5 Common Estimating Mistakes

common estimating mistakesEstimating project work for individual tasks or groups of tasks can be difficult – and it’s important to rely on the project team to either help with estimates or produce the initial estimates that you, as the project manager, then review and document. Is there a sure fire rule of thumb to project estimating? No way. Everyone bases their estimates on guesses, past experiences, and the advice of others…but nothing is perfect and no estimation will ever be 100% dead on…unless it’s by luck.

I do, however, think some people are much better at it than others. I’m of the opinion that estimating is more of a gift – you either have it or you don’t. It’s that ability to think somewhat abstractly on given tasks and figure out with some degree of accuracy what the level of effort will be. Of course, there needs to be a certain level of experience and expertise – but that experience does not always ensure that you’ll give good estimates. Over time, one can learn to be a good estimator, but it helps to have that gift.

From my experience, there are some key weaknesses or traps we can fall into when trying to produce good estimates. Being aware of these in advance can help the PM and team to avoid them, but it still won’t guarantee that you’re producing an accurate estimate. I’ve come up with a list of five that I think are the most common…

Continue reading “5 Common Estimating Mistakes”

Tracking Resource Costs

In many of our projects we find the need to track and manage the different personnel and equipment that are required in order to complete tasks. We often find ourselves tracking the amount of time these resources are assigned to tasks in order to prevent any over-allocations of work. One way we do this is by utilizing Spot Allocations. Another piece of key resource data we can track is cost. In FastTrack Schedule 10 we have the ability to easily assign and track several different types of costs from our resources.

When working with resources we have the ability to manage three different types of costs:

  • Per Use Cost
  • Standard Rate
  • Overtime Rate

These three options give us the ability to accurately track complete costs for resources across the individual tasks that they work on as well as the project as a whole.

Per Use Cost

Is the cost associated with assigning a resource to a task. When a resource has a Per Use Cost this cost is automatically calculated whenever a resource is assigned, no matter what the total duration of a task may be. For example, if a resource has a $500 Per Use Cost this means that each time the resource is assigned to a new task there is a $500 flat cost. It does not matter if the task is a single day or ten days the Per Use Cost will always remain at $500.

To assign Per Use Costs to a resource, first switch into the Resource View. You can then select in the Information Action Column to the left of the Resource Name.


Information Action Column

  Continue reading “Tracking Resource Costs”

Defining Outline Level Styles

Throughout our blog posts we have taken different looks at how to create reports, share our projects, and even spruce up our print preview. There are, however, additional steps we can take to give our schedule a personalized look. The feature that we will work with today is known as Outline Styles. In FastTrack Schedule 10, Outline Styles will allow us to customize the appearance of text and even the background of our schedule according to the specific outline level that different tasks fall on.

Using Outline Styles allows us to place emphasis on key aspects of our projects, such as the project title or main phases that occur. Depending on how we wish to format our schedules, we can create specific outline styles in individual columns and within every row of the project.

First we’ll take a look at setting outline styles in our columns. This will allow us to set up custom font styles, including font type, size, and color according to the outline level of tasks. If you’ve built outline levels into your own projects in the past you may have noticed that the Activity Name column applies different font styles to the text. In the image below we can see what these predefined outline styles look like when we have 3 outline levels in a project. You’ll notice that as we go into lower outline levels the font size decreases, which may help to indicate that our “Project” and “Phase” levels contain the most important information.


PreDefined Column Outline

  Continue reading “Defining Outline Level Styles”

Your Project Will Never be a Show Piece

your projectProjects are important. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be ‘projects’ and you and I would not have jobs. But they are important, they are necessary, and someone experienced needs to lead them. But they are not and never will be an art form. Let me explain.

We become aware, at some point in life – hopefully sooner rather than later – that we value things differently than others do. What’s important to us may not mean anything to our neighbor or best friend…and vice versa. I know that projects are important, you know that, our customers know that, and our management knows that – sometimes if only seemingly for the revenue they bring in. But getting them done is often what’s valued most. How they get done isn’t that important to many of the people on the big stakeholders list. As long as they don’t cost too much, take too long, or end up quality-poor. As project managers, we understand that there is a certainly level of PM expertise and oversight needed to make sure the project has the greatest chance of success. We want to avoid overkill and micro management, of course, but a project team left to their own devices would likely be lacking those best practices, that schedule accountability, and that PM expertise to stay on track, on budget and to manage the customer all at the same time, right?

Continue reading “Your Project Will Never be a Show Piece”

Are You Documenting Good Requirements?

project requirementsCan you really start a project without requirements? I know I certainly don’t feel comfortable – even for a short project – starting a project and trying to manage scope without detailed requirements in place for the project. Requirements are key – they are the lifeblood of the project. If you try to build an end solution with only high-level requirements, it won’t work. If you try to deliver something to the end user with knowing what they really need the system to perform – what they require of this solution you are providing them with – you may be delivering something they can’t even use. If you haven’t worked with the customer’s subject matter experts (SMEs) and end users to know what the problem is and what they need, then you have no scope to start from…everything is really just a best guess. And that’s a bad situation – for everyone – but mostly for the project manager and team who will be on the hook to deliver a workable end solution. And it just won’t happen.

What do good requirements mean?

What are good requirements? What are the characteristics of a good requirement? In project management, there are some general criteria that requirements are usually held against to see if they are adequate and appropriate and in the proper detail. If your requirements meet these, then congratulations…you have detailed requirements and you have a basis that you should be able to start from to deliver what they customer wants and needs. Good requirements, generally…

Continue reading “Are You Documenting Good Requirements?”

Reporting with FastSteps

In most of the projects we create, we often find ourselves needing to create reports for different aspects of the project. Sometimes we create reports for upcoming tasks, other times we create reports of schedules for a specific resource. If you worked with reporting in any capacity, you know that it can take quite a bit of time to go through the process of running one report after another. In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can utilize FastSteps which allow you to combine multiple actions, such as applying Layouts and Filters in one simple button push.

FastSteps allow us to automate processes, which would otherwise be quite time consuming, into a single step. FastSteps will even allow us to print multiple reports at once within a matter of seconds.

The first step in working with FastSteps is actually to create all of the specific Layouts, Filters, and even Print Preview aspects that you wish to use for your report. Once we’ve defined these individual items we can begin to piece them together into one or multiple FastSteps. To begin creating the FastStep go to Tools > FastSteps > Define. The FastSteps menu will open with options for creating or modifying existing FastSteps.


FastSteps Dialogue

  Continue reading “Reporting with FastSteps”

Problem Areas in Project Communications – Part 2

project communication problemsIn Part 1 of this two part series on project communication problem areas, we looked at the first two of four critical communication touch points that can potentially become weak links within the project communications infrastructure: between the project manager and his team members and between the project manager and department managers within the delivery organization.

Between PM and outside resources. Outside resources can be difficult because it’s rare that your priorities and their priorities are in sync. No matter how urgent your deadlines or how important the project is to the company – they may not share the same urgency and this can be quite frustrating for the project manager. This particular potential weak link can end up being of considerable consequence to the project if not managed closely and carefully.

Anticipate problems with these outside resources when planning the schedule and how and when you make requests and communicate information. Don’t wait until the deadline is upon you, but plan well ahead to eliminate the problem through communicating as clearly as possible.

Continue reading “Problem Areas in Project Communications – Part 2”

Defining Dependencies Between Tasks

As we are building our schedules we often take into consideration how one task may affect the behavior of the next step of our project. We can build the project so we can see that one task will occur after the other, however this won’t automatically account for events such as delays. In order to allow our project to flow and automatically reschedule as adjustments are made we need to create logical relationships between our tasks.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can do this by creating Links between our tasks. Links allow us to show the relationship of one task to another within our project. Once we’ve added links between our tasks we also have the option of changing the link style and account for lag/lead to modify how the links will act between tasks.

To start off, we can create links between any large continuous sections of tasks. To do this we can select the row number for our first task, then while holding down the shift key select the row for the last task we wish to create a link to.


Select Rows

  Continue reading “Defining Dependencies Between Tasks”

Problem Areas in Project Communications – Part 1

project communication problemI’ve always made it clear that communication is – in my opinion – the most important thing the project manager does on a daily basis. Everything they do is important, but without good communication skills the project has no real hope for success. Unfortunately, the project manager could be the best communicator in the world, but weak links in their network and with communication on the project overall could still cause problems for the project and key stakeholders.

Whenever work passes from one person or department to another, or from a project team to a department or other personnel, the opportunity for delay or misunderstanding is present. If we maintain an awareness of what those potential weak links are, then we can monitor those, verify understanding, and hopefully limit their potential effect on project success.

Basically, whenever the project manager must pass information to others, a weak link could potentially become an issue. In Part 1 of this two part series, let’s begin to examine these common communication touch points and discuss the potential problems and how they might be avoided in order to keep misunderstandings and miscommunications from happening and keep the project on the road to success.

Continue reading “Problem Areas in Project Communications – Part 1”

Avoid Micromanaging the Project – Part 2 – Proper Treatment

managing the projectIn Part 1 of this two part series on micromanaging on the project, I discussed what I felt are the definite negatives or downsides to micromanaging project your project resources. Most don’t like it, most don’t need it, and most will resent you for it. So be aware of how you’re treating your project resources, stakeholders, the customer sponsor, and any customer resources that you may be interacting with and assigning tasks to. They’re capable individuals…keep that in mind!

In this Part 2, let’s examine what a project manager can do to create a more positive and productive working environment for his project resources:

Keep tasks clearly defined. The best way to get the most productivity from your team is to give them clearly defined tasks to perform and make sure they understand what they are being assigned…and then let them work. If you don’t want to end up needing to micromanage them in order for them to do the work, then don’t make their work assignments vague or hard to understand. They should leave you knowing what to do, what’s expected of them, and what they’ll need to do in order to be successful. If they don’t know those things, then you’ve likely failed in providing them a clear assignment and your project may suffer as a result.

Continue reading “Avoid Micromanaging the Project – Part 2 – Proper Treatment”

6 Project Management Lessons Learned the Hard Way

PM HutBy Chris Merryman
PM Hut

project managementBeing a Project Management practitioner is a choice many of us have willingly made (and enjoy!). Others may have joined the ranks due to necessity from their previous role being eliminated, outsourced or some other form of extinction. Regardless of our past experiences we’ve all made our share of mistakes and all have a unique relationship with the term “Lessons Learned”. In this article I share some of the lessons I learned the hard way. We can read as many books as we want, interview everyone we’ve ever known and read every Google article that exists on the topic of how to be a strong, influential and creative type person so we can thrive in the Project Management environment but nothing can truly replace being in the hot seat. Here are a few things I hope make sense to those either in the role already or thinking about taking on the role.

1) Never take outside influences for granted

This one I think we all take for granted. We assume that by providing regular status reports, staying on schedule, under budget and controlling scope creep is a sure way to ensure your Project makes it to completion. We sometimes forget about the outside forces that can turn a normal working day totally upside down and in the morning we have a thriving Project but in the afternoon we no longer have a Project! We need to ensure we fully understand our Sponsor and Stakeholders concerns not only for the outcome of the Project but what are we trying to accomplish in the first place? Is it competitive advantage over a product just released? Are we trying to claw our way to the top of the industry by providing the best in class service? Or is this a pet project of the Sponsor and when the signs of another Project are looking dire they redirect everyone to help get it back in good health? We need to keep our eyes and ears open and ensure we understand as much as possible as to why our Project exists.

Continue reading “6 Project Management Lessons Learned the Hard Way”

Printing Schedules in FastTrack Schedule 10

With almost every project that we create we need to be able to display the details to stakeholders, clients, and resources at some point throughout its progression. We’ve already taken a look at how we can easily create PDF’s, Images, and share our schedules in a variety of file formats. However, one of the most basic and often overlooked forms of presenting details is through a hard copy on paper. Printing is something we don’t always think about, so when it comes time to do it we may overlook a few key details that will make the presentation pop.

In FastTrack Schedule 10, there is a very straightforward methodology used to create print outs. FastTrack Schedule utilizes a method known as WYSIWYG, or What You See Is What You Get. This really means that whatever we can see in the selected view, whether it is Schedule, Calendar, or Resource, is exactly what we will get when we go to print our projects.

To start off, let’s take a look at what we currently see in the schedule view of our project. Here we can see essential details such as the Activity Name, Duration, Start Date, Finish Date and Timeline Graph.


Schedule View


Next, we’ll switch into Print Preview which is often considered to be a supplementary project view in FastTrack Schedule 10. In Print Preview we can see exactly what we saw in the Schedule View. We’ll also find a Page Status Indicator in the lower left hand corner, which will indicate the current number of pages your project will print across.


First Print Preview

  Continue reading “Printing Schedules in FastTrack Schedule 10”