October 24, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Archives for July 2017

Hack Yourself Smarter: Good Study Tips for Project Managers

By Jane Sandwood

Study tips for PM'sIt is half-way through 2017 and here are unbeatable tips for studying towards project management certification, whether it’s PMP, CAMP, ACP or PgMP. Let’s face it, studying for your certification exam is no mean feat. No matter how hard-working or motivated you are, it’s easy to get bogged down and confused by the sheer volume of new information that you have to recall and deploy effectively.

Study Tips

These accessible hacks will really kick your studies into a higher gear.

  • The Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique is a simple yet devastatingly effective technique to retain focus and mental freshness. It’s easy – just set a timer for 25 minutes and start work. At the end of each 25-minute study session, you take a five-minute break to walk around, rest your eyes, stretch etc. Then it’s back to work for another 25 minutes. You can find plenty of Pomodoro-style timer apps for desktops and mobile devices. Alternatively, you can use a simple kitchen timer.
  • Handwrite your notes. Writing your notes out by hand is a tried-and-tested method for retaining more information. For best results, paraphrase the text instead of copying it verbatim. This will keep your mind engaged.
  • Get physical. Taking regular exercise isn’t just good for your body, it keeps your mind sharp as well. Even a 20-minute walk around your building will help you retain more from your PM studies.
  • Eat smart. While it’s tempting to reach for instant gratification in the form of snack foods, a healthy diet will help keep your mind clear. Supplements such as B vitamins and magnesium can also improve mental acuity.
  • Sleep on it. Cramming into the small hours might be counterproductive. Getting a good night’s sleep is indispensable for cementing what you’ve learned during the day.
  • Mix it up. Try a variety of study techniques and find out what works for you.
  • Team up. Get together with fellow PM students to talk over problems and quiz each other on course material. Explaining key concepts to each other can really help you get to grips with new ideas. If you’re studying alone, look for ways to collaborate online.
  • ‘Supplement’ your study. While you can’t replace effective study habits with a pill, safe so-called ‘smart drugs’ and some supplements can improve your academic performance. 
  • There’s an app for that. Study apps are a great way to revise. They range from customisable flash card utilities like Anki and premade spaced-repetition courses like the ones available on Memrise, to dedicated ACP and PMP study apps like PMStudy.

No single technique is right for everyone, and there are really no substitutes for hard work and application. But with these study hacks, you can make earning your project management certification much easier.

Let us know in the Comments section which exams you are studying for!

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Project Managers – Find a Beginners Guide to Scrum

Agile management frameworks are growing in popularity across many industries. Scrum is an agile framework that helps teams manage product development. The core principle behind Scrum is the understanding that customers can often change their mind about what they want at any stage of a project. For some teams, this can generate a lot of rework particularly in the later stages of development, which wastes time and money. Scrum manages this by delivering quickly in increments, gaining feedback early and adapting the product as necessary.

As with all agile frameworks, Scrum encourages team collaboration, frequent communication and continuous improvement. You can download an A0 size poster version of the graphic to print and display in your office!

If you’re interested to learn how Scrum typically works, take a look at the graphic below designed by Knowledge Train.

 

The Scrum methodology: a visual guideINFOGRAPHIC

Project Managers – Find a Beginners Guide to Kanban

By Alison Wood

It is no surprise that many organizations are adopting agile methods to manage their workflow. Kanban is one of the methods under the agile umbrella. Once understood, embraced and adopted successfully, you can expect significant improvements to your workflow and team collaboration.

The principle behind the Kanban method is to decrease and manage blockages in workflow, which can disrupt the entire team. It is a beneficial choice for teams that deliver frequently and for software development teams, even allowing teams to deliver daily if required. It is a very visual management method which usually revolves around the use of a whiteboard, coloured sticky notes and markers. Working like this allows the entire team to view the work progress and easily spot problems if they arise.

If you’re interested to learn about how Kanban works, take a look at the graphic below designed by Knowledge Train.

The 4 principles of Kanban: A visual guide

Product Development for Telecommunications Company

Project Success StoryThis story from project manager, Candice Adams, is about a project in the telecommunications industry with the goal of establishing a new Business Model to create a system whereby mobile services could be sold in bulk as part of B2B services.

The project was innovative and it was difficult to find resources with experience. This made the company’s stakeholders who were new to the concept, very dependent on a service provider for domain specific knowledge. It took about two years to complete.

The Customers knew more than the company which put a lot of pressure on the company to establish a model and service package. It took time to work out what is of mutual benefit.

Strained Business Relationships

What worked in the project’s favour was the fact that they had dedicated project team members and good support from IT management.

Initially they didn’t have Business support and they had to build trust over time. Due to the corporate nature of the company, there were the usual challenges with having a Silo effect and different teams working independently.

This challenge was overcome by communicating with the Business stakeholders regularly. The project was executed as part of business strategy and the business stakeholders had to become part of the journey. IT didn’t pretend to know everything.  The relationship became more transparent, business stakeholders were part of decision making and they felt empowered.

Multiple Challenges

In order to address the high dependency on the software provider, the project manager had to source subject matter experts (SME’s) in-house to assist with communications with the software provider from an overseas company who didn’t know the company culture, in order to challenge their ideas.

The business was not trusting IT with how the solution needed to be packaged and delivered. This improved as the relationships between IT and the business stakeholders became stronger.

The external dependency on the network in order to make the new business model work, was particularly challenging, because it wasn’t always stable or optimal. The project was formulating a bulk service solution, but standard services were not stable yet, for example, when calls dropped.

The Business Case determined a launch date a year into the future. This date couldn’t move out, as it was advertised already.  Much money was spent on marketing the future bulk service solution. For certain customers, there was a small window of opportunity to offer this service to their existing clients – this caused an immovable end date for go live of the solution.

Lessons Learned

Project success storyOn a strategic business project of this nature the buy-in from business stakeholders is mandatary and it requires transparent communications in terms of how the solution is developed.

A big factor in the success of the project was the on-boarding of SME’s to become part of the project team. This allowed better negotiation with the software providers in terms of what is required for the new business model. The SME’s also played a major role in transitioning to operations.

Sponsor Support and Communications

Through-out the project sponsor support was critical. The sponsor had to provide updates to the Board of Directors and he had to assist with addressing major project issues that were escalated.

Project communications were done through daily stand-ups with the entire project team (IT and Business) to keep team members aligned, first thing in the morning. Informal conversations also helped to overcome the silo’s. It addressed the questioning of motives and it helped to build trust. Evidence of the trust relationship was seen in how business stakeholders would defend IT if there were delays.

Key take-aways

The project manager had some big take-aways from the project experience, like the importance of being open and transparent. A project manager needs to keep an eye on the pulse of activities and progress. Also stay close to how people are feeling and how the team is experiencing the project. In conclusion the project manager learnt the value of being supportive and managing expectations.

About the project manager:

Candice Adams has started in Systems Management policies and procedures in a Petro-chemical company. She did business process analysis before she moved into project management, where she worked on projects in ERP, like SAP or Oracle and in Retail IT for the past 12 years. She plans to become PMP certified next.

Candice may be contacted on candicead@gmail.com

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