A Beginner’s Guide to Agile Construction

Take a look at your current operating procedures.  How long does it take your company to restructure and switch between design styles or projects? The construction industry as a whole isn’t generally the most agile, often remaining quite hidebound and set in their ways, content to let the rest of the world move on without them.  Agile construction and project management are beginning to emerge as a way to keep things moving forward as the world continues to advance.  What is agile construction, and why should you consider adopting it in your business?

Starting with Agile Development

Agile manufacturing and building methods emerged in the automotive and software development industries to cope with the continually changing and often turbulent environment. The creators chose the term agile as the best way to describe the need for adaptiveness within their sectors.  At its core, agile development is a series of principles and values designed to create self-organizing teams and foster collaboration.  The ultimate goal is to build a system that can adapt to anything that the ever-changing industry can throw at it.

This doesn’t eliminate the need for managers or supervisors to run the overall program, but instead of micromanaging every step of the process, in an agile development system, managers just provide the framework and step back, allowing and trusting their teams to figure out the best way to solve the problem and deliver the finished product.

Software is a very non-linear development process. You can build different pieces of a program out of order and have them easily slot together in the end into a functional program. Construction doesn’t work that way, which has led many to believe that it might be ill-suited for agile management techniques, but this is one of those rare cases where opposites attract.

Making Construction Agile

Typically, the construction industry is the antithesis of agile, but even industries steeped in tradition can benefit from the addition of a bit of agility.  These might seem like two opposed concepts, with agile development focusing on constantly checking and changing processes depending on what is needed at the moment and construction tending to stick to the same tried and true practices, but with a bit of tweaking, the two can work together.

Some rules in construction will never be agile, such as the order of construction.  You can’t start building the roof before you pour the foundation, for example. You also will not be able to put off major decisions until late in the construction process, which is a tenant of agile development that works with software development but is harder to apply in the real world where things like gravity exist. You can change how you approach each of these steps as you move through the construction process.

instead of sticking to the same inventory management plan you’ve always used, consider applying agility principles. Continually check and re-check your inventory management procedures to ensure they’re optimized. This will likely include but isn’t limited to keeping detailed records of your inventory and investing in new technology, such as project management software, to help fill in the gaps and keep things moving forward.

Agility in Project Management

Project management software is another tool beginning to emerge to streamline the construction industry as a whole, and construction management in particular,  and make it more agile. While delays and cost overruns aren’t always avoidable, planning and project management software can make it easier to prevent more of these problems and keep projects moving forward.

While the construction process is sequential out of necessity, since we currently can’t violate laws like physics and gravity to build houses and larger structures out of order, the planning and design process can significantly benefit from agility in management. Design problems are quick and inexpensive to fix, but once you start pouring concrete or building wood frames, fixing these same problems becomes infinitely more expensive.  Case studies have shown that companies that adopted agile construction and project management techniques and tenets were more successful in multiple examples, completing technical milestones and meeting performance indicators on the schedule.

The Future of Agile Construction

Agile development techniques might be well known in software development and automotive engineering circles, but it’s just beginning to make an appearance in other industries.  Construction, usually thought to be linear and inflexible, can benefit greatly from the tenants of agile development.

You can’t take the construction process and turn it on its head, but you can make the most of the information that you have available and use it to create an efficient and effective team for any project that might cross your desk. Take a closer look at your current operating procedures and see where you might be able to make the necessary changes or what aspects of your operation could benefit from being a little more flexible.

Author Bio

Rose Morrison is a construction industry writer and the managing editor of Renovated. Follow her on Twitter to see more of her work

The Top Uses of Digital Technology in the Construction Industry

Construction isn’t a particularly high-tech industry, or at least it hasn’t been until recently. Historically, the sector has been slow to adopt new technologies, either from a lack of demand or prohibitive upfront costs. As digital tech like project management has skyrocketed in the past few years, that’s starting to change.
Digital tools like project management software are both affordable and versatile. They address too many issues too effectively for the industry to ignore them. Throughout every phase of the construction process, these technologies are reshaping the sector.
Here are five of the top uses of digital technology in construction.

Budgeting and Resource Management

The construction industry is notorious for going over budget and over time. According to one report, large projects typically go 80% over budget and fall 20% behind schedule. This is a multifaceted issue, but a lot of it is due to poor planning. Project management software can help.
These software tools streamline the preconstruction phase, saving time, which saves money. More notably, they offer more advanced, in-depth budgeting and resource management solutions. Project management software can analyze historical and current data to predict how much a project may cost and where companies can adjust to make savings.
After producing a more realistic budget, this software can help construction companies stay within it. Automatic reporting, time tracking and invoicing tools keep track of resources, so workers don’t have to. On top of streamlining these processes, these tools improve visibility, helping teams see when and where they may go over budget.

Modeling

Every construction project, no matter the size or significance, needs a thorough design and planning phase. Traditionally, companies have relied on physical models and 2D blueprints to conceptualize and plan buildings. Digital technologies have started to replace these older methods, making this process more in-depth and collaborative.
Building information modeling (BIM) enables architects and other stakeholders to create 3D, interactive digital models of projects. This software allows for faster, easier collaboration in the planning phase and can update in real-time during construction. Project managers can then see and respond to any unforeseen developments without having to be on-site.

Safety

Workplace safety is vital in every industry, but it’s especially crucial in construction. Safety hazards are common in the sector, and with all the heights and heavy machinery involved, accidents can be severe. Digital technologies provide construction teams with the tools they need to stay safe.
The second-most common OSHA violation in construction is hazard communication, with more than 4,000 violations a year. Project management software makes communicating with employees and stakeholders much easier. When someone recognizes a potential hazard, they can use these tools to share it with everyone else, avoiding mistakes from miscommunication.
During the planning phase, digital models can also highlight potential safety issues. Teams can then make adjustments to prevent hazards before they arise. At the worksite, sensors and wearables can help managers keep track of potential dangers and worker health.

Equipment Maintenance

Construction projects rely on heavy equipment, and these machines require a lot of maintenance. If workers don’t take proper care of them, they could malfunction or break, endangering employees, delaying completion times and raising costs. Today, construction teams can use various digital tools to ensure proper maintenance.
Hot weather can lead to overheating and other heat-related problems, but project management software can help teams schedule around the hottest times of the day. Similarly, these digital tools make it easy to establish and keep track of maintenance schedules. They can automatically highlight scheduling conflicts and alert managers when an employee failed to perform a maintenance check.
Other digital technologies, like IoT sensors, can alert workers when a machine may need maintenance soon. They can then address the issue before it leads to a costly breakdown. Since equipment downtime alone can cost $3,120 a year per machine, these digital tools can lead to considerable savings.

Documentation and Reporting

Paperwork might not be what immediately comes to mind with construction, but it’s a factor in any project. Manual documentation and reporting is typically slow and tedious, costing money and taking workers’ focus from more pressing needs. Some project management software solutions can automate this process.
As much as 88% of spreadsheet data contains errors, mostly due to human mistakes. Automating the process removes many of these issues since computers are typically better at data-heavy tasks than people. They’re also faster, so project management software can help companies save time on paperwork.

Digital Tech Is Transforming Construction

As more companies use this technology, others will realize its benefits and do the same. Before long, the entire construction industry will rely on project management software and other digital tools. A sector that was once resistant to change will become as tech-centric as anything else.
Construction has become infamous for problems with efficiency and budgets. Digital technology offers an answer. These resources will transform the industry, making it safer, faster, more collaborative and profitable.
 
This blog was guest authored by Rose Morrison. Rose Morrison is a construction industry writer and the managing editor of Renovated. Follow her on Twitter to see more of her work

3 Reasons Why Construction Businesses Should Switch to Remote Work

The COVID-19 situation has forced many businesses to make some changes to the way they operate. Because of strict stay-at-home orders by governments to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, some companies have opted for flexible work-at-home arrangements instead of stopping operations altogether. Using collaboration tools and remote management practices, these businesses will be able to continue their business, although in a limited capacity.
The construction industry is one of the sectors that are deemed essential by almost all countries. Structural work in support of novel coronavirus efforts is permitted to continue provided that workers observe proper hygiene and social distancing efforts. However, without the support of office-based functions in construction such as accounting, lien management, and sales, construction work will face several challenges, such as project delays, supply-chain slowdowns, and payment issues
The current situation is the perfect time for construction businesses to adopt flexible work options and remote management practices. Here are some of the reasons why remote work is perfect for the construction industry. 

1. Employees who work from home are more productive.

Remote workers value the convenience and flexibility that comes with working from home. And this easily translates to additional work efficiency and productivity. In fact, a Stanford University study found that on average, remote workers are 13% more productive at home than in the office. This is equivalent to an entire extra day of work. 
The reason? According to the study, work-from-home employees were not stressed by the commute to work and experience fewer distractions while at home. In addition, remote employees took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off than their office-based counterparts. 

2. Remote management tools are readily available.

The construction industry tends to be slow when it comes to adopting new technology. Because of the nature of the business where each project can take years to finish and construction sites are scattered across multiple locations, it can be hard to implement new technology to replace the traditional systems in place. The result is a lagging industry that is second only to agriculture in terms of digitization. A lot of business owners are reluctant to adopt new innovations because the old methods still work. 
What many business owners seem to miss, however, is the availability and accessibility of new innovations such as remote management tools on the market. For instance, planning tasks and tracking projects are now easy to do with project management tools. Instant messaging and video conferencing platforms are also readily available for download for free so you can communicate with your employees effectively even when far apart. 

3. It will future-proof your business

Even before the COVID-19 crisis affected the global economy, many industries were already adopting remote management practices. The nine-to-five workday may become obsolete in the near future. Millennials replacing baby boomers, who are aging out of their construction roles, will expect more flexible schedules as part of their criteria for choosing a workplace. Construction companies that allow their employees to work remotely a few days a week will have access to a larger talent pool and will be highly prepared to hire employees who want flexibility. 
The COVID-19 crisis may have forced construction businesses to adopt remote work in order to continue. But the benefits of remote work paired with effective remote management practices extend far beyond the current situation. Now is the perfect opportunity for you to see whether remote work can work for your construction business. 
 
About the Author:
Chris Woodard is the Co-Founder of Handle.com, where they build software that helps contractors, subcontractors, and material suppliers with late payments. Handle.com also provides funding for construction businesses in the form of invoice factoring, material supply trade credit, and mechanics lien purchasing.

5 Key Challenges Construction Project Managers Face

Effective project management is vital to the timely delivery of a construction project. In an industry where each project has several stakeholders, budget constraints, and scheduling issues, a construction project manager needs to be prepared to face challenges and ensure the completion of a project.
The issues construction project managers are tasked to handle may come as a direct result of the construction operations or indirectly from peripheral activities and events. Sometimes, these issues are exacerbated by some key challenges that many project managers are very familiar with — here are five of them.

1. Budget Management

According to McKinsey & Company, cost overruns are the norm in the construction sector, with projects taking up to 80% over the budget. Inaccurate estimates during the start of the construction process inevitably leave project managers dealing with budget overruns in the future. Thus, due diligence during the pre-construction phase and setting realistic cost expectations from architects and contractors is vital to the success of a construction project.
Geological issues are one of the major reasons for going over the budget. If there are discrepancies between the early survey estimate and the actual ground condition, the project design will require costly changes. Project managers need to identify these issues early on and set contingencies in place in order to minimize their impact on the budget.

2. Time Constraints

Time management is the bulk of a project manager’s responsibilities. Because stakeholders view time constraints as the issue that result in lost revenue, defective design and even a higher rate of accidents, project managers need to focus on how to tackle this challenge head-on. Missed deadlines and scheduling conflicts lead to inefficient construction operations which snowball into more delays and translate to higher costs.
Because of this, it’s imperative for construction project managers to set strict time frames and monitor enforcement to ensure construction deadlines are met. Weather conditions and events that may cause delays could be mitigated through proper planning. Time management also involves keeping suppliers and subcontractors on track, especially when dealing with documentation and long lead times. To manage these issues, project scheduling and tracking methods are indispensable tools for a construction project manager.

3. Safety Issues

Construction projects are dangerous by nature. Construction workers face risks at a constant basis including trips, falls, and chemical hazards  Because of the bodily injuries and loss of life that come from construction operations, safety should be a paramount concern for all construction project managers. The financial losses can be huge, but the social impact of injuries and deaths on the workforce, the company, and the community is more significant.
One of the best ways to improve safety is to create a project-specific construction safety plan. At a minimum, it should comply with safety regulations prescribed by the law. Project managers should also conduct regular site inspections to monitor safety performance. For a team-focused approach, project managers should consult workforce personnel about safety prior to the start of the project.

4. Poor Communication

As project managers have the central role of managing stakeholders, project owners, suppliers, and subcontractors, they are also responsible for maintaining an open line of communication between parties. Poor communication in a construction project leads to delays and even the project’s noncompletion. The team can miss important tasks and remain unaware of issues until it is too late.
Project managers need to enact clear communication guidelines and make them known to all parties. There should be a clear line of communication that enables the project manager to track the construction progress and obstacles encountered during the day. Having a regular schedule for in-person meetings helps in solving problems quickly.

5. Unrealistic Expectations

While construction project managers need to manage their subordinates, they also must be able to deal with their superiors. These could be the clients, the consultants, the board, as well as government agencies. Sometimes, superiors have unrealistic expectations and want some of their suggestions put into action immediately. Dealing with impossible deadlines and unreasonable requests can dampen workforce morale and doom the construction project.
A project manager’s soft skills and negotiation strategies are important in this kind of situation. Project managers should be able to advocate for their subordinates and communicate their feedback to lead the project back on track.
Construction managers face project management issues in all phases of the construction process. These issues have a significant impact on the success of the project. Construction project managers need to be proactive in looking for opportunities to solve these problems before it is too late.
 
About the author: Chris Woodard is the Co-Founder of Handle.com, where they build software that helps construction businesses get paid faster by automating the collection process of unpaid commercial invoices.

The Role Of Emerging Technology In Project Management

For decades, task managers and their subordinates have been using project management processes to plan and implement large-scale projects. Though legacy approaches have changed over time, the emergence of cutting-edge physical technology and cloud-based software solutions are quickly changing the game.

This post takes a look at the past, present, and future of project management techniques, and how workforces across industries will be leveraging the latest tech trends to drive their initiatives further.

The history of project management

Though the concept of project management can be traced back to ancient Egypt, more complex organizational demands in the mid-1950s led to a surge of new processes and techniques. In particular, the U.S. Navy’s Polaris Missile project led to the development of a mathematical assessment called “program evaluation review technique”, or PERT. This set the standard for mapping out a massive undertaking in broad strokes, from cost and time estimates to general probabilities of outcome.

Around the same time, the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company began to develop a similar process that would more precisely pinpoint cost and turnaround for use in the private sector. The end result was called “project planning and scheduling” (PPS). Due to its more definitive nature, the process was more widely used and refined upon, most notably by the construction industry.

The emergence of the personal computer in the 1980s shortened the project management lifecycle dramatically. The accessibility of both on-premises processing hardware and low-cost software solutions meant that project management expanded into more verticals than ever before. By the 1990s, project management technology was becoming more prevalent, and more sophisticated.

The current project management landscape

Today, more than half of all manufacturers reportedly use a combination of project management methodologies, according to a 2017 report by LiquidPlanner. This is due in no small part to the ubiquitous nature of centralized software solutions. Additionally, most solutions, especially those in the cloud, operate on a pay-as-you-go principle, making them cost-effective for smaller businesses looking to scale projects for eventual growth.

The increased focus on automation, interconnectivity, and user experience (UX) has led to a kind of “development renaissance” amongst technologists.

Forging the future of project management

So what does this mean for the future of project management? For one, it spells good things for project managers, helping expedite the planning and execution phases of complex projects, as well as providing reporting tools for predictive planning. Some of the top trends for the upcoming year are listed below:

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI and machine learning algorithms have taken the private sector by storm in recent years. The ability to harness the computing power of machines to expedite decision making has made business strategy more nimble, and more profitable.

AI has been utilized in a variety of different function areas already, most notably in resource management. Because its core function is to analyze and report on complex data sets, AI-powered software can efficiently parse real-time data to optimize the deployment of resources to a project, no matter how complex. It’s also being used more and more to automate day-to-day administrative tasks. It can simplify and accelerate the initial stages of project management. This allows project leaders to focus on higher-level strategy, freeing up valuable time and resources.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

In 2015, Google reported that mobile searches had officially surpassed desktop searches. In the years since, the advent of smart devices, next-generation wireless networks, and the increase in remote workforces around the world has led to a connectivity boom. The IoT, a collection of physical devices on a shared wireless network, has played a huge role in the ongoing development of project management software to date.

Much of this shift can be seen in the focus on UX. The need for simple interfaces that are responsive on a variety of different devices, as well as a comprehensive yet centrally organized suite of apps and tools for collaborative projects, has shaped the way developers approach creating and selling a platform to businesses. Simply put: as the nature of work changes, so must project management processes.

Kanban and Business Agile

Some specific methodologies getting a lot of press these days are Kanban Boards and the concept of “Business Agile”. The former is a legacy process that is being updated for the new generation of project planning. Comprised of a grid with itemized tasks, lists, and files,its aim is to minimize bottlenecks and support multitasking on projects with variables that are subject to frequent change. Most often seen in the form of a whiteboard with colored Post-It notes, some software companies like Psoda are helping to expedite the process of translating a board into an actionable project sprint via their AI-powered PsodaVision app.

Business Agile has seen rapid growth due to its adoption by smaller companies which allows them to utilize their personal styles of communication and task management. Being styled as “not just a trend, but a new way of doing business”, it integrates agile philosophies into function areas like marketing and creative departments.It leverages automated tools to increase the flow of communication and delineate clear accountability.

Modern project management continues to expand on what is possible in terms of project scope and repeatable results. It has far-reaching implications across all aspects of a business and will shape business strategy and leadership styles going forward


Sara Carter is the Co-Founder and Editor for Enlightened-Digital, an online magazine dedicated to covering the latest technology and business trends. An avid programmer, she’s passionate about the potential for technology to disrupt the status quo and improve our lives. 

Stress and project management: How to navigate when under a time crunch

Even with the best of intentions and best efforts at planning, all of us face a time crunch at some point during the year. For most, the question isn’t if you will experience it, it’s how you will navigate the stress when those time constraints come calling.

“It’s only when it comes to crunch time that people’s true character comes out.”

~ Virginia Wade

The good news is we are better equipped than ever before to take project management to the next level. With the right tools, you can set yourself up to keep the stress at bay – and handle it when facing a time crunch.

Project management software to the rescue

Most of the stress during a time crunch typically comes from feeling scattered, without a clear idea of what to prioritise and how to tackle a seemingly enormous project with the clock ticking down.
This is where project management software can come to your rescue. This subset of business tools is designed to help managers and teams alike plan, complete and evaluate projects on a continuous cycle. Most project management software includes task management, document management, resource management and collaboration features. The combination brings a new level of organisation and productivity to the project, since normally cumbersome processes are streamlined.
When implemented successfully, the tool can bring a clear focus to the project, with objectives and timelines laid out ahead of time. It allows delegation, scheduling, reminders, oversight, and team communication. Maybe most importantly for a time crunch, it can give you a snapshot of the entire project so you know your status.
The long and short of it is this: when it comes to feeling stressed under a time crunch, project management software can help you figure out what to prioritise, what to ask for help on, and what to put on the back burner.

Tips for navigating projects and PM software under a time crunch

What happens when you get close to a deadline and you start to feel stressed? Take a deep breath, and consider these tips as your survival guide.
#1: Learn to plan better.
I promise I’m not being passive aggressive here. Feeling the stress of a tight timeline can prove to be a valuable lesson for future projects. Take it as an opportunity to learn how to incorporate PM software into planning! In the meantime, don’t be afraid to delegate. Adjust your planning by delegating some tasks to the rest of your team.
#2: Break it up into small, manageable tasks.
 Nothing is quite as overwhelming as facing a few weeks’ worth of work in a few days. Instead of spending your energy on stressing out about it, take an hour or two to break the project into more manageable tasks. Think a few hours, tops. A kanban system would be immensely helpful here. Then, set up focus sprints where you can work uninterrupted on a single task – incorporating ‘flow activities’ if you can.
 #3: Dive into digital tools.
Project management software isn’t the only useful business tool. You can use time management tools, collaboration tools, productivity tools and more. These tools are typically easy to set up and use, which means you will find immediate value from them in that last week before the deadline.
Brooklin Nash writes about the latest tools and small business trends for TrustRadius and Writersquad. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading YA dystopian fiction (with guilty pleasure) and cooking.

Should you hire contractors on your project?

In a casual conversation in the office recently, someone asked: “Why are we hiring contractors? They come, learn all our systems and leave with our IP.”
I couldn’t help agreeing – it does seem counterproductive.
Organisations invest in the professional experience and knowledge of these “outsiders”, but when they need to expand on the systems the contractors helped develop, that knowledge is gone.
From that perspective, it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense for organisations to hire contractors rather than permanent staff if they wish to retain and grow organisational knowledge.
But, on reflection, this argument has another side to it – there are also certain benefits to having contractors on a project.
Just as a contractor gains knowledge and experience in one organisation, they bring that to their next assignment – and your company can be the beneficiary in this exchange.
While retaining internal knowledge is important, having someone on the team with recent exposure and understanding of others companies’ systems and processes provides an opportunity to re-evaluate your own.
You get to tap into the IP of other companies in your sector – and sometimes even get a glimpse of how your competitors work.
This could give you insights into different development methodologies or technical and process subject matter expertise.
Bringing a contractor project manager, business analyst, developer or a tester can also enhance your project base knowledge.
An experienced contractor will bring a different perspective to your project, based on their previous experience. They will question why a process is run a certain way, which is also an opportunity to improve your current state.
Of course, you still need close collaboration with those who have been in the company for a while to fully understand the organisational and technical impacts and dependencies.
What goes without saying is the expectation that is set when you take on a contractor for your project. Often they are available at short notice when you need someone to ‘start yesterday’, and they also tend to hit the ground running once they’re on the job – there’s no days-long settling in period that permanent staff often need to go through before they begin work on your project.
So before you decide if you need a permanent or a contractor resource on your project, don’t dismiss the idea of getting a contractor over concerns about retaining IP in your organisation.
Be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of both options before making that call.

Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in software development projects. She offers insights from her involvement in various IT projects at Telecom, Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance and others. 

How to build an open and collaborative project team culture – a BA’s view

Guest blog by Marina van Wyk
One of the unique challenges of being a project manager is bringing a group of people together, get them to work towards a common goal and make them feel part of a team.
But too often, especially on IT projects, that feeling of belonging to a team is missing.
I get it, it’s a really tough ask. The nature of IT projects is that team members with various skillsets are pulled together from different cultural and organisational backgrounds.
Generally no one knows each other and everyone brings their own baggage from previous projects. Your BA may have just completed a very stressful and exhausting project, feeling burnt down.  The developer has come from a successful initiative, still feeling buzzy with a very high expectation of this new project.  The tester has just finished a project working in a team that lacked leadership and business vision.
So as PM, you pull this group together, call them a team and expect them to produce tangible, valuable business outcomes in a relatively short period of time.
The challenge here is how to make these people not just work together on achieving a goal, but also to connect on a personal level so they don’t feel they’re just a little cog in a large machine.
How do you build an open, collaborative and trusting culture in an IT project team?
Of course we are all human beings and we make connections.  We find things in common and have coffee machine chats about our weekends or hobbies.
Often that’s where the team culture starts and stops – with little initiative from the project manager to encourage and create a strong culture.
As professionals and adults, we should of course all contribute to a healthy and collaborative culture in our team.
While we, as individuals, build individual connections, it’s the role of the project manager to instil a team connection.
The project manager is a focal role who brings the team together and sets the tone for the project.  If the project manager buries her head in project plans and risk registers all day, and keeps busy delivering the project on time and on budget, she risks missing the human factor and the importance of communication and relationship building in the team.
This may be due to the pressures on the PM to not to fail the project, or it could be a lack of people skills, or maybe the view that the team will be together only for a relatively short period of time, so why bother.
But little things like a round of coffee to celebrate a signoff of a test plan, or thanking the developers in front of the whole team for working late to monitor the deployment, or a team lunch to welcome a new solutions architect can go a long way.
These gestures not only make the whole team aware of the effort that individuals put into the project, but also give team members the opportunity to have fun together. They help with understanding each other better, making collaboration and information sharing easier and freer.
What’s more, it helps the PM build a reputation of a leader who connects and attracts people who would want to work with them again in the future.
Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in IT project management having worked for Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance, Datacom and Simpl. 

No small task is trivial – by Marina van Wyk

Recently, while working on home renovations, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between our relatively small DIY painting job and IT projects in general.
Little things like buying painter’s tape, choosing the colour, sanding down little imperfections in the walls, removing old paint on the trimmings and smoothing out the corners – they all take up a lot of time before you start the ‘real’ job of painting the walls and the ceilings.
Similarly, IT projects have a range of small and trivial activities that need to be done before the development work is up and running full steam.
As a project manager, you often need to take care of getting team members’ access to the network, sorting out templates and document repositories, interviewing project staff, putting together a team and even the seating arrangements.
These little tasks are often overlooked, and when the project kicks off and the pressure to deliver is on, resources are thrown into the typical development lifecycle straight away.  If those preparation tasks have not been completed, the project is bound to have delays or you may need to accept that the deliverables are not going to be 100% complete or meet your organisation’s standards.
You may argue that you can start a painting job without getting all the tools ready.  “The hardware store is only 15 minutes away, right?”
The same goes for an IT project.  You can get your resources to start work before organising access to the right tools or sorting out access to a document library.  But how will that affect your project down the line?
Once the project is underway, switching your focus from your daily responsibilities will be a distraction, at best.  At worst, your team will quickly get used to manual work-arounds or accept the fact that information sharing and communication is not encouraged on your project.   And we all know the implications of not having  free communication flow across team members!
Without a doubt, the small set up tasks prior to the project kick off can be distracting or may get you involved in the organisational politics or technical detail that looks never ending, without offering any tangible outcome.  Some project managers avoid them simply because these activities are tiring and plain boring.
What can you, as a project manager, do about this?
Delegate
First of all, delegate! If you have the luxury of having a project administrator, you’re probably already doing this. If not, ask your team members for help.  If your business analyst hasn’t started on collecting requirements, they will be more than happy to assist with putting together a list of templates.  Your developer may be available to talk to the helpdesk to organise the appropriate security groups and access.
Plan
Next, do what you do best – plan!  Estimate and ‘time-box’ these set up activities in the context of your project.  If your project is only two months long and it’s taking you more than a week to arrange the logistics, you will know that the set up tasks are taking too long and it’s time to start prioritising.
Focus on the outcomes
Above all, remember the value of having set up tasks completed and focus on what is going to bring the most benefit to your project – delivery on time, team communication or high quality documentation.  After all, your professionalism will be assessed based on quality of your project’s deliverables.
Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in IT project management having worked for Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance, Datacom and Simpl. Marina will provide regular guest blogs for Psoda giving a BA’s view of project management.

28 Skills to working smarter: a list of soft skills you need

After much of my career spent researching and writing about soft skills, I was able to whittle down the expansive list of soft skills into 28 individual soft skills – 10 self-management skills and 18 people skills – that I believe are the most important to your career success. No matter what work you do, you will find value, advancement, and fulfilment in developing these 28 soft skills.

Self-management skills

Address how you perceive yourself and others, manage your emotions, and react to adverse situations.   Only when you build an inner excellence can you have a strong mental and emotional foundation to succeed in your career. They are:

  1. Empowered mindset
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Emotion regulation
  4. Self-confidence
  5. Stress management
  6. Resilience
  7. Skills to forgive and forget
  8. Persistence and perseverance
  9. Patience
  10. Perceptiveness

People skills

Address how to best interact and work with others so you can build meaningful work relationships, influence others’ perception of you and your work, and motivate their actions.   I have split them into two sections – Conventional and Tribal.

Conventional People Skills

This list of people skills you can find in most job descriptions and you will be assessed on some or all of these in your performance reviews depending on your level:

  1. Communication skills
  2. Teamwork skills
  3. Interpersonal relationship skills
  4. Presentation skills
  5. Meeting management skills
  6. Facilitating skills
  7. Selling skills
  8. Management skills
  9. Leadership skills
  10. Mentoring / coaching skills

Tribal people skills

This is the list of people skills that you will not find in any job descriptions.  They are also essential to your career success.  I call it tribal because they are more “insider knowledge” that you gain from work experience or from mentors.  Some people can go through their entire career and not be aware of some of these skills. They are:

  1. Managing upwards
  2. Self-promotion skills
  3. Skills in dealing with difficult personalities
  4. Skills in dealing with difficult/unexpected situations
  5. Savvy in handling office politics
  6. Influence / persuasion skills
  7. Negotiation skills
  8. Networking skills

No doubt that this is a daunting list. To get a better understanding of these soft skills, go to my original post on this — it will go further in-depth as to defining each important trait.
Focus on developing and perfecting one at a time and you’ll find that you’ll be making progress against others. Much like learning one language (like French) will help you to understand other languages (Spanish and Italian).  It’s critical that you understand why each of these soft skills are important to your career success and then ask yourself – what soft skills do I already possess and which ones do you want to develop next?

Lei Han is a Stanford Engineer and Wharton MBA with over 15 years of business experience. She is passionate in helping professionals work smart and achieve success. Lei has written about soft skills development and career success since 2009. You can follow her on Twitter @bemycareercoach.