Friday, 28 June 2013

The Guinea Pig Project

Have you ever served as the project manager for that 'test' project for your organization?  And by test project I don't mean a mocked up test project. No, I mean a real project that enters some key, uncharted territory that your organization would like to deliver in but has no experience with.  They've never served a project client in this particular industry and they want to 'see' if their software will work well in this genre and they're using this project - and you - to establish some sort of baseline.  Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever had this 'privilege'?  Well...I have.  Sounded interesting at first. Interesting...yes, that's how I'll describe it.


Concern from the start

First, let me describe the software solution at a high level. It's sort if a proprietary ERP software that works great, but must be customized and configured for each client according to their needs and business processes.  Calculations, screens, reports, data integration – everything must be done specifically for the individual client and the project requirements.

Right from the start the project called for a short implementation period of 90 days.  Almost unheard of.  The customer wanted it implemented almost ‘as-is’ right out of the box. Absolutely unheard of.  I was given two business analysts and my PMO Director made the mistake of announcing to the client that we had two on the project because one was junior learning from the other one.  Mistake – the client never trusted any output from the junior BA from that point on.  And the client announced in a major press release the drop-dead implementation date for this ‘out-of-the-box’ short-window software implementation project in an industry we had never ventured into.

Red lights were flashing everywhere…mostly in my head though.

Here’s what I learned.  My gut is trustable.  I figured the 90-day implementation target was really more like the halfway point.  I was close…90 days turned into about 240 days.  I figured the budget was at least 10% off.  It was 21% off.  I realize that hindsight is 20-20 and I was fairly new to this company and this software at the time and did not speak up when I became very concerned.  Sitting down with some good mind mapping software to map out the entire process from the beginning would have been a good place to start.  That and convincing the customer that they really didn’t want an out-of-the-box implementation (which the didn’t…hence the extra five months and $32,000 to implementation).  But at some point we had gone too far and kept pushing forward.

Summary

This project wasn’t a complete disaster.  We rolled out the solution to the customer, got paid, and put a notch in our belt by implementing the solution in a new industry…which opened the door to other clients in the same industry.  But it was painful, it was a learning process, and it was not deemed a very successful project or implementation at the time.  The customer – who was pretty frustrated by the time deployment came around – ended up performing a decent amount of post-implementation configuration to get the final solution to do exactly what they wanted…and to stop the financial bleed.

The moral of the story – if you feel you aren’t ready, or the project isn’t ready, or there is some misunderstanding or uneven expectations or miscommunication…there probably is.  Speak up – especially when you’re entering uncharted territory.  It never hurts to add some extra planning time and make sure that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

Schedule First, then Budget

What should come first…the schedule or the budget?  I’m not sure how your organization is run, but most organizations that I’ve been associated with have had a sales or account manager aspect that worked with the outside project client to establish the services to be rendered, came up with a draft schedule and a price, and then handed it all to me when the deal was closed.  What I ended up with was a shell of a project schedule that showed we basically understood what needed to be done, and then a price to match it to.  That’s not the best way to do it, that’s why the project manager sometimes gets a frustrated customer with expectations that don’t match the price or the schedule and that’s why a project manager should always be involved at the beginning of customer engagement – not just once it becomes a project.
So let’s consider the other scenario – the scenario where a project manager engages a customer (internal or external) and initiates the entire engagement with them.  In this type of situation, still many project managers are inclined to start with the budget first, but that can be a dangerous way to start the planning and estimating portion of the project.  Why?  Because time is money and everything that goes into the project schedule – every single task, every expensive resource assignment, every deliverable review process and signoff…everything – will cost money and that will affect the budget.  That’s why I say, schedule first, then budget.


You can’t run a project on just a budget

Based on my experience on projects and observing my colleagues over the years, the best project managers establish the schedule before finalizing the budget, even if senior management is screaming for the money portion.  There may be a need to utilize mind mapping software to plan out how the project is going to get from Point A to Point B and that’s all part of the planning process as well – but it still happens before any significant detail can go into the project budget.  It’s truly best to try to determine how much time is really required to complete a project before you let your money – or lack thereof - get in the way of your detailed project planning and real-world thinking.

The experienced project manager can look at a task, understand what’s required, and provide a reasonably realistic guesstimate of the time requirement as if pulling the number from the air. Plus, you have a team of seasoned experts to go over the tasks and either provide very serious estimates or confirm your initial estimates. Be wary of those stakeholders and senior managers who may try to pressure you and your team into planning some unrealistic dates and timeframes or shortened task efforts that are not reflective of reality for the complexity of your particular project. It won’t work and in the end it will still be you explaining why your project is over budget and over time.


The workable schedule verifies the project

Building a schedule also verifies the project’s viability. If, when assembling the schedule, time is not on your side, you may need to work out an extension with management or an increase in resources. Working on the schedule might also reveal missing tasks – which in turn affect the budget.  And if you were handed a project with the price already set but the project schedule in rough draft mode, then once you’ve mapped out the real project timeline, you can begin to justify the change orders that will likely be necessary to really get the work done. Remember - it’s all interrelated, so expect to adjust budget as you adapt the schedule.


Summary

As project managers, we are often pressured to think money first, schedule second.  I used to have a VP that would ask me to plan out our staff’s approximately $350k budget every year and then she would reject it at least three times until I turned in the number she was looking for.  Frustrated, I just started asking her for the number she wanted so I could back everything into it – because I was giving her ‘reality’ and she didn’t want it.  It’s a bad way to manage.  Work the real timeframes into the schedule, then put together a budget that really works for the project.

Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

Making Every Second Count

There are only so many hours in a day... 24.  Only so many minutes...1,440.  And only so many seconds...86,400.  And I think the last thing any of us want to do is work all of them!  So we need to learn how to make every second count.  We can’t always compartmentalize our day into 8 hours of work.  For many of us I’m sure it’s often 10-12 hours and if you’re working remotely like me it’s probably more than 8 hours and broken up into strange times of the day as you work to support clients in time zones that are much different than your own.  We use mind mapping software, we use project management scheduling software and we use spreadsheets and other tools available to us to make our project lives and decision-making easier and more streamlined, but we still need to make every second count so we don’t find ourselves distracted and ending up working around the clock on days when there are a lot of tasks to be accomplished.

How we manage our work and our time will dictate whether or not we can stay sane during these crazy times on our projects where it seems like there is a never ending stream of ‘to do’s’ on our list.  For me, I like to follow these three concepts in trying to stay on track and manage my time well…

Earn your down time

In order to stay focused and get tasks completed, I’ll set goals for myself.  Part of my consulting work involves social media.  The downfall is that when I must be on social media to share content or perform some marketing tasks or team collaboration, it can sometimes be easy to get distracted and sucked into staying on Twitter or Facebook or even LinkedIn longer than anticipated and start to follow threads other than what I was intending to work on.  I like to reward myself by setting goals such as… when I finish this big tasks I can put work down for 30 minutes and Facebook with family/friends or read an article on an interesting topic, etc.  That way, I know it’s out there, I know I get to take that break, and when I finally do I know that I’ve accomplished a big task and I’m still on track with what I need to do on that particular day.  I’m not off chasing rabbits and getting behind on my work.  I’ve earned my down time.

Lump like tasks

Throughout the day and throughout the week, we’re often doing similar tasks.  Responding to emails, revising project schedules, reforecasting project budgets, and making calls that need to be made.  Whatever seems to be critical at that moment is usually what has our attention.  However, if we look at logically lumping similar tasks together – like revising all project schedules at once across all of our projects and then moving on to budget management and forecasting, etc. - then we can make more efficient use of our time.  And if that doesn’t work – if you need to stay focused on each project before moving on - then do all tasks for one project (revise the schedule, get the status report ready, make calls, reforecast the budget, etc.) and then move on to the next project.  

By staying focused on one type of task or one project as a whole before moving on to the next group of tasks, we can be more efficient and effective in how we work and how we accomplish the regular tasks we perform on each of our projects.

Be unavailable

Finally, if you must complete some critical tasks and interruptions tend to throw you completely off track, it’s ok to go underground for a while.  Make yourself unavailable.  If you work onsite, go offsite for a day or two.  If you work offsite, go to Starbucks for a day or two (or forever?!).  However, you still must keep in mind that the project manager IS the point person for the engagement so you should never go completely off grid.  You still must tell a few people where you are and how to reach you.  Make sure you give them a timeframe that you’ll be out of touch so they know when they can reach out to you.  If you don’t do that, they might panic and contact you unnecessarily when it could easily wait till you return to ‘active’ status.


Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

Version 5 Upgrade Offers Reminder

As part of the release of MindGenius 5, all customers have now been informed of the upgrade offers available.

Please note: These offers are only valid until June 30th 2013.


  • Version 4 Business users – a discount code has been emailed to you, please contact us if you didn’t receive it
  • Version 3 Business users (and earlier) can simply purchase MindGenuis 5 for £117/€140/$188. Select an upgrade from our online store.
The functionality of MindGenius has changed significantly over recent versions, if you are unsure of the differences, read our Version Comparison document or attend our What’s new in Version 5 webinar on the 18th June.

If you would like to discuss how MindGenius 5 can benefit your team, please contact us for additional information and a product demonstration.

Download a 30 day free trial from www.mindgenius.com. MindGenius 5 will install without affecting earlier installations of MindGenius.

All Academic customers can purchase from £45/€54/ $72 per single user licence.

Free Maintenance licences are currently being distributed as part of a phased upgrade programme and should be with all customers by the 15th June 2013; this includes all Enterprise licences and product links.

In addition, if you purchased MindGenius 4 in May, you automatically qualify for a free upgrade to Version 5 and will receive your licences soon.

MindGenius 5 Now Released - New Webinar Announced

Last week saw the release of MindGenius 5 to fantastic industry and customer feedback.

Chuck Frey, prominent industry blogger at the Mind Mapping Software Blog believes “MindGenius 5 shows impressive depth of focus on user needs.” and Steve Rothwell, author of the Peace of Mind blog thinks that “First impression overall is that the new look adds to the sense of ‘quality’ of the product. It looks better, seems more robust and feels faster to operate.”

We will be showcasing MindGenius 5 in a webinar where Derek Jack will take you through our new product and demonstrate the improvements in task and project management capabilities and the new functionality that will enable users to work with and share the information contained within maps much more effectively.

  • New Task Cards make branch information more prominent to aid communication within teams, reporting and task management
  • Automatically created Project Reports (Project Summary, Milestone chart, Critical Path tasks, Tasks Due, etc.) expose the key project data to keep stakeholders fully informed and help you share information beyond your team
  • New Templates pane provides easier access to Industry templates and resources to help you get started and expand your use of the application
  • MS Outlook Synchronisation that helps improve the way meetings are performed and managed
  • Comment and Review function which encourages greater collaboration and the use of maps as a way of working within the team
  • Improved Task and Project Management Functionality including Resource Levelling to keep track of resource over and under allocation
Register now for the webinar on Tuesday 18 June at 16:00 GMT+1 / 11:00 EDT. If you can't attend the webinar, but would like a recording of it, let us know at info@mindgenius.com and we will send you a link to a recording.

MindGenius 5 Templates Pane and Task Cards
All other webinars, including Introduction to MindGenius and MindGenius for Project Management will also now demonstrate MindGenius 5. View our webinars schedule.

New Look Gantt Chart with Resource Levelling

New presentation quality project report
Download a 30 day free trial of MindGenius 5 now. MindGenius 5 will install without affecting earlier MindGenius installations.

MindGenius 5 Now Released

MindGenius Ltd has now released Version 5 of its leading mind mapping software, the new release dramatically improves the already strong task and project management capabilities and will help users collaborate and communicate better on projects, strategy, brainstorming and meetings.

Improvements in task management include direct distribution of actions in a map to MS Outlook tasks. This feature along with automatic synchronisation with MS Outlook when tasks are updated in either application will help improve meetings and productivity and offer managers more visibility on when actions have been completed by the team and improve opportunities to use the map collaboratively.

There have also been key updates to MindGenius’ project management capabilities including a new look Gantt chart, constraints indicator, Resource levelling chart to help identify over and under allocation of project resources and the ability to collate project data by automatically creating presentation quality project reports from map data. This will help keep stakeholders properly informed about project progress and ensure teams have clear visibility on the state of the project, and projects are on track to be delivered on time.

The new Comment and Review feature has been added to encourage greater collaboration on projects, and assist with document authoring, brainstorming and meetings. Comment and Review mode enables maps to be shared and changes and comments to be tracked and reviewed.

On top of these major new features, MindGenius 5 offers new look map styles with a more compact layout and easier to read branches, making the mapping process more engaging during presentations, brainstorming sessions, and meetings. Along with this, easy to access help and templates will help ensure MindGenius remains the most intuitive and easiest to adopt mapping tool.

Derek Jack, Director of MindGenius believes that the latest release will reinforce MindGenius reputation as the business choice for mind mapping software:

“At MindGenius we have always focused on providing people with an effective way to capture and use the information they gather at Brainstorming and Planning sessions. We provide the tools that enable them to use that information quickly and help them deliver projects more productively.

As always we’ve listened to what our users need to help them get even more from the product and I believe we have delivered that. MindGenius has always been a strong brainstorming and planning tool, and now delivers comprehensive task and project management capability. I am excited to see the impact that it will have with both our existing users and people new to mapping.”

Find out more about new features and functionality, or download a free 30 day trial now from www.mindgenius.com.