Closing Out the Project with Confidence

closing out the project with confidenceWorking on the end of the project at the beginning is not the first thing on our minds. At least not mine – I have to make a deliberate effort because all euphoria and excitement is focused on getting the project going well for the customer and getting out of the gate on a positive note. But the good project manager keeps the closeout in mind, as well, even from the outset of the project.

Avoid letting things fall through the cracks

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Creating a Bar Legend in FastTrack Schedule

When setting up schedules in FastTrack Schedule, we have the ability to assign unique bar styles to any of the activities that we create. Typically bar styles are assigned with some sort of specific meaning in mind. For example, they may be used to represent the resources assigned, the phase of the project that task occurs in, or even the type of task that it is. When we assign these styles it may be easy for us to recall what each style represents, but when we share schedules with others they may have no clue what each style indicates.

To make it easier for users to understand the bar styles and their meanings we can easily add in a Legend in any location within our schedule. There are two ways a Legend can be added:

  1. Schedule View. A Legend added directly to the Schedule View, can be helpful when exporting the schedule as an image.  -OR-
  2. Print Preview. A Legend created in Print Preview will only show up when we print or create a PDF of the schedule.

As we can see in the schedule below, bar styles have been assigned to the specific phases of the project.

Schedule Start_small

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Successfully Taking Over a Project in Mid-Stream

successfully taking over a project in mid-streamYou are a busy PM – your project plate full of challenging projects. Yet someone in charge thinks you need to be the one to take over a project – be it troubled, or just in need of a replacement leader. It’s hard to look “weak” and say, “No”, so you smile and nod. Rarely are you given the right of first refusal. They want you on it and you better take the assignment. Does this still sound familiar? I’m sure most of us have been at this point at some time or another. It’s nice to be wanted, but you get that uneasy feeling that your other work and projects may suffer and you may not come out looking good in the end no matter how well you turn things around on the newly assigned project. So accept it if you must, but do it cautiously, efficiently, and wisely.

When I need to jump on a new project like this, I generally go through a few steps to get up to speed…and for this scenario I’ll assume that the outgoing project manager has little to no ability to transfer knowledge to me as I come on board…the onus for that falls to me.

Here’s what I always try to do and recommend doing if you find yourself in this scenario:

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Are We Really Managing Risk on Our Projects?

are we really managing risk on our projectsManaging risk is one of those afterthoughts for many of us. We should plan early for it, think of ways to mitigate it, avoid it in certain areas, and help ensure our project’s success by dedicating a chunk of that early project budget to it. In reality, how much time – and on how many projects – do we actually sit down as a team (or as team and customer) and really plan for risk? Seems like planning for when the tire might blow out on our car. We’ll deal with it when it happens.

I’ve written articles that suggest risk planning and the creation of a Risk Management Plan as a deliverable on all of our projects, but often due to time constraints, budget constraints, and lack of customer interest, it either doesn’t happen or very little time and effort is dedicated to it and it becomes a very short spreadsheet list that is tucked away till later in the project. I’m not proud of it, but it is reality.

Risk management really shouldn’t be a once and done activity either. It needs to be a living, breathing end-to-end project activity. So in what time I do dedicate to risk management on each project I least do this….create a combined Issues/Risks list that becomes part of the weekly project status report and part of the weekly status call and review process. That way, it has all project eyes on it every week and we spend at least some time discussing the potential risks on the project and occasionally adding to it as the project is in progress. Some practical risk management is better than none…definitely.

In lieu of spending a large amount of time on an upfront risk management strategy with a full fledged, fully documented risk management plan, I’ve found that at least performing the following during a 1-2 hour session at kickoff time or during early planning phases can get key risks documented and monitored throughout the project.

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Applying Master Sorts

When setting up projects we often try to enter our tasks and activities in a chronological order.  This allows us to easily view the schedule and visualize the flow from one activity to the next.  However, in some cases we may not always know the exact dates that everything will occur as we build the outline for the schedule.  When this happens, as we start to enter dates, tasks may no longer appear in their true chronological order.  In these cases users may want to re-sort their data into chronological order to easily see the flow from start to finish.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 users can easily sort data on the fly, within any column in their schedule. As we can see in the schedule below, our start dates are currently out of order so tasks appear scattered throughout the schedule.


Out of Order Schedule_small

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Making the Right Decisions on Our Projects

making right decisions on projectsProject managers make decisions all the time. It’s part of the job. In fact, it is much of the job. Decision-making is an ongoing task on every project engagement. Key decisions have to be made throughout by everyone including the project manager, the project team members, the customer, executive management, and usually other stakeholders. They may be as simple as when to hold a meeting or as difficult as making a go- no-go decision on a phase of the project or the entire project.

What we often lack when making some key decisions is the right information at the right time. We all know that making what seems to be the right decision based on information that ends up being inaccurate or out of date can be fatal to the project. What if you could only make decisions on when to cross the street based on a snapshot taken five minutes ago? Would this help? Would you have any confidence in whether or not you should cross the street? After all, it could be a life or death decision.

Well, that’s often how organizations are continually making business and technology decisions. Many decisions we make on projects are based on what we knew two days ago or two weeks ago or what someone told us last Thursday. Ideally, information would be flowing to all key personnel constantly and we would be making key business, project, and technology decisions based on what we just learned – not what we knew last week. What if you could make sense of what you learn as fast as you learn it and put that into play?

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The Human Aspect of Project Management

human aspect of project managementProject management is built around structured methodology – usually – and best practices. There are processes to follow, procedures to implement and documentation to create and deliver. It’s actually pretty structured when you think about it. Or at least it can be.

But if we just follow a rigid process, will we really be successful? How does the human element apply to project management? Here are my thoughts…. I’m thinking it centers around a few concepts or activities such as communication, organization, ambition and control. While we don’t all have those traits, I think most individuals who would be categorized as somewhat normal have something within their being that, under the right circumstances, strives to achieve those traits. Let me elaborate…

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Work Breakdown Structure in FastTrack Schedule

While FastTrack Schedule 10 can display a detailed Gantt chart of everything that happens within a project, one graphical view that is not displayed is the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS.  Normally, the WBS displays the hierarchical breakdown of the project according to its phases or deliverables.  Even though FastTrack does not have a graphical display of the WBS it is still possible to view and utilize the WBS coding that is assigned to each activity throughout the schedule.

The WBS coding will automatically number activities in a sequential order according to the hierarchy of those tasks.  This allows users to easily identify the outline and order of tasks by viewing simply the code displayed.  Normally when we view a schedule, as we see below, we only see a simple Row Number that is displayed to indicate the order of the activities.  However it is possible to add or even modify how the WBS coding will be displayed in a project.


Standard View_small

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Project Managers – the Importance of Being Flexible

project managers - the importance of being flexibleStructured, rigidly adhered to project management principles and practices have their place. No question about it. Be stubborn, stick to your guns, be unwavering. You know the drill. But, from most of our experiences, we know that adhering to that train of thought will only get you so far when you’re dealing with clients who are somewhat vague on what they need you to do for them. They’re relying on your expertise and creativity to guide them down a path that they kind of know they need to be on. At the end of that path may be a solution that they have no idea or concept of – but they’re certainly hoping that you do – or you will soon.

In the world of project management it is important to make good decisions and stick to them. But you’re going to have to be flexible on every engagement – it’s just how the world of project management works. But know the boundaries – just the right amount of flexibility and the customer will love you forever. Go overboard or remain unwavering and you may not finish out the current project.

Let’s look at two concepts that fall under the ‘flexibility’ category:

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Ten Signs that Project Management is Not Your Thing

ten signs that project management is not your thingIt’s OK. Project management isn’t for everyone. It’s interesting, challenging, and somewhat rewarding. I’ll be honest and say it’s more internally rewarding than outwardly so. Success is expected but hard to come by. The target is definitely on the PM’s head if things go awry, but accolades do not come easy to the PM when success happens. It’s more of a team thing. So if you’re looking for the glory, PM may not be it.

Not everyone is cut out to be a project manager. Being a PM is not an exclusive club. It’s not even necessarily a highly desirable profession. You get a lot of visibility, but not necessarily a lot of recognition. That often goes more to the technical team than the PM, unless the project is very successful and highly visible.

I’m going to present here what I consider to be my personal list of ten signs you may not be a successful project manager and may want to consider a different career path.

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Displaying Bar Labels

When planning our projects there is often an almost infinite amount of data that we want to track and manage. However as we add more details to our projects it can often be difficult to present all of that information in a clear and concise way. In FastTrack Schedule 10, users have the ability to add any of the data columns in their schedule as labels to the various activity bars in the Timeline Graph. This allows users to easily display extra details without having to display each column when printing or sharing a schedule.

As we can see in the schedule below, data columns can often take up quite a bit of space within a schedule, and the space that they take up will be translated over when we print or even create an image of the schedule. To help clean things up we can hide columns and instead display the text as labels on our bars.


Schedule with several columns_small

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Are You the Weakest Link?

are you the weakest linkCommunication is one of the most critical aspects of managing a project. It must be efficient, effective, and must be managed by an organized leader on a project engagement – and hopefully the project manager is up for filling that communication facilitator role.

However, in the project management world – the communication process is only as good as your weakest link in the chain. You will encounter a communication weak link whenever you deal with someone else, and whenever your team members explain, discuss, or speak to another person. In other words, effective communication itself is the solution to the identification and elimination of weak links.

So what I want to do here is examine some key communication points for the project manager – outside the obvious PM == > customer link – and understand where those weak links may be and how to handle them. Why? Because 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 always present and always possible. By knowing where the weak links exist, you will be able to ensure that the project moves forward, on track, and on schedule…hopefully.

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