Who Should Lead the Project? – Part 1

who should lead the projectSometimes success or failure for the project is almost determined before the project even gets underway. What I’m talking about it is selecting the right leader for the right project. It’s not an exact formula…if it were then we could bottle it up and sell it for millions. No, there’s no guarantee for project success no matter what you do or who you select to be on the project or to be the lead project manager. But getting the right body in place at the helm can really get the project off on the right foot. The right mix of relevant experience, customer expertise, and resource management skills – given the team chemistry and customer needs – can sometimes make or break the project, no matter how everything else goes.

So, before the project actually gets underway, it’s critical that the right project manager be selected to run the engagement. Depending on the PM infrastructure of the organization, this may be the PMO director selecting the project leader or it may be some other senior manager in the company. Either way, there are definitely several things to consider. Experience with the customer, experience with the technical solution, experience in the industry, and even experience working with the proposed project team may all be factors that need to be considered when selecting the project manager who is going to run the show.

The people skills factor

One thing that must be considered is how well the individual interacts with many different individuals within his own organization as well as the project team and customer – basically all potential stakeholders and beyond. Basically, people skills are at a premium because a wide variety of such skills are necessary to succeed as the project leader. These include:

Continue reading “Who Should Lead the Project? – Part 1”

Importing Data From Excel

There are many different ways we can manage our projects.  Some people may choose to use a traditional spreadsheet option such as Excel, while others may go for a more full-fledged project management tool.  For those who choose to start with Excel, the option is always available to move the data into an application such as FastTrack Schedule 10.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 users can easily migrate existing projects from spreadsheets into new or existing files.  To transfer data from Excel to FastTrack, we will save our file as Tab-Delimited or Comma-Separated Text files.  When we transfer this data we can choose to transfer everything or only select columns based on our specific needs.

We start out with a simple spreadsheet, which in this case has been set up with specific columns for Activity Name, Duration, Start Date, and Resource.  


Spreadsheet Start

  Continue reading “Importing Data From Excel”

Determining Project Success

determining project successSuccess and failure on projects can sometimes mean different things to different organizations. There is no exact measuring stick standard in the project management world. There really can’t be that many variations, but since the level of project oversight varies from company to company, so to does the level to which different criteria matters to the powers that be within an organization. And we certainly can’t forget about the project customer – they definitely have a say in whether or not a project is considered a success. Logically, a project could come in on time and on budget but if the customer is unhappy for some reason, then the project could easily be designated a failure.

So what are the key determiners of success or failure for a project? Across different industries, different organizations, different customers, different PM methodologies, and different PM infrastructures within various organizations there will always be variations of what constitutes a successful project from an unsuccessful one, but the bottom line – as far as I’m concerned – is that there are three key determiners of whether or not a project is deemed a success at the end of the engagement. These three determiners are: on time delivery, on budget delivery, and customer satisfaction. Let’s look each of these in more detail and discuss ways to help ensure project success through proper management of each.

Continue reading “Determining Project Success”

Ensuring You Have Critical Resources on Time

ensuring you have critical resources on timeLife would be great for project managers everywhere if we could just grab whatever resources we need whenever we want and always get the best of the best of the skill sets we need at any given time. Yes, and in that world things like chocolate, ice cream and pizza would not make us fat…but that isn’t reality now is it?

So, I think we can all agree that it is a struggle to get the right resources at the right time for our projects. If you’re like me, you’re probably dealing with a matrix organization and you’re borrowing resources for your projects. You may or may not have them full time – if you can’t guarantee them 100% utilization on the project then they’re going to be splitting their time on other billable task work – probably on other projects for other project managers. And what does that do? Well, I can tell you that it definitely invites risk into each project. How/why? Because with each project comes some uncertainty in the project schedule – there’s no project in the history of projects that has run exactly as planned in the original project schedule. Now you have two of those schedules – or double the uncertainty – using the same resource and any task or timing change in one can affect a resource’s planned availability in the other. This is just a PM fact of life.

How do we ensure then, that our most critical resources will always be available when we need them no matter what? The answer is – we can’t. And we wouldn’t want to anyway because it would break the project budget to keep them charging 100% of their time to our projects during phases when there is no need for their skill set.

In lieu of the 100% staffing scenario, here are the two things we must do:

Continue reading “Ensuring You Have Critical Resources on Time”

Challenges for CEOs in Technology

challenges for ceos in technologyCEOs of companies of all sizes face huge challenges today. The rate at which technology alone is changing is amazing and the CEO is expected to keep up if they are going to continue to stay cutting edge, keep their project on track. Today’s CEO is challenged in a way that no CEOs were challenged before. Technology is changing and too fast for even the CIO of an organization to keep up with, let alone the CEO. Yet those critical decisions of company direction, how and where to grow the business, and what new technology to incorporate ultimately falls in the lap of the CEO.

How does one person do it? The right answer is, they don’t. It’s critical for the CEO to be surrounded by the right people to help him make good decisions for the company, to know what projects to enter into and how they should be managed, and how the funds of the organization should be appropriated. Just like an employee has to answer to their manager or management team, likewise the CEO is subject to the guidance, oversight, and decision-making of his board of directors. Everyone is accountable to someone.

CEOs make the tough calls

The CEO is far more than a figurehead. And in smaller organizations they are often still very hands on in the day-to-day function of the company they may have helped create or even created themselves in their own garage. The CEO must make sound decisions on what new market niches to attack. He’ll look to his marketing team and expect the right decisions will be made based on their analysis of the industry, but ultimately he’s responsible. Depending on the size of the organization, the CEO may be involved in nearly every piece of information and nearly every decision that gets made for the organization….it can be mind-boggling.

Continue reading “Challenges for CEOs in Technology”

Defining Custom Bar and Milestone Styles

In all of our projects we have many different ways of defining and differentiating the types of tasks or types of data that we are utilizing. So far we’ve looked at using customized data columns and outline levels to assign specific information to tasks or highlight certain parts of our projects. In addition to these options we can also create customized bar and milestone styles for all of the different task types in our project.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can create an infinite number of bars within any of the projects we are using. When customizing bar styles we have the ability to modify an existing style and see the changes automatically take effect, or we can create a brand new bar style and apply it when needed.

To begin defining bar styles go to Format > Bar Style which will open the Format Bar Styles Dialogue. On the left-hand side of the dialogue we see a menu labeled Bar Style with a list of all of the Bars and Milestones that currently exist in your file.


Format Bar Styles Dialogue

  Continue reading “Defining Custom Bar and Milestone Styles”

Know How Long it Should Take

know how long it should takeThis concept works no matter which side of the fence you’re on – it’s just good sound advice. I was once being courted for a tech management position for an Iowa-based company that had to be stuck in one of the most boring non-tech industries in America…so the actual IT department was rather small.

The inside concern

The CIO was concerned that he was always being stonewalled by the lead tech guys on estimates and needed someone in the middle to run the show and keep the lead techs in check. I’ve always been good at estimating development work and I use that to my advantage as a project manager and consultant when pricing change orders and consulting engagements. I always estimate work that I’ve asked technical project team members to estimate as well. Then, when they turn in their estimates, I compare mine with theirs and I go back to them to discuss any big discrepancies. There may be something I missed, or an assumption that I wasn’t aware of…but it’s a good check to make sure you’re presenting your project customer with the best estimate possible – for the sake of project success and customer satisfaction.

My CIO scenario highlights the problems that just not being aware can cause one individual, a position of responsibility, a business unit and ultimately an entire organization. This guy needed to hire an entire position and restructure the IT group just because he was concerned that he couldn’t keep the staff from padding estimates and frustrating him on development initiatives. And he was the CIO. You can probably understand why I quickly realized it was not a wise move for me to make.

Continue reading “Know How Long it Should Take”

Dealing with Team Conflict – Fix or Replace?

dealing with team conflictYou know the feeling… You go about handling all the issues you plan to handle and many that came up that you didn’t necessarily plan on. But the people on the project… Did you expect to have to deal with them as much as you’ve had to? And I don’t mean in the “discuss and give direction to” type of way. I mean in the “having interpersonal and conflict issues” type of way. After all, you’re a project manager, not really a resource manager. Sure, resource management is part of the process. But that is usually more in the form of making sure you have the right skill set and enough people on the project to take on the tasks that you need to delegate in order to get the project work done. You get to leave the personal issues, the performance review stuff, and the actual hiring and firing to other people. In terms of true employee management, you get the easy job.

Now, what happens when you start to have conflicts and personnel issues on one of your projects? Are you prepared to handle that? Do you have any of “those” types of resource management skills? It can really throw you for a curve – even if you have those skills but haven’t had to use them in a while. After years of PM work with matrixed resources, I came to Las Vegas to lead a corporate development team for one of the largest gaming institutions in the world. The first things I found out were that among my staff of 18, I had two with anger management issues, four that the IT director wanted me to fire (thankfully the anger management individuals were not among those) and one that had a very unusual relationship with his dogs that was affecting his health. What the heck do I do with that information?!? All I’m saying is, it can be easy…and it can be difficult…and can even border on the very weird.

So, you have needy team members or team members embroiled in some sort of conflict. Do you fix or replace? First you need to consider the following…

Continue reading “Dealing with Team Conflict – Fix or Replace?”

Visualizing Resource Workloads in the Schedule View

Resource management can be a major part of any project. It can be key to know when a resource is assigned or when they may be free at any given point as the project progresses. In FastTrack Schedule 10 you can easily view and manage resource workloads and assignments directly within the Resource View. However when you need to assign resources to new tasks it can sometimes be a hassle to switch back and forth between the Resource and Schedule Views. To make this process easy, FastTrack Schedule 10 allows you to pull additional resource utilization information directly into the Schedule View.

While working in the Schedule View, we can pull over both the Percent Work Usage as well as the Hourly Work Usage graphs into a single and simple combined graph. To do this go to View > Percent Work Usage. When you select the Percent Work Usage a blank row will appear at the bottom of your schedule across both the columns and Timeline Graph area.


Add Percent Work Usage Graph


Continue reading “Visualizing Resource Workloads in the Schedule View”

New FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 Update Available

FastTrack Schedule 10 UpdateWe’ve just released another update to FastTrack Schedule 10. With FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5, your project planning gets even better. We’ve squashed some bugs, improved features, and added a couple of new features you’ll really enjoy. Our Mac version is optimized for Mac OS X Mavericks and includes support for Maverick’s new Tags feature. FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 is a free download for all FastTrack Schedule 10 customers, so go get it!

For a complete list of all the new additions and to download the Update, visit our FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 Mac Update and FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 Windows Update pages.

If you’re not already using FastTrack Schedule 10 – try it today! Download a free 21-day trial version of FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 for Mac or FastTrack Schedule 10.0.5 for Windows and get your projects on track.

Ignorance Does Not Equal Bliss

ignorance doesn't equal blissYou know the saying…”Ignorance is bliss.” Really? How’s that working for you? You can claim you didn’t know and if you’re right – really telling the truth – and if you’re not in a position of importance or authority then you can possibly get away with it. But usually, if you’re at the top of any ladder…even the project ladder…then that ignorance defense isn’t going to work for you.

Likewise, the “let it rest” stance is an interesting concept. It involves just leaving issues alone and seeing if they will resolve. It was the brain child of my mother-in-law and, although it has worked on a couple of computer issues and one phone dropped in a toilet, I was not able to make it work on an argument that my wife and I were having the other day.

So what are we left with? If we know about it, we must attack it. We’re project managers, for crying out loud. We take the heat, accept the blame, charge ahead and throw caution to the wind. Is that enough clichés in once sentence for you?

Continue reading “Ignorance Does Not Equal Bliss”

Using AutoSave and AutoArchive to Create File Versions

When managing our files it can be very important to save multiple versions of the file as we are working. We do this for several reasons. One of which is to make sure that we always have a functioning copy of the file in case something happens to our system. The other is to create the ability to compare the versions of the project as you are working. When you have several copies of a file saved at different intervals you can make comparisons between how fast progress was occurring at one point in the project to how it is occurring at the current time.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 you can utilize two tools in order to manage the versions of a file. The first tool is AutoSave, which will allow you to automatically save an existing or new copy of your file in time increments ranging from every minute to every 2 hours. The second tool is AutoArchive, which allows you to save a Read-Only backup copy of a file. AutoSave and AutoArchive can be enabled at any time in order to create versioning within a file.

First, we can enable AutoSave and set the options for how it will function within our files. To access the AutoSave options on Windows go to File > Application Options; on Mac go to FastTrack Schedule 10 > Preferences. While in the Application Options dialogue select the tab labeled Save. This will open the AutoSave options.


AutoSave Dialogue

  Continue reading “Using AutoSave and AutoArchive to Create File Versions”