Google Compatible Apps for Project Management

It seems like everyone is using Google these days – and not just for personal purposes. According to the folks at White Stratus, one in five U.S. companies use Google Apps. Surprisingly, the bigger the company, the more likely they are to be leveraging these tools. The most commonly used applications are those that come standard with the basic product suite (Docs, Calendar, etc.). However, as businesses get past the pilot stage they are branching out and adding more functionality with niche solutions from companies that build web-based products to interface with Google Apps. Project management is one area where such specialty applications are coming into their own. Continue reading “Google Compatible Apps for Project Management”

Project Management – Dealing with Doomed Projects

Most of us hate to admit that things aren’t working out as planned. But, if you are in project management long enough, you will get to experience a project cancellation. Sometimes, you can tell early on that a project has the potential to go very wrong. Warning signs include:

  • Lack of ownership at the highest level of the organization
  • Inadequate resources committed at the start of the project
  • Team infighting and poor communication
  • Going over budget with no clear timeline for completion
  • Constant delays in completing schedule milestones
  • Scope and final goal keep changing

Those final 3 issues can usually be avoided with appropriate planning. However, sometimes you inherit a project from a previous PM that’s already halfway down the road to nowhere. In that case, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that you will have to work twice as hard to breathe life back into the project (if that’s even possible). The good news is that you can blame everything that’s gone wrong so far on your predecessor. You can do this without sounding whiny if you offer real solutions to the problems you point out.

What If You Can’t Save a Project?

If obstacles such as high costs, poor design or execution, and changing objectives can’t be overcome or worked around, it may be best to shut things down. This is a time when your project management communication skills need to be at their best. A cancelled project can affect morale throughout your organization. Be sure to solicit input from your full team and other stakeholders before moving forward with shutting down a project. That way, you will all be in agreement and you won’t overlook any possible solutions that could save the project.

Follow Proper Cancellation Protocol

Keeping relationships intact and conserving resources are the two main priorities in the actual cancellation process. If you are performing the project for a client, they should be involved at each step so they don’t feel like it is all out of their control. If you need to cancel orders with vendors, do this as soon as possible so they aren’t devoting production capacity to your project and counting on revenue that’s not going to materialize. When possible, identify ways to reuse project resources for other scheduled or future projects. Be sure to still recognize and reward team members for their contributions – it’s usually not their fault that things went wrong.

Add a Kill Switch in Advance Next Time

One part of project management planning that doesn’t get a lot of attention is setting parameters that will determine when a project should be shut down. This concept should be evaluated during risk management planning. You should be able to identify a specific point when the ROI for a project just isn’t going to be worth it. This could be a dollar amount. Or, it could be a timeline. For example, your organization’s goal might be to bring a certain product or service to market before a competitor. If you fall 12 months behind, the whole project might become moot. Rerouting project resources to something that’s more likely to be a “winner” could be the most strategic choice.

Don’t Get Caught Up in Emotions

Determining the criteria for discontinuing a project ahead of time (and sticking to it) makes it easier to actually pull the trigger if the time comes. Otherwise, you may get caught up in a cycle of justifying more and more expenditures on a project that’s a money pit. Like the song says “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”. Getting emotionally involved in a project and having your pride hurt when you have to let go can be tough. But the sooner you put a failure behind you, the sooner you can start working on your next success.

Tips for Eco-Friendly Project Management

Eco-Friendly or “Green” project management is catching on throughout the business world. There are entire consulting firms devoted to helping businesses engage in more sustainable practices for projects. This is a little different than going green from an operational standpoint. A change in operations can be made once for the entire organization, and then you can move on to the next issue.

With projects, there are always new factors coming into play

So, there are 3 main focus areas in decisions about making projects greener. First, you can make changes in the processes and practices you follow in every project (think of this as being the program management level). Second, there are the decisions that you make that apply to a specific project. Some of these will involve choices you can make during planning. Others will come up during the execution of the project. Third, there is the decision to actually take on a project that makes increasing the sustainability of your organization its major objective. Such a project would result in updated operations protocols and tie in to a corporate stewardship program.

Program Level Green Tips

At the program level, virtualizing as many processes as possible is one way to be more sustainable.

  • Does every project document have to be hard copy, or is it possible to store information electronically? Even contracts can be e-signed these days and still be considered valid in court. When you look for a project management software platform, evaluate how many paper-based processes it can really replace and which ones it just duplicates.
  • Review your list of most commonly used vendors. Add “eco-responsibility” to the list of factors that determine who you buy from. This can include choosing vendors who ship materials a shorter distance or those who use recycled materials in their products and packaging. Often, you will find that sustainability and cost efficiency go hand-in-hand.

Project Level Green Tips

  • At the project level, it’s not just the steps along the way but the final product itself that should be evaluated for “greenness”. Determine if the end consumer can reuse, recycle, or repair the product or any of its components. Look to large corporations that participate in “cradle to cradle” types of certification for ideas in this area. There might be fairly straightforward ways to make your product more energy efficient or less prone to emitting VOCs. For service oriented projects, find ways to work smarter instead of harder to save resources.
  • During risk management planning, remember to calculate any risks to the environment. Then, put project management safeguards in place to mitigate these risks rather than simply trying to externalize them and make them someone else’s problem.

Corporate Stewardship Tips

  • If possible, make time once per year to instigate an internal project that is focused on reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency, or creating a healthier workplace. Done right, these initiatives pay for themselves in cost savings. You’ll also be able to use these activities to boost morale and to increase your positive branding.

More Project Management Tips from the DOE

Last week, we looked at part of a study released by the DOE in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences. It’s quite a comprehensive report, and it might make you feel a little inadequate about the state of your project management. However, you’ll be glad to know that even the big boys don’t start out getting things right. In fact, this study was prompted by what the Academy called the DOE’s lack of “a uniform set of objective measures for assessing the quality of project management…(this absence) prevents the identification of best practices and impedes widespread improvement in project management throughout the agency”. If an organization as cumbersome and set in its ways as the typical government institution can recognize this and begin making positive changes, there’s nothing holding your company back from doing the same!

9 Critical Benchmarking Activities

According to the NAS report, there are 9 basic aspects of benchmarking. These activities apply to benchmarking done at any phase of a project (planning, execution, review). For best results, this benchmarking should be integrated into the project management culture rather than being viewed as somehow separate. This encourages openness to new ideas and a willingness to make changes as needed to improve project and program processes. Here are the 9 activities:

  1. Deciding what to benchmark
  2. Defining the metrics to be used
  3. Developing a reliable method of data collection
  4. Actually collecting the required data
  5. Analyzing the data to highlight deficiencies in performance and areas where best practices are not being followed
  6. Identifying the root causes of these PM process and outcome shortcomings
  7. Developing a plan of action to reduce or eliminate known deficiencies
  8. Integrating new best practices into the project delivery process
  9. Making benchmarking a recognized and valued part of the process of continuous improvement

The Input/Process/Output/Outcome Cycle

Because benchmarking is designed for use at each stage of a project, it’s helpful to clearly define the cycle of a standard project. The DOE uses assessments that cover four basic stages. Input is the first stage and benchmarking is done by measuring resources that will be provided for the project. The next stage involves process metrics. The manner in which activities are carried out is compared to PM standards for how things should be done if all policies and procedures are followed. Output focuses on benchmarking the quantity and quality of the end product. The outcome is measured by how well the end product actually serves the purpose for which it was intended and whether it supports larger program objectives. External factors may influence the project at any stage. These influences must be taken into account as issues that should be planned or adjusted for even if they cannot be entirely controlled.

What Makes a Performance Metric Useful?

As you go through the process of actually deciding what data to use, there are some characteristics that have particular value. Data collected for benchmarking should be:

  • Measurable (objectively or subjectively)
  • Reliable, consistent, and verifiable
  • Simple, clear, and easy to understand
  • Timely and cost effective
  • Minimally affected by external influences
  • Meaningful to users at all levels
  • Related to mission outcome
  • Useful for driving effective decisions and process improvement

The more criteria on this list you can match in your performance measures, the better!

Why Is Project Management Benchmarking Important?

What role do benchmarking metrics play in project management? In the broadest sense, benchmarking is what gives an organization the ability to test and evaluate PM processes and methodology, project outcomes, and the performance of individual project managers. Without this type of oversight, it’s still possible to recognize that projects are failing, going over budget, and running past schedule – you just won’t be able to figure out what to do about it.

Benchmarking Overview

Laurence Nicholson published a report on benchmarking in PM World Today back in 2006 that is still relevant and useful now. You can read it free online here. The focus is geared somewhat toward IT projects, but the same principles Nicholson discusses can easily be adapted to any industry. Here are some takeaway points:

  • Not every organization can or should use the same metrics for project analysis. Failing to correctly match metrics with real life objectives simply leads to wasted resources with no added value to show for it.
  • Using a balanced blend of subjective and objective metrics makes sense. Easily measurable factors like cost and time should be weighed alongside more subjective factors like customer satisfaction and team cohesion.
  • Metrics may be used to determine whether processes are consistent or if there are areas where approved methods are not being used.
  • Staffing levels and employee engagement are critical to the success of projects. PMs should understand HR metrics that impact project performance and collaborate with HR to increase the quality and availability of project team members.
  • One of the most often overlooked aspects of project management benchmarking is its role in determining if projects are aligned with larger organizational goals.

Who Uses Project Benchmarking?

Large business enterprises and government agencies that have a well developed project or program management process are more likely to make effective use of benchmarking. Such organizations can be a great resource in providing examples of how benchmarking works. For example, the Department of Energy collaborated with the National Academy of Sciences to publish a report on its own project management processes for educational purposes. Here are some highlights:

  • Many projects can be broken down into a series of critical decision points requiring approval: mission need, system requirements and alternatives, baseline, implementation, and transition to operations. Benchmarking done at each of these junctures can aid in appropriate decision making.
  • Goals should be clearly defined, actionable, and measurable. They should have their origin at the organizational level and flow down to the PM level. To aid in goal alignment, similar performance metrics should be used to measure whether goals are being met at both an organizational and project management level.
  • Data collection is most effective when centered on known sources of accurate, repeatable, and verifiable information (not discounting the fact that subjective data should also be collected and used in benchmarking).
  • Feedback systems should be in place to promote continuous improvement of all aspects of project management from processes to results.
  • Benchmarking should be cumulative so that multiple projects can be compared and evaluated to identify larger patterns of performance.

GAPP & Project Management

Data privacy is an important concern in project management. The administration of a project may involve collecting, handling, or storing information from a wide variety of sources. For example, in the software consulting industry, performing a mainframe migration for a client might involve access to large quantities of data on that client’s customers and/or employees. Almost all projects will have some data elements that are considered private or confidential. This means part of the planning and administration for a project should concern how to keep data secure and ensure it is used only in appropriate ways.

What Standards Apply?

There are many standards that could be used as a framework or starting point for these policies and procedures. The Generally Accepted Privacy Principles (GAPP) developed by the AICPA is one set of standards to consider. The level of stringency with which these principles are applied should correlate to the sensitivity of the data being handled. Here is an overview of a few of these principles and how they might be applied to the project management sphere.

Privacy Management

This is the overarching strategy that is developed to safeguard sensitive data. It includes the creation of policies and procedures for the privacy program. These policies and procedures must be documented and communicated to all relevant parties. Adequate resources should be assigned to put infrastructure elements in place that help ensure the achievement of policy objectives. Accountability must be assigned to those responsible for implementing and maintaining privacy so that there are well defined consequences for program failure. The management policy must also include monitoring to identify evolving risks or any new regulations that might affect the privacy policy and practices. In project management, privacy should be discussed as it relates to both communications planning and risk management.

Collection & Use Notices

Whenever any personal identifying information or other confidential data is collected, it should be made clear why the data is being collected and how it will be used. This is typically done through the presentation of some type of notice. The notice includes the contact information for the group or individual responsible for answering questions or resolving issues regarding how private information is collected or used. For project management, the topic of confidential or proprietary information is often covered in an NDA or similar contractual document. This represents a formal agreement to follow ethical privacy practices in not disclosing a client’s confidential data to any third party without express, prior written consent. The use, retention, and eventual disposal of such data may also be addressed.

Security of Privacy

This aspect of privacy management concerns the physical, procedural, and electronic steps your organization takes to safeguard privileged project management data. It should take into consideration the potential for and consequences of accidental and deliberate destruction, unauthorized access, disclosure, or other misuse. Any administrative, physical, and technical controls put in place should include a backup plan in case the personnel authorized to access the confidential project management data become unavailable. Privacy security safeguards should be tested at least once a year to ensure they are functioning as intended.