that can solve a real problem, that is a real value-add.  And that is much easier to present than a vague benefit.

What's the process?

Do not focus on the project management software tool itself and its "cool features".  Focus on your process.  The software is simply a tool to implement, run, analyze, and improve your process.  When you present this, you don't even need to focus on "implementing a project management software tool".  You can focus on implementing a process (and using a tool to help you do that).  The software can and should take a backstage approach.  If there is too much focus on the software tool itself, than there is not enough focus on the process and the underlying problem.  So what is the process that can be implemented (or changed) to fix problem x (defined above)?

What's in it for them?

Why should people do this?  What will they personally get out of it?  Perhaps it is some key reporting to save them from doing hours of manual data manipulation.  Perhaps it is to remove a headache that plagues them day in and day out.  Put yourself in their shoes and be sure you understand and can articulate how they will specifically benefit.  You could mock up some sample reports to show people (be sure they will realistically be available), and even quietly get feedback on them before even expressing your idea ("do you think it would be helpful if you could get information like this?").  Go to lunch with people and explore what problems they have and what would be a real benefit to them.

How will you implement?

Do you know what steps you will take?  Will you phase it in or try and do everything at once (phasing it in is highly recommended)?  Will you have a pilot group?  Who will be in that group?  What processes will you implement at first?  What will they look like?  What problem will they solve immediately?  What will people be able to get out of the tool right away that will help them?  How long will it take?  How much time will it take from people's day?  These are all questions that you need to answer before making your presentation.

The bottom line?  Be prepared.  In Ted's post, he had an idea for something that would really help the team and the organization.  He did his homework and explored the idea and what it would take.  But even then he didn't present it.  He let it ruminate for a while which gave him time to think it through and thoroughly understand his approach before presenting it to the team.  It worked and unless you are dealing with a dire situation that requires an immediate solution, it's a good approach.

 

 





11/17/2010

Why Do We Choose the Project Management Software Tools We Do?

IStock_000005289430XSmall I often think about why we choose a particular project management software platform (or why we should choose).  There were the usual reasons: the right features, pricing, fit with my organization, service, support, etc.  Then I came across an article by Ted Hardy that provided some food for thought.

There are the reasons we should choose a particular project management software platform, and then there are the reasons that we sometimes do choose a particular project management software platform.  Here are some the reasons I think that we sometimes do choose a platform:

Familiarity

Sometimes we choose a system that we are comfortable with.  This explains why so many people use spreadsheets as a project management software tool.  Is that the best tool for project management?  In most cases no, there is no built in project management functionality and it is difficult to pull any sort of analytics across multiple projects / spreadsheets.  But many people are very comfortable with it and so it gets used.

Access

What do you have access to?  Using spreadsheets again as an example, most people have access to a spreadsheet program.  That makes it cheap and simple to use.

Lowest Risk

It is sometimes personally less risky to go with a "well-known" system (aka Microsoft Project) even if that is not the best system.  Why?  Because it is well known and so it would be hard for someone to come back and argue why that was a poor choice, even when the system may not pan out well.

Simplicity

It is easier for us to implement a simple solution than a more complex one.  I am a big proponent of keeping things simple, but that has to be compared to the needs of the organization.  Perhaps we choose a system because it is so simple that it can be understood immediately, even though our needs may require something a little more complex.  For example, we may choose a simple system that makes it really easy to enter tasks, whereas the best system may also provide the capability to store documents, track time, enter dependencies, and track issues and risks.

History

If we have used software before (such as in a previous position), we are more inclined to use it again, even if it may not fit the current situation and organization.  It is hard for us to be open-minded and evaluate from a blank slate, even though the organization and needs may be very different from our previous history.  This correlates with familiarity.

Political Influence

Perhaps there is some sort of political influence - a director with a preference - that is the real reason for our decision.

Be honest now.  What reasons have you used to choose software systems in the past?





04/12/2010

Meeting Stakeholder Objectives

We have looked at various reasons for project management software and why an organization may look into implementing it. For example, we looked at the problem of too many projects, the need to manage multiple people's efforts, and centralizing project information. How about meeting stakeholder objectives? That is certainly a major part of project management. How does project management software fit into that?





What exactly is a stakeholder? That vast repository of wisdom, Wikipedia, defines a stakeholder as "a person, group, organization, or system who affects or can be affected by an organization's actions." A "project stakeholder" is defined as "a person, group or organization with an interest in a project." That could mean a sponsor (an executive, customer, supplier, agency, etc. that is sponsoring / funding the project), upper management, a project manager, and others. Whoever has a "stake" in the project.

In order to perform good project management, you need to both manage and meet stakeholder expectations. The result of the project should match their expectations for what will be delivered at the end of the project.

Why would an organization look at project management software to help them with that? Certainly project management software cannot in and of itself meet stakeholder objectives, but it is a tool that is in the Project Manager's arsenal to facilitate meeting objectives. Here are some ways that organizations use it for this purpose:

-Providing a mechanism for stakeholders to check on the status of the project (such as task and schedule completion).
-Providing a collaborative platform to interact and view interactions, such as via a blog.
-Sending proactive reports, such as cost, schedule, and issue data.

In addition, project management software can help the Project Manager and other managers ensure that a) the project team understands the stakeholder expectations (perhaps by having a project description or attaching a key project document), and b) the project team is currently on the right path to meeting those objectives.

How you utilize project management software depends on your particular needs, objectives, and culture, but meeting stakeholder objectives is one way to demonstrate the value of a good tool.




03/02/2010

Accountability and Objectives

Why do organizations look at project management software? What are the issues or problems that cause them to evaluate project management software systems and how do these apply to you? That is the focus of our recent blog entries.



I would like to use this post to talk about accountability and objectives. Organizations seem to struggle with setting objectives, and more importantly tracking to those objectives and holding people accountable to those objectives. Is this something that your organization struggles with? The public sector tends to rely heavily on objectives so this is especially important to them.

How does project management software play into this? Well, it is not good enough to simply set objectives. There needs to be work involved to meet these objectives. Often times this work comes in the form of projects. Projects or initiatives are launched to meet the objectives that an organization has set. These projects or initiatives must be executed well, follow good project management principles, and be monitored and tracked. That is where project management software comes in.

A good project management software system will allow you to track the objectives and goals that your organization set. Projects can then be tied to these objectives and goals. Reporting can be done based on these objectives and goals. This allows a manager / director / executive to constantly track the progress of projects that impact the achievement of each objective.

In addition, accountability is very important. If progress on these projects is not being tracked, then the old adage "what gets measured gets done" holds true. You need to track the important things and hold people accountable for the work and entering in status information, otherwise all of this is mute. A good project management software system facilitates this process and makes it easier, not harder.

If you are struggling with setting and tracking objectives, consider these tips for using project management software to facilitate the process:

1) Track your objectives right in your project management software system.

2) Associate your projects with objectives.

3) Routinely track the progress of these objectives and underlying projects - make sure that people are working on the right projects and entering in the right information.

4) Be sure that people know expectations - what is being measured (then follow through).

5) Don't ask people to track things that you aren't really going to use. People can see right through that.

6) Keep things simple at first.

7) Incorporate this in everything that you do. When you are in a meeting, pull up the objectives and project lists. Over time you want to incorporate this into your culture.

Again, project management software is not going to solve this problem, but it can be a good tool to help facilitate value-added management of an organization's objectives.




02/22/2010

Reporting Metrics to Management

Why project management software? This is another post on common problems that cause organizations to look at and evaluate project management software.

And that is...reporting metrics to management. Is this something that you should be thinking about and why?



In spite of all our problems, I do believe that organizations as a whole are gradually getting better at this project management thing. And that means that management wants to know what is going on. How many projects are experiencing problems? How many are on time and on budget? How much time are spending towards which projects? Do those projects align with our goals? Who is doing what? What is our efficiency? What did we actually accomplish last year? And we could go on and on...

What happens when these questions are asked and there is no centralized, more formal project management software system? I've been there myself personally. It's called hours (if not days) of finding and putting together the information. Or it is called hours upon hours of constantly making sure I was on top of everything. Even then, I couldn't answer all the questions. How many hours did we spend on each project? That was called a SWAG.

What happens when you have to report up to a parent organization or to an organization in another geographic location? It is difficult without any type of formalized metrics tracking for your projects.

These are real issues that many organizations face. Do you need project management software to solve these? No, of course not. You could solve these with other tools and processes. But project management software is designed to handle these types of specific problems.

How can you go about solving this problem with project management software? Here are some suggestions.

1. Identify the metrics you need. Document them. Make sure they are real (don't track what isn't going to be used).

2. Focus on process not software. Build a process that supports your specific objectives and metrics. Train on that process not just on "how the software works."

3. Take it in phases. Don't try to do it all at once. Get people comfortable with the new system and process. Identify the metrics you are going to start to track. Gradually add to it.

4. Hold people accountable. You need to hold people accountable for putting the information in so that you can get the metrics. If they don't have to do it, often times they simply won't.

5. Revisit and revise. Continually revisit the process and software setup. Are you getting accurate metrics? What needs to be adjusted?

Follow these tips and you'll be surprised where you are at in even six months time.




02/15/2010

Centralizing Project Information

This is part 5 of our "Why Project Management Software" series, examining the issues that organizations face that warrant a look at project management software.



In this post I want to examine the simple problem of either too much information, or project information that is scattered across the organization. In our age of information overload, it is no secret that we are bombarded by information day in and day out. However, I have also seen many instances where project leaders, managers, and executives do not have the information they need to effectively manage and make decisions on projects. This could be for a variety of reasons, but typically they include the following:


  • Information is dispersed throughout the organization, typically in various spreadsheets and project files.
  • Project schedule and task information is not located with other project information, such as key documents and issues.
  • There is no standard process for storing information.
  • There is no standard process for reporting on information.
  • Information that is reported is not timely because of the amount of time it takes to collect the information.


These can be serious issues because they directly effect the efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness of an organization. They are also very, very common problems. This is the type of issue that a good project management system can help to solve. I say "help to solve" because a system will never solve anything in and of itself (as I have stated before). In fact, you could solve some of these issues by simply implementing some good processes and holding people accountable for those processes.

However, at some point, unless you are operating with only a couple of people in a garage (and maybe even then), a project management software system is worth the evaluation time because it can greatly help these issues.

One of the keys is to keep things simple and not to try and bite off too much right off the bat. Start off in phases. Identify what information really needs to be centralized. Don't centralize and manage information just because it has always been done or because you can. Make sure it will be used to make decisions and to manage.




02/11/2010

Does Project Management Software Deliver Competitive Advantage?

Why do organizations consider and use project management software? There are many reasons - too many projects, too many people, etc. Hopefully the reason is not because everyone else is doing it.



One of the things I would like to throw out there is whether or not project management software delivers a competitive advantage? And is that a core reason to strategically consider project management software?

First of all, organizations struggle with getting an edge over the intense competition in the marketplace today. A competitive advantage is key for an organization to increase market share and success. Companies that simply stay put, rest on their laurels, are "just as good" as their competitors, or otherwise cannot distinguish themselves in some way are in trouble.

What is competitive advantage? I did a quick Google Search and found QuickMBA with a some definition for us. Basically, it says that you have a competitive advantage if either you deliver the same benefits as your competitors at lower cost, or deliver benefits that exceed those of competing products.

Examples? How about delivering to your customers with less people / overhead? Or delivering products to your customers faster. Or perhaps simply making your promised dates more often, or being able to sell at a lower price or higher margin? All of these would constitute a competitive advantage, and one that is not easily imitated.

Can project management software do this? No. But...project management software can play a big role in it. Project management software in and of itself can never deliver competitive advantage. It is just a tool. But if you use the tool in conjunction with the right processes and strategic initiatives, it can play a vital role.

Some of our best clients (I'll use them as an example since I know them best) use project management software along with implementing better processes. This type of strategic effort really pays off in the long-term. When they are used together effectively, things stop slipping through the cracks, things get done quicker, dates are more reliable, products get delivered to the market faster, etc.

Can you do this without project management software? If you are a project-focused organization (such as engineering products or implementing products for clients) and you have more than say 10 people, I would say no. The amount of time it takes to maintain the real-time information needed for insight for better decisions and process support is simply too great. Either the information is not there to support the process, or it takes a lot of effort and time to formulate. This negates the value and detracts from the process.

Can you do this with project management software but without the process? No. You have to have the process with organizational buy-in or else the software does not provide the value that it can.

What's the bottom line? Combining the right tools (project management software) with the right processes can indeed create a competitive advantage for a project oriented organization. But it takes a prolonged effort with continual evaluation to see what is working and what needs to be improved. And this effort should never end.

What do you think? Send your comments to blog@teaminteractions.com.




02/05/2010

Why Project Management Software? Part 3

We are looking at core reasons that project management software is evaluated and used by organizations, such as our last post on too many projects. How about managing the people that are working on project (i.e. resource management)?



Resource management is a broad term, but what it boils down to is the difficulty in managing all of the people that are working on all of these different projects. How do we know who is getting their work done? Who is not? Who needs help? How much time are they spending to get things done? Are they working on the right things?

This becomes especially important in times of economic hardship. Companies have been downsizing and trimming their work force. That makes it all the more important that the resources they do have are managed effectively and utilized properly.

Project management software is not the "end all". What I mean is that implementing project management software will not automatically solve your resource management issues. However, it can be a very effective tool when combined with the proper processes. Look at it this way. You have to use some tool to manage your resources, even if it is a piece of paper or a whiteboard. At some point, it becomes unmanageable without an effective tool. This becomes a big reason that people look towards project management software. It simply is too hard to piece all of the information together for good decision making and to take proper action.

A good project management software system should enable you to answer at least the following questions:

  • What are my resources working on?
  • What is the status of the work that my resources are working on?
  • Who is overloaded (has too much work assigned)?
  • Who is underutilized (does not have enough work assigned)?
  • Who is performing and who is under performing (who gets work done)?
  • Do I have enough resources to handle the upcoming projected workload?


Until next time...




01/14/2010

Why Project Management Software? Part 2

Let's take a look at "why project management software" in relation to the problem of having too many projects.

Many, many organizations utilize stand-alone tools for their project management software needs. These include spreadsheets, Microsoft Project, Outlook, white boards, post-it notes, email, you name it. I am a believer that tools need to be matched with good processes. Which means that you could use these tools along with good processes to do an effective job of managing projects.



However, I have also seen that when an organization gets to a certain number of projects, it becomes very difficult to use these stand-alone and single-project tools. Why?

First, it takes a long time to physically manage those. For example, it takes a while to open all of the Microsoft Project files to update their status individually. Or to open up all the spreadsheets. Or to open up the single spreadsheet (assuming no one else has it open) to update the status of a particular project.

Second, those tools are not designed for multi-project management (some are not even designed for project management). You can use Excel but it becomes difficult when you have to start managing multiple projects with multiple tasks in each of those projects, all from within a spreadsheet. Microsoft Project is built to manage individual projects (I know you can create master project files but I am still waiting to meet the person that loves how this works).

Third, the information in these tools tends to be dispersed around the organization. One person may have files about their projects. Another person may have different files about their projects. Getting and keeping all of this information together becomes very difficult.

Fourth, an organization wants to begin to answer certain questions that are difficult without a good project management software system in place. These questions may be things like what is falling through the cracks? Or what have we promised our customers next month? Or which resources are doing what? Or which tasks are late? Or which people are more productive? Or where have we spent our time - on which customers and projects? These and others are all questions that are very difficult to answer when you have to manage a larger number of projects and collect data points across those projects.

That is probably why we see a lot of people that start looking because they realize that there has to be a better, more efficient way to do things. And as fundamental as this is (having too many projects) it is a fundamental reason why organizations look at project management software as a solution.

Moving on...





 

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