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Toolkit for a Successful Project Manager

              Estimated to have cost US$59 billion and rumored to be capable of changing the rotation of the Earth, the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China is considered to be the largest engineering project in the country. Officially, the entire project lasted for 17 years with the construction phase occupying 12 years of its schedule, starting in 1994 and ending in 2006. However, the idea for the project was first discussed in the 1920s and detailed planning began in 1955. Given the magnitude and complexity of the project, it was delayed, paused, and stopped for about 40 years before the official start date. Today, the hydroelectric plant supplies power to nine provinces in China with an energy output of 84.7 terawatt-hours (TWh).

              Evidently, not all projects need to follow the same magnitude, have originated in construction or have a tangible final product. On a much smaller scale, in 2016, Instagram redesigned its logo in-house (budget has not been reported). The project lasted 9 months and was carried in absolute secrecy. The company hired the consultant, Cole Rise, to assist on the redesign and give a modern appeal to the 5-year-old logo as well as update the user interface and consult on the user journey.

              The above examples display two vastly different projects. However, what do they have in common? They are both unique temporary assignments with defined beginning and end, resources allocated and spent, and breadth of scope. And, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), that’s exactly what projects are. Thus, according to PMI, project management is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements”. Essentially, project management relates to activities necessary for the successful completion of a project which most often is tied to the Triple Constraint Theory. The theory explains that the success of a project is drawn to the project manager’s ability to maintain the project within its scope, budget, and schedule which will directly impact the overall quality of the project.

Triple Constraint with time, scope, cost and quality

              Tools and techniques can help project managers in their conquest to deliver effective projects that fulfil the described constraints. In efforts to assist project managers to achieve success in their projects, in this article, we look to provide pragmatic knowledge on tools and practices that may help individuals to manage their projects and tasks more efficiently. Do notice that some organizations can benefit from creating Project Management Office (PMO), a department that defines, maintains, and refines standards associated with project management.

              Please note that there are several tools available for project managers, this article intends to provide you with an example of possible tools, but it is up to you to select the tools that can work best for you and define a set toolkit that can be used effectively and efficiently to help manage your projects.

Project Management Tools and Technique for Planning

  • Project Statement of Work: let’s start with the basics by defining the project’s business need, its scope description, and the organizational strategic plan (and how it aligns with the project). This can be a one-pager document that will help lay the foundation of future work to come ahead.
  • Project Charter: A document that often includes this information is the project charter and it can offer other great information such as requirements, business needs, summary schedule, assumptions, constraints, and business case.
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): this tool is a graphical representation of every task in a project. The WBS segments tasks according to a hierarchical structure by first breaking down large milestones, then tasks, then subtasks as many times needed to arrive at a level of granularity which is attainable. By increasing the granularity of the tasks, one can more efficiently plan, schedule, and deliver said tasks and, thus, the project as a whole. WBS is used to facilitate resource allocation/ management, allowing employees and purchased assets to be directly tied to a specific segment and task.
  • Gantt Charts: the widely known Gantt chart is an infamous tool in the toolkit box of project managers across the world. It grants a visual representation of the timeline required across the life span of a project broke down into a project’s milestones, tasks, subtasks, and time for completion.
  • Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT): PERT is an estimating technique that uses weighted averages to calculate delivery times for tasks. For a specific task, it averages out the most pessimistic time of delivery, the most optimistic time of delivery, and the most likely time of delivery. Some individuals may use PERT for all of the tasks in their projects, others may use it simply for the ones with higher inherited risk.
  • Critical Path Method (CPM): the CPM is a traditional project management technique utilized to estimate project completion date and adequately allocate resources. It requires that all tasks in a project are listed (as such, it is often used in association with a WBS), together with the duration of each task and its dependencies. As a result, one can calculate the longest path (critical path) to project completion and visualize the essential tasks necessary to make the project move along smoothly. Tools: MS Project
  • RACI Matrix: a responsibility assignment chart that looks to provide structure to the roles of stakeholders within a project according to its tasks. It segments stakeholders into 4 distinct roles – responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. CIO has a great blueprint with best practices for creating and managing RACI matrixes.
  • Kanban: this technique was first developed by Toyota for their manufacturing team and today it is widely used by Agile practitioners. It gives a visual representation of tasks to be delivered in a team. It can help project managers to monitor and manage projects by focusing on continuous delivery. There are several providers of such tool, however, JIRA and Trello are the most widely known.
  • SWOT Analysis: understanding a project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is a great way to initiate and manage a project life cycle, initiate a risk analysis, and conduct overall risk management throughout the project.
  • GAP Analysis: oftentimes, GAP analysis is used to measure individual performance, however, they can be helpful to better understand resources needed for a determined project, which would be considered the goal to be achieved. their future goals/ objectives, then understanding the gaps between both plans and evaluating possible solutions. Once solutions are assessed against the identified gaps, a plan is created and implemented. More detailed information about helpful tools in GAP analysis can be found here.

Project Management Activities and Tools for People Management

              Although a project manager may not necessarily be responsible for managing people, in some cases, PMs are required to manage individuals directly and indirectly. That can be accomplished in a more indirect way by providing a tool for team organization such as Kanban, or in a more direct way by requiring Status Reports and other documents. To help facilitate said activity, GPetrium has listed multiple solutions that can help organization reach its goals, some of them can even be reshaped to fit one’s project management needs:

  • Activity tracker: Most individuals don’t realize the amount and type of work that they have accomplished throughout the year. This tracker can assist individuals manage their activities.
  • Sprint Planning Tool: many organizations and teams have started to realize the benefit of becoming Agile. As part of the transition to agility, teams have found it beneficial to create Sprint Plans. To help in the process, GPetrium has created an excel-based Sprint Planning Tool.
  • Organizational, Team & Individual Objectives & Key Results (OKR): helps organizations define, track objectives and its outcomes. Widely used in the market, OKRs are often viewed as a strategic framework to organizations, teams, and individuals while KPI aims to measure the actions and steps accomplished within the OKR. Some organizations work with both, while others prefer to stick with one.
  • 30 60 90 Day Plan: has helped managers and new hires to layout the expected groundwork for the upcoming period. The 30 60 90-day plan is also harnessed by new projects, programs, employees and managers.
  • Weekly Update: helps organizations collect and store short status updates from their teams and employees.
  • Monthly Status Report: Helps organizations collect monthly status updates from their teams and individuals. For teams that use weekly updates, it may be a compilation of all weekly updates that are expected to give the organization a bigger picture. Tip: you can easily personalize this tool to make it provide quarterly or annual reports.
  • ZoomSkype and WebEx are video conference providers that can be found in most organizations today.
  • Microsoft Teams & Slack are at the forefront of the instant messaging platform market.

    Project Manager's Tools for Increased Personal Productivity and Efficiency

                  Many institutions such as HBRForbes, and the NY Times, have reported on how to curb and control information overload caused by excessive emailing in organizations. As 28% of a manager’s time is spent on email, building a structure to prioritize and support e-mail processing can lead to greater productivity. Below are a few areas that should be considered to better manage emails:

    • E-mail settings are an often-overlooked part of the system that can help improve productivity. From smart composition/ reply, signature, vacation responder, connecting multiple e-mail accounts into one place, frequent messages template to enhanced label/ folder/ categorization are all activities that can assist curb the email overload. Tweaking the settings can help facilitate one’s e-mail usage greatly. It could be as simple as setting a rule that directs emails from a team into a specific folder or directs newsletters and other interesting emails into a lower priority folder. Such a practice can facilitate one’s ability to prioritize incoming emails and reduce digression. Here’s a quick guide from Microsoft Outlook and Google Gmail on how to set up rules in outlook and Gmail.
    • Email Add-ins are extensions that can be added into the e-mail provider of choice to help augment activities – naturally, these options depend on the security policies of your company and your IT department. It is important to speak to your IT or cybersecurity team before using these services since there may be concerns over Terms of Use, vulnerabilities, data policy and others. For more information on email add-ins, please see our Toolkit for a Successful Manager.
    • Email Time Management is an under-appreciated ability of a productive professional. For more information on email time management, please see our Toolkit for a Successful Manager.
    • Meetings: Estimates have shown that senior managers attend roughly 23 hours of meetings weekly, that is roughly 58% of a 40-hour week. To help project managers and their departments/ teams with their meeting habits, GPetrium has written a 3-part series that covers steps before a meetingat the meeting and what to do after the meeting. When good meeting habits are ingrained into the organization’s culture, everyone stands to benefit.

                  Given the complexity of project management and its nuances, there’s much more that can be said about the topic. The toolkit for a successful project manager is the starting point for individuals who wish to better manage their project by deepening their knowledge of certain techniques and tools. If you have any questions, requests or suggestions, please email us at contact@gpetrium.com.

    The opinions in this article is of the authors and do not reflect clients or other’s views.

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