Knowledge Base

At Castellan Systems we have collected a lot of information about Project Management. This includes tips, hints, techniques and tools. In this page we present it for other Project Management professionals to browse and use if appropriate.

As Project Managers ourselves, we know that you never stop learning and someone out there may actually have a better way of doing things than our way. The trick is to be open to these ideas. Having also come from an IT development background, we also have the tendancy to develop our own tools and templates every time we need to do something new; we guess we're still a frustrated code-cutters at heart. But we're not always the first to think of these things, so we have taught ourselves to embrace the knowledge out there.

We'll keep on adding articles to this Knowledge Base as time progresses. If you've found this information useful, we recommend that you bookmark this page and return to it regularly to see for any updates.

General Topics

There really is no middle ground, when it comes to project success. Some projects succeed and, well, some fail.

So how can you guarantee your projects will achieve their objectives?

Every successful project has these 5 things:

1. A Dedicated Project Manager

This person doesn't have to be a formal, certified project manager, mind you. That would depend on the nature of your project. But any project without a designated point person managing the project actively is doomed to fail.

2. A Clear Project Plan

This seems obvious, but it's unbelievable how many people start projects without a clear plan of action. For large projects, this might involve formal documentation like a project charter, statement of work, or product spec. For smaller projects, they still need a plan. What are the goals and objectives and how will they be achieved? What is the timeline and the budget? And who will execute these tasks? All of that needs to be defined before you even start.

3. A Clear Project Scope

What is or is not in the scope of this project? For many teams, they presume this is understood. "Well, we discussed we're doing this, not that!" But unless it is clearly defined, the inevitable scope creep happens. The CEO requests a change. An investor suggests a new feature and suddenly the team is scrambling to adjust to new requirements. When you clearly define the boundaries of what your project will achieve, you can better manage scope creep.

4. A Process to Manage Change

Some people hate process. But do you hate your project more? In other words, if the success of your project depends on implementing a simple process, would you adopt it? Of course! Well, change is inevitable on projects. The aforementioned scope creep, for example, is a classic case of change impacting a project plan. Sometimes changes are beyond anyone's control: the stock market or the weather brings unexpected delays and causes a change to the initial plan. The bottom line is this: If you have no process for handling change, then change will threaten your project. It's simple. Define who gets to have input on changes (sometimes called a change control board). Then define how you will manage and prioritize requests for changes, i.e. will you review them as they roll in or in a weekly meeting? or will you prioritize them according to urgency or impact? Be sure to have those two simple processes in place, and you'll be sure to control your project and not have it control you.

5. Get a Project Management Tool

All of the above secrets are essential, and yet without the right tools, they are nearly impossible to achieve. The project plan should be in a proper online planning tool, versus an Excel spreadsheet on someone's desktop or in the boss' head. Everyone in the team needs to be able to update their tasks and see the project plan at all times. They also need to be able to communicate about the project right at the task level, and attach images and files, so that changes and updates are visible by all. They need to see whether the project is on track or behind schedule, so they can help the project manager define areas of risk. All of this can be done with the right tools, and the right tools can make or break your project.

The field of project management is changing. Fast.

New technologies and new ways of working are demanding new skills for the traditional role of PM. In fact, PMI has updated its requirements for project management certification as part of their new Talent Triangle, promoting new skills in business management and soft skills leadership, to name a few.

Whether you're a certified PM or just someone running projects, here are the top 10 essential skills you need to succeed:

1. Change Management

Should this really be first on the list? Absolutely!

Change is a constant, and having no process will result in chaos quickly. But we're not talking about clogging the pipeline with a process that can slow a project down. Set simple rules that define how changes are considered and acted upon, and you'll better manage your project's schedule and scope.

2. Planning

A classic skill for all project managers, right? Well... depends on whether you are talking about planning for planning's sake, or planning for the best, most efficient project. Use the latter as your goal. Start with templates. Don't reinvent the wheel, and don't get stuck in the planning vortex.

3. Reporting

Take reporting to the next level by using automated reports in your PM tool. Set a reporting schedule with your stakeholders so you aren't bombarded with last-minute requests. And insist your team keep their task updates and timesheets regularly updated.

4. Tracking

You don't need to micromanage your team to track effectively. Insist your team update their tasks and timesheets into the PM tool as a routine, daily task, so you always know the real-time status of the project. Then, you'll be better armed with the information to address any delays before they derail the project.

5. Strategy

Isn't this the job of the sponsor? Perhaps in the days of yore. Today's project manager needs to think like a CEO and regularly make sure their project is aligning with the core strategy of the organization. It's a requirement in today's business culture, not a nice to have.

6. Communicating

Are you good at communicating? How do you know? You measure your project, so why not measure your own effectiveness? Reflect on your performance. Study good communicators and learn from the best. At a minimum, find 3 ways you can improve your communication - and tackle those today.

7. Collaborating

In today's workplace, failing to collaborate is failing to communicate. Bring your team in to help plan and collectively manage the project. They should be bought in to the project at every level; you certainly can't do it all alone.

8. Workload Management

With diverse, global and remote teams, it's more important than ever to carefully manage resource availability and performance capabilities. Make sure the right people are doing the right job at times that work for them, wherever in the world they are.

9. Stakeholder Engagement

Notice we didn't say stakeholder "management." Gone are the days of top-down control. Engagement is the new normal with any key stakeholder group, be they end users, c-suite, or the public at large. Invite stakeholders in early and often to your project to get buy-in, minimize impacts and to deliver the best possible project or product.

And MOST importantly...

10. Project Management Software

You can't afford to not be up-to-date on the best tools and technologies used in project management... and you can't just stick with the status quo. Why? Because your competitors and your peers are going to surpass you. You must become an expert in all the features of your PM tools, know which tools are the best for your team and effectively manage rolling out new tools and integrations on your project.

In short, you must be the expert in the tools you use, and you must extend the tools to your team if you want to succeed. If your current tool isn't being used by your team, it's time to get a new one that does.

If you have to manage multiple projects at the same time, then it's known as "Portfolio Management" and it can be a tough challenge.

There's resources, costs, timelines and more and they all need managing with care, so read on to learn these...

Here are 5 ways to make portfolio management that little bit easier.

1: Use dashboards

Portfolios are made up of lots of different projects and programs, and a portfolio manager needs to see a view of what's happening on them all. Instead of going into each individual project to get the latest status, use dashboards to consolidate reports and key metrics from each project. Then you can see progress and areas of concern on one page. Of course, you can drill down into the detail easily if you need more data about a particular problem.

2: Give your teams online access

Portfolio managers are often responsible for a number of project teams. Make it easy for your project managers and team members to do their work by ensuring they have instant access to the right files online. It will help everyone get their tasks completed effectively and you'll be sure that you're getting real-time reporting at portfolio level. It's easy to set up online access for staff and contractors, and if everyone is using the same software you can roll up data to see a portfolio-wide picture of what's happening at every stage.

3: Use resource reports

Creating bespoke resource reports will help you balance the needs of the people working on the portfolio. This is the best way to check that you aren't overloading one project team member, or leaving someone else with nothing much to do. You can also see who is available to switch from one project to another great advantage when project priorities in the portfolio change.

4: Get collaborating

It might seem like many of the projects in your portfolio don't overlap, but when you look closer there are lots of ways in which they interact with each other. As a result, it's really important for each project team to be able to effectively communicate with the others. You can facilitate this by making sure that they all have access to good collaboration tools.

Use project management software to help your teams work together to manage project dependencies and conflicts. You may have to step in to help them resolve problems, but it's also great for them to have the tools required to sort out some of the smaller issues themselves. Instant messaging, file sharing and online discussions are examples of how you can get diverse project teams working together.

5: Check your tools integrate

As a portfolio manager you will deal with lots of people: stakeholders who have different priorities and also different communication styles. And they could want information in different formats. Make sure that the tools you use integrate with each other. For example, check that you can import task lists created in Microsoft Word, or import spreadsheets from Microsoft Excel to feed data into your consolidated dashboards. This will save you a lot of time and ensure that your admin overhead is kept to a minimum.

If you'd like to learn the 5 things you must do to become a top notch Project Manager then read on...

It's a tough job, managing projects. But if you can do these five things really well, then you're likely to achieve project success...

Tip 1: Set the Roadmap

Every Project Manager has to set a clear roadmap for the team. This includes a crystal clear project plan, goals, timeframes and deliverables for the team.

Start by getting your boss to agree on the Project Goals and Timeframes. Then run workshops with your team to plan the road ahead. This gets their buy-in to the timeframes and deliverables at a detailed level. Then present your project plan to your boss or the customer to get it approved. By creating a clear roadmap ahead early on in the project, you'll make sure that you kick-off the project on the right foot.

Tip 2: Time-box Everything!

You project plan will describe the general timeframes for the project, but you need to make sure that within this plan, every individual task has a clearly defined start and end date. Then make sure that resources are assigned to tasks and they know what must be complete and when.

Absolutely everything in the project must be time-boxed, and not just tasks. If you run meetings, then set dates for when you expect the minutes to be written up by. If you run workshops, make sure that the actions that were generated have due dates. Anything that isn't time-boxed becomes an "operational task" and you have no way of knowing if it's on time or not.

Tip 3: Blow the whistle regularly

As a Project Manager, you need to actually check that everything you delegate is completed on time - otherwise you need to blow the whistle at them! You can't simply trust that people will get work done on time and move on to other things. You need to list everything you've asked to be done, who's going to do it and by when - and then check that it's competed. That way, you can ensure you proceed according to plan.

Also, don't be afraid to be the "busybody" who is "always poking their nose into work that others are doing". In fact, that's actually your job! Find out who is working on what, where they are at and how long it's going to take to finish and compare that to what you expected in the first place. Do this every day, for every member of your team. Remember - you need to control the work, not just monitor it.

Tip 4: Be Strong, but Supportive

As the Project Manager, it's your butt that's in the firing range! So don't be afraid to be strong with your team. It's a tough balance to strike (being strong vs. supportive), but all great leaders have found the balance and achieved the right results.

If you need to have a terse word with staff, then do it personally rather than in front of the team. Speak openly and honestly, never "fluff it up". Tell them straight, but always be professional and constructive. They will respect you for it. One great tip is always to start with a positive and end with a positive, to ensure you get their buy-in.

Tip 5: Review

Your job is to lead, coach, manage and review. So keep a close eye on progress and where things are at. Use tools to see if you're on track daily and take action if you're not. Review everything - time, deliverables, quality, budget, suppliers etc . You're the watchdog, who makes sure that it's all done according to plan. But remember—the watchdog is always the first in the office, the last to leave and buys the morning tea to keep the team motivated!

So that's it. If you can set the roadmap for your team, time-box everything, monitor and review progress, while finding the balance between being strong and supportive, then you'll achieve success and be a great leader in the process.

But you need to work smart. So use tools which do the monitoring for you. That's where Castellan Systems comes in. Our tools help you keep an eye on your projects and tells you if you're on track.

Do you find yourself staying late at the office just to get all your project work done? Many people want a better work/life balance and you can have one too. You simply need to know...

Great time management is the key to leaving work on time!

Tip 1: Get organized

It sounds simple, but many project managers still manage their work in an unstructured way. Use task lists to keep on top of what needs to be done when and timesheets to track how you are spending your time. Make sure that your project team members are organized too by using resource management tools to assign work to the right person. You can use your calendar or project management software to set up alerts and reminders so that you don't have to hold all that important information in your head! Find a few ways that work to keep you organized and your project on track, then use them consistently.

Tip 2: Use collaboration software

One of the things that slows project managers down is not being able to get updates and status reports from team members. Use collaboration software to get in touch with your team, host impromptu meetings and quickly check facts.

Collaboration tools like Spark make it easy to do just that. You can chat with colleagues online, start discussions and check progress, which will help you get your own work done faster.

Tip 3: Work online

Make use of those pockets of time in the day when you normally would not be able to get anything done. Commuting time or time spent in a queue can be turned into productive time if you have online access to your project management tools.

Online access also makes it simple to work from home if you have to. You can get home earlier and then check in later that evening when it is convenient for you, as you'll be able to access everything you need.

Tip 4: Say no!

You don't have to take on such a lot of work! Practice saying no when colleagues ask you to take on extra responsibilities or to do their tasks for them. If you feel uncomfortable doing that, respond by saying you can't do that work right now but you could make a start on it on Tuesday (or whenever you feel you could fit it in). If it is your manager who is asking, talk to them about what you could move down the priority list in order to make time for this new work.

Tip 5: Manage your meetings

There are two ways that you can manage meetings, so try them both and see which one is most successful for you. First, you could try to schedule meetings later in the day so that everyone is keen to get through the agenda quickly and make it out of the office. You may find that the team works more productively during the meeting if there is the incentive of going home afterwards!

Second, you could do the opposite and avoid late meetings which may overrun. Instead, schedule your meetings for earlier in the day. People will be fresher and better able to concentrate and that will also lead to productive sessions.

Would you like a few more hours in each day? Most project managers would! If it feels as if you can't get everything done, then you need to manage your time better. Why not try these...

You'll get more done in less time!

Tip 1: Timesheets

First, think about where your time is going. Do you really know what you work on all day? Timesheets will show you exactly how much time you spend pulling together reports or responding to emails. Then there's the 5 minute break to check Facebook that turns into 20 minutes...

Start tracking your time so you know where it's going. This will help you prioritize and ensure you are self-aware when it comes to managing your time.

Tip 2: Task lists

Many people get off to a slow start in the mornings because they are wondering what their priorities should be and thinking about what they should be doing. Task lists resolve this. A clear list will tell you exactly what you need to work on. If you add in a column for dates it will also tell you what needs to be completed by when, which is a huge help when it comes to scheduling the top priority tasks first.

Tip 3: Milestones

Milestones are a good way to manage your time as they focus the mind! Put some milestones on your project plan and review them regularly. As you are coming up to the deadline, make sure that all your work is aligned with the objective of getting it done and hitting that date.

Most milestones relate to project tasks but you can also create personal milestones on your calendar to remind you about scheduled dates for other tasks on your task list.

Tip 4: Automation

Project managers tell us that preparing reports is one of the things that takes the most time each month. There's getting status updates from team members, preparing the data, c hecking it, formatting it, reviewing statistics from other systems, then checking it again and sending it to the stakeholders. It takes forever!

Automate your reporting (and anything else) as much as you can. Set up templates that pull data from your project management software and show you status in real-time. Everything that is automated is one less job for you to do.

Tip 5: Saying no!

Finally, say no! You don't have to do everything that is asked of you, and sometimes you simply can't take on more work. If you don't feel that you can say no to a request, ask your manager or project sponsor what they want you to drop. "I'm working on X, Y and Z right now. Which of those should I move to the bottom of the priority list so I can take on A and B as well?"

If it isn't feasible or reasonable to get everything done, then negotiate priorities with your stakeholders so that you aren't overloaded and they appreciate what can realistically be done in the time available.

Try these 5 tips for managing your time and see how many extra hours you can find in a day!

At the beginning of a project there's normally a massive burst of energy and you feel like you are making lots of progress. But it can slow down. If you want to achieve your objectives you need to know...

Keep your whole team working effectively with these simple tips.

Tip 1: Set achievable deadlines

Complete everything by Friday? That's a lot to ask. So set deadlines for your team members that are achievable. In fact, it's even better to get them to help you set the deadlines. If they sign up to completing a task by a particular date then they are far more likely to achieve it than if you told them what the deadline is.

Split big tasks into smaller tasks so that each part has a separate end date. This will also make the deadlines more achievable and easier to monitor.

Tip 2: Monitor progress

You'll be able to see how well you are making progress on your project if you monitor the status of each task. Monitoring will also help you see if anything (or anyone) is slowing down, allowing you to talk to them about keeping the momentum going. Use real-time information to check the progress of tasks and ensure that everything is moving forward.

Of course, you need a plan to monitor progress against, so make sure you have all the tasks and proposed completion dates noted down for you to check against.

Tip 3: Share your progress with others

It isn't enough for you to know that progress is being made. In order for others on the team to feel as if they are achieving their project goals everyone should be updated on the project progress.

Being able to see that the project is moving forward is a great motivator and will help the team keep going towards those end goals.

Tip 4: Celebrate success

Don't wait until the end of the project to celebrate success! Find a few moments through the project where something has been achieved that is worth shouting about and celebrate those. For example, the end of the testing phase when you have a product that is fit for shipping, or the completion of a big piece of design. It really doesn't matter what you are celebrating as long as it is linked to the project somehow and you can use the occasion to demonstrate what progress is being made and what is still to do. Even small celebrations motivate team members which in turn helps you drive the project onwards.

Tip 5: Don't take on too much

A massive project can be daunting for everyone on the team and you might find that work slows down because people are overwhelmed. Split your project into smaller phases and deliver it a bit at a time. This can help structure the work into achievable pieces and make it manageable. If it feels less daunting, the team will be more confident about making progress.

If your email inbox is stuffed with documents, status updates and other project data, you probably can't find anything! Thousands of people find themselves in this situation, and if you do too, you need to try these...

You don't have to be ruled by your inbox!

Tool 1: Collaboration software

If you are still assigning tasks to team members via email then you will find collaboration software a completely liberating way of working! It lets you allocate tasks to someone and see what has been assigned to the rest of the team, including yourself. It will manage your To Do list and add notes to tasks so that you can stay up-to-date with the latest status of project work. Even better, it lets you start and contribute to online group discussions which takes a lot of the chit chat and decision-making process out of your inbox.

The collaboration tools like Spark let you perform Twitter-like messaging and comment on your colleague's contributions. It's faster and slicker than email, and it has the added benefit of keeping all communication in one place—better for audit purposes and for being sure to avoid communication problems that often cause project failure.

Tool 2: Instant messaging

There are lots of instant messaging tools available, and you might ask why these are any better than email. After all, if the person you want to talk to is at their desk and online, email can be pretty quick. However, instant messaging tools are better because they let you see who is available to chat which saves you from contacting them if they are away from their desk or otherwise unavailable. You don't have that with email.

Email also relies on the person checking their inbox for new messages. Instant messaging pops up in the corner of the screen so it gets their attention immediately, again saving you time. Don't worry about the chats not being a secure record of a decision: these days most instant messaging tools have the option to export the discussion so you can save it somewhere and keep a record of what was agreed.

Tool 3: Online document storage

One of the things that many people use their inbox for is to store files that arrive attached to an email. It is better to save the attachment to your online document storage system and then delete the original email. This takes up less space in your inbox and makes it easy to find the file when you need it. In addition, you won't have to worry about hunting for the latest version amongst all your emails as you know that what's stored online is the most up-to-date copy of the document.

Tool 4: The phone

It might be low-tech, but you can still ring someone and talk to them about the project! Sometimes it is nice to hear a friendly voice and it helps you connect with your project team members, especially if they are based in different locations to you.

Try to find time each week to call one or two of your team members just to say hello, especially if you do the majority of your work through online project management software tools. This can help build good working relationships and trust in the team.

Tool 5: Face-to-face meetings

There is no doubting that email is cheap and quick. But sometimes only a face-to-face catch up will do. Whether you use software for video or web conferencing or meet in person, being able to actually see each other reduces the chance of your message being misunderstood and can be a much faster way to communicate than sending emails back and forth.

You will also be amazed at how motivating walking up to a team member and asked them how things are going can be. I've seen people work tirelessly to complete tasks so that you don't have a reason to come and talk to them!

Excel is a fantastic tool. It's the first tool many people use to start planning projects, and it can almost be fun adding tasks and to-do items row-by-row.

But Excel can quickly become overwhelming as your project progresses.

Now, if your team's Excel expert is a whiz with pivot tables, great! But should your whole project rest on the shoulders of one person? What if they leave or are out sick?

Or what if your team needs to be able to simply add notes to update a task? Having to scroll over to column ZZ to read those notes is frustrating for everyone.

And emailing the most up-to-date plan is a sure-fire way to lose important data. Someone has to be the point person to merge all the updates. And let's face it: that's no fun for anyone.

Luckily, there are better tools out there... and you don't have to start over from scratch!

Let's look at 6 features of project management tools and why you would want those over Excel.

1. Gantt Chart

Gantt what? Don't worry. This is simpler than it looks, and it's a really helpful feature when you realize what it can do.

The Gantt is a combination of your spreadsheet and a visualization of time for each task. It shows you how long each task is, and even how to connect tasks together so they are linked, in case one deadline slips.

Imagine your spreadsheet, but with the ability to add time and people to it and have it automatically email those people when their tasks are due. I know, right?

2. Collaboration

The problem with Excel is that you have discuss the project in email or add notes in far away columns. What you really want is to add notes or files right to each task, so your project data is easy to access.

You also want the ability to share project and task updates with the whole team, but not lose that info to email graveyards. Collaboration helps your team with communication and data security overall.

3. Dashboards

This is a really cool feature. Rather than have Dave the Excel whiz spend hours creating pivot tables to make sense of the project data, a project Dashboard shows you instantly a whole bunch of reports.

You always know whether your project is on track, whether your team is overloaded and even see the project budget at-a-glance.

Look for a tool that has "real-time" dashboards. That means, your data is always up-to-date and instantly available, and you don't need Dave to make it. (Sorry, Dave.)

4. Email Alerts

You've created a nice schedule in Excel. All the columns are beautifully labeled and the rows are colour-coded and everyone's name is next to their task.

Trouble is... Now you have to do the heavy lifting of managing whether those people have started, stopped, been blocked, forgot, or need reminders that something is due... Gosh, wouldn't it be easier if Excel just emailed people automatically?

Well, Excel doesn't do that.

You need a tool that automatically reminds your team when their items are due or overdue. You need a tool that emails you when someone has completed a critical task. You need a tool that alerts you when someone has uploaded a file or added a comment to a task. Thankfully, project management software does all that and more....

5. Instant Reports

People love Excel for creating reports. It's a fantastic analytic tool, to be sure.

There's just one problem with Excel reports: You have to spend hours creating them!

Imagine a tool that rolls up all your project data for you and enables you to select all kinds of presentation-ready reports at the click of a button. In seconds.

When you use project management software, you get this benefit. If your boss comes in at 4: 30 asking for the latest task status, progress or timesheet report, you don't have to stay late. It'll be emailed, shared or printed out and in her hands in less than a minute.

6. Resource Allocation & Management

When you use Excel to track tasks, you get a list. When you use online project management software, you get interactive people scheduling.

You can see at a glance if someone's over-allocated or going on vacation. And then you can change their workload immediately and re-assign tasks to someone with available hours.

Plus, you get timesheets that connect to your team's tasks. So as they check off their to-do lists, their timesheets can capture their hours worked. No more copying hours from one spreadsheet to another. Whew.

Those 6 features alone will save you and your team countless hours managing your tasks and project.

Still not convinced?

I know how you might be feeling. The idea of a new tool (let alone online!) can cause some teams to panic. Many wonder if online is safe. And many of you have never used a project management tool and wonder whether another tool can replace Excel.

In fact, it's easy to import your existing Excel files to a new tool. And many tools have better project management features than Excel with military-grade security... and that's definitely safer than having your project data floating around in email!

So why are you still using Excel?

Used appropriately, the right project management software can improve your chances for project success. The list below provides some good tips on what to consider when choosing project management software.

What to consider:

  • Proven PM processes are incorporated e.g. issue and risk management
  • Pre-built and custom dashboard options
  • Gantt chart functionality
  • Feature and data level access controls
  • Remote or distributed team accessibility
  • Complete project lifecycle management
  • Project and task management features
  • Total project team cost for using the software
  • Any system integration points, including ease of working across products, sharing information fluidly

Excel and Word are poor choices for managing projects.

Project managers in over 100 countries use Project Management software to ensure their projects are delivered successfully.

Software can help you with project team collaboration. Software helps manage the various stages of your project successfully. The end of your project, for example, is a critical phase.

The signals you send out with your body language might not be foremost in your mind when you meet a colleague or client, yet they exert a powerful influence on the other person. The human brain is hardwired to pay attention to the many nonverbal signals that others give out, even if it’s below the level of conscious awareness.

Successful people are aware of the power of unspoken signals and monitor their body language to achieve the results they want. Pamela Thorne, a specialist in influence, negotiation, and leadership training, describes seven ways to connect with others and maximise your influence.

1. Adopt a powerful (but not dominant) position

Standing up straight (and not slouching) will instantly give you a confidence boost. Taking up the space you need to stand tall demonstrates inner power – and people unconsciously respond to that. Don’t, however, stand over the other person or move in so close that they feel uncomfortable.

Research shows that powerful stances, such as the Superman or Superwoman pose with arms akimbo, increase confidence and the ability to cope with stress. You might want to test out these ‘power poses’ in private, though, before you go into a meeting or give a presentation.

2. Show agreement with nodding

If you nod your head, you are not only signaling agreement, but you are priming the other person to respond positively to you. When one person nods, most people feel an unconscious urge to nod back.

Start by nodding in agreement when the other person talks. Then, nod when you’re making your own statements, and watch how they start nodding back. When someone is already nodding, they are much more likely to start agreeing with your ideas or your proposal — providing you are suggesting something that is credible and reasonable. Don’t overdo it, though. Nodding too much or too excitedly might signal anxiety or a need to please.

3. Smile

A genuine smile tells the other person that you are confident and approachable, and builds your ‘likeability’ quotient. Research shows that people are more willing to say yes to the requests of people they like.

A genuine smile can’t be faked. So cultivate an attitude of positivity and helpfulness, and that smile will well up from within. If the other person is in a serious mood, or is feeling sad, start with showing sympathy, then build up to a smile.

4. Match their movements

This happens quite unconsciously when people have good rapport with each other – they begin to mirror each other’s movements. And if the other person feels in sync with you, they will support your ideas.

If they cross their legs, or have their arms in a certain position, match that. If they pick up a pen, pick up your pen. The other person will feel more connected to you without knowing why. You can then test this by pacing and leading. Try a different movement and see if they follow. If they do, you know you have built rapport.

5. Lean in

It’s very flattering to be listened to and given real attention, so lean your body slightly towards the other person. It shows interest in them and their ideas.

Don’t overdo it and intrude into their personal space, though. This would signal aggression and could put an end to your attempts to influence. Be aware that our sense of personal space varies from situation to situation, and from one culture to another.

6. Don’t fidget

Fidgeting conveys anxiety and will detract from your message. It might also mean that you have something to hide, or are overly concerned with your appearance. So find your inner Zen – be calm and allow that to shine through with controlled movements.

7. Point your feet towards them

This is a positive sign that shows high regard for another and an interest in what they have to say. It will help to build trust. When you are ready to leave, you can point your feet toward the exit and subtly turn your body. They will know that the conversation has come to a close without your needing to say anything.

Your body language counts for a lot when you are attempting to influence, so make sure it says what you want it to say.

Competitive advantage can vanish if information about your project is leaked outside the company. The news today is full of examples of where sensitive data has been stolen or lost from companies. Even if your project isn't top secret, you still want to make sure that data about your project is kept securely and confidentially.

Here are 5 tips for keeping your project files safe.

Tip 1: Use access control

Set up each individual user with their own unique user name. You'll also want to issue them with a unique password. Then select which projects you want them to be able to see. They will only be able to access the project files for the projects where you have granted them permission. Make sure that you do this for third party contractors as well, so that they can only see the documents related to the project they are working on.

Tip 2: Use an encrypted service

Online services are exceptionally secure if you choose one with strong encryption. Talk to your project management software vendor to see what sort of encryption they use to protect your data for you.

Tip 3: Customize your views

Turn off the features that you don't want other users to see. You may not want, for example, every member of the project team to be able to access expense accounting information, so simply turn off access to that feature for people who don't need it. You can limit access not only to particular projects, but also to specific screens and information within those projects. Of course, you can always switch access back on later if you need to.

Tip 4: Review your user lists

People join the project team and leave the company from time to time. This is normal, and your security processes should allow for team changes. Every so often, remember to check who has access to your project files. Cancel the access, user names and passwords for team members who have left the company, third party contractors who have finished their assignment and individuals who no longer need to see your project documents.

Finally, check your list of users and ensure there are no generic logins like 'Project User' or 'Customer Services'. Make sure that everyone who needs access has their own personal login and password. Your IT team or Project Management Office can most likely do this for you.

Tip 5: Archive your data securely

Even when your project has finished you still need to make sure that your project data is kept safely. Using secure online project tools is a good way of making sure that data is available whenever it is needed, but held securely until that time. Upload your final project closure report and grant access to the Project Management Office team so that they can use the historical project information to improve future projects.

The beauty of online & mobile projects tools means you don't have to be stuck at your desk staring at spreadsheets and chasing up your team to turn in timesheets so you can manually calculate project reports.

Thankfully, those days are over!

But it can be tricky to juggle managing your tasks and your team while you're reaping the benefits of mobile project management. Luckily, we've got a few tips for you to help keep you and your team on track when you're out and about:

Tip 1: Streamline your project tools

Trying to juggle too many different social apps, project software applications and reporting tools can cause too many complications that outweigh the benefits of going mobile.

Find an online project management tool with a mobile app that has collaboration and task-tracking features your whole team can use, but one that is also robust enough for advanced reporting and resource management on the web. It's important to have the mobile tools roll-up into a more robust online project tool to capture the data and conversations about the project that are happening out in the field.

Otherwise, your chat in FB Messenger is simply lost in space or has to be re-uploaded later back at the office... which kind of defeats the purpose of being able to go mobile and be efficient, too.

Tip 2: Encourage your team to go mobile, too

Mobile should not just be for the c-suite or the managerial class! Sometimes, team leaders get nervous when they see people spending too much time on their phones. But the reality is, we all live on our phones, and we work on our phones increasingly, too.

Plus, there are significant productivity benefits when your team is trained up on using the project management mobile app for their task updates, to collaborate, share photos from the field and for document sharing. All of the data out in the field is uploaded in real-time to the cloud, which in turn is reflected in the project progress reporting online.

And that saves time, when they're back in the office.

Tip 3: Set up alerts for task updates

You can customize alerts for you and your team to remind them when tasks are almost due, or when there's a change on a task or timesheet or a discussion.

Since we can all easily learn to ignore too many alerts, try to keep your team's alerts focused and relevant only on their tasks.

However, if you spend a lot of time out of the office, it might be helpful for you to be kept abreast of all project activities by reading alerts across the whole team.

Do what works for you.

Sometimes there are just so many tasks that the job of managing them can monopolize all of your time.

You can't allow yourself to get bogged down in the details. No matter how many tasks you're managing, there's a method to keep the work organized and on time and budget.

Following these three steps will lead to more manageable task lists:

1. List everything & prioritize

Before you can deal with it you have to know what it is. Therefore, make a list, and don't worry how long it gets. You want to make sure every little thing is present and accounted for.

Then, and only then, can you begin to prioritize. What are the most important tasks and which of them can be left undone if time, money and resources demand it? Once you have defined what needs to be done, start adding due dates. By putting these tasks on a timeline you can start to take action on them.

2. Refine Again & Set Up Reminders

One you've prioritized, it's easier to see what is and isn't essential. If it doesn't have to get done, then why are you wasting your time with it? Nonessential tasks should be deleted from your list (or at least not assigned a clear due date).

Once you've pared it down to what's really important and have already determined where it sits on your timeline, be sure to set up email notifications, so you know when tasks are due and overdue.

You're going to be pulled in a thousand directions at once when in the heat of the project, so you can't afford to let anything fall through the cracks.

3. Add Links & Milestones

No tasks are done in isolation (usually). Find ways to link tasks together that are dependent on each other. This is easily done in project management software so you can make sure your essential work is done in the proper order.

Next, establish milestone tasks. Which tasks mark a new phase or key meetings or reasons to celebrate along the way?

When you use project management software to manage your task lists, be sure to get these task dependency and milestone features, so you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. What good is a task list online if you have to do all the work of managing it?

Project Initiation

The first step towards project success begins by starting it. But that's not always as simple as it sounds.

There is no guarantee for success, but there are pieces you can put in place that pave that road that will lead you to kickoff your project correctly.

How do you do this? Make sure you've got a checklist that addresses everything you need to start a project correctly

To do that requires you wrap your head around three main pillars of any project you're about to start.

1. What's the Project?

First you have to know what it is you're doing before you can plan on how you're going to do it. That begins with getting a project manager. That's an easy one, it's you. Then you have to approve your business case and get the document signed off.

Don't forget the obvious, which is to know your objectives. Make sure everyone knows what needs to be done. Have a clear picture of the scope. This keeps everyone on the same page.

After that, approve the budget. Know how much money you have to spend. Figure out what the initial risks are. Write down what may go wrong and prepare for it. Finally, create a list of deliverables, what the project is supposed to make.

2. Who's Your Team?

Next, you have to get your people together. That starts with knowing who your boss is, the person or persons in an executive position who you report to. Then assemble a team of experts who have the skills you need.

The next step in this phase is getting your suppliers and vendors together. Contract the third parties you need to fulfill the goals of the project. At this point it's crucial to know everyone's roles and responsibilities. Organize your team and everyone affected by the project and have a communication plan that delivers your message clearly.

3. Which Tools are You Using?

Now, decide on the tools you'll need to get the project done. Figure out the project management software solution that meets your needs and that gives you all the features your team needs. Set up user accounts. Get everyone into the system.

Set up a filing system. Upload those documents to your software. Make a task list. Break down the project into manageable tasks. And create a schedule. Set tasks on a timeline with milestones, and assign them to a specific team member to track the work.

There will be difficulties ahead, of course, but at least you won't have to reinvent the wheel when you're already on the road.

When you're starting a new project, it can be a confusing time. Everyone is trying to set priorities and get the work moving. It doesn't have to be hard if you follow these...

Tip 1: Develop the Project Charter

The Project Charter is a document that includes high level information about the project including key milestones, an overview of the budget and of course, the aims and objectives of the project. You will be key in preparing the document, but it should be owned by the project sponsor who takes responsibility for the project overall. Oh, and if you haven't already, make the time to meet your project sponsor! Ideally you should work on the Charter together so that you have a common understanding of what is to be done.

Tip 2: Identify Stakeholders

Who is going to be involved on your project? The project initiation phase is the perfect time to identify everyone who will have an input to your project or who can influence the work. The Charter gives you a starting point as it will help you see which areas of the business are going to be affected by the new project. You can also talk to your project sponsor to make sure that you don't miss anyone out.

Tip 3: Select the Project Team

The next thing you need to do is to get some team members to work with! Think about the skills you will need in order to be able to complete the different project tasks. Most projects need a variety of different skills from subject matter experts. Then match these requirements to the skills of the available individuals and put together your team.

If you don't know how to start selecting suitable candidates you can ask other project managers or line managers for their advice about who would be able to contribute to the project.

Tip 4: Check the Business Benefits

Why is this project being done? It's important to understand the benefits and the rationale behind doing this project. Talk to your project sponsor if you aren't sure. Understanding the ‘why' will help you explain it to the other team members. You'll find that the team is more motivated if they understand why they are working on something and how it contributes to the business strategy and plans overall. If you can share a common understanding of the project's objectives this is a major step towards getting everyone on board.

Tip 5: Get started!

Now the preparation work is complete, you can get started working with your team and putting together your project schedule. Create a list of all the tasks that need to be done (with input from your team) and then add dates and milestones to form your schedule. You can then allocate tasks to the people who will be doing the work and instruct everyone to get started! Remember to set up your processes for monitoring and controlling the project work too so that you can keep on top of project status at any time.

Starting a new project can be a hectic time. However, it doesn't have to be difficult. If you are clear about the roles and responsibilities of the project manager during this time, you can start your project off perfectly.

When you're looking to begin an entirely new project, it can be tempting to dive in head first. Perhaps this isn't your first rodeo. You know the ropes, and you're going to do things like you've always done them.

Perhaps you're new to running projects, or this is a much larger one than you're used to. Either way, I guarantee you if you do these 3 things, you'll significantly improve your project results.

1. Define your outcomes clearly. (Hint: It's not what you think)

What is a project outcome? Well, it's easy to say, "Oh, I plan to lead the redesign of our website." Or, "We're going to plan a new product launch," and assume the outcome is contained in those two sentences.

Not so fast.

Your outcome is not your project. Let me repeat that. The outcome of your project is not that you accomplished the project. Rather, the outcome is the one, two or ten key deliverables that lead to a significant and measurable gain.

The redesign of your website might be an essential business goal. But if your project doesn't define the three measureable gains that will result from the accomplishment of that project, well, was the project worth it?

Was the project, then, a success?

If you aren't defining success at the beginning stages of your project, in short, then you very likely won't succeed.

Pro Tip: And don't assume that someone else has ownership of those success metrics, either! Even if you were handed the project by someone else, take time before you even start, to draft the key outcomes and get buy-in from the relevant parties, that those are achievable, measurable goals that will align with the strategic goals of the org.

2. Plan How You'll Track Your Outcomes

Once you have those outcomes defined (and remember that they must be measureable), the next question is: How will you track them? How do you know if you are hitting those targets along the way?

One easy way is to define 3 milestones for each outcome, and create custom reports that can track those milestones. You can also use the milestones feature in your online Gantt, to set dates around those targets.

The point here is: set up your tool at the start of the project to capture and track key milestones so you know you are able to measure and track your project outcomes.

Solution: Real-time project dashboards track your project automatically.

3. Collaborate with your team for project success

Your team is your best tool for delivering a successful project outcome. Bring them into the planning and tracking process, and invite everyone on the project to participate in its success, literally through your project management software.

Gone are the days when project managers rule the project in isolation. Use the collaboration features of your project management software to keep your team and stakeholders in steady communication throughout the project. Encourage conversations and document sharing within the tool. Invite clients and stakeholders to be read-only viewers of the project progress.

When teams and stakeholders are participants in building the project and tracking its outcome, they will have the visibility and the communication capabilities to be partners in delivering a successful project.

Project Planning

Got a new project to manage? Excellent! But where do you start? The first few days (or weeks) can be daunting as you work out what needs to be done. Get your project off to the best start with these...

OK, let's get started!

Tip 1: Establish your team

You can't manage this project by yourself, so start off by working out who is going to help you get it done. Your project sponsor may already have some ideas about who will be on the team, so talk to them and then the individuals concerned to introduce yourself. Get to know them and the role they will play on the project as this will help you plan the workload effectively.

It's really important to get everyone together as soon as possible to talk about the project and establish the overall goals, so get that meeting in the diary quickly.

Tip 2: Create a task list

When it all seems overwhelming, the best place to start is to write down exactly what you need to do. Work with your new project team to create a list of all the tasks that are required to deliver the project. They are the subject matter experts, so don't try to do this by yourself! Use their knowledge to build a comprehensive task list.

Tip 3: Produce a project schedule

Now add all your project tasks on to a schedule. This means adding dates to your task list so that you can see the order in which they need to be completed. You can also add dependencies between the tasks. These link the tasks together and help you see what should be worked on first in order for subsequent tasks to happen on time. If you aren't sure about how to order the tasks, get your team involved. They are the experts and have probably done similar work before so they will be able to help you identify what tasks should happen when.

While you are at it, add resource names next to the tasks to highlight who is responsible for what. It's normally easy to work out who from the team is going to take the lead on which tasks, but it's important to get buy-in from the individuals before you allocate work to them.

Project schedules are often in the form of Gantt charts which show that information graphically on the screen. Your project management tools will produce a Gantt chart for you.

Tip 4: Ensure you have milestones

Got a fixed date, or want to mark the end of a project phase? Then use a milestone. They occur on a single specific date and appear as a black diamond shape on your Gantt chart. They highlight defined points on your schedule and are really useful when it comes to tracking progress. Aim to have at least one milestone per month. They should show you when big blocks of work have to be completed by.

Tip 5: Work out how to monitor progress

Finally, think about how to monitor progress on your project now, even if you have only just got the team together and are still putting together your task list. Decide how often you want to review progress and how you are going to do it. Make it easy to check status by using your online software to create automated reports. If you are worried about not being able to remember to get status updates from the team, put an alert in your calendar to remind you to contact them regularly.

If you have ever looked back wistfully as your project deadlines sped past and wondered where you went wrong, you need to know...

Stay on track every time with these tips.

1. Agree Your Targets

What does 'on time' really mean? You and your manager might be thinking October, but if they are thinking of the first week and you are thinking of the last day then you are along way apart in terms of expectations.

The same goes for your budget. Make sure you know exactly what budget is available to you as well as what is excluded from that.

2. Plan for Success

Set yourself up for success by using great project management software to schedule your tasks. The best tip here is to be realistic about what you can do with the time you have.

Take your time to plan properly and ask lots of questions. Try to get really good estimates for how long activities will take and make sure you don't leave any work out. Good planning will give you the best possible chance of hitting your targets.

3. Track Progress

Assign the project tasks to the individuals in the team. Then track how they are doing. They can keep you up-to-date easily by updating your shared plan with the actual start date and then marking their progress as they go. When they have finished a task, they can add the actual finish date and mark the task as 100% complete.

You can use a variety of ways to track the progress of your project including:

  • Status reports from your team
  • Dashboards (more on them in a minute).
  • Team meetings.
  • Phone calls with individual team members.

Some team members will respond best if you ask them to send a status report. Others will prefer you to check in by phone once a week, so use the techniques that work best for everyone and be flexible.

4. Adjust Your Plan

Planning is not a one-time task. As you move through your project you will have to adjust your plan. Each time you make a change to the schedule, add in tasks or take work out, think about how this is going to affect your end date and your chance of hitting that on time and on budget.

Change management is the process used to review and accept (or reject) changes to the project that may have an impact on your ability to deliver it and meet your targets.

Make sure your change management process is working adequately and that all new requests are properly analyzed before they are accepted. Adding in new requirements is often necessary on a project and you will be much more likely to meet your deadlines if you take the time to review and incorporate each change.

5. Use Dashboards to Report Progress

The whole team should know how the project is going and the easiest way to do that is to use the dashboards that come built-in to your project management software.

Share project information with your team so you have their help in trying to meet the targets you have agreed with management. When people know what is important, they can better work together to achieve it, hit those deadlines and keep the budget under control.

Whether it’s a large project or a small one, breaking it down into manageable chunks makes it easier to keep control. That’s why you need to know...

Here’s our introduction to project phases and how to use them.

What are Project Phases?

Project phases are chunks of time and work that help you move a step closer to your ultimate goal: successfully achieving whatever it is that your project is going to deliver.

Every project goes through four phases: Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closure. A phase may take a couple of hours or days, or last for months. It depending on the size of your project. Planning your project thoroughly means thinking about these different phases and what you’ll need to do in each of them. Let’s look at what that involves.

1. The Initiation Phase

In the Initiation Phase you’ll be preparing your business case, project charter, and appointing your team. This is normally a short piece of work, in relation to the timescales of the project overall.

2. The Planning Phase

In this phase you will put together your project plans for the rest of the project so you’ll need to know things like:

  • What methods are you going to use to estimate tasks?
  • Who is available to work on the project?
  • What resources do you need on top of the people involved?
  • How much money do you have available and how are you going to use it?
  • What tasks do we need to do and in what order?

When you’ve answered these questions you’ll be able to plan efficiently. There is no rule of thumb for how long the planning phase should take but generally the more time you spend planning the work, the more likely you are to get it right first time and therefore spend less time on the execution.

Don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap, though, where you spend so much time planning that you get round to finishing the project.

3. The Execution Phase

The Execution phase is where the bulk of your project work is done. This phase typically takes the longest and is the most work!

In order to complete your project tasks you need to know exactly what it is that you are doing so your project requirements should be clear. Then you work through them, completing the individual tasks from your project plan. You may need to work with suppliers to do this, so you’ll also be keeping an eye on their performance.

The other big task here is monitoring and controlling the work. Plan how you are going to report progress to the people that need to know, track your time, and manage risks, issues and changes. The earlier you create your project in your project management tools, the easier this will be.

4. Plan the Closure Phase

It might seem a bit premature to be thinking about the end of the project but actually the ideal time to do it is before the work really starts. Make sure that you and the team understand what it means to be finished’. How will you know that you have got there? Create a list of what you’ll have when the project is 'finished’ as this is a great way to keep the team working towards a common objective.

The Closure phase is a short piece of work and you definitely want to make sure that it happens. It involves tying up all the loose ends, handing over the deliverables to the people who are going to use them and gaining acceptance from your customer. It’s also the time to schedule your project celebration to thank the team for a job well done!

Project management software can make it much easier to plan your project.

Once you've completed your task list and your product schedule is built out, then you have to allocate resources to actually get the work done. It's easy when you know...

Apply these five practical tips for allocating resources to ensure your project's success and your team's satisfaction:

1. Every Task Has an Owner

Each task on your project schedule must be attached to one team member whose job it is to see it through completion. If you're not delegating work, then you're not managing. It's as simple as that. You're responsible for knowing the individual team members, their strengths and weaknesses, and then fitting them to the appropriate tasks for their skills. Do this by making a profile for everyone in your online project management tool, including listing their skills and availability. Then you can allocate them to individual tasks and manage their workload.

2. Assign Work to the Right People

This cannot be stressed enough. If you're allocating tasks to someone who is overburdened with work then they'll likely fail to accomplish their assignments or do a poor job across multiple tasks, neither of which is a viable path to project success.

You also need to assign tasks to team members with the right skillset to do them. This is where QuarterMaster can help; it has features that make it easy to see who on the team has time available in their schedules, as well as group resources according to skills and abilities. You will always know at a glance who is available and skilled for the task.

3. Reports Can Help

You may wonder if you have time to create reports when you're busy managing your teams and their tasks. Well here's a secret: reports can be created in minutes if you have the right tools. With simplified resource reporting tools in your online planning software, you can track the progress of your team on individual projects or across all your projects, drill-down to each individual member, and make sure they're working within the time allocated... all with the click of a couple buttons.

4. Get Real-Time Progress Monitoring

If you can see your project in real-time (and not snapshots that are already antiquated by the time they've developed), then you're truly monitoring your project. When you have real-time date you can adjust the team accordingly in context to what they're doing right then and now.

Accurate timesheets are crucial for this, so make sure your team records their time regularly so your dashboards are always up-to-date. Then you have the visibility to tweak the schedule or re-allocate work on the fly, and prevent potential delays before they happen. Not only does this support the project, but it also maintains a high morale among your team because they know you're actively managing them.

5. Re-allocate work as needed

The one thing all project managers know is that projects change. You can make a beautiful plan, but people, tasks and deliverables will shift and change throughout. You need to be able to re-allocate work easily to meet changing needs within the project.

But before you start re-allocating work in your online plan, take the time to talk to your team. Explain to them individually the reasoning behind your actions and how it's best for the project. This way you'll get the work done and keep good relations with the team.

Your task list is complete and you've built your project schedule. The next thing to do is to allocate resources to the work. Making the best use of the resources you have can be really difficult in a pressurized environment so let's find out more about:

Smart resource scheduling is easy with these tricks!

Tip 1: Make sure all tasks have an owner

Every task on your project schedule should have a named individual who is responsible for completing it. Delegate each task to someone on the project team. Create a resource profile for everyone on the team and then allocate the tasks to them. Then they'll easily be able to see what they 'own' and all the information about that task that they'll need in order to make a start.

Tip 2: Allocate work to those who can do it

It sounds simple, but don't expect someone to be able to make progress on tasks when they have too much to do! If you keep allocating work to one person they will soon become overloaded and you'll find that the project slows down. Equally, don't allocate tasks to people who do not have the skills to complete the work or you will find that the quality of the deliverables suffers (if they get finished at all).

Spread the work around the qualified resources in the team. There are resource balancing features in tools like Microsoft Project that make it easy to see who has some time available. Use these to help you work out who can take on more tasks and who perhaps needs a bit of support to get all their work done.

Tip 3: Create reports to help

Scheduling resources doesn't have to be a headache, especially when you can set up reports to show you who is doing what and when it is due to complete. Use resource reports to highlight what progress the team is making and to check that each individual has only got the tasks that you know they can do within the allocated time.

Tip 4: Monitor progress in real-time

Real-time data is great because it allows you to step in and help your team members when they need it. You can also make changes to the schedule and work allocation on the fly, which prevents delays to your project and keeps everything moving. As a project manager, being able to intervene like this gives your team confidence that you can resolve resourcing problems and helps keep morale high in the team.

Real-time data comes from accurate timesheets, so encourage your team to record their time regularly and set a good example yourself!

Tip 5: Make changes if you need to

The way you schedule resources at the beginning of the project doesn't have to be how it is for the whole project duration. If you need to, make changes as the project progresses. Swap out resources. Add a few more people to one task, or remove them from another. Juggle the team members so that they are being used most effectively.

Before you switch resources around it is good to talk to the individuals involved so that they aren't surprised by the decision. Explain why you have opted to do this and how it will help the project overall.

Scheduling resources is one of the first things that you will do when you start work on a project so getting it right really matters. It helps to set the tone for your time as project manager on this initiative and if you do it well it can build good working relationships with everyone on the team. Use your project management software to make resource scheduling straightforward and you'll notice the difference on your project today.

At the heart of every great project plan is a great task list. Without it, it's tough to know what needs to be done - or who needs to do it! Every project begins with a comprehensive task list, so here are our:

Tip 1: Work with your team

List out the tasks you can think of, then ask your project team to sit down and brainstorm additional items for the project plan. Undoubtedly, they'll flag some tasks you hadn't considered. At this stage of the game, stay focused on recording everything - either on paper or in your project software - not allocating resources. Get the details down right, then get the team back together later to get the right tasks to the right people.

Tip 2: Add structure to your list

Once your list is complete, it's time to get organized. If you haven't already, add the tasks to your project software, then start putting them in logical groups. Add some subheadings to make everything easier to navigate, and to keep related tasks together. Building this structure in now will make it easier to find individual tasks later, and streamline task assignments and reporting.

Tip 3: Set your task priorities

Some tasks will always be a higher priority, so make sure the most important project tasks are easy to find. Use your task management tools to highlight the most important tasks, perhaps by using a different colour, making the font bold or adding some stars next to those items. You'll instantly be able to see your priorities for the day.

Tip 4: Store everything in one place

Scattered task lists make it hard to stay on top of priorities – or plans. Count on your project software to keep all your tasks in one centralized location. The task management features in project management tools can make it easy to keep all your tasks in order, and share them with the rest of the team.

Tip 5: Check off completed tasks

The best thing about task lists: checking off what's completed. There are few things more satisfying than marking a task complete or ticking off a to-do list checkbox. Even better, when you're using web-based project software, everyone else on the team can celebrate those ticked-off checkboxes with you, in real time!

Tackle your project financials like a pro! Keeping control of costs is easy when you know...

Here's our expert guide to creating a realistic project budget.

1. Start With Tasks

If you don't have it already, create a list of all the tasks involved in doing your project. Planning your project like this means you'll have a view of exactly what needs to be done. Got the list? Let's move on...

2. Estimate The Cost of Each Task

Now you can work out how much each task is going to cost. There are several ways to estimate the cost of an activity. Here are three of the most common:

  • Bottom up estimating: starting with the components of each task and then adding them up (in my experience this is the most common way of estimating and it works well across all sorts of tasks).
  • Expert judgement: using your professional knowledge to work out the cost of a task (best for items like services).
  • Analogous estimating: using past experience to judge how much the project tasks will cost this time (best for tasks that you have done before and have experience of).

At the end of this step you'll have a price next to each activity.

3. Add Them Up

As you might expect, the next step is to add all of those costs together. This gives you the total planned budget for the project covering the price of every task.

This is often called Budget At Completion, but you might also hear it referred to as your planned budget or your forecasted budget.

4. Add In The Extras

Extras? What extras? Well, the cost of each individual task isn't going to be enough. Trust me, I've been there. You need to add in:

Management reserves: This is a pot of money to use at the discretion of your management. For example, to cover costs that you can't in good faith pass on to the client. If that happens, you can draw on the management reserves to cover it.

Contingency: Contingency costs are used in case your estimates weren't as good as you hoped they would be. These costs are to cover tasks that weren't identified in your first pass of the plan, or those where your assumptions turned out wrong so the price went up. If you don't know how much contingency to add, go with 10%.

Risk response budget: If your company is mature at managing project risk, you might be able to incorporate the risk response budget separately to your main budget. The risk response budget is made up of the money it costs to implement the mitigating actions on your risk register. In other words, the risk response budget is extra cash to help you deal with the things that might go wrong.

Once you've added up your main budget and your extras you've got the total budget for the project.

5. Track and Monitor

You've planned your project budget now. You know how much you anticipate spending on this project. But budgeting is not a one-off activity. You need to track and monitor your spending throughout the project. This lets you see if your estimates are accurate and gives you early warning of tasks that are going to cost more than you planned.

It's easy to do this with project management budgeting tools.

Good estimates tell you how long a task will take. They help you plan accurately and build a reliable project schedule. To get quality estimates you need to know...

These steps will help you get great estimates from your team every time.

Identify the Tasks to Estimate

Take a look at your project task list and identify which tasks need estimates. Strip out all the routine tasks like project meetings or workshops (you can put them on the schedule for a particular day). Anything else will need someone to work out the time it will take to complete the task.

Identify the Team Experts

The resources allocated to complete the task may not be the right people to do the estimate. You may also want to involve their managers or other subject matter experts. You could also bring in someone who did the task on a similar project – they aren't allocated to your project but they'll have a great insight into how long it takes to do the work.

Do this for every task so you know who to work with for your estimates. Group tasks together so you can hold estimating meetings with the right people and focus on their sections of the project.

Review Estimating Techniques

There are a number of ways to estimate how long a task will take:

  • Subject matter expertise: someone who knows a lot about the task tells you how long it will take based on their professional opinion.
  • Historical data: use the results of a previous project to estimate how long the same task will take this time.
  • Math: multiply how long it takes to do one unit of work by how many units of work are required. (Also known as "parametric estimating".)
  • A range: work out the most likely, best case and worst case timescales for the task and estimate from that.
  • As a group: use the wisdom of the crowd to debate the best estimate for the task.

Decide if your estimates will include contingency time or not.

Choose the Right Approach

Explain the different techniques to the team members involved. Then agree which technique you will use for each task. Different approaches work well for different tasks – for example, you can't use historical data to estimate if you don't have the data, and if no one in the company has worked on something like this, then your access to subject matter expertise is limited (although you could use a third party).

As your goal is to boost the estimating skills of your team, it can be useful to use two (or more) different ways to estimate one task. Compare the estimates you get and take a judgment about which one you want to use on the project. Keep a note of the other estimates you came up with for the task as they will come in useful later.

Create the Project Plan

Add the data from your estimating into your project plan. Assign a task duration to every activity. This will enable you to work out the overall length of the project.

Track the Accuracy of Estimates

Now you've created your estimates and used them for planning you want to be sure that your team did a good job. Track the actual hours spent on a task using time sheet data. Then compare this to the estimates (both the estimate you actually used and any other estimates you came up with during the process).

Looking at how much time you thought the task would take and comparing it to how long it really took is a fantastic way to see how accurate your estimates were. This useful data will help you estimate more effectively next time.

Project management software that tracks the actual time spent on activities and compares this to your estimates does a lot of the work for you. With it you can see how much time each team member is spending on tasks and whether that is in line with what you expected. Also a handy dashboard that does the calculations for you, allowing you to focus on successfully completing the project, is very useful.

With so many demands on your time it's often difficult to know what's the most important thing to work on first. Prioritizing your workload is critical if you want to make lots of progress, so read on to learn some...

Put these into practice and you'll never wonder what to work on first again!

Tip 1: Be realistic

You'll never get everything done, so you may as well accept that now. Those tasks that are at the bottom of your To Do list aren't urgent or important enough to work on right now. It will be easier for you to focus on the important tasks once you realize that your time is limited and that you have to get realistic about what you can achieve in a day.

If something does become urgent or important, it will naturally rise to the top of the To Do list and you can deal with it then.

Tip 2: Use task management software

It's impossible to manage your To Do list effectively if it is split between sticky notes, a notebook, an online system and your diary. Pick one way of managing your tasks and keep to it.

The easiest way is to use task management software. These will help you put tasks in order of importance and track progress so you'll always be able to see what your priorities are at any given moment, from wherever you are working.

Tip 3: Create a prioritization code

Find a way of categorizing project tasks that means something for you. That could be High, Medium and Low or giving them a number from one to three. You could use colours and mark the tasks red, yellow or green. Choose something visual that will work on screen and on paper. This will help wherever you are making notes as you'll be able to instantly tell what you should be working on first.

Remember, just because a task is marked on your list as Low priority now, it won't necessarily stay that way. Keep going back to your task list and reviewing the priorities that you have allocated to each item. You'll have to update your categorization as and when something becomes more urgent or important.

Tip 4: Delegate

What can you give other people to do? It might feel as if you have to keep a lot of the project tasks for yourself but there probably are other people on the team who could complete them just as well as you. Look at the workload of the whole team and think about who could take on a few extra tasks.

You could delegate the high priority work but you might feel better if you can keep control of that and delegate some of the work that you have categorized as of lower importance. It depends on how much you can count on your team members and whether you think they will be able to turn around urgent work quickly given their existing workload. However you decide to delegate, it will really help you as it frees up your time to do other priority work and makes you think about how you should be spending your time most effectively.

Tip 5: Ask your sponsor

Still not clear about where your priorities should be? You can always get a second opinion. Talk to your sponsor about what tasks he or she thinks are the most important for moving the project forward. Or take advice from your mentor or a close colleague. Then focus your time and energy into completing those tasks. Just be sure to ‘sanity check' the tasks that your sponsor highlights as important—they may be essential to your sponsor but not urgent or important to the project overall, so you may have to adapt your priorities accordingly.

When everything feels like a top priority, it can be hard to work out where to start. You need these...

Here's how to get on top of your workload.

Tip 1: Use Your Task List

Put together a task list of everything that needs to be done. This can then form the basis of your project plan, or a personal reminder. Your list is likely to be far too long to work from without feeling overwhelmed, so go through it again and highlight the tasks that feel the most important. These should be tasks that:

  • have deadlines that are coming up soon;
  • are for a manager more senior than you (although it's wise to use your professional judgement here);
  • are important contributors to helping you achieve your goals.

Flag these tasks in a different colour or something else that sets them apart and work on them first.

Tip 2: Remember the 80:20 Rule

The 80:20 rule says that 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the activity. There will be some tasks on your list that will give you very little benefit. Push them to the bottom and spend your time today on the top 20% as you'll find you still get a good outcome.

Look at what falls to the bottom of your task list every time. If it's there because it won't contribute beneficially overall, then ditch it. If it has been languishing at the bottom because you are avoiding it, but it should be part of your 20%, then either get on with it or delegate it to someone else.

Tip 3: Don't Prioritize by Email

What is at the top of your inbox is not the most important job of the day. You should prioritize your workload based on what is most important and urgent right now. That's unlikely to be the news that the office fridge is being cleaned out on Monday, but it could be updating your project schedule so that everyone has a clear view of what needs to be completed that week.

If you can't bring yourself to stop checking your messages every time you hear that ‘ping', then switch off the alerts. Book an hour (or less) a day to process your routine emails, save attachments, respond to queries and act on alerts.

Tip 4: Prioritize as a Team

Project work is done by teams, so prioritizing project tasks shouldn't be your responsibility alone. Get the team together and talk about the tasks that are coming up. Be honest about what you can realistically achieve as individuals and as a team. This helps set expectations.

Collaborating is a good way of dealing with changing priorities. Project work often involves last-minute changes. You'll need to be flexible as a team to cope with new requirements and other shifts in the working environment that may impact your objectives. What's a priority for your team today might not be at the top of the list tomorrow, so accept that you will need to review your priority list regularly and move tasks around as required.

Tip 5: Understand That You Can't Do It All

There is never enough time in the day to do everything that you have on your work and personal To Do lists. You should spend most of the day on tasks identified as priority, but leave some time each week to do the quick-and-easy tasks. They are unlikely to be top priority, but it will make you feel good to mark them as complete, and it helps you keep on top of your workload overall!

Establishing clear priorities is important as it lets you focus your day on what's really essential. Use your time wisely and you'll see great progress on your projects, and you'll be setting a fantastic example for your team.

Finally, save yourself time when you are prioritizing tasks by managing your task list using a software tool.

Getting the right work done at the right time is essential if you want to deliver your project successfully. To work out the best order for your project tasks you need to know...

Task dependencies are the links between project activities. They tell you what order you should complete the work in. It all starts with knowing what tasks make up your project.

Define the Project Tasks

First, make sure that you have a complete list of project tasks. Include everything that you need to do in order to complete the project. Get your team together to collaborate on the To Do list because many dependencies fall during the handoff of a task to another team.

Define Internal Dependencies

Look through your complete project task list and work out where the natural links are between activities. These are internal dependencies that occur within the environment of the project itself. A good example is sequential activities. For example, being able to demo your product to a user group is dependent on having completed the prototype.

Many projects have elements that the internal team can't deliver alone, and third party contractors are brought in to complete a particular task, like shipping equipment from one location to another or building a piece of software. Note these dependencies as well, as they all have an impact on your project team.

Define External Dependencies

Now think about the links that your project has to the world outside your team. It might be affected by other projects or other initiatives happening in the company. For example:

  • Another project has to finish before a task on your project can begin.
  • A resource working on another initiative has to be available before a task on your project can begin.
  • Two projects need the same task doing, so one person is going to do that activity for both projects at the same time.

These are external dependencies and project managers tend to have less control over them.

Choose Dependency Types

There are four types of task dependency:

  • Start to start: both tasks start at the same time.
  • Finish to finish: both tasks end at the same time.
  • Finish to start: one task ends before the other task begins. This is the most common type of dependency and creates sequential tasks.
  • Start to finish: one task starts before another task finishes. This is the least common type.

Choose the right dependency type for the link you want to create between your tasks. In 90% of situations the finish to start dependency will be the right one, but think creatively about how you use all these types. Running tasks in parallel with start to start dependencies will save you time overall.

Update your Schedule

Enter the correct dependency information into your project schedule. When you update your schedule in your project management software with dependency data you'll notice that the end date of the project will change. The software automatically calculates the impact of linking tasks on the plan and works out the fastest time that you can complete the project.

Monitor the Dependencies

When a change is raised, you will add in additional tasks or take out work in order to meet the new requirements. This has an impact on your schedule so you'll need to monitor your project's progress and the dependencies between tasks as the project progresses.

As you make changes to tasks, review the linkages between them, adding in new connections and deleting those you no longer need. Your project management tool will automatically take this into account and recalculate the schedule. This saves you a lot of time and lets you communicate the impact of those changes with stakeholders more quickly.

Fantastic project management systems keep you on top of your changing project schedule at all times.

The Gantt Chart is either loved or hated by those that know it well. But for those that don't, it can often be a mystery that, like most mysteries, is often shrouded in myths.

Let's take a look at 3 of those myths:

1. They're Confusing

Many people look at a Gantt chart and see a blur of lines and bars and colours and dots and diamonds and, frankly, just too much information.

They don't know even where to begin.

True, Gantt charts contain a lot of information. It's exactly why they're so helpful to use when you're planning a project that's more than a simple task list.

But let's dispel the myth that they're confusing right here and now. There are 3 things you need to know when using an software Gantt. They help you:

  • Track the team's tasks visually over time
  • Connect all the project tasks together (no more manual calculations!)
  • Attach files and discussions right on the task level (no more endless email threads!)

As for all the dots and diamonds colours? All that is up to you. Diamonds help you define key project milestones, like an important client handoff date. And Colours can represent people or project phases.

When you get behind the wheel of a Gantt chart, you will see that it can almost be fun to customize them to suit you and your team!

2. They're hard to create

Well... this is a myth that varies depending on who you ask and depending on what you mean by "create." Many people use Excel for project management where trying to create a Gantt chart has been best compared to getting a root canal.

But other people manage their projects entirely online, where you don't need to create anything to get the Gantt.

Gnatt Chart

In the example above, the Gantt chart is automatically filled in as you assign your tasks and due dates in the rows to the left. You can link tasks at the click of a button and drag and drop the bars on the Gantt anytime to change dates.

It's really quite simple.

3. They're only for project managers

Again, this myth depends on who you're asking and how they're using their particular tool.

Some applications, like MS Project, are desktop-only and don't have collaboration features. They might have companion versions with online or collaboration features, but the Gantt chart isn't available for the executive team or team members.

In other online project tools, the Gantt chart is the collaboration hub for the entire team!

The Gantt becomes the project plan, schedule, and collaboration panel all in one.

And it's simple enough for anyone to use.

You've defined your tasks and prioritized work with your team, and now you need to take your project to the next level. Gantt charts allow project managers to be project leaders.

The Gantt chart is a powerful project planning and management tool. It helps you visualize your task progress over time, and can also be used as a way to report the overall progress of your project.

But it also confuses the heck out of some people.

All those tiny horizontal bars cascading down off into the horizon look pretty, but they get in the way of the spreadsheet columns. And then there are words like "baseline" and "critical path" that are useless to anyone who just wants to simply manage their tasks and team.

You might think that Gantt charts are only for experts, right?

Wrong! When you know the basics of a Gantt chart, you can save a lot of time and money managing and planning your projects.

And they're really quite easy to use, now that they're online. In fact, with an online Gantt, you simply add your tasks, and the Gantt magically appears to represent the rows of tasks and the deadlines you set.

The result is a visual of each task's duration, which is really handy for getting clear on how long your project will actually take. But not all Gantt's are alike.

And it's easy to be a pro if you know how to use the tools and follow these 8 steps!

1. Drag & Drop

As you fill out your tasks in the spreadsheet, you'll see your Gantt populating to represent how long that task will take to complete. But it's really handy if you want to change the date of the task delivery right on the Gantt.

Find a tool where you can just drag & drop the task bar to extend or shorten its date, and then have that data populate magically on your spreadsheet. It saves time and sanity.

2. Alert the Team

Your online Gantt is key to your resource scheduling and management. But only if you set it up correctly. You need to set up email alerts for your team (or instruct them to do so), so you know they know:

  • When tasks are due,
  • When the project plan has been updated,
  • When an attachment has been added to a task,
  • When relevant discussions are added, and
  • Importantly, when tasks are overdue.

You can program all your alerts by role easily at the start of a project and communicate with the team what alerts mean to the project as a whole.

3. Add Milestones

You've prioritized and ordered your tasks, so you know what is vital to the project as a whole. Now it's helpful to think of several key milestones to define either key project phases or just key dates in the life of the project, like the start of quality testing, for example. In some Gantt chart tools, a milestone can be represented as a little diamond over a key task.

This little diamond is your friend. It can help you see at-a-glance when key parts of your project are coming up. You might even want to plan meetings around those milestones. Just a suggestion.

Milestones can mark key phases or dates in the project, and can be vital for motivating the team to hit targets and know when key deliverables are due.

4. colour-Coding

You can use colours to represent any number of things: the person the task is assigned to, different project phases like planning or QA, client-focused tasks, or anything else you can think of.

Look for a tool that allows you to set the colours as you see fit. It can actually be... fun!

5. Create Dependencies

Project dependencies are defined as tasks that are inter-related to each other, where one cannot start until one has been completed. On the online Gantt, dependencies are "linked".

Linking tasks are what Gantt Pros do to save time when things change in the future. If tasks are linked, they don't need to be manually rescheduled-when you change a date for one task, everything else downstream automatically adjusts to reflect the change.

6. Chart the Critical Path

Advanced features of online Gantt charts help the Pros chart the critical path, so they can identify the longest pole or pathway through the project, monitor potential delays, and mitigate potential impacts.

The critical path is the longest list of sequenced tasks that must occur on a project in order for it to be complete. These tasks have no float or slack time, which means that if any activity that is on the critical path takes longer than expected, it will delay the whole project.

Use the critical path filter on your online Gantt to automatically reveal those activities so you can monitor potential impacts that could derail your project.

7. Report on Progress

Online Gantt charts are a wealth of information. Its visual form helps you monitor project status and identify which tasks are in-progress.

Yet it's through using the advanced Gantt features that help you create data-rich reports. When you keep your Gantt up-to-date, then it's easy to generate reports at the click of a button to print or share with sponsors or stakeholders.

Gantt charts were created by the likes of scheduling pros like Henry Gantt, who popularized his idea of visual planning in the early 1900's. But Gantt couldn't know how advanced his tool would become.

8. Collaborative

This is probably the most important element of a good Gantt chart. Rather than have the project spreadsheet or Gantt on someone's desktop (where no one can see it) look for an online Gantt that the whole team can participate in.

And they don't actually need to know how to use the Gantt chart!

Amazingly, your team may simply be able to update tasks in their simple task list, by adding photos, videos, notes or documents, and those are automatically added to the Gantt as an attachment on the task itself! In this way, the whole team is connected to the Gantt and your project is updated by the whole team.

It's Easier Than You Think!

A Gantt chart is a staple for anyone managing a project, yet people either love 'em or hate 'em. With collaborative online Gantt chart software, the Gantt is updated automatically whenever a team member updates a task in their task list.

Those that hate the Gantt, never have to look at it.

But those that appreciate the planning power and time-savings of the Gantt, never want to look away.

There are many ways to plan a project, but the Gantt chart is a staple for anyone looking to track their project's timeline in a visual way.

While they might look complex, they're actually quite simple to create, when you use an online project tool.

Let's look at how you can plan your project using an online Gantt chart:

1. Start Adding Tasks

To the left of the Gantt is a simple task list. Well, it's simple in that you simply start adding a list of tasks. But with an software task list, like the Ms Project, the Gantt task list automatically populates the visual timeline as you add start and end dates to each task.

You might also notice some icons on the task rows. Those represent discussions, files and attachments on each task. You can see how with an online Gantt chart, the chart does the work of visualizing your work for you, plus you get a way to collaboration around each task, as well.

2. Customize your Gantt chart

You can customize your Gantt chart to highlight different programs, departments, team members or task types, or simply to reflect your style. This will be not only helpful for visualizing team work at-a-glance, but will help you define your work, your way.

3. Link Tasks Together

Tasks can be linked together when they are related to each other in some way. For example, if one task shouldn't start before another one begins, you would want to link those tasks together on the Gantt chart in case the first task is overdue. The Gantt chart then automatically calculates the linked tasks to adjust timelines accordingly.

4. Add Milestones

Milestones help you mark significant phases in a project, or key dates for stakeholder meetings or deliverable hand-off dates. When you set a milestone in your project, it shows up as a diamond in your Gantt chart so you can always see when upcoming milestones are due.

5. Collaborate!

Online Gantt charts enable teams to collaborate. Some project management software have built in collaboration tools that sync up to the Gantt so that when a team member updates their task and attaches a file, that file is also found on the Gantt task line. Everything is connected, and nothing is lost on the project.

You've got the budget and timeline nailed. Now to make sure your project is set up for success, you need to know...

Outline your quality targets early in the project so you know exactly how to achieve and measure a top notch result.

1. Set Quality Targets

First, you need to agree the quality targets for the project. Discuss the level of quality that your project sponsor finds acceptable. Talk to other customers too, for a rounded view. They will have different expectations of what quality looks like for different deliverables, so set quality targets for all the relevant products that you are producing as part of the project.

2. Define Quality Measures

Now you know how your stakeholders will judge you on quality, it's time to set some definite measures. Quality measures tell you how you will know whether you have hit your targets. A 'yes/no' measure will be suitable for some of your targets (in other words, we achieved it or we didn't). For others, you'll want to use a scale, for example 'all widgets produced weigh between 0.55kg and 0.60kg'.

Document the measures for each quality target. It's important to do this as soon as possible in the project so that your team knows how their performance will be assessed at the end.

3. Add Tasks to Your Schedule

There will be certain steps to complete in order to ensure that you reach the quality targets and that you can measure your achievements. In the example above, you'll need a system to weigh your widgets, so you'll have to update your project plan to reflect the tasks required to buy the scales and so on.

Make sure that your plan includes everything you need to do in order to deliver a quality result and prove that you've done so.

4. Take Action

Delegate tasks to your project team. Make sure that someone is responsible for quality at every step of the way. If it's documented and being worked on, you'll know that nothing is being overlooked and that the team is taking quality into account throughout the project.

Work through your project plan, completing the tasks to deliver both the end result and the tools to measure it.

5. Measure Quality

You have now reached a point where you can measure quality for the first time. Try to do this as early as possible in the project, at the first point where you have a completed deliverable to test. That gives you as much time as possible to fix any problems.

Measuring quality early and often will give your stakeholders confidence that the project is the best it can be when it goes live.

6. Report

As soon as you've got results to share, report them to your project customers. All the prep work you have put in has hopefully given you great news to pass on. If any deliverables need more work in order to achieve their quality targets, make sure you explain this to the people involved.

7. Update your Plan

Update your project plan with any additional work that needs to be done in order to retest deliverables. As you go through the project you will find ways of improving the quality of your products. Build these into your plan as well so you are continuously improving your deliverables.

Project management software is the best way to track the progress of project quality management. It may use real-time data capture to show you the exact status of your project at any time, so you can quickly see how you are doing against your quality targets.

All projects face risks-things that could go wrong at any point and cause your project to fail. The trick is learning how to deal with potential problems. Need some advice? Here's our fool-proof guide.

This simple 5 step process will help you manage project risk easily.

Step 1: Where are the risks?

The first step is to list everything that could have an impact on whether your project is a success. Think about all the potential problems that you could come across during the project and write them all down. It helps to do this with your team, as they will see things differently to you.

Step 2: What is the impact?

Now you have your list of risks it's time to see what impact they would have if they happened. You'll have the full spectrum: risks that won't cause big problems and risks that could potentially force your project to stop.

Prioritize the list of risks based on the impact: the ones with the largest impact are the highest priority. These are the areas you should focus on right now. Look at each individual risk, but also look at the risk profile overall—do all these risks add up to make your project really risky or is it going to be a low risk initiative?

Step 3: What can you do?

Once you know the important, high priority risks, you can assign tasks to your team to deal with them. These actions are things that will stop the risk from happening or minimize the damage it will cause if it does happen. Add this work to your colleagues' task lists using the resource assignment functionality.

The actual work you do in this step depends on the risks you are facing. For example, if there is a risk that a supplier goes out of business, you might research other suppliers so you have that information just in case. If the risk is that the product won't be built in time for the launch day you could add more people to the team, revisit the plan or remove some items from scope to make it more achievable.

Step 4: Who is responsible?

With all your team's actions recorded and tasks assigned, it's an easy job to use your project management software to track who's responsible for what and whether they have done the work you asked them to. Make a note to monitor the work regularly and follow up with your team.

Step 5: What's next?

Schedule some formal review sessions to ensure that your existing risk work is on track overall. You can also use this time to check with your team about new risks: it's very likely that something new will have come to light since you started work. Finally, close any risks that are no longer relevant. There's no point reporting on things that won't happen so tidy up your risk register from time to time.

Risk management is an important part of managing a project. You are doing work to address something that might create a huge problem for your project. Good risk management is a sure-fire way to make your project more successful. Your processes and systems help you avoid problems by letting you deal with potential issues in advance!

In summary, keep on top of your project risks-it's easy to overlook risk management work in the busy times on projects but if a risk happens you'll wish you hadn't!

When your team starts to thin out around the holidays, do your best laid plans go out the window too? Do your projects slow down or stop altogether?

Can you really afford that down time and loss of business?

You might wonder how other business leaders or project managers manage their employees’ summer vacations without an interruption to business.

Well, it's not a matter of luck or guesswork. And it's not that only large teams have the resources or the tools to be able to manage beyond the empty desks during of summer vacation.

But it is all about the tools.

Let's look at two common tools and the problems they present during the summer holidays, as well as a simple solution for both.

Problem 1 - Excel doesn't manage people

If you're managing projects in Excel, this might seem like an obvious statement. Only people manage people, right?

Well, yes and no. The right tools can help you manage your team's schedule, not just your project schedule. The problem with Excel is, if you're using it to manage your projects, you don't have a way to view your project schedule alongside your team's scheduled availability.

So not only is it hard to plan around scheduled vacations, it's hair-pulling work to re-arrange schedules and re-allocate work to accommodate the holidays.

Problem 2 - Most online planning tools don't manage people, either

Many teams move off of Excel to an online spreadsheet planning tool or a lightweight task tracking tool to get better visibility. These tools are great at managing tasks and even your project schedule, but they don't offer visibility into your team's schedule because they lack basic resource planning features.

Essentially, while they help the team communicate better online, they don't help the team leaders plan around upcoming vacations and mitigate the impact on the projects and the business.

So when the team's on vacation, suddenly the whole business is on vacation, too.

Solution: An software planning + team scheduling tool in one.

Here's a 21st century fact: you need to be able to keep your projects running when part of your team goes on vacation.

In order to stay competitive, you need business intelligence and visibility at all times.

Luckily, it's not hard to do that. And it's not expensive. And it's not about luck.

In some project management tools, there are a whole suite of people-management features that help you plan tasks around their working days, non-working days and vacation. These resource allocation and management features, as they're known, often include timesheets that connect with task assignment features.

It's tempting to skip proper planning when you're working on something that is going to be completed quickly but that can cause real problems. Find out...

Properly plan your small projects with these 5 steps.

1. Invest Time in Set Up

When you've done similar work before or you know a project has a short timescale, it can feel like proper planning is an overhead. It is worth your time to set up your project right from the beginning! These are some of the advantages you'll see:

  • You'll make sure that everyone who needs to be involved is involved.
  • You'll properly understand and easily see the deadlines so you can make sure you hit every one.
  • You'll know how much it is going to cost and you'll be able to track your project budget (even if it's miniscule).

Convinced that it is definitely worth planning even small pieces of work? Great!

2. Tailor Your Approach

Next, think about the project management tools and methods you use (or that are in use in your company). They are probably designed for larger projects. That's OK: just pick and choose the parts that you use in order to make the best use of your time. Save yourself some effort by only using the tools that help you get the job done.

For example:

  • Reports: You will still need to let people know what you are doing and how it is going. You will still produce reports, although they will probably show less detail than they would for a big project.
  • Gantt chart: Many project managers use Gantt charts for planning and they are ideal for large projects. On your small project you can probably just use a simple task list.

For many managers, just knowing that they don't have to do it all is a huge timesaver!

3. Plan Your Tasks

The most important planning activity is creating your task list. Write down the things that you need to do. This helps you in two ways: it defines the scope of the project as it clearly shows you what is in your project and what isn't and it helps you schedule the work.

With your task list in place, put the tasks in the order they need to happen. Use your judgement to guess at how long each task will take. Then you can work out how long the project will take by putting dates against each activity.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Small projects have small teams. In many cases you will be the only team member. Even so, make sure to communicate with your manager and your colleagues. They will be interested in what you are doing and you might need their help at some point.

5. Make Use of Software Templates as a Shortcut

Finally, make your life as easy as possible by using software tools to help.

Planning tools are definitely a bonus on small projects as they help you get set up faster and save time.

There are many times in the life of your project where you need to get feedback from your team, clients, or stakeholders.

But how do you share your plans so that you communicate the right details to the right person while keeping your information safe and secure?

3 Ways to Share a Project Plan

When you're trying to convey complex information to different people, you want to remember the following things:

  • Only share the details that matter.
  • Share in a way that they can access easily.
  • Share multiple views of data.

You don't want to overload people with too much information or share sensitive information with the wrong people.

Plus, you want you share information that the recipient can actually open and read quickly, without sending them off on a rat race to download some plugin or, worse, trying to dissect your data without the skills to do so.

Now, how do you do this?

Why Sharing Project Plans is Hard

Printing a spreadsheet is useless. Moving on...

And have you tried to email a large project planning document? Most email programs don't let you share files over 10 MGs.

You could share via Sharepoint, for example, but all too often there are security restrictions and they don't have access to see it.

Or you could share via Dropbox, but do you really want to upload your entire plan where it's hard to find the specific info they want to see and where revisions become impossible to manage?

How can you share just the data that they want...?

Without wasting your time?

The Secret to Sharing a Plan

You can't spend all of your day just creating reports and project plans customized for everyone who asks.

But you can provide customized information in just one click.

If you use software project management software, instead of Excel or desktop planning tools, you'll be able to generate different reports, at the click of a button.

Even better, you can enable your team and stakeholders to get the reports they want themselves! With simple security permissions, you can enable different roles to only have access to reports they need.

With online project tools, you save countless hours you used to spend creating and sharing custom reports.

Hint: get real-time dashboards to get instant access to live project data.

You've spent a lot of time preparing a detailed project plan and it accurately represents everything you have to do. Then something happens and you need to know...

Embrace the need for change and update your plan today! Here's how.

1. Acknowledge That Change is Good

First, recognize that your perfect project plan is the one that fits your needs right now. As soon as your project changes, your plan has to change to adapt to those new needs. It's a good thing that you are amending your plan to reflect reality. And it's easy to make changes because you've put in so much work already making sure that your plan is in great shape.

2. Identify the Change

Clearly identify the change that is under consideration. It might have originated from a team member, customer or your project sponsor. Make sure that you fully understand what they would like to do. Many businesses use a short change request form to capture the details and why the change is required, but in reality requests for changes arrive at the door of the project manager in many formats. These could include email and discussions.

Record the change request in a central location so that you maintain a record of what has been asked for, who asked for it and what decisions that has led to.

3. Review the Impact

When you have a clear idea about what change is desired you can work out how it will impact your project. There are likely to be impacts across several areas including:

  • Project budget: cost savings or extra expenditure.
  • Benefits: the change could bring additional benefits or reduce existing planned benefits.
  • Timescales: extra tasks mean more work and changes to key project dates.
  • Resources: whether your existing team have the skills to complete the change.
  • Risks: the change may result in new risks or the better management of existing risks.

There could also be other reasons to carry out the change such as a legal or regulatory requirement that means it has to happen.

4. Make the Decision

You've now got all the data you need to decide if you want to go ahead with this change. Your choices are:

  • Approve the change to go ahead now.
  • Approve the change with some caveats or special conditions, such as 'must be done before end of the month'.
  • Defer the change for discussion or implementation later.
  • Reject the change.

Whatever the outcome, you'll need to let the person who raised the change know what is happening and why. You'll also have to inform the project team so they know if they are supposed to plan for and do any additional tasks.

5. Update Your Project Documents

Add the new tasks to your project schedule, using the information from Step 3 to build out estimates. Allocate resources to that work.

Update any other documents that need to reflect the change including the change register that you used to record the original request. Your budget is another important file to review and update so that your records are complete.

6. Share Your New Perfect Plan

Make the team aware of the changes and point them to your online project management software to see the latest position. Let everyone know that your plan is perfect again! At least, for now...

Manage your plan like a pro by incorporating changes quickly, even if it does mean revising the project schedule several times. Tools like Ms Project lets you shift tasks around on your schedule and add new work with a few clicks.

Project Management & Control

There comes a time when things just aren't working right. When information gets lost, when deadlines slip, when conflict flares and when productivity needs to pick up - fast.

But when you're running from one meeting to the next, tackling your own tasks and managing your team, it's pretty hard to work on streamlining processes

Who has time for that?

Luckily, there are 3 simple ways you can improve process today:

1. Control Scope Creep

How often are your projects changing?

When you don't have a defined scope (list of tasks essential to completing a project) and then don't actively manage that scope (preventing new tasks from creeping in, aka "scope creep",) deadlines are going to slip and costs are going to go up.

So how do you manage scope? Simply:

  • Define Requirements - Today. Make a simple list of what tasks are required to complete this project.
  • Manage Change - Decide who gets to make changes to the scope. Ideally, a small team of people will review change requests regularly and determine how essential they are. And they should be empowered to say "No!" often.
  • Set firm due dates - You can't afford to let projects run on forever. Each project needs a set due date or else it will never get done.

2. Communicate Weekly

Lack of communication is the number 1 project killer. You can't afford to assume tasks are getting done. Plus, you need to make sure problems are communicated so projects stay on track.

The best approach? The weekly project meeting:

  • Quick 30-minute team meeting weekly
  • Update the team on progress
  • Manage any changes requested
  • Reinforce the deadlines
  • Listen to feedback

3. Collaborate Online

Did you know that we spend an average of 10 hours per week just looking for information?

One sure-fire way to lose track of projects (and lose productivity) is when people use different programs on different computers so project files are lost to emails and Excel docs.

You need a collaboration tool that offers a central location for all your project tasks and files, and lets you automate task updates and alerts for your team.

Project management tools can help you:

  • Manage tasks across all your projects
  • Manage your team with email alerts
  • Communicate anytime, anywhere
  • Track & manage costs
  • Save time & money

It might seem complicated to roll out a new project management tool, but it's super easy to set up and get started.

It's a fact of management: you have to meet your targeted goals and deadlines.

But when your project is constantly being challenged by outside forces-from senior leadership asking for new features, to dev teams recommending architecture changes, to account teams demanding urgent requests from customers...

How can you manage all that and keep your project on track?

1. Know Your Scope

Most teams define scope poorly. If scope is generalized, say it contains "Everything we need to do to redesign our website," then anyone can weigh in and determine what's part of that project.

But when you define scope specifically, with targeted task lists and assigned deliverables, then when new requests or features or tasks are added after a project has been planned, then they can be deemed to be "out of scope."

Only then can you be a true gatekeeper of the project scope.

2. Communicate the Scope

But you can't stop there. You need to communicate with your stakeholders and your team so they have a strong working knowledge of the project's scope. This helps them to be able to have clear boundaries when they're working on their tasks and understand what is expected of them and why.

Plan your communications well. You could distribute the project plan or scope documents by email and hope your team reads them. But it's better to also communicate scope verbally. You might use the project kick-off presentation to provide the team and stakeholders with an overview of the scope alongside the project goals and timeline. You can also use your weekly meetings to reiterate the scope of the project, too.

3. Train Your Team

The team should be trained to be scope gatekeepers, too. They should be able to spot, react and communicate potential changes back to you and the team transparently.

After all, they're the ones on the forefront, and often external parties go straight to the team members with minor (or major) requests. It's imperative that the team works together to protect the scope, or feel empowered to communicate when certain impacts to scope should be taken seriously.

Hint: Set up email alerts for yourself so you're notified immediately when a plan has changed or an issue has been raised.

4. Get Scope Tracking Tools

Knowledge, training and communication are crucial, of course, but without the right project tools at hand you're not going to have the visibility to spot impacts to the project.

Reports are just one of the many tools at your disposal when monitoring a project and assigning or reassigning tasks. You'll also want to be able to monitor scope through advanced features line baselining and critical path management, or simply by enabling the team to collaborate on the project and communicate with their team easily.

The best tools are going to give you access to the project as it's happening, not a snapshot of where it's been.

When you're juggling lots of tasks and your manager wants a status update right now, you need to know the progress of everything. Find out...

These 5 simple steps will help you understand project progress at all times.

1. Work Out What's Important

Before you start tracking your project you need to know where you should be focusing your attention. There are so many elements of projects that could be tracked, and you'll want to review your individual project to find out what elements are important for you and your team.

For example, if you have to complete your budget to a defined budget, it makes sense to track your expenditure closely. When quality is your top priority, then you'll want to spend time measuring how well each element of scope is doing against the quality targets.

As a minimum, project managers should track the project's performance in these areas:

  • Budget: are you spending what you thought you would?
  • Schedule: are you working as quickly as you expected?
  • Scope: are you managing changes effectively?

2. Set Targets

Once you've discussed and agreed your priorities for this project with your team, then look at what your expected performance should be. Here are some examples:

  • Resource utilisation for each project team member should be 85%?
  • No more than 6 risks flagged as 'red' at any one time?
  • Project budget should be within 15% of forecasted spend.

As you can see, there are a number of ways to phrase your targets. What's important is that they are meaningful for you and the team.

There may be some flexibility within your targets. This is called 'tolerance' and it allows you to deliver a little above or a little below your targets. In other words, your target is not a defined figure (like 20%); it's a range (like 18-22%).

Another way to set targets is to create a baseline. This is a snapshot of your project plan that you can use to look back on later and see how you did.

3. Measure Progress Against Targets

As you work through your project tasks, check back against your baselines and targets to see how well you are doing. Look at what you said you would achieve when you put together the plan and compare that to how the team has actually worked. This comparison of planned versus actual work is at the core of project tracking.

4. Report Back

Measuring and understanding where you are is only the first part of tracking. This activity gives you the data you need to understand what is going on in the project, but at the moment you are the only person to know that! It's time to tell the team.

Report back to the team, sharing the key points. If you notice that you are not hitting your targets on any area of the project you can create an action plan together to bring the project back on track.

5. Create Personalized Dashboards

You will find yourself tracking and reporting back a lot during the course of a project so save yourself some time and set up customized dashboards. These take all the data from your project management software and present the highlights on a single screen. You can see at a glance where your project is performing against the targets you have set and where you need to investigate further.

As a leader, project teams look to you to clarify what they should be doing and when. Help them stay on track by knowing...

A simple 5-step approach to ensuring your team stay on top of their tasks.

1. Review Your Team's Current Workload

You can only manage what you know. Make sure that you know exactly who is in your team. In a matrix environment you might have some people who are only available to work on your tasks for a portion of their week, so be sure to get clarity on that too.

Use resource management reports from your project management system to show you who is working on which tasks.

2. Identify Over Allocated Staff

Your workload reports will also show you who is over allocated. This means that they have been given more work than they can actually do in the time available.

A good rule is that people should be allocated to specific tasks only 80% of their time. The remaining 20% will be for answering phone calls, attending team meetings, dealing with the customer who calls with an urgent problem and so on.

The 20% should be spread out across the week; it's better to fill people's time for, say 6 hours per day, than give them every Friday with nothing to do apart from catch up on the things they weren't able to finish earlier in the week.

3. Identify Under Allocated Staff

You are also looking at your resource reports and dashboards for people who don't have enough work to do. Keep your team motivated by ensuring they have meaningful tasks to fill the day.

In reality, your team members will always look busy. They will find things to work on, perhaps taking on tasks of their own accord or helping out one of their colleagues. Your time management system will help you understand if they are working on tasks that you deem to be their priority.

You can also pick up clues about whether your team is over or under allocated from them directly. They may ask for more work or point out that they can't take on another assignment. Use your professional judgement when assessing your team's workload.

4. Account for Skills and Absences

You can manage your team's workload better if you know when they are going to be around. Talk to them about upcoming holidays and include those in your planning so you don't assign them work while they are away.

Equally, check in with your team to make sure your knowledge of their skills is up-to-date. They may be able to work on more projects than you expected if they have developed new skills.

5. Adjust Your Assignments

Finally, you've got to put those over and under allocations right. Start with the people who have too much work assigned to them. Split big tasks and assign someone else to help them out. Or make the task stretch over a longer period so they have fewer hours to work on it each day.

You could also move some of their work to another member of the team who doesn't have enough to do. Boost someone's workload by asking them to take on another project, develop their skills or involve them in planning for next year.

If you are going to change an assignment in your resource planning system, don't forget to speak to the people involved first! You can explain that you are shifting resource requirements around to balance out the work and that it is not a reflection on their performance.

Resource management software makes this whole process easy, especially when it's integrated into your project management solution.

Prioritizing work is easy when you know what your team are spending their time on. To do that you need to record their time. Find out...

These 3 simple steps will get your team tracking their work.

1. Explain Why Timesheets Matter

First, have an honest conversation about why you want to use timesheets on your projects. There are lots of benefits of time recording. Some or all of these might apply to your business:

  • Better data about how long tasks are taking so that you can use this to estimate more effectively in the future.
  • Better visibility of where time is being spent so you can adjust your plans if necessary.
  • Better awareness of who is busy and who could take on more tasks.

Introduce the idea of timesheets in one of your regular meetings. Explain why there is a business value in using them and answer any questions they may have. Note down any concerns that you hear and then find ways to address them before Step 2...

2. Onboard Team with Online Tools

Once you've chosen the software that the team will use, give them a demo. Show how quickly they can create a timesheet and submit it. Ask for questions, and then give them the opportunity to try it for themselves.

It's much more powerful to show your team than to try to explain without a demo. Once they see how intuitive and easy it is to record their time, they'll be more positive about it.

It's also a good idea to show them what you will be doing with the data. For example, accurate timesheets can help you estimate more effectively later in the project.

3. Train and Support

Intuitive project management apps can easy to pick up and use. It's a very simple job to record your hours worked, especially if it's in the context of a software suite that they use every day anyway. Your team can get started straightaway, so the training overhead is minimal.

You will, however, need to create logins for them so they can start entering their data. You may also find it beneficial to reiterate the messages around why you are moving to time recording for project management.

Support your team through their first weeks using timesheets by:

  • Sending reminders that they need to fill their timesheets in.
  • Telling them you are around to help them work out how to do it if they can't remember.
  • Offering to review their timesheets before submission.
  • Reiterating that it isn't about monitoring their hours.

Automate and Integrate

The best timesheet systems let you integrate your project schedules. That means you'll never have to manually add tasks to timesheets because they will automatically pull the items your team should be working on from the project plan. This saves you a lot of time, and it makes it even simpler for your team: there is hardly any work for them to do.

You can also automate reporting from timesheets. Feed timesheets into your real time dashboards for a constantly accurate view of what the team is doing and how much capacity you have. It's a real boost for managers because they've got instant access to useful, meaningful data that helps plan and make decisions.

The data helps you be more proactive so your projects are more successful and less risky as a result. And the transition to using timesheets can be really easy if you use the tools already embedded in your enterprise-grade project management software.

Time recording boosts productivity because (even after you remove the time it takes to enter the data) you gain in the ability to better allocate resources and estimate work. Integrating/linking timesheets and your project schedules makes it easy to log time and then analyze the results. Why not give it a try today?

All your project estimates are done and you're comfortably monitoring progress. But something is missing. Unless you know how long tasks are taking to complete you can't assess whether you are on track or not. You need to know:

Working out hours spent on tasks is easy when you know how.

Set up online/system timesheets

Online/system timesheets have a big advantage over paper-based timesheets or a standalone time management system. When you have everything online it is easy for your team members to get access to their records wherever they are working and at any time of the day. It's also easy to link the time management data to other areas of your project like your schedule, as we will see next...

Link timesheets to your schedule

Use your timesheet data to populate your project schedule. You can set it up so that the data feeds in to the relevant line about each task and marks it as a little bit more complete. It saves your project team (and you) a job as you don't have to update your schedule manually quite as often.

Collect time tracking data

OK, so you've created timesheets for each person on the team and you have linked them to your project schedule so that everyone can see the data and what it is used for. Now you have to get your team to fill in their timesheets so you can get the data in the first place!

Some individuals can be reluctant to complete timesheets as it can feel as if their work is being judged, and it can turn into a competition about who can work the most hours. The best way to avoid these challenges is to be honest about what the data is being used for: improving your project tracking. Let them see how it is being used and why it is helpful for you. Try to create a culture in the team where there is no competition and that people complete their timesheets accurately without feeling under pressure to justify themselves.

Make it real-time

Another concern with collecting data about how people are spending their time is that it needs to be 'as it happens'. There's not much point collecting historical data about what people did two months ago as that won't help you monitor and control the project today. You need your timesheet information to be in real-time, so encourage your project team to enter their data regularly. Online access makes this easy as they can fit it in whenever and don't have to be in the office. They should do this at least once a week, but more often is better. After all, think back to what you were doing last week. Can you remember everything you spent time on? Probably not, so get that information out of your head and on to your timesheet as soon as you can.

Make it easy!

Your project team will fill in their timesheets and tell you how long things are taking if you make it easy for them to do so. Make sure that they have a link to the online/system timesheet tool from their desktop, or that it is saved in their favorites. Limit the amount of tasks on the timesheet so that they don't feel it takes too long to complete. And check that they all have user names and passwords so there are no excuses!

Tracking time isn't difficult, although many project managers find it hard to get to grips with gathering this data. Use your tools and your team to help you and you'll find that monitoring progress on your project is really straightforward.

It's easy to see if your project is on track—if you are using the right metrics to monitor performance. Learn...

These 4 simple steps will soon have you tracking progress like a pro!

1. Define Success

First, you need to establish what success means to you. Is it:

  • A project that delivers on time?
  • Happy customers?
  • Meeting your quality targets?
  • Finishing under budget (or at least on budget?
  • Something else?

In reality, it's likely to be a combination of all those things but something will jump out as the most important. Pick the top 2 or 3 things that are your 'must haves'. Discuss them with your team so that you agree how you are going to define success on this project.

2. Choose Your Metrics

Now you know what is important to you and what the important success criteria are for this project, you need to come up with some metrics that help you measure those. This is what will let you track your projects.

For example, if it's critical that you hit your deadline because the product must be launched before a certain date, then you'll definitely want to measure how you are doing against your project plan and whether you are making progress as you expected.

Suitable metric: Schedule Variance

If staying on budget is more important, then you'll choose metrics that show you how much you have spent and whether that lines up with what you thought you'd be spending at this point.

Suitable metric: Cost Variance

Identify the metrics that go hand in hand with the success criteria that you want to track. On small projects you might just have one main measure. On larger projects you'll have a selection of metrics that give you a bigger picture view. Whatever you decide is fine because you've already aligned your metrics to what is important.

3. Measure Your Progress

As the project moves forward you can track your performance. Use the metrics that you have chosen. These link directly to how you are measuring success, so you'll be able to see how you are doing at a glance and whether you are on track to hit your targets.

You'll want to look at (and act on) the data that the metrics give you at least once a month. On smaller, agile projects, you should be reviewing status a lot more frequently than that: at least once a week but go more frequent even than that if it makes sense.

4. Refine and Improve

There are two sets of improvements to consider as you go forward.

First, are your metrics the right ones? Once you've been tracking them for a while you'll know whether they are telling you the data that you need to make decisions. If they aren't, it's time to look at what else you could track instead that would give you better information about how the project is doing.

Second, how easy is it to get to the data? If it takes you a long time to calculate the results and present them to share with the team, then your project tracking is slowing you down.

It's easiest to see how the metrics are changing if you set up a dashboard to show you everything at a glance. Then you'll only have one screen to look at. Refine and improve how you set up and access your project tracking data as you go to make life as easy for you as possible.

You can automate much of the process of monitoring project performance by setting up your metrics in your project management software. Then use the dashboard features to report on progress in real-time.

One of the hardest things a Project Manager has to do is balance the books, especially when there is a drive to reduce costs. So how can you get value for money on your project? Read these...

Here are 5 tips for project cost management.

Tip 1: Negotiate

Most projects involve suppliers or other third parties, and you might be surprised at how much negotiating power you have, especially if you are buying goods or services in bulk. If you are the first company to use a product from a supplier you could get a good discount by agreeing to provide references or a case study.

Look at the pricing structures as well. You may be able to negotiate a different payment structure such as phased payments instead of paying for everything upfront. This can help your company's cash flow. You may be able to get a discount if you can pay cash on delivery too.

Tip 2: Use expense management software

You can't manage project costs unless you've got a great system for keeping on top of what is being spent when. These expense tracking tools help you keep track of where the money is going. The software can also manage recurring expenses so you'll never need to remember to enter regular payments.

In some companies managers will also expect you to track the cost of resources, so make sure that your expense management system can handle automatic calculations of resource time based on the hours worked and their hourly or daily rate.

Tip 3: Review your contracts

Are you paying for value-added services that you don't need, such as insurance or project management that you are actually doing yourself? Many vendor contracts include an admin overhead that you could do without. Think about renegotiating your contracts or purchasing services on a ‘pay as you go' model instead of a full-service contract basis.

Tip 4: Get the right resources

A huge amount of your project budget can be spent on people, so it will literally pay to get the right resources. For example, don't ask a highly paid, skilled resource to do general admin work when you can get a temporary resource at a much lower rate to do that. And use specialist resources when you need to—they will often complete work much faster than a generalist and so work out cheaper, even if their day rate is a bit higher in the short term.

Don't be afraid to use temporary resources. You can integrate them into the project team and then manage their departure when they leave. This might sound like a lot of work but it's more efficient for everyone.

Tip 5: Extend the project

When faced with mounting costs, you might find that your project client or sponsor is prepared to extend the deadline for the project, even if they previously said that the milestones had to be fixed! It may be cheaper to deliver your project over a longer period of time as you can spread out costs or do more work in-house. Talk to your sponsor to see if there is any flexibility in the timescales.

Remember, if you complete your project on or below budget but you don't deliver something that meets the objectives of the stakeholders, then the project hasn't been a complete success. Ideally, clients will get what they want for a reasonable price. It's a difficult balance, but there's no point cutting costs if the end result isn't useful and doesn't meet the customer's needs. There's nearly always some cost cutting that you can do, but don't let it be at the expense of project success!

Are you struggling to do more projects with the same resources? You aren't alone! Lots of project managers are facing budget cuts and even if you aren't, it is good practice to keep your projects as cost-effective as possible. You can keep expenses down with these...

Please your stakeholders by bringing your project in on budget!

Tip 1: Automate reporting

Time is money, right? So the more things you can automate both for yourself and your team, the more time you can spend on other tasks. Use your project management software to create reports that update from other data in the system automatically. This will save you time copying and pasting information into your report. Dashboards that pull key bits of project data into a single, graphical display are one easy way to ease the burden of reporting.

Tip 2: Cancel face-to-face meetings

Face-to-face meetings are expensive. They involve travel for most people, and that's the cost of being out of the office during the journey time and also the cost of the transport to get to the meeting. Plus maybe the hire of a meeting room. Plus lunch. Plus coffees when people arrive. And an overnight stay for those coming from far away. Plus... you can see how easily the costs mount up when you schedule team meetings face-to-face.

Use Skype or instant messaging to meet your colleagues virtually. If you used to travel a lot, this tip alone will drastically reduce your budget.

Tip 3: Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

Always challenge supplier quotes—you never know if there is wiggle room unless you ask! The same goes for when it comes to renewing contracts. Some vendors will automatically increase prices each year, often by more than the rate of inflation. Don't accept these price rises without talking to your account manager as you may be able to reduce the uplift. And don't renew anything that you no longer need!

Tip 4: Monitor expenses

This is probably one of the most important things to do. You will have to spend money on your project, however much you try to minimize the costs. So when that happens, make sure you have the processes in place to record the expenditure and monitor the health of your overall project budget.

Use an expense monitoring tool to track regular outgoings (such as fees for consultants or monthly licence payments) along with one-off spend, and organize it by category so you can see where the majority of your funding is going.

Tip 5: Control changes

Changes to the project's scope will cost you money. And the further into your project you are, the more the change will cost you. It's a lot harder to change the design of a building when the walls are already up, but if you make that change when it's still a 3D model on the architect's desk then you can save a lot of cash.

When you do make a project change that affects your budget, make sure that everyone is aware of the impact. If you need to dip into your contingency fund or business reserve then let your sponsor know.

With these 5 tips you can manage your expenses and minimize your project costs. That's the best way to guarantee a happy project sponsor and a successful project!

Have you got To Do lists all over the place? Keeping on top of your tasks is a crucial skill for project managers, and if you find it difficult then you are not alone! Let's share some...

Stay on top of all your project tasks with these tips.

Tip 1: Have one To Do list

Forget sticky notes on your monitor, a list on your tablet, scribbled notes on a piece of paper... you need one To Do list. Using online software or an app is the best way because you'll probably always have your phone or laptop with you. You can quickly open the app on your smartphone or tablet and record the task.

If you really can't get online when new work comes to light, make a quick note somewhere (like drafting an email to yourself that will send when you reach an area with signal) and then you won't forget to add it to your online To Do list later.

Tip 2 Prioritize your tasks

Creating one central list of tasks is a big help, but then you need to think about the right way to tackle that long list of work! Prioritize your tasks. There are two ways to do this: what's urgent and what's important.

Urgent tasks are things that must be done right now, such as a request from your project sponsor to provide an update by the end of the day. Important tasks don't necessarily have to be done immediately, but they are essential for the success of the project. Of course, a task can be urgent and important at the same time and the priority of tasks can change from day to day!

Tip 3: Record tasks for other people

One of the big challenges for project managers is making sure that tasks are done by others. When it's your responsibility, you know that you will get round to it, but when it's work for someone else—let's face it, they probably need a little chase every now and then, even if it is an action that has been recorded in the minutes of a meeting.

When other people take an action in a meeting, make a note of it and add it to your project actions log. The task tracking features will then let you assign it to the right person so it shows up in their personal To Do list. Then they won't forget, and you'll be able to monitor progress and remind them from time to time about what they agreed to do, making sure it is completed before the deadline.

Tip 4: Track your time

Using time sheets to track your time is a great way to manage tasks. Why? Because it helps you see exactly where you are spending your time during the day and this information lets you prioritize effectively.

For example, if you are recording your time you'll see precisely how much time you spend on social media sites and contacting your friends during office hours, and how much time you spend travelling or doing other things that don't directly contribute to moving your project forward. You'll uncover useful information like what times of day you are most productive and which projects (or project management activities) you spend most time on. Then you could look at speeding up some of the things you do routinely.

Tip 5: Delegate

Finally, look at what you can delegate. You don't have to do everything on the project yourself. Projects are a great development and learning opportunity for your team members too, so think about what you can delegate to others. Not only can you pat yourself on the back for helping develop their skills, it is also work off your To Do list that you don't have to do!

Every project manager wants to complete their project on time, but sometimes hitting those final milestones can be difficult. The easy way to meet your deadlines is to know...

The critical path is made up of all the tasks that determine the end date of your project.

Understand the Critical Path

First, take the time to understand what is a critical path is. The critical path is made up of the tasks that happen one after the other without any slack in the project plan. If one of those activities finishes late by a day, the whole end date of the project moves out by one day. Knowing which tasks are on the critical path means that you can monitor them to make sure they all hit their deadlines.

Identify Slack in the Schedule

Go through your task list and note down for each task:

  • The earliest possible start date.
  • The latest possible start date.
  • The earliest possible finish date.
  • The latest possible finish date that wouldn't impact the end date for the project.

The difference between the earliest and latest dates is the slack you have in the schedule. For example, if a task could start at the earliest on Monday but has to start by Thursday, you have three days of slack (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday).

Plot Your Critical Path

Now you have those details for each task, it's time to work out which of your tasks are on the critical path. They won't necessarily be the tasks that are most important, but they are easy to spot.

The critical path tasks are the tasks that have no flexibility in the start date or end date. They are the tasks you identified that have no slack. They might be the least important activities, but their completion dates determine the project's delivery date because you can't flex the dates forward and backwards.

Highlight these tasks on your project schedule - these are the ones you really have to focus on managing to get the project delivered on time.

Resource the Critical Tasks

The easiest thing to do to make sure you stay on the critical path is to allocate resources to the work. Do it early, so they know the tasks are coming. Tell the team which tasks are on the critical path and make it clear that you expect the work to start and finish on time.

You can also consider putting your most experienced resources on critical path tasks. They are more likely to be able to complete activities on time with less help than less experienced team members.

Manage Your Team

The only way you will stay on top of your critical tasks is if you consistently manage to your plan. Make status reporting part of every team meeting and get your team to give you updates in real-time. You'll be able to quickly spot where they need help and step in to get the work back on track.

Link project risks to activities on your plan so you can see what needs to be done to keep everything moving forward at the right pace.

Monitor the Critical Path

The critical path on a project can change, so it's important to monitor it as the work progresses. There are many variables on projects. An activity that is not on the critical path can suddenly pop up as a critical task if it takes longer than planned.

The best way to identify and monitor your critical path on an ongoing basis is to use project management software. This can automatically calculate your critical path and highlight the critical tasks. It saves hours of manual tracking and takes the guesswork out of when your project will finish.

78% of projects that finish as planned use risk management techniques. Research shows that the most successful projects are those where project risk is actively managed. Learn more about risk management on projects below.

What increases project risk?

These factors affect how risky your project is going to be:

  • New technology
  • Low experience levels
  • Lapsed time
  • Long projects

Using a risk register

A risk register records all your project risks, and it's the most critical document you have for managing risk. A risk register is essential because:

  • it helps you plan
  • it helps you prioritize
  • it helps you budget
  • it helps you allocate responsibility

Managing high risk projects

It's daunting to manage a high risk project, but you can break the processes down so they are easier to manage.

Project managers running successful projects use risk management which can help simplify and improve your risk management approach.

It would be nice to think that everything always goes to plan on projects, but that isn't the case! You will hit problems. When you do, it's best to be prepared.

Here are our top 5 tips for managing project issues effectively.

Tip 1: Record the issue

Log the issue on your issue register. You'll want to record the date that it was identified, the person who raised it and a brief description of the problem. At this point you can also add an estimate of how serious you think the issue might be, but you'll do a full impact analysis later.

If the issue is serious, this is a good time to talk to your project sponsor and explain that you'll be producing a full action plan to address the problem.

Tip 2: Allocate an owner

As the project manager, you can't manage everything, so it's important to be able to delegate tasks to your team members. Managing issues is no exception. Choose someone who has the skills to help resolve the problem and ask them to be the issue owner. This means that they will have to follow up progress on resolving the issue, track the actions and provide you with status updates.

It doesn't mean that they have to fix the problem by themselves, so they should get others involved if they need to. Often it's easier to brainstorm potential solutions as a team.

Tip 3: Establish the impact

Project issues range from small things that can be resolved in a day or so to big problems that could have the potential to stop your project completely. Most project issues fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Issues can affect one area or many, and have an impact on the project schedule, budget, quality or scope. This is the point in the process where you establish what elements of the project have been affected.

Carry out an impact analysis to assess the scale of the problem. Think about the areas of the project or the stakeholders that are affected and how long the problem will take to resolve.

Tip 4: Produce an action plan

Now that you know more about the problem, you can prepare an action plan to resolve it, or at least to minimize the impact on project progress.

Tip 5: Monitor progress

Monitoring progress is the final stage in managing a project issue as effectively as possible. After all, all the analysis in the world won't help if you don't actually take steps to fix the problem. Use your task list and project schedule to monitor progress towards resolving the issue. As the project manager, follow up with the issue owner on a regular basis so that you can be reassured that the work is progressing to plan and that the team is doing everything they can to minimize the impact of the problem on the project's objectives.

When each action has been completed successfully, you can mark the task as complete on the task list and update the issue log with the latest progress.

Managing project issues doesn't have to be daunting.

One of the biggest challenges for a Project Manager, especially on large, virtual or distributed teams is keeping on top of what your team members are doing day-to-day. So read this newsletter to learn...

You can make things easier by following these 5 tips to manage your project team.

Tip 1: Meet regularly

Even if your team is split across many locations you can still meet up regularly. Use collaboration tools, video conferencing or plain old phone calls. However you do it, make it as easy as possible for everyone to join, taking into account time zone differences and the flexible working arrangements of team members. You'll also want to schedule individual meetings with each person on the team, at least once a month, maybe more if they are working on parts of the project that need close monitoring.

Meeting regularly will help the individual team members come together as a project team and also help you keep on top of who is doing what.

Tip 2: Use resource reporting

Project managers are used to creating reports to show project status, the situation with risks and the budget and so on, but did you know that you can create reports to show information about your resources as well? Resource reports can show you when one team member is overloaded with project work. They can also show you who has time available to take on more tasks! These resource planning tools will help you keep track of how much work has been allocated to each team member, their availability and capacity to do any other work. This helps you work out who has some free time and who is going to find their workload a challenge.

It will easily calculate and display the variance between these so that you can see at a glance what changes you need to make to ensure your team can complete all the project tasks required without struggling with the weight of too many assignments.

Tip 3: Use time sheets

Get your team members to use time sheets on your project as they have loads of benefits for everyone. Time sheets record what activities have happened each day and let you see how each individual is doing.

Time sheets help you record progress in real-time and allow each team member to demonstrate what they have been up to that week. This gives you really valuable information about how quickly they're working and completing their tasks, which can help you reschedule activities in case of delays. After all, not everyone works at the same pace so it is worth tracking time to see how accurate your project estimates have been and what, if anything, needs to be reforecast now your team has started working on it.

You'll quickly be able to see how things are going at a really granular level and you can make changes as you need to so that every task gets done by the person with the right skills to do it.

Tip 4: Monitor progress

You can manage your team's work more effectively if you know that your project is on track. Use status or progress reports to get the data you need to establish how well your project is doing. Reports will tell you how far you are ahead of plan or behind schedule by using the task estimates and actual time sheet data to calculate progress. This is the easiest way to see if you are going to hit your project deadlines or not. And if you aren't, you'll get an early warning through the reporting tools and you can make changes to your resource allocation, tasks or the people involved to bring the project back on track.

This gives you valuable data that will help you manage your resources-if you see that everything is taking longer than you originally expected, that's a sign to get some more resources on the team to help out.

Tip 5: Have a common goal

The single best thing for bringing a team together and make it easy for you to manage them and their work is for everyone to share a common goal. When your project objectives are clear, everyone can see how what they are working on contributes to the big picture. When you can link your individual tasks to the corporate strategy, or even to something simple like how your project will improve customer service, then you can get everyone behind that shared vision.

Tip 6: Make time to socialize!

Meetings are one thing, but bringing a team together with common goals takes more than just regular status updates. Make time to hang out with your team members and socialize together. You don't have to do anything expensive, as even talking about a sports match or sharing lunch together counts.

The more 'together' your team feels, the easier it will be for them to work directly with each other and with you as you will have increased the levels of trust in the team to the point that they work effectively and successfully on their tasks, making it easier to manage the project and them as individuals.

It's official: today's manager has to lead people that are both in and out of the physical office. Today's organization is truly global and virtual. But there are clear challenges with managing remote teams.

Here are 3 ways you can successfully manage your distributed team members.

1. Get Collaboration Tools

This may seem obvious. Of course you must collaborate and you'll need tools to do so, right?

Well, it's important to think about what tools you'll need and make sure you have everyone working in the same tools. Since you can't physically see what remote teams are working on, you need to make sure you can get as much visibility as you can with the tools on hand.

Best advice? Choose a common platform that offers project planning, task scheduling, file sharing, discussion groups, instant messaging, email notifications and reporting. You want to make sure your work is all in one place, so that your reporting is able to capture the task and project data and so team members don't waste time digging through emails or 5 different file storage repos to find what they need.

2. Actively Monitor Progress

Just as your team members now have easy access to the tools they need to get the work done on time, you too have access to their work and can see who is meeting, exceeding or falling behind on their goals.

But you can't stop there. You do need to actively manage your teams to determine progress. If you're using a common platform, you have access to the team's individual task lists, so you can tell when a task has been completed. This makes running status update reports super simple, too.

Another trick is to set up alerts so you know when a team member has completed a task. If you don't want to flood your inbox with notifications, then set up a weekly email that updates you on all the work done over the week. You get an overview and can see where you're on track and what needs some attention.

3. Share in the Success

The challenge with remote team members, is they don't get to share what goes on in the main office. So it's important to pro-actively share the latest project or company updates, and most importantly, share in the successes when they happen.

When you're using a common planning tool, you can share the plans and reports easily with people, so they can see the project progress they're making as a team.

You can hold daily stand-up meetings not at the water cooler, but through screen-sharing the project plan, for example, over Skype.

It's also important to share successes not just when a major milestone has been reached, but through simple acknowledgements of a job well done to an individual on the team or the entire team. Sharing in the success is how to keep the team engaged and motivated.

When your team is scattered all over the country (or the world) it can be hard to get anything done, let alone create a positive atmosphere on your project. Remote teams can be successful if you use these tips on...

You'll soon all be collaborating and delivering project tasks successfully!

Tip 1: Collaborate

It might seem almost impossible to collaborate when you don't all work in the same location, but in many ways it can be easier! There are fewer distractions, and you are unlikely to get people turning up late because they got caught in the corridor by someone who had a question. Use collaboration tools like discussion groups, instant messaging and Skype to hold virtual meetings. You can even share a virtual whiteboard to take notes in real time.

Then upload the minutes from your meeting to the shared document storage area and you'll all have instant access to what was agreed.

Tip 2: Share

If you have ever worked with someone who stored everything on their personal laptop and never volunteered to share anything then you'll know how difficult it is to make progress in that sort of environment. Build a culture of sharing on your project. Share templates, knowledge, resources, experience—everything, really.

When everything is in plain sight you don't have to worry about people feeling left out or being unable to complete their work because they don't have access to the resources they need to do their job.

Tip 3: Monitor progress

When you can't see what the person is doing you need to spend more time ensuring that they are working on the right thing. Set up ways to monitor progress that make it easy for you both. For example, share task lists and then you can see when they complete tasks by checking their current To Do list. Or you could create alerts for when they mark work as done, or review their timesheets.

Something as simple as an email to you once a week covering what they have achieved and what they plan to do next week would also work. There is no need to make it complicated as long as you both agree and understand how progress will be tracked.

Tip 4: Don't micromanage

The opposite of active project monitoring is micromanagement! This is when you constantly bombard your team for updates and hover over them when they are working (yes, you can do this virtually, but you shouldn't!). Team members need to feel trusted, so back off. As long as they are getting the work done to the required standard there is no need for you to be copied in on every email they send or to for them to check in with you every day.

Tip 5: Celebrate success

Just because you aren't all located in the same city doesn't mean that you can't celebrate project successes. Find creative ways to celebrate a job well done when a milestone is reached or when the project finishes. You can also reach out to team members and thank them during the project—they will really appreciate this personal touch and it helps build trust and a positive working environment during the project.

With these 5 tips you'll soon see your virtual project teams turning into star performers!

These days it's common to be working with people all around the world, or at least team members who are based in a different location to you. That can make it hard to collaborate. However, you can solve some of your collaboration problems with these...

Improve how your project team works together with these quick tips.

Tip 1: Don't rely on email

It's tempting to rely on email when you have a team split across several locations. Email makes it easy to copy everyone in and it is fast. But it isn't an effective way to collaborate.

Inboxes get very full and it often becomes difficult to follow the thread of a conversation. Make it a rule on your team that once you've hit 7 emails in a chain you pick up the phone or use another way of getting in touch.

Tip 2: Use collaboration tools

There are lots of tools that are better than email for collaboration. For example, instant messaging tools like Spark makes it easy to have real-time conversations with other team members, wherever they are based. You can also host discussions and share files, which are all key to building good working relationships with your colleagues.

Make sure that everyone knows how to use the collaboration tools. It's best to choose tools that are intuitive and don't take much training, if any, so everyone can start using them immediately. This also makes it a lot easier for anyone new joining the team as there is no learning curve.

Tip 3: 'Meet' regularly

It might not be possible to meet face-to-face, but you can make plans to meet up virtually on a regular basis. Schedule weekly conference calls, webinars or collaboration sessions where you can discuss progress and what needs to happen next on the project.

If you can get everyone together once or twice during the project then try to do so. This is particularly important at the start and towards the delivery phase of the project and can really help build trust in the team.

Tip 4: Make it easy to chat

You might want to know what's going on, but don't force your team members to communicate through you. If you insist that they run all communication through you, you'll quickly become a bottleneck and it will actually be harder to collaborate. Let them chat to each other. Use other methods, like status updates and meetings, to find out the latest news instead of trying to funnel all the team's communication through you.

Trust them to make the right decisions and to let you know if anything important comes up that should be escalated to you.

Tip 5: Make it fun

It's hard working with people that you can't see and don't get the chance to meet up with. Many virtual teams find it easy to collaborate with each other once they have been doing it for a while, but at the start it can be challenging. So make it fun! Share photos of each other at work or of the tasks you are working on. Upload videos to your online file storage. Host a quiz with the discussion feature of your software and give out virtual prizes. There are lots of ways that you can make it fun to be part of your project team; you just have to get creative!

Projects are all about people, but sometimes individuals on the project team just don't seem to work together well. Collaboration is a skill, and one that everyone can learn to be better at. Help your team out with this guide about...

You'll soon get your team working together effectively!

Make it real time

It can be very frustrating to start a discussion only to find that the person in the Singapore office isn't available to give you the answers you need. The best way to collaborate is in real time, and you can do this even if you don't all work together in the same office. Schedule 'online chat' times that suit everyone. Try to rotate the times so it isn't always the same person who has to stay late or come into the office early.

Use the right tools

Software designed to help you collaborate is essential if you are going to make any progress. Talk to your team about the ways that they can use software to work together and encourage them to get stuck in.

Choose software that is easy to use. Your team members can then get started straight away and will be more likely to use the app. Anything that looks too difficult won't get used and you won't see any benefits. Set a good example by using it yourself so they can see how easy it is!

Ask for feedback

How do the team feel about working together? There might be some simple things you can do to improve team collaboration, but if you don't ask, you'll never know! What about changing the project management software that they use so that they each see it in their native language? That could help people in the team who don't have English as their first language. What about changing meeting times to be more convenient? Or setting some guidelines for how to work together on documents? Your team will probably have more ideas of their own, so ask them what they would change if they were you—and then do it!

Prompt individuals to contribute

Set up your project management software tools to send alerts to team members when something happens. This could be when a new risk is added to the register, or when a task is allocated to them. It could be when a discussion is started or a new document uploaded for comment. If you prompt individuals with alerts you take away the need for them to seek out ways to contribute. You make it easy because you tell them that they have a chance to get involved with assessing this new risk or reviewing this new document and so on.

Alerts won't force people to collaborate but they can help, especially when the team is really busy on the approach to a deadline. When you have a lot on your mind it's tempting to shut down and just get on with it instead of working with your colleagues to achieve more together.

Be flexible

Not everyone wants to work in the same way. Some will find team work easy, especially if they have joined your project from a department where this was encouraged. But if the individual has come from an area where working together wasn't required or wasn't encouraged then they might find it difficult to adjust to being part of a team.

These tips will help you get your team working together on your project. It's essential to collaborate on projects because together you will get better results, and you'll all bring different expertise to the project.

Your project team meetings can take up far too much time, but it doesn't have to be that way. With good collaboration, you can streamline your project team meetings and make them really effective.

Here are our 5 tips for productive and efficient project team meetings.

Tip 1: Create an agenda

Using a standard agenda gives structure to your meeting and helps you stay on target to finish the meeting on time. It also makes sure that you don't forget anything! Share the agenda with your project team before the meeting so they know what will be discussed and they can come along prepared.

Tip 2: Book them in advance

Projects can get very busy, so it's best to let your colleagues know about the meeting in advance. Put it in their diary or on a shared project calendar as far in advance as is practical. You'll probably be holding them regularly (like every week), so you can book them up at the same time each time so that people get used to having that slot reserved for the team meeting. This will also help you identify if individuals will be away so that you can arrange to reschedule. Alternatively, they could send a deputy.

Tip 3: Use collaboration tools

Team meetings can be even harder if your team members are not all in the same location. However, collaboration tools can be a real help. They ensure that everyone has the agenda and other information before the meeting, and they can help you record actions so that everyone can see the output. In addition, features like instant messaging, chat and discussions allow you to hold your meeting virtually, regardless of where individuals are actually based.

Tip 4: Allow everyone to participate

One of the main reasons that team meetings are not productive is that some team members talk a lot and some don't contribute at all. Don't let one or two people dominate the discussion. Ideally, you want to hear from everyone, and everyone should have the same opportunity to raise issues and to brief the rest of the team on the progress of their actions.

One way to make sure that everyone gets a turn to speak is to use a timer. Each person gets to talk until the time runs out. They can use the time to summarize their progress that week, any problems and anything else they need help with. You can choose how long the time runs for: 5 minutes is good and while it doesn't sound very long it is normally long enough!

Tip 5: Follow up the actions

Meetings are only useful if action comes out of them. Make sure that you record the actions raised and who will be taking responsibility for completing them. If you can't do this and chair the meeting, delegate the role of note taking to someone else. Then share the minutes with your team. Most importantly, you need to follow up progress at the next meeting. That's why the first item on the agenda each week should be 'Actions from the previous meeting'. This makes it clear to everyone that you'll be asking for progress reports.

Projects involve a lot of meetings but sometimes these can be really unproductive and a waste of everyone's time. Make your team meetings successful and productive with these...

You'll get more out of your time together when you structure meetings.

Tip 1: Share the agenda

Prepare an agenda and share it with everyone before the meeting is due to take place. If possible, give the team a chance to comment on the topics up for discussion and to tell you about additional things they would like to talk about during the meeting. The purpose of having an agenda is to keep the meeting on track and to make sure that nothing important is forgotten. Sending out the agenda in advance helps as it prompts people to come to the meeting prepared to discuss the topics. They have time to gather together any facts or to prepare their updates.

Tip 2: Store documents online

Meetings generate project documents. You may want to refer to these during your meeting or you could be meeting to prepare and agree a document! The easiest way to make sure that everyone has access to the latest version of your project documents is to store them online in your project management software.

Online document storage will allow you to call up the relevant documents from your meeting so that you don't waste time. You can make decisions because you'll be able to access all the project information that you need from the meeting, even if you didn't print out and bring along a copy of that important file.

Tip 3: Meet virtually

You can have successful meetings that don't involve bringing the whole project team together in one room. Use collaboration software to host online discussions. This might not be a traditional way to meet with the rest of your team, but it can be very effective, especially if you are short of time.

Tip 4: Start and finish on time

Whether you meet virtually via a conference call or all turn up in the same room, it is important that you start and finish your meeting on time. This is respectful of other people's time and it will also make sure that you get the most discussion time possible from your allocated slot. For example, if you start 10 minutes late and finish 10 minutes early as someone has to leave, your hour-long meeting will actually only turn out to be 40 minutes.

Of course, if you have finished talking about all the topics on the agenda and there is nothing left to say, then end the meeting and let everyone go! There's no point in dragging out the meeting just to fill the time slot, but if you find yourself rushing through it is probably best to leave the additional talking points to another day rather than struggle to fit them in today.

Tip 5: Issue minutes promptly

After the meeting you should send out the record of what was discussed in the form of meeting minutes. It's best to do this as soon as you can. It's easier for you as you'll remember what happened and what was agreed and it gives everyone else the chance to review the notes and make any comments as they will remember better as well.

We all want our projects to be a success but how can you know for sure if you've achieved everything you set out to? Why not try these...

You'll be able to assess your achievements objectively and quickly.

1: Compare schedule performance

Use the dashboards and reports produced by your project management software to compare what project tasks you actually did and how long they took against your original plans. Hopefully you'll see that your final project schedule isn't that much longer than your original forecast, which will tell you that you didn't overrun and take more time than you anticipated.

However, many projects do take more time than planned. This is often because the project team add more into the project. Remember to look behind the reports to assess the reasons why your project took longer than expected if this happens to you.

2: Compare budget performance

Did you spend more or less money than you expected? Generally we want to spend less but in reality often projects end up spending more! Again, you can use reports and your stored project data to assess how much your project went over budget.

It's easy to do the comparison with the expense management features of project management software. You can quickly see the actual figures and compare them to what you originally planned.

3: Review risks

Looking back over your project risks is another good way to evaluate your project. Did you manage all your risks effectively? If not, what went wrong? Go through your risk log and check that all the risks are now closed or being managed by someone who is not part of the project team.

4: Review estimates

Many projects involve work that hasn't been done before so it can be difficult to estimate exactly how long those tasks will take. If you have no experience of doing the work previously, then it's very tricky to work out what's involved. However, project management standards and methods include several ways to estimate tasks, so you can use tried and tested approaches to assess how long an activity should take.

When you get to the end of the project you can look back and compare these estimates against how long it actually took your team members to do the work. This is a good way to learn from experience: if you ever work on a similar project with similar tasks you can use your evaluation to improve your estimates next time. Equally, you can assess how good your estimating process was by checking whether your estimates were accurate at the end of the project.

5: Get feedback

Finally, don't forget that your project team members are a great source of feedback about how the project has gone. Spend some time with them and ask what worked and what could have been done better. This can be through a formal post-project review or through informal chats with different stakeholders.

Project evaluation is a really important step in the project management lifecycle and using project management software to help assess success is a good way of managing this essential process at the end of the project.

Projects change every day, so staying on top of everything means keeping a close eye on progress. Lose sight of how a project is moving forward and it can easily go off-track or even derail completely. Set your team up for success with straightforward and simple tracking that lets everyone update and check project progress in a few clicks.

Step 1: Create your plan

Without a plan there’s not a whole lot of progress to monitor, so get started with a comprehensive project plan. Work with your project team to build a task list that covers all the work that needs to be done on your project. Once you’ve listed out all the tasks, add them into your online project management software, arrange them in the right order and link tasks as needed.

Step 2: Establish your plan baseline

Once you’ve built out your plan, take a snapshot of the initial timeline. This baseline will give you something to compare to later, should your schedule change. Major revisions to your plan? Establish a new baseline – but be sure to keep the original for comparison.

Step 3: Use timesheets

Timesheets can be a huge help in tracking progress. A timesheet will let you see exactly who has worked on what this week and how much progress they have made. You can then use the data to amend your project plan or to simply report on status.

Timesheets are not difficult to set up or to complete, especially when they are built-in to your project management software. Ask your team to fill in their timesheets regularly and you’ll always know the latest status of project tasks.

Step 4: Update project progress information

As your team makes progress on their project tasks, ask that they keep the plan up-to-date by recording their progress online. When they use online/system software to keep track of the time spent on a task, you’ll immediately see how their progress impacts on the project plan.

Step 5: Monitor and compare the results

You’ll want to compare the progress you expected to the actual progress the team is making on a regular basis. Review actual versus planned progress to date in your project software; you should be also able to assess how much time has been spent on individual tasks as well as the amount of time spent on the entire project.

Step 6: Generate (and share) reports

Reports give you an at-a-glance view of whether or not your project is on track. Make life easier by setting up a few report templates at the start of your project. That way, the data you (and your stakeholders) are interested in is always available, and ready for sharing in a consistent format. You can even generate reports in a variety of formats, so that everyone gets the information they need in a way that suits them.

Monitoring project progress doesn't have to be time-consuming and difficult. By using software effectively you will be able to quickly see progress made on the project as soon as it happens.

Step 7: Use dashboards

Real-time data can also be used to populate a project dashboard. This is a graphical representation of project progress made up of charts. It’s the quickest way to see whether your project is on track as it can show you at a glance whether or not your project is behind schedule or over budget.

Dashboards are simple ways of checking project progress and they make it much easier to track where you are and what still needs to be done.

Step 8: Use change management

The change management process on a project is a way to make sure that all changes are assessed and recorded appropriately. If you don’t use a change management process, you won’t be able to tell what is different on your project. As a result, it’s hard to track progress, because some project tasks will be different, deleted or added. If your project plans aren’t up to date with all the new changes, it’s impossible to tell if you are on track or not!

Make sure that you use change management on your project so that you update your plans and schedule with new tasks as required.

Step 9: Update your plans regularly

Finally, even if there are no changes on your project you should still go back to your original plans and update them regularly. It’s normal for tasks on a project to start on slightly different dates, take a bit more time or a bit less time or be completed by someone different to the person who was originally allocated to the work. Those kind of day-to-day changes are commonplace, but you should update your plan to reflect the reality of your project.

If your plan is not up-to-date, tracking status becomes even harder and real-time information won’t help because you won’t be reporting the real situation! It doesn’t take long to review and amend your plans, so put time in your diary each week to go through the project tasks and make sure that they are correct.

Reporting... it's what a manager does. No matter if you're a journeyman or an apprentice in the field, you've had to submit some kind of report.

However, when you may not know that there are several different types of reports or how to specifically tailor your project data to particular audiences.

Here are five essential reports that you need to run your projects:

1. Status Reports

You usually produce status reports weekly or monthly - and on one project recently I ended up producing daily status reports during the implementation phase. The frequency depends on where you are in the project and how much there is to say.

As you will spend a fair amount of time producing status reports, it is worth considering ways to make it faster to write them. Better yet, automate as much reporting as possible. Create a standard status report template or use the one that comes with your project management software, and use the data in your scheduling tool to populate the project progress.

2. Risk Reports

The risk report should include a summary of the risk profile of the project, but how you present this is up to you. A good approach would be to only include the detail for the risks that have the potential to create the most problems for your project. Then include a statement on the lower-level risks, perhaps summarizing how you are managing all of these.

You will also want the possibility of producing a report about all your risks, regardless of how significant they are. It's probably easiest to do this as an automated download from your project management software, or if you keep your risk log in another format like a spreadsheet, by issuing a complete copy of that document.

3. Board/Executive Reports

For the project board reports, think high level. They will want to read about things that are important to them not you, like issues they can help resolve, a summary of the budget position, and whether or not you are on track to hit key milestones.

Make sure that your board report is in a format that they can easily read. For example, if your executives are always on the road and use their smartphones to check emails, don't produce your report in the form of a complicated spreadsheet that won't display correctly, or include loads of large graphics that will take ages to download. A pdf will render across devices if you're emailing a static report. Or you can grant licenses for board members or senior leadership so they can generate whatever report they want as they need them. And this saves you time, too!

4. Resource Reports

The resource report shows you the breakdown of what tasks your project team member are working on for any given day. They can also be used to pinpoint over-allocation problems - where a team member is allocated to more than one task. Obviously they can't work on two things at once, so if you don't pick up these problems you'll find that your project plan slips behind schedule. Use the resource report to spot scheduling problems and reschedule those tasks as necessary.

Resource reports can also be useful for scheduling more than one person. You'll be able to see when someone becomes available, and that is a good sign that they can be given more project tasks at that point.

5. Real-time Dashboard Reports

When you need to know what's happening in real time, then you need to view a dashboard report. In your project management software, the dashboard updates instantly as your team completes a task. The report drills down into workload, budget and progress across your entire project or projects, allowing you to view at a status level as well.

The report can also created from groups of other projects, giving you a bird's-eye view of a whole portfolio of projects. If that's not what you want, then customize the report by team or customer or department.

How much of your time do you spend producing project reports? If you are anything like most of your fellow project managers, quite a lot. What if you could streamline project reporting and save yourself a lot of time? Well, you can. Here are 5 steps for getting those reports out faster.

Here are 5 simple steps to speed up producing your project reports.

Step 1: Create a circulation list

Your reports need to go to the same group every time, so create a list of key stakeholders who are your report recipients. Store their names, email addresses and other contact information in a central location so that you can always find it when you need it. This will save you from hunting around for addresses each time you are sending out a report.

If you have multiple reports to issue, create a circulation list for each one.

Step 2: Use real-time information

The most time-consuming part of preparing a project report is gathering the information to go in it. You have to contact each of your project team members and ask for status updates. Then you collate these to form your project report. Unfortunately, a lot depends on how quickly they get back to you and as project team members are typically very busy, it can take a while before they give you the information that you need.

Using software, such as that available from Castellan Systems, which captures status information in real-time, will save you hours each month. You won't have to get updates from your team members as everything you need is already available for you online.

Step 3: Use templates

Don't reinvent the wheel each time you need to send out a report. Use templates to streamline preparing your reports. Simply delete the old information from the template and update it with what's new.

Share templates with other project managers as this will save you a lot of time as well. Store all your templates somewhere central so that you can easily access them when you need to.

Step 4: Use dashboards

Dashboards are customizable online screens that provide an instant, graphical overview of your project data. You can see status information at a glance and they are updated with progress as it happens. You can drill down into the detail if you spot something that needs investigating.

Give your project stakeholders direct access to view their own personal dashboards and save yourself lots of time researching, producing and emailing documentation each month. An added bonus is that each stakeholder can get project information that is tailored to their needs, as it is really easy to create customized dashboards based on what each individual would like to know.

Step 5: Issue direct from your software

Create your reports and email them directly from your project software. This saves you from having to download or print reports, log out of your software and then issue the reports manually to the key stakeholders. Instead, use the reporting features available to cut out that step and send the updates directly from your enterprise tools.

Target reports and dashboards at key stakeholders and see real-time progress online, all with just a few clicks.

Project status updates take a lot of time to gather and prepare. How much time would you save if you could get your status updates faster? You can streamline your project reporting with these...

Using these tips will help you get status reports from your team much more quickly.

Step 1: Set a schedule

Make it easy for your project team members to remember when they have to provide you with a status update by sticking to a schedule. Do you need an update every Friday afternoon? Every other Wednesday morning? It doesn't matter when you set the schedule for, as long as it is regular. This will allow team members to get into a routine. They can prepare their status update in advance as they will know when it will be required.

Step 2: Use real-time information

It takes team members longer to prepare their status update if they don't have access to real-time information. So make sure that they can use real-time data to pull together their update!

Using software that can capture real-time task information means that they will have access to everything they need at their fingertips. They can pull together their updates faster and so you will also get them more quickly.

Step 3: Provide templates

If you want team members to update you on certain information or in a certain format, make it easy for them to do so by giving them a template to use. Each week they can simply delete the last update from your template and update it with the latest progress.

You'll always get the data that you want and they won't have to think too hard about what to send you! It will also save you chasing up when they forget to include something really important, as they will have those prompts there in the template to help them remember what you need.

Step 4: Issue reminders

Use the task management and email reminder features of your project management software to prompt your team members to complete their status updates on time. You can set up a recurring task to appear in their To Do list so they will never have the excuse that they forgot!

If you can automate emailing out reminders, do that too. This works well with team members who travel a lot and might need an email reminder. The more you can automate, the easier it is for you, and the more chance you'll have that your project team members will get their status updates back to you promptly.

Step 5: Chase, chase, chase

OK, so this isn't the best way to get status updates quickly, but it can work if you need to get a particular team member into a routine! Chase up reports if you don't get them within the timescales you have asked for. Then chase again. And again! Making a nuisance of yourself won't win you any prizes for being the most laid-back project manager but you will get what you want eventually and next time hopefully the team member concerned will stop and think twice before letting the deadline pass before sending you their status update.

What do your stakeholders want to know about your project? It's hard to know what they want to hear when there is so much data available. You can't go wrong if you include these...

Monitor your project with clear status reports.

1: Major risks

List the top 3 risks to the project on your report. These should be the big risks that you want your sponsor to be aware of and perhaps even take action on. If you are expecting a decision about the best route forward or next steps then point this out on the report.

As risk status can change almost daily, talk to the risk owner before you prepare the report and make sure that you have all the details about the latest situation. You don't want to be reporting something that is out of date!

2: Major issues

Include a list of the top 3 issues on the project and what you are doing about them. Again, if you need input from your project sponsor to help resolve them, be sure to mention it! Include the name of the person who is managing the issue (the issue owner) and the date by when you think the issue will be resolved.

3: Progress summary

Sponsors are really interested in how much progress is being made so this is an important section. List the major project milestones and whether or not they have been achieved on the target dates. Don't try to include all your milestones: just pick the significant ones. If you haven't hit a milestone, make a note of the day you said you would achieve it along with the new forecasted date so you can see how significantly your plan has changed.

4: Budget forecast

Another thing that sponsors want to know about is how much the project is costing and whether or not it is on track to spend more or less than you originally predicted. The status report is an opportunity to provide an early warning if the project looks like it is going to be over budget (or under budget, as the unspent money could be allocated to other work).

There's no need to provide lots of detail, just the high level figures of what you originally budgeted, how much has been spent to date and what you think the expenditure will be when the project is over.

5: Status indicator

Make it easy for people to see if the project is going well with a Red/Yellow/Green status indicator. The traffic light colours highlight whether the project needs management attention (Red), is at risk of not hitting its targets (Yellow) or is progressing according to plan (Green).

The simplest way to display this information is by using a coloured box at the top of the report. Type the word Red, Yellow or Green as well as using colour in case your sponsor is looking at the report printed out in black and white!

A dashboard can pull all this information together in one place and use real-time updates from your project team. The more you can automate when it comes to project status reports, the less time it will take you to prepare the information every month. That's time you could be spending on other project tasks!

If you want to keep your project on track, then read these 5 tips about...

Bringing your project back on schedule is simple if you know what to do. These steps will help you turn around a late project quickly.

Calculate the Variance

First, calculate how late your project actually is. Do this by comparing how much you had expected to have achieved by now (your planned progress) with how much you've been able to achieve (your actual progress). This will give you a figure in days that you can also represent as a percentage. The bigger the percent, the more behind your plan you are.

Assess the Cause

Now you want to find out what is driving that slippage. Drill down into your project plan and look for the tasks that have taken longer than expected.

Here's a shortcut: Look for the shortest route through the project from start to finish using your dependencies. These are the tasks that cannot be delayed without changing the end date of the project (also known as the critical path). If any of these have taken longer than planned then your project will have slipped.

Create an Action Plan

Consider all the options available that will help you bring the tasks back on track. This could include:

  • Adding more resources to certain tasks.
  • Changing the priorities of the work.
  • Completing some tasks in parallel instead of sequentially.
  • Accepting the delay and changing the end date of the project.

Or any other strategy that helps you get the work done. Choose the best option, or combination of options, and update your project schedule with your revised plan.

Talk to Your Stakeholders

Make sure you brief your project sponsor and stakeholders about how the project schedule has changed and why, providing an appropriate level of detail given the audience. Everyone on the project team should also be made aware of the changes to the plan and what this means for their own tasks.

Track Progress on the New Plan

Finally, put a tracking mechanism in place to make sure that you can quickly monitor progress against your new project plan dates and the work that your team is doing.

A great project management tool lets you keep an eye on the status of individual tasks in real time, as well as the project progress overall. It allows you to see everything that is happening on your project and step in early if you need to guide the project back on track.

Project Close

Time, cost and quality: those are the three things (the "Triple Constraint") every project manager is taught to measure in order to evaluate their project's success. But is that all there is?

But we need to look a little more broadly. There are 5 key things you need to measure. They are: Schedule, Quality, Cost, Stakeholder satisfaction and Performance to the Business Case. Let's look at each of these in more detail.

1. Schedule

Of course, you want to get your project delivered on time. But you can only do that if you are monitoring your schedule regularly. You cannot simply "set it and forget it."

It's recommended you review your schedule weekly as part of your regular tasks. Check your milestones and ensure they are still falling on the dates you assigned. Also, be sure to note any task slippages and find ways to mitigate impacts to the schedule. You'll find it's much easier to get ahead, if you're monitoring it regularly.

2. Quality

You don't need to wait until the project is complete to do a quality audit. Set clear benchmarks with your team to ensure quality controls are implemented at every phase of the project.

3. Cost

Keeping tabs on your planned versus actual costs is vital for all projects. But you can go beyond simple cost tracking. Forecast your estimated costs at regular intervals during the project using your team and your project management tools. Be sure to communicate your forecasts with your senior leadership or project sponsor, particularly if you uncover variance.

4. Stakeholder Satisfaction

So here's where we start to expand upon the traditional "Triple Constraint" of time, cost and quality. Your project is only successful if your stakeholders find value in the outcome of your project. Whether your stakeholders are internal executives or end users, their response to your project is integral.

So how do you do that? Well, you don't wait until the project is over! You keep stakeholder communication a constant priority and get feedback early and often, where possible. When stakeholders feel a part of the project, they will also have more engagement (and usually support) by its end.

5. Performance to Business Case

At the start of your project, you set out to plan against your business case. You had defined deliverables and clear goals to align with your organizational strategy. Set up calendar reminders to revisit that document. How are you performing against that original case? When your project is done, you can do a more formal review. But be sure to crack open your early documentation to make sure you're hitting all of the intended targets.

And finally...

It's also advise people to really use their project management tools. It's why we write so frequently on the topic on our blog and in this email newsletter, and of course it's why we set out to develop the best online tools for project managers.

Too few project managers use the features in their tool that can truly impact their project's success. Set up your dashboard to monitor costs in real time. Generate reports on planned and actual schedule. Use the collaboration features to invite in stakeholders to the project.

Finally, use good ole' fashioned calendar alerts to remind you of all these measures to help make all your projects a success.

All projects come to an end, but usually not before we're off to the next one.

It's easy to forget that the end of a project is as important as the start or even the middle of the next project. It's important for you and the team to make sure you close the book on a project and tie up any loose ends.

So how do you do that?

There are just a few steps necessary once the project is done to close the book on it and move on to the next one.

Step 1: Make Sure It's Actually Done

Check your dashboard.

Check your original plan and then double-check it to ensure that nothing has been left undone or neglected. Doubly make sure that any contractual obligations have been met.

Even though you've done the work, there is likely a mountain of paper that needs signatures and filing to officially put the project to rest. Review your statement of work to make sure you're really done.

You also want to personally check with your team to make sure there's not one or two tasks still outstanding. Often times a subcontractor or a team member has agreements with the client's team that are spoken, like "Oh they said they'd ask us for the remaining designs later." Don't have this come back to haunt you.

Step 2: Complete the paperwork...

Making sure every 'i' is dotted and 't' is crossed is usually the part of the job we avoid. This is the time when you can no longer put this work on the back burner.

Be sure that every document is complete and distributed to its proper destination. The project isn't done until the paperwork has been fully taken care of. You don't want any loose ends to tie up later when it may be too late.

Step 3: Do a Post-Mortem

Gather the team for comments on what went right and what didn't.

After you're done with a project it's time to learn what went right and what went wrong. By running summary reports and reviewing milestones you can see if deadlines had been met or not. You should also look over your baselines and budgets with the team, so you can all prevent going over costs in future projects.

Bonus: Party!

You work hard, now play hard. Seriously. Just as after each milestone there needs to be some recognition of a job well-done, once the big project has been completed it's important to thank the team. You can do this with a gift or a lunch or a party, whatever you feel is right.

But do something. It's not only a way to reward your team, it builds loyalty for the next time you work together. It's also a good way to let the project and its myriad responsibilities go. You need to do that, so why not have some fun too?

You see, ending a project properly is as critical a function of leading a project as starting it correctly and maintaining a professional attitude and involvement throughout its course. Don't go slack at the end and ruin all the hard work you've already put into the work.

Have you delivered something fantastic and want to shout it from the rooftops? Unfortunately it's easy to be seen to be boasting if you talk about your own successes. So if you want to share your good news without coming across as showing off, follow these tips on...

Share your good news in a positive way.

Tip 1: Do your job very well

Be known for managing your projects competently. Doing your job well is one way for people to hear about your successes, as you will find that people notice and the news spreads without you having to do very much at all!

Tip 2: Use reports and dashboards

Project status reports and dashboards can be used to highlight project successes. These are shared with stakeholders and you can include a section called 'successes', 'good news' or 'highlights' to draw attention to the work that you and your team have been doing.

Just remember to show a balanced picture: by all means include the good news and your project successes, but be honest and report the overall project status and any risks and issues currently facing the project as well.

Tip 3: Help others

Sharing your knowledge with others is another way to talk about your successes informally. Being a mentor or coach, or simply saying yes when a colleague asks for help is not only a way to find moments to share what you have learned through achieving your project goals but also a way to let others know that you are a helpful and professional colleague!

Tip 4: Get others to talk about it

One of the best ways to spread the news about what your project has achieved is to get other people to talk about it for you. There are two ways to do this. First, you can hope that others will share your good news once you have told a few people. This works in environments where people often meet up in person and chat (or gossip!). But be aware that bad news travels much faster than good news!

Second, you could specifically ask others to talk about your successes. Your project sponsor is a great person to do this as he or she is likely to be in a position to promote the work of the project team on your behalf when meeting colleagues. It certainly won't sound as if you are boasting if the news comes from your sponsor!

Tip 5: Talk about what you learned

Finally, you can talk freely about the success on your project if you dress it in the language of what you have learned. For example, instead of saying, "We hit all our dates and came in under budget," you can say, "I learned loads about scheduling on this project and that really helped me and the team to make sure we came in on time and under budget." It's the same message, but with a slightly different slant and it sounds less like boasting than the first sentence. Experiment with different ways of phrasing your news to find a way that doesn't hide your success but sounds less like showing off.

We hope you find the information available useful. Please use this link to contact us with any corrections or additions you may wish to make to this free knowledge base.