Browsing Posts in Project Online

CommunicationsEffective Project Communications

Click here to RSVP for the webinar on this topic on Thursday August 20th from 2-2:30pm (eastern)

Communication is critical when working on a project, but how do we best gauge how much is enough? Too much? In person or in writing? By groups or individuals?  Routinely scheduled or ad hoc? The answer depends on the size and nature of the project, the preference of the team, and organizational requirements. And all of this is determined as you create your communication plan.

Your project communication plan can be as simple or complex as you need. It’s purpose is to document how various information within a project will be communicated. Some common methods of communication you’ll see in communication plans are:

Project Reports: Probably the most important communication, reports are usually listed specifically by name. You’ll also want to document the recipients, the sender, and the schedule of delivery. Oftentimes we’ll set variances for reports as well. For example, a standard budget report might suffice, unless the budget exceed 10% of the plan, then perhaps we would want to also include a detailed budget report, and escalate the recipients.

Meeting Notes: You’ll want to determine how to best distribute meeting notes. Options might include saving a document to a shared folder, sending and email, or making an entry in a SharePoint site.

Contact Information: If you are working with a diverse team, especially those outside your organization, it’s great to get everyone’s contact information in one place.

Meeting plan: I like to document a plan for scheduled meetings in my communication plan. I’ll list who should attend, the nature of the meeting, and the options for participation. For example:

Meeting Cadence Attendees Options for attending
Working level meetings Weekly or as needed TBD In person or phone
Status meetings Bi-weekly Resources with active and upcoming tasks In person or Skype call
Project review Monthly Entire project team In person

 

Go to resources: I also like to list resources that are specifically responsible for certain things that might impact my project. For example, who should we talk to if we need elevated access rights? What about after hours supports, is there anyone available for that?

I typically like to have some conversations during the beginning of the project to determine what would work best, and then go over that plan before the project starts (or during if need be). Your communication plan doesn’t have to be formal. It’s purpose is to help document who needs to know what and when. Sometimes it’s as simple as emailing meeting notes and providing a weekly report. And sometimes it’ll be more involved. The most important thing to remember about communication plans is to customize them to meet the needs of the project. You don’t want to over communicate – your team will start to ignore your emails if they receive 50 a day. But not communicating enough can impact the project. So have some conversations about communications needs and preferences and you’ll set yourself up for an effective, well informed project team.

Join us on August 20th for the Project Management webinar on Project Communications. We’ll look at some of the reports available in MS Project and Project Web App and discuss getting the right information to each person on the project team.

Microsoft Project is really great for managing one project schedule, but what happens when you have more than one project to manage? Sure, you can view the project indivually, but did you know Microsoft Project Online has views to show consolidate project information? Sorted, grouped, sliced and diced however you’d like!

Click here to RSVP for the webinar

Project Online is a cloud based solution, similar to Microsoft Project Server (the on premise solution). It’s designed to help you manage multiple projects, resources, budgets, etc and get an overview view of all your projects.

You can still start off by creating a project in MS Project or Project Online. Project Online has the capability to create new project schedules, so if you don’t have the full version of MS Project, it’s no problem. Think of it as a scaled down, web based version of MS Project. It has the basics to get you by, but if you’re doing a lot of schedule development, you’ll want MS Project Professional.

Once you have your Project schedules created, you can view their status on your main Project Online page, called Project Center (shown below).

 

 

 

You can also process task status updates from your resources in one place. So if you are managing several projects, you have one central screen to accept and reject all status updates.

 

 

 

 

Remember our PM topic last month, Risk Management? Using Project Online, you can manage risks (and issues) in multiple projects.

 

 

 

 

One of the key metrics we want to track when managing multiple projects, are resources, right? Resource availability and utilization to be exact, across all projects. Using Project Online, you can clearly view and report on project resources quickly and easily. One the mage below, I’ve collapsed Bob’s project so it shows a summary, and I’ve expanded my tasks so it shows all the detail.

 

 

 

 

 

The Resource Availability graph is also great – It has four options for viewing Resource information:

  1. Assignment Work by Resource
  2. Assignment Work by Project
  3. Remaining Availability
  4. Work

Below I’ve selected the third option, Remaining Availability:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s very clear which one of us has availability in this demonstration :-)

If you’re interested in diving deeper into managing multiple projects, please join on July 16th for this month’s Project Management Webinar. Plus, you’ll have an opportunity to win a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013!

Click here to RSVP for the webinar

 

MicrosoftDeals on various Microsoft products expire on June 30th!

Microsoft’s fiscal year ends on June 30th.  Because of this, Microsoft always has promotions and deals for their licensing that expires on June 30th.  This year is no exception.

Offers on:

  • Office 365
  • Project Online
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Licensing
  • Migration Costs
  • Open Value Subscription
  • Software Assurance

These offers differ from product line to product line, but they usually end up somewhere between 10-30% off what you would pay throughout the rest of the year.  And many of these offers are limited to only if you purchase the product through a Microsoft Partner (that would be someone like us).

Also, Microsoft has quietly announced that some products will actually see a price increase after June 30th.

So…act now, save money.  Wait until after, price increase.

Interested?

Click us at Sales@Simplex-IT.com, or call us at 234.380.1277.  And you know we don’t do the whole high-pressure approach.  We’ll help you determine the product and licensing plan that’s best for you and your organization (even if it’s not with us).

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Managing project risks using Project Online

Did you know that Project Online is more than just project schedules and status reports? Yep, you can manage your project risks there too, and it’s pretty easy. Don’t miss our monthly PM webinar where we’ll talk more about this, details below.

When talking about project risks, oftentimes people will tell me that their project doesn’t have any risks. Or they don’t want to waste time tracking risks, because the project is a “must do” so it doesn’t matter anyway.  I disagree; there are a lot of advantages to tracking project risks, especially in Project Online.

“My project doesn’t have any risks.” Well, that sure would be nice, but every project has some risks associated with it. Let’s take a simple example – moving your offices. Your company has relocated and you are managing the project for the move. What are some risks we should consider?

  • Movers could be delayed/arrive late
  • Damage to equipment
  • Lost files
  • No utilities at new location
  • Injured employees
  • Something might get left behind

 

You might be thinking, “Well, that’s all fine, but we have to move anyway so why bother with risks?” Project Managers know the value of a good plan. “Fail to plan, plan to fail!” By identifying the potential risks in projects, we can now take steps to better manage them. We can add them to our Project Online Risk Repository to increase visibility and keep everyone updated on the status. There’s a lot of information we track when adding and managing risks:

Owner/Assignee The person/people responsible for tracking the risk overall
Status Active, Postponed, Closed
Due Date Sometimes there may be a specific date associated with the risk, sometimes not.
Probability The likelihood that the risk will occur (1%-100%)
Impact The magnitude of the impact should the risk actually happen.
Cost The cost that will be incurred when the risk occurs
Category Custom categories for your organization
Description The likely causes and consequences of the risk
Mitigation Plan Actions to reduce the probability or the impact of the risk
Contingency Plan The plan of action if the risk does occur
Triggers Indicators that the risk has occurred or will occur shortly

Once the risks are identified and all the information is entered in Project Online, you and your team will have one central place for tracking and communicating risks. In the example of moving day, if the movers are delayed, your team knows exactly what to do to keeping moving. Plus, you’ve taken many steps to mitigate any delays, by providing clear instructions and directions, several contact numbers, and completed a walk through before the actual moving day.

And, when you start tracking risks for multiple projects, you can then begin to do some analysis across all projects. Does the same risk occur over and over? Which mitigation plans have been successful? Which contingency plans have failed? You’ll even be able to balance the risks and determine when the best time might be to start a high risk project vs. a low risk project.

Join us on for the free monthly Project Management Webinar (we’ll be giving away a copy of Office Professional 2013 courtesy of Microsoft)!

  • Topic: Managing project risks with Project Online
  • When: June 18th at 2-2:30 (eastern)
  • Where:  Online
  • Click here to Register

We’ll talk more about Risk Management and demonstrate how to enter and track risks in Project Online.  Here’s a sneak peek:

Image of a risk in Project Online

 

 

 

Project Management for the small to mid-sized businesses

Project Management used to be something you found only in large organizations – they had the budget and resources to implement such a thing. But not anymore… With Microsoft Project Online, it’s affordable for everyone, and user friendly too.

During the lunchinar, we’ll discuss the basics of project management, and demonstrate some of the capabilities of Microsoft Project and Project Online. We’ll show how managers and executives, project managers, and the folks working on the individual tasks can use these tools. You’ll see how you can easily create and track your project work, and how to create reports to show future projections. We’ll also touch on Project Sites, the SharePoint component that provides and extra workspace for things like Risks, Issues, Documents, Calendar, General Discussions, and much more.

So join us if your find yourself wanting quick, easy, answers to questions like:

  • What’s going on right now?
  • What project are running late or over budget?
  • When will I have the time and resources to start another project?
  • Why, when, and how did this project get so off track??

Bob Coppedge and Patti Smerk (who heads up our new simplex-PM practice) and will be demonstrating these tools and techniques to show they can be used to help you gain better insight and manage your projects more effectively.

When:  Wednesday May 20th, from 11:30am-1pm (Eastern)

Where:  Stow Hampton Inn and Online

Cost:  Free!

RSVP:  Click here!

Did you know that you can do a lot more than just create project schedules with Project Online? Yep. Project schedules are a very important part of good project management, but there’s also a lot more, such as Risk Management, Issue Tracking, Documentation, and Deliverables, just to name a few. And Project Online helps you manage all of that in on easy to use place – Project Sites.

Risk Management – Project Sites have a Risks repository, where you can track and manage Risks in one location. You can include mitigation plans, contingency plans, and trigger if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Everyone on the project can view these Risks, and they can even be assigned to team members for better management.

Issues – Issues and Risks are very similar in Project Online. Technically, an Issue is something that has happened already, where a Risk is just a chance that something might happen. Issue lists are a great way of keeping track of things that affect your project throughout execution. Issues can also be assigned to team members and tracked and managed in Project Sites.

Deliverables – Mostly likely there are tasks within your project that result in certain document deliverables. They can be stored in Project Sites and even linked from the Project Schedule. For example, if part of the project is to create a Press Release, you could link the press release document you created to that task. Everyone can easily find it, and you’re ensured there’s only one current version of the document out there.

Announcements – reduce your emails and ensure everyone on the team sees the same message by using Announcements. These are a great way to increase project communication, and can be displayed for the duration of the project, or set to expire on a specific date. Now, reminding your team members to update their tasks before a status meeting only takes a minute!

Calendar – Share your project calendar with the team – it’s a great way to keep track of holidays, site closures, vacations, and other important events. This is separate from your project schedule, so it’s great for things that are good to know, but don’t have a direct impact on your project.

Customized Lists – This is where Project Sites are really great. You can create a custom list, or document library, of anything you’d like. I think it’s great for managing things like contractor invoices, project management documentation such as the Charter and Scope Statement, and even simple things like a phone list. Just think of how many Excel spreadsheets you could replace with a custom list. I prefer the custom lists because I know everyone sees the same thing, and there aren’t different versions of a spreadsheet being emailed all over.

Alerts and Notifications - Most items have the option of setting alerts on the item or list. Each person on the team can set up the alerts however they’d like. I like to be notified whenever there is any change to an item in my list, but maybe a team member only wants to receive a notification when a new item is added. That’s no problem since the alerts are managed by each individual.

Accessible anywhere, from any device – Project Sites are part of Project Online and Office 365, so they are accessible from any device. Just think of how organized you’ll be and how much time you will save. No more searching through emails to find the document you were supposed to review, you can pull it up right on your smartphone or tablet and review it there.

Project Sites are a great compliment to your Project Schedule. It’s one place where you can access all of your project information. You’ll be more organized and efficient, and your project team will be too!

If you’re interested in what Project Sites can do for you – Please join us on April 16th for Simplex-PM’s monthly webinar (2-2:30pm eastern).  April’s topic will be Project Sites, and we’ll demonstrate some of the topics in this article.

Click here to RSVP for this free webinar and possibly win a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013 courtesy of Microsoft.

Simplex-PM is part of Simplex-IT, which is an award winning IT services organization located in Hudson, Ohio (between Cleveland and Akron).  Simplex-PM is aimed at Project Managers in the Small to Medium Business world, offering mentoring, training and support for organizations and people struggling to implement Project Management into their organization.  Simplex-PM is well-versed with Microsoft’s Project Suite, including Microsoft Project Online, Project Standard, Project Professional and Project through Office 365 and Project Server.

At Simplex-IT, we specialize in sharing our knowledge with several free webinar and Lunchinar events each month on topics such as Microsoft Office, Project Management and Data Practices.  Contact us at Info@Simplex-IT.com, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/simplex-it) or FaceBook: (http://www.facebook.com/simplex.it)

 

Free Webinar:  ”Project Scheduling Best Practices”

When creating project schedules Microsoft Project/Project Online, there are a few things that work well, and some things we’ve learned to avoid. Here are a few of my favorites:

Tasks should be a reasonable duration based on the size of the project overall – Typically between 8-40 hours works for most. Anything smaller is too granular and larger is too big to manage. If you find yourself with a 5 month task, try to think about how to break it up. Use the large task as a Summary Task, with the more detailed tasks underneath it.

Assign tasks to named resources when possible – Assigning a task to “Paul Brown” provides a lot more visibility and accountability than assigning it to “Accountant” or “Sales Team.” Especially when using Project Online and/or Project Server and task status reporting is used.

True task dependencies – A lot of times we create a project schedule by entering the tasks in sequential order, and then linking them all together in finish to start relationships without much thought given. Rather than just arbitrarily linking tasks for cosmetic purposes, really think about which tasks are dependent on other tasks. Are they dependent on other tasks to start or finish before they can start or finish? If you don’t know, these are great questions to ask your resources or subject matter experts as you are creating the schedule.

Good realistic estimates – Inaccurate estimates can be the quickest way to project delays. Plan on about 6-6.5 hours of work on a task per day. Chances are, your resources are attending meetings, answering phone calls, sending emails, any number of things. You need to plan for that. Also, if you don’t know how long something will take to complete, ask the resources doing the work. Explain work and duration to them and be sure you understand how they are answering you. There are some great estimating techniques out there, but a simple best case/worse case provides you with a starting point.

Use constraints sparingly – When there’s a change in the project schedule, Microsoft Project (and most other tools) will automatically update the schedule for you. For example, if a task is scheduled to finish on April 25, but (in a shocking turn of events) it finished early on April 1, theoretically any task dependent on the completion of that task could start earlier as well. By using constraints to force a task to be scheduled on a certain date(s) reduces the fluidity of the schedule. Project wants to schedule your tasks to start as soon as possible (that’s the default) and entering constraints to force the contrary often leads in reduced functionality and frustration.

Don’t enter Start and/or Finish Dates – Create task dependencies as mentioned previously and let the software determine the start dates based on the durations and links of the earlier tasks. When a Start or Finish date is entered manually, MS Project creates a constraint (see constraint concerns above).

Don’t repeat nested task names – Maybe this is more of a pet peeve than a best practice, but repeated task names drives me bonkers. Let’s say you have a project of writing a book. If you have a Summary task named “Chapter 4” There’s no need to name the subtasks “Write Chapter 4 Text, Create Chapter 4 Graphics, Chapter 4 Proofreading” etc. If you must repeat, consider an abbreviated form, or put the repeated words at the end of the task. “Create Graphics – Chapter 4” or “Write text for Chapter 4.” These task names are displayed in various reports and views, and often times get cutoff if they are too long.

Good use of Milestone tasks makes for great reporting and status tracking. Milestones typically indicate when a large portion of the project is complete, and they are great reminders that it’s time to do a pulse check. Using the previous example, you may consider creating Milestones such as “Chapters 1-3 complete” or “Proofreading complete.” They are great way to show completion of a phase or group of tasks.

Keep it updates – an outdated project schedule is pretty useless. Pick a regular updating schedule and try to stick with it. It will depend on your project, but weekly seems to be a good starting point. If that seems too often then try every other week. Just make it priority to keep updated so you can do some forecasting as identify issues before they become problems.

Let your schedule determine your completion dates – too many time we come up with deadlines (or deadlines are demanded of us) without a full understanding of the work involved. Until the work is fully analyzed, it’s difficult to determine how long it will take. Throwing an arbitrary date out too early in the planning often leads to trouble meeting that deadline down the road. Take time to figure out what needs to be done and break it up in to manageable pieces. “Chunk it out” is a fun phrase that’s often used J Smaller pieces of the project will be easier to estimate (and more accurate) as well as easier to track and manage as the project progresses.

Use these best practices as a starting point, and add to it as you run across what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Be sure to join us on March 19th for the monthly Project Management webinar, where we will take a deeper dive into these best practices with additional discussions and demonstrations.

When:  Thursday, March 19th, 2-2:30pm (Eastern)

Where:  Online

Click here to RSVP:  (it’s Free!)

In Project Management, resources are typically your people, equipment, and materials. Most commonly, and for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on people. But we see many of the same principles used for equipment as well.

This is also the topic of our next free webinar.  It’ll be on Thursday, February 19th, from 2:00 to 2:30 PM (EST).  Click here to learn more and RSVP.

Many companies face the challenge of trying to determine who’s doing what, who’s got too much on their plate, who’s got some extra time to take on more work, etc. Having resources allocated to multiple projects does make it more difficult to manually track their utilization, but MS Project and Project Web App make it very easy!

Once your project schedules have been created, and resources have been assigned to tasks, you can start managing resource allocation and availability in MS Project and Project Web App. Microsoft Project offers standard reports showing resources information such as the Resource Status report below. This report shows when resources are scheduled to start and finish their tasks, and how much remaining work they have yet to do at any given point in time.

There are several different types of resources available to meet your needs:

  1. Individual Resources: an individual person, such as Bob Coppedge, or Patti Smerk
    1. These can be local to one project, or part of an Enterprise Pool, where resource management is more centralized. Project Managers can just access the pool and select who will be on their team, rather than re-entering resources over and over for difference projects.
    2. Generic Resources: Resources by job role or skillset, such as Accountant, Programmer, Electrician etc. These are used for planning purposes when an individual resource cannot be identified.
    3. Team Resources: Tasks can be assigned to a team such as Quality Assurance or Cleveland Testers, and then resources from that team can take the initiative to go claim a task and assign it to themselves.

For the most part, resource management is far more robust when using Enterprise Resources. Not only does it give the Project Manager visibility in to who’s doing what, but it also holds resources more accountable when tasks are assigned to a specific person.

In Project Web Access, there are many views and reports that help the team member (aka resource) as well as the Project Manager.  There’s a great Tasks view that shows a resource all the tasks they have been assigned from all projects. So from a resource or team member perspective, it’s easy to manage tasks across multiple projects, it’s almost like a personal dashboard or to do list for them.

Project Web App also has views to assist Project Managers in Resource Planning. The Resource Assignments view shows each resource’s project assignments, making it easier to identify over or under tasked resources:

The Assignment Resource by Project report is another nice report in PWA showing how much work is assigned by each project. This one is great for analyzing project work across an entire portfolio.


The next Project Management Webinar will be on February 19th at 2:00. We’ll talk specifically about Resources and all the great information you can easily get from having a good Resource Plan in place.

Project Reporting

Patti here.  The reporting capabilities within MS Project Online, Project Web App, and MS Project are extremely valuable for analyzing project information. There are a number of existing reports that can be accessed within any schedule, as well as the capability to create customized reports. We’ll go in to more detail at the free Webinar on January 15th, but we wanted to provide a brief overview to introduce you to the basics.

With the right project information, project reports can answer questions such as, “Is everyone fully utilized? Is there room to shift work around? Where can I find extra time in my project to make up for delays, will my project complete on time? Within budget? Are there trends throughout all the projects in my organization? What about John Doe, I know he is already working on a few projects, does he have time to take on another one?”

Depending on a number of factors such as the nature of your projects, your organizational structure, and the audience you are creating reports for, there are several levels of reporting information you’ll want to consider and become familiar with. Typically these are referred to as Project, Program, or Portfolio level reports. According to the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org) a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. A program is a group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually. A portfolio then is the projects, programs, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objects. This structure is a key concept in project management, as well as project reporting. Think of it like a hierarchy, there are the projects, the groups of projects (programs) and then all the projects regardless of similarity (Portfolio).

Burndown Report

Regardless of whether you want to report at the project, program, or portfolio level, you have many different types of reports to choose from. There are budget reports, resource utilization reports, schedule reports, and many more. MS Project does a great job of providing project information on one project, however if you require program or portfolio level reporting Project Online has some more robust capabilities. Check out this Burndown report (first example) from MS Project showing the number of tasks completed vs. the number remaining. It also show the hours worked vs. hours remaining on a project.

Assignment Work by Resource Report

With Project Web App, you can view the overall health of all the projects within your organization in one central location, and analyze the distribution of tasks across the project team. The second sample report shows the amount of hours each team member is assigned throughout the life of the project.

Portfolio Cost Report

Portfolio reporting is also a breeze in Project Online, the third sample is an example of a portfolio cost report.

 

If project reporting interests you and you would like more information, please join us for this month’s free webinar on Thursday January 15, 2015. We’ll demonstrate some common reports, and discuss best practices for getting the most out of your project schedules.

 

Project Management can be a bit intimidating… Scope Statements, Work Breakdown Structures, Risk Management, Resource Management. What’s it all for? And do you need it all? Well, it depends.

The beauty of Project Management is that it can be scaled to fit the needs of the organization and project. Not every component may be necessary, and that’s ok. A good Project Manager can access a project and the organizational requirements to determine the necessary pieces.

If you are just getting started with Project Management, or want to formalize your practices, there are a few things you’ll want to consider at a minimum. For example, most projects should have a defined Scope Statement. A Scope Statement basically contains the important elements of a projects. It could be thought of as a starting point or agreement between the person requesting the project, the people impacted by the project, and the project team completing the work. It’s a great place to get everything in writing in one place. Typically a Scope Statement would include an overview of the project, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, and acceptance criteria. If you’re thinking that’s too much and want to start off as simply as possible, another important element is the Project Schedule. A Project Schedule should be used in almost every project. It include the tasks required to complete the project, time estimates, tasks dependencies and sequencing, and resource assignments. This important document is more detailed than the Scope Statement, but absolutely necessary for tracking and managing the project progress. And this is where Microsoft Project and Project Online can really help.

Starting in January, we’ll discuss each of the documents that are typically found in Project Management practices. Some, you may find interesting and want to implement right away, while others may not be a good fit for your project and organization. And that’s ok. The key is to use what will bring value to the project and organization, and that varies for everyone.