90 Percent

Project management, productivity, change management, and more!

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Use the “Hit by a bus syndrome” to your advantage

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Source: xololounge

Hit by a bus syndrome” refers to the fact that it is possible, anytime, any day, that a certain resource may not be able to fulfill their role within their company whether it’s temporary or permanent. In other words, your team member might get hit by a bus during lunch while getting food.

It’s a figure of speech obviously, but we can use other more probable examples such as an employee leaving the company (permanent) or a team member getting injured and must take a 2 week leave (temporary).

The idea here is to have a backup plan if something like this happens and prevent more trouble when that particular event occurs.

Backup plan for team members

A great exercise is to simulate what would happen if each team member would suddenly be unavailable. You can try it: list all your team members, and one-by-one, list negative effects that would have on projects or even on the company.

Depending of each person’s role, the impact might be larger, and if your time is limited or the team is large, you may want to concentrate on those resources for now, but it’s better to do it for everyone.

Now that you see the impact, you identify what would need to “fix” this. That way, you can easily identify what could be done right away to make sure you are ready.

For example: If your senior programmer is suddenly unavailable, two major projects would be delivered late and will cause severe damage to the company’s reputation towards those important clients. The solutions might be: always have 2 team members amongst the team that can execute each task, or, have a list of outside resources (freelancers or agencies) your can contact to help you out. Meanwhile, you search for a new senior developer.

Either way, when the event occurs, you know exactly what to do, and do not waste precious time.

Backup plan for material

I doubt that a bus will destroy a whole building, but for example, let’s use a fire. It’s extreme, but it will give you a good idea of the importance of this way of thinking.

The whole building catches fire, the whole team evacuates, everyone is alright, but all the material is lost. What do you do? You have no idea? All backups are made internally so absolutely no data can be recovered?

You get the point.

Although less probable, events like these happen, and it’s a good idea to list the most probable of the bunch and have a backup plan or mitigation plan. For example, have backups made of all your company’s data outside the company’s building; other companies offer that service, and their monthly rate is far cheaper than having to rebuild everything.

In conclusion

Nobody wishes anything bad to anyone or anything, but these things happen, avoid assuming that it will never happen. Last tip: Do not overdo it (do not have a plan for the end of the world…), use your best judgement!

Also, note that this applies outside of work too.

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7 tips when estimating a project

Estimating a project is a very important part of your project, and can often be taken lightly. Truth is, if you avoid having good estimates, you will likely have a hard time staying on budget, and during your project (or after), it may be hard to analyze why you are outside your budget.

There are some key tips that can help you with that:

1. List what is being estimated

Seems obvious at first glance, but bear with me. Listing what is being estimated is more than simply writing: Programming = 40h. If you review your estimate 6 months later, you will have absolutely no idea what was included inside that 40h.

It is important to list each specific item of your project (home page, contact form, shopping cart, login,etc.).

How detailed must you go? Detailed enough for you to be able to understand it in 6 months, but also, detailed enough to be able to estimate each item easily. It will be more accurate to estimate separately “Contact form, Google maps, description of each team members” than just “Contact page“.

It will also become very useful when you are managing changes inside your project because it will be clear what was included in your estimate.

2. Estimate hours depending of type of resource

Once your items are listed, you must make sure you estimate the resources needed separately. Here I mean people, although expenses should be separated too. For example, avoid something like this: Home page: 40h.

Make sure you can plan your different resources during your project. It would be wiser to separate like this: Home page: Design 15h, Front-end 15h, Back-end 10h.

3. Include the accuracy of the estimate

This one is important and can actually save you some trouble in the future. An estimate can be accurate or it can be a general idea. It is important that your estimate includes that information.

For example, someone could ask you for a quick estimate and you tell them around 30K. There is a chance that this amount will become your final budget. When the project starts, you will estimate more in detail and may have to flag that the budget makes more or less sense, and that’s when you will be told that it came from your estimate, and now it is too late. Sounds familiar?

Include the accuracy in your estimate, if it was a quick estimate to give your colleague an idea, then 50%-75% might be the range of the estimate, and instead of simply 30K, you will tell your colleague 15-45K. A more accurate estimate might have a 5-10% range instead.

4. Include assumptions

An assumption is considered a “fact” at the time it’s being identified. Thus, it justifies the estimate of the particular item and it’s important to include it.

For example, if you estimate a registration form, you assume there will be 12-15 fields. Generally those assumptions should also be listed in your company’s offer to the client so you can control scope easily if the form ends up with 30 fields.

Remember that you may review this later in your projects, you want to make sure what was estimated is clear.

5. Do not forget time for project management

You wouldn’t dare forget that right? 🙂

Generally, it’s calculated using a percentage of the rest of the estimate. It could range around 10-20% or higher depending of type of client, type of project, type of team, etc. You may also want to list all project management tasks, and estimate each of them separately if you prefer. However, it will take more time, and I doubt you know exactly how much time you are going to “talk” during the project.

If you use a percentage, it is important to take outsourcing into consideration. If you estimate 200h of work and 20 000$ of outsourcing for development, you want to make sure you include time to manage the external resources too and not only add 20% to the 200h.

Note that depending of the company’s maturity towards project management, they may challenge the time estimated for project management. In other words, it may not be understood. If that is your case, then listing/estimating each task separately may be a good idea to explain your point of view.

6. Plan a buffer

If you are lucky, you may be able to include a small budget for unexpected events, or small changes, or errors, etc. If so, a 5-10% percentage could be applied to your overall estimate.

If it is a small simple project, then a buffer may not be justified, you want to avoid costing too much too.

7. Plan risks

This applies to project that have a large risk potential. You may have to manage closely the risks, create prototypes, or execute any other mitigation plans.

If that is the case, having a budget to manage/execute all this can easily be justified and should be included.

Note that it should be avoided for standard projects that show no real risks, or where your buffer could do the job.


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4 tips to help you face tight deadlines

Tight deadlines are part of many projects, but some deadlines are harder then others, here is how you can maximize your chances of making sure you have a satisfied client:

1. Make sure the official date is the right one

Tight schedules are often linked to events or media blast they cannot be pushed away and a certain product must be ready before it.

Be careful when identifying the real last day that your team has to finish the work. You may have been given February 15th for the event, but maybe it must be ready 2 days before the event.

Be 100% certain of the deadline.

2. Prioritize

When a lot of work is due in a small amount of time, we tend to work on anything we can get our hands into so we can finish as much work as possible as quickly as possible.

The problem is, the work we do in those conditions may not be the most important, and you may simply not have time to finish everything whether you want to or not.

Make sure tasks are prioritized and tagged as either ‘Must have’ and ‘Nice to have’.

A very important task may not be all that urgent for the deadline and could wait while other tasks must be done, no questions asked.

3. Phase the scope

Most often, the client will agree to phase the project, meaning that it will only be partly available for the tight deadline, and can be updated later on.

Reducing the scope means less work, which obviously makes it easier to meet the deadline.

It is important to consider #2 above when phasing a project.

4. Schedule compression techniques

If your schedule or resources available offer you some kind of flexibility, you can:

  1. Crash the project: Don’t worry, it does not mean to destroy it! It means adding more resources to particular tasks so they can finish sooner. Note that this may add hours to your estimates: a task done in 30h by one resource will not be done in 15h if we add a second resource, so be careful.
  2. Fast tracking: Ideally, certain tasks need to wait for other tasks to be finished before we start them. Sometimes, we can start those tasks a little sooner, meaning that at some point, both tasks will be executed at the same time. For example, although not all the design is done, HTML development can be started. Note that this adds risk: the design may require major changes near the end which affects what was already done, that may mean that the development that was started earlier may have to redo a part of the work.

With tight deadlines, keep calm, and do your best!

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3 reasons ‘clear’ is better

Fog

Source: pedrojperez

As project managers, it is said that 90% of our time we communicate. Throughout that communication, it is important to make sure everything is clear for everyone, and that nothing is left out.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Motivates

Have you even been asked to do something and wondered why you were doing it? Not knowing why you are doing something can become a very bad demotivator and may affect your efficiency, and the result of your work.

That goes for your team too. Imagine this lack of motivation spread across a whole team of people working on your projects. It can be disastrous for your project so you must make sure the goals/objectives are clear for everyone, not just half of the team.

You may even receive valuable ideas from your colleagues!

Note that extended work conditions where you do not know why you do what you do may result in quitting the job; you wouldn’t want to lose a valuable resource for a lack of clarify.

2. Prevents surprises / scope creep

This goes for your team and for your clients.

Towards your team, unclear communication can prevent unnecessary work (or rework) due to a misinterpretation of a conversation or an email. A simple word could give an entire different description to a functionality.

As for clients, unclear communication or documentation can leave them interpreting the scope or functionality. Then what happens? Scope creep! If everything is clear right from the start, then this is prevented.

3. Creates better notes and documention

Taking notes is a must in IT projects, there is so much information going around, and the pace of the domain is fast and never-ending, you must take notes.

However, what happens generally? You take quick notes that you understand while writing, but when you look at those notes a week later, you cannot understand half of it.

We have a tendency to write notes that we understand now, but we must take notes that everyone can understand anytime.

It may require to take some more time when noting, or to review/complete our notes right after a meeting, but by doing so, we will save precious time later, either for us or for a colleague.

In conclusion

Take the extra time to clarify how you communicate, whether it’s while talking, while emailing or while documenting, it is important to be clear for everyone, not just for you.

Have you ever worked on a project that wasn’t clear? How did you react to it?

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Can’t change bad habits? Change the environment

construction

Source: Alvimann

How hard is it change our bad habits or our team’s ? We try and try, and get more and more discouraged when it simply doesn’t work.

A habit takes about 21 days to become a routine, meaning you must find a way to prevent that bad habit for at least 21 days and then it should become routine to do it (or not do it).

Let the environment prevent that bad habit

You want to stop eating a bag full of chips in the evening? Well, you can’t eat those chips if you don’t buy them, right? So instead of buying them and try not to eat them, don’t buy them. When your craving comes at night and you simply MUST east those chips, you won’t be able to.

How can it apply to your team while in the middle of a project? Here are some examples below:

  • People do not enter their time: Most people will simply forget, so telling them again and again is useless. Make the environment remind them, either with desktop shortcuts they can’t miss, an Outlook reminder that will pop at the end of the day. Another solution is using desktop applications that count your time and connect to your project management system.
  • Project documents are being ignored: For websites, we put a lot of effort to make sure users find their information within seconds because of how people scan pages, and how they leave if they don’t find what they are looking for. Then why when it comes to your team would you have 200 documents, each with pages and pages of information? Make information easy to find, and make it easy to read.
  • Some colleagues are always gold plating projects: What if they don’t have time to gold plate? Give tighter deadlines for your deliverables, they will concentrate on what must be done instead of adding features they shouldn’t. Stay realistic of course.

Now obviously those are but a few examples taken out of context, you have to analyze your environment and the people in it, and find the right solutions. Some are easy, some are harder. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Ask for help: Your colleagues can help you identify solutions to prevent their own bad habits.
  • Ask ‘why?’: Not everyone will be able to answer why they do what they do (or don’t do), but if your colleagues can, it will help you to identify solutions.

Do you have an example of a habit you changed using the environment ?