6 posts categorized "Process Improvement"

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.





07/13/2011

Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 5/6

IStock_000004563504X_web This is the 5th and second to last post in a discussion on how to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting, and thus good resource management, in your project management software tool.

In part 1, we discussed the key of capturing all of the work to be performed by your resources (people for the purposes of this series).

In part 2, we discussed the key of accurately capturing when the work will be performed.

In part 3, we discussed the key of capturing the effort as opposed to strictly the duration of the work.

In part 4, we discussed the key of capturing the true capacity of your people.

In this post, we need to talk about process, discipline, and tools.  Capturing resource utilization once, such as to present the results at an important meeting, is not easy.  There are no magic shortcuts.  Capturing resource utilization continually over time is even harder.  That takes a few extra ingredients.

First, you must have a documented process on which everyone is trained to continually capture accurate resource utilization.  It needs to include the elements that we have discussed in these posts.  For example, how will your organization capture the work to be performed?  How will it estimate when it will be performed and the amount of effort?  Who will maintain the true capacities of people in your organization?  How will this information be reviewed for accuracy.  This will not just happen.  Your team needs to know the expectations.

That requires discipline: a steadfastness to continue doing this because the benefits are huge.  Many organizations try, but not that many truly have the grit to manage their resources in this way.

And it also requires the right tool.  You will essentially be tracking a lot of data.  You need someplace to store that data.  You need a tool that can calculate the utilization numbers.  This can be a project management software tool such as ours (EnterPlicity) or it can be an Excel spreadsheet, but you need to have a well organized tool that is properly maintained with all of this data.

Process, discipline, and tools.  Make sure you don't forget about these.





06/22/2011

5 Things You Are Not Doing (But Should Be) With Your Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000005289430_web Almost all of us have project management software tools that we use on a consistent basis.  It may be true project tool, a spreadsheet or even email, but it is still a software tool we use to help manage projects.  Here are 5 things that you are probably not doing right now with your project management software tools (but you should be).

1.  You are not looking at trends or historical data.

Most people are consumed with the present and the future.  Which tasks need to be done and which are coming up?  Trends are important.  If you do not look at trends or historical data, you will never get better.  Trends tell you tasks that are typically not completed on time, how much time items really take, who your resource choke points are, and even opportunities for process improvement.

2.  You have not matched technology and process together.

Technology only provides significant value-add when it is married together with a good process.  The technology should support that process.  Many people implement technology without a good process in mind.  In other words, they are focused on the features of the technology (aka "a way to schedule our projects") instead of being focused on implementing their process.  Or they have implemented technology without a documented process in the first place.

3.  You are not taking advantage of automation capability.

Even organizations that have sophisticated project management tools tend to not take advantage of the automation capabilities in the tool itself.  They still spend an enormous amount of time doing things manually that could be done in more of an automated fashion.  For example, you may be tracking your schedules in a tool, but you are also continuing to fill out documents (with duplicate information) and passing them along in your process.

4.  You do not have a meaningful dashboard.

Organizations may have a dashboard, but many organizations do not have a "meaningful" dashboard.  Either no one is looking at it or when they do look at it, it does not tell them what they need to know to make decisions.  This is because no one has spent the time to discover what information is truly meaningful or the data in the tool is not up to date.

5.  You do not have anyone overseeing the tool set.

Tools are like anything else.  If you do not spend any time overseeing the tool, it will not be used effectively.  That means that you need to have someone whose responsibility it is to make sure the tool (and the information in it) is clean and useful.

Are you guilty of any of these?  Most of us are not perfect in the use of our project management software tools.  Pick one and work on it and see what results you get.

 





05/26/2011

How to Make Automation (or Project Management Software Tools) Work: Part 2

IStock_000010045800_web In my last post, I talked about learning from the aviation field and how they use automation technology effectively to fulfill their objectives.  We are taking that and applying that to how we could use automation technology in project management (aka project management software tools) effectively.

You can read the first post here.

Let's turn to some practical lessons that we can apply:

Provide Training to Your Team, Managers, and Stakeholders

Can you imagine a pilot flying a new airplane without being thoroughly trained on the automation technology in that airplane?  The consequences would be serious.  Yet we provide tools of a sort to our project teams, managers, and stakeholders without the training for them to use the tools effectively.  As I mentioned in the last post, people have to build a trust in the system.  Training plays a big role in building this trust.  Training should also be process-driven.  In other words, most people do not need to know all the ins and outs of every feature in the system.  They just need to know how to perform their job in the tool.  That means that you do not need to send everyone through two weeks of formal training.  But you can and should hold some informal sessions (such as brown bag lunch sessions) and produce some organization-specific documentation on how they should use the system.

Document and Understand Your Processes

Technology without a clear purpose just frustrates people.  Technology should support your key processes, make them easier to follow, and provide insight into the execution of those processes.  That means that you need to know what your processes are.  And you need to communicate those to your organization.  You cannot assume that everyone knows through some type of "tribal knowledge."  You need to have a set of documents that details out the key processes that you expect people to follow, such as how to initiate a new project, how to assign staff to that project, how to submit status, how to obtain a client's approval, and so forth.

After that, you can look at your technology and how to implement those processes in the technology tools that you have.  In fact, within your documented processes you could include steps on how to fulfill those processes using the tool.  You end up with a set of "standard operating procedures" that everyone understands.  Do you see the difference?  This is far more effective then simply getting a tool because we are "having a problem with schedules slipping."  After doing this, you may determine that you need to use the tools differently, that you need different tools, or that you need to simply train people on the proper way to use the existing tools.

Reduce Complexity

Automation technology should not be complex.  If there are a lot of steps that a person needs to follow to perform something in a tool, then it is too complex.  Automation technology should do just that: automate key functions that would take a lot of time otherwise.  This could include generating a report, collecting status, identifying resource overloads, and others.  Your tool should make these key items in your process easier.  Part of this means that you should not overreach and make your tools overly complex.  Keep them as simple as possible.  Said another way, set them up so that you can run your processes and get the information out of them that you need, but no more.  Don't do things just because you can in the tool or because it is "cool."

Provide an Expert

Someone in your organization should be an expert in the tool.  They should understand how to implement your processes in the tool, what the tool is doing, and how to extract information out of the tool (although everyone should understand this).  They should be a resource for others that are perhaps new to the tool.  If you have a larger organization, create a network of these people that can provide assistance to team members, and ensure the tool is being utilized properly.  In other words, don't leave people to fend for themselves.  And do not always rely on the vendor for understanding how to use the tool.  This is going to be a key part of your processes so make the investment to have someone inside with in depth knowledge.

Technology in project management can be a valuable, game changing piece when implemented well.  Try these lessons in your own organization regardless of the particular tool(s) that you may be using.

 

 





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.





03/30/2011

Checklists: A Great Project Tool

IStock_000005289430XSmall Sometimes an organization needs sophisticated project management software because there is just too much information to manage in spreadsheets.  You need the Gantt charts, collaboration, reporting, and such.  Sometimes the simpler solution is the best solution.  Checklists are just such as solution.  Whether they are done with spreadsheets, within your project management software system, on paper, or on a whiteboard, checklists are a great tool incorporate into your organization.

I read a blog post by Craig Brown at Better Projects on the benefits of checklists.  He made three points as to the benefits of using checklists:

  1. They help us be complete and avoid mistakes of omission.
  2. Filling in a checklist, or verbally going through it with a colleague, elevates quality.
  3. The act of creating a checklist causes you to research and learn from peers in your industry.

I agree with his points.  Human error is inevitable and checklists (especially done with a colleague for a check and balance) help to detect errors and mistakes.  I would add that checklists are a great way of incorporating process into your organization.  In other words, set the expectation that people will use checklists to perform a task and make sure the checklist follows your pre-described process.

A checklist can be incorporated as a form in a good project management software system.  The value of that is for tracking.  It is hard to track down a paper checklist to see if it was completed or not and by whom.  An online checklist incorporates that type of tracking which can be valuable.  But it does not have to be.  Any type of properly created and managed checklist can be a great project tool for your organization.

Pick a process that routinely produces errors and mistakes, create a checklist with the right process steps, and pilot it.  Make adjustments and roll it out.  Then continuously evaluate the execution and content of the checklist for continuous improvement.

 






 

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