Managing the smaller bites

There is a project and there is one big final delivery. This can be a difficult task but the tracking would be easy. Only one big deliverable. Even sub tasks won’t be difficult to manage. Now, you have one project or more than 100 deliverables. Some of you might be wondering, more than 100 deliveries!! Is it actually a practical scenario? It is sometimes, lets say you have projects to create images for a illustrative book or simply part of some big project where there are 100’s of images have to delivered. You can call this as one single project but eventually you have to tackle with 100 odd deliverables. Who are working on them, there complexity level, image name and so on.

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What are the best methods to deal with such scenarios:

  • Maintain a tracker: very very important. What is coming, what is going, who is working, file name, received date, delivery date, corrections 1, 2, final delivery date or any other information. An excel never disappoints you and very good tracking option. I have one such template for one of my project, take a look.

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  • Have a strong configuration management in place. This means, if you are using FTP for file transfer or local server or VSS. For any data management system, the protocol should be stringent and should be thoroughly followed. This will reduce lots of work in terms of file management.
  • Close monitoring will do wonders. Open your excel in the morning and quickly glances through and see where are your items and then work accordingly. It work for me hopefully should work for you as well.

PMgiri sometime we feel that a project plan and risk management plan don’t works for smaller project. That’s not true, we should always prepare these two documents, it helps us to foresee any bitter problems of the future.

The Phone has become smarter

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There are times when we used the phone to be in touch either by calling or through text messaging. SMS was a cool thing, it just took a couple of years and the phone has become smarter and your life has become easy. Literally easy!

I was never a phone savvy, further I couldn’t digest the idea of surfing the internet in such a small screen. So a smart phone never tempts me rather than a good camera in the phone was always my object of desire. This misconception remains till the time I bought my first smart phone and believe me it was a huge help not only in your personal life but also in your professional life.

Email on the go: yes, this can be irritating habit of checking your emails every now and then but just think that you are just waiting for one single confirmation email in the night and after which you are free to go home. Will it not be nice, if you could see the mail on go? Yes it will be nice. The email access made it possible. Specially, after a long vacation or long weekends, I like to glance the emails on the phone thus segregating them in my head which ones to touch first which one to go for later. It surely is a major relief.

The Documentation: we are quite used to Google docs for various reports. The smart phone gives you the facility to work on the google doc at your own convenience. Now, if you just have to change one single date or correct some typo, you need not open the whole laptop. Your phone could be your rescuer.

App for the project management: there is some cool and free app available in the store for project management. Majorly for the schedule part, these should be good in keeping track of your project and getting reminders quickly and easily.

ebooks: a cool way to enhance your knowledge base. We all are busy creature so the chances of getting free time is less and in that time having your fav book with you is almost negligible, so the best solution are the ebooks. You need to carry it everywhere. They are easily available though various stores and can read at your own convenience.

Get Social: how could one forget this. A project manager work is 90% communication so he/she has to be in social platform to connect with your team members, seniors, other stakeholders. Smart phones could be your best bet, be it Linkedin, yammer or any other social medium, you could be in touch with everyone through your phone itself.

Tips for Project Management

  • We as a project manager always keep the project at the highest priority. These are absolutely correct!! But always try to see the bigger picture, connect your project with the business acumen. We are working for an organization; a project will only be successful if it is fulfilling the dynamics of a company as a whole.
  • Meetings, meetings & more meetings!! We all got bugged down with these meetings. Let’s have a 10 minute quick review meeting everyday! But we all know that the quickest meeting last for at least half an hour and it result is that it hamper the work; disrupt your chain of thought. So what’s the solution? Well… meetings are necessary evil so these can’t be avoided. What you could do, make sure that all the meetings is covered in one part of the day. Do keep your at least two to three hours at a stretch for work. I am sure you will see this is the time where you can get the best ideas for the project.
  • We all tend to bog down by the problems which we faced day to day; from HR related; say one of key resource is rude with others or server is down and important delivery is on bay. Think these problems as a part of life, because as a project manager you are suppose to resolve issues of any sort. Take pride to be multi-tasker and issue resolver.
  • Give your team some space to explore! We are all, living in a competitive market. Continuous improvement is one of the major agenda of the companies. Completing the work quickly, with quality and within budget is the basic essential now you are expected to do the work with innovation so that you do give something extra to client and within this process you are able to save more for your own organization. One smart method will be empower your team, you could only grow when your team grows with you. Support them, guide them but don’t spoon fed them. Let them shine and be the leader to make them shine!
  • To error is human, how to reduce the error. Well, the best thing is to check. Obviously no one is asking the project manager not to belive their team member or start behaving like QA. But it’s a good idea to check the outcome. By doing this he is achieving two points, one he is improving the quality and two he is getting involved in the project thus improving his team members confidence in him.
  • We all know about RCA and CAPA’s but how much we work on it is important. Whenever anyone complains, human tendency is to get a quick fix solution and give some freebies to them to get the issue resolved. Avoid it as much as possible. Always try to get into the deeper of the problem. Find out the reason why it is happening and then figure how to avoid it. Make a brief plan and stick to it. Do monitor the progress. This will definitely give you desired results over the period of time.
  • Know your agenda, what you wanted to achieve. Being in control is the first aspect of project management. You can never say that I am not in control over situations. And you could be in control if you are in control of yourself. Your vision is crystal clear. You know what are you looking for. If there is any slightest doubt. Take a back seat, think and then roll again.
  • We all understand that the market is growing in a tremendous speed so is the skill set of people. To be able to cope with the ever changing scenario, learn new skill set. This will make you more comfortable to get involved into new territory. And who knows you might some extra bucks because of the new language you learn recently.
  • Making real plan is THE most difficult part of a project management. The best way to handle this is to be skeptical as much as possible. It is good to be optimistic but to see the potential problem you need to on your toes. Thus ask many questions before coming up a plan, my suggestion don’t be very pessimistic. It will also not solve the purpose 🙂
  • And most important point, result. Nothing is viable till the time you are not delivering. Thus your every job should have an objective to reach your goal. How you are going to achieve it is your choice!!!

Simple steps to develop a team

One of the most important aspects of project management is team management. Whether you are working for software development  company or in a hotel every work needs a team. A human team. So developing a good team is one of the most important crieterion for a project manager. A dream team for project manager will have resources who are  enthusiastic, eager to learn, deadline oriented, self-motivated, pro-active. But tell me… in reality have you ever got such dream team. If you are very lucky, you might have one or two individual who are laced with all the above qualities but most of the people will be dull, lack of interest or no interest at all. So the important questions lies, how on earth can we make an effective team.

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  • Give some time to you and your team, Taj Mahal was not built in day. A team cannot be developed over night.
  • Give measurable tasks and monitor it regularly. Give me water and give me a glass of water are two different approaches. You could say that it is understood that the water has to be given in the glass but I would like differ water can be given in a cup or may in a soceer may be his/her last organization they are supposed to give water in a soccer. So, the crux is give measurable task and do regular follow-up.
  • Always, always give end date. If you want their involvement, then ask for the response time. You have to make sure that the team knows when they have give the work back to you.
  • Good idea, to check whether they have understood or not. Many people have the tendency to say yes on your face. It’s good idea to check whether they understood it by asking questions or asking for interim deliveries.
  • Praise in public and criticize in private. We are forgetting the golden rule of team development. Believe me, this is a big big motivation for team building exercise.
  • A team wants support from a PM. Build on the trust, by being there for a team member when they needed it. A team member came to office because there is deadline but his son is not well. Ask them to be with his child. You might have to work little more for that project but you just bought the trust from your entire team.
  • Sometimes PM can not do anything about remuneration for an employee but effort do count, if you think someone is doing good in your team then recommendation to the seniors as well as externally works wonders for the motivation of the team.

The necessary evil: sample!!

How long a sample should be stretched??

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There are many name of sample in various projects, some called it as pilot project, some refer to as one module, some call this as dummy software and some may refer to it as design look and feel, but whatever we call it the important question is how long do we need to stretch the sample!

Let me try to explain the question a bit more, (SITUATION) you have to create a website, client has given their specification and you would like their approval on the design aspects, so with the specification in mind you create a design look and feel & send it back to the client for their approval. Client said that red is their rival company’s prime color we couldn’t use this color, our primary color is blue, please use blue. Okay, that’s a mistake!! You thought that let me put this in lesson learnt that color palette of the company needs to be checked before proceeding with the design. So round two! You changed the color scheme and submitted the design; the client said this is nice but not upto the mark! “We need something which is catchy, people can relate to, there is too many text in it, we want it to be visually appealing” client said. Hmm… you thought about it hard, checked with your design guys, the sound of it says that this is going beyond your given budget so you started talking to the client try to make some sense to him, give him n number of reasoning, tweak the designs with numerous colors and changing the logo, pics randomly and you see that the whole process took 5-6 round!! Now, the client is bored, you just want this project to get over with because the budget is pretty much haywire. In the last round you were desperately hoping that the sample would be approved, client came up with a twist. They said that they loved the sample but our CEO has the primary authority of approving this project because this is very crucial project for the company. CEO came into picture and another 5-6 round of to and fro and the sample is approved! There are times when almost everyone in the project scenario has faced this problem. So the crux of the problem is till where the sample should be stretched and how should we let the client know about it.

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The simple calculation for creating the sample is: if your project is a 30 Man days work; then your sample shouldn’t be more than 10 man days (including corrections). According to your project and with the team consent you can decide what you would like to show for the project sample.

Now that you have decided that this will be your sample, you have to decide on how many rounds is feasible in your project. So, you look at the project and decide on one the first module to send as sample. This should be finished in 9 days and with the past experience shows that the corrections could be incorporated in 0.5 day so you can easily accommodate two rounds of corrections.

Some tipsWhile calculating schedule for sample or estimating for sample or Alpha/Beta round, do add up for corrections. However, you advocate first time right approach, human error is inevitable. Thus, keeping time for corrections will save you in the rainy days!

How you will let the client know about your plan about the number of rounds in sample stage. SIMPLE! In the beginning of a project, we all have a project initiation call (project kick off), make sure to go-through your client with your project life cycle (PLC). Client might have an understanding of the final product which they are looking for but they may not know about how you work, what is your plan, so to align with their understanding with your plan. Make sure that you elaborately tell them about your PLC.

To avoid the situation above at the time of kick-off call while explaining your PLC do mention about the number of rounds which you could offer in the sample round. Tell them subtly that more than two rounds might cost them extra money. Ask umpteen times about their requirements, if they have anything specific in mind, if possible show them your previous work, these measures might help the client to come up with suggestions which will help your project on a long way.

In a nutshell:

  • Sample is usually one third of the project.
  • Add the corrections time in this one third, thus you will be able to find how many rounds are feasible in your project.
  • Usually it is 2-3 round is given in sample.
  • While creating the sample, ask about requirements, specifications (technical-general), any previous projects client have done, any project which you can show. Ask, Ask, Ask! Asking will never let you down.
  • In the kick-off call go-through your client with the PLC
  • Tell them about your plan on sample
  • Tell them that the project could afford two rounds of corrections; tell them subtly that more than two rounds might cost them extra money. 

 

Photo Courtesy:www.freedigitalphotos.net

Always close the loop and don’t sit on any information!

If anyone ask me what could be the mantra for the project management, my answer is always close the loop and don’t sit on any information.

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To explain this further, we have this habit of starting any work but tend to forget whether it is complete or not. You may disagree this by saying this as spoon feeding or micro-managing but believe me closing the loop may take a bit of more time in the beginning but on long run it will save a lot time and energy.

Another matra which I personally always follow is to never sit on any information. A project manager is not working so whenever any information has reached you it surely means that the information needs to use by some other entity. Though, there are times when you might think that the person doesn’t require the information then and there so it is a good idea to hold the information. I will suggest otherwise… Always pass on the information however ALWAYS reiterate the information at the right time!

Getting the work at the right time, creating and maintaining schedule

You have a project in hand and wondering how to create a schedule, here are some tips which you could use to create a sound schedule.

Break your one task into several small tasks. Whenever we are given any task (activity) or a task is lying on the table. Our first instinct is to finish it quickly with our own judgment. Wait a min! This is not the right way instead take reference from the scope statement, read and re-read several times what the client is looking for, take suggestion from your team and the divide the tasks in smaller chunks of work.

Rolling Wave Planning technique: this technique is used where you do not have the clarity of the upcoming activities of the project. For example: let’s say you have to establish a business (mind it, running a business is an operation work however establishing (start-up) a business is a project  ) so the schedule may look like this using the Rolling Wave Planning.

Scheduling using rolling wave planning

Milestone: a milestone is a significant event which will make your life easier. Okay, to put it more concretely. There will be activities and after completing several activities you will reach milestone. For long projects, the significance of milestone increases tremendously as this will also help you to gauge the performance (in terms of schedule) of the project.

Once you have identifies which tasks or activities needs to be done in the project, the next step is to sequence those activities. This can be done using a network diagram. A network diagram can be created using Precedence Diagramming method.

Precedence diagramming method: first draw the logical relationship of the activities then consider any dependencies.

Network Diagram for an e-learning project

  • Always create the network diagram because it will help you to justify the time taken for the project.
  • The network diagram also helps you to establish a workflow of the project so this aspect should never be neglected in a project.

Estimation: this is a huge task and your whole schedule planning will depend on this. In the next step you have to estimate the resources used in the project and estimate the time taken for each activity. There are many methods which could be used for estimate.

One Point Estimate: in this type of estimate takes one estimate per activity. The con of this process is that the estimator might buffer his/her estimate.

Analogous Estimating: this estimating is based on the historical data. You pick up schedules for the last five projects and then you create a schedule for the latest one based on your expert judgment.

Parametric Estimating: this estimating process is based on data. The estimation will be done time per line of code, time per pagination, time per installation. Estimators can create the parametric estimation using Regression Analysis (scatter diagram) and Learning curve. Many a times the final result of  parametric estimating is used as Heuristics (rule of thumb). Example, a schedule heuristics might be “Till Alpha phase 70% of the production work is completed” (e-learning).

Scatter Diagram (Image courtesy RMC Publication)

Three point estimates (PERT analysis, Program evaluation and Review Technique): in this technique you take three estimate (Pessimistic, Optimistic, Most Likely) for a single activity and then calculate the expected duration. The formulas are:

Expected Activity Duration: (P +4M + O)/6

Activity Standard Deviation: (P – O)/6

Thus in the previous example, if for Scope Analysis the data is P= 3 weeks (analyzed that there are many holidays coming); O= 0.5 week; M= 2 Week

Expected Activity Duration= 1.917 week (P +4M + O)/6

Activity Standard Deviation= 0.4 week (P – O)/6

Thus range of the estimate is 1.917 +- .4

How PERT analysis helps?

  • Standard deviation helps to assess risks. The more the deviation, the higher is the risks.
  • It helps to decide on the costing. Let’s say there is a substantial deviation to do a job. Example, client had asked to paint a room but he is unsure the size of the room because the room is yet be build and the room size might vary, which means the variation to complete the task is substantial. So in this scenario giving the client a fixed cost is a bad idea rather than suggesting time and material cost will be a better idea

Once the network diagram and estimate is done it’s time to put time frame in the schedule. Make sure you have the following details with you.

  1. Scope is identified
  2. All the activities are defined
  3. Workflow is prepared
  4. Estimate resource requirement and duration of each task
  5. Availability of resources
  6. Company calendar for working and non-working days

 

Schedule

  • Don’t try to cushion your schedule (keeping buffer time), dig dig and dig deep to get the accurate estimates from other team members, historical data. There may be chances that padding might help you but on the long run it is dangeroius as padding brings mistrust and the team will be unnecessarily loaded.
  • Involve team members for estimating, this will solve two purpose. One, you will get accurate estimate for the activities, second, you will get their buy-outs. The sense of responsibility will come in which is very necessary for successful team management.
  • While estimating always be pessimistic, try to probe as many known unknown scenarios.
  • Define schedule baselines and not to be changed for creating useful schedules
  • Estimation should be done for smaller chunks of work, the larger the activity there is more chances of incorrect estimation.

You should always measure the performance of your project along the way. The timeline in which you measure the performance depends on the size of the project. Let’s say painting a wall, performance needs to be measured in two hours and creating banking software, a week should work fine. Historical data or experience plays a big role to understand when exactly you need to check the performance. However, if you are new in the field then my suggestion is to check the performance frequently.

Analyze the schedule for further analysis: once the schedule is prepared, you should analyze the schedule further to match it completely with the goal of the project.

Critical Path Method: longest path in the network diagram. This path also determines the total time taken for the project. More than one critical path increases the risk in the project.

Critical path

Schedule compression: schedule compression can be using fast tracking and crashing. In fast tracking the tasks in the critical paths can be done simultaneously. And in the crashing, resources are added to reduce the time frame.

What if scenario: to calculate the effect of what-if changes is through Monte Carlo Analysis. This analysis is same as three point estimate.
Resource leveling: if there is an uneven distribution of resoiurces then resource leveling will help to maintain schedule effectiveness and will decrease risks.

Sample Schedules: here are some example of sample schedule using various techniques.

Sample schedules (Image courtesy: PMBOK 4th edition)

 To Sum it up:

  1. Break your one task into several small tasks (defining activities).
  2. the next step is to sequence those activities
  3. estimate the resources used in the project and estimate the time taken for each activity
  4. put time frame in the schedule
  5. Analyze the schedule to match it completely with the goal of the project.