Top 5 Android Apps for the Project Manager

Telling a client that you didn’t have access to your computer is not always an option. Technology has allowed PMs to have access to more information more often. One of the most significant technology advances is the smart phone. I personally have an Android smart phone and it has made a big difference in how up-to-speed I am when I am out of the office. To help you take advantage of your Android, I have compiled a list of the top 5 Android apps for project managers.
  1. Touchdown – application that allows your phone to connect to your company’s Exchange email server. Instantly have access to your email, calendar, and contacts from where ever you are located. Some versions of Android support this natively, but this app is the best email app out there.
  2. Documents to Go – Microsoft Office documents are ubiquitous in the lives of project managers. Having the ability to view/edit a MS Office document on your phone comes in very handy when you need to update a status report prior to boarding a plane.
  3. Evernote – Evernote is an application that allows you to record audio notes, take pictures, upload files, and write text notes and then access them later. The best part of the application is that you can sync your PC with your phone so that you have important information no matter where you are located.
  4. Remember the Milk – I mentioned this service in a previous post “How to keep track of action items“. This app allows you to sync your phone to the web-based service and update items, add items, and receive alerts when changes were made to items.
  5. Scan2PDF – even as we move into a paperless society, there are still situations where you are handed hardcopy documents. This application allows you to use your phone’s camera to take pictures of the document and covert it automatically to PDF.
Bonus Apps – the apps below also made it onto my phone and I thoroughly enjoy them
  1. Google voice – auto transcription of my voicemail is my favorite feature
  2. Audible – leading audio book service is now available on the Android
  3. Twitter – official app that allows me to access Twitter (no explanation needed) from my phone
  4. WordPress – allows me to review comments and write blog posts on the fly
  5. NewsRob – great RSS reader that keeps me in the loop

Let me know if you have other apps that you would recommend to your fellow project managers.

What is the critical path?

You have probably heard the expression “This is on the critical path”.

Sounds scary doesn’t it. The term critical conjures up a bad image in most people’s minds. They immediately think of the emergency room and critical condition patients.

Thankfully the critical path is actually a good thing for project managers. It helps us to manage our projects more effectively by focusing our energy in the right places.

What is the critical path?

The critical path is the set of tasks that determine the duration of the project. This occurs when these tasks combine durations and dependencies in such a manner that if any of these tasks slip, the entire project slips.

Why do I care about the critical path?

The critical path is important for two main reasons.

  1. As a PM, you need to make sure that the tasks on this path are completed within their planned time frames. This will put your project in good position to finish on time.
  2. The critical path is the list of tasks where you can make up for lost ground on your project (when things go wrong). You can use fast-tracking or crashing of the tasks on the critical path to reduce the duration of the path and improve your timelines.

What to do next

Look at the project schedule for your current project.  Have you focused on these tasks to make sure they are completed on time? Have you thought of ways you could compress the critical path if something goes wrong with the project?

Five Best Project Management Books

In order to increase our knowledge of project management (and earn PDUs),  project managers often spend their spare time reading books about project management. Below are the top 5 project management books I have read. They all address the issue of becoming a better project manager from a slightly different angle, but they all should be in your library of PM books.

Results without Authority and Making Things Happen are the two books in the list that do not focus on IT/software project management. The authors of these books focus on how you can be a project manager by focusing on communication and the stakeholders. This sounds pretty basic, but it never hurts to be told (and told, and told) that as PMs we need to focus the majority of our energy on communicating.

The remaining three books come from an IT-background, but the ideas of them can be applied to projects in every arena. Many of you have read the book The Mythical Man-Month. This book was one of the first to raise that throwing resources at a problem won’t fix it because the complexity and communication needs for the project skyrocket and can actually slow down you project. This is just one of the insights in the book.

Reading these books will not make you a better PM…only practice and application of what you learn can do that. However. I am confident that reading these books will provide you with more information and ideas on how to be a better project manager.

Please let me know your thoughts on these books and let me know if there are other books that are essential on your bookcase.

How to have an effective kick-off meeting

What is a kick-off meeting?

The kick-off meeting is the generally the first meeting that the project team and the client/stakeholders have on a meeting. For client projects (those for which a client is paying your company), the kick-off meeting will probabaly be the first time the project team has talked to the stakeholders at all.

What do you want to accomplish during the kick-off meeting?

The main goals of the kick-off meeting should be as follows:

  • Team introductions
  • Discussion of project assumptions
  • Discussion of project managment methodology

How to prepare for the meeting

Prior to the kick-off meeting, the project manager should:

  • Read the project charter/contract/statement of work
  • Assemble the preliminary project team and brief them on the project
  • Prepare a list of preliminary project assumptions
    • High-level scope
    • High-level timeline
  • Create and distribute the meeting agenda

What to do during the meeting

During the meeting, the project manager should be focused on two main things:

  1. gathering information from the stakeholders in terms of the key players, expectations, and success criteria
  2. increasing stakeholder confidence by confidently presenting the project team and project methodology that will be followed

What not to do during the meeting

Too many times I have seen project managers try to have the kick-off meeting serve as the requirements workshop and timeline setting meetings so that the team can jump right into delivering deliverables. Don’t do this! It may seem that reducing a few additional hours/days of meetings is a great idea, but it will only hurt your project if you rush the analysis/planning phases of your project.

The kick-off meeting is not intender to replace other meetings. Rather, it is designed to start the project on the right foot. This means making your stakeholders confident that your team can successfully deliver the project and to make sure you know what success looks like to the client.

Follow-up activities for the meeting

The kick-off meeting follow-up is the first opportunity for you to follow your project methodology after you presented it to the client. As such, you need to do the following:

  • Document and distribute meeting minutes
  • Document and distribute any action items
  • Complete all possible action items
  • Schedule the follow-up meetings

Why do we need project management?

The other day I was asked the following question:

Why do we need project management?

Of course, I was a little shocked that anyone would ask why project management is important in the business world. I understand that different people have different ideas on what methodology to follow, but everyone I know realizes the benefits of project management.

Well, I guess not everyone does. As such, I am going to list the most important reasons you should manage your projects:

  • Sets expectations on what you and your team are going to be delivering
  • Helps you define what activities your team will be performing to get to your goals
  • Helps you to efficiently resource your company
  • Helps you to more effectively manage costs
  • Helps to you respond to change more effectively
  • Helps to you share progress updates with your boss and clients

In general, project management processes help you to put some focus around items that otherwise can be hazy. They help to you plan, track, and report on your team and on your projects.

What is fast-tracking?

What is fast-tracking?

Many tasks in a project naturally occur sequentially. First you complete Task A and then you can complete Task B. Fast-tracking is when you perform these tasks in a parallel manner.

What are the benefits?

The benefit of fast-tracking is that you can potentially reduce the timeline for your project. Instead of having to wait until Task A is done, you can begin work on Task B.

What are the risks?

The risk of fast-tracking is that you are performing tasks before all the predecessors are complete. This could potentially cause errors to occur or may require future rework.

How to use effectively

When your project appears to be falling behind schedule, you should examine the tasks along the project’s critical path. When you identify tasks that can possibly occur in parallel (either completely or partially), work with your team to update the plan of attack to work on these tasks in parallel. Also, ensure that you closely monitor these tasks as the risk does increase for fast-tracked tasks.

How you can improve project communication

As you begin your first, or your hundredth project, you must focus on communication within your project. This one aspect of project management negatively or positively impacts every single projects that you undertake. It is often easy to get hung-up on methodologies and templates when executing a project, but you need to spend just as much, if not more, time and energy focusing on your communication. Communication can, and should, take up the majority of your time as a project manager. I am not proposing you talk for the sake of talking, but communication needs to be your focus during your project.

Why communicate?

Now I hope that this sounds like a silly question to all of you. But it can benefit all of us to think about why we communicate. The main reasons to communicate are:

  • To gather information
  • To disseminate information
  • To improve relationships

We will now look at how these three reasons impact your communication with the various project stakeholders.

Communication with your team

Communication with your team is of vital importance. It can help define project success or failure. And the best part about it…it can be mastered by everyone. Specialized training is not required. An advanced degree is not required. All that is required is the desire to improve. We are now going to look at how the three main goals of communication relate to project team communication

To gather information – the project manager cannot be everywhere at all times. Nor can they inherently know/understand everything. That is why you must lean on your team for information. They are the people doing the work and they know what is really happening. Take the time to ask questions of the team on how the work is progressing. Also, ask the team if there is anything they need from you to make their jobs easier. Getting more information from your team allows you to make more educated decisions….it allows you to make better decisions. You must communicate regularly with your team. The more the merrier!

To disseminate information – as the project manager, you have more general knowledge surrounding the project than any other team member. This places you in a position of power, but at the same time it puts your project in a position of weakness. Do your best to keep all team members informed about the project and any outside forces at work. Some may argue that providing too much information to your team can overwhelm them, but I feel that too much information is much less dangerous than too little.

To improve relationships – Think about your friends. Are they the people you share the most with, or are they the people you share the least with. Now think about how you became friends. Did you become friends by keeping to yourself and hiding information about yourself? Or did you reveal what made you tick and this led to some discovery of mutual preferences/hobbies? By sharing information with your team, you are showing that you care about them and that you want them to know about you as a person. This will help the team because people work harder for people they have a true relationship with.

Communication with clients

Along with communicating with your team, communicating with your clients (internal or external) is of utmost importance. The people paying for the project have a right to know what is going on with your project. You have an obligation to inform them about the project and you have an obligation to gather their views on the project.

To gather information – In order to serve your team well, you need to know what is expected of you all. Gathering information from the client lets you know what you have to do and what you do not need to focus on. Also, you can gauge their opinion on the progress of the project.

To disseminate information – you need to formally and informally provide your client with information about how the project is progressing. Some of this communication will be formal (update meetings, status reports, etc.) but the majority will be informal. This involves phone calls, impromptu meetings, and emails. You need to be candid with the client at all times. Do not hesitate to share great news with your client. Also, do not hesitate to share bad news. The client obviously does not want to hear bad news, but they would rather hear if from you than to be blind-sided by it later.

To improve relationships – When you communicate with the client, you are increasing their confidence in you as a project manager and as a person. Let them see how passionate you are about the project and they are going to treasure your involvement. Also, let them know that you truly are committed to their satisfaction.

Conclusion

No project has ever been successful when the project manager doesn’t know what the client wants. Also, no project has been successful when the project manager does not talk to project team members and thus does not know how the project is progressing. Focus a lot of your energy on talking with your team and the client. Remember however, that no project is successful when the communication is not a dialog. You may like to hear yourself speak, but you need to focus on listening more.

What are the triple constraints?

For more than a year, we have been writing about project management on a blog entitled “Triple Constraints”. Shocking then, that we have never written a post about the triple constraints…well that is about to change.

What are the triple constraints?

The triple constraints for projects are:

  • Scope – that which has to be completed
  • Time – how much time is available to complete the task/project
  • Cost – how much money (in money and resources) is available to complete the task/project

Why do I need to care about them?

You need to care about the triple constraints, because they serve as a key guidance in how we manage the scope of a project. When a client/stakeholder asks for changes to the scope, you need to think about how that will impact the timeline and the cost for the project. This does not mean you have to say no, but you have to be cognizant of the impact.

If I successfully manage the triple constraints, and I assured of a successful project?

Not at all. The triple constraints are just the start for a successful project outcome. Many people with familiarity with project management state that there is a fourth constraint – quality. When you don’t adjust one of the constraints to accommodate another change, then you are going to impact the quality of your project.

What is Six Sigma?

Many project managers have heard of six sigma, but many of us are not sure what it is. In this post I will try to explain the basics of six sigma.

What is six sigma?

Six sigma is a management tool/process which aims to increase the quality of deliverables by identifying, and then, removing the causes of defects that may impact the deliverables. Six sigma relies heavily upon statistical analysis to identify these root causes. As such, it does take a significant amount of time to implement for your project/company.

What process/methodology is used to execute a six sigma project?

Most six sigma projects adhere to the DMAIC methodology. This methodology has become widespread in its adoption and is the one most people reference when discussing Six Sigma. The DMAIC method is based upon the following steps:

  • Define the problem
  • Measure the process and data
  • Analyze the data to determine the cause of defects
  • Improve the process to eliminate the root cause of the defects
  • Control the new process to maintain improvements and prevent slippage

What is a black belt?

Not be confused with Jackie Chan, a black belt is someone who has become certified in Six Sigma by demonstrating knowledge and experience with implementing the methodology. For those of you who don’t have the time to commit to becoming a black belt, many organizations/associations offer other levels of certification (green and yellow belts).

Where does six sigma come from?

Six sigma was developed in 1983 by Bill Smith while he was at Motorola. Six sigma was originally devised to address the manufacturing process, but has since been adopted by those in software development, service fields, and many other disciplines.

How does it relate to project management?

Six sigma augments project management in that it attempts to reduce defects. Project management attempts to do this through risk management techniques while six sigma attempts to do it through eliminating the root causes of defects.

How can it help my project?

By focusing on the root causes of issues that your team is encountering, six sigma allows you to correct the causes instead of simply remedying the symptoms. This will ultimately allow your product to deliver superior products, but it will also decrease costs aimed at increasing quality.

Is it ever OK to tell a client no?

I had a conversation the other day with a colleague who told me that at their company they were told to never tell the client no. I was dumb-founded. Obviously, there must have been times when they were allowed to tell a client no. He informed me that they, as project managers, were never allowed to tell a client no. If they got a request, and the team could do it, then they must say yes and deliver.

I asked what happened when the team couldn’t deliver. He stated that since his old company was a services company, the requests he received could always be solved by throwing additional resources as the task. And thus, he was “fortunate” enough to never have to say no.

However, many people work on projects that can’t be solved by simply throwing more resources at the problem. How are project managers on these projects supposed to respond?

Is it OK to tell a client no?

Personally, I think it is OK to say no. Clients obviously do not like hearing the word no, but as long as you can explain the reason the request can’t be accommodated they tend to be ok with the outcome. As long as you give the client all the information that leads to your decision and rationally explain to them why you have to say no, they will understand where you are coming from.

When is it OK to tell a client no?

It is acceptable to tell a client no in several situations. They are:

  • When the request cannot possibly be fulfilled/satisfied
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but it will put the rest of the project at risk
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but does not help the project at all

What if the request can be done, but is out of scope?

Sometimes, you will come across a request from a client that can be fulfilled and will not put the project at risk. However, the request is outside of the scope of what the client has contracted for. What do you do in a situation like that? Every company has their own stance on this question, but personally I think that each request has to be individually analyzed:

  • If the request requires low effort and delivers low reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled
  • If the request requires low effort and delivers high reward, then it makes sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers low reward, then it does not make sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers high reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, it is OK to tell a client no. If you have analyzed the situation and have determined that saying yes to the request would cause the project harm or would not return adequate value, then you are allowed to and have the obligation to tell your client that the team’s time would be better spent focusing on other tasks.

Feedback

How do you decide if you are going to tell the client no? How do you tell the client no?