Kick-off Project Planning with a High-Level Schedule

Having a high-level project schedule prior to planning a project is a useful technique for kicking-off project planning. Starting all planning discussions with a model of the project schedule will get the team focused on the right things and allow them to iterate it, which will ultimately produce an accurate and comprehensive final schedule.

Your high-level schedule should be clear and easily understood by all parties and stakeholders involved in the project. Creating one should be done prior to other activities because it will serve as the starting point for the structured, definitive project planning that will follow. Remember, the dates and tasks in your high level plan needn’t be absolutely firm because they will change through the planning process.

In the following post, we will provide 5 steps for creating a high-level project schedule that you can use to kick off project planning:

1.List all of your tasks

Start by creating a list of tasks required in order to accomplish each deliverable of the project. This may seem intuitive, but it is often overlooked in favor of starting with a project scheduling application from the beginning. When creating a list of tasks you must also consider the amount of time it may take to complete each task and who will deliver the task. Knowing these variables will help you hone your estimate for each deliverable in the project, and ultimately help you model the project’s delivery date.

2.List your milestones

Milestones are often overlooked when creating project schedules and they shouldn’t be. Including high-level milestones on the initial schedule provides a measuring stick to evaluate the progress of the project. Given that milestones will be used by management and stakeholders to assess the project’s progress they should be included on your project’s high-level schedule. Start by identify the points of time or events that you recognize as important and add them. They can and probably will change later on, but making them visible during the earliest communications and conversations will add the perspective that the planning team needs.

3.Sequence your list

Sequencing is all about arranging the order your tasks will be delivered in. Some task can be done independently or simultaneously while other tasks will need to have a preceding task completed before they can begin. Look over your list of tasks and put them in the order that they need to be completed. Take note of which tasks are critical and which tasks are dependent on others. Knowing this will be useful in the more formal project planning stage when it comes time to identify the project’s critical path.

4.Group tasks together

Look over your list and find logical breakpoints. Group all the tasks between each of these breakpoints so your plan is a series of phases. For example, there may be a series of tasks related to analysis and feasibility which may fit into a Preparation or Proof of Concept phase, and then there may be a series of tasks relating to delivering the work, which may be a Deliver or Build phase. Finally, there may be tasks related to testing and iterating which could be a Test phase. Showing activities as phases will make it easier for audiences to think comprehensively through the project, rather than just seeing a single extended block of work.

5.Check deadlines

The schedule you have modeled will be a good way to check if the expected delivery date is realistic. If your high-level schedule is showing a delivery date that is significantly different from what management or stakeholders expect, begin making adjustments right away, prior to developing the comprehensive project plan. This may include presenting your high-level schedule to stakeholders in an effort to discuss a new date for the project’s delivery date or it may include reducing the deliverables of the project.

Starting the project planning process with a high-level schedule will give your team the perspective they need as you begin developing the more comprehensive final plan. Doing the work up-front to model a project schedule will ultimately lead to a more accurate and realistic project plan.

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Donald Trump Timeline

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The Trump timeline tracks both his successes and failures over the past 5 decades and can be copied or reproduced for public use.

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6 Basics for New Project Managers

Project Management is a deep and well documented practice with many brilliant books, blogs and organizations dedicated to it. However, if you are new to project management and are merely looking to learn some basics for successfully managing a project, we recommend these 6 fundamentals:

1. Know the purpose

It is important to understand what the real goal of the project is. For example, if you are responsible for implementing a new tech-support ticketing system, is the goal to help increase the productivity of your tech support team or is it improve low customer satisfaction scores? Once you understand the real goal of the project and what success looks like you can better determine how to plan and how to execute it.

2. Nail the scope

It is also important to precisely define the project’s scope. Continuing our example, does your project scope include defining the selection criteria and selecting brand new ticketing system software or will that be done prior. Determining what is in scope and what is out of scope will not only have a huge impact on the work required but also how your success will be measured.

3. Detail the deliverables

Once you have defined the scope it will be critical to break the scope down into the things that must be delivered. Furthering our example project of implementing a new tech support ticketing system, one of the things that must be done is to install a new data base. This should be defined in detail so it is clearly understood by the person or team who will deliver this work. You will need to identify all the project deliverables and define them in this way.

4. Plan Properly

With the deliverables properly defined it will be easier to determine what activities, resources and budget will be required for completing the project. To properly plan your project you will need to determine what activities or tasks are required to achieve every deliverable, and you will need to determine the amount of time required to complete each task. It will also be important to identify which task are dependent on other tasks. In our example we may not be able to complete the task of installing the new data base because that task is dependent on another task, procuring new data base hardware. Finally, you will need to put the entire project plan on a schedule by assigning dates to each of the tasks.

5. Share your plan

Now you have a project plan that is a schedule of clearly defined deliverables which have been properly scoped and properly aligned with the business goals. You know the plan very well but it needs to be shared with the project team and stakeholders. Team members will need to know exactly what is expected of them, when it is due and how it interrelates with work others are doing. Communicate the plan often so team members stay focused on the activities they have been assigned.

6. Review progress

When the project is underway, it will be important to monitor the progress of you plan and to report this progress back to your executives. You will need to periodically check the project against its planned cost and schedule. This will allow you to calculate and report the variance between the actual execution and the as-planned execution. Once you identify and understand any variance from the original plan you can make necessary adjustments to the project’s scope, schedule or budget.

New project managers will find that these 6 fundamentals are relevant to any project they are assigned, regardless of size and complexity. Becoming proficient in each of these areas will increase your chances of successfully delivering your project on budget and on time.

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7 Leadership Skills to Develop

It is often said that successful leaders are made, not born. In other words, being a successful leader is a matter of skill, not luck, and it is therefore possible to develop this skill. Anyone aspiring to be one, can become an effective leader through planning, persistence, focus and effort. Personal style, education and background will influence you, but becoming a good leader is learned through experience. If you have the desire to develop your leadership skill, here are 7 areas to focus on:

1. What you do matters most

This idea here is that others see and follow the direction of their leaders, so leaders become effective because of what they do. In today’s workplace, leadership authenticity is often judged on actions rather than words. Organizational values are also molded by observing the behavior of our leaders. As a leader, you have the privilege of being a role model within your organization and leading by example is a practice you should constantly refine.

2. Create a learning based culture

Leadership styles can be categorized as either learning based or a knowledge based. Leaders who develop learning based styles create open and transparent environments that do not expect that there will always be answers. Rather, these leaders value learning and constantly ask good questions to drive mutual learning exchanges. Knowledge based leaders place value on quickly obtaining answers, and they fail to nurture the exercise of learning. This leadership style is more critical as it tests, judges and challenges teams for immediate answers.

3. Tell a good story

It is difficult to be an excellent leader without being a good communicator. Good communication means the ability to get others to understand your vision and to buy into it. It is about understanding your environment and adapting messages to meet the needs of your audiences. Good leaders practice this. They are masters at listening and deciphering the communication styles of others and adapting their messaging on-the-fly. Since most leaders will spend much of their time engaged in interpersonal situations, is critical to understand and practice these skills.

4. Have a clear vision

Good leaders are visionaries. They have a clear vision or dream for their team or project and it is often the most powerful tool in their toolbox. It is an image or picture of the future that, when articulated well and frequently, wins commitment and inspires people to action. Visionary leaders are easy to follow because their vision provides teams with the clear direction and purpose they need. Good leaders take the time to develop and share their vision because they know it will motivate people to strive for its attainment.

5. Empower your people

Having an empowered team that has initiative and drives tasks forward with little guidance is the wish of all leaders. Empowering people requires focus. Leaders develop empowered teams by recruiting great people, giving them clear direction, providing support and delegating important tasks to them. Leaders should allow their employees to try new ideas safely and independently, even if it means that their employees will lead others. This may feel counterintuitive to classic ideas of leadership but they will learn a lot and it will prepare them to lead in the future.

6. Be a Connector

Strong leaders are connectors. They take the time to know their team members and to create opportunities that leverage the strengths of their team. They are good at bringing together people, ideas and resources that wouldn’t normally relate to one another. To do this they build strong networks both inside and outside of their company, and they leverage these networks to facilitate collaboration and find new opportunities.

7. Get real

Good leaders know themselves. They have a strong sense of what they believe in and they are willing to share that with their teams regardless of the situation. Their authenticity creates trust and this trust makes them more convincing leaders. They do this by defining their personal values and fearlessly committing to them. Their behavior reflects those values irrespective of obstacles and adversaries. Authentic leaders are genuine and people will follow a leader they feel is real.

Developing your leadership skill requires focus and intention. These tips above can be a compass on where to apply that effort. By practicing some or all of these skills, you can build a solid foundation for your own personal leadership development.

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5 Tips on How to Manage Remote Teams

In today’s working environment, it is increasingly common to find yourself managing a team staffed with people from all corners of the world. High performing internet connectivity, robust no cost Wi-Fi and secure remote access to your company’s network allows employees to work from virtually anywhere in the world. In the US, remote working grew by 103% between 2005 and 2016 and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Fueled by average cost savings of $11,000 per employee per year and increased employee satisfaction, the ability to manage remote teams is a must have skill.

Here are 5 tips to help Project Managers transition to an effective remote team manager role.

Leverage web conferencing

Web conferencing allows businesses to share ideas and information among people and across the organization in real-time. Web conferencing and other real time collaboration tools that also include video along with sound are well suited solutions for working remotely. Experts reveal that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal and companies can improve meeting efficiency and prevent miscommunications by enabling teams to actually see one another. The ability to see each other also increases employee engagement, connection and collaboration in meetings. Leveraging collaboration technology will connect remote employees and help preserve the productivity and efficiency of the on-premise team environment.

Know the time

Having team members spread across different time zones is a challenge that can mean extra work or longer hours for a project manager. Managers must accommodate their remote teams by managing all of the collaborative tasks during hours where the majority of the team is working. Depending on time zones, this could mean some team members will need to log-in earlier or later to join the rest of the team. If this is the case, try to know your people’s personal commitments before you schedule them off-hours.

Run efficient meetings

When running a remote meeting, make sure to give yourself extra time for preparation so the meeting can start on time. Virtual meetings require more prep as a rule, and if the first 5 minutes of your meeting are spent logging-in or getting logistics set, your chance of losing employees to multitasking increases greatly. Use agendas, visual aids, media and rotate speakers to keep the meeting moving. Ask team members to be ready on time and stick to the agenda as much as possible.

Build relationships

Building relationships with remote team members is often more difficult than building relationships with the people down the hall. It requires active work as there is a lack of organic connection time. To help build comradery, work to create open connection time in your 1:1’s and team meetings. Build in time for chatting about the weekend on the Monday AM meeting. Take time to know team member’s hobbies, friends, families and outside interests. Ask questions and practice active listening.

Be Clear on the mission

Nothing brings a team together more than a shared experience, mission or vision. With a remote team, shared experiences are difficult to achieve, however, having a clear team mission and vision will be valuable for brining your team together. Make the time to create a shared mission or vision with your team, involving all members in the creative process.

Geographically dispersed teams can offer huge benefits in efficiency, cost savings, employee satisfaction and access to top talent regardless of location. Managing these teams requires you start with trust and that you find new ways of keeping your team running smoothly. Assume your remote employees are doing their best work and leverage these five tips to build a high performing remote team.

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