13 posts categorized "Reporting"

08/09/2011

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.

 





07/21/2011

Characteristics of a Highly Configurable Project Management Software System

IStock_000006331752_web I read with interest last month an article on what makes software configurable.  Interestingly, the article was focused on insurance software applications.  You can read the article here (you need to get into page 2 and 3 before getting into the meat of what configurable means).  Certainly parts of this article would not apply to many of us.  For example, we do not need an engine to define rules for insurance products.  However, there were several good insights here that I have taken and expanded to come up with my own list for what makes a project management software product configurable.

1.  Web Client

As stated in the article, a configurable solution should have a web client (even if it is not exclusively a web client).  This makes it easy to deploy and access.

2.  Rules and Processing Options

My own experience has shown that organizations are very different in how they do things and how they have defined their own processes.  This holds true even for organizations that are in the same industry or market.  Configurable software will allow for this by providing flexibility in how things are done.  For example, it may provide an option in the scheduling of projects to allow for the automated update of schedules vs. the manual update of schedules.  Or it may employ a notification scheme that provides flexibility in how reminders and notifications of events are sent to project personnel.

3.  Ability to Extend What You See

One of the big areas of differences in organizations is the amount and types of pure data that they track.  Let's take a simple project.  One organization may simply want to track the Project Manager, start date, due date, percent complete, and some notes.  Another organization may have a list of 30-40 information fields specific to their process that they need to collect, track, and report on.  These may be things like who the customer is, the contract specifics, billing scenarios, project type or classification, current project status, etc.  A configurable project management software tool will make it easy to extend what you see to accommodate this.  This means that screens, reports, fields, and similar vehicles can be changed without programming actual code.

4.  Integration

Project management software no longer sits by itself.  It needs to integrate with the systems around it in the organization.  This means that the software needs to have a mechanism to integrate with other systems technically.  It also means that it needs to be flexible to mold that integration in different ways.  For example, an organization may want to integrate it with a separate time keeping system, or another organization may want to integrate it with an accounting system.

5.  Reporting

Reporting is a huge part of being configurable.  Static reports are no longer enough.  A configurable system will enable the creation of ad-hoc reports.  You would be amazed at all of the different reporting desires I have heard over the years.  Just when I think I have seen it all, someone will throw out another reporting need.  If your project management software system does not have the ability to create reports with different filters, groupings, criteria, sorting, etc., it is not configurable.

I am sure that we could go on with a long list.  What other characteristics do you believe should be in a configurable system?





07/19/2011

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

IStock_000004563504X_web This is the 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 part 5, we discussed the importance of process, discipline, and the right tools.

Now let's pull it all together and wrap up this discussion.  There are some random but key, underlying points to keep in mind as you work towards building good resource utilization statistics.  Here they are.

Maintaining Resource Utilization Statistics Is Not Easy

Do not go into this blindly.  This is not an easy, little additional task to do.  It requires a fair amount of work and it requires really everyone to do their part.  It can be well worth it in the end, but go into it with your eyes wide open.

You Must Know What You Want

What are your objectives?  What do you need to see when all is said and done?  If it is to feel good that you know what everyone is doing, don't bother.  If it is a specific goal, such as to increase the utilization of your key resources, then go for it.  Similarly, this will help you determine the level of detail you need (and thus the level of maintenance effort required).  If you need to make day in and day out decisions on resource assignments, then you need to be very detailed and go all out.  If you simply need to make monthly presentations to management, then you can probably relax on some of the detail and strike a good balance between getting enough detail and getting more than it's worth.

Work Backwards

I would map out what you want to see in a report when all is said and done, and then work backwards to collect the data that will enable that report.  In other words, start with the end result.  Once you have that, go backwards.  If your end result is to see a % figure of utilization for each week for each resource, then you can start to map out a process to collect utilization figures each week.

Implement in Phases

You do not have to bite off everything at once.  Start small and work from there.  Create a long-term plan for getting to your ultimate objective.  You may simply start by creating better work breakdown structures (then you could even do something like assign a generic / default percent of effort for a rough estimation of everyone's utilization).  Then after everyone is comfortable with that, you may start adding effort estimation to your work breakdown.  This tends to work better than to do everything all at once.  If you have to do everyone all at once, then be sure and run a pilot.  Choose a few projects and a few people and work through the process.  You will find that you will change and tweak it to work out the kinks - and better to do that with a few people than with everyone.

Resource utilization can be a powerful tool, even a differentiating tool because it is not easy for organizations to do it well.  Write me at blog@teaminteractions.com with your own stories and insights as you implement this in your own organizations.

 

 





07/07/2011

Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting in Your Project Management Software Tool: Part 4

IStock_000006399293X_web This is another 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.

Now let's talk about capacity.  Capacity is a key measurement because it directly affects your resource utilization statistics.  Capacity is the amount of time that a person has (in reality) to do the work.  For example, they may work 8 -10 hours a day, but in reality they wear other hats and may only have 4 hours a day to do project work.  That is their capacity.

Why is this important?  Because you cannot accurately decipher and make decisions from your resource statistics without it.  You can see how much work has been allocated to them.  You can see when that work has been allocated.  But you do not know if that is too much work, not enough work, or the right amount of work.  For that insight, you have to know the resource's capacity.

Once you know the resource's capacity, then it is simple math to figure out key metrics such as their allocated utilization (the work that has been allocated divided by their capacity) or their availability (their capacity minus the work that has been allocated).

In order to accurately figure out a person's capacity, you need to include the following factors:

  • Non-project activities: how much time does the person need each day to work on non-project activities, such as meetings, administrative activities, and while we don't like to admit it social conversations and breaks.
  • Vacation: a person's capacity is 0 if they are not there.  Forgetting to factor in vacation can ruin your resource picture at a critical point in the project.
  • Training: are there training requirements that the person must fulfill which affects their overall capacity?
  • Holidays: don't forget about company holidays.
  • Full time vs. part time: is the person working full-time or are they working part time?  Part time does not necessarily mean they are a part-time employee, but they may have multiple responsibilities with project work being only one of their responsibilities.

There are different strategies for capturing this.  You may factor all of these together for the entire year and create an average capacity per day.  Or you may create calendars that keep track of their specific capacity over specific time periods.

This may seem like a lot so let me make the point again about accuracy.  You do not necessarily have to track all of this to the nth degree.  It depends on how accurate you want the statistics to be when you do your reporting.  Which means that you need to decide what statistics and the level of accuracy you need in order for you to make decisions.  If you need accurate, detailed resource statistics, then there is no magic waving of the wand - you have to go through the effort of accurately collecting the base data.  And capacity is one of those pieces that you need to capture.

 





06/24/2011

Key Steps to Achieve Accurate Resource Utilization Reporting: Part 1

IStock_000005305116_web
Many organizations want to know how their resources are utilized.  In fact, this can be critical to organizations that rely on proper resource utilization, such as a consulting group, a professional services organization, or an IT group overburdened with project requests.  In my experience, accurate resource utilization is hard.  It is not easy, it takes discipline, and it involves more than many organizations realize.

This is the first post in a series to help you achieve accurate resource utilization reporting in your project management software tools to support proper resource management.  In this first post, I will cover the first key step that is necessary.

Let me cover one point before that.  When I am using the term "resources", I am referring to people.  How is the organization using its people?  I understand that "resources" is a broader term and can encompass things like materials, money, or machinery.  We are going to focus on "people resources", as they have the most impact on the most organizations.

With that out of the way, the first key step to achieve accurate resource utilization reporting is to capture all of the work.  In other words, you cannot accurately determine how much work a resource has on their plate at a given point in time if you have not captured all of that work.  In concept it seems easy, but in reality it is not.  There are some considerations that play into this.  This means that you must:

  1. Develop a good work breakdown structure (wbs) for every project.  You have to capture all of the work that will truly be needed for every single project out there.  And it needs to be detailed and accurate.  In other words, if your work breakdown structure includes a line item for "Implement Product at Client", that's probably not going to cut it.  You need to have enough detail to accurately know how many hours it is going to take to do this.  Read my previous post for tips on how to do this.
  2. Capture non-project work.  Most people do not devote 100% of their time to project work.  They have some day-to-day operational or maintenance tasks.  This is part of their workload as well.  They attend meetings.  They go to training.  These have to be captured.  There are generally a couple of ways of handling this type of work.  You could capture all of this work, just as you have done for your project work.  Or you could estimate the % of time each day that people spend on these things.  For example, you could estimate that 40% of a person's day is consumed by non-project work.  This gets into the topic of capacity which I will expand on in a future post.

A quick note.  Do you have to have a good, detailed work breakdown structure with estimates?  No, you don't.  But the accuracy and detail of your reporting will correlate with that.  The less detail and accuracy in the work estimates that you have captured, the less detail and accuracy you will have in your reporting of resource utilization.  You will have to decide the right balance.

 





06/03/2011

More Tips for Great Dashboards in your Project Management Software Tools

As a follow-up to my post from earlier this week on keys to an exceptional dashboard, I came across an article in CIO magazine by Chris Curran on "10 CIO Dashboard Tips."  It is geared towards an IT audience, but has several good tips nonetheless.  Here are a few that I liked:

Make sure you can actually collect the data you want to measure.

It does not good to show an earned value statistic, for example, if you do not have good work breakdown structures.

Begin by summarizing and analyzing data you already collect.

You may find some good analysis for your dashboard right off the bat.

Create a report to perform checks and balances on core dashboard data to increase credibility.

The companion report would provide some detail from which the dashboard data is derived.  This increases everyone's confidence in the dashboard data itself.

Have a printable version of the dashboard.

This way people can easily take the information with them.

 

You can read the full article with all the tips here.  Enjoy!  And have a great weekend!





06/01/2011

5 Keys to an Exceptional Dashboard in Your Project Management Software Tool

IStock_000003110526_web Dashboards are not created equal, even dashboards that display the same information.  One organization may have a vibrant dashboard that is used by everyone reliably.  Another organization may have a stagnant dashboard used by no one.  What makes the difference?  What are the keys to implementing a good dashboard?

Here are five keys to implementing a fantastic dashboard in your project management software tool:

1.  Keep it Simple

Some dashboards are overly complicated with too much information, or information that is too complex.  Keep your dashboard simple both in terms of the layout and the information presented.  Do not make it too complex.  Someone should be able to glean significant information from the dashboard in a matter of seconds.  If it takes a lot of effort and time for them to glean information, it will not be effective.

2.  Your Dashboard is Only as Good as the Data You Enter

It does not matter how fancy of a tool you have, how nice the reports are, or how fancy the presentation is if the underlying data is not solid.  In other words, all a dashboard does is present data that has been entered by people.  If people are not entering data correctly, or are not regularly keeping the data up to date, then your dashboard will be useless.

3.  Stay High-Level with the Ability to Drill-Down Into More Detail

It is easy to get lost in the minutiae of adding all of the significant detail to a dashboard.  That is not the purpose of a dashboard.  The purpose of a dashboard is to provide a high-level overview so that the viewer knows what action to take.  The viewer may then need the ability to drill-down into more detailed information, but this information should not all be displayed in the dashboard itself.  For example, it may be important to the viewer to know which projects need attention - perhaps a green / yellow / red indicator is attached to each project or portfolio.  However, the individual tasks, milestones, or issues that are causing the indication would not normally be displayed.  Those would be available upon the viewer drilling down further.  The exception to this would be a team member-level dashboard whose specific purpose is not to provide insight but to communicate a lot of detailed information, such as their current tasks.

4.  Only Present Actionable Information

There is a tendency to put information on the dashboard because it is neat and because you can show off the fact that you know the percentage of tasks within a portfolio that begin with the letter "M", started the Monday after a holiday, and the number of letters in the name is divisible by 2.  However, no one is going to use this information so there is no reason to display it and no reason to collect it.  The dashboard should be a tool where information is displayed that viewers will consider relevant, that they will actually look at, and that they can take action on.  Ask yourself whether the information in your dashboard meets this criteria.

5.  Don't Forget Training

 No matter how simple your dashboard may be, do not assume that people understand what they are seeing.  Sometimes there are nuances in language or procedures that are interpreted differently by different departments, people, and organizations.  Provide some training so that people know they are using the information in the dashboards appropriately and effectively.  I am not talking about formal training, but either holding periodic brown bag lunch sessions and / or providing a one-page cheat sheet on the information presented.

What other keys have you seen make a dashboard effective?

Happy Dashboarding!





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.





05/17/2011

Garbage In, Garbage Out in Project Management Software Tools

IStock_000004341760_web_rc Most of us have heard the adage, "garbage in, garbage out."  It refers to the fact that the information you get out of a tool is only as good as the information you put into the tool.  If people enter in garbage (bad information), you will get garbage out.

I did some searching and came across reams of sites, information, reports, etc. about data quality.  Much of that is focused on IT and how IT can help to ensure data quality in company databases.

I want to talk about data quality in our project management software tools from non-IT folks.  If I were to ask you, what is the number one reason that you even use a tool in the first place, what would be your answer?  Because it sounded like a good idea?  I would dare say it is to get accurate information, anytime, in order to make good decisions and take action.  Why else?  For example, there is no reason to put a project schedule in a tool, unless you want to pull information out about it to figure out what tasks need to be done, what tasks are falling behind, or to see someone's workload across this and other projects.

If that is true, then this issue of data quality is huge.  We have all seen symptoms of this:

  • People "don't have time" to enter data into the system.
  • People enter the minimum required information.
  • People enter information to make themselves look good.
  • People simply don't enter anything - they don't use it.
  • Managers ask for data input, but never actually use it.
  • People enter the wrong data because they don't understand how they are supposed to enter it.

This creates a big question of why you have the tool in the first place?  Fortunately, there are ways to improve the situation and achieve the data output that you need (we'll talk about that next).

In the meantime, I am curious.  What other "symptoms" have you seen at your organization?  Leave a comment, or email blog@teaminteractions.com.

 





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.

 






 

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