Know What You’re Getting Into Before the Project Starts

know what youre getting into before the project startsSometimes the scariest part of the project is what you don’t know. We can be warned about all the potential risks, issues, technology roadblocks, end user concerns and customer concerns, but those unknowns that loom concerning the environments we are entering into can often be the most problematic and are not for the faint of heart. Project managers…prepare to enter the cave of darkness…or start asking questions fast so you aren’t caught off guard by cultural, social, political and physical environment issues concerning your project customer. You certainly can’t control all of them – or even most of them – and you certainly can’t prepare for everything, but you can work hard at being aware and keeping your team aware before you jump headfirst into the project.

Virtually all projects are planned and implemented in a social, economic, and environmental context, and have intended and unintended positive and/or negative impacts. The project team – starting at the top with the project manager – should always consider the project in its cultural, social, international, political, and physical environmental contexts. Perception of the project from these standpoints will help the team prepare for issues, plan for risks, and better understand that factors at work around, and possible even against, your project.

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Managing Project Risks and Issues

managing project risks and issuesIssues and risks…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can manage a project without either of these creeping up on us? But the reality is they can…and they do. Both of them, in fact, show up on every project we manage, and we need to have a process in place to identify, recognize, document, track and report on these throughout the project engagement or our project will be filled with fires that we continue to fight week in and week out. The tracking and management of these two critical entities on your projects is an absolute must when you’re trying to ensure the long-term satisfaction of your customer. And it’s also something that we often easily overlook – or at least we don’t do a very good job at it.

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Defining Resource Work Calendars

Managing the calendar of a project can be pivotal in ensuring the project occurs as close to the schedule as possible.  When working with calendars we can define how each day will function and even account for individual exceptions throughout the project, such as holidays or delays.  When working with resources on our projects it is often crucial to account for their individual calendars.  Resources may have periods of non-work throughout the schedule that vary from the overall calendar or you may want a resource to follow an entirely separate calendar than the rest of the project.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can easily define unique exceptions for every resource in our project or assign them to “blanket” calendars.  Managing our Resource Work Calendars will ensure that we account for every possibility of non-work throughout the schedule, allowing us to plan our projects as precisely as possible.

To modify a resource’s work calendar we first need to open the Resource Information Form.  To access the Information Form while in the Resource View click in the Information Action Column beside the resource’s row number.Once the information form is opened select the Work Calendar tab.  This will allow us to view and modify the resource’s work calendar.


Work Calendar Tab small

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Slotting Your Time on the Project

slotting your time on the projectWe often make tasks – or series of tasks – more monumental than they need to be. We have a tendency to get stuck working on the same thing over and over again in pieces broken out here and there and we can end up doing this over the course of a week and still never finish that task that should have been accomplished in one hour.

The solution – really look at your project in one hour increments. What can be accomplished in an hour? What can we pound out in 60 minutes in order to move on to the next item (or move on to lunch)? Is it possible to really think this way? I say yes…let’s examine this further…

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Who is the Real Project Customer?

who is the real project customerYour customer is critical. And from most project managers’ perspectives, that is the person sitting across from him at the table or the one on the other end of the phone on the status call. That’s right… that is the customer. But what about the customer’s ultimate end user? Where do they fit in? When is the end user part of the project? On many projects the end user is the one who needs the solution.

I ran across this quote and it troubles me – partly because it is often true and because we are all guilty sometimes of overlooking end users as a central point of reference and information for the project. Here it is… “A user is somebody who tells you what they want the day you give them what they asked for.” This can be taken to mean that the user often does a poor job telling us at first what they want and the gives us a better definition once the project is over and the solution doesn’t really meet their needs.

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When You Lack the Project Resources

when you lack the project resourcesThis has surely happened to every experienced project manager in the world. The project is going along fine – maybe deep into a critical task or phase – and suddenly you either lose a key resource or can’t onboard the right resource as planned for the project. What do you do? How do you re-act? And equally important – how do you tell your customer?

The Escalation Process

It’s always frustrating when your organization lacks the right amount of skilled resources to fully stock all the projects that are active at any given time. This has happened to me at just about every company I’ve worked for and it’s probably happening to you right now. As the PM there are a few things you can do to combat it, but there’s no guarantee of success with any of them – unless your organization is well equipped to handle the situation. Here’s what you can do:

  • Have a solid project plan in place identifying the required resources by job function if no resource has been assigned yet
  • Identify the necessary resources at the beginning of the project and submit resource requests (if a formal process exists – if not do it informally) identifying approximately when key resources will need to be onboarded to the project (a little earlier than ‘just-in-time’ so they can be brought onboard and get up to speed)
  • Make sure that your project plan is in front of executive management on a weekly basis
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Windows Ribbon vs Classic Interfaces

Whether updating from an older operating system to a more recent one, or making the switch to a completely different software there can sometimes be a bit of learning curve when you start in the new environment.  The same can be said when upgrading from different versions of products, or using them in a new environment.  FastTrack Schedule 10 helps to lessen that learning-curve on Windows by allowing users to easily switch between two unique interfaces. By default FastTrack Schedule 10 will launch and run in what is known as the Ribbon Interface.  This interface offers a system of contextual menus that will change based on the current section of a program you are working in.  For example, while working in FastTrack tools automatically change based on which of the three views you are in: Schedule, Calendar or Resource.  This means you won’t have to go hunting for similar tools in different locations, resulting in a more streamlined workflow.


Ribbon Interface


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10 Signs that Leadership is Missing – Part 2

10 signs that leadership is missingIn Part 2 of this two part series on signs leadership may be missing from a project, we’ll look at five more indicators – in no particular order of importance. The idea is if you recognize any of these…either run or fix them…quickly.

Team members are trying to be heroic. That is, they try to do everything themselves and be all things to all people. They eventually start to over control and in the end, as many experienced project managers know, control very little, even themselves. They fail, for example, to delegate.

Hard skills rather than soft skills are being emphasized. Hard skills are scheduling and statistical analysis; soft skills are active listening and writing. It is not uncommon for project managers of technical projects to disparagingly refer to soft skills as “touchy-feely.” Yet time and again, studies have shown that soft skills can prove as critical, indeed more so, in a project’s success.

The selection of the project manager seems to be a popularity contest. Senior managers often select people they like or who are like themselves, who may or may not have the attributes of a project leader. Getting the right person in the role – a true leader – can make all the difference in the world. If the PM is selected as a favor or as a personal favorite, disaster may ensue.

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10 Signs that Leadership is Missing – Part 1

signs that leadership is missingLeadership, not just project management, is critical on all projects. Whether it comes just from the project manager – where it must be prevalent – or from others on the project team … leadership is very important.

And by leadership, of course, I mean true leadership. Not somebody to lead meetings, produce status reports, update the project schedule and send off a few emails every week. No, I mean true leadership. Make key decisions. Lead a skilled team. Engage the client. Negotiation strategic issues. Handle key financial situations. Network and connect as needed for the project. True leadership.

The problem is, true leadership is often lacking on some of the projects that need it the most. The reasons for this are many, and are worth noting…

Senior management is starting to micro-manage. They treat the project as a pet, smothering it with attention, thereby killing any initiative by the project manager or the team. An example is requiring any action, even the smallest, to have approval from senior management. Such an oppressive atmosphere makes it impossible to exercise project leadership.

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Resource Information Form

When working with resources in our project, there is often a large amount of information that we wish to manage for each resource.. When working with our resources we need a quick and easy way to view and modify their data.  FastTrack Schedule 10 allows us view and work with this data in several ways but probably the most efficient way would be using the Resource View Information Form.

The Information Form allows us to access a wide range of resource information including three main genres: Resource Information, Resource Work Calendars, and additional Resource Column Data.  To access the Information Form while in the Resource View click in the Information Action Column beside the resource’s row number.  You can also access the Information Form by selecting any item with the resource’s row then going to Project > Resource Information.  When we do this, the Resource Information Form will open to the Information tab.

Information Tab

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Managing the Dreaded Project Conflicts

managing project conflictsConflict. A word we usually all try to avoid. Our regular project management work keeps us busy enough without trying to manage the various kinds of conflict that can arise on our projects. Conflicts between team members. Conflicts between our organization and a third party vendor. Conflicts between our organization and our customer. The list can go on and on. The reality, of course, is that we encounter conflict on nearly every project – dare I say EVERY project – that we manage. A project manager who says they never have conflict to deal with on their projects just isn’t paying close enough attention to what’s going on. Or they’re in denial. There is no burying your head in the sand either….when conflict arises it must be dealt with before it threatens to take the entire project engagement down with it.

As I think I made my case above, conflict rears its ugly head on just about every project we oversee or work on. The project manager must always be working proactively with all staff to avoid possible conflicts that may arise. In the event of a conflict, the project manager should be aware that talking can only resolve so much. For situations where conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations or arbitration, it is recommended that the identified individuals be separated or be removed from the project.

It is important to understand that project staff react differently to daily situations and that during the project life cycle, these members all experience various emotions such as joy, sadness, jealousy, anger, frustration, and stress – to name but a few. Many conflicts can be reduced or eliminated by constantly communicating the project objectives to the project team members. Some of the most common conflicts are:
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Project Management: Strategic Pluses

project management strategic plusesMost of us know – especially those of us in the project management world – that a solid PM practice that is truly running smoothly in an organization can bring great benefits to the company, the employees and, of course, the project customers. However, not everyone sees it and sometimes executives want to deny that this is the case…choosing to fund different areas of the organization with the limited budget available because they just don’t see the benefit.

In these cases, what the PM practices are left with is struggle to survive, a lack of ability to show a consistent “face” of PM to the organization and the clients they serve on projects, and the reliance on more luck that best practices to bring ongoing success to the projects they manage. Not good. So what we always need to do is tout the pluses of project management and why the funding of a solid PM infrastructure is a good thing…not a frivolous endeavor.

Therefore, let’s look at some of the real pluses to the organization of having a professional project management infrastructure and practice in place.

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