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Cloud Computing Helps Project Management

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Projects act as catalysts that play a vital role in building "a better tomorrow." But without a sophisticated project management platform, it's difficult to be successful.

A project management platform includes policies, procedures, standards, guidelines, integrated project management processes, tools, techniques, templates, project assets library, best practices, learning assets, lessons learned or next practices.

Many micro and small organizations, governments or those in emerging economies frequently don't have the enough money to invest on sophisticated information technology in building and maintaining a project management platform of their own.

This major divide in the profession could be reduced through cloud computing -- providing businesses, governments and individuals with access to a reliable project management platform over internet at an affordable price as per usage (on rental basis). This is called Project Management Cloud (PM Cloud).

Following are a few indicative PM clouds:

• Engineering & Construction PM Cloud
• Information Technology PM Cloud
• Research & Development PM Cloud
• Government PM Cloud
• Education PM Cloud

Those using cloud computing can avoid not only major capital investments, but also the ongoing complexity of managing the technology challenges.

When project management clouds (PM Clouds) are available at an affordable price, as and when needed, they can impact project management in the following ways:

• Provides leapfrog opportunities to emerging economies and small enterprises able to compete globally by leveraging "best-in-class" PM clouds

• Fosters innovation as companies leverage more affordable PM cloud options to experiment

• Minimizes the divide between small and large enterprises. Provides equal opportunities as project management clouds become available at an affordable price

• Allows for global collaboration with project talent around the world

• Facilitates global and interactive learning at an affordable price

We're still in the nascent stage of providing sophisticated integrated project management platforms in the cloud, but eventually, cloud computing will impact the way the project management is done in the future.

How do you think cloud computing is impacting project management?

Use Project Management Tools in the Right Context

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Recently I came across an ad for a project management technology application. It was a picture of seven robots in a group, which symbolized humans. The slogan read, "If your team looked like this, any PPM solution would work."

It made me wonder how many organizations actually believe that technology applications do the work and produce results -- not humans.

How many organizations and project managers sufficiently analyze their project needs and the compatibility of new technology to their organizations' existing set-up and processes?

Companies often buy expensive project management applications and then force teams to conform and adapt to the application rather than customize the application to the needs of the people and project.

But buying applications because other organizations use them does not by default mean you, too, will become a leader.

Like with best practices, experience has taught me that technology and tools are valuable -- but only if they fill gaps and needs effectively.

Technology is important and can increase efficiency, but in the correct setting and context. Projects are planned and executed by people -- therefore technology must complement and be understood by the humans who use it.

Before investing in new project management applications, you must consider things like training, costs and your team members' willingness to use the tools. Otherwise it could amount to an expensive burden.

What experiences can you share of failing to engage stakeholders before investing in technology?

What factors should be considered before investing in new applications?

What Do You Look for in a Collaboration Tool?

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With so many project management collaboration tools out there, what is a useful, intuitive and inexpensive tool to use? It all depends on what you look for in a tool.

I look for the ability to assign tasks to team members or teams. I also like to be able to add notes and collaborate with team members through the tool, specific to the tasks they're assigned or the work they are doing. These capabilities cut through many unnecessary meetings and allow you to see real-time progress of the assigned work.

I use a web-based software called IntervalsTM. I create my projects and tasks, and then add my team to the projects and assign each of them their respective tasks. While I may create an MS Project-based project plan, I would use Intervals to manage the actual tasks, time and budget.

It's also a great tool for assessing how much time various tasks take and getting a more accurate measure of the time spent on the tasks. This tool has built-in timers for each task and general timers that make it easy to track your time.

Timesheet management is quite easy as well. I get my team to submit the hours they spent on a regular basis. At the end of the week, they submit their timesheet, which I either approve or reject -- it all happens online.

Another great feature is the executive role, which allows an executive or sponsor to see the latest progress on a project without having to be involved in any other details. The progress can be seen at any time online, by anyone provided such access.

What are your favorite collaboration tools? Are there any tools you use that achieve all these abilities?

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

Tracking Burn-down Progress

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Agile teams often rely on burn-down charts to show how much work remains in each two-week sprint. The starting point represents the total work to be done and ends at zero when it's finished. There's no detailed plan of how much work is done each day -- teams just draw a line from start to finish.
 
But two problems can arise:

1. Teams get used to collecting data, but forget to interpret and take action on it.
 
2. Executives may look at the graph and become concerned if the actual numbers don't track precisely to the projected line.

So how do you know when to be concerned versus when the numbers are varying normally? An average of 20 percent variance is a good rule of thumb. Anything less is a false alarm. Anything more demands attention.

Here are some models I've created of possible scenarios, but in reality, progress is more of a wandering curve. The vertical axis shows how many hours are left and the horizontal axis shows how many days are left. The straight blue line represents the planned amount of work left each day in hours, while the red line shows the actual hours left.

Case 1: Under the line
The team consistently finished more work than expected. Does this represent an error in estimation or natural variance in the system?

Case1.jpg
 
Case 2: Above the line -- but okay
The team is running behind, but is close enough that it will still complete the work for the iteration.
Case2.jpg

Case 3: Above the line -- in trouble
The team is so far behind, it must stop and take action to address the problems or re-plan the work. This progress line is a powerful warning signal.

Case3.jpg

How do you use burn-down charts?

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with — or even disagree with — leave a comment.

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