7 posts categorized "Planning"

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.

 





01/28/2011

3 More Ways to Keep Your Project Management Software Tool Updated

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A while back, I posted about five ways to keep your project management software tool updated.  Here are three additional things to consider.

1.  Routine Training

Training should not be a one-time event.  It should be a continuous, long-term strategy.  This serves two purposes: it ensures that new team members are trained, and it ensures that existing team members truly understand the system and your processes.  A good, practical method of doing this is to hold "brown bag lunches" on various topics.  In other words, this does not always have to be full-blown formal training.

2.  Take It In Phases

It is difficult to implement a complex process with a new project management tool right away.  You may have some lofty goals that you want to accomplish with the system.  Start small.  Pick a couple of core goals and focus on those.  When those are accomplished and everyone is comfortable with them, then tackle another goal, and so on.  You need to do this especially if you are coming from spreadsheets or no tool at all.

3.  Don't Be Afraid to Change

You do not know how this will all play out.  You may think your process is going to be one thing, but it may turn out once you get into it that it needs to change.  That is ok.  You should continually be evaluating the process, how people are using the tool, what information is really required, and what changes could be made to improve things.  You should also listen to the users.  I don't mean listen to the inevitable whines and moans because this is "not how we have always done it."  I mean listen to those that have good suggestions on how to make the process and the tool setup better.

All of these will help make the entire tool and process better resulting in better updates and information.





12/09/2010

3 Things Every Person Should Know

IStock_000004021750XSmall We strive to make project management software easy to use, even if the person using the software is not a certified, fancy-titled project manager.  However, I believe there are certain things that everyone who is using project management software for scheduling should know in order to use these tools effectively.  Here are three things that I think everyone should know.

1.  Dependencies

There are many people that have used a tool like Microsoft Project and understand how to setup a dependency.  There are also many people that do not have a clue what a dependency is or (more so) how to properly use them.  This is essential to make a project management software scheduling tool, such as a Gantt chart, work for you and not the other way around.  A fair number of people open up a tool like that and start manually entering start and finish dates.  If you want your project management software implementation to be successful, and for people to gain value out of it instead of being frustrated by it, provide some basic training on dependencies and scheduling.

2.  Work Breakdown Structures

Work breakdown structures (wbs) are so fundamental to planning a project that it is essential for everyone to understand them.  You may not actually go out there and go through a work breakdown structure phase in your project planning, but your schedule will still be built on one.  You need to understand how to breakout work, the difference between summary and detail tasks (or parent / child tasks), and their implications.  This will make it far easier for you to understand what is going on.

3.  Duration and Effort

You should also know the difference between duration and effort (sometimes referred to as work).  I would not say that everyone needs to be an expert at this, but everyone needs to at least have a fundamental understanding of these.  If you do not, there is no way that you can do effective resource assignments and resource planning of any kind.

Make sure that you have at least a basic understanding of these.  If you are tasking people with using project management software tools (at least anything that tracks a schedule), make sure they understand these as well.  You will not get the value out of it unless they do.

What else would you add to this list?





11/12/2010

2 Major Reasons to Start Tracking both Duration and Effort

Many of us come to project management software to achieve a particular objective, and that objective is many times related to somehow managing resources better.  There is a fundamental data point that needs to be understood in order for that to happen, and that is the entry of duration and effort.  For some of you, this is elementary.  For many of us, it is not, and it is essential to understand this.  These two terms are used when performing scheduling or estimating in a project tool.  Effort is sometimes called work (such as in MS Project).  What is the difference between these and why should you start to track both?  Here are two major reasons.

First, what is the difference?  Duration is the amount of calendar time that is required before a task or project will be completed. For example, the task will take 5 days to complete.  Effort is the amount of work that resources on a task or a project will actually do. For example, a person may work 10 hours on a particular task over the 5 day duration of the task (because they are also doing other things during that time).

Here is a screenshot of a sample project in MS Project showing the difference in entries (remember MS Project uses the term Work for Effort).

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Why is this so important?  Here are the two primary reasons to start tracking both of these.

1.  You cannot do resource management without doing both.

Many organizations come to us wanting to manage their resources better, but they only think in terms of duration - how much calendar time will it take to complete tasks and projects.  An organization can implement project management software, load up all their projects, and start using it as a part of their process.  But if they are only tracking duration, they have no information or data to understand their resource loads and utilization.  They only have schedule information.  Only effort provides information as to the actual workload of the resource.  And only entering effort for every single task will provide the overall views and data needed to manage resources better (or manage them period).

You have to be able to add both duration and effort as part of your process.  Then you can begin to pull data such as the following (out of EnterPlicity) and really look at your resources.

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2.  You cannot have a truly accurate schedule without doing both.

Think about it.  If I simply enter duration with no thought to effort, do I really have an accurate schedule for that task / project?  You need to know how many hours it is going to take for a person to complete the task (effort).  You also need to know what else that resource is working on and, given that, factor that into how much calendar time it will take before they can put in that many hours and get it done (duration).  Otherwise, you have a guess at best.

There are several ways to do this, such as simply entering the values for duration and effort per task, or using a percentage of time a resource is available to work on it.  Depending on your project management software, you have some options.  It does not need to be complicated.  But these are a couple of really good reasons to start tracking both of these values.
 





10/15/2010

5 Things You Can Do With a Good Work Breakdown Structure?

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is one of those project management techniques that does not seem to invoke excitement or a lot of attention.  From my observations, many organizations skip this step in their process (or they think they are doing it but really are not).

Do you remember the jingle for Klondike ice cream bars, "what can you do with a klondike bar?"  I still remember that, probably because I loved Klondike bars (or any ice cream product for that matter).  Perhaps it would be good to ask, what can you do with a good WBS?  I mean, no one has the time or desire to go through these exercises just for the fun of it.

Here are 5 things you can do with a good WBS:

1.  You can schedule your project.

Seriously.  How do you schedule without a good WBS?  Do you ever wonder why your schedules are never accurate?  Could it be that you have a poor WBS?  If so, you can schedule, but it's just a guess.  How do you know that everything is included in your schedule if you have not taken the time to go through a good work breakdown process?

2.  You can accurately assess the project.

With a good WBS, you can confidently assess what is done, what is not done, and even when the project will finish.  Without it, you are guessing.

3.  You can begin to do Earned Value.

Earned value is a big word used more in larger projects, such as defense acquisitions.  We tend to shy away from it otherwise, but it is a good, objective measure of the quality and status of a project.  It is not that difficult to employ earned value principles to your own, more simple, projects.  Search the web on earned value and you will get a wealth of information.  Glen Alleman, who writes the Herding Cats blog, has written on the subject and has a couple of posts with links to great earned value "pocketbooks".  You can get them here:

http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/10/new-dau-evm-gold-card.html

http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/10/evm-gold-card-heres-a-nicer-one.html

4.  You can identify gaps.

A good work breakdown structure is a plan and a baseline.  You can use it to work with your stakeholders and team to identify gaps (what is missing), risks, and to verify that what is there meets expectations.

5.  You can do change management.

Change management involves managing changes to the project.  Changes are inevitable, but they need to be managed.  Change management often refers to changes to the project scope (i.e. we need a change the design of the widget).  But changes to the project scope imply changes to the WBS, which implies changes to the project schedule, etc.  You need a good WBS to start with to properly evaluate the changes.  Also, there may be a change requested to the WBS itself - i.e. we need to do extra testing passes.  You can evaluate the impact of these changes and even use the WBS as a baseline to implement a process of changes to the work that is going to be done.

From a tools perspective, there are many tools that you can use to create a WBS.  You can use Microsoft Project.  You can use the special work breakdown structure tool in EnterPlicity.  You can do it in a spreadsheet.  You can even use post-in notes on a whiteboard.  Here is a blog post I found on using that technique: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/project-management/?p=116 (although know your organization and team members...making everyone sit in a room for hours may not always be the best approach).  The point is that going through the process is probably more important than the tool you use to capture the output from the process.

I am sure there are many more benefits.  What did I miss?  What value have you gotten out of a good WBS?





10/11/2010

3 Tips to Building your Work Breakdown Structure

IStock_000003692489XSmall It is not unusual to hear the question "How do I Build my Work Breakdown Structure?"  That can mean many things, but usually it means how detailed does my work breakdown structure (WBS) need to get?  Or sometimes that means, what is the least amount of work breakdown effort that I can do and still have a good work breakdown?

Here are three tips to building a good work breakdown structure:

 

 

1.  Your WBS breaks out into tasks that are deliverables.

In other words, your tasks represent deliverables and these deliverables can be evaluated as completed or not completed.  Why is this important?  You cannot know the true status of your project if you do not know the objective status of the deliverables in your project.  And you cannot know the status of the deliverables if your WBS is not broken down enough to track them.  The draft specification document is completed or it is not completed.  The mock up is done or it is not.  The ad has been approved or it has not been approved.  I realize I am oversimplifying this a little bit (and not factoring in the quality of the work), but you get the idea.

2.  You can easily estimate the time (and cost) of each task.

It is much easier to estimate how long it will take to write a chapter then it is to estimate how long it will take to publish a book.  You need to break down the work into small enough pieces that you can estimate them.  Otherwise, all of your estimates are nothing but a grand guess.  Likewise, if you need to estimate and track costs in your organization, you need to have small enough pieces to accurately estimate the cost for each piece of work.

3.  The duration of each task is reasonable compared to the duration of the project.

If your project is going to take two weeks to complete, you cannot have a task that is one and a half weeks in duration.  Otherwise, you will not know the status of that project until it is almost complete.  Likewise, if you project is going to take a year to complete, you probably do not need a task that is 30 minutes in duration.  That just is not reasonable when you compare it to the duration of the project.

So how do you know if a duration is reasonable?  I cannot give you a magic formula, but I can ask you a question in return.  How long can you wait before finding out that your project is falling behind, and still have plenty of time to address it?  The purpose of doing this in the first place is to manage the project well, so set your task durations so that you can do that without getting carried away with unneeded detail.

What would you add to this list?

 





10/06/2010

3 Benefits of Building a Good Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure, in simple terms, is breaking down the work of a project in bite size pieces.  Normally, people refer to this as identifying the tasks that have to be done in a project, but it really goes beyond this.  A common mistake that people make, especially when using a project management software tool, is to jump right to scheduling the project and skip a work breakdown structure phase.  That doesn't mean that they don't do it at all, but it does mean that they begin with a focus on the schedule, which means the work breakdown structure suffers.

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Here are three benefits to spending the time to build a really good work breakdown structure (wbs):

1.  You will be able to actually measure progress in the project.

A good wbs will give you the "bite size pieces" that you can objectively evaluate.  Is something done or not?  No more guessing.  Even better, this should reduce the instances where a project is "90% done on Friday", and "10%" done on Monday."

2.  You will reduce the likelihood that important work is missed and not planned.

Have you ever gotten 75% of the way through a project and realized that there is more work than was originally realized?  That is why following a good wbs process is so important.  It helps to identify those things up front.  Later, we'll discuss how to go about it, but just having dedicated time to the wbs will help (as opposed to skipping over it and putting your mental gear into scheduling mode).

3.  You can better estimate cost and resources.

If the wbs is good, the cost estimate will be good.  If the wbs is poor, the cost estimate will be poor.  You cannot have a good estimate of resource needs and costs without a good wbs.

Will a work breakdown structure be perfect?  No, especially the first time around.  However, if you dedicate some time to it, and perfect them over time (by doing things like improving them through lessons learned), this is one of those "low hanging fruits" where you can see some immediate value without a lot of additional effort.

 






 

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