17 posts categorized "Tool Management"

10/07/2011

5 Questions to Answer Before Implementing Project Management Software

IStock_000007651615_web Project management software, like any software, needs to be implemented well in order to obtain the expected benefits.  Here are five questions to answer before you start implementing project management software (or to answer before trying to reinvigorate your existing implementation).

Why?

Why are you using this software?  You need to have the objective and end goal in mind.  Is it to solve a specific problem?  One of our clients implemented our software to help solve the problem of delivering projects to their customers late.  Is it to better manage resources?  Another one of our clients needed a better picture of resource availability and usage.  Both of these companies had an objective in mind which gave a clearer focus while they implemented the software in their organizations.

How?

How will you use the software?  Software systems can do a lot of things, but you shouldn't use those features just because the software does them.  Identify the features you are going to use that meet your objective(s).  This is where a focus on process is important.  I would even advise you to document the process that you want people to follow as they are using those features.  For example, how should people create new projects (i.e. they should fill out a form, use the x template, and assign resource roles)?.  Or which reports will be used to measure progress?  Determine how you will use the features.  This will also give you clarity in training so that you do not get into the trap of training strictly on features just because they are there.

When?

When will you implement which pieces of the software?  You may decide to phase in features and processes.  If you are an organization that is not used to using a tool like this (perhaps it has been haphazard to date), you may want to start off simple.  Perhaps your first goal is to simply get all of your projects loaded into the system and get people used to that.  Then you can tackle something else.  Also, when will you begin?  Does it interfere with any other key organizational events?  You do not want to implement software when most of your folks are busy with year end duties, for example.

Who?

Who will use the system and more importantly who will manage the implementation?  Do you need a full-time person to manage your implementation?  Unless you are implementing this across a Fortune 500 company, no.  Do you need to assign responsibility to someone to make this happen?  Yes.  Otherwise, it won't get done.  The easiest course of action is for people to do what they have always done.  You need someone to make the implementation happen and manage it appropriately.

What?

This is the favorite question that my kids ask.  I haven't figured out yet if it means that a) I am not speaking loud enough, b) they cannot hear well, or c) they are bluffing and wish they hadn't heard the question.  I have ruled out b with a simple test.  If I ask an important question, 62.3% of the time I will get "what?" as a response.  But if I whisper something about ice cream from across the room, 87.4% of the time they will demonstrate that they have heard me.

What does this have to do with project management software?  Absolutely nothing.  But how can you ask why, how, when, and who, without asking what?  And I couldn't think of a meaningful use of the question what, except for what features will we use, but I've already covered that so I better move on.

 

Be sure you ask these questions before you implement project management software.  You will find your implementation much more focused with a quicker ROI.





09/07/2011

4 Questions to Ask the Cloud Computing Vendor of your Project Management Software

IStock_000007651615_web In my last post, I discussed 4 downsides to cloud computing.  In this post, I want to give you four questions to ask the cloud computing vendor that is hosting your project management software.  These are questions that you should have the answer to so that you are not surprised down the road.

1.  What happens when we ramp up our use of the system?

George commented on the last post about another downside of cloud computing, which is limits the vendor may place on transactions in the system.  Find out what happens if you double your use of the system, add users, greatly increase the number of documents you are storing, or otherwise increase your use of the system.  Is there a storage limit for your documents?  Are there thresholds in place that you may hit?  Are there costs involved?  It would be best to get this in writing from your vendor.

2.  How can I get my data?

What happens if you need to change vendors, you need your data to push it into another system, or you simply want some insurance in case something happens to your vendor?  Can you get your data?  In what format can you get your data?  Will they send you a backup file?  Do you have to do some sort of download?  What formats will these be in?  How will you use these formats?  Are there extra costs involved?  Be prepared and find out the answers up front.

3.  How do upgrades work?  Do we have control over when an upgrade occurs?

You probably will not have a lot of control over when an upgrade to your system occurs (unless you are a large customer).  That does not mean that you should not understand how the process works.  Ask the question.  How often do they upgrade?  How much notice will you get?  Do you have any control?  Can you have access to a sandbox prior to the upgrade?

4.  How do we change our subscription?

It is hard to predict the future.  You may grow and need to add additional users.  You may find additional uses for the system and want to bring on another department.  You may find that you no longer need the system as much as you thought and need to reduce the number of users.  Find out what the process is for making these changes, and if there are any hidden costs involved.

What other questions do you think should be asked of your cloud computing vendor?

 





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.

 

 





05/24/2011

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.





05/17/2011

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.

 





04/19/2011

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.

 





04/06/2011

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.

 






 

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