Am I Doing the Right Things at the Right Time?

Do The Right Thing Project ManagersAs project managers, we have many responsibilities and much accountability. In other words, there are a lot of things expected of us and those expectations come from different levels of the organization, from our project team members, and from the customer. They say you can please all of the people some of the time, and you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I would have to say that the role of project manager is probably as close as you’ll ever get to having someone expect you to actually please all of the people all of the time. I’m not whining, it’s just fact.

So how do we do that? Well, of course, in reality we can’t. But we have to keep trying. And in our fervent efforts to do so we need to stay focused on the end goals of the project and the overall satisfaction of our project customer. We need to continually assess… “Am I doing the right things at the right time?” Am I meeting the needs of the project? Am I meeting the needs of my organization? What about my team…am I doing the right things for them and making sure they are still focused on the end goals of the project and the tasks they are supposed to be completing? Am I managing all things properly and to the best of my ability?

For me, I do my best to stay on the track of doing the right things at the right time by staying focused on these three project areas:

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Using Baselines to Create “What-If” Scenarios

In many projects, we are required to track significant changes in our projects. These changes can include items such as status approvals or points of completion in a project. One way of managing these changes is by using Baselines. Baselines, allow us to capture key data, at any point throughout the project. There are, however, other uses for Baselines in our projects as well.

One key use of Baselines is the ability to create “What-If” scenarios, where one can plan multiple versions of a project to find which will be the most effective in the actual implementation. In FastTrack Schedule 10, users have the ability to capture up to 10 unique Baselines in any file. Baselines capture data stored in several “Scheduled” columns including; Duration, Start Date, Finish Date, Total Cost, and Work.

Our first step is to enter all schedule data for our project. In the image below, we have a simple file that has multiple tasks with resources assigned to tasks in order to track work and costs.


Project Start


In the method we are using Baselines for, the idea is to build several versions of our project, typically by changing Dates/Durations or Resource Assignments. As we do this, we can save baselines in order to compare which versions of the project may be the best fit based on items such as Total Project Duration, Total Resource Work, or Total Project Cost.

Once we have entered our schedule data, we are ready to save our first Baseline. To do this, go to Tools > Progress Tracking > Save Baseline. When we select to save the baseline, we can choose where to save it, from Baseline 1 -10. Here, we will select Baseline 1 and then select OK.


Save Baseline 1

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Smart Project Management – Part 5 – Learn Along the Way

Lessons Learned SessionsSo far we’ve covered four of my five topics on smart project management…the idea of working smarter – but not necessarily harder – on the projects we manage. In parts 1 through 4, we’ve covered:

In this final Part 5, we’ll consider the idea of learning along the way on our projects as a way to improve our overall project delivery while it can still make a difference on the current project.

No one does everything perfect on a project – no amount of project management experience is going to allow you deliver a completely trouble-free end solution. There are going to be bumps in the road and there are going to be mistakes made. By the project team, by the customer team, and yes – even by the project manager (*collective gasp*). Everyone should – but few project managers actually do – conduct end of project sessions known as ‘lessons learned’ sessions. These are designed to do exactly what they say…help everyone on both teams share the good and the bad of the project. The idea, of course, is that we take this information away and use it on future projects and share it with our PM colleagues back at the office. That way, going forward we know what made our projects go well and what caused problem. Thus, we can repeat – even improve on – the good and figure out how to eliminate and never repeat the bad. Great concept…but….

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Deutsch Gets Creative With FastTrack Schedule

Equal parts integrated advertising and digital agency, Deutsch is just as obsessed with great storytelling as they are with technology, experiential, search, and media. Deutsch’s creative signature is found on Super Bowl TV spots to radio and digital campaigns for big brands like Volkswagen, Target, and Diamond Foods. To schedule their many digital projects, Deutsch needed easy-to-use, collaborative project management software – FastTrack Schedule was the perfect fit.

Derek Richmond is Deutsch’s Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Production, responsible for overseeing Deutsch LA’s massive digital production engine and managing the production team and producers. At any given time the team could have 50 – 100 active projects.

Prior to using FastTrack Schedule, Deutsch’s production team was utilizing a variety of programs to plan and manage projects – Microsoft Project, Excel, and even calendar-maker programs.

FastTrack Schedule was a core scheduling program for Derek and his teams at two other ad agencies (180LA, Goodby Silverstein & Partners) prior to Deutsch. Upon arriving at Deutsch, he immediately pulled FastTrack Schedule into the process.

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5 Tips For Budding Project Managers

PM HutBy Damian Watson
PM Hut

Project Management Success TipsA surprising number of projects fail to meet their objectives, realize intended benefits or even make it to the finish line. Whether a project is a small one-off piece of work, or a complex, multi-faceted business transformation within a portfolio, as a project manager you should be focused on what should be done in order to increase its likelihood of success.

Here’s some key pointers that, if you address, will help you towards success.

1. Start the project with success in mind

How a project is started is arguably the most influential factor in its success. It’s now that you confirm why the work is needed in its vision, objectives and expected benefits. This is the bedrock on top of which you base all other decisions.

The start is also your best opportunity to identify and get buy-in from project stakeholders. And you should be working closely with the project sponsor or executive at this time. Building a good relationship now will set you up down the line.

When developing your project brief or PID make sure you base your approach soundly on the business objectives, double and triple check your direction with key stakeholders and team members. Understand what success looks like and aim your project towards it.

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Smart Project Management – Part 4 – Manage the Meetings

Managing Project MeetingsIn Part 4 of this five part series on smart project management, we’ll discuss the concept of managing the meetings. We’ve covered the topic of making the customer work for you by keeping them assigned to tasks and engaged on the project, the topic of letting the team manage the project budget by keeping them in the loop, and the topic of scaling the deliverables by making deliverables – especially early planning documents – appropriate for the size project you are managing. Now we’ll examine the topic of project meetings.

We all hate meetings from time to time. If you’re like me, there have probably been hundreds of meetings that you’ve been asked to attend and afterwards you wonder why you were forced to sit through that hour of your life that you can never get back. Too many meetings are called by someone just so that they can feel and sound important and waste your time. At least that’s how I’ve felt after leaving some of the meetings I’ve attended in my professional life.

It’s a different story, of course, when we’ve called the meetings. We conduct meetings to disseminate information to the project team and to get information and status updates from them. And we conduct meetings with our project customers to give status updates, discuss critical project issues, and get input on key decisions that need to be made. Our meetings are always important…at least in our minds. So, you want people to attend your meetings and make them worthwhile? You want good information to flow and the right decisions to be made? You want the meetings to actually be productive? Then the smart project manager follows these steps…

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Visualizing Data Across Time with Summary Graphs

We’ve learned in previous blog posts how to easily format customized columns and calculations to track costs throughout our projects. When we’ve done this in the past, we’ve viewed the data per task but not as a distribution through the time of the project. FastTrack Schedule 10 gives us additional tools, which will allow us to display data, such as costs, from columns directly across time on the Timeline Graph.

In FastTrack Schedule 10, we can use Summary Graphs to display data other than Start and Finish Dates across our Timeline Graph. These Summary Graphs can allow us to view additional project data, such as the daily, weekly, month, quarterly, or even yearly cash flow of a project. Summary Graphs pull data from existing columns, so we will only need to format how we wish to display that data.

1. Go to Insert > Summary Graph

a. When inserting a Summary Graph, the Format Summary Graph dialog will automatically open

2. Enter a customized name for your graph, we will name ours Budget per Week

3. From the Summary Units drop down, select the units we will display data in, Weeks

4. Under Data to Summarize select the column you wish to show across the Timeline

a. Here, select Budget

5. From Summary Operation select Total, which will display the total budget per week

6. From Display As select the type of graph you wish to show Numeric Text, Histogram, or a Line Graph

a. Here we will choose Histogram which will display our data similar to a bar graph

7. Select the Show Labels box, which will allow us to see the exact value of our Budget per Week as text on the graph.

8. Finally, select Apply to save your graph and OK to close the Format Summary Graph dialog


Format Budget per Week Summary Graph

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Smart Project Management – Part 3 – Scale the Deliverables

Scaling Project DeliverablesIn the first two parts of this five part series on smart project management, we’ve covered the following concepts:

  • Make the customer work for you – the focus on keeping the project sponsor and customer team focused and engaged on the project by strategically assigning tasks throughout the engagement
  • Let the team manage the budget – let the team know how critical the budget is and how closely you’ll be monitoring it and you’ll find that they will actually ‘help’ you manage it by keeping expenses and time charging in line with budget expectations

In this Part 3, we’ll examine the idea of wisely scaling the project deliverables to match the size of the project, the visibility or criticality of the project, and the needs of the project customer.

The smart project manager considers the type of project at hand once it’s been assigned. Is the budget large? Is this a long-term, mission-critical project? Is this a key, strategic project for my organization and/or my customer? The answer to these questions should drive some of the early project planning such as how much time is devoted to planning documents, requirements analysis, and user acceptance testing (UAT), for example.

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Smart Project Management – Part 2 – Let the Team Manage the Budget

Managing project budgetsIn Part 1 of this five part series on managing projects smarter we discussed the concept of having the project customer work for you. I introduced you to my AIM process: Assign, Inform, Manage…basically a way to keep the customer working on tasks that are relevant to the project and to keep them engaged and working with you at the same time. If we don’t do this, some customers seem to disappear into the woodwork, going back to their daily routine while you do the work and can’t seem to gain access to them when you need decisions or information….or that all important signoff on a deliverable.

In this Part 2, we’ll look at one of those things that many project managers either hate to do or are not very good at….managing the project financials. It doesn’t take too much to do it right, but if you work smarter, not harder, you can often get your project team members to help you keep that budget in line with the expectations for the project. Ok, the title is a little over the top – we’re never actually going to let the team manage the project budget – but if we work smarter, then we can change the way they manage their work and in turn they will be helping us keep the project financials in line. How? Let’s examine…

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Using Hyperlinks to Manage External Project Data

In our projects we need to be able to manage an almost limitless list of information. Sometimes, we may only be able to access this information through certain channels, such as specialty applications or web sites. One way that we manage these outside items in FastTrack Schedule 10 is by creating hyperlinks directly to them from any task in our project. Hyperlinks are a great way to manage all of the documents and data relating to a project that can’t normally be inserted within your project schedule.

In FastTrack Schedule 10, you can create up to 10 hyperlinks for every task and resource in your project! Within each of these hyperlink columns, there are 3 different items that we can link to Web URLs, email addresses, and direct file locations. The first step to working with hyperlinks is to add a Hyperlink column to your schedule. You can do this by going to Insert > Column > Hyperlink 1 and then select OK.


Insert Hyperlink Column

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Smart Project Management – Part 1 – Make the Customer Work for You

Project CommunicationIn this series we’re going to begin a five-parter on some things we can do on our projects to manage smarter, not harder. There are things we do as project managers that are definitely ‘chores’. Things we wish we didn’t have to put so much effort into like today when I’m trying to get a very small amount of medication into my 19 month old son and he’s preparing his gag reflex like its the end of the world. I figured out to gently blow in his face to distract him and it becomes somewhat easier to administer. OK, my wife gave me that tip, but you get the picture.

There are many things we do that are problematic on many of our projects and we think…”only if…” Those are the things we need to figure out how to do without so much pain and effort. And the first one of those things that I will cover in this Part 1 is the concept of making the customer participate.

Ever had one of those project clients that initiate a project with you, feigned interest in a project kickoff and then disappeared? Well, I have and it’s happened more times than I care to remember. Sure, they have their day job – meaning their regular work assignments to stay up on – and this project may have been dumped on them. But it is still THEIR project and they need to be participant.

How do you make that happen? I have a method I call AIM. It stands for Assign, Inform, and Manage. And I lay this out for them at project kickoff time. Just in case they weren’t listening I explain it again during the early project phases – especially if I sense that customer participation or engagement is lacking.

Basically, AIM is this:

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Write it Down

Project Documentation Best PracticesWe’re usually pretty certain that we can remember anything. You know how it goes…that time you’re scheduling your next dental visit and you say to the lady at the desk that you don’t need an appointment card. Or when your wife asks you to pick something up on the way home or to do a maintenance activity this weekend. No problem, you got it up here (pointing to that empty space in your head). Do these scenarios sound familiar? Well, they do for me, so that’s enough incentive to write this article…

How many times have you been involved in a project status meeting with your team or with the project customer and things were said, decisions were made, action was planned, and then nothing happened? You follow up with the promising party and they had completely forgotten about the promised action. Or worse yet, they deny ever have made the promise. They’re not lying…they’re just clueless. And even more often what happens is they deliver something similar to what was promised, but it really doesn’t cover the need….it isn’t exactly what was discussed in the meeting.

I can say, all of these scenarios have happened on my teams, with my customers, and even I have been guilty of missing the boat on delivering something I had promised in a meeting but didn’t document and therefore it was not on my to do list. I’ve learned from these missteps to always write these tasks down…and here’s the process I follow during important project meetings to make sure these mistakes and omissions never have to happen again…

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