There are many ways to create a project plan, although most project managers will automatically think of using project management software to build a Gantt chart. This is a bar graph that displays tasks down the side and dates across the top. You can also add in additional information in columns like dependencies and resource names. While the Gantt chart is a popular and professional way to prepare your project plan, it’s not your only option.
Below are the pros and cons of 4 different options for building a project plan, including project management software. Read more »
Managing change is part of every project manager’s job. There is (or there should be) a structured process to follow to ensure that every change is logged, assessed and a decision made about whether it should be incorporated into the project or not. When the change management process is working well it isn’t difficult to get changes into the system, although it might be difficult to implement them once the decision has been taken to go ahead with whatever is being changed!
When you have got agreement to make a change, there are two things that you should consider, and these aren’t part of the change management process as you will see it defined in many places. They are the need to mitigate the impact and the requirement to effectively communicate. Let’s look at those in a bit more detail.
A project change obviously changes something on a project. It could be:
- Removing something from scope
- Adding something into scope
- Amending delivery dates
- Changing quality criteria
Or anything else that alters what you originally agreed to do on the project. All changes pose a risk to the project. Your neat, structured plan is going to change and that will affect the team and potentially third party suppliers or other groups too. So one of the important things to do with a new change is to mitigate the risk to the project.
You can do this in several ways. Read more »
I don’t use mind mapping software often because I nearly always have a notebook and pen with me and prefer to take notes that way. I also ‘think in lists’ rather than visually so mind mapping isn’t a natural structure for me to use. I have sat next to people at conferences who have mind mapped a presentation instead of taking linear notes like me and it is fascinating to watch.
However, recently I’ve been looking into it more. I have less time available (doesn’t everyone?) and it is more convenient to take notes directly into a software tool so I don’t have to retype them when I get back to the office or out of the meeting. And running workshops really does need some kind of mind mapping tool when you are trying to generate ideas from the people in the room. So I’ve been considering why I would use the modern type of mind mapping product and come up with these 5 reasons. Read more »
If you are anything like me, you probably deal with all the project communications yourself. That’s because it’s a rare (and large) project that has a full-time communications professional seconded to the team. It is far more likely that you have no communications budget and are expected to tell everyone about the project, create buy in and manage the communications on top of managing the project. And as the person who knows the most about the project, it is usually the project manager who takes on this role.
But you don’t have to be responsible for communicating everything or doing all the project comms work yourself. Part of your communication strategy and plan should be to work out who is going to do what on the project – the roles and responsibilities. You’d do this for other areas of the project so why not communications?
Here is a starter for 10 about who should be doing what on the project. Of course, you’ll need to adapt this to your own team and make it suitable for your project, but it might help you get started and prompt a discussion with your colleagues.
The project manager is responsible for:
- Stakeholder analysis, involving the rest of the project team as appropriate
- Managing relationships with stakeholders
- Communications planning – preparing the plan with input from the rest of the team and communication experts such as your internal Marketing or PR department as required
- Setting the project’s key messages that need communicating, in conjunction with the sponsor
- Preparing communication materials (depends on your project, but it is likely that the project manager will end up preparing some if not all of the communication materials such as newsletters, email bulletins, etc). My latest ebook can help you prepare good project status reports, which are another form of communication, if you need any guidance on how to get your message across.
The project sponsor is responsible for:
- Communications strategy: while the project manager might actually document this, the sponsor should set the overall strategic approach for the project and ensure it is in line with the business case and benefits
- Setting the project’s key messages that need communicating, in conjunction with the project manager
- Managing stakeholder relationships with the senior, C-suite or executive stakeholders, plus any relevant external groups
- Signing off or approving communication materials before they are used.
The Project Management Office is responsible for:
- Sourcing and sharing templates for communication work e.g. comms strategy, comms plan, newsletter template in standard corporate format etc
- Ensuring communications stick to corporate or departmental guidelines about style, brand etc.
- Being a sounding board if the project manager needs any advice on best practice for project communications planning
- Sharing lessons learned of what worked on other projects so the project manager can adopt or avoid these practices
- Supporting the tools used for communication planning such as DropMind for preparing mindmaps of your communication approach and plans.
If you are lucky enough to have someone on the project team who just does project communications (even if they are only part-time) then be very grateful! They can take on a lot of this work, liaising with the right people at the right time to get the message across. If the burden of project communication falls to you as the project manager, don’t worry – you can get everything done with the right tools and support from your colleagues. Setting out the roles and responsibilities for yourself, the sponsor, the PMO and the others on the team is a good start and ensures the work is spread out evenly with no duplication of effort.
“Trust is simple, and yet one mistake can set us back on our heels for a very long time,” writes Thomas P. Wise in his book, Trust in Virtual Teams. “Trustworthiness can dissipate in a moment of hesitation, a slip of the tongue, or errant email that escapes with a wrong key strike.”
That’s why it’s important to build trust effectively in all project teams, although it’s easier for lots of reasons to do this when the team works in the same location. Building trust when you have never met your team members can be a whole other story.
You don’t know what their work habits are, you don’t know their likes and dislikes, and conflicts can arise over what seems like trivial matters because you lack confidence in each other. Of course, this does get better with time – trust is mainly built through shared experiences and a project is a great example of that – but on some projects you don’t have the luxury of being able to build good, trusting relationships over time. On some projects, you need to deliver, and deliver quickly.
Wise’s book talks about 3 ways that you can build trust in a virtual team environment. Let’s look at them now.
The book talks about what trust is and how it is difficult to achieve in a corporate setting because of the baggage we all bring to the office. Everyone has different expectations and people interpret situations differently because of their backgrounds and prior experiences.
Fairness in implementing policy is one of the key trust-making factors. This means that project policies are applied fairly. For example, if you need people to work overtime, make sure that you split the overtime hours fairly between all relevant team members. This means that everyone shares the burden of the extra work (and conversely the overtime payments – some team members may be very keen to do extra work if there is money in it).
Apply it to your team: Make sure that you apply project policies fairly across all team members.
Have reliable data
Trusted data is also important. Everyone should have confidence in the statistics and information coming out of the corporate offices. “If we are collectively able to trust the information we receive as accurate and fair, then simple reports, auto-generated to tell everyone how well a project is complying with the stated lifecycle, are all that an effective organisation requires,” Wise writes.
You may have an enterprise project management system that can do this for you. Even if you don’t you want to avoid team members preparing their own version of the facts to the point where you end up with several versions of the same data. If you have a Project Management Office, talk to them about the consistent presentation of project information. They may have systems or templates that you can use to ensure there is a single view of the truth.
Apply it to your team: Have one view of the truth for project reporting and ensure everyone has access to this information.
Institutional trust is based on 3 things: consistency, expectation and equity. However, Wise says that you can trust that the application of rules will be unfair; in other words you are confident that the rules will not be applied consistently. So you can trust that you can’t trust them, if that makes sense.
While this might be the case for big businesses – how different departments apply the ‘rules’ is bound to be different across different managers – you can make sure that your project applies policies and approaches as consistently as possible. Consider how you reward team members. Are you always consistent with your approach to thanking and rewarding everyone, regardless of where they work? Do they know exactly what you expect of them so there are no inconsistencies?
Apply it to your team: Set realistic expectations for your team members and reward them consistently.
Building trust in virtual teams may take a little bit longer than it does in a team that works in the same building and whose members eat lunch together every day, but it can be done. And it can be done quite relatively quickly if you follow these 3 pieces of advice. Share them with your team members as well, so that everyone knows what standards are expected of them and what they can expect from each other.
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