17 posts categorized "Tool Management"

02/11/2011

4 Ways to Get More Out of Your Project Management Software

IStock_000005305116XSmall Project management software is bestowed with promises of higher productivity, better efficiency, and a host of other benefits.  And rightly so - there is a lot of benefit to the right system being installed in the right away for the right organization.  Like any organizational tool however, it does not always live up to expectations for a variety of reasons.  Here are four ways that you can get more out of your project management software today.

1.  Hold Brown Bag Lunch Sessions

A common issue is that no one has (or takes) the time to talk about how the organization is using the software tool, much less do any type of training on it.  The solution?  Hold brown bag lunch sessions.  These are great ways to informally communicate, discuss the use of the system, and even do some training in bite size pieces.  It does not matter if you are using spreadsheets, a complicated enterprise-wide tool, or a middle of the road tool (like EnterPlicity), there is always value in this.  You may very well find that not everyone has the same perception of how the software should be used, and that everyone is not using the software the same way.  You will come away with insight into some not-too-difficult things you can do to increase value, and the participants will come away with more knowledge and understanding of the how's and why's of the system.

2.  Put Together Cheat Sheets

Organizations use project management software differently to implement different processes for meet different needs and objectives.  A lot of focus is put on how to use software features.  Instead, create cheat sheets on how to accomplish key processes within the software.  For example, create a cheat sheet for creating a new project noting the information required, the specific steps in the tool, and even any steps outside of the tool (i.e. job numbers to be created in the accounting system, or documents to be created for customers).  In other words, what are the expectations and process for people to do their job?  These are not vendor documents - those will be focused on features.  These are your internally generated cheat sheets focused on your processes.  People will appreciate the clarity and the focus on what they need to do (and not unneeded feature information).

3.  Eliminate a Manual Process

It is not difficult to find a process being performed manually now that could be done with your software tool.  Perhaps someone is manually entering information into spreadsheets and someone else is spending hours compiling information from various spreadsheets for a weekly status report.  I almost always find ways to streamline and even eliminate manual steps.  It may take some technical work, but sometimes it may be as simple as streamlining how people are entering the data.  You would be surprised at what you can find to streamline when you put a laser focus on that objective.

4.  Create an Internal Help Resource

I recommend putting in place an internal webpage, blog, or similar resource that everyone can go to for all information on your software system.  This sounds more complicated than it has to be.  It could simply be a page that contains all of your cheat sheets and links to vendor training documents.  It could be expanded with information on upcoming updates, brown bag lunch sessions, how-to's, faq's, etc.  The internal aspect is because this is not focused on how to use the tool, but how your organization uses the tool to accomplish its objectives.

What other ways have you gotten "more" out of project management software for your organization?

 





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.





12/21/2010

Why?

I love "The Far Side" cartoon by Gary Larson where the cows suddenly realize that they are eating grass.  I found a copy of it here.

Do you ever ask yourself why you do things?  Why do we use the project management tools we do, the way we do?  You know as well as I do what the answer usually is: because this is how we do things!  But do you ever ask yourself why?  Can you improve it?  Can you change it?

When I was a Project Manager for a "dot com" company back in 2000, we spent 2-3 hours every Friday creating a huge Word document with written status about each project going on that we were managing.  By "we" I mean the team of project managers.  The consensus was that the reports were not read.  Or at least they weren't read past the brief summary.  I asked the question: why are we going through all this effort?

With project management software tools, it is good to ask why, especially in a couple of situations:

1.  When you have been using the same tools in the same way for a long time.

There is probably a better way to use the same tools or even better tools.  I am not saying you want to throw everything out and start over.  I am saying that we should always be getting better and how we use our tools is no exception.  I bet you will find some effort being expended to update the tools that is no longer used by anyone.  But someone is still doing it because..."that's the way we do things."

2.  When you are implementing a new tool.

It is easy to get carried away when implementing a new project management software tool.  There is a temptation to make it perfect.  For example, you may really want a report in the exact same format because people have always used that exact same format.  Why?  If you can achieve the same result, or even a better one with a different format without going through the effort (or cost) of duplication, it is time to ask why.  Especially if the new tool comes with a lot of new capabilities that you can take advantage of.

So as the new year approaches, what are examples of how you use your project tools simply because you have always used them that way?  And what can (will) you do to make improvements?





12/13/2010

Should Everyone Be Required to Use Project Management Software?

I had an interesting discussion this morning with one of our project management software clients.  We were talking about their history with us and what has worked for them.  The conversation turned to the adoption of the tool by their users.

In the past, they did not require the use of their project management software system by all of their users, and they did not enter in all of their projects.  Some departments did, others did not.  What was the result?  There was no central visibility into all of the projects so the value of the tool to the organization was low.  Once they started implementing some accountability, and had all of their projects in the system, the value of the tool to the organization, and everyone, skyrocketed.  Why? 

There are two reasons that I see:

1.  They could then wrap a good process around the tool.  The tool in and of itself is of no great value without a good process around it.  The tool should support the process.  If you are only doing a half-hearted job at the tool, you can do a half-hearted job at the process.  Or you have one process for certain projects, and another process for other projects.  This is very inefficient.

2.  They have immediate visibility into everything.  This opens the doors to new things, such as being able to tell a customer the current status of a project, and even more importantly identifying constraints and problem areas.  This particular client does a lot of engineering.  They have a very constrained resource, namely a testing station that everything has to go through.  By identifying the workload for the testing station, they can schedule that work, flow out the rest of their projects, and thus accurately predict when projects will really be done.  They simply couldn't do this if the projects were not all in the system.

This brought up the question in my mind, should everyone be required to use project management software?  It is an important question because not everyone will use it if they are not required to do so.  As much as we would like to think that everyone will jump on board if the software is good and intuitive, that just is not the case.  Some people simply will do things the same way they have always done them.  No matter what.

Let me make a distinction that I am specifically referring to an organizational project management tool, such as a web-based tool.

I do believe the answer to this question depends somewhat on the organization, its culture, and its goals.  In the case of our client above, they have a fairly formalized process and scheduling is very important.  In their case, I believe that everyone should be required to use the system, otherwise they simply cannot accomplish their objectives.  I suppose there is a case to be made for an organization that is more informal and not as schedule-driven.  In that case, perhaps it would not make as much of a difference.  But even then, why use the software in the first place?  If your goal is to increase collaboration, what good is it if everyone does not collaborate?  Why get a tool to collaborate and not implement the process and discipline of collaboration?

What do you think?  When should everyone not be required to use a system?

 





12/03/2010

4 Mistakes When Implementing Project Management Software

IStock_000000548970Small Happy Thanksgiving!  I took a little break from writing about project management software.  I spent some time in Illinois and it was cold!  But I am back and ready with another post.

Recently, I was at a client's site planning out an implementation of EnterPlicity.  Afterwards, I got to thinking about what I have seen organizations do well and what I have seen them do poorly when implementing project management software.  I am sure there are many that I could list, but here are four mistakes that immediately came to mind.

Looking for Perfection

I am a believer that project management software should be able to adapt to an organization's needs and processes, not the other way around.  However, there is a big difference between adapting the software and seeking perfection.  No technology tool will ever be perfect.  That is true even if you happen to have the expertise and resources to build a system yourself.  You want to setup the system to match your processes, but understand that there always will be some adjustments that you will need to make.  Be flexible and use the technology to augment and support your processes wherever possible.

Trying to Automate Everything

There is definitely a place for automation.  Automating your key processes can really help you to simplify and streamline your processes, and eliminate a lot of manually intensive administration.  However, do not make the mistake of trying to automate everything.  There will always be some level of manual intervention needed.  You need to find the right balance.  For example, I visited with an organization once that was intent on spending the time and even money to automate an obscure process.  Guess how many times per year this process would be run?  Twice!  Sometimes you need to step back to look at the big picture and realize that checking a box manually may make a lot more sense than creating and maintaining an automated process. 

Not Taking the Time to Know your Objectives

Another client that I recently met with produced a complete document that captured exactly what they wanted to do with the system.  You may not need to go to the level of detail that this organization did, but do not make the mistake of not planning your implementation.  You need some clear objectives on what you need to accomplish.  These should not be picked out of the air, but based on problems you are experiencing and strategic directions your organization is taking. 

For example, one of our clients who produces parts for appliance companies was terrible at estimating and executing on project schedules.  They strategically implementing project management software and a process around that to improve their estimating and schedule reliability.  That was their primary objective.  Other examples of objectives include solving a problem of not having available resources for key projects when needed, or eliminating the problem of not being able to report on project information because it is scattered, or putting in place a standardized process for how projects get done.  There are many more.  The point is to have a clear goal for what you want to accomplish.

Trying to Do Too Much At Once

It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to implement everything right away.  This has some pitfalls to it, especially if your organization is not used to using tools like this.  Go slower.  In fact, I recommend that you go in phases.  What do you really need to accomplish in the beginning.  Focus on that.  Train people on that.  Then gradually add to it.  That will greatly increase the likelihood of success, and reduce the stress of too much change at once.

What mistakes have you seen your organization make when implement project management software?  Comment or email blog@teaminteractions.com.





09/08/2010

6 Ways to Stifle your Project Tools Implementation

Regardless of which project tool(s) you are using, there are many ways to make a project tool implementation great.  But here are six ways to stifle your implementation and make it ineffective. 

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Make the implementation too complicated

No one likes complexity.  Sometimes the nature of the business or operation requires a project tool setup to be complex.  But this is the exception not the rule.  Just because a tool does complex things does mean that you should use them.  Keep it simple.  Do what is needed to accomplish your objectives.  Don’t make the system so complicated that no one wants to use it.

Don’t provide regular training

In my opinion, unless you have some complicated processes, a project tool should not require vast amounts of training.  However, neither should you provide zero training.  You need to give people the knowledge they need to use the tool effectively and quickly.  This can be formal training provided by the vendor.  Or it can be informal training provided by you.  A good plan is to provide some good initial training (classes) and then provide some recurring training.  These could be Q&A sessions, brown bag lunches, or “quick hit” classes.  There is a reason you are implementing a project tool.  This will ensure that everyone is using it effectively and not wasting time both now and in the future.

Bash people with red / yellow / green “lights”

Be careful with how you use the information in the system.  If it is constantly used to “bash” people and call them out, that will change how people put information in the system.  They will manipulate the system to look good.  I am not saying there should be no accountability, on the contrary I am a proponent of it.  I am saying to be sure that you are using the data constructively as a tool to get better.  You don’t want everyone hating the tool because of how it makes them look and how they will be treated.  I realize this is a fine line, but it is like talking to a teenager.  You can get your point across several different ways – with the wrong tone and approach they will tune out, but with the right tone and approach it can be productive.

Use the tool to add to your team’s workload instead of reducing it

We are all busy.  If I come to you and tell you that you must use this new tool and that it will cause you to work an extra hour each day, what would be your response?  What if I came to you and told you that you no longer need to take two hours each week to write up a big status report, but you need to take fifteen minutes each day to keep this new tool up to date?  Find ways to use the tool to reduce your staff’s workload, not increase it.

Continue to do things “the old way”

A project tool, when used properly, can have a great impact on an organization.  But there is a temptation to do things the old way.  For example, you have this new tool to track all of your project information, but you still want everyone to write up a big long status report.  Or you require everyone to keep the tool up to date, but you still have a four hour meeting each week to review every piece of project information.  Find ways for the tool to support better processes and don’t be afraid to get rid of redundant, “old” ways of doing things.

Don’t seek feedback

If you don’t ask, you may never know how the tool is working for your people.  Some of them will have great ideas on how to use the tool a little differently to get even greater value.  Solicit their feedback.  Naturally, you will always have people that simply do not like doing things differently and will gripe about any tool, but you can recognize the value comments vs. the griping comments.  Solicit feedback and implement the best ideas.





08/30/2010

5 Ways to Ensure your Project Tool Stays Updated

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A common question we get is how do I know that our people will keep the project management software or tool database updated?  Here are five practical ways that you can use to do just that:

 

1.  What’s in it for them?

What can you do to make your staff’s work easier?  If you can solve a problem for them, it will be embraced better than if you are adding to their workload.  Let them fill out a timesheet in the project tool in five minutes instead of thirty minutes in a manual spreadsheet.  Let them input information once in the project tool instead of in three different spreadsheets.

2.  Implement accountability

What happens if people do not keep the project tool updated?  Some organizations have the culture that people will adopt the tool naturally, but this is the exception. Most organizations need to have some reasonable accountability.  Only you can figure out what that means for your organization.  This could be some soft accountability – for example you use the tool for a key weekly meeting and if someone’s information is not updated there is some direct but soft accountability.  It could be more formal such as using participation as part of performance reviews.  You know your culture and organization better than anyone.  Figure out some way to institute some sort of reasonable accountability.

3.  Keep it simple

Don’t ask for more than you really need.  If you are not going to use the information, don’t ask people to input the information.  Don’t require users to track the status of two hundred tasks if you are really only interested in the top five.  That means you need to take the time to make some decisions on what information you really need.

4.  Mimic a core process

Many organizations have a core process that everyone is familiar with: filling out a timesheet form, updating a spreadsheet to initiate a new project, putting together a weekly report.  Whatever it is, choose one core process and do it in the project tool.  This will become a de facto essential reason that everyone needs to be in the project tool.  If everyone puts together a status report in Word, have them put it together in the project tool and extract it from there.  If everyone fills out and submits a timesheet in Excel, have them do it in the project tool and extract it from there.

5.  Use reporting

Management loves good reporting.  What type of critical information is management missing?  Actual hours spent on key projects?  Current expenses vs. budget?  Late tasks?  Key milestone dates with status?  Give it to them as much as is possible.  Give them a flavor of this information and you just might find an ally to keep the information flow going.

 

Whether you are using a homegrown tool, an online project management software tool, a spreadsheet system, or whatever, use these tips to keep the information flow refreshed and current.






 

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EnterPlicity is project management software that enables your organization to extend project management software tools to everyone, share any project information, automate key processes, and analyze project data in a single, easy to implement system.