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.

What does a project dream team look like?

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.

No one is self sufficient. This is why teams are crucial in project management. Teamwork is essential for the smooth running of projects. It allows for more successful project outcomes by helping to drive the team to its goal faster and more efficiently. However, for teamwork to be effective, there has to be strong leadership, typically in form of a project manager. In this article, we will look at the importance of teams in project management and how project managers can build great teams to maximise efficiency.

How does teamwork help in project management?

The success of a project depends on the efficiency of project teams in executing the objectives and goals of a project. That said, here are some ways in which effective teamwork can help the project manager during the project management lifecycle.

  • Promotes collaboration

Teamwork promotes collaboration amongst team members which can help to keep them more involved and engaged.  Increased engagement is bound to increase productivity and achieve better results and which is the goal of every project manager.

  • Encourages creativity

Different people working together usually means more unique ideas and diverse perspectives. This sharing of ideas promotes brainstorming which can help the project team acquire more effective strategies for completing the project.

  • Builds trust

Working in a team builds trust. Trust enables the members to share their ideas freely and rely on each other. This trust lays the foundation for a healthy relationship between team members which can improve performance and increase productivity.

  • Increases accountability

Teamwork gives the participants a sense of purpose which helps to make them feel accountable. Knowing that they are important to the project outcome can be empowering to the members, motivating them to do their best to see to the success of the project.

  • Improves workflow speed

It’s no surprise that teamwork speeds up the progress of a project. As a project manager, even if you have all the necessary skills which is highly unlikely, it would be almost impossible to get through the amount of work that is required to complete the project before its deadline. With a team, not only is this achievable, your time is also freed up to enable you attend to more important project activities.

How to select great team members and build a successful team as a project manager

As a project manager, building a great project team should be your primary responsibility. However, developing a collaborative, productive and highly efficient team is not without challenges. Read on to learn how you can scale the challenges to build a team with great members and working in positions that will put their skills to most effective use.

  • Have a plan in place

First things first, you need to put together a plan that will guide your selection process. What project are you going to be working on? What is the goal of the project and how will the team achieve this goal? Are there specific skills required for the project? What roles would need to be filled? When is the deadline for the project? The answers to these questions will help you define the project requirements and the people that can handle those requirements.

  • Select team members

With an understanding of the framework of the project, you can then begin to recruit your team. Your team members are responsible for operations that will progress the project so you have to ensure you recruit the best people available to you. When picking members, analyse the skills and personality of the prospective members. Ensure that the skills of the members complement one another as well.
Look out for people that show integrity, trustworthiness and have great interpersonal skills. Project management is a highly collaborative field so you will need to look at each person individually and as a part of a team. Also, depending on the nature of the project, especially where you need expertise that is not available in your organization, you can recruit fresh talents outside the company to ensure you have an expert team for the project.

Skills you need as a project manager to build a great team

Building a great project team that will follow and support you is not easy. There are certain leadership skills and personal characteristics every project manager must develop to lead a committed team for successful project management. Below are some of those skills.

  • Task delegation

It is important for project managers to know how to delegate tasks correctly. The best team is one where each member works in a position that matches their individual competencies. Proper task delegation promotes efficiency and allows for more effective collaboration between the team members.

  • Communication

An ability to communicate effectively with your team is an essential skill every project manager must have. Effective communication ensures that members are kept up-to-date with vital information so that everyone feels like a part of the team. It also encourages collaboration and builds trust within the project management team.

  • Mentorship

Your team members are likely to make inadvertent mistakes. When this happens, as the manager, you must present yourself as a mentor, someone who has their back at all times. The assurance that comes with having a mentor in you will encourage them to be fully committed to the project and give it their best shot.

  • Decision making

It is the responsibility of the project manager to set goals and instructions for the team. These instructions guide the operations of the team members and ensure that the entire team is on the same page in working towards achieving the project’s goal.

How to transform a struggling team to a successful one

It is almost impossible to put different individuals in a team and hope they work in complete harmony until the end of the project. The team may struggle at some point and as a project manager, here’s how you can identify and resolve issues.

  • No clear purpose

Goals motivate people. If your team doesn’t have a clear understanding of the purpose of the job, they are likely to be less committed to it which might result in poor performance. So if you notice a reduction in the quality of performance, you might want to reinforce the importance of the project to re-energize the team.

  • No project leadership

Project managers are accountable for their team’s performance and in the absence of effective leadership, your team might struggle. To drive performance and collaboration, as a project manager, you’ll need to establish responsibility and accountability, manage any conflict that arises, delegate tasks to suitable members and communicate efficiently among other things.

  • Poorly defined roles

Teamwork is about utilizing individual skills in various roles to get stuff done. However, in the absence of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, nothing might get done. To help the team out, project managers should ensure that every team member knows their role as well as the responsibilities that come with such role. Remember teamwork is focused on how the members function as a team and less about who they are.

  • Unclear communication

According to studies, ‘equal conversational taking’ is a vital habit of successful teams. Creating a communication strategy to support regular interaction can help resolve poor communication in the team. This can be through emails, meetings, reports, and presentations. Also, try to give everyone on your team a voice to avoid having one sided conversations dominated by the bolder personalities.

How project managers can empower their teams

Great project managers do not just build teams, they also engage and motivate the members to help empower them. Project managers can empower their teams through giving them opportunities to grow and develop their skills and capabilities. Organize project meetings, encourage your people to speak up and interact to ensure that everyone’s clear on project status and expectations. Also, when your team’s performance is poor, when giving criticism, instead of presenting it as a problem to be fixed, present it as an opportunity to improve. With a project team empowered to succeed, the project is likely to be a success as well.

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For project managers looking for a project management software solution to organize their team’s project management process, look no further than Psoda.  Sign up and use it free for the first 30 days!

Why You Should Implement Artificial Intelligence 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.

You can’t ignore the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in project management. Put simply, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is an aspect of computer science created to solve problems that would typically require human intelligence and input. In project management, AI-powered systems can assist project managers with the day-to-day administration and management of projects. Enabling them to better analyze risks, reduce costs and mistakes and generally manage tasks and teams more efficiently.
According to a 2019 Gartner report, enterprise-level use of AI has grown rapidly, recording over 270% of growth in the past four years. In the same vein, Cognilytica also reported that about 86% of project managers that adopted AI technology witnessed a 20% increase in project performance. If these stats are anything to go by it’s clear AI in project management can help improve project outcomes.

Reasons to implement AI in project management

  • Project Coordination

If you’re a project/programme manager, portfolio manager or CIO, then you understand how important it is to stay in sync with your team. However, between scheduling meetings that accommodate your entire team’s calendars to the constant back-and-forth messaging, coordinating a project can be pretty overwhelming. Now, with AI, you can access tools like chatbots and scheduling assistants which can help cut down on unnecessary messaging and review team members’ calendars to set meeting times that would be convenient for all team members in a matter seconds to improve overall team engagement and facilitate group communication.

  • Task automation

Did you know that administrative tasks take up 54% of a project manager’s time? This is based on a study by Accenture. Imagine if you could automate those tasks to free up your time for more pressing issues. Well, with the robotic process automation of AI, tasks like creating timelines and schedules, sending updates/alerts, monitoring and reporting and other repetitive tasks can be automated and taken off your hands so you have more time to concentrate on other work.

  • Planning And Forecasting

Planning and forecasting are the most demanding tasks in   project management. These tasks typically involve collecting data on the performance of projects and predicting how long they will last. Thanks to machine learning and natural language processing, using a company’s historical data, AI-based predictive analytics can determine the resources that will be needed for a project and the expected completion time. AI systems are more efficient than human intelligence in planning and forecasting as they can even identify data trends that may not be obvious to humans to optimize decision making.

  • Cost efficient and time saving

Project management AI systems can save you a lot of time. The time you would have spent on repetitive operational tasks can be freed up with the task automation function of AI technology so you make better use of your time to improve the project where necessary. In addition to saving time, with its predictive analytics, AI can give you a highly reliable estimate of the costs for the tasks in project management which will help you allocate resources properly and avoid unnecessary expenses that may disrupt your budget.

Future of project management with AI

Statistics show that 55% of companies can’t access real-time KPIs which explains the 70% failure rate of projects. With project management AI, project managers can leverage machine learning and AI based data analytics for increased project success rates. Also, with the risk management tools of AI systems capable of identifying risks and trends that may be hidden to humans, project managers will be better equipped to take proactive decisions and actions that’ll help minimize cost and eliminate factors that might be threats to project success.
Nonetheless, before adopting AI systems, as a project manager, it is pertinent that you consider the project needs, the potentials of the AI tools, use cases, access to data, integration with the team and the added value throughout the life cycle of  the project. AI has so far revolutionized every industry it has been implemented in and project management will be no different.

Risks involved in using AI in project management

Of course, the implementation of AI in project management is not without risks. Below are issues you should be aware of if you are considering adopting artificial intelligence in project management.
Firstly, AI systems are tailored to specific problems. This means that changes to a particular project could render your specific model of your AI system inefficient because it is not adapted to the new conditions.   So in projects that will need a lot of changes AI may not be the best solution.
Secondly, there is another reason some companies and teams are sceptical about implementing AI in project management. In an Atlassian survey, 87% of respondents believed their jobs could be overtaken by AI in the coming three years. However, this is something project managers shouldn’t have to worry about. Garner projects that in 2020, while AI will indeed eliminate 1.8 million jobs across various industries, it will also create 2.3 million new jobs along with $2.9 trillion worth of business value by 2021. Put simply, AI in project management isn’t here to upend your career. Rather, it will only make your job easier by automating certain processes and increasing revenue across industries too.

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Now you know the basics of AI and how they relate to project management! If you are looking for a solid project management software to help you plan your projects, Psoda is the solution. Sign up for a 30 day free trial today!