How to manage communication and collaboration challenges  

 

Communication and collaboration are highly desirable but often badly 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. 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 

 

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. 

 

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, register for our free 14-day trial!  

 


Why visibility through reporting and notifications is essential for project success

 

Successful project management is about a lot more than sharing data. This is why specialist project management software remains so popular in spite of the availability of free file-sharing sites and basic, affordable online workspace systems. There are big differences between basic file sharing systems and the built-in functions of more advanced project management software.

One major advantage of specialised project management software is that it gives you the ability to report to project sponsors simply and easily. For those who still remember the “old days” of wading through long, dry, written reports, 21st-century technology is a huge step forward. Reporting has evolved to allow for condensed information, easy-to-assimilate visuals and notifications of important project updates that land on your phone or other mobile devices in real time.

As technology gets more complex, reporting gets less so. Software allows you to replace those lengthy reports with accessible charts, tables and other visual elements that quickly present all vital information. You can customise project management software to ensure that sponsors and other high-level stakeholders regularly get updates that matter to them and that those who require an immediate response receive it without ever having to deal with extraneous or redundant information.

The fast pace of the modern world means that it is important to prevent slowing down workflow with bloated or unnecessary processes. Trends in reporting are constantly moving toward presenting the right information to the right people at the right time. This information should make sense to non-technical staff and stakeholders, even when the information itself is technical or complex.

Verto software offers a range of reporting options aimed at keeping communications streamlined and effective. Providing comprehensive reporting from the product itself, as well as the opportunity to integrate it into third-party reporting engines, Verto opens up various choices for project managers. The software features easy-to-use reporting options that are ideal for keeping your management team up to date on events, milestones and risks without the need for detailed input from sponsors. You can also customise this software to let sponsors respond to issues when their input is necessary.

Mobile apps now allow project management teams to access an unprecedented level of flexibility. Offering on-the-go updates, requests for approvals and knowledge of risks, mobile reporting allows teams to easily collaborate on making the right decisions for their projects in a timely fashion. Customisable apps facilitate instant notifications that not only concern the project’s current stage but also the various decisions needed for the next stage. The right app can clearly present the required information for making the next logical decision on a particular project, whether it is to progress to the next stage, end the project or inject more resources for successful project completion.

The VertoGo mobile app offers immediate updates for your project management team with the additional options of notifying sponsors of changes and gaining their approval while they are on the move. VertoGo is now available for both Apple and Android devices. For more information, go to www.vertocloud.co.uk.


Forecast frequently to enable tactical shifts

 

Good project management involves frequent forecasting. While it can be useful to forecast results right at the beginning of a project’s life cycle, the true magic of forecasting is that it allows for constant readjustment throughout. Forecasting allows you and your team to stay on track by anticipating extra tasks and resources for the project plan or budget and identifying tasks and resources that may no longer be necessary.

Frequent project forecasts facilitate proactive planning and flexibility. They can allow the project manager to regularly update the business case, which can help the team members keep the project on track, and also allow sponsors and other stakeholders to understand the reasons for any delays or changes.

A key element of project forecasting is to review the risk events that have already occurred and assess the remaining risk triggers. There are always a number of unknown, and often unpredictable, variables in any project, but frequent forecasting provides the project manager with valuable knowledge that enables proactive resource management as the work progresses.

What should we forecast and how frequently?

Frequent forecasting around time, costs and quality of deliverables is vital. Each forecast will allow the project manager to update the business case so that all team members and relevant sponsors know exactly how the project is moving along. The project manager will also be able to reallocate resources and seek sponsor approval in a timely manner.

Time forecasts allow for the reallocation of resources, including team members. To accurately forecast project duration, it is necessary to monitor the activities that will impact the project completion date as well as those that influence project milestones. Modern project management software lets you log updates on the progression of these activities as often as needed for any individual project, which will depend on its nature. You may need to do this daily, weekly or as you complete each relevant task.

Cost forecasts allow the project manager to plan for an injection of more resources and seek sponsor or management approval when necessary. Most projects can benefit from employing the Earned Value Management System in order to accurately forecast ongoing project costs. Depending on resources and the complexity of the project, you can also use trend forecasting, also known as “straight-line” forecasting, to estimate future project costs, although this can be less accurate. Cost forecasting is also something that software-based systems incorporating financial data to support budgeting decisions can help with, and again, using such software lets forecasting occur on an ongoing basis and as frequently as is appropriate for the individual project.

Quality forecasts also allow for necessary adjustments to the project schedule or resources. Frequently forecasting in the area of performance and the quality of the project deliverables increases the chances that the project outcomes will match those identified at the planning stage. According to the “Rule of Tens,” the cost of correcting a technical issue increases tenfold as a project progresses from one phase to the next. This means, of course, that you must identify and correct issues around performance and quality as soon as possible. You can do this as long as forecasting around these factors happens frequently and in advance of the project moving on to a new phase.

Understanding the limitations of forecasting

A forecast is not a prediction. Even the best forecasting is still simply a projection based on current data, which is why frequent forecasting is necessary. Data is always subject to change, and forecasts need updated as new information becomes available. Decisions made based on your current forecast should always stay flexible. They are the best that you can do given your current knowledge of the situation. Remember that as soon as that knowledge expands, you have the opportunity to do better.

Frequent forecasting also narrows uncertainty as the project progresses. At the beginning of the project, you are looking a long way into the future, and your team should be prepared for the fact that early on, forecasting has a lot of limitations. As the project moves through each new phase, forecasting should become progressively more accurate. Towards the end of the project, forecasting correctly should be much easier. At this stage, there are naturally less variables, although they still may exist. The project manager or software can also use the team’s past performance to forecast future performance.

Types of forecasting

There are a few types of forecasting that you can apply to project management, and they may change throughout the project’s life cycle. Qualitative techniques can be particularly useful when data is scarce, which is typically at the beginning of a new project. These techniques may involve human judgement and rating schemes to help forecast possible outcomes.

Statistical techniques become more important when there is a lot of data to support forecasting. In project management, this might happen in the later stages of a project or when there are many comparable completed projects to draw data from. You should, however, remember that statistical techniques assume that past performance predicts future performance. While this is a reasonable assumption, it is more likely to be correct over the short term than the long term. The recent past can forecast the immediate future better than historical data can forecast the distant future, unless data patterns are very stable with few variables that can potentially impact the project.

Ultimately, frequent forecasting that uses recent and relevant data is a key element of successful project management. A responsive project manager can use forecasting to implement an ongoing series of tactical shifts that will keep projects running on time and on budget throughout their duration.

Verto’s project management software gives project management teams the ability to customise their forecasting needs to their individual projects. To find out more, register for our free 14-day trial!


5 New Years Resolutions for Project Managers

 

As we reach the end of 2018, you might be thinking of adding some career focused resolutions on to your personal goals list so here's our thoughts on 5 key resolutions project managers should be considering to make sure you start the new year in top form.

1. Communicate better - not just with your project teams but with stakeholders and project sponsors too. Make sure your project management tools actually help you to achieve this.

2. Manage expectations - focus your output on projects that have a clear written and approved scope of work, as otherwise how will you know what needs to be delivered and when? Make your time and effort count.

3. Collaborate - yes with your own team, but open up the potential to draw on knowledge and experience from a wider range of people. Build your network to develop a rich vein of insight, inspiration and interest in of your project.

4. Know your stakeholders - and make sure your team do too. If your team have a a clear understanding of who the project stakeholders are , it will help them work to and manage stakeholder expectations resulting in improved communications and understanding throughout the project.

5. Be your teams biggest champion - shout their praises from the rooftops, show them you've got their back. Appreciate and praise what went right and only offer constructive criticism when things go wrong. Be a leader by example.


To be a great leader, first be a great follower

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

 


Give your projects room to grow

 

 

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 another important factor: project maturity. Organisations at different levels of project maturity thrive when they use techniques and tools appropriate to their specific level. 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. 

 

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.  

 

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.      

 

Organisations can benefit from figuring out their current level of maturity based on the Project Management Maturity Matrix. This 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 project management software gives organisations room to grow. You can start simply with a product right out of the box and add functionality as and when required. This allows teams and organisations to mature over time as their project management software grows alongside them. To find out more, register for our free 14-day trial! 


Creating a business case for your project

Creating a business case requires time, thought and effort. In simple terms, a business case provides justification for a specific project or programme. 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”.

What is the purpose of the business case?

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 should the business case include?

While the focus of the business case is on the value that a project or programme will bring to the organisation, this must be put in context. A business case will usually include information on:

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 benefits review plan

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 a business case 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 the business case 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 14-day trial today!


5 ways to streamline approvals and make contextually informed decisions

 

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 organizations 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. Ensure that decision authority is only given to the decision-makers whose input is really necessary

 

2. Ask the right questions

 

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 system to compare disparate projects

 

Decision-makers often have to compare very different projects. 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 attractive, 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.

 

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. Develop 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.

 

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.

 

Request a demo of Verto to see how we can help you streamline approvals in your organisation!


How to Prioritise Your Tasks

 

How you prioritise tasks defines the success of any project. Prioritising correctly can make the difference between an easy-to-manage, successful, on-budget project delivered on time and a stressful, failed project delivered late and over budget. But how do you prioritise tasks? And what can trip up you and your team, even if you have the best of intentions? 

The urgency effect 

 

We’re all familiar with the idea of urgent tasks and important tasks. Urgent tasks are ones that are getting very close to their deadline, while important tasks are the ones that will contribute the most to our desired outcome. A task can be very low value but still seem urgent if we feel that we need to get it done today. Another task can be vital to the success of a project, but if the deadline is a long way off, then it is not urgent.

 

Research has shown that people consistently prioritise urgent tasks over more important tasks. This persists even if the results of completing the urgent tasks are of very little value, and even if there’s ample time to complete all the tasks, meaning that the sense of urgency is actually an illusion. Researchers call this effect “mere urgency”, where the urgency of a task distracts us from the fact that the task itself is not important.

 

We tend to do the (rare) tasks that are urgent and important first. Understandably, we also leave the tasks that are not urgent and not important until last. However, in the middle, where we have a lot of medium-priority tasks, we keep prioritising urgent tasks with a low payoff, in terms of results, over important ones with a higher payoff.

 

Managers can, with the right systems, overcome the urgency effect. It’s done by keeping team members focused on outcomes over timelines. It can help to rank each task within a project by importance so that team members can clearly see when they are faced with a very high-priority task, carrying a very important outcome, over a very low-priority task that might have a tighter deadline.

 

Realistic timelines can also help to overcome the urgency effect. People revert to prioritising based solely on urgency when they perceive themselves as being pushed for time. When they feel that they have time to complete all their tasks, they are more likely to prioritise by importance.

 

Balancingindividual and organisational priorities 

 

There is often conflict between individual priorities and organisational or project priorities. In practice, this is often a problem of too many priorities, poorly communicated. If a team receives the message that there are several different priorities, then it can lead to team members placing self-identified priorities over priorities that are actually more important to the project outcomes.

 

The top priority must be clearly identified. If you state that both cutting costs and user satisfaction are top priorities, then every time an individual has to make a decision, it will be made on their self-identified highest priority. To work as a cohesive team, every member must know which to prioritise with every single decision they make.

 

It’s also important to accept that priorities can and do change – often as a result of new issues identified by team members. Therefore, teams need a system that allows team members to communicate easily so that they can log updates, new information, or factors that may lead to a priority shift for the whole team.

 

Approach to risk will influence priorities 

 

Within any project, the leader’s approach to risk will influence the way that priorities are set. More risk-averse leadership generally means that there will be a “spread” of priorities, creating more, and less ambitious, goals and outcomes for the project. Less risk-averse leadership will have fewer priorities, but they will often be more focused and more ambitious.

 

Neither approach is wrong, but they will affect how your project is managed and completed. As we’ve already mentioned, if there are multiple priorities, then they need to be managed carefully to ensure a cohesive approach. Most importantly, there needs to be a clearly identified top priority, to guide individual decisions and help team members prioritise important tasks. Having a spread of priorities also means ensuring that all priorities are compatible – otherwise, team members are at risk of working against each other by focusing on competing priorities.

 

The hierarchy of purpose within an organisation 

 

Understanding an organisation’s hierarchy of purpose is key to understanding what factors should influence priorities. Defining the overreaching purpose of the organisation, and the strategic vision supporting that purpose, is key to setting all future priorities for the organisation, and for individual projects that the organisation implements.

 

The hierarchy of purpose is also key to eliminating priorities. If a current priority does not serve that purpose or support that vision, then it is time to make a tough choice and abandon that priority. It’s also vital to do this with individual projects. Every outcome that a project team is working towards should be aligned with the organisation’s purpose and vision.

 

Managing  priorities  within the project management team 

 

There are a few best practices to follow when managing project priorities.

 

  • Brief the entire team on project outcomes and priorities.
  • Build the organisational and project priorities into the project schedule.
  • Ensure that every team member can easily access the project schedule.
  • Use a collaborative system that allows instant updates on completed or shelved tasks.
  • Create a project backlog system, and identify tasks that are progressing well.
  • Predict and communicate incoming priority shifts.
  • Consistently keep team members focused on important tasks.

 

Much of the above can be done with good project management software. The right software can allow the project schedule to be accessed, viewed and updated by every team member. Immediate communication of when a task is completed, shelved or down-prioritised, along with a clear picture of which tasks are falling behind schedule and which are ahead of schedule, can have a major impact on managing team priorities.

 

To see what Verto can do to improve your project management techniques, register for our free trial!


Scheduling: make sure that your schedule stands up to scrutiny

 

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 the dirty little secret of project management. 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. 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 dirty little secret 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. There’s a dirty little secret that some project managers will acknowledge.

 

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. Scheduling doesn’t work, except when it does.

 

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. 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!