How to be a successful project manager

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Getting your first job as a project manager is an exciting time! It’s a first step on a fulfilling and rewarding career journey.

It can also be scary and nerve wracking, with you wondering if you’re doing it right and worrying about bringing the project to a halt because of your inexperience. Having been there and felt the fear, I’ve put together this guide to help you become a successful project manager.

First things first. Remember you’re not alone. There are people inside and outside your organisation that are there to help and support you. They won’t let you fail!

What can you expect as a project manager?

You’ll be responsible for delivering at least one project.  Usually when you start  you’re given a relatively simple and small one, just to get you comfortable. Even if you’re given a huge complex beast as your first gig, just remember – the process doesn’t change – just the size of the work that needs to be done.

It’s your job to make sure that everything to do with the project happens when it’s supposed to.  We think of a project manager as the conductor of the orchestra. It’s your job to bring all the specialists together, at the right time to make the project work. Just like it’s a conductor’s job to bring all the musicians together to produce a piece of music. It’s not your job to do the actual work, that’s the team’s job!

When you’re a new project manager, as with any new job, it’s best to get to know the people before jumping in. Spend some time having meetings with your team, key stakeholders, steering committee and sponsors. You’ll  find you get better and more useful information over informal coffees than you will by reading screeds of documents.

On saying that, make sure you read the documents! There will be a few really good nuggets of information there. Pay particular attention to the business case, the risk and issues registers and the stakeholder matrix.

Another thing to keep in mind is that each organisation has their own way of managing projects, it could be waterfall, agile or a combination. You need to make sure that you familiarise yourself with the way they do things and stick to it – at least initially. Once you’re established you can push back if you need to.

So how does a successful project manager spend their day?

There’s no such thing as a typical day when you’re a project manager. There’s always something unexpected coming out of the woodwork. However, there are some tasks that are pretty much constant.

Emails

Most successful project managers will check their emails 1st thing in the morning.  It’s a good way to make sure you stay on top of any crises that happened overnight.  And let’s be honest here, there’s likely to be at least one fire that needs putting out before you do anything else.. Go through your emails and prioritise what needs to be responded to and when. Try and work through them in quiet spots during the day and  check your inbox just before leaving for anything urgent that might need attention.

Meetings

Successful project managers spend at least 40% of their time in meetings so it’s likely you’ll be in at least one meeting a day.

It’s a great idea to start the day in a briefing with your coordinator.

Discuss what actions, milestones and tasks are coming up, what’s due to be completed and anything that’s slipping.

Cover any urgent emails, phone calls or meetings that have appeared in the last day plus anything else that needs attention.

By the end of the meeting you’ll have a rough outline of the day. This isn’t set in stone as things will change but it gives you both something to work from.

Then move on to a quick standup meeting with the project team. Aim to keep this as short as possible. Each person gives an update on what they did the previous day, what they’re working on today and any problems they need help with.

Project status meetings are usually once a week, unless there’s a major development. We like to have a standard meeting agenda. It covers

  • task updates
  • schedule updates
  • budget updates
  • quality updates
  • risks
  • issues
  • assumptions
  • dependencies
  • staff matters (leave, rotations, issues)
  • vendor matters
  • customer matters
  • change management
  • stakeholder management

Switch up the topic order depending on where you are in the project. So, if you’re getting very close to a vendor milestone they’ll be at the top of the agenda but if you’re getting ready to transition to testing then staff matters relating to that will be higher.

Stakeholder meetings take up a huge part of your time. You could be meeting with a concerned senior manager, gathering requirements and agreeing deliverables with a client, sorting out resource requirements with different departments or attending quality review meetings.

Chasing deliverables 

Not only do you have to make sure you stick to your schedule, you also need to make sure your team sticks to theirs! This isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not the line manager of the people working on the project.

You need to have the negotiation skills of a top diplomat and the courage of a warrior! No, we’re not joking when we say that. We know of one project where the project manager didn’t keep on top of deliverables and found out 2 weeks before the project was due to deliver that a key component hadn’t been manufactured and it would take 3 months to fix! Needless to say there were a lot of VERY unhappy people that day, and no – it wasn’t one of our projects – thank goodness!

Reporting

An inevitable part of any successful project manager’s job is reporting. This is where you and your coordinator will be working very closely together.

You’ll be expected to produce and discuss a number of different reports at varying times of the month. This could include:

  • the overall progress of the project
  • detailed risk and issues reports
  • financial reports
  • resource forecasts
  • deliverable reports
  • milestone reports

What do you need to do to be effective in the job?

Now that we’ve given you a brief summary of a day in the life of a successful project manager, let’s take a look at some skills you’ll need to do to be effective in the role.

The first and by far the most important thing is – treat your coordinator well!  We can’t emphasise that enough. The relationship between the two of you is going to be one of the most important in your work life. If the two of you don’t get on it is going to make doing the job extremely difficult.

You’re going to need to be pretty unflappable. This isn’t a job for someone who gets frustrated easily or who can’t think on their feet. Life in a project is rarely stable and calm and if it is, it definitely doesn’t last long.

You need to be able to stand your ground but without being confrontational. As a project manager you’re going to have to negotiate for everything. Whether it’s getting something done in the agreed timeframe or asking for more money – it’s your job to get it!

You want to be an analytical thinker and good with numbers. We don’t mean accountant or PhD level but being able to grasp how budgets work and spot discrepancies quickly will be a distinct advantage.

Finally, you need to know how to switch off. Being a project manager is a really stressful job so being able to switch off and relax is vitally important. Make sure you take at least a small portion during the day away from the stresses of managing the project and once your work day is done, keep it done! That isn’t always easy or practical but if you make a habit of switching off at the end of the work day both your physical and mental health will be protected.

We hope you found these tips helpful – Good luck with your new career!

Psoda plug

If you’re looking for a flexible, easy to use tool to help you manage your projects, then look no further than Psoda. Sign up now for a free trial.

If you want more project management tips then check out our YouTube channel. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced project manager we have something for you. Our project management videos cover everything from funny videos to advanced project management techniques, tips, fundamentals, trends, top 10s and of course our own software.

 

Long term planning – shaping the future of your district

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Long term planning is hard work. You never know what is around the next corner. Case in point with Coronavirus and the impacts that it will have on the way council residents will work, rest and play in the immediate, medium and long term.

The long term plan is the way a council outlines its expenditure across a range of projects that will not only keep the districts and cities functioning well but will also help them grow and flourish into the future.

Balancing all those different needs with the requirements under legislation and the strategic goals of the council makes long term planning a time consuming and delicate job.

As you move into the next planning cycle, what are some things you can do to make the process easier?

Phase 1 – Set Up and Prioritisation

When you’re setting up the structure it’s important to make sure that it maps to the activity structure in the plan. That way you can quickly and easily see which programmes and projects contribute to each activity. 

A good way to do this is to have a portfolio level folder for each strategic objective or activity. You can then have the programmes and projects that contribute to that objective or activity in that folder. This will make data aggregation and visualisation much easier.

It’s also worth making sure that supporting processes are set up and documented in that folder. It’s time consuming and frustrating to get deep into planning only to find out that you’re QAing on the hoof when you could have had the process agreed and documented up front.

Getting a document numbering structure in place and/or creating links to your document management system is also good practice. 

Prioritising the long list of programmes and projects is often a case of who screams the loudest or who has the most political points to score. Avoiding this takes diplomacy and tact – plus the magic weapon of data.

Using a prioritisation matrix, where you score projects and programmes based on pre-agreed metrics is a great way to reduce, if not completely remove, the problem of loudest voice and political influence. Any decisions on what programmes and projects to include are solely made based on where each lies on the matrix. 

Phase 2 – Scenario Planning

Put simply, scenario planning is working out what projects and programmes are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. 

It’s one of, if not the biggest and most time consuming parts of long term planning. Trying to get the right balance across the plan within the agreed budget takes skill and time.

In most instances it’s best to set up an entire project to manage this part of the long term planning process. 

Using spreadsheets can work but  they get big and very quickly become bulky and unwieldy. This is especially true where you are trying to combine hundreds of different spreadsheets in multiple ways to build different scenarios.

Each scenario you build will need to take into account the different streams in your organisation. Some typical streams are:

  • Strategic
  • Financial
  • Growth
  • Development contributions
  • Asset management
  • Rates

Some of the biggest pain points when running scenarios is the time it takes to complete them. It can take upwards of 3 to 6 months to build different scenarios for approval using spreadsheets.

When people want to get access to the latest data they need to phone the team and make a request. Then wait for the answer (which can take weeks to provide).

Version control is also a huge problem! Running that many spreadsheets means that things can quickly get out of control and people many not be working with the latest data.

Having a scenario planning tool that allows you to quickly and easily change certain metrics and see the impact of those changes in real time makes this job a lot easier. 

A dedicated planning tool means anyone with access can extract the most up to date data at any time, cutting down unnecessary delays and reducing frustration.

Another huge benefit is consistent reporting across the programme. This also speeds up the decision making process.

Phase 3 – Internal Review

Scenarios that meet the threshold are presented to the long term planning committee for discussion and, when finalised, approval. 

This is another process that can take a long time to happen, so make sure you incorporate some contingency in case of overruns or requests to rework scenarios.

It’s not uncommon to have to rework the various scenarios multiple times at this stage. Again, this is where a dedicated scenario planning tool really comes into its own. 

Make sure the rationale documents that explain the scenarios are as clear and unambiguous as possible. Also make the options as diverse as you can so that there are real choices available.

Phase 4 – Public Consultation

This is always an interesting exercise. Getting feedback from a diverse community takes diverse methods. Some options that are used are:

  • Open days
  • Newspapers
  • Letterbox drops
  • Website

One not to ignore is social media. Most of the community will be on Facebook or other channels such as Instagram and Twitter so posting the consultation information there will increase reach particularly in specific demographics.

Once the consultation period is over the feedback is collated and presented to the planning team via the elected representatives.

Long Term Planning In Action with Hamilton City Council

Psoda worked closely with Hamilton City Council to develop our scenario planning tool to exactly meet council planning requirements.

In Hamilton City Council’s case we have reduced the scenario planning process by 50%. A process that was taking upwards of 3 months a turn is now taking weeks. 

This means that the long term planning team can not only get the elected members the information they need to make the decisions much more quickly, they can also run many more scenarios to get the best results for their communities.

You can find out more in our case study.

In conclusion, building the long term plan is time consuming and complicated. You can make it a bit easier by following the steps outlined above as a guide. If you want to find out how Psoda can help you make your long term planning process easier get in touch. We’d love to help.

When you are a natural born project manager and you need to bake a big Star Wars cake…

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Most project managers have had at least one project that has challenged them like no other. It was probably complex with many tasks to complete, tight deadlines and for a demanding customer.  And there will have been no room for overruns on delivery or budget.

The one

My ‘one’ project like this happened very recently. The important and demanding client was Mr 5-turning-6 and his request was for a Star Wars birthday cake. This was hardly surprising as he’s a Star Wars fan and spends most of his free time waving a lightsaber around and saving the planet!  For him, it was an easy request, for me it became a challenging project.

I work pretty much full time in and on the business and wanted to make the cake while Mr 5 was at school.  It’s a very busy time for us so I put my project manager’s hat on before my toque (white baker’s hat!) and planned and prepped like never before. There was so much to do – where to start?

Like any good project manager, I started at the end – with what I needed to achieve and by when. Then I worked backwards on a timetable of the individual steps and how long I thought each one would take. I put everything on the list including the time it would take me to do battle with the online shopping and hide the evidence when Mr 5 got home! I’ll admit to not taking it to the level of using a Gantt chart, spreadsheet or software solution to do the planning – paper and pen were enough this time!

The end result was the completed Star Wars cake (and hopefully a happy Mr 6)

Planning

The stages were: 

Planning

  • Check the pattern for the cakes and decoration.
  • Make a list of all the ingredients and the shops I’d need to visit to get them.
  • Check that I had all the baking tins, colouring and decorating tools.

Delivery

  • 1: Bake the sponge cakes, allow them to cool completely overnight.
  • 2: Make the buttercream for the entire cake, cut cakes into shape, sandwich the cakes together, crumb coat the outside and store well.
  • 3: Colour and roll out the fondant icing, ice the sponges – which would probably need a degree in trigonometry to complete – leave to set, decorate with all the intricate detail that my ‘client’ would be expecting and look for final checks and touches, finish and hide until his birthday…

So now I had all my activities and deliverables, next was to assign time estimates and schedule the time available across the tasks. Using more of a daily sprint approach, I planned out each day’s time allowance and what was achievable in those time frames.  At the end, I established that I actually needed three days to complete the project in time for the party!  

Delivery

Each morning after taking Mr 5-turning-6 to school, I’d think through the morning’s work (a bit like having a stand-up with myself!) and get going. I planned each day’s work with the same level of detail as the overall plan – shopping, preparing and weighing out the ingredients which made me feel like a TV chef where they have all the ingredients in bowls before they start! 

The biggest challenge of the whole project was mixing the fondant to the right colour. Usually I’d cheat and go pre-coloured. Unfortunately the shops don’t sell battleship grey so I had to make it by hand. The amount of effort it took to mix and blend was insane! Not helped by it sticking to and ripping the gloves that I’d sensibly put on to avoid dyeing my hands grey. 

As school pick-up time approached each day, I’d tidy-up and the next day, I’d check the plan and set out my day’s work. 

A happy customer

After a week of planning, and three days of making, decorating and finishing, the end result was most definitely a Star Wars cake. And a very happy Mr 6!

Cookery tip of the day – do your prep, make a plan and follow-it – just like a project manager at work! 

 

My finished cake’s in the photo at the top of the post. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

A project manager’s guide to Valentine’s Day

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Valentine’s Day. You either love it, or loathe it. Every year you’re guaranteed to read on various social media platforms about hero partners that have gone all out and made the day amazing or zero partners that have failed to deliver even the most basic of surprises.

One year in my naïve youth I had a boyfriend that suggested we go out for dinner on the day. Only to find out when we got to the restaurant that he hadn’t booked and was very surprised to find there was no room and no – they couldn’t just squeeze us in. On saying that, the smoked sausage supper from the local chippie (fellow Scots will know what I mean) was pretty good.

So how can you be a Valentine’s Day hero? By using your project management skills to plan and execute the perfect event for your partner or spouse! Here are some tips to help you avoid being a Valentine’s Day zero.

Plan in advance

Don’t be like my poor old boyfriend and try to organise something at the last minute. You’ll likely find that the restaurants are fully booked, flowers sold out (and/or extortionate pricing) and the couriers are so busy that your gift will be delivered three days after the big day.

Set your budget

Everyone I know has got a tale of being ripped off on Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s a surprise bunch of red roses that ended up costing the same as a weekly shop or an over-     expensive meal that was mediocre at best. The best way to avoid an unexpected bill is to plan in advance. Florists will give you a price over the phone and restaurants have menus online. That way you can plan a lovely day that is within your budget.

Know your stakeholder

No-one wants to receive an unsuitable gift and end up in the returns queue on the 15th of February. It sounds obvious, but pick something your sweetheart will like. Not something you’d like them to like. All my girlfriends (and some boyfriends) have at least one example of a Valentine’s Day gift that was more for the giver than them.

Have a disaster recovery plan

Especially now, when the dreaded COVID is still hovering, plans can change on the flip of a coin. Have a back-up in case the unexpected happens. Food delivery services can be a good option if you can’t get a restaurant booking. Even in COVID times as most are still delivering under the red setting.  If you are buying a gift, do it a few days beforehand and hide it so there are no last minute panics when all the good chocolates have gone!

If you want to make sure you’re a Valentine’s Day hero, apply your project management skills to the job – plan and prep.  It’s a guaranteed no fail and you will (both) enjoy the project benefits!

Ask a Project Manager – Help! I’m a clinician, I’ve been asked to run a project and don’t know where to start!

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Welcome to our latest Ask a Project Manager blog. This time I’ve been asked how to help a clinician run a project they’ve been given when they have no project management experience.

Hello, I’m looking for some advice please. I’m a clinician in a hospital and I’ve been handed a project to run. I’ve got no project management experience, what should I do and where can I start?

My first bit of advice is don’t panic. Whether you’re a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, pharmacist or other specialist you already have a lot of the skills needed to be a good project manager:

Team player

Healthcare workers constantly work in multi-disciplinary teams and the skills that are applied there are easily transferrable to project management teams

Deadlines

Clinicians are constantly having to meet inflexible deadlines and that ability is very useful as a project manager

Subject matter expertise

When managing a project, having first-hand experience is a real bonus and brings significant advantages. In the healthcare setting no-one has more relevant experience than someone with a clinical background

Stakeholder management

Managing your stakeholders is something that clinicians do on a daily basis; this part of project management should be second nature.

In terms of running your project there are 5 key things you need to do to help you deliver successfully.

Make a plan

This can be as simple as a one page document. As long as it covers what you’ll deliver, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered and how you’ll measure success you’re good.

Sort out your budget

  • Break your budget down into CAPEX & OPEX
  • Make sure you update your forecast & actual budgets regularly

Look at the risks

Document any actual and perceived risks to the project up front and proactively manage them when they eventuate

Work out a schedule

A schedule is just a way of visualising tasks and showing you what has to happen when. It can be as easy as creating an excel spreadsheet with the task name, who will do it and how long it will take.

Report

Keep it simple. Show how you are tracking with your budget and tasks against the deadline.

I hope this has given you some ideas on where to start!

How to achieve healthy projects in four simple steps

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Keeping projects healthy takes a huge amount of time and energy, especially when you’re managing more than one or managing it on top of your day job.

Here are four useful tips to ensure your projects stay in tip top condition.

Tip 1: Manage your schedule

The project schedule is one of your most important documents, so making sure you get it right and keeping it up-to-date is important. It seems like a drudge but once it’s out of control it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get it back in order.

Make task durations at least 1 day and no more than 2 weeks – so you’re not obsessing about low hanging fruit but also aren’t leaving things too long without checking in.

Update your schedule once a week. Any more and you’re getting too obsessed. Any less and you’re likely to be losing control and oversight – which is never good.

Clearly mark the critical path, or golden thread, and include the name of the individual responsible for the delivery of the task group on the chart. It keeps things really clear and quick to view.

Tip 2: Keep your stakeholders happy

Managing up and out is one of your primary roles and takes up a lot of time and energy. Remember, this isn’t just about the bosses, it includes suppliers and end users.

You’ll find that all most stakeholders want is to be kept informed and feel that their opinions have been listened to.

A monthly project newsletter is a great way to keep in touch. Include updates on progress, what is coming up on the schedule, and general bits of project news.

Tip 3: Document everything!

This might sound like an obvious thing to do, but make sure you document everything. If you have a ‘watercooler’ chat, follow it up with an email. You never know when it will come in handy. It’s not so much a case of covering your back as dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s. We’ve seen many instances where someone’s had a quick chat, taken the direction as gospel and then been questioned about why they took the action they did and have no evidence to back it up.

Tip 4: Have regular team meetings

When you’re under the pump, working 16 to 18 hour days to deliver your project, it’s really easy to consider stopping the project catch-up meeting. But it’s at this point that project meetings become more important than ever.

During this meeting you’re likely to pick up if things are going off track or if your team needs to refocus. Better to discover this here than on the day before go live when you realise a critical piece of work has been missed (We’ve have seen it happen!)

It’s a chance for the team to take a bit of a breather and relax

It’s a place for any challenges and grievances to be aired. When time pressures mount it’s really easy for little frustrations and niggles to boil over and become problematic. Use the team meeting as a time and place to discuss and diffuse potential volatile situations

Proactively capture any lessons the team wants to share, saving time and effort at the project close out.

We hope these 4 tips have been useful and help you maintain healthy projects.

Check out our case study page to find out how we’re helping our customers keep their projects healthy.

Writing documents your stakeholders will read

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” – George Berkeley

If you write a project document and no one reads it, what was the point of writing it?

You’ve spent hours crafting what you’re sure is the perfect project briefing document and you’re excited to send it to your stakeholders. But when you ask some questions at the kick-off meeting, it’s obvious no-one has read it – at least not beyond the first page. What went wrong?

Project documentation is as necessary, even if it can seem tedious. It can make the difference between success and failure. According to the PMI, poor communication is among the top five reasons that projects fail. But you are communicating – so why doesn’t anyone read it?

How can you create documentation which brings clarity and transparency to your project process, fast-tracks decisions and creates ownership within your team? Follow these tips, and you’ll hopefully never again be interrupted with the words, “Can you give me an update on the project?”

Before you begin

Gather input

How do you know which information is useful to your stakeholders? Ask them. Also find out which parts of project documents they usually skip and which they always read.

Have a plan

Your communications plan is a vital part of the overall project plan. Regular messaging will cut down on the ad-hoc requests for status updates.

Consider your medium

Avoid scattering your project communication across email, meeting agendas, chats and shared drives. Instead, bring all the pieces together into one cloud-based location. Ensure the appropriate people receive notifications when documents are added or updated.

Structure is key

Create templates

For each type of project document, ensure you always follow the same format. This makes your documents both quicker to write and easier to digest by readers. Over time it becomes easier for stakeholders to track progress when they know where to find the data that’s relevant to them.

Ideally your project management software will have a range of reporting templates ready for you to customise and use in your documentation.

Keep your documents as attractive and ‘glanceable’ as you can. Consider your fonts and line spacing, and avoid cramming in too much text at once (these tend to be the parts people skip!).

Have a strong executive summary or opening paragraph

The beginning of your document will tell the reader whether it is worth continuing to read. Include the two or three key milestones or topics you want to focus on and allude to the data you will present within in the document.

Keep it brief

 “A one-size-fits-all report does not work for all stakeholders. Too much information can overwhelm.” – Kathi Soniat, PMP, Randstad Technologies, Greer, South Carolina, USA

Avoid the temptation to include all the current information about a project in every document. Time is scarce, and your stakeholders only want to know what is essential to progress. Project status reports for example should be one page or less.

You should, of course, include any relevant context in your document, but don’t rehash the project background or keep sharing the same data. Link off to other documents as required to provide more information for those who need it.

Tips for readability

Use active voice as much as possible

Active voice emphasises the subject and makes it clear who is performing an action. If you write using active voice you will appear confident and trustworthy. Your words have more authority and are more persuasive. Hint: if your sentence includes the word ‘was’, it is probably written in passive voice. 

Here is an example of passive voice: An investigation into the overspend will be conducted. When re-written in active voice, the subject of the sentence must be included: The CFO will investigate the overspend.

Colour coding guides the eye

It may sound childish but colours really work! Whether it’s as simple as using green for actions that are on-track and red for risks, design a consistent colour code palette and use it in each status report. If you have multiple work streams in a project, you might always use the same colours when representing them in charts or graphs. Don’t overdo it though – only use colours to illustrate the most important points in your document.

Graph data wherever possible

Humans are visual creatures, and we find it much easier to interpret data when presented graphically. Again, you can link off to the full data table for those who need the detailed information. Your graphs should show your reader the conclusions they should draw, not merely present the numbers so that they gloss over them.

Annotate charts, graphs and data

To this end, annotate your visuals to illustrate what the data is showing the reader. Your title should point out the key learning of your graph, not merely describe the data. Avoid using a data legend which sits off to the side of the graph. Instead, directly label your data points (only the most relevant ones). Add any other brief pertinent annotations directly to the chart which will help the reader grasp its meaning without having to read lengthy explanatory sentences underneath. You want to avoid making the reader switch repeatedly between the graph and an explanation.

Amanda Cox, an editor at the The New York Times, says “The annotation layer is the most important thing we do…otherwise it’s a case of here it is, you go figure it out.” [source]

Psoda Plug

Do you have a project management tool which allows you to generate custom reports on the fly, allowing you to create project documents with ease? Can you manage your workflows and timelines collaboratively, keeping all of your communication in one central location? If not, Psoda can help! Sign up for a free 14 day trial today.

 

 

How to Effectively Manage a Project Remotely

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Working remotely is the new normal for many of us. I authored this blog at home, for example! According to an Airtasker survey, remote workers are more productive and less distracted than their office-located counterparts. However, as a project manager, how do you manage your team effectively from a distance and ensure your projects stay on track?

Here’s some tips to help keep productivity levels high and stay in control of your work streams when you or your team are working remotely. We’ll also cover some of the key pitfalls to avoid as you navigate long-distance management.

Thorough planning is crucial

Your team needs a great roadmap to work from. Spent extra time planning your project to ensure everyone has clarity of your scope, the deliverables, responsibilities and deadlines.

Set clear expectations around objectives and benchmarks, and ensure your documentation is kept up to date as you move through the project. This task is made much simpler with cloud PPM software which we’ll discuss now.

Implement a centralised project management tool

Tracking your goals and progress, and enabling your team to do the same, is even more essential when working on a project remotely. Using a cloud-based collaboration tool make sense. Ensure all the team have the appropriate access levels and update their tasks in a timely fashion. This will enable you to report more accurately.

Circulate automated dashboards each morning or every week, depending on the flow of your project. A visual representation of how you’re tracking is motivating for your team. The ability to add comments and attachments to a task keeps all your activity centralised – no more time wasted searching through your emails!

Communicate clearly and regularly

Choose what technologies you will be using for video conferencing, instant messaging and collaboration and ensure everyone has access and knows how to use them. Then, consider the appropriate medium for your message. Not every issue needs a meeting! Remote workers say meetings reduce productivity 1.8 times more than on-site workers [source].

Keep in regular contact with your team members to avoid any isolation they may be feeling, as well as checking in on how they’re doing with the project. Again, choose the appropriate method of communication based on the employee’s individual preferences. Some people will want a phone call, others might only need an instant message.

Keep meetings at regular times to help workers keep routines at home. Circulate your agenda in advance and stick to it during the meeting. Encourage the team to show up on time and be respectful of each other’s time even when we are not physically together. At the same time, if someone must leave the meeting for a personal emergency, we can help them by keeping thorough minutes and distributing them promptly. Practise good meeting etiquette: turn off alerts and pop-ups, and mute when you’re not speaking. Ensure everyone has had the opportunity to speak during a video conference. It’s easy to be drowned out when multiple people try to speak at once. Team members can be allowed to leave a call if the remaining agenda items aren’t relevant to them.

Celebrate milestones and successes as you progress and give your team members regular feedback on their performance.

Plan around flexible hours and count on interruptions

Some workers may have family commitments such as school drop offs, while others may work best in the evening. Get to know your team’s habits and routines, and plan accordingly. Ensure meetings are at times which suit most people.

Trust your team members to manage their time effectively. Whether they start the work a little late or take frequent breaks, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as they are able to get the work done.

If you have established clear expectations, processes and deadlines as discussed above, they should be motivated to get the job done in their own time.

We’ve all seen that video of the kids walking in on the BBC reporter. It’s hilarious because it’s relatable. Any parent working from home has been there! It could be you or one of your team members suffering under the weight of the embarrassment, but we can just laugh at it and move back to the task at hand without further disruption. 

As well as thinking about things you should do, here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Micromanagement

36% of remote managers state that knowing what their team is working on (and when) is a challenge. It can be tempting to be in almost constant contact with your team members, perhaps to check that they have everything they need or to find out how they’re tracking towards that day’s goals. It can very quickly become overwhelming for your staff, and they may get less work done as a result. Trust your project team members to contact you when they need extra assistance. 

Isolation and lack of community

“Without the usual amount of face time that many teams are accustomed to, some team members may feel isolated – be it socially or professionally. Managers should be sure to schedule a time to… foster a more personal connection, using video tools where possible to recreate the face to face experience.”

Michael DePrisco, VP, Global Experience & Solutions, Project Management Institute [source]

Whether it’s chats around the watercooler, catching up over lunch, or having a laugh over a drink – one of the main things workers miss when working remotely is the company of their fellow workmates. We can make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction, to a certain extent, by scheduling some time for the team to bond and have social time. Perhaps everyone bring their favourite snack and drink to a wrap-up session on a Friday, or you can have virtual lunch breaks. Not every email or message has to be work related!

Burnout

Remote workers say their biggest struggle is ‘unplugging after work. When you have the freedom to work at any hour of the day, some people find themselves casually checking their emails after dinner and then putting in another hour or two of work. If your team can’t disconnect fully and have proper downtime, they may go on to experience burnout. Encourage your team members to have regular breaks and log off completely at he end of the day.  Make sure you regularly plan annual leave. A well-rested employee is a productive one.

And in conclusion…

Here’s how a cloud-based programme and portfolio management solution can help you manage your projects remotely: 

  • enables you to plan your project to ensure everyone has clarity of your scope, the deliverables, responsibilities and deadlines – and it’s real-time
  • ensures your documentation is kept up to date and changes are real-time, so no more confusion over which version is the latest
  • tracks your goals and progress, and enable your team to do the same
  • delivers centralised information on automated dashboards

If you’re looking for a PPM tool to help you manage your remote projects sign up for a 14 day free trial of Psoda.

Mentoring for Women in Project Management

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

I was very pleased to be invited to present at the monthly PMI Women in Project Management Forum in February.  I chose a topic close to my heart – how mentoring can kick-start your career.

My mentorship journey

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had two great mentors in my life – both older men.  The first was a through a university career programme set up to help final year and new graduates into a career. They part funded work in a food industry start-up and gave me my second mentor.
My second mentor met with me every month and helped me set up and understand quality management systems. It was through him that I got my quality management and system audit qualifications.
My next mentoring experience was a reversal – I was the mentor!  My mentee was a woman in the US, she was an architect with building software product management experience and was looking to transition to general software – and needed help to do that.  By the time we finished, she had secured a position as a programme manager with a multi-national. 
We were introduced through a great New Zealand company called OneUpOneDown. They match women at similar stages of their careers for 12 weeks of mentoring (hence the name. One above and below on the career ladder).
At our first meeting we set out the ground rules. What she was looking for help with, how often we would meet and how we would communicate outside of our meetings. We also worked out a plan around what we wanted to achieve in our 12 weeks together. We met for an hour every week for 12 weeks and we mapped out a plan of how to transition from one industry to another. Every week we discussed what worked, what didn’t work and the plan for the week ahead. We also had general chit chat about what was happening in our respective lives and around the world.

So what makes a good mentor?

If you are looking for a mentor, my advice is to find someone who feels right when you chat to them – they need to be a good fit in terms of understanding what you are trying to achieve and being able to help you in the right ways.  Have a plan and goals so that you have a path to follow and can measure along the way.  A good mentor will be willing to share their skills, knowledge and expertise.  They will teach you what they know and be a positive role model.
A mentor will help you, guide you and challenge you – perhaps take you out of your comfort zone while supporting you. They will listen, provide constructive feedback and are always respectful of your relationship and goals. 

Finding a mentor

You can find a mentor anywhere – ask your friends/colleagues for a recommendation or simply ask someone that you know who you think can help you.  It’s a good idea to know what you want and are trying to achieve so that the person you are asking will know if they can help you.
I’ll share with you 3 questions that you should ask a potential mentor and three that they should ask you…

Three questions to ask your mentor

  1. How did you get to where you are now?
  2. What made you decide to become a mentor?
  3. Have you mentored before?

Three questions to expect from a mentor

  1. What are you looking for help with?
  2. What have you tried to resolve the situation?
  3. Do you have a particular goal in mind, or is it more general support?

Thank you to the PMI Women in Project Management Forum for inviting me to talk, it was a great trip down memory lane. It reminded me how much fun mentoring can be.

Pandemics and Project Managers

Written by Rhona Aylward


Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

I never thought that my first blog after my holiday would be about a pandemic, but here we are.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that COVID-19 is currently rampaging its way around the world. It’s disrupting everything in people’s lives – from travel to work to social gatherings and in most instances we’re woefully under prepared. You just need to look at the headlines about panic buying of toilet paper.
So as a project manager what should you be doing?

Risk register

Your risk register should have pandemic on there – most likely with a very low probability. Mine does because I came through the swine flu saga a few years ago and learned a whole bunch of lessons from that as a result. It’s not comprehensive and is out of date but the bones are there.

Pandemic plan

It’s worth checking if your organisation has a pandemic plan or even a business continuity plan that includes a pandemic scenario. Even if it’s completely out of date, and it’s likely to be, it will have some useful nuggets of information.
If a plan doesn’t exist it is well worth creating one, as when things do start to happen it will move quickly and you might not have a lot of time.
Things to consider:

Restricting travel

We’ve made the decision to ban all overseas travel until the COVID-19 situation has resolved itself. We’re lucky that everyone who was overseas is safely back in the country and were not in countries with outbreaks.
We are using video conferencing tools to mitigate the lack of travel.

Face to face meetings

We will stop face to face meetings where there are 5 cases in our local area. As of writing there is 1 local case. In the meantime, we have said no physical contact, no handing out business cards and no close proximity to other attendees. We have also said there will be no physical note taking or pen sharing.

Quarantining staff

My plan says that any staff that have travelled through countries or areas with active cases will be quarantined at home for 14 days. We also say that if anyone in an employee’s circle of friends and family becomes unwell the employee should self isolate.

Working from home

One of the key things in my plan is the working from home option. I’ve made sure that it includes provision of the necessary equipment and security, including remote access.

Health and Safety

Before you let people work from home you need to consider your health and safety obligations. Just because staff work from home, this doesn’t absolve the employer of their responsibilities. Before staff work from home you need to make sure you’ve done a risk assessment and have helped the employee mitigate those risks.

Information security

This is an often overlooked part of a major disruption event. Both when planning to work from home but also around disseminating information. Nefarious types are very aware of the panic and thirst for information and have no hesitation in using pandemic related headlines in emails and other phishing attempts. It’s worth making sure that your IT/Information Security team are included in the plan and that they are able to set up laptops and other devices with the required security before they are needed. All too often this is overlooked and is required NOW, forgetting that the IT team are also going to be wanting to, or have to, work remotely.

Internal and external communication

Keeping people informed about what is happening is critical during an emergency, especially one that changes almost hourly like the COVID-19 situation. As a project manager, it’s your job to make sure that everyone gets factual, accurate and timely information. I use a number of government and medical websites as well as reputable news sites.
I’ve also added COVID-19 as a standing agenda item on our regular catch up meetings. It’s gone a long way towards reducing people’s anxiety.
I’ve also shared our plan with key suppliers and customers so that they are aware of what we’ll be doing. We’ve been lucky that they have also shared their plans so that ours can be more robust.

Tools

Most modern organisations are well set up to manage remote working, so some tools to consider if you don’t have these things in place already are:

  • Centralised project management software (Psoda’s good)
  • Online communication tool (something like Microsoft teams, Slack, Skype etc.)
  • Video conferencing tool (we use Zoom meetings)
  • A cloud document sharing tool (Dropbox, Box etc.)

Hygiene

One of the most effective ways to stop COVID-19 is simple hand washing. We’ve provided all employees with their own bottle of hand soap and paper towels for their desks and have emphasised the need to regularly wash their hands.
Make sure you don’t overlook cleanliness of devices, e.g. laptops and mobile phones. Particularly when staff return to work after working from home. Make sure you provide a way to disinfect the devices before they come back to the office. We are also looking at ways to decontaminate our office if the situation arises.

Psoda plug

If you’re looking for an amazing remote working tool to help you during this crisis, look no further than Psoda. We offer an online demo and a 30 day free trial.