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Hammer and nails

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4 tips to avoid building a house without a hammer

Hammer and nails

Source: ronnieb

IT projects have the particularity of having us work with nothing ‘physical’; this opens a whole new world of advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is the illusion of not needing proper tools to manage a project.

For example, you wouldn’t go build a house without proper tools, right? It wouldn’t even be possible. Unfortunately, its possible to manage projects without tools (result being debatable of course), so people go straight into it before they prepare. No matter if you managed to finish a couple of projects without so much pain, here are a couple of tips to prepare yourself before you tackle bigger projects:

1. Find a proper PM tool

A project management tool should be useful to do the following:

  • Track project information;
  • Create your project’s schedule;
  • Help communication between team members.

A ‘proper’ tool is one that can be useful to you, and saves time more than you spend trying to figure out how it works. Out of the many PM tools out there, find one that fits your needs, and avoid using one just because it has every possible functionality, it will add noise and adds a steeper learning curve, but will not necessarily be more useful.

2. Prepare document templates

Documents are used all the time in project management; they have to bring value to your project management, and have to complement your PM tool. Here are various examples of documents that can (and should) be used:

  • Estimate document;
  • SOW (state of work);
  • Meeting agenda;
  • Lessons learned;
  • Reports;
  • etc.

Again, these are but a few examples that should complement your PM tool that may take care of Risk management for example, meaning you wouldn’t need a risk register document. Same goes for many other documents that may be useful for your project.

3. Continuous improvement

The key to have great tools is not just creating/finding them and hoping everything will be perfect after that. Make sure you fine-tune your documents or how you use your tools every chance you get. It could be a simple improvement like adding a column in your Excel used to estimate projects, to completely changing how the team manages it’s tasks with the PM tool to make it clearer for everyone.

A good trick is to always have your templates ready to be opened so that when you have an idea or a project requires something your template didn’t have, you will be more tempted to update it as you go.

4. Emails are not a PM tool

Emails should be used for quick communication; to asking a couple of simple questions, to giving a quick update to a stakeholder. Unfortunately, since people lack proper tools to manage their projects, emails become the PM tool, meaning that all the project’s documentation becomes scattered inside hundreds of mails that are hopefully at least stored in a folder with the project’s name (if not all mixed in the inbox…).

This opens the door to:

  • losing information;
  • wasting valuable time looking for information;
  • A larger quantity of mails that drastically reduce people’s efficiency, not to mention that more people tend to be included in those mails, meaning that the negative effect is spread to more people.

In conclusion

Managing projects can be tough as it is, so why make it harder by not preparing? Get rid of the illusion that everything can be done easily without proper tools just because you are not working with physical elements.

Do you have any more tips to share? Or maybe a story? Share!

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5 tips to handoff your project to someone else

Leaving on vacation and need someone to take care of your project? Want to make sure you come back and it’s not wrecked?

It all begins with how you handoff your project; the more you guide your colleague properly, the higher the chance he has of properly maintaining that project.

1. Quality over quantity

If you swarm your colleague with 50 pages of document about EVERYTHING, chances are he will be lost more than useful, or he will take control of your project very slowly, which will affect your project. Don’t forget, he as to pickup an ongoing project in one day, something which you may have gradually learned/planned in 1-2 months.

Guide your colleague with easy “next-step” lists. If documents must be read, guide him towards specific parts of documents, or even better, create a cheat sheet of those documents. For example: “read page 2 and 6 of document X right away”.

In this context, by quality, I also mean accuracy. Guiding your colleague towards a document that’s not updated will result in your colleague not trusting (so not reading) available documents. Or worst, he will read them, and manage your project with outdated information, which could damage your project. So make sure you update documents, or tell your colleague not to read them, and give him the needed information instead.


  • Your colleague picks up your project faster;
  • Less “training” time occurs on your project’s budget;
  • Fewer errors;
  • Sentiment of trust/control from your colleague;
  • Overall team stress/moral will be in a better place.

2. Transfer your ‘radar’

In this context, by ‘radar’, I mean, what you know to pay attention to. They may be details, but details that will make a difference in the outcome of your project. For example, it could be a colleague in the team that is always late. It could be a deliverable that has a very important element to verify before sending to client because it was requested as something very important. It could be anything, but it’s probably not written anywhere, or if so, it’s information hard to find.

Even if the information is found or transferred, if it’s not made clear that it must be in your colleague’s radar, then he might not think that it’s as important as it really is.

For example: “Before sending document Y, make sure to verify Jim’s text, he always makes horrible typos and the client hates that regardless of the quality of the document’s content.”.


  • Everything you thought was important will be checked just as if you were there;
  • Reduces chances of errors.

3. Clarify expectations

During transitions, there is nothing worst then unclear expectations which results in one person thinking the other will do it while the other thinks the same thing. The result is that no work gets done.

During the transition, chances are the team will communicate to both to make sure the message gets across, by mail for example. For each of those messages, it’s important that you tell your colleague if you’re taking care of it or if you’re trusting your colleague to do it. That way, expectations are clear, and if your colleague doesn’t feel comfortable to take care of the request, he can communicate so, and you can help him in doing so.

Expectations towards the team is important too, as I mentioned, they will probably communicate to both, or even only to you, so it’s important that the team knows they need to communicate to your colleague directly.


  • No request will be left unattended;
  • Information will be sent to your colleague and not to you only;

4. Follow-up

Project management can be hard as it is, and no matter what we think, it’s harder when it’s a project handed off to us rather than one we are in control since the beginning. Therefore, it’s important to do a couple of follow-ups if you know a milestone is coming or something specific must be done.

For example: “We’re suppose to be sending document Z tomorrow, was it verified today? Let me know if you need help”.


  • That follow-up may grab something that was going to be forgotten;
  • Your colleague will appreciate the backup;
  • This can prevent the feeling of projects being “thrown” to your colleague’s face rather than handed off.

5. Be available

Questions will come, and it’s good that you stay available to answer those questions or even help your colleague in the transition. Depending of circumstances or project, it may be good to be available for 1-2 weeks.

In conclusion

Handing off projects to other project managers is not easy, and our initial reaction is to “get rid of it”. Put yourself in your colleague’s shoes, and do it the way you would want it done to you. Your colleague will appreciate it, and the project will not suffer during the transition.

Let me know if you have more tips in the matter! Or you may want to share stories of how you were handed a project.