Using Spot Allocations to Optimize Resource Workloads [Video]

FastTrack Schedule 10 gives users a wide variety of options when it comes to managing the resources of a project. Users have the ability to select between Effort-Driven and Fixed-Duration scheduling, apply multiple types of cost information, and even use pre-defined work contours to determine when a resource will work on a task.

Perhaps one of the most advanced resource management features is the ability to spot allocate resource work. Using spot allocations, you can easily define the number of hours a resource will work on a task on any given day.

Watch this short video on Spot Allocations to help optimize resource workloads on your project.

As you see, Spot Allocations allow you to take complete control of the work your resources will be doing. You can account for any time when a resource may be over-assigned or when you simply need to account for special work cases within your projects.

If you’ve used spot allocations before, how did they benefit the overall project? If you’ve never used spot allocations before what are some ways that you may be able to utilize them in future projects?

Key Steps to Proactive Issue Management

Key Steps to Proactive Issue ManagementIn the history of projects, has there ever been one that has been issue-free? All projects have risks and issues – all projects experience bumps in the road that need to be addressed. If a project manager tells you that they aren’t managing issues on their project because there are none, they are likely either in denial or have no control over their own project.

The key to proper issue management is to already have a plan in place to recognize, document, and respond to those issues and risks as your project progresses through its normal project life cycle. Good issue handling is just good sense and it can definitely make the difference between a successful project outcome and a miserable and expensive failure.

During my experience as a project manager, I’ve usually tried to follow some variation of the following four steps to successfully manage and resolve issues as they arise on the projects that I lead:

Collect and document detailed information about the issue. The key to issue management on the project is to actually track the issues on an ongoing basis. This must be done throughout the engagement and reviewed on a weekly basis. You can use a specialized issue management tool, but you can also use a simple spreadsheet as well – just so long as you are using something that will capture the information you need and so that you actually do get it done. Use your chosen tool to document as much information about the issue as possible and leave room for determining courses of actions and assignment that you’ll cover in the next steps.

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Setting Expectations for the Project Customer

Project MeetingCommunication is essential for a successful project. But not just communication – good and effective and accurate communication – because miscommunication happens all too often. Think about what happens in our homes every day. How many times has your wife or husband said they told you something or asked you to do something and you have no clue what they’re talking about? I’m hoping that’s not just me.

It’s the same way with our projects and our project customers. We try to document communications with our customers and get their signoff on expectations and understanding, but it isn’t always successful. What we sign off on may be a generality when in fact the details are up for interpretation. Some of that is just unavoidable because you can’t capture all details of a discussion unless you’re going to record every communication – and that’s just not reasonable.

Communication disconnects

Disconnects in customer communications and understanding can happen at a number of points throughout the engagement. They can happen:

  • During the sales process
  • During project kickoff
  • On change requests
  • During status calls and meetings
  • During every informal oral communication

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Applying Zen Principles to Leadership

PM HutBy Sally Stanleigh
PM Hut

Zen Leadership PrinciplesWe all know that successful leaders delegate effectively, communicate clearly, coach and mentor their staff and think strategically. But leadership is more than these commonly understood principles. It is about thinking creatively, innovatively and managing change successfully. There are 7 aesthetic principles of Zen that, if we apply to our leadership styles, will increase our effectiveness as leaders.

1. Kanso—Simplicity or elimination of clutter
This aesthetic principle relates well to leadership communication and reminds us to express ourselves in a plain, simple, natural manner that is clear and articulate. This means saying what we mean and meaning what we say while at the same time omitting or excluding the non-essential. Leaders that are able to communicate simply and clearly really understand what they are expecting of their employees. Leaders will reap the reward of getting what they expect from others, along with respect.

2. Fukinsei—Asymmetry or irregularity

Asymmetry is a design principle that strives to achieve balance and harmony despite differences in proportion between the parts of a thing. In fact, asymmetry relies on differences to achieve balance and beauty on the principle that, when life is perfect, things get boring. Irregularity keeps us alert and engaged. By its nature, asymmetry is imperfect. In Zen, the “Zen circle” or “enso” is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection that is a part of existence.

As leaders we live in a world of imperfection. Our goal is to solve problems and create harmony in the workplace—by improving our environment, developing and stretching our resources and “adding value”. Therefore, we can apply the principle of “Fukinsei” by staying positive rather than frustrated when we are dealing with irregularity; reframing the “curve balls” into possible opportunities for creating beauty and achieving order out of disorder.

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How are Key Organizational Roles Affected by Agile Adoption?

Agile-Organization-TeamIs agile adoption the right move for your organization? That’s the big question in your mind if you’re an IT leader trying to decide who you should be shaping your development practices, your project management practices and your product and program rollout practices going forward for 2013. Is it the right solution for profitability? For customer satisfaction? For project success? For application development and deployment? Is it the better way to go? And what will it cost me to get there?

It’s important for different roles in the organization to understand how agile practices are important to their work, to the organization, and ultimately to the projects they manage and the customers they manage those projects for and with. Will it help them perform better? Will they be more successful – indeed, will the organization be more successful overall for having adopted agile development and project management practices? Once you’re immersed in the process, it’s not so difficult to understand if it was the right move for you or not, but when you’re trying to make that decision to move, then an understanding of agile and what it can mean to your organization is crucial to adoption and acceptance.

Executive and key leadership roles

From the viewpoint of the organization’s CIO, agile adoption and process implementation can set a better vision for the entire technical team. Stakeholder meetings should become easier and communication with business partners throughout the organization will likely improve. Almost overnight, the organization will have a much higher level of transparency and will involve much less of a political agenda.

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Creating Filters for Custom-Defined Searches

In many of our schedules, we need to keep track of items such as when different resources or groups are assigned to work within the project. The typical problem may arise when we need to create simple schedules from the overall project, which can show us when one specific resource or a group of resources will be working.

One way we can accomplish this in FastTrack Schedule 10 is by formatting Filters which allows us to search for almost any user-defined data that is stored within the columns of your project. In the example today, we’ll build a Filter to identify when a specific department is working within our project. For information on how to format a customized “Department” column within your project take a look at our Creating Custom Value Lists post.

To create a Filter, go to the Filters tool and select Define. Once in the Filters Menu, we can select New, which will allow us to create a new Filter from scratch.



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Avoid Project Failures with These Best Practices

Project Success Best PracticesProjects come and go and if we are experienced, diligent, and a bit lucky, we will experience many more project success stories than failures. But there will come a time when you fail on a project…it happens to all of us. Hopefully, never enough that we quit (or are asked or told to quit). But it happens.

Do we have control over our project successes and failures? Well, yes, for the most part. What we do, how we manage our team and customer, how we communicate and the experience and technical expertise we bring to the table…these things all can play a big role in how often we are successful on our projects.

Of course there will always be those situations that are out of our control. Customer funding dries up, customer priorities shift, the world ends…I think you get the picture. Sometimes a failure just can’t be avoided.

However, I am a firm believer – through real world PM experience and observation – that what we do and how we do things on a consistent basis will help to ensure we deliver success most of the time. For the most part, we control our own destiny in terms of project success and we do that through consistent adherence to some project management best practices. I’m identifying my four key ones here that we can adhere to and greatly increase our success percentages on project delivery and end solution implementation…

#1 – Really manage the issues and risks

We like to pay close attention to the project schedule and what tasks are happening right now and that’s a good thing. While it is important to stay on top of progress and team assignments, it is equally important that we remain aware of potential risks and how we will react should they become a reality. It is also critical that we track the outstanding issues on our project, and keep team members accountable for them. Nothing makes your customer lose confidence faster than a bunch of unresolved issues that aren’t getting proper attention and resolution. And an ever growing issues list is a scary thing to fight late in the project. It will always come back to haunt you.

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Sharing Projects as PDFs

When it comes to sharing your project with your resources, stakeholders, and clients, there are several ways to manage this. One of the most effective ways is to create a PDF. With FastTrack Schedule 10, you can easily create PDFs of your entire project, which can be shared for viewing or printing. A PDF allows you to lock in the detail and format of your project report, making it easy for clients to view and print.

Creating PDFs is slightly different between the Mac and Windows versions of FastTrack Schedule 10, yet it’s easy to do on both platforms. On Mac, we can use the built in PDF functionality, whereas Windows XP to Windows 8 it will require that a PDF Writer, such as Adobe Writer or CutePDF, is installed. Update: For users on Windows 10, Microsoft now offers a built in Print to PDF utility.

The first step to creating a great PDF project report is to set up your data to display the necessary information using Layouts and Filters. These will allow you to control exactly what data is being displayed, based on who you are sharing your project with. For information on working with Layouts, take a moment to view our “Reporting project details with layouts” (Mac | Win) video tutorial.

Next, we can switch to Print Preview, where we can make changes to the current formatting of what our PDF will look like. When formatting our PDF, especially for sharing with a print shop for large format printing, we want to set the paper size according to what will be used in the final production. This ensures that when you send the file for printing, everything is formatted ahead of time and no adjustments need to be made on the fly. To set up your paper size and orientation, go to File > Print Setup on Windows and File > Page Setup on Mac. Once the changes have been made to the orientation and paper size, everything’s ready to create your PDF.

Mac users, go to File > Print. From the lower left hand corner of the Print Dialog, select PDF > Save as PDF. Here you can enter the file name, title and author of the PDF, and even apply security preferences such as a password.

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Foundations of Agile Teams in the Organization

Agile Project TeamThe goal of the agile infrastructure is that it be built on a foundation of respect, value, and system thinking. The agile organization must embrace a set of principles and practices that create a culture of fostering successful projects.

Four key values should already be in place before the organization can truly move forward with an agile development and project management infrastructure. They must be:

Continually improving. Continuous improvement is at the very foundation of the agile process. No process is perfect, and when problems arise the whole team is responsible to stop, change the process and restart. And it’s key to do this without pointing fingers at other team members.

Respecting people. People hold the knowledge about processes, problems and needed improvements. Teams use their local knowledge, guided by their organization’s enterprise standards in order to create processes that will successfully deliver products and projects. It is essential – and expected – that each team member will deliver on his own commitments and that all team members depend on each other to do the same. It’s all about a mutual respect and trust.

Focusing on value. Team decisions are always based on what delivers business value – real, meaningful business value – quickly. The business must, of course, prioritize what features are necessary to satisfy their needs and those key features are what the agile team will focus on as the highest priority of functionality.

Removing impediments. The entire team is responsible for identifying and – as much as they possibly can – removing things that get in the way of the forward progress of the team and the team’s ability to deliver value on the project. If it is out of the team’s control to remove certain roadblocks, then they must turn to management to get this done. As with any type of project, if success is going to happen, roadblocks must be identified and eliminated.

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Project Playlist: Top 10 Mustaches in Music

Movember mustacheIt’s the last day of Movember. Yes Movember, the annual month-long event when men in the US and around the world sprout mustaches to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues. Did you or someone on your project team grow a Mo?

To commemorate Movember coming to a close, we’re toasting some of the top mustaches in music. Enjoy our moustachery-themed playlist, as shared through Spotify. We’ve shaved (couldn’t resist) the list down to ten whisker wearers – some old, some new – who represent a wide range of musical styles.

Did your favorites make the cut?

Creating Custom Value Lists

Many projects require us to maintain large lists of information ranging from the priority level of a task to the specific department assigned to each task. Finding a simple, yet efficient way to handle these lists can be an extremely time-consuming task. When manually entering values for these lists, we always have to be aware of any inconsistencies such as misspellings, which may cause an issue when using the list at a later time.

In FastTrack Schedule, we can quickly customize column specific value lists that allow us to efficiently manage our lists of information within a project. These value lists allow us to add new values at any time, select multiple values per row, and even use control features which limit the ability to modify the lists.

To start off, we first need to input and define a customized column for our data. Here, we will add in a simple text column (Text 1) which we can format to display the different departments working on our project. You can do this by going to Insert > Column > Text 1 > OK. With the column inserted into the file, we can now format it based on the type of data we wish to display. Double-click on the Column Header (Text 1) to open the Format Column Dialog.

Now fill in a Customized Column Name; in this example, we will use “Department” since the column will show the different departments in the project. Next, select the tab labeled Value List to format the department list. Select Custom Value List to enable value lists for the text column.

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10 Common Project Management Mistakes and How to Correct Them

PM HutBy Michael Stanleigh
PM Hut

10 Project Management MistakesWe have undertaken global research of hundreds of project management organizations around the world to determine their best practices in project management and through this process have identified 10 common problems. If you correct them, you’ll increase your success with projects.

1. Running Projects That Don’t Fit with the Strategic Direction of the Organization

Too often, project managers and project teams are working on projects that are not adding value to the organization. These projects neither support the development, enhancement and/or replacement of products, services or processes, nor do they support the organizational or departmental strategic plan, yet they are using valuable time, budget and resources that could be better utilized in more strategically driven projects. As a result, many project teams complain that senior management are not supporting their projects.

When projects support strategic planning directives of the organization, management will be much more likely to support them with resources, time and budget. Therefore, before initiating a project, make sure that it is aligned with the strategic planning directives of the organization. If it isn’t, drop it. This will increase the likelihood that the project will have the funding, resources and executive support required to help ensure its success.

2. An Organizational Culture that is Not Ready for Project Management

A project culture where people are given special project assignments without the necessary tools, training or resources to execute them is extremely unproductive and damaging to the organization as a whole. Organizations that maintain this type of project culture lose millions of dollars on special projects. The losses are not always financial—these organizations may also experience difficulty in retaining customers; both internal and external.

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