Are you still at work while your colleagues are off on vacation? The holiday period – whether that’s during the summer, during the end of year or at any other point where it’s normal for people in your country to take time off – can see your project coming to a halt. Everything takes longer if you can’t find the resources and get responses to queries.
Here’s how to stop your project slowing right down during the quiet times.
Plan for vacations
Make sure you know when people on your project team are going to be away. Talk to everyone at the beginning of the project and check when they have plans to take vacations. As the project manager, you may not be able to approve or reject their leave requests (the line manager will do this) but you can at least be made aware of them.
Put those dates on your project schedule. Review the tasks scheduled for when you know when team members are going to be away, and make any amendments to your resource allocation plans to enable work to continue during these times. Read more »
The new practice guide about navigating project complexity from PMI is 113 pages about working on difficult projects. But how do you know if it applies to your project? After all, what makes a project complex?
First, it’s worth noting that PMI talks about projects ‘impacted by complexity’ rather than complex projects. With that in mind, let’s look at the three areas that could bring complexity to your projects.
First up, PMI says that human behaviour is a big source of complexity on projects. This for me is a bit problematic, as all projects are affected by human behaviour! Really what PMI are talking about in this practice guide are the challenges of organisational politics that hinder your ability to agree on clear project objectives. For example:
- Stakeholders with unrealistic expectations
- Stakeholders who misunderstand or disagree with the project’s goals
- Poor or missing executive sponsorship
- Hidden agendas
- Ethical dilemmas such as bribes
- Stakeholders who step down or are removed during the project creating instability
- Critical information being withheld deliberately.
Project management changes the world. That’s one of the most appealing aspects of the field. You could be designing a sports stadium, a satellite or an application. All of these projects change the world.
There’s just one problem. When you face major challenges, you may get stuck. You may think that success is impossible given your resources.
Creativity is the solution. Creativity is a skill and practice that can be honed and developed over time.
If your project team struggles to produce creative ideas, don’t worry. You simply need some creativity tips and exercises. Think of these practices as the mental warm-up to use before you start an intensive brainstorming session.
In reviewing these creativity tips, look for one idea that you can implement this week. One implemented creative idea is more valuable than five ideas that you read about. Let’s get started.
Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. – Edward de Bono
1) The Alternative Uses Test
This classic exercise is perfect for project teams. In the alternative uses test, you consider an object and have to list all of the alternative uses for that object. In the context of a project team, I suggest setting a time limit of 10-15 minutes for this exercise.
For example, consider a pen. It is much more than a writing instrument. Consider these alternative uses for a pen.
- a straw
- a stapler jam repair device
- package opening tool
- a fashion accessory
- a gift
2) Share a magazine outside of your comfort zone
I first learned about this exercise from Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind.” Creativity is shaped by the information we absorb. Next time you visit the book shop, look for a completely an unfamiliar magazine.
If you’re in the financial industry, look for a magazine about franchises, home decoration or creative writing. I implemented this exercise for myself today. I had a great time browsing Scientific American Mind and the Intelligent Optimist. One lesson (or rather a reminder) from this reading is that some stress is good – it can lead to growth and development.
In your next team meeting, share one article that prompted new ideas or share an inspiring example.
3) Watch a TED talk together
TED talks are some of the best short presentations available on the Internet. Best of all, they are free and provide plenty of good ideas. For creativity and leadership, I suggest investigating one of these presentations.
- How Schools Kill Creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. If you’ve ever felt that your creativity has been stifled, Robinson shows that you’re not alone. You may even be inspired to dance!
- The Tribes We Lead by Seth Godin. The challenge of leading and bringing together people is very relevant to the project management community.
- Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. I read Johnson’s book on this topic a few years ago and found it fantastic. His premise is that innovation and creative ideas emerge from an organic, gradual process. “Eureka” moments are only part of creativity. For history buffs, I recommend reading the book for more examples and in-depth discussion.
Choose one of these presentations and watch it over a lunch and learn session. Some members of your team may be inspired immediately. Others may take longer to absorb the ideas. I suggest presenting one of these presentations to your project team and then following up a week alter with your own thoughts.
4) Go for lunch on Friday
Sharing ideas is difficult. All it takes is one hostile reaction to make you think twice about sharing a new idea or approach on your project. Taking time to build business relationships is important. Increasing the level of trust on your project team will make team members feel more comfortable about contributing.
To get the most out of this recommendation, follow these three points. The final point is especially important.
- Leave the office. A physical change of environment makes a difference.
- Go somewhere completely new. View this lunch as an opportunity to explore your city. Who knows you may discover a great place. Taking the initiative to suggest a new restaurant is one way to stimulate your creativity.
- Avoid bringing up work topics. For an hour, avoid talking about your projects, deadlines and other work activities. You can talk about your upcoming vacation plans (I often find that is a great conversation starter). I also like to share my impression of books and movies I’ve recently experienced.
5) Experiment With Unconventional Productivity Tools
New tools and ways of working are another way to spark creativity. If you use Outlook, Word, Excel, Access and other productivity tools all day, changing your tools helps. Here are two new tools you can use to spark new ideas.
- Mind Mapping Software.
A mind mapping application lets you make notes and arrange them visually. I find it an exceptional way to identify new connections. Mind maps have application beyond project management. You can improve learning with mindmaps.
To get started with mind mapping, try out iMindQ.
- A Paper Notebook.
I love using Moleskine notebooks and vary one around with me almost all the time. When you have a notebook on hand, you can record ideas easily. This week, I had a few ideas while going for run. Thankfully, I had my notebook in my gym bag so I could capture the ideas.
6) Work alone (and apart from the project team) for an afternoon.
In 2012, the New York Times reported on a study investigating the productivity of programmers. Privacy played a key role. As Susan Cain reports in The Rise of the New Groupthink:
“It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.”
It’s important to recognize that you need some time alone to generate new ideas. I find the effort of tuning out conversation and background noise in an open concept offices slowly erodes my mental effort. Increased creativity and better productivity are two excellent reasons to adopt work from home days at your organization.
Bio. Bruce Harpham is the author of Project Management Hacks, a resource that provides practical strategies and continuing education for project managers. Bruce’s experience includes leading cost reduction projects at a large bank and leading projects at universities.
Last week I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of the ‘make or buy’ decision. Remember, the ‘make or buy’ decision is where you decide if it’s better to do the task or make the product in-house or whether you should contract with a vendor to do it for you.
There are pros and cons of doing both – but how do you decide for any particular deliverable on your project what the right thing is for you? That’s where you need a process to determine whether making or buying is the right route forward. Here’s an easy 5 step approach that you can use in your procurement discussions.
1. Review existing skills
What skills do you have in the team and do you have the skills to do the task with your in-house resources? For example, you may have some experienced software developers but no one really has the right blend of skills to build the new module for your system. Or you may have plenty of people with the right skills.
Do you need to have these skills in the team over the long term? This could be if you were looking at providing support for that new software module. If you do have the skills to provide that ongoing support already, great, but if not, it’s worth looking at whether you need to get them. If you decide that you do need the skills in-house to provide long term support, then you may have to produce a handover plan with your third party supplier if you decide to outsource.
2. Review potential skills
If you don’t have the skills in your team already, how much would it cost to get them? How long would it take? Look at what training courses are available, how much they cost and whether they would truly give your team members everything they need to consider themselves an expert.
Alternatively, you could recruit a new permanent or temporary member of staff with the right skills. That gives you another option to outsourcing the work – the person becomes an employee with all the permanence and team cohesion that comes with that.
3. Review time
How much time would it take to deliver this work in-house? Do you have the time to do it internally? Even if you do, what would your team members be postponing if they take on doing this task? This, I think, is the critical question to ask. You can have the right mix of skills and experience to take on the delivery of this work but that does mean that those resources aren’t working on something else. Is the ‘something else’ more important? It’s worth spending some time answering this question with the people involved and some of the senior stakeholders. Get together with a tool like iMindQ and write out exactly what you’d be winning and losing if you took on delivery of this task too.
Once you’ve done that and got a full view of the time it would take you, you can then compare that to the timescales proposed by your suppliers. You’ll probably find they can do it faster! And that leaves your team free to work on other things.
4. Review costs
Compare the costs of doing the work internally and externally. In most cases you’ll find that using a third party works out more expensive, especially if you include taxes and procurement fees which you wouldn’t have to pay when you use internal resources. But at least you’ll know and you can then use this data to help you make your decision.
5. Compare quality
The fifth step is to compare the quality of what you could do in-house (as far as you are able) with samples from the supplier. Get testimonials about their previous work. As they are the experts and do this work on a regular basis I would expect them to be able to do so at a higher quality than you can achieve in-house. However, if your team are all conscientious with great attention to detail and your supplier mass produces the widget you want, you may find that your own team will do a higher quality job! It’s up to you to decide if that matters to your project or not.
Finally – decide! You now have all the facts available to you so it should be relatively easy to make that final decision. Make or buy typically comes down to the project management triangle of time, cost and quality. You should weigh up those areas and everything else that you have learned through this make or buy analysis to make the best decision for your project. Then let us know how you get on in the comments!
We’ve gone through the topic of why use the mind mapping technique for your project management efforts before. And this is a significant topic indeed especially when focusing on the achievement of your project goals and establishing a greater productivity. Now it is time to focus a little more on the benefits of mind maps and mind mapping to project managers and project assigned professionals, as this becomes a greatly popular theme among the project management community.
Concerning the project managers’ effort there is always a vast area of improvements regarding the productive ways to deploy project activities, especially by having in mind the number of stakeholders that need to be communicated, various tasks managed and emails tracked simultaneously, with which ones abilities can often be challenged, considering this information overload and multitasking.
By beginning with the usage of a tool such as a mind mapping software, project people can brainstorm their ideas faster and use mind maps to support the first phase of breaking a project into manageable parts. Project managers can also utilize the mind mapping technique to create better action plans by listing all tasks and assign the resources needed for best time management results.
This free eBook sums up the main benefits for project managers that utilize mind mapping software such as iMindQ to improve their productivity and increase their project organization efforts in order to reach project goals and milestones.
When speaking of the usage of a mind mapping software, tracking a projects progress is also done easily. Users can set alerts for the milestones to make sure they never fall behind and by utilizing the Gantt chart view and Work Breakdown Structure charts they can organize all project data and information supported with mind maps or concept maps.
While managing of a project is concerned, mind mapping can help all project people involved, to better manage meetings with the team and also solve emerging problems more effectively. This can be done by setting a project structure and organizing to the level of having the grounds to be prepared and alert for any issues that may arise.
A useful resource for project managers that are eager to start their mind mapping journey is the meticulously designed user manual for Project Management, representing a dedicated guide to all mind mappers that use iMindQ to aid their organization and planning activities.
Possibly one of the most beneficial arguments of the usage of mind mapping within project management is the effective usage of mind maps with the areas of strategic and project planning. This has also been confirmed as one of the most used areas by project managers with numbers coming from the latest research by the mind mapping community BiggerPlate. By means of having mind maps to illustrate the whole process from beginning to end, covering milestones, resources and deliverables, project managers can have a view of the “big picture” when it comes to their project planning activities, thus aiding their project organization from end to end.
To read more about the benefits of mind mapping for project management, you can download your free sample of the eBook on the following link: “Achieve Your Project Goals”.