Is your project schedule a magic formula for success or dark fairy tale?

 

fairytale castle to illustrate scheduling fairy tale and magic formula

 

 

Scheduling has a big impact on project management. Done well, it is the magic formula that gently guides a project to completion. Done badly, it can become a rather dark and unhelpful fairy tale that will undermine your projects and doom them to fail (without being too dramatic!) Let’s look at what makes the difference. 

 

What is scheduling? 

 

When it comes to project management, scheduling is about more than putting tasks on a calendar. Scheduling is, arguably, where the magic happens. Project scheduling involves creating a system to communicate not only the tasks that need to get done, but also the resources that will be needed to complete them and the timeframe allocated to them. A project schedule holds pretty much all the information needed to deliver the entire project successfully and on time.

 

When does scheduling happen in the project life cycle?

 

In layman’s terms, planning and scheduling are similar concepts, but when it comes to project management, you won’t be scheduling until after the planning phase is complete. This is because planning is about looking at the big picture and defining fundamentals. Planning looks at the real problem that needs solving, identifies the stakeholders, and defines objectives. Planning also determines what resources will be needed and what major tasks need to be done. However, we’re talking broad scope here. There is no fine detail at this stage.

 

Scheduling starts once you enter the second stage of the project life cycle. This is the build-up phase, and it’s where you start getting into the real nitty-gritty details of managing your project. Most projects will come with a predefined start date and deadline, and the schedule is what defines everything that happens in between.

 

Scheduling tends to involve working backwards. You take the end deadline, and any other hard deadlines, and work out when your deliverables need to be ready.  You then schedule in the details, looking at the tasks to be completed, the resources needed, and the team members involved. Creating the project schedule accurately is vital to the success of the project, which is why it has to wait until the build-up phase. Try to schedule a project while it’s still at the big-picture, planning stage and you won’t have enough information. There’s nothing vague about project schedules. There needs to be a lot of attention to detail.

 

The challenges of scheduling

 

Scheduling can be one of the most challenging aspects of project management. As mentioned, it’s a fine-detail process, but some types of project have a lot more variables than others. If you’re working on a project that has a lot of “unknowns” to deal with, then schedule management can become one of the most challenging parts of the entire project.

 

If you are managing a building or engineering project, then it’s likely that you’ll have complete specifications up front. With less tangible projects, such as a media campaign or a change management project, there will be a lot more variables to factor in. This means that with some projects, you can use proven, easily replicated techniques to calculate detailed timeframes and accurate resource allocation. With other projects, it’s a case of starting out with rough estimates, and constantly refining details as you progress and more information about the project emerges. There may be a lot of 'what if?' scenarios to factor in and allow for.  Either way, project scheduling is never a case of “set it and forget it”. Active schedule management is required throughout the project life cycle.

 

Why the schedule can be the dark fairy tale of project management 

 

If the schedule is this important, then it must be highly reliable, right? You must be able to look at it at any point in the project and immediately see where you are, what you’ve achieved, and whether you’ll be finishing on time and according to the resource allocation you originally scheduled, right? Wrong. That’s not always the case. At least not with all projects.  Some project managers will tell you that the schedule is irrelevant. They’ll cite the challenges already mentioned: there are so many unknowns, so many variables. We make the schedule, but we don’t expect to stick to it. The project will be finished when it’s finished.

 

The truth and accuracy of the schedule can be an elephant in the room or a dark fairy tale where nothing is as it seems.  There are some key reasons why projects fail because of scheduling mistakes.  This can be because the project purpose has not been clearly defined, perhaps the requirements are not fully understood or timescales are wildly over optimistic.

 

What makes the schedule a magic formula for success?

 

Some project managers will acknowledge that scheduling doesn’t work.  But scheduling does work.   It works like a dream for some project managers, but not for others. Why is this? How come scheduling works perfectly on some projects, but not on every one? The key, as is often the case in project management, is in the systems and how much the schedule will stand up to scrutiny.  Scheduling only works if you can accurately track those important variables, update accordingly, keep your entire team informed, adjust everything else to fit with your new information, and communicate those adjustments to your stakeholders.

 

All this may sound like a big ask, but what it actually boils down to is the right system. Good project management software can provide an all-in-one solution to integrate all of the above and ensure that the schedule is managed and updated to give you a consistently clear picture of exactly where you are, and how far you have to go.

 

Key tips for effective scheduling 

 

There are several ways that you can ensure that your schedule guides your project safely to completion.

 

  • Start the scheduling process after the planning phase is complete.
  • Understand exactly what the deliverables are.
  • Build the schedule around deliverables, not tasks.
  • Work backwards from those hard deadlines.
  • Break down big deliverables to the lowest estimable deliverable (work packages).
  • Make work packages as small as possible for accurate time estimations.
  • Use milestones as targets and at regular intervals.
  • Keep track of team members’ availability.
  • Don’t assign everyone on the team a 100% workload.

 

An effective schedule needs to be flexible and responsive, regardless of the type of project. There will always be variables, and the only way to plan for that is to have a solid system in place to track those variables and respond quickly when needed.

To see what Verto can do to help you manage your project schedules, contact us for a demo or sign up for a free 30 day trial!


3 ways to maximise effectiveness in an agile project environment

man jumping in front of mountains to show agile

 

Agile project management focuses on delivering project outcomes repeatedly and incrementally. It is a less rigid and regimented process than traditional project management, giving the project team more autonomy and flexibility.

 

 

 

Without the rigid framework of a traditional project management approach, agile teams need great tools in place. They need to communicate, collaborate and respond to each other’s needs. Agile environments rely on team members being motivated and well informed, and agile project managers need to trust in their team and exhibit behaviours of flexibility, collaboration and empowerment. So what makes a project manager effective in an agile environment?

 

1. Pay attention

 

Some people assume that agile management means as little project management as possible. In fact, in an agile environment, change happens fast, and the act of managing and accommodating that change requires the project manager to be attentive, disciplined and actively managing at all times. Agile PMs may be handing a lot of autonomy to their team members, but that does not mean they take a ‘hands off’ approach. On the contrary, they need to pay a lot of attention to what is going on within the team and coordinate it all.

 

2. Know your people

 

Great agile project managers get to know their team. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team member helps in any project management situation, but in an agile environment where things change at short notice, knowing who has which skills and attributes is vital. Agile teams are generally more collaborative with responsive team members much readier to step up and take on ‘other duties as required’ than in a traditional project management setting.

Knowing who in your team needs extra support and coaching is also vital. Agile team members need to be motivated, self-disciplined and proactive. It is worth developing these attributes in team members who are missing them, as this will help an agile team work better. Lastly, great PMs in an agile environment will make sure team members know each other well. Good team building and facilitating a rapport between team members means that they also know the capabilities and special skills of their colleagues.

 

3. Use collective wisdom

 

Having a more collaborative team is only useful if everyone can contribute their best. Agile teams will be expected to make joint decisions, and to do that, it is necessary to have a process in place to share collective wisdom. A successful agile project manager will find a way to bring people together, encourage feedback and ideas and somehow aggregate diverse opinions to reach the best decision possible.

Agile project managers must find a way to benefit from wide-ranging feedback without getting too hung up on the need for consensus. It is the job of the agile PM to aggregate all the information and make a decision based on the collective wisdom of the team.

Project management may be different in an agile environment. It is, however, every bit as important as in a traditional setting.

Verto is a powerful way of pulling together project information and collaboration in one place, enabling you to work smart, be intuitive and deliver.  To see how we can help you contact our friendly team for a demo at info@vertocloud.com or sign up for a free trial!


How to avoid common collaboration pitfalls

Neon sign saying simply a misunderstood genius to show collaboration pitfalls

 

Communication and collaboration are highly desirable but often loosley defined concepts. In programme and project management, the whole team will generally be aiming to collaborate effectively, but not everyone in the team will define collaboration the same way.  We take a look at how to avoid common collaboration pitfalls and prevent it from becoming an eye-roll.

 

 

For some, collaboration is all about meetings, brainstorming and sharing ideas. For others, it may be about everyone staying firmly in their own zone of genius, but having a solid central system in place to facilitate communication and collaboration when necessary. Many team members do not want to attend constant brainstorming sessions or share every detail, but still want to quickly and easily inform other team members of progress and log any thoughts about issues that could affect the project.

 

When communication breaks down: the real cost

 

A breakdown in communication can be a major source of stress within any team. Research indicates that poor communication is often reported as the top stressor in many workplaces, closely followed by a belief that other team members are not contributing. It seems likely that the two are linked, as good communication is what lets team members keep up to date on what other team members are achieving.

 

When working in a team, communication often needs to be not one-way or two-way, but multi-way. In a project management situation, there may be many team members working on different tasks, some of which are poorly understood by other team members. It may appear that a team member is not contributing when the truth is that they are contributing in a way that is not obvious, or they are waiting on other team members to complete a task so that they can move forward.

 

Why collaboration fails - common pitfalls

 

It is easy to assume that all collaboration is good, but sometimes many heads are not better than one. Sometimes too many cooks really do spoil the broth. Sometimes too much input, especially irrelevant or unnecessary input, slows progress down rather than optimising it. 

On paper, collaboration pools the resources and brainpower of different team members to create a whole that is better than the sum of the parts. By bringing together many perspectives and ideas, we are more likely to consider all the options, find more creative solutions, and anticipate undesirable outcomes. 

In practice, however, not all collaborations work this way. Many people collaborating on a project can lead to a certain amount of “groupthink”, whereby creativity is undermined, and group members can all start to have the same blind spots regarding their project.

Collaboration can lead to collective thinking and breed false confidence. Team members may assume that because a number of people have reached agreement, they must have reached the best decision. This can encourage them to stop considering options, while there are still viable options to be considered. Personality often plays a bigger part in reaching agreement than we realise. The more vocal or charismatic members of the group are often seen as having the best ideas. Pressure to agree with those group members, or simply with the majority view, is strong.

 

Hiding in plain sight

 

Collaboration can also dilute efforts by leading to something called social loafing. This is the tendency to sit back and allow others to do the majority of the work, when you are working in a group. This may be one of the main reasons why so many face-to-face meetings are so unproductive. Only a few people are actually contributing. Often, a system where you ask everyone to reflect on a problem or issue, and then submit their ideas to a central system, will result in much more input from all the individuals involved.

 

How to facilitate successful collaboration

 

Successful collaboration can be as simple as putting the right system in place. In order to collaborate on a project, it is vital to have a few elements in place from the start. Firstly, successful collaboration requires clear goals, effectively communicated, so that everyone is working towards the same results. Secondly, while many ideas may shape the decisions reached by the team, there still needs to be a process in place to guide that final decision-making. Thirdly, that decision-making process needs to be a transparent one that suits the whole team. 

Identifying a decision-making process that works for your team can keep the whole project from stalling due to indecision. It can also prevent collaborations from breaking down, with the boss or project manager deciding that the collaboration is not working and reverting to an attitude of telling everyone what to do. A process that can be followed each and every time a decision needs to be made brings a feeling of transparency and accountability to your projects, which is vitally important. 

 

Why accountability matters

 

Ultimately, when it looks like collaboration is failing, a team may just be experiencing a lack of accountability. The collaboration itself may have been successful, but the process seemed to end there. Without an easily accessible system in place for everyone to track how the collaborative decisions made are being implemented, teams may be left feeling that the collaboration was a waste of time, and that the decisions reached are not actually being executed.

Often, the necessary level of accountability is as simple as using the right software to enable constant communication. Project management software can let all team members track where the project is, which ideas are on the table, what the final decision reached was, and even exactly how it was reached. Software can allow for transparency, accountability and ongoing communication. It can provide information, at a glance, of who is working on what, and who is eagerly awaiting a response or completion date, so that a new task can be started or the next step can be taken. Software can even log which ideas have been considered, and why a different idea has been chosen, giving everyone on the team a sense of having been heard and had their input considered.

Verto  project management software  gives  teams and organisations  the communication and accountability tools they need to collaborate effectively.  To find out more contact us for a demo or register for our free 30-day trial!  

 


How Verto is the lever to deliver transformation

 

Pull here notice to show transformation lever

 

So, you’re a leader at the forefront of major organisational change. But like a master artisan with their favourite instrument, you need a tool.  Let’s think of this one as a lever.  You want to pull your lever and know that this is going to set off a chain of actions from Vision to Strategy to Plan, right down to the individual objectives and actions of everyone in your team – and that measures and reports back to you what’s happening and how it’s going.  It’s the golden thread of organisational performance and transformation.

 

Transformation plans are often a series of programmes and projects and these have to originate somewhere.  While they can just arise from the Leadership team, the reality is that for transformation programmes to have the best chance of buy-in and sustainable success they need to have been 'built with' rather than 'done to'.   Built with staff, built with the community, built with users, built with stakeholders.   This is where Verto is a valuable tool in making cross organisational collaboration easier,  underpinning engagement and helping to turn plans into business cases, actions into delivery and measurable, reportable transformation.

 

What the Verto lever looks like

 

We are seeing project and programme management practices driving greater productivity and more extensive collaboration, as well as delivering better-quality decision-making.   Pulling the Verto lever creates an interactive central hub for the information needed to manage the special challenges that arise with a transformation program.  It's been said that transformation is like 'rebuilding the air plane while you are flying it' - you're attempting to undertake fundamental change while still trying to hold on to business as usual.  Verto allows you to create processes with your people, many of whom will be active participants and who may not immediately see the benefits of change, particularly if they feel threatened.  It provides a birds eye view across the transformation programme, providing immediate visual feedback at all levels of whether projects are on track and where intervention is needed.

 

Verto acts not just as a catalyst throughout the organisation by keeping projects on track through making sure gateway approvals are timely, risks are assessed and managed, milestones monitored and budgets visible and kept under review.  Reporting is one-touch. Updates are in real time. File versions are automatically updated. Meetings are required less often. Communication is central. Teams can work remotely, often at least as efficiently as they used to when all team members were based in the same location. Managers constantly have a clear, high-level overview of their current projects in a way that they may never have had at any point in the life cycle of a project before the technology made it possible.

 

The cultural imprint is significant

 

Overall, the process of project management through to overarching work management is being strongly impacted by the software available to project teams and leaders. Those who started out in the world of traditional project management, with its sea of paperwork, endless reporting, and meeting-heavy schedule, may not quite recognise where they have ended up.

 

Verto's work management software is creating a strong cultural imprint on our client organisations and the people who run them. Our software helps managers and leaders as they become increasingly more responsive and supports a transformational culture by changing the work management experience for everyone involved, from sponsor to project manager to team member.

 

The software provides a go-to place for all project and collaborative work data, effectively relieving teams of the need to find, keep and search through emails, spreadsheets and documents. It eliminates the need for the version control that was often a major challenge, when files were emailed back and forth between team members, meaning that several different versions were floating around at any given time.  Used as a tool for work management means output data is always current, live and up to date and clearly displayed on one screen that anyone who needs to can access.

 

Shaping the public sector

 

Here at Verto, we are witnessing how tools are shaping the parts of society that matter most. Through our work with Local Government and the NHS, we are seeing work management software becoming part of a transformation culture, even within the largest and most complex of organisations. We can, and will, continue to debate in the UK how to maintain and develop a free and functional healthcare system, and no one is likely to suggest that there is one easy answer to the issues involved. It is, however, fascinating to note how software systems have impacted recent UK health and social care initiatives.

 

Through the use of our system, we have supported healthcare teams to improve their project and programme management. This results in real-world impacts, allowing them to save time, eliminate red tape, launch projects faster, improve communications, and manage risks, issues and milestones in one easy-to-use system. As the software enables collaboration, and facilitates the easy sharing and mapping of project and resource data, we observe some of the roadblocks to implementing complicated healthcare initiatives melt away. Notably, we see the way that the organisation organises its data, manages it's stakeholder accountability and communication changing. We have made the tools, and now the tools are indeed shaping the workers, the culture and the organisation.

 

How else will digital tools continue to shape people and their work practices? 

 

When it comes to work management, there are several impacts that we expect to see more of in the future.  Data collection will happen constantly and seamlessly, across many different areas, drawing in data from many different devices. What’s more, software will quickly consolidate that data into information we can use. This will allow project leaders to make quicker, more efficient and better-informed decisions, facilitating a new era of dynamic planning, agility and revolutionised project execution.

 

Advanced projects need another level of execution

 

As AI and the Internet of Things advance and expand, we can expect to see the speed of project execution increase rapidly. More technology, needing less human input, is often represented as a scary “machines taking over the world” scenario, but is arguably, a scenario that many of us already benefit from in our daily lives, as we rely on our smartphones and countless other smart devices to shoulder more and more of the work for us. It is also what represents exponential jumps forward when it comes to the timescale needed to execute complicated projects.

 

Within the realm of work management software can be expected to lead, over time, to complete process control. It will provide a system where an entire project or work process can be monitored, controlled and assessed using a range of smart technologies, requiring less work and generating less uncertainty than ever before.

 

Ever more complicated projects will, of course, require an increase in testing, refining  and pushing software to meet new requirements. Verto is a system that can step in time with organisational project maturity.  As project and programme management processes are developed and organisational capacity and capability grows, Verto has the breadth to take scaling transformation programmes and teams from simple and easy to the ability to manage the large scale and complex.

 

Verto software can give you the lever to deliver your transformation plan.  To find out more, contact us or register for our 30 day free trial.


6 reasons great followers become great leaders

lifeguards in circle on showing followers akin to leader

 

Being a great leader has a surprising amount in common with being a good follower. Whether you are leading a business, a project or a revolution, excellent leadership qualities will often develop from skills that you learned earlier in your career, often while following a great leader.  If you want to know where to start to become a great leader, begin from the knowledge that great followers become great leaders.

 

 

 

There is a great deal of crossover in the skills required of those leading a team, and the team members themselves. This is obvious in many project management scenarios, where both the project manager and the team members need to show openness, responsiveness, flexibility and excellent communication skills. There are several qualities of good followers that allow them to develop into inspirational leaders.

 

1. Good followers understand their role.

 

They know exactly where they fit in and how best they can benefit their team. Good leaders are similar. The best leaders understand their role as leader, and recognise exactly where they can step in to support their team, make tasks easier, and move the whole team closer to their objectives.

 

2. Good followers listen.

 

No team can move successfully towards their objectives unless team members are listening to and following instructions. However, listening is also a leadership skill. If anything, listening becomes more important when you are in charge of a project or programme where you will be receiving lots of feedback from different team members, staff and other stakeholders. Good leaders listen, process information and respond accordingly, using multiple sources of feedback to keep their projects moving forwards.

 

3. Good followers serve others.

 

Within a team working towards a common goal, it is sometimes necessary to step up and do what needs to be done to support other team members. This is another “following” skill that is even more vital in leaders. The leader has a better overall view of a project and should be the first to step in and help when something changes and someone requires extra help or support.

 

4. Good followers are humble.

 

They make their leader look good. And good leaders? They make their team look great. Humility allows leaders to step back and shine a light on others, give credit where credit is due, and make the whole team proud of their individual and collective achievements.

 

5. Good followers are loyal.

 

They don’t criticise their leader or their project in public. They are able, of course, to disagree, debate and put forth alternative suggestions in private, but the world will see a united front. Great leaders do their team the same courtesy. Negative feedback happens in private, and with the sole aim of reaching a solution.

 

6. Good followers grow into good leaders.

 

It is easy to think in either/or terms when it comes to leaders and followers, but in practice, most leaders grow into their roles over time. Being a member of a successful team is excellent training for future leaders. Often, it is only by observing how things work from the inside that we truly appreciate what it takes to lead a project or programme to a successful outcome.

 

To discover how Verto gives you more management information at your fingertips contact us for a demo or sign up for a free 30 day trial.


What is project maturity and why does it matter?

Chrysalis in varying stages of development to show project management maturity

 

 

Project management maturity refers to how well-equipped an organisation is to manage its projects and helps define the tools and techniques needed for project success. Businesses and other institutions progress over time, slowly developing an organisation-wide approach to project management.  

 

 

Within organisations of all shapes and sizes, public and private,  there is growing momentum to adopt a project management approach to deliver.  Whether that be software, service re-design and transformation, capital infrastructure projects or even programme roll-outs, project management is becoming the go-to method of successful delivery.

 

It's not one size fits all

 

It is often useful to not only look at how to make project management easier but also determine the level of complexity that is right for your organisation.

When it comes to project management, ease of implementation is vital to success. A complicated project is not always better, and one that is easy to implement often starts quickly and meets all its objectives.   It is not quite that simple, however. Ease of implementation often intertwines with project maturity. Organisations at different levels of project maturity thrive when they use techniques and tools appropriate to their specific level.

 

The right tools make a difference

 

Increasing project management maturity leads to the development of widely accepted and replicable methodology, strategy and decision-making processes. You might assume that the way to implement successful project management is to reach a high level of project maturity as quickly as possible, but this is unrealistic. As the name suggests, project maturity is something that tends to happen organically over time, and it cannot, for example, force itself on a new start-up with a skeleton staff and few processes in place.

 

Ease of implementation is not about fast-tracking project maturity but about choosing the right tools for your organisation’s current level. An organisation in the early stages of project maturity may need to keep things simple. The appropriate project management software will involve systems that are easy to implement and quick to use, giving you the ability to share files and report visually to other team members and stakeholders. A more mature organisation may well need more complex systems that are able to manage not only its projects and programmes but also its resourcing, finances, planning and forecasting.

 

Grow into it

 

Organisations can benefit from figuring out their current level of maturity based on the Project Management Maturity Matrix. While at first glance this seems a little mind-boggling, it identifies four levels of project management maturity. At level one, the success of the project relies almost solely on the efforts of the project manager and team members. As maturity increases, project management becomes all about methods and systems as the organisation learns to replicate the methodology of earlier successful projects.

While increasing project maturity is desirable, the success of any project rests on using the right tools for the current level of maturity. At level one, a team can complete a project well as long as it has a way to communicate, share data and give feedback. At higher levels, an entire host of different functions contribute to a successful project.

 

Verto is a versatile and powerful project management tool that has the ability to start small, simple and easy to use but also possesses powerful capabilities to meet the needs of the expert project team.  To find out more contact us for a demo or sign up for a 30 day free trial.

 


5 ways to streamline project approvals

 

swimmer in pool to illustrate streamline approvals

 

Few things bring a project to a grinding, if temporary, halt quite as fast as a badly-managed approval process. Streamlining the approval process can keep a project flowing smoothly from one stage to the next. To do this, it is necessary to put systems in place that allow approvers to make fast, contextually informed decisions.

 

 

 

1. Consult the right people

 

Decision authority is the first thing to streamline. Too many organisations have too many people or functions involved in the decision-making process.

This gives veto power, or the power to delay the project with unnecessary queries, to the wrong people. Some people or departments are consulted for no reason, other than that is the way things have always been done. In this way some projects are just 'delayed to death'.  Ensure that decision authority is only given to the decision-makers whose input is really necessary.

 

2. Ask the right questions

 

The successful project manager knows how and when to communicate by asking the right questions at the right time.   Project processes are rarely standalone events but crisscross each other, with many interdependencies throughout the life of a project.

 

When it comes to capital expenditure decisions, there are three vital questions to answer:

 

  • Is this proposal complete, and does it exceed the minimum hurdle rate?
  • Do we have the funds to invest in this project?
  • How attractive is this project compared to others, at this time?

 

Any queries, objections, or decision-making delays that are based on anything other than these questions are irrelevant and should not be holding up the approval process.

 

3. Implement a unified approach

Many organisations make approval decisions in silos. There is no unified system to compare one project against another. This hinders the process, as approvers try to identify the most attractive project by navigating multiple reports, spreadsheets, and databases to ascertain exactly what the updated forecasts, budgets, and return on investment is for each project are.

 

To complicate the process further, the criteria for evaluation may be either qualitative or quantitative, depending on the project goals. This can make it challenging to answer the question as to which project is most worthy, inevitably delaying the approval process. It is vital, therefore, to have a system to compare disparate projects objectively and ensure that the most appropriate project is quickly approved.  The organisations strategic goals are central to providing the contextual lens through which projects are viewed.

 

One way to streamline the approval process is to streamline the comparison process. Organisations can do this by implementing a unified capital-portfolio-management system, that tracks each project across the investment life cycle, allowing easy comparison at every stage for which approval is required.

 

4. Forecast frequently

 

The approval process is also hindered by out-of-date forecasts. Projects grow and change as they move through the project life cycle, making it important to update forecasts at every stage. To keep approvals streamlined, it is necessary to:

 

  • Make real-time data automatically available to the capital-management system
  • Allow project managers to easily and frequently update this data
  • Compile forecasts in a systematic and standardised way
  • Make forecasts easily accessible to everyone involved, to enable effective collaboration
  • Ensure that management act promptly based on these frequent, real-time forecasts

 

5. Understand what happens next

Have a clear process for what happens next with a project whether it is approved or rejected.  A project may not be sufficiently well developed to be approved.  Planning for next steps will mean work, whether on a refined version of the project, a change of scope or moving ahead on the work schedule can take place without delay.  It means that projects can be rejected with a clear framework of what needs to be done to meet the criteria for success leading to more contextually informed decisions and confident project approvals.

 

You can check out how Verto can streamline approvals in your organisations by signing up for a free 30 day trial or you can request a demo from our friendly team!


Why business cases are important to making things happen.

 

Person with book on face to denote finding writing or reading a business case difficult

 

Great things can come out of business cases.  After all, without a business case, an idea just remains an idea - a lightbulb forever floating in the ether.  We like the things that come out of business cases, the latest Apple device, a new gin, Netflix series or bypass that makes our journey to work easier but who actually likes business cases?  And why are they important to making things happen?

 

 

 

I just cant wait to write/read this business case! Said no one ever.  If you think about it, when have you ever looked forward to writing a business case or reading one?  It's probably fair to say no-one settles down to read a business case with a sense of exciting anticipation.   The trouble with business cases is that they are a bit dull.  Even for life-changing, cutting edge stuff exciting stuff.  And because they live in the world of dull, nobody really reads them.  Not really - and certainly not with passionate engagement.

 

So, why bother with a business case?

 

What's the point of putting the time, thought and effort into something that is so unenthusiastically approached and received?

Well, in a budget-conscious, results-oriented world, it is no longer enough to simply deliver what you promised. Now, you also need to be sure that what you propose justifies the investment of time and resources needed to create it.

The business case focuses on the value that a project or programme brings to an organisation. In spite of the use of the word business, it is equally applicable to non-commercial organisations, such as government entities and non-profits, where it is sometimes referred to as a ‘use case statement’.

The aim of the business case is to justify the existence of the project or programme. It should clearly demonstrate the value of the work being done and the deliverables being created. The business case is outlined during the concept phase of the project life cycle and is used to assess whether the project should go ahead.

Preparing the business case is generally the responsibility of the project manager. Often, they will have input from other experts and specialist agencies. Once the business case is approved and the project moves forward, the business case must be regularly updated to reflect any changes to the project as a whole. It is used at gateway reviews to ensure that the project is continuing to progress in a way that will deliver the required value to the organisation.

 

What does a good business case look like?

 

The business case should tell a story.  This is the story of the benefits of the idea. It puts into context the value that a project or programme will bring to the organisation.

So the narrative of the story will flow like this:

 

  • The problem or situation that led to the project being considered
  • Why the project is needed
  • What might change about the situation that could make the project unnecessary
  • An options appraisal setting forward options considered, and options chosen
  • An appraisal of the “do nothing” option – what is the scenario if no action is taken?
  • Expected results and benefits, and their value to the organisation
  • The timescale in which the benefits are expected to be delivered
  • How the project team will assess whether benefits have been realised
  • Any unavoidable dis-benefits, with justification for why they are acceptable
  • Costs and funding arrangements
  • The risks involved, and their impact on the business case

 

The Reality Check

 

Assessing whether benefits have been realised is an essential part of the business case. This is mentioned above, but it is important enough that it generally gets its own separate document, known as the benefits review plan. This should be developed by the project manager alongside the business case and should be updated as the project progresses through the project life cycle.

The benefits review plan identifies specific benefits to be measured. These are taken directly from the business case. It should also state how benefits will be measured, who will be accountable for measuring them, and what information and data will be needed by those accountable. It will also state when the benefits assessments will take place, who will carry out these reviews, and what the baseline measurements are, in order to measure improvement.

 

How it benefits the organisation

 

Every project undertaken should clearly benefit the organisation. The business case demonstrates in advance exactly why a project is being put in place and how much value the successful completion of the project will add to the organisation as a whole.

The business case encourages the project manager and team to focus on not just what they are building, but also how it will be used. It helps the organisation avoid wasted resources on projects that do not yield a justifiable amount and quality of benefits. It also allows the organisation to prioritise multiple projects, by making the immediate value of each project clear.

 

How it works

 

The business case is a guide and reference point, before, during and after a project. Before the project begins, the business case establishes and justifies the goal of the project. It puts the outcomes of the project in context, by clearly stating not just what needs to be achieved, but also why it is necessary.

During the project, the business case remains central to day-to-day project management decisions. When different options present themselves, the project manager can refer to the business case to ensure that the chosen option not only moves the project closer to the deliverables, but also closer to the real values to which those deliverables are aiming to contribute.

After the project, the business case allows for an assessment based on actual value added to the organisation. Instead of measuring success based on whether the deliverables were completed, the organisation can easily assess whether the expected benefits were delivered. If not, then why not? Perhaps benefits were not accurately estimated, or maybe the deliverables developed were the wrong ones, incomplete, or badly implemented. This allows the organisation to learn valuable lessons.

 

How the business case creates project success

 

The business case can be the guiding light that creates project success. Communicated clearly, it can keep the entire team focused not just on their tasks and deliverables, but also on how they are providing the value that is at the heart of the change they are implementing. The proper development and maintenance of the business case allows for:

  • A clear definition of the value that a project is intended to deliver
  • A way to prioritise projects and ensure that resources are used to deliver real value
  • An ongoing way to assess whether the project is worth continuing
  • A tool to facilitate decisions on when and how the project plan needs to be changed
  • A well-managed business case substantially increases the chances of a project being completed successfully, to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

 

To see what Verto can do to improve the success of your project management techniques, register for our free 30-day trial today or contact us for a demo!


10 ways project teams can leverage the power of technology

old rotary phone to show advancement of digital technology for project teams

 

Unless your company is still using typewriters and rotary phones (and in that case, you need more help than we can offer here!),  digital transformation is probably already an integral part of your project management methodologies.

Here are our top tips for leveraging the power of digital transformation in project management teams.

 

 

1. Stay calm

 

Project management is constantly evolving and even though new methods and approaches can seem initially disruptive to an established framework, the payoffs in agility and results are well worth making adjustments. Remember to use all the digital tools at your disposal to help take some of the weight off of your shoulders.  Build your digital fluency using your own learning style - whether it's being shown, attending a training course or following notes it doesn't matter as long as you are gaining incremental knowledge and confidence.

 

2. Organise for flexibility

 

The speed at which the project management life cycle moves means that keeping things simple by using the best software as a result of digital transformation is key.   The easiest teams to manage are small, collaborative and flexible - with adaptable technology supporting their agility.

 

3. Don't forget to keep it simple

 

Simplicity is the golden egg of productivity and effectiveness. You can keep things moving even faster by taking a simplified approach. Test rapid prototyping or break down complex projects into smaller, more manageable phases. Just be sure these sprints aren't too rushed, as this can mean significant defects or problems may go unnoticed until it's too late.  Work management software such as Verto helps by keeping track of multiple project variables and risks so you can confidently stay on top of a complex workload.  Whether this means you can get more personal quality time or get ahead in your field, it gives you capacity for what is important to you.

 

4. Work together

 

Keep lines of communication open, seek multiple viewpoints and encourage collaboration. This is especially important for large-scale project management concepts that span teams, departments or physical locations. It's essential for team members to stay open-minded and build up a tolerance for failure.  Cross-boundary knowledge and communication are key differentials in harnessing a critical thinking approach.  Critical thinking allows for different and innovative ways of doing things which is central to genuine transformation.

 

5. Emphasise results over process

 

Planning, budgeting, forecasting, risk assessment and all the rest are still essential to project management, but be sure to stay focused on results. Becoming a slave to 'the plan' can be a significant obstacle to reaching goals and project objectives. Don't be afraid to take advantage of the knowledge through data that work management software provides.  Pivot and adjust when necessary.

 

6. Communicate

 

Digital transformation also requires an adjustment in the way you communicate with project stakeholders. One of the biggest ways to improve here is by building tools that facilitate faster, more accurate communication in real time, such as an online community where project stakeholders can access the latest updates and information.

 

7. Make time for face time

 

Digital communication can help keep things moving and allow on-the-go face-to-face meetings with key stakeholders and your team to take place. This ease of communication and the speed at which it can happen is vital in the current digital age.

 

8. Be insightful

 

Programme management data is vital to leveraging successful project outcomes.   Quality data gives your the confidence to keep the vision on track while allowing for change in routing.   Data mining supports the early identification of problems or trends and in effect is a heads up display of what is going right, or wrong across your work programme.  Such insight bolsters effective stewardship whether at project sponsor or project manager level and enables the right decisions to be made to keep the project on track, not just the usual, obvious or expedient one.

 

9. Get stakeholders on board

 

The nature of collaborative, high-frequency delivery in digital project management means that all stakeholders have to be kept in the loop. From top executives down to the last team member, everyone should be invested and motivated to see a project succeed.  This is made easier by automated project updates, notifications and reporting which keeps the people who need to know up to speed.

 

10. Understand the benefits

 

Digital transformation has a number of benefits for project management methodologies. If things get tough, remember the advantages:

  • More flexibility
  • Greater productivity
  • Better transparency
  • Improved quality
  • Less risk of overlooked objectives
  • Increased engagement and satisfaction for stakeholders

 

The conclusion?

 

Managing projects and getting the most out of the recent digital transformation can be a complex process. By embracing agility and taking the time to focus on what's important, you can dramatically improve your chances of success.

For even more project management tips, insight, industry news and research, follow Verto Cloud on LinkedIn.


Delivering technical projects: Critical success factors

Person wears virtual reality goggles to show technical projects and visioning for success

 

What are the critical project management principles that lead to successfully delivering technical projects? Most programme managers agree that there are many keys elements to a project’s success; from getting buy-in from key stakeholders, strong support from top management, to a clearly defined project scope.

Some of the most fundamental elements of a successful project lie in getting the set up right from the start. There’s no doubt that clear communication and expectation management, the right skills, a clear vision  and a robust risk management plan are crucial for a project to remain on track.

 

 

 

Technical projects in the knowledge-economy

 

We spoke to Dr Sarah Tasker, founding Director of CAM-SCI, who shared some of her thoughts on the factors that lead to the successful completion of complex technical projects. She’s worked with many clients to develop some of the UK’s most exciting science park projects in Cambridge, Oxford, London, Manchester and Liverpool.

Dr Tasker specialises in projects that involve partnerships with universities, non-profit organisations, public-sector firms and sometimes private investors. CAM-SCI work exclusively in Knowledge Economy development, a critical part of enabling the UK to fulfil its vision to be a world leader in Innovation and Technology.

“The UK economy is increasingly reliant on wealth creation coming from Knowledge Economy development”

“The UK economy is increasingly reliant on wealth creation coming from Knowledge Economy development” Dr Tasker notes; and the reason for her company’s success is their understanding of the requirements of the sector, from specialised services to infrastructure.

The property sector has often overlooked the innovation sector where the requirement is for more flexible workspace and flexible operations - with a capacity to change according to the needs of the occupants and importantly the infrastructure around emergent sectors like the life sciences, biomedicine, cyber and ICT sectors. Keeping up to date with the trends in the market, and anticipating new trends, is critical in making sure projects are fit for purpose.

 

Managing the relationships

 

Knowledge-economy development brings together public and private sectors, non-profit organisations and the education sectors including universities.  These partnerships can lead to challenges as stakeholders often approach projects with different cultures, mindsets and different priorities.

"Creating a clearly defined vision that is supported by all parties throughout the life-time of the project is a key starting point to any successful project. "

"Creating a clearly defined vision that is supported by all parties throughout the life-time of the project is a key starting point to any successful project.  Understanding the differing priorities of clients – and helping them to understand key market drivers and critical success factors, underpins vision development.  It is important that clients from all background are confident in their vision and delivery strategy.  In a fast-changing market, working within a strong evidence-based methodology is critical in creating a best-practice approach.”

She adds that as the knowledge-economy has become more main-stream in the last two decades, there is a greater awareness that a specialist approach is required to support, develop and grow companies in the innovation, science and technology sectors. Key to this is developing an in-depth understanding of the specialism that you are delivering.

Dr Tasker has an interesting point of view on the types of skills required to deliver a project successfully. “You clearly need an experienced team with the specialist skills required to complete the project within a defined project scope.  We work with teams of highly skilled designers and technical experts to deliver our specialist infrastructure, facilities and services”. However, she notes that it is just as critical to ensure that the project stays true to its vision. This sometimes means having “the integrity to keep the project on track and fighting for its best interest even when behind the scenes politics could threaten to knock it off course. “Some of our projects are in development for a period of years.  Pro-active communications with and between client stakeholders is a crucial element of successful delivery”.

What is the appetite for risk?

 

Dr Tasker considers risk management essential for the successful delivery of a project. She feels that every project is unique, so it’s essential to conduct an evidence-based risk assessment rather than assume there is a “one-size-fits-all solution” when assessing risk.

She adds that in many cases, the reason a project fails is lack of a proper risk assessment before implementation. “When every client has a different appetite for risk, getting into the detail with our clients and understanding their attitude to risk, and how they perceive the kinds of risks that the project brings them is fundamental to the success of the project.”

"A significant risk to projects that is often overlooked, is losing the vision and project priorities over time or allowing them to become watered down to the detriment of the outcome."

 

Don't lose sight of the vision

 

A significant risk to projects that is often overlooked, is losing the vision and project priorities over time or allowing them to become watered down to the detriment of the outcome. “It sometimes takes courage to voice concerns if we feel a project is being compromised but being willing to do the right thing, not just the expedient thing, has been critical to our success.  A priority for all our projects is delivering sustainable success over the long-term – both for our clients and for the tech-companies that are our target audience.”

Cloud-based project management software can make collaboration between the project management office and stakeholders more efficient and improve project control.  Verto’s work collaboration and programme management software provides real-time programme information and gives project management teams and stakeholders their own role-based customised views.

Our cloud-based software provides dashboard status and reports as well as document storage and sharing.

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