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Project management trend: Collaboration

Trends-2014

Source: Efi

There are several trends in project management that will only get stronger in 2014 (resource management, distributed teams, cloud, agile, etc.), but one that I particularly thrive to bring forward is ‘collaboration‘.

All trends are important, but this one is my personal top priority, as it affects the whole team’s synergy, and a project manager doesn’t get anything done without its team.

More and more tools are available to help teams collaborate by making project information available to everyone, and adding options that simplify communication. For me, this is more than just about the tools, it’s about the team itself and how they work.

Working together rather than in silos

Typically, everyone works in their corners, and when their part is done, they would give it to the next one who would then do their part, and so on. Collaboration is about everyone being “together in this”, and working together while one part is being done. This means that the team is updated with the status as it goes, and are able to participate in each step to share their opinions pro-actively rather than at the last-minute when they receive the done work.

A typical example, is when design is approved, and only than can the tech team flag that half of it cannot be done but by now, it’s too late! Collaboration means involving the others while design is being done so this does not occur. Collaboration tools ease this by helping everyone to communicate and keep track of comments, discussions, and decisions.

This brings teamwork to a whole new level, which is important for the sanity of any project. But all this extra communication needs to be managed by the project manager, who can only go so far with mails, and Word documents scattered on the agency’s network; these tools help the project manager do this, and lets the team communicate amongst themselves rather than putting everything on the PM’s shoulders.

Bigger sense of involvement

As team members are more and more collaborating through every step of a project, it gives everyone a bigger sense of involvement and commitment. This adds motivation to get the work done, and done properly. It also helps everyone feel part of the team, which improves teamwork and moral.

All this reflects positively on the projects.

Live updates

All that communication can add delays to your project, but not anymore; everyone can be updated live on every step. Whether it’s an updated schedule, or a new decision taken concerning the design, no one has to find out ‘by chance’ that they’ll need to deliver something next Monday.

All those updates can also be communicated and tracked easily without having 150 more mails in the inbox.

Sharing of files

Simple yet useful, files are being shared all the time, especially if you want the others to have a look at the work being done. Sometimes, it can hard to find the right files at the right moment, and it gets worst as the project progresses because more files will be available, and more version of each files.

This creates confusion and frustration in a team. Great online collaboration tools will make sure files are categorized, versioned, tagged, and in the end, easy to find. Sharing files and receiving feedback can become easy, and help out the team all the way to the end.

Everyone can pitch in

As everyone is involved more and more, the whole team can pitch in improving how it works. This is where it can get very interesting; everyone can improve their communication, their work, their habits simply by discussing and gathering feedback.

Continuous improvement is always important, and a must in a competitive environment where everything becomes bigger except budgets & schedules.

In conclusion

Collaboration is very important and tools are making it easier and easier. Teams must embrace this and work tighter together more than ever, there is no more excuses!

What is your favorite trend coming up in the future? Share!

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!

Rusted wheel


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4 ways processes can prevent efficiency

Rusted wheel

Source: dhester

When working in teams, especially as the team is bigger, processes are what guides everyone, and helps everyone work together towards the same goal.

But have you ever felt as if the processes in place seem to add complexity rather than help? Here are some ways this might happen:

Who does what

Processes is not only what should be done, but by who, and sometimes, that’s just no clear enough, which creates expectations that are not met, therefore confusion, frustration, and conflicts rises from this.

In a struggle to get this clear, sometimes so much detailed/granular instructions will be given at the same time that people will get lost or confused in it.

Billable VS Non-billable hours

Tracking productivity by calculating & monitoring how any hours each spend on projects VS hours spent on internal tasks is important to make sure people are working on what brings in the money.

Non-billable hours include anything that’s not going to get a bill out of the door, meaning amongst other things: working on tools, template, processes, or any other ‘internal’ work. This is as still very important work since it affects all the work that’s going to be considered ‘billable’.

If no importance is given to those non-billable hours, then everyone will avoid to contribute on any of the above elements, and nothing will get fixed or improved.

Another negative effect this can have is how people enter their time; since non-billable hours have no value, people who need to work on internal stuff will be reluctant to do so, or even worse, they will enter their time in projects so that they seem to work on billable tasks. This adds a whole level of lying and deceiving that you want to avoid.

Tools

Sometimes it will be part of processes to use specific tools, whether it’s because of reporting, or more typically, because ‘people are used to it’. These tools are not always the best, and when forced to use them, will only slow people down, reduce motivation, and even completely prevent some to do their job.

Inappropriate for certain projects

Big chain of processes can be great and even absolutely necessary for big projects, or projects with typical deliverables. However, when you are tackling smaller projects, or retainers, well then processes should be adapted. You don’t want to spend your whole budget on internal processes and have nothing left to do the work!

Pointing


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5 tips to delegate appropriately

Delegating is a skill that can be a very important part of your role, or it can simply be useful when you need help. Regardless, there is different ways to do it, and here are some tips to do it right:

1. Give a heads up

Depending of the environment where you work, people may be busy on a regular basis. They plan their time, and commit to deliveries all the time according to the tasks they have. If you do not give a prior notice, and delegate at the last-minute, they may not be as capable of committing to your request, or they may have to break other commitments.

Let them know before that you will have a request for them, and give them a high level idea of the request or time required so they can add this to their list of tasks.

2. Avoid barking orders

Delegating may very well be expected of you because of your role, or it might be because you need help. No matter the reason, respecting your colleague by asking them nicely is simple, and makes all the difference in the world for your colleague’s moral. A higher moral will raise motivation which also raises chances that your request is done properly in time.

So instead of “Do this!”, how about a “Could you please do this?”. And no reason not to add a smile on top of that 🙂

3. Explain why it should be done

There is nothing that de-motivates more than not knowing why you are doing something. You question the request, you complain about it, you slow down or switch to another task, and it will probably not get done properly.

When you send someone a request, how about a simple explanation of why it needs to be done, and why it’s urgent, or important!

If you send your request saying it may be a good chance to obtain a new contract with a client, they will take it more seriously than just sending them “Do this report”.

4. Give clear expectations

This is important in all the communication you have at work, but when delegating, if you want to raise chances of receiving what you need, then it is important that your expectations are clear. If your colleague is guessing what needs to be done, chances are you will not receive what you needed.

For example, if you ask for a “maintenance report” for the client, well you may receive an Excel spreadsheet with hours per role (designer, developer, etc.). However, it’s not what you wanted to send, you wanted to send a PDF file listing tasks with hours spent for each. Well, simply state it, it doesn’t take much more time to tell, and will prevent wasted time from your colleague, and even yours.

5. Give a due date

Give a measurable due date, is it in 3 hours? Is it for tomorrow end of morning or tomorrow first thing in the morning?

By the way, ASAP is not a due date! Everything should be done ASAP, it’s like saying everything is ‘high priority’ which means that nothing is high priority.

If you don’t give due dates, don’t expect to have it done exactly when you need it. Furthermore, the team will have a hard time prioritizing all their tasks and confusion may rise.

In conclusion

If you delegate properly, you raise the chance of receiving what you need, so there is no excuse not to do it, and people will respect you for doing it properly.

Do you have any more tips to share?


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1 great tip to maximize email efficiency with your tools

As many know, emails make people unproductive. So what happens? When people use online tools that have notifications functionalities, they either ignore all the mails they receive, or they deactivate everything.

Although it is great in the sense that they don’t want to be encumbered by mails, they cannot use the online tool to their full potential. So what to do?

Use “rules”

Your mail manager (GMail, Outlook, etc.) can organize those mails for you. Once your rules are set up, it’ll be a great help. So here’s what you need to do:

  • Identify what’s important to receive: It is important to know what you do want to receive. For example, you may want to receive team comments/messages, and any tasks set to “complete”;
  • Have your tool send you initial mails: You want to identify the keywords that you will use for your rules, so have your tool receive each mail you identified above;
  • Prepare mail folders: You want to separate those mails according to what they will require of you. For example, “task complete” mails may need to be verified, so having them put aside in a “To verify” folder will make going through them very easy.Also, if you are using a tool like Outlook, you will be able to set folder properties so that it displays the number of mails it contains rather than unread mails, that way you can quickly see how many mails are there and not forget some you may have read;
  • Set your rules: Set each appropriate rule so that each type of mails are put aside in appropriate folders;
  • Clean up the folder: Make sure once the mail is not useful anymore (you verified the task, you read the comment, etc.), delete the mail as any information may (or should) be easily found inside your tool, so no need to pile up mails.

In conclusion

Rules are underrated, and they become very valuable when they team up with your tools, so try different rules, and adjust them or your folders as you go forward.

Teamwork


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Is collaboration important for PM tools of today?

I am certain that each domain of work have their different say on this, which I’m still curious to find out about from others, but this article is going to be from an IT point of view.

So is collaboration important for tools of today? YES!

First, let’s make sure everyone is one the same page: by ‘collaboration’, I’m not talking about having a chat available so we can ‘talk’, I’m talking about everyday tools like what is used for managing projects. Collaboration is not only to share messages, but sharing everything about the project (information, dates, etc.), and being able to all work with the same elements.

So now, why is it important?

Saves time

If everyone is using the same tool together, than nobody creates their own individual version, which duplicates information, adds to confusion, and wastes time.

When the information is updated, appropriate people are notified and everyone can quickly see what was updated, rather than having to email or go talk to everyone each time something comes up.

Improves teamwork

When working in teams, collaboration is important, otherwise there is no “team”. The more collaboration possible, to closer & efficient the team will be. Imagine if everyone is aware of project updates and can easily refer back to anything, and can contribute on top of it.

This becomes even more essential when the team is bigger, as more people can contribute.

Everyone can contribute to improve

If everyone collaborates using the same tools, than everyone will have their own opinion. This means that valuable feedback can be gathered in order to improve the tools, or how they are used.

This can greatly optimize/fine tune how the team works together.

One (or few) places where information is stored

If people use the same tools, that means that the information will be less scattered. The result is that there is less confusion, less time wasted looking for information, and less information lost. Furthermore, if there are team members that are switched, previous information is not lost, and new team members can refer back to the team’s tools to catch on.

In conclusion

Collaboration in tools is highly underestimated. Sending a massive amount of mails or spending days in meetings does not compare to having efficient & collaborative tools that the whole team uses and trusts.

What do you think about collaboration with tools used today?

Work


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5 tips to reduce your workload

Work

Source: Aron123

If you read my previous article “5 signs your workload is too much“, and you recognized yourself while reading, then maybe these little tips will help you:

1. Delegate/Ask for help

Depending of your role within a team, you may or may not be able to delegate, but asking for help can do the trick. We often feel bad about asking for help, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

What’s important to remember from this tip is that chances are, you are not alone, and others can make your life easier.

2. Say no

It’s important to know when to say “no”, find out more by reading my previous article: Learn to say ‘no’

3. Negotiate delivery dates

Most of the time, people will ask for something at the last-minute, so they will feel stressed, and will try to ‘force’ a task to you. It may be justified, and it may be very important, so use your judgement, but keep in mind that it’s absolutely alright to propose an alternate time to have the work done.

Other circumstances will be that people will want to make sure to receive something before a specific date, so they will shortened the delay when asking you to do it. Again, it’s perfectly alright to propose to have it done later.

4. Track time, estimate task time, plan consequently

Sometimes, you think you have more time than you actually have, which is why you may tend to accept too much work. What can be useful, even if at first it may seem like adding more work to your plate, is to start paying attention to the time you spend on tasks, and plan your days accordingly.

Depending of your role, or your work environment, you may encounter lots or surprises or be disturbed, so always plan to have some free time, it’ll probably fill itself up. In a previous job, I used to leave half my day free because I was getting disturbed so much. It may seem horrible at first (and it was) but it made me realize the very little time I had left each day to do my work, and I was able to plan accordingly.

5. Change job

This is the last resort, but maybe where you work just isn’t right for you, or they are overworking you. It happens, and people even become sick. The more you wait, the harder it will be to change.

In conclusion

If your workload is too much, you will feel stressed or tired, you will become less productive, work will pile up even more, and you will spiral down into a vicious cycle. Be careful, take care of yourself!

Ever lived a very tough moment? Share!