Planner using calendars instead of Gantts

We all know how important planning is to a successful project.  Therefore even for small projects it is always good to have a plan.  Planner is about as easy as it gets when it comes to planning tools.  However still some users cannot read the simple gantt charts produced.  We put the Planner Calendars feature in to help address this and it has been proving very popular.

Planner calendars instead of Gantt Chart

You simply select the calendar tab in Planner to see all your tasks showing on the calendar display.  You can easily see which day the task starts on and finishes on.  Each task will also be coloured in-line with the instructions in the current view, so Milestones are usually black, tasks red etc.  Your Planner calendar display can either monthly and weekly.  So if you have lots of tasks on a particular day it makes it easier to see them.  You simply click on the task to open and edit or read it. Planner also gives you some information on hover if you want it.

When you are working in Planner the calendar display can also show the risk and issue responses from the same Planner file.

Planner Calendars

Planner calendars exported to Outlook

As well as using the Planner calendars directly in the tool you can also export them as an .ics file.  You can then use this .ics file to load the task info into Outlook.  You do this by simply dragging the .ics file onto the Outlook Calendar tab.  Of course because of the Views in Planner it is possible to create .ics files with different sets of data in them.  you can therefore create the tasks for Supplier A, rather than all suppliers.  This calendars functionality is unrivalled for many Planning tools and incredible for a free planning tool like Planner.

planner calendars; outlook integration

Find out how to use Planner calendars

We have prepared a video walk through of this which you can see here in YouTube.

Of course you can  download Planner from here for free and use it for as long as you wish.

This forms a part of our set of Planner Masterclasses:

1 – Project Analysis, 2 – Reporting, 3 – Calendars

 

 

Free project reporting – Planner does it again

For most organisations project reporting seems like a huge challenge.  Often they spent lots of time and money on systems to try and make it work.  But in practice they could be missing a simple hack to fix it.  And even better that solution could be free.  So how do they get free project reporting and improvements in quality at the same time?  Their answer is rather simple, Planner.

Free project reporting

As you will have seen in previous posts Planner is great at collecting information about Plans, tasks, costs, risks, issues and changes.  We also looked in the last blog post at how views can give project analysis outputs.  You can use all this in producing your free project reporting.  Planner gives you two ways of producing the reports, either standard to print or manual.

Lets look at standard to print first.  Here you use the print options form to choose which content you want and also to set style. You can choose the mix you want of tasks, risks, issues and calendar and milestones timelines.  Using your current view in each area those data blocks will be packaged into a document for printing.  Or of course you might choose to print to PDF instead.  This approach is quick and hassle free but limits the report to one block of each type.

If you use the manual approach,  you can assemble your own report in Word or Excel with as many sections/blocks as you want.  This will take you a bit longer but give you the same sort of outputs  for free that our commercial users obtain.  Choose your preferred view in the data area and then right click to copy as either image or data table.  You can then simply paste where you want in your report.  With this you can change view and copy paste again.  Thus you can have many different types of analysis in the same report, just like commercial customers get.

free project reporting; project management reports

Our helpful Planner masterclass video takes you through all of this.  You can see it here on You Tube or on this site here.

Free project reporting forever

Planner is free and it isn’t a trial.  And because it is a product you download and install on your laptop once you have it you can continue to use it forever.  Your reports will look much better and those dangerous quality errors will have been eliminated.  So why not share these benefits with your colleagues, you could all be using Planner to deliver better project reports.

You can sign up for your free Planner download here.

Project analysis – free and powerful

Whether your project is big or small, simple or complex you will still need to monitor it.  Of course your first challenge will have been to plan it and to set up the project controls.  Then you will have had to keep these controls updated with current information.  That all sounds quite daunting but Planner is your perfect companion for this.  As well as Planner doing all this it also includes Project Analysis capabilities for free.

Planner – perfect for your project controls

Planner provides you with a tool for preparing your project plan.  Unlike MS project it gives you just the core planning features used on the majority of projects.  Your tasks can be scheduled and grouped into summaries, they can also have predecessors.  You can also use the cost model if you want to set fixed and resource costs for tasks.  You can use Planner  to collect your risk, issue and change data as well.

project analysis;planner; free project controls; free project planning

Having all of this to hand in one file makes your task easier when it comes to updating these.  Many users keep the data collection quite simple, just showing % complete or notes and status changes for risks and issues.  Some users go a lot further with their monitoring.  These users will often also collect actual costs and manage formal responses to risks, issues and changes.  Planner provides you with the ability to do as much or as little as you like here.

Planner – perfect for your project analysis

We don’t just provide Planner to collect the data, we also include a great project analysis capability within it too.  You can use ‘views’ to get project analysis results quickly and consistently.  You can either use the pre-saved views for common analysis or create your own custom ones.  Your choice of view determines the data you see in the analysis and also how it is shown.

The filters within your chosen view are powerful and allow compounding of rules.  So you can look easily for things like overdue tasks or unresourced activities within your plan.  You can use the same approaches on your risk and issue registers.  Here people often look for top five not closed risks or any open issues not recently updated.

project analysis; overdue tasks; free planning tool

When you can do these sort of project analysis quickly it can save you lots of time and also save you from nasty surprises!

Project analysis is free

Planner which includes all this is free.  Just sign up here to download it and get started.  We have also prepared a video covering how this all works.  You can see it on YouTube here, or here on this site.

Bespoke method for your projects

Standards such as PRINCE2 are important in establishing a good process for your projects.  Many of you find it helpful to use a published standard.  When you adopt an existing standard you get all the benefits of the authors experience and research.  You can also usually get support with training courses, books and other aids easily.  However using a standard isn’t always the best choice.  When you think about how we all do different projects and in such varied contexts, perhaps a bespoke method could be better?

I’m not suggesting a radical tearing up of best practice and a return to black arts.  However I am saying that context is vital.  You need to make sure the method you use gives you the best chance of successful delivery.  In my experience that means taking the best practice the works for you and mixing it with the language and practices of your organisation.  Hopefully you have a fairly mature organisation who has already done this.  If you don’t, then your challenge is certainly harder and you should start light and grow.

Building a bespoke method for your Project Management

Few project management solutions support methodology at all, and most of those that do have a single fixed approach.  Of course that makes it difficult to have customised methods and a family approach with different methods for each type of project.  Luckily for you PROJECT in a box isn’t that restrictive.  Not only do we offer the widest range of standard methods off the shelf (14).  But you can also customise them or create a bespoke method to match your needs.

bespoke method; perfect project templates

This ability has been a long term capability of the commercial editions of the tool.  You can see videos about using Method Manager to create your bespoke method here and on YouTube  We have further enhanced this with the release of .piabx files.  Using this new file type you have much better control over the text type templates than you would using Word.  You can get the background and see .piabx in action here on YouTube.

So you can take control of .piabx files we are also making a .piabx designer tool available.  With this you can customise our existing templates or create your own, giving you total control over the process.  So you can easily convert your existing PM process into a PIAB method.  Or you can start with one of our existing PM method templates and evolve it into your perfect bespoke method.  Again we have provided a video into to that here and on YouTube.

 

Project methodology expertise

These days it seems like everyone knows the importance of project methodology.  But it wasn’t always like that.

I have been helping organisations with their project methodologies for over twenty years now.  And in the early days it was much too common to hear PMs fighting against common process.  Old hand PMs would often refer to project management as a black art.  Viewing everything from their narrow perspective they would say processes hamstrung them and were bureaucratic.  Actually to be fair I still pick up that view today from time to time.  Although now perhaps it is more often an internal monologue as the jury seems to have come down fairly (and rightly) on the side of process.

The benefits of Project Methodology

In maturity frameworks like P3M3, project methodology is a cornerstone capability.  Having, and of course following, a project methodology provides such a good foundation for best practice.  Most importantly it brings consistency to the actions and steps of the team.  The shared understanding of the steps to be followed raises quality and reduces delays and costs.  The use of common terms likewise makes for gains through all aspects of a project.  Thus by having an appropriate method you also improve your risk and issue management, planning and other aspects.

I often think though that many people miss some of the most beneficial aspects of having a good project method.  These are as follows:

  • You can steadily evolve your method to give you the sort of changes which stick.  The sensible organisations start light keeping the culture change impacts as low as possible. Once project teams accept the method you can then evolve it to gradually to include new elements.
  • You can use a well tuned method to actually give flexibility.  Even in the most routine of organisations a single one size fits all approach to project methodology rarely works. You can instead have a family of methods with a consistent set of core content.  You can then adjust each method in the family to the needs of a particular type of project.
  • If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.  Once you can see what project teams should be doing it is much easier to see who is failing and which teams need your help.

Twenty years of Project methodology excellence

I have now been working in this area for twenty years and with every new customer I learn something new.  The landscape is constantly changing and evolving and will continue to do so.

Developing sound systems of project management excellence

Early in my career I was working at AEA Technology not long after privatisation.  I was the site engineer for a badly failed project which at the time felt terrible but which taught me so much.  Over the next two years I was Secretary of an internal Project management task force.  Working across the organisation we did lots to change the culture and improve the approach to projects.  We took a different approach to PRINCE2, which was launched around this same time and developed a scaled method.  Instead we had three types of projects with a shared core set of materials and an assessment checklist.  We also developed a competence framework which showed expectations for the roles on each project type.  Training and mentoring supported project teams in adoption, as did an on-line resource manual.  Our work here was innovative at the time, although has since become quite the norm.

project methodology

The APM awarded me the Sir Monty Finniston award in 1999 for this work.  At that time the award was given for ‘developing the art and science of project management’, it is now a lifetime achievement award.

The PROJECT in a box years

So when in 2005 we launched PROJECT in a box to help people use PRINCE2, it is no surprise we made the system flexible.  This ability to support multiple methods has proven to be very popular with users.  Some customers use our off the shelf pre-scaled nStep project methodology, which of course now boast 20 years of experience in their development.  Other customers use the tools to host their own in-house methods or standards like PRINCE2 and Praxis.  All customers however benefit from our experience, advice and help in this area.

And you can too! Our free Community Edition tool provides a range of different Project methodologies that you can use free forever.  You just need to sign up to try it for yourself.

Better project templates

Most organisations rely on a set of project templates to help the PM get off on the right foot.  These templates provide consistency and also help with compliance against method or quality needs.  Because MS Office is in such common use these project templates are most often in Word, Excel or Powerpoint formats.  We have also used these file formats for the project templates we provide in our methods.  However over time we have begun to introduce more specialist formats e.g. using .spn instead of excel for plans and registers.  Word has always been the workhorse of project templates though, both for us and other providers.

Even though most templates are in word it still has a number of issues when used in a PPM application:

  • you need to use word or another app to edit the file;
  • the read only flag only alerts you not to edit when you try to save your viewed file;
  • with complex word templates such as PIDs can be difficult to find your way to a particular section;
  • you can only inject content blocks up to 140chars;
  • you cannot export content blocks for use elsewhere.

When you want slick and efficient operation in a structured environment these issues can hold you back.

.piabx setting a new standard in project templates

We have developed the new .piabx file format to raise the bar in terms of what can be done with project templates.

Firstly you can set up your .piabx templates to match the information you want to collect for your project.  You can use sections of text or a more intricate layout of items, dates, numbers etc and also even tables.  Your templates can also have style control, headers, footers and logos for IP and QA compliance.  These templates can also receive and display blocks of content sent from the system.  The sent content can be of any size and therefore support meaningful project descriptions etc.  You are also able to identify content that you want to save from your templates into the system to show in reports etc or to inject into other templates.

project templates

Your users can view, print and even edit these project templates from our browser interface.  Your content is therefore much more likely to be kept up to date.  And of course with the system permissions settings and retaining audit trail and versions you continue to have great control.  Your .piabx files are always provided read-only, unless actually checked out.  This prevents a real problem that word files have, when users edit viewed files.  It happens because word only advises the file is read-only when you try to save it.

project templates

So you can share your .piabx files with anyone you want we have also provided a .piabx viewer application.  Using this people with no access to the main application can be sent .piabx files and can view or even edit them.  This enables you to mirror the way you often work with existing word project templates.

project templates

Want to know more about these new project templates?

The launch of our new version 5.1 includes two versions of our nStep project management methods.  One set with traditional word templates and one with .piabx templates so you can compare and see what you think.  Our Beta test customers loved the live edit and navigation aspects of .piabx and we are sure you will feel the same.

You can see this in action on our release video here on YouTube.  If you are an existing LiveEdition, Enterprise Edition or Small Team Edition customer you can upgrade at your convenience.  If you want to know more just get in contact and we would be delighted to show you via web meeting.

Revolutionary browser improvements

Due to the longevity of PROJECT in a box it should be no surprise it was first created as software.  During the early years this fitted very well with customers preferred ways of working.  For many customers that is still the case with on-premises deployment remaining very high.  However at the same time we have also helped you work flexibly and on the go.  Our browser app has always been at the forefront of this.

The web revolution

We have always seen the flexibility that web based working gives people.  Even when others were pushing apps as the solution to mobile working we always felt the browser approach gave more.  The familiarity with which users can work on their PC, Mac, phone and tablet from the same interface is great.  Also of course that that there is no need for installs or app updates to roll changes out to users.  Of course this can work just as well over internal networks as it does over the internet and has changed how and where people access their project info.

The browser changes in versions 5.0 and 5.1

With the release of version 5.0 we included the day to day admin forms within the browser interface.  These included creation of projects and users and project level admin.

The new version 5.1 release in April 2018 has a new browser interface optimised for day to day project working.  This new interface supports the popular and flexible diagram navigation of the Windows App.  We have also included a show/hide approach and a sidebar making it very intuitive.  This diagram navigation is of course still able to be customised by you to match your project needs.  So with this you can direct your project teams to the content and features you want them to use.

browser navigation

When users are navigating their project process and working on content they get this great new dynamic page.  The basic/advanced modes keeps core features easy to access and still enables user to get to the detail if they wish.  Over the years we have found that typically 90+% of project contents are word, excel, pdf, images and urls.  SO for these file types as well as our own .spn and .piabx files we now provide previews directly in the browser.  This means users don’t have to download files or find apps if they just want to read them.  And reading content is the most common type of interaction for day to day users.

browser preview pane

These new and revolutionary browser features enable any user to quickly and easily access project information from anywhere. And when engagement and interaction are so crucial to project success this is a major benefit.

If you want to find out more about the new v5.1 for Live Edition, Enterprise Edition and Small Team Editions watch the video on YouTube now.

Selecting the right PPM tool

If you are taking those first steps into sourcing a PPM tool then you have found this just in time.  As more and more organisations develop their project management skills they find that skills and training are not enough. They see that if they want to get consistency and develop their maturity a PPM tool will be essential.  But then comes the challenge, which of the hundreds of tools should they choose?  Most of them probably haven’t bought one before, or if they have then they likely chose poorly.

Luckily there is hope and it isn’t just a lottery.  In this piece and the YouTube video we are going to run you through some key does and don’ts.

PPM tool; PPM software selection; PRINCE2 software

Rule 1 – this PPM tool seems like it is too good to be true

You should trust your senses.  The market has grown rapidly with many new solutions providing little in the way of capability but promising amazing results.  Some organisations at the very lowest levels of maturity may find these collaboration and task management tools a good fit.  But they wont go beyond tactical results into the realm of PPM benefits.

Rule 2 – your PPM tool needs to match your maturity

Many people have tried and many have failed.  This isn’t some heroic quote from Lord of the Rings. But the idea that you can solve your problems by throwing a sophisticated tool at them is most definitely pure fiction!  If you have low PPM maturity you need a tool to match.  Yes you want one with some growth room, but it must be close to your current situation, not your ultimate aspirations.  Your colleagues in other organisations may well be successfully using very sophisticated tools.  They are likely also getting great results, but that is because they are more mature and the match is a good one.

Rule 3 – consider the needs of all stakeholders in your choice

Yes the management team may be providing the funding for the PPM tool.  But it is the PMs and project teams who will be providing the perspiration.  If your choice doesn’t bring benefits to all the stakeholders (and certainly these two key groups) then it will fail.  We blogged on a related and relevant topic derived from our survey results recently, read it here.

Rule 4 – time isn’t always on your side

You want the benefits of your PPM tool as soon as possible so you had better plan a sensible roll out.  If possible you should always run a pilot and then roll out in tranches.  A big bang launch can work but it requires lots of planning and a heavy investment in training and mentoring to give it any chance.  You should always treat your new PPM tool like a business change and manage it on that timescale.

Rule 5 – you can’t please all of the people all of the time

Well actually you can and plenty of people try to do exactly that.  They assemble a huge shopping list of everyone’s requirements and look for a tool that does them all.  If they are really unlucky they will find one or pay to have one produced for them!  Such ‘everything’ systems are incredibly expensive, complex and nigh on impossible to implement with a black hole demand for training.

If you must have a shopping list use the MoSCoW principle and limit your Musts to essential core features that all stakeholder groups agree on.

See the PPM tool selection video

Hopefully you have found that brief summary of the points helpful.  If so you might like to watch the video discussion on YouTube for some finer detail.

If you want to know more about maturity concepts then our two part series will be very helpful.  Part one on the theory and part two on how you can make improvements.

Broken laptop doesn’t have to mean dead project

I just typed ‘broken’ into Google and it confirmed my suspicion.  Try it and you will see broken laptop comes in second ahead of both broken finger and broken heart!  So as I thought I have been lucky to as yet never suffer from a broken laptop.  Unfortunately I’m not so lucky on the other two counts.

It seems like broken laptops are all too common and I have been close.  I dropped mine once with a broken screen but luckily nothing more serious than that.  We do know many people drop and break them or spill their tea/coffee/water on to them, it happens all the time.  And yes for sure it is very annoying and can cost you time and money to replace.  But once you have had a near miss or a terminal laptop breakage you realise something much more significant.  And that is that you can’t always recover the content!

broken laptop; back up project files; data security

Does your risk register include ‘broken laptop’?

If it doesn’t then perhaps it should because the impact can be huge.  If all of your project documentation, plans, comms etc are on your laptop and you lose your hard disk fail you probably can’t get it back.  Just imagine the effect that would have on the project and the loss of control that would result.  If you are working on smaller projects and you are the Project Office as well then there may be limited opportunity to get copies of files back from colleagues.  And even if you can you can’t be sure about latest versions or establishing good audit/assurance.

Mitigation strategies

We are certainly not suggesting you should avoid having files on your laptop.  Your role as a PM may often involve travel to meetings, site visits etc.  You will need to have documents available for these.  Of course if you use a SaaS PPM solution like Live Edition then all your content is safe on-line.  With web access you can then just pull down and view or edit the files you need with the originals all safe.  You can do the same with YourPMO as an individual, giving you 100% confidence your files are held safe.

Other users should regularly backup their local laptop files.  If you are using something like our free Community Edition it provides an easy approach to backup.  If not you should look at some of the back up software that is available, including for free.

Don’t be that next broken laptop victim.

Hopefully you haven’t yet had a terminally broken laptop.  You can put some of this advice into action and save yourself the pain.  If you were already a victim then hopefully you recovered your projects okay.

Learning lessons gives you a greater chance of success

I have just been reading some excellent pieces in the APMs Spring edition of Project magazine.  This edition had a focus on learning lessons from both failures and successes.  I also found the research into the way government depts handle the LL process both illuminating and scary.  So I thought a summary would be useful and links to some of our own lessons learned related content.

Learning lessons is about positives and negatives

Literally taking the positives first Mike Clayton’s piece helps with those aiming high.  Mike’s view was that if you work on failings you can reduce failures and deliver satisfactory projects.  However you can deliver excellent projects by finding successes and reproducing them.  Team members will also respond better to examination of successes rather than failures.  We agree, learning lessons should always be about both aspects.  Of course if it works well then over time the failings should reduce and the successes increase.

I think a strong Lessons Learned process is a good indicator of a mature organisation.  So if you see the ratio of positive to negative lessons increasing you should be on the right track.

Learning lessons about transition from policy to delivery

Tony Meggs looked back over many years turning govt policy into delivery to identify process improvements which could help raise success levels.  Key things Tony pointed to include better planning prior to announcing constrained objectives and including delivery people in policy teams.  Of course politics and tendering rules cause all sorts of problems in these areas.  We shouldn’t be surprised therefore that targets set by policy are missed by delivery.  But pieces like this looking at how the process could be improved are about sharing experiences and exchanging ideas which may lead to changes in the future.

Learning lessons in government departments

Martin Paver has been looking into the lessons learned process in government for over 12 months.  Following on from prior research ten years earlier which found  broad lack of success Martin looked again.  He used FOI requests to find how Govt Depts managed their LL process and how valuable they found it.  The squeamish should look away now…

What I found most surprising was the variation in even whether to do Lessons Learned.  He found some departments mandating it but others leaving it optional, ‘deploying as they see fit’.  With such a failure of direction it isn’t surprising that further practical problems follow.  Even when Project Manager’s were recording their lessons systems were not in place to share them.  Three out of Four departments could not provide lessons info under the FOI request.  They justified this by saying it would cost too much to assemble.  But of course the point is that is should already be easily accessible and searchable otherwise how can following projects use it?

Martin had teased out many more useful points from the research and I would advise you to read it.  We can only hope it gets acted on and that government projects start learning lessons with more rigor.

Beyond the power of personal experience

Several PMs, sponsors and others from the PPM environment also talked about their own experiences they have learned from.  I have also had many experiences in past projects both bad and good that I have learned from.  We all tend to remember our own, often painful, lessons very well and are good at applying that learning again.  However as organisations and indeed as a profession we improve by being able to share these lessons with others.  This is the difficult part of a good lessons learned process leveraging improvements from the individual to a wider audience.

I blogged in November about how you can use a Risk Register prepopulated with lessons to help address this.  In fact we went further and provided a free template for this passing on some common lessons to get you started and to which you can add.  Users find this works well for all those common lessons/risks but it may not be such a help with the specialist areas.

learning from lessons; learning lessons

We also provide a Lessons Log method template which you can use on our multi-user tools to provide a central store for all your lessons logs.  Users can then access this and search for content related to their project area.  As discussed above many organisations don’t have a single location for all this valuable information, this gives you that.  You can find out more about learning lessons with the Lessons Learned Library method here.

Project Magazine, is a quarterly publication for APM members.