Ever feel like you start lots of projects but never finish any of them? Or that you’re herding cats? Check out these top project management tips for visual management.
Project managers have many amazing characteristics, like the ability to juggle 101 things at once and the seemingly extra-sensory power to squash issues before anyone else saw them coming. But the ability to say “no” is one trait that continues to challenge project managers’ need to get more done, faster. After all, it’s a project manager’s job to manage changes in a project, so pulling back and preserving a team’s ability to get existing projects done can be difficult.
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You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See
The only constant in life (and in project management) is change. Because project managers are responsible for change management among a team, they are constantly trying to simplify complex information related to how the changes will impact the work being done. Depending on the size of change and the size of the original project, changes can have a large impact, so many project managers use visual project management tools that help them communicate changes.
Visual project management can also help to streamline workflows. It is the job of a project manager to understand and determine priorities and to ensure each team member is aware of the prioritization of their own tasks, task dependencies and other factors that could delay the forward momentum of a project.
If one piece of the project takes longer than originally estimated, the entire project could fail to meet the deadline. This cause and effect not only delays a project’s completion, it also increases the amount of money a project will cost.
Tools help project managers in a variety of ways, but there are some major areas which continue to burden project managers, including:
- Maintaining a project’s timeline while keeping the cost under control
- Overcoming barriers in communication
- Getting more done with less
- Meeting the expectations of a project’s stakeholders
How Project Managers Can Maintain Timelines and Budget
Project management means more than just managing and delegating tasks. Maintaining a project’s timeline and budget is twofold:
- Project managers must have visibility into the constantly moving parts of a project. This allows the project manager to provide updates and coordinate information in a way that keeps everyone on the same page with what’s going on.
- The project manager must be able to provide accurate forecasts for how much a project will cost and how long it will take. This forecast must be up to date based on the newest information available.
To get the most accurate view of a project’s status at any given time, a project manager should use a visual project management tool such as an online Kanban board or online collaboration tool. Even if you don’t adopt the use of the Kanban work methodology, using visual project management allows everyone on the team to see the work as it’s being done.
Kanban boards show work items and their relationships to other work items. Online collaboration helps distributed teams stay on top of what everyone else is doing and provide input without having to sit through hours of meetings. This not only helps team members stay focused, it also helps project managers easily identify bottlenecks in productivity and reallocate resources accordingly, keeping timelines in place and maintaining project cost.
Project managers must analyze whether a project is on target in terms of timeline and cost and provide estimates for how delays will impact the overall project. As things change throughout a project (as they inevitably do), a project manager must update the forecast to reflect the new information. Without a clear picture of a project’s status, a project manager would be hard-pressed to make an intelligent analysis.
Successful project managers look to the past to determine the future. Using historic data from other projects and advanced forecasting tools, managers are able to project more accurate forecasts than ever before. While project managers may have traditionally relied on estimates, or educated guesses, to predict the cost and timeline of a project, they are now using more advanced techniques for providing accurate project plans that save time and money.
Maintaining great communication in project management may seem like a no-brainer. The ability to inform someone what needs to be done via email, over the phone or, better yet, in person may seem like a simple thing. But when you multiply the amount of communications that must take place by all the instances of change throughout an entire project, while tailoring each communication to specific people receiving it, ensuring timely and accurate communication can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare if the proper work systems and tools are not in place.
There are three primary problems related to communication that project managers encounter:
- Lack of communication
- Over communication
A project manager must ensure everyone is on the same page without overwhelming the team. Maintaining a proper balance of communication can be challenging: Too little communication can create confusion, while too much communication can cause team members to freeze amidst the pressure of too much information. Finally, if all information is not properly conveyed during all phases of a project, miscommunication can easily occur, which leads to wasted effort.
For example, if a project manager overcommunicates to an already overworked software developer, that information may fall upon deaf ears in the midst of crunch time. While unsuccessful communication leads to overcommunication by project managers, it can also cause the person receiving the communication to tune it out even more, a vicious cycle that is a common frustration for many project managers. However; if there is a critical change in the project that affects that same developer’s work, the project manager must ensure that he understands that change so as not to create wasted work.
To overcome communication breakdowns, project managers should adopt the use of visual project management software. Project management tools help to alleviate the complexities of communicating by putting into place a collaborative process that everyone can follow. This takes the guesswork out of communication and helps everyone stay on the same page.
How Project Managers Can Increase Effectiveness Without Overwhelming a Team
A project manager must balance the amount of work being delegated to an individual with that individual’s capacity to do the work efficiently and effectively. Another pain point of project management revolves around maintaining momentum around a project without causing burnout among individuals. Burnout is common among software developers working in a sprint or scrum environment because there are defined cycle times that rely on, and are relied upon by, other work cycles within the project.
Trends in workplace productivity suggest that when an individual feels overwhelmed with too many tasks, productivity decreases due to task-switching. Decreased productivity due to task-switching is the phenomenon that occurs when you take time out to mentally prepare to start one task, then you switch to a different task either because you are interrupted by someone or you realize you must do some other task first (prioritization). When you switch back to the original task, you must take the time once again to mentally prepare yourself to focus. Some call this “getting back into the zone.”
One way to overcome issues in productivity and task-switching is to choose a project management tool that helps team members prioritize the work and focus effort on key tasks all the way through to completion. Many project managers also use work systems such as Kanban, Scrum, Waterfall, Scrumban or a proprietary system of getting work done to manage projects. Most work systems are used alongside project management software or tools to accomplish goals and meet milestones.
How to Meet Stakeholder Expectations
A stakeholder is anyone who is either directly or indirectly involved in the initiation, planning and / or execution of a project. A stakeholder may be a C-level executive who has ordered an initiative or project to begin, or it can be a business owner, vendor, customer or other impacted party either upstream or downstream who has built a business case and / or approved a solution to a business problem.
Although stakeholders are usually not the experts in how a project should be executed, they can be the most vocal advocates for, or against, the particulars of a project because they are so vested. Acknowledging input from stakeholders and engaging them in regular project status updates is a key responsibility of a project manager.
Stakeholders need to be kept informed during a project. For this reason, project management software is a valuable tool for project managers to strike a balance between keeping the stakeholders informed without getting bogged down in the minutia.
While stakeholder input can be valuable, too much stakeholder involvement can have a detrimental effect on a project. There have even been cases of stakeholders going rogue behind a project manager’s back, introducing new elements and considerations to team members and derailing the productive cycle times already established. While these stakeholders have the best intentions, their over-involvement in a project can lead to scope-creep and a general feeling of chaos.
To keep stakeholders informed with the right amount of information, project managers should be armed at all times with the tools necessary to provide accurate status updates in a format that can be easily comprehended without raising too many questions. Visual collaboration tools provide automated reporting and project snapshots that project managers can share with all levels within an organization.