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Why the Sheepdog Analogy?

A Project Manager is a necessary evil. Why? Well, the PM doesn't produce anything - write code, lay concrete or whatever. However, don't have one and see what happens!

Always telegraph your Punches as a Project Manager

Sometimes as a Project Manager you need to throw a "Project Manager punch" but not a literal one please!

Isaac Newton's contribution to Project Management

Newton's laws, especially his first law of motion, should be as important to a Project Manager as it is to a Physicist. Why?

O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?

You are given a project to run. Amongst your early questions should be, "who is the Sponsor?"

Always remember the Human side

It is very easy to get hung up in the technical and management side of Projects and forget that they need to be delivered by human teams. So "Always remember the human side" is the key phrase!

Why writing a Project Status Report is not a chore

I've met several Project Managers who view writing any Project status report as a chore. I think the opposite.

Planning is the key Project Management discipline

I have been asked a few times, "What are the top xx things to focus in on as a Project Manager? If pressed, I always fall back to Planning

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

IT Applications to enhance Project execution

Many Projects survive on as little IT as the standard Office software suite, a shared file server and an email system. However there are IT Applications which may enhance your Project execution which you might want to consider. In this post I examine some different categories of applications, some examples and whether I have had any experience to share or not. I will no doubt update this post when I learn some more from your experiences!
IT Applications for Projects

Introduction and General Considerations

I have attempted to segment applications by broad category but very often the boundaries are blurred as capabilities are enhanced in each application!

In terms of general considerations, with any application you are looking to introduce to your project team there are some general considerations to bear in mind:
  1. Installation. The ease (or likely not) in installing the application within your organisation's corporate infrastructure and thus the time taken before it is available for use. The good news on this front is that there are many more cloud based applications these days so you maybe not impacted by this
  2. Training requirements. You need to assess what training is required and get this into the project plan. Even then you need to acknowledge the risk that the application will not be fully utilised. I refer you to my post on the resistance to any change

1-Project File applications

All projects need a well organised Project File - see my previous post on the subject. While a shared file server can do the job, one application is now heavily used to enhance the capabilities - SharePoint.

This allows document check-in/out, version control and can be used to create a common site for Project team collaboration with a little effort and use of web parts. Organisations running a number of change projects should establish a standard design so there is a commonality between projects.

There is blurring between my categorisation as several applications in the "collaboration" bucket seem to provide Project Files, so read down!

2-Plan Scheduling Software

To undertake critical path analysis, you need some IT support. Microsoft Project is probably the most frequently observed tool, in my experience it is good on user interface and presentation but in versions I have mostly used (v2003), it lacks something in effort based scheduling. I started life with Project Manager Workbench (PMW) which had a very good effort scheduling engine but lacked a good user interface. It seems this has moved into an open source application Open Workbench but I don't have experience of it.

Other alternatives (not used) include:
  • ProjectLibre billed as the open source rival to Microsoft Project
  • wrike - as well as project and resource planning, it claims to do collaboration, daily work management, progress tracking, reporting etc
  • Note that bigger application sets detailed below may have their own scheduling tool

3-General Project and Portfolio Management

In this category I include any applications aimed at supporting the running of Projects and Portfolios of projects. These can help support / enforce a Project Management methodology, provide templates and centralised reporting both for an individual project and a portfolio of projects. 

The application in this category that I am most familiar with is Project in a Box, as it provides a free version you can evaluate. In terms of competitors, I don't have any knowledge but you may want to take a look at:
  • ]project-open[ - an open source enterprise project management tool promising a lot
  • Glasscubes - seems to combine aspects of Project File, scheduling etc
  • SimPro

4-Enterprise Portfolio and Resource Management Suites

These are expensive suites of software which larger organisations, with a significant portfolio of projects (and corresponding resource pools), use. They integrate a number of features such as scheduling, resource management, time capture etc. Examples I am aware of are:
I actually ran a Project to introduce ABT across 450 users so appreciate the power of the toolset but these only work if there is considerable effort in establishing processes around the tool, training and ongoing policing (typically by a PMO). The same goes for Project Server which I come across in a number of client sites.

5-Traditional Collaboration Tools

"Traditional" Collaboration Tools help the project team communicate better and hopefully cut down on email traffic which is a danger in project teams - see my post on this. Things like wikis can be quite useful and I refer you to the most popular wiki, Wikipedia for a comparison of wiki applications including some open source.

The list of tools in this area seems to grow daily and the only thing certain is that I am out of date! Some I am aware of are:
  • OpenProject is an open source tool which promises a lot
  • SharePoint as previously mentioned should be included in this area
  • There are plenty of Cloud based Project / task focused collaboration tools such as BasecampWrike , asana, slack

6-Social Collaboration Tools

I have separated out collaboration tools which are more Facebook inspired. Again, these promise reduced email traffic which is no bad thing but I haven't seen any in operation. 
  • Yammer seems to be gaining popularity. Says their site, "Yammer is a private social network that helps you and your teams stay on top of it all. Yammer team collaboration software and business applications allow you to bring your team together so you can have conversations, collaborate on files, and organize around projects so you can go further – faster" 
  • Socialcast - "Connect, engage, and accomplish more" says their site
  • Jive - "Turn your intranet into a communication and collaboration hub" says their site

7-Tools to support Agile methodologies

I have categorised applications which seem more suited to supporting Agile methodologies
  • Trello I've heard, is a great tool for managing requirements / scope especially in an Agile environment. I've had a play but not actively used.
  • Taiga is open source and describes itself as a Project Management platform for Agile.

8-Others not mentioned elsewhere

  1. Instant Messenger tools - I am quite keen on the use of IM tools such as Skype / Lync to cut down on email traffic for conversations but I guess there will be competition going forward from some of the collaboration tools highlighted above
  2. Blogs can be useful for Project communications. Clearly there are a number of cloud based sites such as Blogger being used for this particular blog or you can install the application on your own servers (e.g. wordpress, ghost)
  3. Configuration Management tools. Sharepoint does the basics for project documents but for more complex project requirements (e.g. software development) have a read of my post of the topic
  4. Test Management tools. These are commonplace in system development projects covering test planning and defect management. HP Quality Center is the one I have used the most although I have also come across the open source Eventum defect management application, see a review here


I have just scratched the surface of applications which may be of use to your Project team. The world is moving so fast that the examples listed and even completely new classes of applications can be considered with significant cross-over between the categorisation I have attempted.

However I want to remind you that change isn't easy to achieve so bear in mind that by introducing completely new applications into your project team you run some risks of actually slowly down progress which clearly isn't the aim of the game! Plan for this eventuality and persevere to get the benefits.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Appointed PM for a new Project? - Don't Panic!

Congratulations - you are given the role of Project Manager for new Project X with likely stakeholder pressure to get going quickly.You then go back to your desk and may start panicking as you say to yourself, "where do I start?" "there is so much to do!". In this post I will take you through a check-list of things to consider in start-up / initiation linking to other posts to drill into some of the detail.
Appointed PM for a new Project? - Don't Panic!

The pressures to get going

Some stakeholders may see any Start-up / Initiation activities as "resting up" and there may be pressure to "get going". While I would conceptually resist this, I suggest two key points for you to consider :
  • manage stakeholder expectations - the best way to do this in my experience is what I call "plan the plan" i.e. develop a plan for the Start-up / Initiation phase which will produce a Project Definition including a Project Plan so there is a rationale for the "delay" (how it may be viewed) in getting going
  • I am the biggest defender of the Initiation process as a strength of Project Management foundations to build from but every strength can be a weakness. I suggest you consider whether some early work can be kicked off if resources are available. I have covered the rationale for this in a previous post

What are you given to start?

PRINCE2 and other Project Management methodologies define/imply that when appointed, the Project Manager will be handed a mandate / charter or other such document which "sets the scene" for Initiating the Project. I don't know whether I have been unlucky but in the main I have received very little documentation and certainly not a nicely structured "magical" document which answers questions such as: 
  • Background to and objectives of the Project
  • Constraints under which you should plan. This might include a specified approach or solution, maximum budget, time expectations etc
  • Key stakeholders identified
  • Statement of scope
  • Target benefits
So if you don't have this information you need to plan to obtain this as soon as possible. In terms of stakeholders, the most important is the Project Owner so if none is evident, this is certainly something to address as soon as possible as the Sponsor is a key stakeholder to interview to enable you to confirm firm foundations for your Initiation. Have a read on my post on the Sponsor / ownership Board.

Remind yourself of the end goal of Initiation

The output from Initiation is some sort of Definition document which is the contract between the Project Manager and the Project Owner. So in line with my post on Product Descriptions I suggest that, should you not be using a standard template, you agree what are the headings of this document which you will need to complete and this will start your mind thinking about how to populate the content. Have a read of my post on Project Definition which gives you these headings. 

Week 1 Check-list

Whether all of the following can be achieved in one week depends on the scale of the Project but hopefully you can adjust accordingly!
  1. Has a Sponsor been formally appointed? If not, who can act as a proxy in answering some of the immediate definition questions that will arise re point 2
  2. Study any information given and look to fill in gaps against what should be provided in a mandate / charter (see above) by doing some digging
  3. Make good progress with a draft plan to deliver the elements of the Project Definition and thus allow Initiation to exit including resources you may need in Initiation (see later for an example)

Week 2 until end of Initiation Check-list

  1. Secure Sponsor, hold a discussion and confirm any definition analysis to date
  2. Start progressing tasks in line with the Initiation plan. Draft sections of the Definition as you go along, don't leave it to the last moment
  3. I suggest that you operate an Initiation query log where you can jot down queries as they come to you and then you can review periodically to double check they have been addressed
  4. Remember that some elements may need several iterations so there may be rework but don't use this as an excuse for not committing anything down as going through the process of writing down elements are likely to bring out more points to clarify
  5. Ensure you have answered the following questions (which I am sure can be added to, suggestions welcome!):

  • What is the purpose of the project and what will it create? i.e. do we have a clear objective
  • What is the rationale for undertaking the project i.e. high level business case
  • Is the scope of the Project understood? Consider in and out of scope definitions
  • Who will be using the final projects products once they are handed over?
  • What are the intermediate products that need to be produced to achieve the final product (first part of planning)
  • Why should this project be started, and what is the justification for it?
  • Who will need to be involved to deliver the project?
  • Whereabouts will the project occur, and where will the products be built?How will the products be built?
  • What general approach will the project take in order to deliver the end product?
  • When and why must the project start and finish?
  • Have the constraints been identified e.g. budget, particular solution?
  • Is there a definition of in and out of scope aspects?
  • Have the stakeholders been analysed?
  • In terms of ownership should a Project Board be created and who fits roles of Senior User(s) and Senior Supplier(s)?
  • What is the Communications strategy?
  • Has a risk analysis been undertaken?
  • Have the costs of the Project been defined?
  • Is the Business Case sufficiently defined at this stage to justify the spend that will be requested?

Links to posts on the disciplines involved during Project Initiation

Within the Blog I have posts on the disciplines involved in Initiation. Use the Subject Tags (right hand side bar) to select these or simply use the search bar at the top, it works well!! As a starting point I will indicate a few key posts below:

Lastly - Acknowledge that emotionally, you may face the pit of despair

Emotionally you may be faced with a dip in your emotional curve when you pick up a new Project. There is a lot of information and questions to process and you may feel overwhelmed for a while. This is sometimes called the emotional pit of despair. All that I suggest is that you continue in a methodical way to work through the information, questions etc in front of you and in a short period of time you will come out the other side as shown in the graph below. Good luck!

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