The best of project management tools


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Project Management Tools: types of project management tools and the many applications they have to support and assist project management processes.

This is a collection of excerpts from the blog archives 2008 - 2013 presenting top tips and advice from our professional project managers in a "best of" series now available free to download and share.

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The best of project management tools

  1. 1. The Best of Project Management Tools A selection of professional insights from the Blog archive © 2013 All Rights Reserved 1
  2. 2. Since 2008 our project management professionals have been sharing knowledge,experience and learning with online readers via the Project Manager Blog.Their collective wisdom provides a wealth of how to, top tips and best practice advice,for project managers, teams and businesses.To make their writings more accessible we’ve created a series of “Best of” projectmanagement topics available free to download and share.Here is a collection of excerpts and insights from blog posts that discuss types of projectmanagement tools the many applications they have to support and assist projectmanagement processes.EnjoyJason Westland CEOProjectManager.comA PM Tool to Hold People Accountable? .................................................................................................... 3A Project Management Tool for Truth Extraction ....................................................................................... 6Why Log-Rolling Should Not be a Project Management Tool ..................................................................... 9Which Project Tool is the Most Useful? .................................................................................................... 12One of the Most Effective Project Management Tools ............................................................................. 156 Criteria for Choosing Software for Project Management Tools ............................................................. 19Accurately Tracking Time with Project Management Tools ..................................................................... 21Project Management Tools for On-Site Survival ....................................................................................... 244 Alternatives to Gantt Charts ................................................................................................................... 27Gantt Charts 101 ....................................................................................................................................... 31Top 5 Tools to Manage Your Project ......................................................................................................... 3330 Day Free Software Trial ........................................................................................................................ 34 © 2013 All Rights Reserved 2
  3. 3. A PM Tool to Hold People Accountable?There’s really not one project management tool that can be used but rather a suite ofactions, management skill, influence and collaboration. The following list of 7management skills will help you instill accountability in those who do not report to youdirectly.1. Have a Great Relationship with the Person’s Boss The first thing you must do if you are looking to instill accountability in a person who does not report directly to you is to find out who they do report to. You undoubtedly know the answer to this already, but it’s your responsibility to let this person know that you will be working closely with someone in their department and wanted to let them know. This is good from a professional courtesyperspective, as well as to make sure this manager knows what is expected of theresource you have been assigned. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you skipthis step.For example, let’s say a functional manager doesn’t know that you are using one of theirresources. This person gets behind on their work that has been assigned by thefunctional manager and lets him know the reason is because they are working on yourproject! In one brief sentence, any form of accountability that person has immediatelyevaporates and you are on your own!2. Put Things in WritingOnce you’ve established a good relationship with that person’s functional manager, it’sgood form to put things in writing. What is a project management tool you can use toaccomplish this? It could be something as simple as an email sent to this person or itcould be as involved as a centralized server that stores the latest documentation for theproject. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 3
  4. 4. This documentation should clearly spell out what is expected of this person, due dates,quality levels, and related items that will remove ambiguity out of the relationship. It’snot that you don’t trust the person, it’s just that there are so many things going on thatit’s easy to misinterpret what was said or allow things to get lost in the shuffle.3. Be Extremely ClearIf you are working with someone that doesn’t report toyou directly, then it is extremely important to be crystalclear about your expectations. They undoubtedly havedeveloped a working relationship with their functionalmanager and may understand certain things in certainways.For example, one area that many people get tripped up on is “what is the definition ofcomplete?” One person thinks “complete” is one thing and someone else thinks“complete” means something entirely different. What is a project management toolthat can help with clarity? Many times it’s just taking the extra time necessary in aconversation to clearly explain what you expect. The ideal situation is to show them anexample of what the finished product or objective you want to accomplish looks like.4. Follow-UpNotice…we said “follow-up”, not “baby-sit”. There’s a huge difference between the twowords. Some project managers may feel as if it’s their job to baby-sit someone inanother department until they get their job done. Incessantly checking in on them,following up behind their back, and other disruptive activities will backfire in the longrun. Your follow-up should be in the form of the process you already have in place as aproject manager.What is a project management tool to use for this function? Your weekly statusmeetings would be good. Or, perhaps you have the luxury of setting aside 1-on-1 timewith each of the people on your projects where you can get a real good sense for wherethings stand on the project.5. Appeal to a Higher CauseIt’s true that this person does not report to you directly, but they will have a certainsense of community and camaraderie that begins to form on the team. Appeal to this © 2013 All Rights Reserved 4
  5. 5. higher cause, to the good of the project, or the importance of the person’s reputation toinstill a sense of accountability within someone who may not report to you directly.6. Make Sure They Are InvolvedYou can sense pretty quickly whether a person is “all-in” or holdingback. It’s your job as a project manager to make sure someone iscommitted to the project they are assigned and giving their all. Thiswill instill in them an innate sense of accountability.What is a project management tool that can be used for keeppeople involved? Regular updates on what is going on with theproject always help. People do like to know what others areworking on and keep tabs on the big picture.You can pull together meetings to talk about the exciting progress that has been madeor milestones that have been reached. Use these opportunities to recognize the goodwork that people from each department have been able to accomplish.7. Instill a Sense of UrgencyFinally, in order for someone to remain engaged and accountable on a project thereneeds to be a sense of urgency associated with getting the project done. Nothing says“I’ll get around to this later” more than not having a deadline or goal that you areattempting to reach. It’s human nature to put things off until the last minute…and ifthere’s no set time for that last minute to occur then nothing will EVER get done at thelast minute.For example, I have a friend who says they will be moving to another state. When youask them when they are moving they say the really don’t have a date. The problem isthat they have been moving for 3 years now!What is a project management tool to use to instill a sense of urgency? There’s nothinglike the project schedule with all of its deadlines and dependencies to light a fire undersomeone to get their work done.There are plusses and minuses to working in a matrixed organization. The stress andconcern you save by not worrying about managing people directly is replaced by thestress and concern you feel by, uh, not managing people directly. Regardless, it’s your © 2013 All Rights Reserved 5
  6. 6. job as a project manager and using the tools outlined above will help you keep peopleaccountable…even if they don’t report to you directly!A Project Management Tool for Truth ExtractionEveryone is supposed to be honest andtruthful, aren’t they? That’s what ourparents taught us. That’s what we learned inschool. That’s how society shapes us. But, wecertainly know that everyone is notnecessarily truthful all the time. It’s not thatpeople deliberately lie, but rather they justmay not tell the entire truth.This becomes especially frustrating for a Project Manager that is trying to complete aproject. It’s hard to find out exactly how long something will take, or how far along acertain deliverable is, or if someone has everything they need to move forward. These“untruths” take various forms. Below are a few you have undoubtedly encountered inyour professional career.The Yarn SpinnerThis person is a great story-teller. They don’t necessarily tell a lie, but they certainly doembellish the truth. They will add extra details that didn’t happen, or add people thatweren’t there, or make it sound like they were much more involved than they actuallywere. The problem with this type of person is that they will try to bamboozle you intothinking something happened when you really know it didn’t. “Don’t you rememberwhen we all agreed to do it this way?” they may ask. “You know, we were all sittingaround the table and we made the decision and then I of course followed up right afterwith my manager to make sure it was OK to do it this way. Of course he said yes. Youdon’t remember any of that?” Of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen that way.They’ve started to create a tangled web of a story that not even the best detective couldunravel.The Half-Truth © 2013 All Rights Reserved 6
  7. 7. Here’s another classic that you will encounter as a Project Manager. A half-truth is a statement that is only partly true and is typically uttered in order to deceive someone else and/or evade blame. For example, you ask a resource on the project if the client they met with that you know was having problem with your team is OK. “They’re just fine,” the resource says and walks away. That’s only half of thestory, however. They are just fine because they just fired your company and decided togo with someone else.The Error of OmissionA variation on the Half-Truth is the Error of Omission. This is when you ask someone ifthe deliverable they have been working on for some time now will be complete onschedule by next week. They let you know it’s 95% complete and just on the verge ofbeing wrapped up. That makes you feel good, but what they failed to tell you is thatthey’re going on a two week vacation to Hawaii starting tomorrow and it the remaining5% will have to wait until they get back!There are countless motivations that a person has for yarn spinning, half-truths, oromitting pertinent information. Regardless, it’s your challenge as a Project Manager toget to what is real and factual. This is where a project management tool for truthextraction would be nice to have.A Project Management Tool for Obtaining the FactsUnfortunately, there’s not just one tool that you can use to get the whole truth andnothing but the truth out of someone. And, also unfortunately, the last time I checked itwasn’t legal to tie someone up in a chair and inject them with a potion like they do inthe movies. You can however use some of the following techniques to arrive at a betterunderstanding of the truth.Different AnglesLook at the situation and ask questions from different angles. Kids are great at thistechnique. They’ll ask for something one way and they may not get the answer they like.So, they let a little time pass and come at it from a different angle and ask a differentway. They may still not get the answer they like, so they’ll drop little hints along the wayof what they are wanting and keep wearing their parents down. Finally, they ask the © 2013 All Rights Reserved 7
  8. 8. question just the right way and at the right time and they get the answer they arelooking for. You can do the same with someone that may not be giving you the answeryou like. Perhaps it’s a Salesperson that you know has deviated from the path of whatyour company typically sells. You know they’ve gone off the path, but you’re not quitesure how far yet. What kind of date did they promise? When is first deliverable due?How much did they say this was going to cost? These all need to be answered and mayrequire you coming at them from different angles over time.Trust but Verify Another project management tool to use for truth extraction is Trust but Verify. Give the person the benefit of the doubt that they are telling the entire truth. But, also do your due diligence in following up that what they are saying is indeed the entire truth without certain key facts being left out. You’ll also find that if people know you are going check the facts, they’ll be more apt to make sure they are correct from the beginning.CorroborateAsk the same question to different people at different times. Let people talk. Somepeople like to talk a lot and will fill in much of the missing information and other peoplewill not talk as much and leave out a ton of information. Over the course of thesenumerous conversations you’ll be able to piece togetherthe entire puzzle.Gut FeelingNever discount your Gut Feeling. Your gut feeling comesfrom your intuition and is mainly based upon experience.If what someone is saying doesn’t have the ring of truth,then it’s up to you to dig a little deeper. Use some of thetechniques described can get you to the level of comfortthat you need to make that gnawing feeling in your gut © 2013 All Rights Reserved 8
  9. 9. go away.Most people are not going to deliberately lie and you need to approach your job as aProject Manager with that mind-set. However, there may be times when the truth is lessthan forthcoming. It’s not your job to catch the liars, but rather to keep your projectmoving forward solidly based upon factual and accurate reality.Why Log-Rolling Should Not be a Project Management ToolUnfortunately, some have taken this sport andbrought it into conference rooms across theglobe. I’m sure you’ve seen this event beforewithout realizing what you were watching.There are two people that are paired off onopposite sides of the conference room table.One of these persons says something that theother person doesn’t necessarily agree with orhits them the wrong way. There’s a slightpause as their eyes lock across the expanse ofthe conference room table…and it’s on.There is an inaudible invitation to jump on the log by the offended party. The initiator istypically a person senior to the poor bloke that uttered the comment. They could alsopossibly be the project manager on the project. They have unfortunately decided to uselog-rolling as one of their project management tools!The next time you are in a project management meeting, look for the following signsthat a project manager has decided to use this technique as a project managementtool.Relentless Line of QuestioningIt’s like watching every episode of Perry Mason ever recorded. “Is it true that you knewthis information at this particular time? If you did know this information, why didn’t youdo something about it? Who else knew about this information? When did they knowabout the aforementioned information? Did you not feel compelled to tell someone upthe executive chain about this situation…?” and on and on and on. Now, the purpose of © 2013 All Rights Reserved 9
  10. 10. these questions is not to gather information that can be useful, but rather the motive isto humiliate and embarrass the person that is on the log being rolled.You Look Like an IdiotThe next project management tool that a project manager will bring out during a log-rolling session is to make sure everyone knows that the project manager knows morethan the person that is on the log with them. This takes many forms, such as acondescending tone of voice, a dismissive attitude, and a line of reasoning that tars andfeathers the person that was unwise enough to get on the log with the irate questioner.Voice is Raised to Accentuate the Negative Finally, a log-rolling can be identified with just enough of a raised voice to show there is much agitation and angst in the person doing the logrolling. This is just enough to accentuate the negative and make sure everyone feels uncomfortable. What would a real logrolling be without an audience? Well, it’s no different when log-rolling is used as a project management tool. Everyone that’s at this particular meetinghas the privilege of being an eyewitness of this horrific sport.Let me be clear…I unequivocally abhor it when project managers use log-rolling as aproject management tool. However, I have unfortunately seen it too many times to notacknowledge the fact that this occurs frequently. I’ve also seen the ultimate outcomeover time where good people leave a company because they are not going to put upwith this type of behavior.How to Survive the Log-RollThere are some ways that you can survive the log-roll if you have been challenged tosuch a dual. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 10
  11. 11.  Don’t Get on the Log in the First Place – There are things that you know will set someone off and cause a less than desirable reaction. Try and stay away from those areas. Better yet, preempt the blowup by having a conversation ahead of time and offline. We are not saying crawl into a corner and don’t say things that won’t upset people. That’s going to happen and many times it needs to happen to get things done. However, there are ways of saying things that can be productive or they can be explosive. We’ve all experienced that in other relationships in our lives. Choose your words carefully, make your points, but at the same time do everything you can to stay off the log. Have your Facts Straight – One skill you must possess is the ability to have your facts straight if you do end up on the log. If a project manager is using this as a project management tool against you, it’s hard for them to knock you off if you know the details. Always know what the contract says, what conversations have been had, what has been done, what is yet to be done, and who the key players are that are on the project. This will quickly take the energy out of the person that is doing the log-rolling and help you keep your balance. Don’t Get Flustered – People that have never been log-rolled before (is there such a person?) find themselves getting flustered very quickly. The questions and line of reasoning comes at them fast and furious and it begins to cloud their thought process. They forget details and facts that would help their cause and end up stuttering and stammering until they ultimately lose their balance and fall into the cold water. The first thing you need to do when you find yourself up on the log is take a deep breath, be conscious of staying alert, and not let the other person take that edge away from you. You’ll be fine just as long as you know your facts and have done the right thing up to this point. Don’t Overreact – Finally, keep your cool. Even when the other person starts raising their voice or backing you into the corner, the last thing you want to do is come out swinging. You’ll undoubtedly regret what comes out of your mouth when you are in that state of mind and the chances of you winning are slim. You’ll add fuel to the fire of the other person, who has a lot to prove in front of the © 2013 All Rights Reserved 11
  12. 12. audience that is watching them use this negative project management tool. You, on the other hand, can prove how reasonable and rational you are by keeping your cool and not overreacting. That will go a long way towards increasing your credibility in the long run. Let the angry momentum of the other person force them off the log themselves.Is There a Better Way?You know there has got to be a better waythan an old-fashioned log-rolling. It’s called a1-on-1 conversation. If someone has aproblem with you, or you have a problem withsomeone else, it’s best to take it offline andsee how you can work it out amicably amongstyourself. There’s nothing fun, productive, oreven fair about taking someone to task in front of an audience of their peers andsuperiors. Unfortunately, some feel this is the way to go and have continued to use it asone of their project management tools.Which Project Tool is the Most Useful?As a project manager, you have access to the use of many project tools to get your jobdone. For example, you may use a work breakdown structure (WBS), to define whatneeds to be done to finish the project.Or, one of your favorites may be the risk register that helps you catalog and managerisk. A project tool that is one of my favorites is the 4-blocker status report that showsaccomplishments, next steps, risks, and discussion points all on one page. This is a greatproject tool for executive debriefs and keeping the project moving forward.While all of these project tools are great…I have to say that my absolute favorites areany that have to do with project communication. There’s no way a project can besuccessful unless everyone knows what is going on with a project, its current status,next steps, and what’s expected of them to complete the project.There are a number of ways this project tool can be implemented. The following aresome ideas on how to make use of your communication vehicles (in any project) by © 2013 All Rights Reserved 12
  13. 13. understanding the multi-directional aspect of effective project communication. Thereare three directions in which you will communicate. Up, Down, and Sideways.Communicating Up Communicating “up” is getting the word up the food chain to those that may be above your position. This includes your boss, executives and other stakeholders that have a vested interest in the success of the project you are managing. Why is this important? It is important to keep this group of people apprised of the status of your project because they canmake your life easier, or miserable…depending upon what and when they knew aboutwhat was going on. For example, if you know a project runs the risk of not making it dueto a lack of resources, this is the group that can reallocate resources or reprioritize otheractivities in order to make your project meet its deadline. This is the group that will alsoask “why didn’t you tell me earlier when I could have done something about it?” if youcome to them too late in the process.What are the challenges of communicating with this group? The biggest challenge withcommunicating up is that everyone is extremely busy and doesn’t have time for thelong-drawn out explanations of what happened, why it happened, or what went wrong.You may be able to get a sound-bite or two in while you are walking with them downthe hall or rushing to your next meeting together.Which project tool should you use? To communicate your message “up” to this groupit’s most effective to use the 4-blocker type of status report that I mentioned earlier.Make sure the information is brief, succinct and quickly nets out where things stand.Otherwise you run the risk of their eyes glazing over, losing interest, and a decision notbeing made. Also, this group relishes face-to-face conversation and short one or two lineemails that get right to the point.Communicating DownCommunicating “down” is not to be taken in a negative way, but rather in a hierarchicalway of those who are on your project team that are working with you on your project. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 13
  14. 14. These are the cross-functional resources from various departments that temporarily rollup to you while your project is being worked on. Why is this important? This group is important to keep apprised of what’s going on with the project for obvious reasons. These are the people who are on the front lines of getting things done. They know the intricacies and nuances of what is being worked on and can provide you with the feedback (both good and bad) that you will need as a project manager to keep things moving forward.What are the challenges of communicating with this group? Like the executives above,this group is extremely busy…just in a different way. They are most likely overloaded,overwhelmed, and under great pressure to get their work done. This is not just from youas their project manager, but also includes their functional manager and possibly otherproject managers as well. You need to be careful not to bury this group with too muchunnecessary information that will slow them down or cause them to get frustrated oraggravated. Just give them enough information that they need in order to get the task athand done.Which project tool should you use? To communicate your message “down” wouldinclude weekly status meetings, 1-on-1 conversations, updated and proper projectdocumentation (such as requirements, specifications, etc.) and emails with a bit moreexplanation on the background of why decisions were made one way or the other. Thiswill give them enough information to be comfortable in doing their job.Communicating SidewaysCommunicating “sideways” is an often overlooked aspect ofcommunication. This is the type of communication that you carryon with your peers and colleagues that are on a similar level onthe Org Chart. While it’s not a “requirement” that you effectivelycommunicate with your peers, it sure makes everyone’s job thatmuch easier. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 14
  15. 15. Why is this important? These are the people that run other departments that you mayrely upon to get your job done. You may need resources from their departments, ordeliverables to be finished in a certain way, or just a plain old favor every now and then.By maintaining positive and respectful communication with your peers, you will findthat all of these things will flow that much smoother.What are the challenges of communicating with this group? Sometimes you just mightnot like them and their personality makes them hard to communicate with. They mayrun their department different than you, or feel they have to make you jump through acertain number of hoops before they say “yes” to your requests.Which project tool should you use? Lunch. That’s right. Lunch with your peers andcolleagues is one of the best project tools to use when it comes to communicating withthis group. This gives you the opportunity to understand each other’s position andneeds, commiserate over what’s wrong with the company, talk about how to makethings better, and just get to know them better. You will be amazed at what a profounddifference having some semblance of a relationship with your peers will do for yourprojects.Never lose sight of the fact that any project tools related to effective communicationwill provide a substantial return on your investment.One of the Most Effective Project Management Tools A project manager works in a strange environment when it comes to people reporting to them. Typically, companies are set up as a matrixed organization where the people necessary to complete a project are managed by someone other than the project manager.The person that manages these people is responsible for their schedules, vacationapprovals, raises, performance review, and general departmental direction. And YOUare responsible for getting the job done with their help. You have a temporary, ethereal,dotted-line to this person for a brief moment in time to complete a project. No more,no less. You don’t approve their vacation, you don’t give them raises, and you don’tscore them on their performance review. You just give them work to do! © 2013 All Rights Reserved 15
  16. 16. How does that work? You can have all the project management tools in the world atyour disposal and this still doesn’t seem like an equitable situation for a projectmanager.This is what you do. You throw in the towel on managing the people (that’s someoneelse’s job) and focus on managing the process instead. The process for gettingsomething done is what you DO own as a project manager and something you cancreate, refine, and adjust.You will find that The Process is one of the most powerful project management toolsyou can have at your disposal. Manage the Process, Not the People…should be yourdaily mantra. Here are some reasons why and the project management techniques youcan apply to optimize The Process in your company.The Process is a Powerful Project Management Tool You “own” very few things as a project manager. One thing you can claim as your own is your methodology and process for getting projects done. If you are part of a larger company that has a PMO, this process may be handed down to you from above. If you are part of a smaller company with a handful of project managers, then this is something you can pull together on your own or with the assistance of your colleagues. Either way, you should wholeheartedlygrab hold of the process as something you own and manage directly.If you are starting from scratch, you can pull this powerful project management tooltogether by basing it upon your years of experience in whichever industry you aremanaging projects. The final process will be a blend of your experience in that industry,your experience as a project manager, varied and different project managementmethodologies and some of the best of the best advice you have received from yourpeers and colleagues on how they effectively manage projects.The thing to keep in mind throughout this is that you are the rightful and dedicatedowner of the process and it is up to you to make it work to the best of your abilities. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 16
  17. 17. Putting the Process TogetherIf you are in the enviable position of starting from scratch (enviable in the sense thatyou do not have to undo what someone else has done), then the best place to start iswith what you know. Map out how you know the projects currently flow today and startmaking notes along the way of what can be refined or improved.Start with the largest components of the process which will usually be Phases. A projectwill move from one Phase through the next as it is completed. This will typically startwith some type of requirements phase, move into building, testing, deployment andthen maintenance. These phases will vary from industry to industry, but they will followthe above flow as a general rule of thumb.Then you can map out what should typically be completed in each phase. What shouldbe the final “product” or output that comes from the Requirements phase or testingphase for example? Tie this into certain checkpoints, approvals, or otherdocumentations that are already in place or that you know should be in place.Finally, map this out in an easy to understand way such as a swim lane diagram,flowchart or some other means of communicating the process that you believe will beeffective with your team. You now have a great start to socialize the process (that youown) to the people on your project (that you do not manage directly).Getting Buy In on Your New Project Management Software Tools It’s just as important to get buy-in from the people who will be following the process as it would be to get buy-in on any project management tool. This is your opportunity to meet with some or all of the team and lay it out for them. You will undoubtedly have had conversations with these people’s managers prior to this meeting in order to explain to them what you are doing and why. Thesemanagers would then be able to address any concerns or questions that may come updirectly from their team.Lay out the flow for the team and then brace yourself. You will hear comments such as“That will never work. Do you even know what you are talking about? You missed an © 2013 All Rights Reserved 17
  18. 18. entire piece of what we do in this process.” Great! That’s exactly what you want to hear.Take this opportunity to thank everyone for their input and explain that that was thereason for this meeting. You didn’t want to create a process in a vacuum without gettingthe proper feedback from those who will be expected to follow the process.This does two things. First, it makes the process viable and second, it lets people knowthat you are concerned about their opinions and viewpoints and they will be more likelyto support the new or revised way of doing things.Implementing the Process Just as with any great project management tool, the process will do nothing unless you implement it across the organization. You are now in a great place to do this. You have based the process upon your experience, received feedback from the team and have now established the rules of the game. You don’t need to worry about managing the people anymore as they all understand how the game is played. You are the dedicated owner of the process and that is how you get your projects done.Something amazing happens at this point as well. There will be those who embrace theprocess and those who do not. Those who embrace the process will realize thatfollowing it makes their job easier. They will pull their chairs up closer to the processtable and be engaged. They will offer suggestions for improvement, makerecommendations on those areas that may be a waste of time, and generally beaccepting of the way the game is played.On the other hand, there will be those who despise the process. They feel as if it takesaway some of their independence or flexibility in how they work. You will find that theywill begin to push themselves away from the process table. That’s fine. Over time thesepeople will either accept that following a process is a much better way of doing things,or they will begin to move on to other opportunities. This leaves a team of professionalswho are engaged in the process and great at what they do. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 18
  19. 19. Rather than stress about what you can’t control or manage (the people), focus yourenergies on what you can control and manage (the process). You will find yourreputation as a project manager soar as you quickly have the ability to bring new peoplein and out of the process and bring them up to speed in no time at all!6 Criteria for Choosing Software for Project ManagementToolsHere are the 6 questions they asked you to narrow down your choices and help makethe right choice:1. How Familiar and Comfortable is your Team with Computers andSoftware?This is an important question to ask because it will help determine the sophisticationand complexity of the software you should select. If you are looking to implementsoftware for project management tools in an environment of engineers and developerswho use high-end software packages on a daily basis, then you can be steered towardsome of the higher end packages. If this solution needs to be implemented in a locationwhere everyone is good at working with their hands but doesn’t know how to turn on acomputer then you need to lean toward a much less complicated solution.2. What are the Types and Formats of Reports that will beNecessary to Generate?This question lends itself to “beginning with the end in mind”. One of the main and veryuseful purposes of software for project management tools is the type of informationthat is generated once all the inputs have been entered into the system.For example, are you interested in how productive your team members are or whetherthey are staying on track with expenses? Or, you might be more interested in makingsure there is a present and accurate accounting of all risks that could negatively impacta project and require that information to be readily accessible and available to theappropriate stakeholders. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 19
  20. 20. It would be good to make a list and possibly even mock-up what you would expect eachof these reports to look like. You can then use this as a measuring stick for the projectmanagement tool you ultimately choose to purchase. Another consideration when itcomes to reports is their format. Do you just need a report that can be printed anddistributed to a team? Or, do you need reports that can be exported to Excel or someother format that allows you to modify or include other information to flesh them out?Another consideration is what types of reports will it be necessary for your clients tohave that will give them confidence that the project is moving forward with minimalissues.3. How do you Currently Track Time and Expenses?If you already have a system in place that everyone isfamiliar with how to enter their time and expenses,you may want to consider a project managementsoftware solution that can easily integrate into thisexisting system.This question requires much thought. If the existing system is easy to use and meetingyour needs, then it’s sometimes easier to leave it up and running and not introduce toomuch change at the same time. If, however, the system is hard to use and does notprovide the necessary information that you and upper management need, then this maybe a great time to make the switch over to new software for project management tool.In this case, make sure it has a robust time and expense tracking module.4. How is Your Organization Set-Up?Is this a solution that is needed for just one department or will it be better if this is anenterprise wide solution that is administered from one central point such as a ProjectManagement Office? This is an important question to ask because this will greatly affectthe number of concurrent users that will be on the systems, how many licenses willneed to be purchase, and what impact this will have on a company’s bandwidth. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 20
  21. 21. 5. What Software Do Your Clients and Other Companies You WorkFor Use?While not the main criteria for your selection process on what you need to make thedecision for your company, it would be good to include this in the selection thoughtprocess. There are many software for project management tools that are available onthe market today. These packages have varying degrees of popularity depending uponthe markets they are targeting. You may find that your clients or vendor partners haveall gravitated toward one solution. It would make sense to consider this as an option inorder to make your working relationship with them even that much smoother.6. What Software are you Currently Using and Why Do you FeelYou Should Change?This question could arguable be at the top of this list depending upon the answer yougive. You may already have software for project management tools implemented atyour company and just may not be happy with the results. You need to confirm that theresults you are not happy with are a direct consequence of the software and not adisconnect between the users and the software.What exactly is the reason for the change? Is this something that could be addressed bytraining? Is there an upgrade to the current software that addresses the current issues?Answers to these questions can help you narrow down the list and determine if youeven need to make a switch at all.The next time you have to a make decision about software for project managementtools, don’t break down and cry. Help is on the way. Think through the six questionsabove and document your answers. When you review the various features andfunctionality of the applications available make sure they line up with the answers tothe questions above. That will help ensure you have made the best decision possibleand increase positive results for adoption within your company.Accurately Tracking Time with Project Management ToolsBack in the early days of computers there was an expression that went “garbage in,garbage out”. What did that mean? It meant that the output of what came from the © 2013 All Rights Reserved 21
  22. 22. computer was only as good as what was fed into the computer as the initial data. It’sinteresting that you don’t hear that expression quite as much anymore. I suppose it’sbecause computing has come such a long way with validating and even correcting datathat it’s not quite as relevant anymore.But, there are still many areas where accurate data is an absolute must. One of theseareas is the time that your team resources record for the projects they have beenassigned. This may be done through either a manual process or perhaps you use projectmanagement tools to collect people’s time. Regardless of the method of collection it’simperative that the time that is entered be accurate for a number of reasons.Why Time Entry Must Be AccurateThink about all the different groups andpeople that make decisions based upon theresults of accurate time entry throughproject management tools. Billing – It’s critical to keep up with accurate time entry if you work in an environment that is time and materials based. This is where the client is billed based upon the number of hours that are worked. This is important for two reasons. First, you don’t want to overcharge the customer. It’s easy for resources to be generous in their rounding up calculations (for example, rounding up from 4 hours to 8) to cover for slow time or time that may have gotten bogged down in other issues. It’s not that the person is being dishonest regarding the time they spent, it’s just that they can forget where their time went and they may automatically apply it toward a particular project where they feel there may be room. The second reason is that if the project management tools you are using to collect time are not accurate then you may be undercharging the customer. This is just as bad as overcharging the customer because this time you are taking advantage of your own company and not maximizing the revenue potential, based upon agreements with this customer. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 22
  23. 23.  Sales –Your sales team also depends upon accurate time entries in whichever project management tools you employ. Why? Because this allows them to know what parameters they can sell within to still make money for the company. There’s always a ‘best-case’ fee that the company can charge that would be optimal for the company’s bottom line. However, there is also a ‘worst case’ floor that the fee should never go below or else the company starts to lose money. It’s not that the company won’t make money at this worst case fee, it just won’t make as much as the best case scenario. How do you know what these ranges are? Accurate time entry. Management –Accurate time entry is also important from the perspective of company management. They need metrics from project management tools in order to determine whether there is a bottleneck in a certain process or area that needs their attention. It may be that new technology needs to be implemented; additional resources need to be brought on board, or a combination of the two.It’s important for time entry to be as accurate as possible for the above reasons. Whatare some things that can be done to help you and your team ensure their time entrywith project management tools is as accurate as possible?Ways to Accurately Record TimeThe following are some ways you can makesure the time that is being recorded againstyour project is as accurate as possible: Instill the Correct Mentality about Timesheets – You need to instill in your team that want an accurate reporting of time, not a reconciliation of how they are spending every minute of their 40-hour work week (or whatever the common workweek is). Make sure your team understands the motive and reason for collecting accurate time and they’ll be much more willing to provide that information to you. Allow for Non-Project Time in Your Timesheets – Telling them that you understand that their day is filled with other non-project related work, but then not giving them the ability to account for that time sends the wrong message. Make sure you include © 2013 All Rights Reserved 23
  24. 24. appropriate categories such as administration, meetings, mentoring others, and other categories of how people spend their time throughout the day. Encourage Frequent Time Entry – Can you remember what you did one week ago at this exact time? Well, neither can your project team members. It’s easy for a day, a week, or even weeks slip away with a stitch of time being entered into any project management tools. It’s next to impossible to go back that far and recreate where the time was spent. This is a sure-fire recipe for “garbage in, garbage out” and reports that will quickly be sized up as inaccurate and not worth reading. Have your team enter their time on best case a daily basis and worst case a weekly basis. Don’t go beyond a week at a time. Don’t Have Time Entered Before It Is Expended – Here’s a common occurrence. It’s been a long week and everyone has worked extra hard. It’s late Thursday afternoon and some of your resources start putting in their time for the week. While they are at it they go ahead and put in Friday’s time as well. They have a general idea of what they’ll be working on tomorrow and this way they don’t have to worry about doing it tomorrow. You get your weekly timesheet and they get to leave on time. Sounds good in theory. But, the reality is that something could come up on Friday that doesn’t look like the timesheet they entered in the project management tools. This will result in one project being overcharged and one project being undercharged.It’s not terribly complicated to enter accurate time in the project management tools youuse to run your project. But, it does require diligence on your part to keep up with whois entering time and how often it is being entered.A gentle nudge or reminder is typically all that it takes to get someone to enter theirtime if they’ve gotten a little behind. Show them the results of the time that is beingentered. You can highlight the higher revenues the company has brought in (job securityfor them), the better jobs Sales is selling (less frustration for them), and some of theareas management has been able to streamline (less aggravation for them).These positive results will encourage them to keep their time up-to-date and accurateand provide you with the information you need to run your projects.Project Management Tools for On-Site Survival © 2013 All Rights Reserved 24
  25. 25. Are you self-contained and independent as a project manager? This is especiallyimportant if you are the type of project manager that works on-site at a client. You mayhave your own desk, cube, or office at the client’s site to help facilitate and expediteproject work between your two companies. At the very least, you undoubtedly givepresentations on-site from time to time at your clients. What are the projectmanagement tools that you will need for on-site survival as a project manager?8 Project Management Tools you Shouldn’t Leave Home Without1. Your Own Internet Connection: The first of the project management tools that is vital for on-site survival is to have your own internet connection. Internet connectivity problems are a hotbed of frustration and aggravation regardless of the size of the company. Control your own Internet destiny by having some type of hotspot with you. The hotspot can be on your phone or a stand-alone device that will allow you to create your own network and eliminate the above aggravations.2. An Extra Network Cable: The second of the project management tools you need to bring with you is an extra network cable. Wait, doesn’t this fly in the face of Number 1 above? Yes and no. You may encounter problems with your own hotspot or the signal strength may not be very strong. When you run into this type of situation it’s always easier and faster to plug directly into the on-site network instead of connect wirelessly. You’ll be prepared to do this in the event your hotspot is not working.3. Your Own Power: No, we’re not talking about bringing a portable gas generator to crank up as one of your project management tools for on-site survival. We are talking about making sure you have enough juice to get you throughout whatever you need to do without having to plug in to an outlet. For example, you may need to get through a one hour presentation. Make sure you have enough battery life for a 2 hour presentation. Or, it may be that you need to be on-site all day. Make sure you have an extra fully charged battery tucked away somewhere so you can make it through the entire day without running out of battery life. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 25
  26. 26. 4. Bring Your Own Extension Cord: This project management tool is, umm…an ‘extension’ of Number 3 above. There may be an open outlet in the room to plug into. However, you need to sit at the head of the table to show the presentation and you’re too far away from the outlet. Your power cord is just one foot short from plugging into power. Bringing a thin, 3’ long extension cord will ensure this is not a problem.5. Bring a Backup Presentation for Your Online Demo: A part of most project management presentations is the ability to show a live online demonstration of whatever development is currently underway. One of the essential project management tools you’ll need for on-site survival is a backup presentation of what you were going to show in a live environment. This backup presentation can be as simple as screen shots of the application that mirror the flow of the application. Another option is to include textual callouts and highlight particular areas of functionality so everyone can virtually experience what the online demo would have shown.6. Bring Backup Handouts of the Backup Presentation for Your Online Demo: We’re not kidding here. If you’ve worked in corporate environment for a decade or more, then you’ve seen it all. You’ve been through the network challenges that prevented you from showing your online demo. Then, you’ve been through the projector challenges that prevented you from showing your backup presentation of the online demo. There’s nothing worse than fumbling through a presentation and apologizing to everyone about what they are not seeing. Pack a hardcopy of the presentation that you were going to show on the big screen. You’ll be able to pass this around the table as a sure thing once all the electronics have failed you!7. An Extra Days Set of Clothes: Another component of the project management tools that you need for on-site survival is one extra days set of clothes. It’s OK to wear the same set of clothes if your flight has been cancelled and you are just hanging out at the hotel room. It’s not OK to wear the same set of clothes if your trip on-site at the client has been extended because they wanted to hear more or you need to stay extra to work through a thorny issue. Packing that one extra day’s worth of clothes will eliminate the stress of having to find somewhere close by that is open that carries something that you’ll like. Preempt this concern by planning on staying that extra day each time.8. A Toothpick: Last but not least, bring a toothpick. This is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but there is nothing worse than having to present in front of a group of people with © 2013 All Rights Reserved 26
  27. 27. sesame seeds from the bagel stuck between your teeth. Maybe my friend’s 11 year old son will let you borrow his Swiss Army Knife.There you have it…the 8 project management tools that you need for on-site survival.Do everything you can to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible and you’llfind yourself navigating through your clients on-site environment with ease.4 Alternatives to Gantt ChartsGantt charts are ubiquitous with project management. Gantt charts are made up ofhorizontal bars that visually represent the duration of tasks. They are a good tool toshow the bigger picture on a project and they work well for people who like thingsdisplayed graphically.The downside is that when you add on those little diamonds for milestones and the linesshowing the dependencies back and forward between tasks, a Gantt chart can getmessy to look at. By the time you have added the names of resources, dotted lines toindicate lag times and a host of other squiggly symbols, you end up with something thatneeds a degree to interpret. Many project sponsors don’t have the experience to beable to adequately read a Gantt chart, and they certainly don’t like project managershaving to explain it all to them.However, many people feel that if it isn’t on a Gantt it isn’t a proper project, or that itisn’t being properly managed. That’s just not true. It’s far more important to select toolsthat are right for the job.Don’t feel constrained to do it the way Henry Gantt did all those years ago when hedrew out steel industry projects using bars to show the progress of tasks. There aresimpler ways for when you need to get your message across to the project stakeholderswithout a lesson in reading hieroglyphics. Here are four alternatives to formal Ganttcharts that you can use today.Gantt Alternative #1: ‘Idiot-Proof’ ChartsForget complicated scheduling packages. Draw up your own Gantt chart in aspreadsheet package. Many stakeholders feel happier when presented with somethingin software they can understand. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 27
  28. 28. Spreadsheets lend themselves to creating Ganttcharts, although don’t be fooled. Creating a Ganttchart like this is time consuming and you won’t havethe options to display all the data. For example, it’spractically impossible to show dependencies, butyour stakeholders probably won’t want to see thatlevel of detail anyway. Worse, it won’t automaticallyupdate so every time something changes you willhave to manually alter the lines.It can be a massive overhead to keep your entireproject plan in Microsoft Excel or something similar,so this option is really only suitable for creating highlevel plans that show the overall project, not forlisting every single task.Use the first column in the spreadsheet as the task list. Use the next columns to showthe timescale. Choose whether you want one column to equal a month, half a month, aweek or a day (although scheduling by day is really only suitable for the smallestprojects). Then simply color in the cells in the spreadsheet – you could pick differentcolors to represent different resources carrying out activities, but remember to add akey so you remember what color represents which work stream or resource. Addborders to the cells so you can read across the lines more easily.Gantt Alternative #2: Network Diagrams Network diagrams are like flow diagrams. They show the series of activities that make up a project, in the order that they happen. Each project task is shown in a separate box and, like a puzzle, lines join up the boxes in the order that they need to happen. Lots of people have used flow diagrams before, so network diagrams can look more familiar than Gantt charts and they can be easier for the first-time project sponsor to understand. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 28
  29. 29. Having said that, there is some extra information to fit in the task boxes that might needexplaining. Typically a network diagram task box also includes dates for the start andend of the task as well as the duration, which is normally marked in days. You can addwhatever data you want into the box, like a task identification number, the resourceallocated to it, location, work stream and so on, but the more you include, the messier itwill look and the harder it will be to read.Network diagrams work well for simple projects where tasks flow from one to the otherin order. The more parallel strands of activity you have, the harder it will be to displayon one page. Network diagrams can also be difficult to maintain, especially if you areproducing them in a graphics or diagramming software package.If you need to change one task you could end up moving dozens of lines to get it all todisplay neatly again. Best stick to only drawing out network diagrams forstraightforward projects and to only have task boxes for summary tasks instead of everyindividual day’s worth of development time.Gantt Alternative #3: Task Lists Who doesn’t use task lists? Whether you have a fancy iPhone app to track your to do list, or take an old-fashioned approach using a paper list in a notebook, most project managers will find themselves gravitating towards task lists at some point in a project. Because so many people use them they are really easy to understand and don’t take any explaining.You can use any software to prepare a task list, which gives you the flexibility to usesomething that your stakeholders already find easy to use. A spreadsheet works reallywell.List out all the project tasks – use your Gantt chart, if you have one, as a guide to whatneeds to go on the list. Add a column for who is doing the task, expected completiondate and a column to mark the task’s status. ‘Not started’, ‘In progress’ and ‘Complete’are straightforward status updates to use, and you can also color code tasks using a © 2013 All Rights Reserved 29
  30. 30. Red/Amber/Green code if you want to include a visual representation of whether theyare likely to complete on time, or the level of risk.Gantt Alternative #4: Dashboards and ReportsWhy make things hard for yourself? All the options above require you to do someadditional work to turn the project information into something that your projectstakeholders can understand. You might find that most of the work is done for you ifyou use a project management software product that includes project reportingoptions.There could be project report templates that will save you some time, but you couldalso customize what comes out of your tool into a format that stakeholders can use.Status, progress and resource utilization reports could all be available at the click of abutton, and if you have the option to tailor your project dashboards, you could givedifferent stakeholders different views which will save you a lot of data handling time.Once the reports are configured they aresaved and available to be populatedmonthly, or more frequently according toyour reporting schedule, so this alternativeto a Gantt chart has the smallest regularoverhead for the project manager.Gantt charts are very useful tools for projectmanagers, but they aren’t the only option available to you for managing your project.Even if you do choose to use them, Gantt charts are often only glanced at by yourproject sponsor and stakeholders so you’ll find yourself facing requests for informationin different formats.Experiment with alternatives to Gantt charts and see what gets the best response fromyour stakeholders and project team members. You don’t have to ditch the Gantt, butyou might want to keep it all to yourself in future! © 2013 All Rights Reserved 30
  31. 31. Gantt Charts 101Ah…the ubiquitous Gantt Chart. It’s the staple of project managers around the world.It’s almost as if the clouds separated and a ray of light shone upon this most useful ofreports. How can so much information be jam packed in one simple report?With choices ranging from Microsoft Gantt Chart, to a free Gantt Chart template oronline software as a service, depending upon the type of Gantt Chart software you areusing, you can define milestones, assign resources, check status, and indicatedependencies…all on just one 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper!Amazing! The Gantt chart has become so common in project management that it maybe easy at times to take this workhorse for granted. Let’s take a few moments to pauseand reflect on the Gantt Charts humble, yet revolutionary, beginnings and how we canmake the most of this useful tool.What is a Gantt Chart?A Gantt chart is a matrix of activity that graphically represents the duration of tasksagainst the progression of time. Time is indicated along the x-axis on the top of the chart(time can be broken down into days, weeks, months, or any other period) and projectactivities along the y-axis on the left of the chart. A bar chart is then used to illustratethe start and finish dates of a project schedule. If you want to know who is supposed todo what and when it is supposed to be done, then this is the project management toolto use.What is the Origin of the Gantt Chart?Henry Laurence Gantt (1861-1919) is given credit for the creation of this managementtool. Henry Gantt was a mechanical engineer and management consultant who focusedon worker efficiency and productivity. There may have been earlier versions of this chartavailable prior to Mr. Gantt, but he was the first to publish and apply in the industrialworld. It was used in major projects such as constructing the Hoover Dam as well as theInterstate Highway system. While commonplace today, this graphic schedule forplanning and controlling work and recording progress along the way was consideredrevolutionary at its inception. © 2013 All Rights Reserved 31
  32. 32. Understanding Gantt Chart DependenciesOne of the key features of modern day Gantt Charts is the dependency between tasks.This essential concept that some activities are dependent on other activities beingcompleted helps a project manager optimize their project schedule. The four types ofdependencies are:1. Finish-to-Start: This is the most common and easiest to understand of the fourdependencies. Simply stated, one task must be complete before the next task begins.For example, you can’t begin framing a house until after the foundation has been laid.More sophisticated use of this dependency would be for a task to start a certain numberof days (rather than immediately) after another task has been finished.2. Start-to-Start: A second type of dependency would be that a task can start onceanother task has started. For example, traffic cones may be placed on a highway toredirect traffic. As soon as these were placed on the highway, line painting can begin.This too can be a bit more sophisticated to include a certain number of days after onetask has started that another one can begin.3. Finish-to-Finish: The third type of dependency indicates that a task would need to befinished at the same time as another task. For example, a concession stand at a sportsevent stops selling refreshments at the same time the game ends. Or, a moresophisticated example would be that two hours before the game ends, alcoholicbeverages stop being served.4. Start-to-Finish: This is the one that trips everybody upand is used the least. This means that the second task inthe relationship cannot finish until the first task starts. But,the second task can finish any time after the first taskstarts. For example, let’s say you were building a websitefor a customer and you are going to create an invoice for them. The invoicing processbegins when the customer requests the website to be built, but cannot be finished untilafter the website has been delivered. Confusing? Yes. Good to stay away from? As muchas you can.In conjunction with dependencies on the Gantt chart, you will also see Milestones used.Milestones are interim goals that mark completion of major components of a project.These zero duration tasks may define the end of a phase or completion of a particularly © 2013 All Rights Reserved 32
  33. 33. large deliverable on a project. The use of milestones establishes the fact that progress isbeing made on a project and that everyone understands what that means in the projectlifecycle.Don’t Miss the Forest for the TreesThe beauty of a simple Gantt chart is that it allows you to immediately see what shouldhave been achieved on your project at any point in time. Plus, you can see how remedialaction on your part may be able to bring the project back on track. But, don’t just runyour project from this one report….as amazing as it is. There are many other nuances tothe ebb and flow of your project and you must be in tune with all of them.There are project managers that will sit at their desks and behind their computers andsend out notes of chastisement to their teams if they start seeing their planned-to-actual numbers slip on the Gantt chart. Don’t be that type of project manager. Knowwhat is going on with your project on a first hand basis and understand the intricaciesthat are occurring on the front line. Having these conversations with your valuableresources (also known as ‘people’) will allow you to effectively manage your projectswith your eyes wide open and a full set of tools at your disposal.That’s how you should view a Gantt chart. A powerful and insightful tool that can helpyou navigate your team through uncertain project waters.Top 5 Tools to Manage Your ProjectJennifer Whitt, Director at shares her top five tools to help managea project © 2013 All Rights Reserved 33
  34. 34. 30 Day Free Software TrialThere are two key differences between and its competitors.The first is that we give you all of the features you need to plan, track and report onprojects efficiently. The second key difference is that our competitors charge a highupfront price as well as annual maintenance fees for new releases.Here at we offer you all of the features you need to manageprojects, at a small monthly price of just $25 per user. That simple! When you sign up, you also get for free: Unlimited Projects 3 Gigs of Document Storage Client Login Free Upgrade to New ReleasesTake Action, Sign-Up for a 30 Day Free Trial Today! Take a Free Trial Create your own Projects Sign up to boost your project successAny questions? Email andone of our friendly support staff will be happy to help. Wealso recommend a visit our resource library if you wouldlike access to further:-  project management tips  video tutorials  project management templates © 2013 All Rights Reserved 34