Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Tag Archives: productivity

Are the days of MS Project numbered?

Using MS Project is a bit of a right of passage for most people that have done project management in an enterprise scale. While many have grizzled and grumbled about the application, for a long time it was really the only one that would allow you to do what you needed to get done. What made it worse was between 1998 and 2010, there had been little new in terms of functionality and user interface that made life easy. With 2010 (and 2013) with the development of Project Server, Microsoft has added a few useful functionality.

A lot of web development folk had already deserted MS Project (or never used to begin with). The likes of Basecamp and Jira had been very popular. But there remains a good proportion of traditional PMOs that will require you to provide information and updates in MS Project format. So we could never really get rid of it.


Also gone are the days when everyone in the enterprise uses a bog standard OS and store things in a common location on the network. People are more mobile. BYOD is pervasive in most organisations. Many use Mac laptops, iOS or Android devices while on the move. If you subscribe to Office 365 on a Mac, you cannnot event get MS Project. While Microsoft addressed some issues with Project Server, many of its Project Web Access functionality didn’t work properly outside IE.

I recently came across Gantter from I am pretty impressed by what I see. The main Gantt view pretty much looks like MS Project. Rather than taking a lot of MS project functionality, they look to have taken the most used ones – tasks, resources, calendars, and baselines. It has even added one thing that plagues most Project Managers (and ends up getting managed in spreadsheets) – Risks!

Gantter can be integrated with Google Drive or Apps and allows you to have real time editing and chat with other Google users. It also allows you to save your projects into your OneDrive or DropBox storage. It can load projects from MS Project and also export to that format. There are plenty of default templates to get you going, or you can create your own. The best part is … it’s free. No longer do you have to pay exorbitant fees for MS Project.

I’ve only just started using Gantter. So final judgement is still pending. However, based on what I can see to date, MS Project’s days may finally be numbered. Even if you’re forced to report in that format by your customers.

Is productivity gains the answer to improved business outcome?

Is productivity gains the answer to improved business outcomeI recently ran into an old school friend. At the time we were nearing the end of high school he was the coolest dude with a job at a fast food place. He had disposable income and an old second hand car. What else do you need in life? Those of us that were planning further studies or apprenticeships got plenty of advice from him on the futility of our endeavours. When someone mentioned better prospects and better pay, he simply said if he ever needed more money he can simply work a few extra hours.

All these years later I was surprised to see him holding training materials. I was intrigued with this change of attitude. At the time some of us were thinking of investing in our future and as a result consciously taking on a few more  years of hardship, he had no appreciation that his circumstances could change. He shared with me his predicament in working harder and harder to support his family. This larger than life character was backed into a corner. It is great to see him sorting his life out.

What has this got to do with business outcomes you may ask? It occurred to me how many organisations take a similar approach to making money. Everyone is in a mad rush to squeeze yet another billable hour out of staff, minimise non-utilised time. The only certainty is that the environments we operate in will change. As my friend found out eventually, there is only so much difference you can make using this approach.

True sustainable change comes when you have the commitment to review your methods, acknowledge the failings and change accordingly.

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What are human factors in projects?

I had recently been doing a lot of travel for work. As each assignment comes to an end, I can’t wait to get home. Each travel wears you down. So much so, that I haven’t had the energy to put up a post for nearly three weeks. I had been contemplating what impact it has on my work. Does productivity and quality of work deepens on human factors?

Think about the group of people that work most under stress. That has to be people serving in the armed forces. There are plenty of movies made of their training regimes and action in the fog of war. When I look deeper, it is the footsoldiers that usually take the brunt of the extreme physical punishment. These are the people that you want to blindly follow orders. People making strategic and tactical decisions are not part of this lot. They are housed in very (comparatively) nice surroundings in headquarters. These are the people you want with a clear head and not weighed down by tiredness. They will have already been weighed down by responsibility.

Thinking back to project scenarios, in some industries it is not very different. I can think of manufacturing production line workers. You don’t want them thinking too much, just to do things in a repetitive manner. That is how you judge productivity. In other industries, it won’t quite cut it. In a creative industry like fashion design or software development it is the clear thought and ideas that you want to encourage. Simply sowing more fabrics or writing more lines of code isn’t going to get you anywhere.

If there is one thing that kills productivity, that is uncertainty. Uncertainty can come in many forms. The most common one you will see is re-structuring of business units, or organisations. Whatever anyone says, there is a limit to the amount and pace of change people can cope with. Beyond that, they stop caring about tasks on hand and are busy trying to steer a course through the mire. In many cases, what happens is the best and brightest will leave, because they are able to, and the organisation is left with those who cannot leave!

Issues with personal lives or friction between colleagues can have equally destructive influence. When you plan your project scope and likely execution timeline, these factors are usually not taken into account. The assumption is with all things being equal, it will even out over the course of the project. Unfortunately, when these issues crop up, things can go downhill very quickly. While stress related productivity loss won’t happen in a day, it may have built up over a period of time and by the time your project starts, wheels may be wobbling.

Project Managers are primarily responsible for monitoring and controlling projects, but they also need to show leadership in knowing the people in the projects. You may not be their line manager, but having a relationship at a more personal level will ensure your project has a higher chance of success.

How long does software development really take?

I was reading some stats the other day … 85% of all software development projects fail to come in on budget or on time! That is a staggering and sobering statistic. In what other profession would there be such a low hit rate? How is it that so many bright people get it so wrong so often?

Software development is inherently a more risky proposition than many other projects. The reason a client is after bespoke development is because no such products exist in the market that adequately answers their problem. Some clients are better at expressing their requirements than others. In some cases they simply don’t know what they need. They just know that they need something. Read more of this post

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