Tag Archives for " tools "

Here’s Why Planning is the Most Important Project Phase

I organize projects into four high-level phases. Doing this provides a simple and consistent frame of reference for everyone involved in the project. The first phase, Planning/Initiation, is the most important project phase.

The Planning/Initiation phase sets the foundation for the other phases. It’s often overlooked in the excitement and urgency inherent to launching a new project.

Here are the major activities in the Planning/Initiation phase -

-Develop client requirements

A project's dead in the water without these.​

-Present/align/iterate/confirm client requirements and expectations

This is a critical step. The excitement and urgency of getting a project moving causes this step to get skipped a lot.

-​Determine/assign required resources

You need to know who’s doing what.

-​Develop plan

This will be the roadmap for the project. Adjustments will be necessary to keep the project synchronized over its lifecycle. The best plans need to be flexible, since it’s impossible know what’s going to happen in “real life”, when a project starts.

-​Confirm plan with client

Again, this is another critical step that’s often overlooked. Do what it takes to get your client’s attention long enough to confirm the plan with them.

-Agree to a process to introduce and implement changes to the original plan, as required​

The best plans need to be flexible, since it’s impossible know what’s going to happen in “real life”, when a project starts. This step introduces the possibility of change early and reduces resistance to change later in the project.

Don’t skip the Planning/Initiation stage of your project. Don’t let your client convince you to, either.

The project will have a much greater chance at success when this phase happens. You and your stakeholders will be happier as a result.

P.S. Planning/Initiation is the first of my four dead simple project phases. Read this post to learn about all four phases.

This is the Template I Use to Align Critical Client Expectations

Published February 16, 2017 in Freelancing - 0 Comments
align critical client expectations

Aligning client expectations at the beginning of a project is the key to their happiness and yours. Availability and communication expectations are two of the most important to align.

It's important for clients to know when and how they can reach you. It's also important for them to know when they can't.

And it's OK that they can't sometimes. I agree with Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals, that sometimes work can wait

If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available all the time. Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them, but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you should reply.” And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at 9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work time.

…We believe Work Can Wait is an important notion. 9pm on Friday night is not work time. 6am on Wednesday morning is not work time. It may be for you, but it’s not for me. And I don’t want it to be work time for my employees either.

Jason Fried 
CEO, 37Signals

(My gratitude to Ian Patrick Hines for pulling out this version of Jason's quote in his post about fostering a healthy work culture in a client services business.)

Here's the template I use to set align my clients' expectations. I send a version of it to each new client I work with, at the start of our first project -

I find it helpful to set availability and communication expectations with new clients and partners. Here are a few notes about my availability and communication style.

I've learned these guidelines enable -

-You to do your work with minimal disruption and distraction, while not having to worry about what you hired me to do

-Me to perform at my best for clients

-A successful collaboration and project delivery

General -

A big reason I freelance is to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I have a strong appreciation for balancing hard work and well-being. This balance enables me to bring sustainable high performance to the work I do.

You can read more about this approach on my blog. 

Availability -

I'm generally available between 9A-5P US ET. I can be available outside of those hours if needed. The more advance notice given, the more likely I can be available outside that window.

Communication -

I believe in the power of asynchronous communication.

I've also learned it's important to have uninterrupted blocks of work time.

This is why I'm not tied to email or chat/IM at all times. I check email often enough to not miss key messages. I'm on chat/IM when we've scheduled a time to talk, etc.

It's also why I use Asana to manage projects. Using Asana helps us streamline our communications and keep our Inboxes clean! Hopefully most project communication happens in and through Asana.

If you need to get in touch with me right away, please text or call on [my mobile #]. I'll respond as soon as I'm able to.

(Photo credit Galen Crout via Unsplash.)

Here’s What the Best Project Managers Do and Don’t Do

Published January 24, 2017 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments
The Best Project Managers Keep a Project Running Smoothly

The best project managers keep a project running smoothly. We also stay out of the way. That means doing some things and not doing others. Here are the do's and don'ts of the best project managers.

Do set the path to a successful outcome. Do keep the path clear and stay out of the way. Don't block the path.

Do set the path to a successful outcome by developing, updating and communicating the path. Do keep the path clear by removing roadblocks. Do give your team what they need to make progress down the path, toward the successful outcome.

Do ask questions when they benefit the project. Do ask the hard questions when necessary.

Don't block the path. Don't get in the way. Don't impede progress. Don't establish process related roadblocks on the path. Don't stop people smarter than you from doing what they need to do. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something.

Don't ask unnecessary questions for your own personal benefit. Don't shy away from asking the hard questions when necessary.

Do set your team up for success. Do give credit to team members where and when credit is due. Don't take undue credit when the team succeeds.

Do take responsibility when things don't go well. Don't blame the team when a project goes off-track.

Do celebrate small wins along the way. Do use the small wins to build momentum toward the bigger goal. Do try and have some fun as you proceed down the path toward a successful outcome 🙂

A project manager who follows these do's and don'ts will keep a project running smoothly. A project manager who doesn't follow them will only cause problems and get in the way.

Contact me to work with a project manager who follows these do's and don'ts. I'll keep your project running smoothly.​

3 Reasons Asana is the Right Choice to Manage IT Projects

Published September 9, 2016 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

​Asana Is The Right Choice to Keep Your IT Tasks Organized

Asana is my choice for managing IT projects. I’ve managed big IT projects for large government agencies and financial institutions. I wish Asana had been available to use on those projects. I was stuck using MS Project. That’s a nightmare I don’t wish to experience again 🙂

I’ve used Asana to manage projects since then. I also use it to manage my daily priorities. Asana has helped me complete thousands of daily tasks.

Here are the 3 reasons I’d choose Asana to manage IT projects.

1 - Flexibility

Asana is a flexible tool. It’s organized into workspaces, projects, tasks and subtasks.

This four tier structure can support projects of any size. Companies organize projects in different ways. Individuals use different approaches to get work done. Asana’s flexibility adapts to the various organizational approaches used to complete tasks and projects.

Drawback/Shortcoming -

Asana can become complicated in the hands of an inexperienced project manager. The flexible structure will do what you want it to do. This is an asset for an experienced project manager. An experienced project manager knows how to structure efficient project workflows. We know how to balance simplicity with complexity.

This same asset can become a liability for an inexperienced project manager. It will do what the project manger tells it to do. It won't dictate how a project is set up.Asana will allow an experienced project manager to set up an effective project structure. Asana will also allow an inexperienced project manager to set up an ineffective project structure.

2 - Collaboration

Asana supports collaboration at each level of its structure. A project owner can add collaborators to workspaces, projects, tasks and subtasks. The project owner can set permissions at each level of the structure as well.

Asana organizes communication at each level of its structure as well. This makes it easy to view the communication you need to see at any one time, i.e. the history of a task.

This organization prevents you from getting distracted by communication unrelated to the workspace, project, task or subtask at hand. The approach also helps keep your email Inbox clean.

(Tip: Make sure to set up your notifications to limit the number of emails you receive.)

Drawback/Shortcoming -The free version doesn't provide a full range of flexible permission options. You have to upgrade to a paid version for access to the most flexible permission options. The concept of adding a collaborator as a "Guest" can be a bit confusing too.

3 - User Experience

Asana is list-based. The lists are organized in a user-friendly way. I describe the user experience as list-based. Asana leads with a list-based structure and adds appropriate UX enhancements throughout the tool.

It’s a systematic and logical approach to UX. I’d say it leads with the left side of the brain and allows the right side of the brain to soften the edges. I believe this UX approach synchronizes well with how IT people and organizations think.

This is a key point. A task management tool is only helpful if it's adopted and used. Choosing a tool that fits well with a team’s way of thinking goes along way in increasing adoption and use. This helps your project succeed. Isn’t that the whole point of using a task management tool in the first place?

Drawback/Shortcoming -

I wouldn't say Asana's UX is the most "beautiful" project management tool out there. It's practical and pretty enough though.

The list-based approach may not be the right tool for a team heavy on creative people. People more comfortable with a visual interface might prefer a different tool.

Selection of the right tool to get IT tasks done depends on many factors. Flexibility, collaboration and user experience are the three reasons I use Asana to manage IT tasks. Give it a try if these reasons are important to you as well.

P.S. - Want to give Asana a try? Drop me a line if you need help structuring your Asana workflow. I'll help you maximize Asana's effectiveness, while avoiding the tool's potential shortcomings.

Photo by Jesse Oricco via Unsplash

Here Are My Dead Simple Project Phases

dead simple project phases

Only four dead simple project phases? What are we going to do with all these people then?

Project management should be simple. There's no reason for project management to become a complex monster that feeds on precious project resources. Project management should maximize the effectiveness of resources. It shouldn't consume them.

Here are four dead simple project phases I use to manage projects. I break projects into these four high-level phases. Doing this provides a simple and consistent frame of reference for everyone involved in the project.  I've also listed the major activities that happen during each phase.

Project Phase 1 -Planning/Initiation

  • Develop client requirements
  • Present/align/iterate/confirm client requirements and expectations
  • Determine/assign required resources
  • Develop plan
  • Confirm plan with client
  • Agree to a process to introduce and implement changes to the original plan, as required

Project Phase 2 - Execution

  • Track progress to plan
  • Manage and maintain the right resource levels to maintain consistency with the timeline and budget
  • Report on adherence and deviations to plan to internal and client stakeholders
  • Realign plan and expectations as required, identifying any potential reasons for realignment as far in advance as possible
  • Remove roadblocks preventing the team from making progress and hitting their goals
  • Maintain positive team morale and motivation
  • Recognize and celebrate the successes as they happen, not just at the end of the project
  • Try and have some fun along the way 😉

Project Phase 3 - Delivery

  • Baseline product being delivered against requirements
  • Present product to client and collect feedback
  • Address client feedback, balancing requests against original requirements vs. additional work, e.g. scope increase
  • Determine next steps, if any

Phase 4 - Ongoing Support

  • Similar steps to 1-3 above, done on a recurring basis, on a schedule agreed to with the client
  • Additional emphasis on reporting can be helpful during this stage, so clients consistently remember the work that’s being done, not just when they receive an invoice 🙂

You can also learn about my dead simple project management principles in this post.

Here Are My Dead Simple Project Management Principles

Published March 2, 2016 in Technical Project Management - 0 Comments

Trying Hard to Keep It Simple

Project management should be simple. There's no reason for project management to become a complex monster that feeds on precious project resources. Project management should maximize the effectiveness of resources. It shouldn't consume them.

Here are some dead simple project management principles I try and follow. I review them before initiating a project. I also come back to them once a project leaps forward from the starting gate.

I find them to be a grounding and refocusing tool. They help prevent managing a project from becoming bigger than the project itself.

Dead Simple Project Management Principles

Do set the path to a successful outcome. Do keep the path clear and stay out of the way. Don't block the path.

Do set the path to a successful outcome by developing, updating and communicating the path. Do keep the path clear by removing roadblocks. Do give your team what they need to make progress down the path, toward the successful outcome.

Do ask questions when they benefit the project. Do ask the hard questions when necessary.

Don't block the path. Don't get in the way. Don't impede progress. Don't establish process related roadblocks on the path.

Don't stop people smarter than you from doing what they need to do. Don't be afraid to admit when you don't know something.

Don't ask unnecessary questions for your own personal benefit. Don't shy away from asking the hard questions when necessary.

Do set your team up for success. Do give credit to team members where and when credit is due. Don't take undue credit when the team succeeds.

Do take responsibility when things don't go well. Don't blame the team when a project goes off-track.

Do celebrate small wins along the way. Do use the small wins to build momentum toward the bigger goal.

Do try and have some fun as you proceed down the path toward a successful outcome 🙂

This post is based on an answer I wrote on Quora to the question "What are the top do's and don'ts that a new project manager should remember?"