August 21, 2017

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

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

How Project Managers Manage Virtual Teams

With more companies expanding globally, the trend to work on projects with virtual team members who are remote workers, is growing. I have now worked on a project spanning three countries across three different time-zones. Despite having cloud-based tools for project plan sharing and logging test defects, the latest communication technology like Skype for Business in addition to everyday emails, it has been severely challenging.

Challenges in handling virtual teams

Project managers face a variety of challenges when handling virtual team members who work from different locations, who are permanent or freelance workers, who come from different backgrounds and cultures. It can be difficult to schedule a meeting with all members at a fixed time, especially with a 8 hour time-zone difference as was the case with my project. It impacts the decision-making process negatively.

It can be difficult to communicate a message correctly to remote workers. They may fail to understand the context or cannot grasp specific issues related to a project. They don’t always appreciate the consequences if they fail to have a same-day turnaround, that it can cause 2-3 days delays.

A risk I had to manage through-out was to keep team members aligned in terms of the project schedule, the latest decisions, new project baselines etc. Due to the fact that one team worked during another team’s night time and visa versa, it meant that any requests sent via email had to be very clear in terms of context and what was expected. If the receiver of the email had a question, they usually had to wait another day to receive an answer. This caused repeated delays in getting multiple requests fulfilled. As the project progressed, and especially during testing when team members in different time zones had to work together, we had to resort to different work hours to create more of an overlap between team members and to enhance the communication process and response times to issues and defects.

How to manage remote teams effectively

It’s important for project managers to effectively manage both remote and on-site team members to achieve project success. Have a look at the infographic below created by Brandeis University’s Online Project Management Masters Degree program. It addresses the typical challenges and obstacles faced when managing virtual teams, strategies to effectively manage them and technologies to overcome issues.

Managing Virtual Teams

Please share in the comments the challenges you faced when working with virtual teams and how you overcame them.

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Project Management Tool: Meet Cardsmith, Digital Solution for Sticky Notes on a Whiteboard

By Monica Borrell

As Project Managers we have all used sticky notes on projects and wished that there was a better way to capture them!

Question:  What do all of these things have in common?

  1. To-do Lists
  2. Project Planning
  3. Work Breakdown Structuring
  4. Agile Software Development
  5. Visual Portfolio Boards
  6. Kanban
  7. Scrum
  8. Brainstorming
  9. Mindmapping
  10. Value Stream Mapping
  11. Strategy Mapping
  12. Ranking and Sorting

Answer:  They are productivity and organizational methodologies that often make use of sticky notes and whiteboards.

Meet Cardsmith, a web-based productivity tool inspired by sticky notes that works like you think!

Example Work Breakdown Brainstorm in Cardsmith

Cardsmith to brainstorm

Example of a Kanban Board in Cardsmith:

Cardsmith as Kanban board

Virtual Teams

What happens when these activities need to be done by a group where not everyone is in the same room?  Then what?

With Cardsmith virtual teams can brainstorm opportunities together, plan projects and run Scrum standup meetings, all while looking at the same Visual Board.

Anyone on the team can contribute to the process by adding, moving or changing cards and everyone in the meeting can instantly see the change.

Cardsmith brings the advantages of physical sticky note boards to the digital world. Customers have commented that “Other software exists to do these things, but Cardsmith is the closest to the experience of using a physical board with cards or sticky notes”.

Agile teams around the world are using Cardsmith to brainstorm, plan and execute on projects from startups, to multi-nationals. Teams using Cardsmith are building everything from businesses to software products to healthcare products.

Benefits of Cardsmith

Being modeled after the physical world of sticky notes and whiteboards brings some key benefits to Cardsmith users:

#1. VISUAL: you can see the “big picture” and the context of what is happening.

The “big picture” with a Project Portfolio Board:

Portfolio board template

#2. FLEXIBILITY: Cardsmith doesn’t prescribe any particular methodology.  Rather, it can conform to the team’s preferred methods. You can manage your team via Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, or a hybrid method that suites your way of working.

#3. SIMPLICITY: Cardsmith is intuitive to use. There are not hundreds of features that are rarely used.

#4. ADAPTABILITY: The process of managing projects or other work might start out with assumptions that need to be changed as the team or the project evolves. Cardsmith Boards can be easily refined, or changed as new learning happens.

#5. MULTI-LANGUAGE: Just like with sticky notes, if you write on a Cardsmith Card, or title your Grid Columns in Spanish, you now have a Spanish application!

#6. CLOUD BASED: Sticky note boards in the Cloud give additional benefits of having a digital solution. They include:

  • The ability to move seamlessly from ideation to execution. It has been said that moving into structure or execution too swiftly hampers creative problem solving. Cardsmith supports innovation by letting the team start without structure – in what we call a “Freeform” view. Here, a picture is worth a thousand word, so check out this video to see an example of Brainstorming and Project Planning in action.
  • The ability to move from the “big picture” to the fine details. By linking multiple Cardsmith Boards together, one can allow executives to see the “big picture” (perhaps with a Visual Portfolio Board for the entire company or department). Then they can drill into individual to a Project Status Dashboard, and then finally – if needed – into the details that may be in a Project Task Board, or Scrum Board.
  • Multiple views of the same cards. A team might start out by sketching out a Brainstorm of ideas, and then move into turning the best ideas into action items. Next, they may organize these tasks into a project plan in a Grid view. Both the project plan view and the original brainstorm (“freeform” view) can be retained and referenced.
  • Supplemental information. Inside the Cardsmith cards, you can add fields that are meaningful to your team and label these fields whatever you want to, if you want to use field labels. These fields can store notes, checklists of tasks, mention other people who need to do something with the card/task/idea/project, attach images or link to other systems, including other areas of Cardsmith.  Another feature is that you can change the “card view”; the way cards are seen on the screen between several views from showing only the Card title, to showing the first few fields to featuring an Image on the front of each card.

Example of the Image Type Card View:

Team board

  • The ability to total up values such as estimated hours, or story points. The Cardsmith “Grid View” allows you total up fields with a particular label by row, by column or both.
  • Template boards. Not everything needs to be built from scratch. Cardsmith provides template boards with popular configurations. Boards can be shared and copied, so you can easily create your own template boards.
  • Template cards. Who wants to add a bunch of standard fields to dozens of cards? Once you have figured out what fields are most often needed, you can set a card configuration to be the default card so that new cards that are added have the fields that you determine to be needed. Any card can also be copied, or moved between boards.
  • Do a brainstorming with a large group. Maybe you are doing a speaking event and taking ideas from the audience. If you set the board to be Public and Collaborative, anyone with the link to the board can contribute cards, even from their mobile devices.
  • In the physical world, you can’t hide a column to get it out of sight and focus on more important things. Cardsmith allows for the hiding and displaying of columns or rows so you can focus on what is most important.

To learn more about this innovative solution, visit Cardsmith.co

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About the Author: Monica Borrell, CEO and co-founder Cardsmith.co

In between creating companies, Monica has held various positions on contract with large organizations doing change management, product management and project leadership consulting. She is also a Leadership Consultant with Project Elevate where she mentors and coaches project managers to become strategic leaders.

The Simple Trick To Improving Your Workflow

By Benjamin Brandall

Workflow improvementWhether you’re managing a schedule or organizing your time, there is one simple trick to improve your workflow for any and all tasks.

While working remotely I’ve tested more methods than I can count for boosting productivity. From software to diets to exercise and beyond, there’s one simple trick which has stood the test of time and I would like to share that with you.

You need to be following a process. What are the benefits?

Processes remove uncertainty

First and foremost, when you document workflows in a process you’re removing any uncertainty for the person working through it. As long as you provide ample instructions to go with your back checklist template (enough to tell them what to do and how to do it), there’s next to no reason for them to slow down mid-task in an attempt to remember the next step.

Put it this way; if you’re working through a process from memory you’re largely leaving success to chance. If you want to manage the project effectively, you need to have a reliable way to make sure that no steps are being skipped to maintain a consistent high quality.

Speaking of consistency…

You’ll have a consistent, measurable method

Again, rather than leaving the consistency of your team to chance you’re providing them with explicit instructions which they can easily follow. That means that rather than letting human error into your work and relying on memory, you have a consistent, documented process which is followed every single time you need to complete a particular task.

This same consistency is the only way that you’ll be able to effectively track and compare the results of various projects. If you’re running with a vague, half-solid method then the steps taken will likely vary in some way from one project to the next, making it incredibly difficult to pin down why a particular project succeeded or failed.

In turn, this will make it much harder to replicate your successes and avoid previous failures. Without knowing exactly what method was followed, there’s every possibility that you won’t even know what’s being done wrong.

Documented processes can be optimized

Being able to track your projects as they progress with a consistent method also means that when things go wrong you should be able to trace the fault back to your process. If a deadline is missed or a task not completed satisfactorily, it’ll be because of either a fault in the process or because the person working didn’t follow it.

Once you’ve documented your workflow and created a consistent approach, it’s easy to improve and to avoid disaster in the future.

Optimizing a process is a cinch. All you have to do is sit down with the people who worked through it, talk through their experience with the process, compare that to your results, and then you should be able to identify the section which needs improving.

For example, a particular step in the process could need more detailed instructions, a piece of software may need replacing, and responsibilities may need making clearer to increase accountability.

Documenting your workflows is the best way to improve your productivity and effectively manage your team’s projects efficiently. Whether you documenting processes using a special app or jotting them down in a pen-and-paper file, try it and see for yourself how easy it to improve your workflow.

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About the Author:

Benjamin Brandall is a content marketer at Process Street, where he writes on startups, SaaS, and workflows. In his spare time, he runs Secret Cave, a blog about obscure entertainment and internet culture.

PMO are you Looking for PPM Software with a Difference?

Today I would like to introduce an interesting concept, the democratization of project management. What this means, is to ensure that professionalized project management is no longer a privilege available to only a few.

It’s based on providing access to all organizations – regardless of size – to professional, organized and simple project management. It must be equally accessible to a certified specialist as it is to someone who has never heard of PMI, for example. This is according to ITM Platform, providers of a Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) Software with a difference.

The democratization of project management consists of bringing to everyone what was previously only accessible to the largest players. How has this philosophy made ITM Platform different from other PPM software?

ITM Platform PPM software

How ITM Platform differentiates itself

  1. We facilitate use of the system by everyone involved in the projects.Clarity and ease-of-use are not incompatible with a system that offers comprehensive features. Our efforts are focused on offering a complete and user-friendly system that adapts to your company and product. The market contains some very simple and visual tools, but they fall short in terms of functional characteristics. Others are highly comprehensive but entirely unusable.
  2. We offer deployment periods for our solutions that range from five minutes to four days.Other solutions with comparable feature sets range from six months to one year. We achieve this with a native cloud-based model, a series of predetermined configurations that facilitate start-up and user-friendly and easy-to-understand training materials.
  3. We provide the complete freedom to complete a deployment without the need for consultants.Having to contract another organization to launch a tool at your own imposes limitations. Consultants should only be necessary when they are going to provide methodological value, when they are going to help transform the organization or transfer knowledge.
  4. We offer all the features you could wish for, but delivered in an intelligent fashion without requiring clients to follow steps that are not natural for their organization and without restrictions that add nothing to the project.
  5. And, above all, we are accessible in terms of price.We have made great efforts to create a “fat-free” company with only what is absolutely essential for delivering what our clients need.

This is how to make project management accessible to all. The concept of project management democratization goes beyond the tool itself. PM knowledge is shared also via regular publications and webinars.

PPM Tool Selection

When selecting a tool, go for an option that offers value to both project managers, program managers, and the portfolio team. While many PPM tools offer a great value for the latter, they may be difficult to adopt for the basic project planning needs of ‘accidental’ project managers, and perhaps add even less value to team members.

The less attractive a tool is for project teams, the worse the quality of project data. This means that you should look for a tool that allows for easy project planning and execution: not just portfolio management and Business intelligence.

If you would like to try ITM Platform for yourself, please visit PPM Software here.

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