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



The Donald Trump timeline was made with the Office Timeline add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint. It marks significant milestones in Donald Trump’s personal, family, business and political career, culminating with his election as the 45th United States president in the 2016 US presidential race.

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

To quickly create similar PowerPoint timelines for personal, academic or business communications we recommend using the free Office Timeline add-in. It can also be used to edit or update the Donald Trump timeline PowerPoint slide.



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7 Point Checklist for Project Closure



Wrapping up a scope of work brings with it a range of emotions. Excitement, relief and sometimes even sadness are common at the end of a project where you have invested so much of your energy and time. Although it is tempting to move on to your next project, before transitioning, take the time to properly bring your current project to closure. Here is a short check-list to follow before fully exiting a project:

Are all required deliverables complete?

This is the time to reflect on the project plan. Review it with an objective mind or partner with a peer to help gain balanced feedback. Work through your project plan and ask yourself if all tangible deliverables have been completed. Be ruthless with your assessment and include not only mission-critical deliverables, but all deliverables the plan committed to.

Have all approvals been obtained?

Diligently obtaining written approval for sign-off during the lifecycle of the project is a ‘must-do’ and a good discipline to adhere to. Ensuring the proper approvals have been obtained keeps business leaders informed and accountable for their actions. It also protects you as the Project Manager (PM) to have the appropriate stakeholder’s confirmation that the project is approved.

Have all required administrative tasks been performed?

Managing the administrative side of the project takes time, however these housekeeping tasks are vital when it comes to project closure. Close out any open contracts and make sure all time has been properly accounted for, billing is complete and people on the project have been released and/or are assigned to new projects.

Are all project documents and deliverables archived?

Ensuring that all documentation related to the project is stored in a central archive and available for access is important. These may be used as the foundation for an upcoming project, or you may need to reference them for future questions about how this project was managed. It is also a good practice to create and archive a FAQ’s or Lessons Learned document, so knowledge and key learnings are transferred to the others who will come after you.

Have all calendars been cleared?

Check across the team to see all the meetings that have been conducted? If there are outstanding or unnecessary meetings still scheduled, make sure to cancel and remove these from calendars. Removing any confusion around recurring meetings is a courtesy to others and a best practice for closing projects.

Does everyone know the project is complete?

Ensuring that all stakeholders and departments involved in your project are aware that it is complete is a sometimes overlooked step, but one that will differentiate your from others. Properly closing with a formal wrap-up communication in which you share the achievements and results with everyone involved shows professionalism.

Have you thanked key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors?

Taking a few extra minutes to thank key contributors, stakeholders and sponsors is another act of professionalism. Saying thank you to someone is a simple way to leave them feeling good about you as a PM, regardless of how challenging they may have been. Make your last interaction on the project one of thanks and you’ll will improve your PM brand.

By utilizing this 7 point check list you can ensure that your project closing skills are as strong as your day-to-day management skills and you will be confident that you are leaving a project well managed.


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5 Ways to Overcome Project Obstacles



As project managers, we try to anticipate and plan for big challenges, but it is often the small daily obstacles that can derail our projects. These small obstructions are common and it is the way we solve them that distinguishes great project managers from the good ones.

There are many structured approaches to problem solving. Most follow a step-by-step process to define problems, identify their causes and to determine the best solution. This approach is often the standard way to handle big problems but it can be too much for smaller, day to day issues that need to be solved on-the-fly. Often, deploying a non-standard strategy can be better for moving you past the issue at hand. If you are looking for some quick problem solving methods to move you past the every day challenges or you feel your default problem solving techniques are not agile enough, here are 5 strategies to try the next time you’re faced with an obstacle:

  1. Create a visual of your project - using visuals like a mind map can help move your creativity in a new direction.
  2. Brainstorm a list of ideas - since solutions to problems often reside beyond the status quo, jotting down a list of all thoughts, including those that may seem way outside the realm of practicality, can help you find needed breakthroughs.
  3. Look outside – sometimes, taking an outsider’s view can reveal new ideas. Ask yourself what advice you’d give to someone else faced with the same obstacle.
  4. Circumvent the obstacle - tackle a different element of the project, move ahead in any way you can, simply keep moving forward.
  5. Work without judgment - letting go of the need for the solution to be perfect can be inspiring. Achieving a good enough outcome on the obstacle may free you up for brilliance on the next task. Additionally, you may have the chance to return to the problem later with refreshed creativity.

Building a variety of workplace skills to overcome challenges in real time will make you a better problem solver and a more successful project manager. Adding these 5 simple problem-solving strategies to your skills set can help you move your projects forward with a bit more speed.


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What is Your Conflict Resolution Style?



Even in the highest functioning teams, interpersonal conflicts are bound to arise. Employee conflict is a cause of concern for employers, leaders and project managers because it often leads to lost productivity and damaged morale. Project managers must learn to handle interpersonal conflict on their project teams. Doing so will alleviate tension, increase productivity and help create respectful work environments.

How people handle conflict has been an area of study for years. In 1974, Kenneth W.Thomas and Ralph H. Kilmann introduced an assessment called the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) to help determine styles when dealing with conflict.

According to the TKI there are 5 typical styles people use when dealing with conflict:

Accommodating

In this style, a person involved in the conflict chooses to give-in. Utilizing this technique will be at the expense of that person’s ideas and opinions. This approach can be effective when the opposing party is the expert or has more power. Accommodating is the least assertive style which results in very one-sided resolutions.

Avoiding

This is a technique where a person involved simply avoids the conflict. The person disengages without pursuing their own goals. This works when the issue is unimportant or when it is clear that the conflict can’t be resolved, however it is a non-assertive and uncooperative style of conflict resolution. It is important to note that both the accommodating and avoiding styles have the same outcome, however,through avoidance, there is no indication that a contribution was made in solving the conflict.

Collaborating

This is a style where both sides of the conflict come together in order to achieve the goals of each person and is often referred to as creating a “win-win.” Collaborating can be an effective style for complex scenarios where there is an opportunity to explore multiple options. Collaborating conflict resolution means both sides are asserting themselves and their ideas but are also working for a cooperative outcome. The challenge of the collaborative conflict resolution is that it can be time consuming and it requires a high-level of trust between all parties.

Competing

Whereas collaborative conflict resolution can often be called a “win-win” style, competing may be defined as a “win-lose” style. Competing is an autocratic technique for resolving conflict. In it, one person forces their solution at the expense of the other party . This style may be appropriate when one person has the power to make the decision and needs to do so quickly and decisively, however, competing is the most aggressive and uncooperative conflict resolution method.

Compromising

This is a style of conflict resolution where each party gives-up part of their objectives. Although the compromising style may seem similar to collaborating, it is different. In compromising, people make trade-offs that drive a hybrid solution to the conflict. Since neither party gets what they want it can be defined as a “lose-lose” model. Compromising requires a moderate level of assertiveness and cooperation and it is effective when people are working on short term tasks or on a smaller part of a project.

By becoming familiar with the different styles of conflict resolution, project managers can apply the most effective techniques of resolving conflict to ensure project teams avoid disruptions and stay productive.


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