Who Says Project Management is Easy?
When done effectively, project management is time consuming. Project management can take its toll on even the best project managers due to the complexity of managing the many aspects of a body of work. During a project’s life cycle, changes can happen that impact the work being done, and communicating those changes to everyone usually devours prescious hours in the day, leaving you with little time to keep up with your own tasks.
How to Become a More Effective Project Manager
Visual project management is the best way to stay up-to-date on project status and keep a team informed about shifting priorities and process flows. Because managing change is a big part of managing projects, having a visual map of a project’s status can save you tons of time if you’re a project manager.
Plus, visual management helps individuals “get it” more quickly by seeing the work that needs to be done and actively managing their individual work items on a visual team board.
Visual Management Tools
Project managers have found visual management tools to be highly effective at helping to manage projects and keep everyone in the loop (without loosing sleep over it). Visual tools like Kanban and project boards help to show project status and help to identify (and mitigate) delays or bottlenecks.
Visual management tools let you see:
- Overall project status (percentage complete, milestones, delays)
- Bottlenecks (identify they exist, form a plan to resolve the bottleneck. This could be reallocating people to help “unclog” the busy areas or reprioritizing the work so that one person isn’t working on too many things at once.)
- Organizational priorities (major initiatives or projects for which work is being done)
Projects that Benefit from Visual Management
Many projects are multi-faceted, that is, the project has numerous phases involving many people who may work in different physical locations and maybe even on different project teams.
While some work is done concurrently, other work can only be started or completed after another piece of work is completed. This is known as dependent work, or a task dependency. Teams that work collaboratively often share task dependencies and rely on visual management to improve the flow of dependent work. This way, one responsible for doing the work can easily signal to the next person in the process that they can begin. Visual management of task dependencies not only reduces the amount of time wasted on a project (idle time spent while waiting), it also reduces the amount of stress teams find themselves under as they juggle time spent doing the work and time spend managing changes in the work.
As long as each memeber of the team keeps the project board updated, task dependencies, bottlenecks and priorities can be easily identified at a glance by anyone.
How to Begin Using Visual Project Management
To make visual management a reality for your team, consider taking these steps:
- Set Priorities – What are the major projects your team needs to get done this year? This quarter? Get agreement from within the organiazation and post them onto a board for all to see. Next time the big boss walks through, he will instantly understand what your team is up to by glancing at the board.
- Break Down the Work – Take those major projects and break them down into smaller pieces. Represent tasks, stories and projects separately and assign them to people.
- Establish Limits – How much work in progress (or WIP) should each person have? This may vary by team. A normal person cannot effectively juggle more than two or three tasks at one time, so try starting small and see how it works before changing your WIP policy.
- Visualize the Process – Using the process you already have in place (even if it only exists in your mind), create rows and columns on a project board or kanban board that accurately reflect the steps that must be taken to get something done.
- Begin Moving Cards – Once everyone on your team understands how to use the board, get them to start participating. Start assigning tasks to people (by writing their name on the card or by assigning using an electronic kanban). When those people are ready to begin working, they pull the task cards into the “doing” lane. This signifies to the world what they are currently doing.
- Collaborate – Once everyone is comfortable with moving cards across a board, they may naturally begin to collaborate. Because each person can see what other people are working on, they can provide proactive feedback and assistance that can speed up or improve the work being done.
- Repeat – Many teams hold weekly or daily meetings around the project board to revisit priorities, discuss impediments and catch up with one another about current and upcoming work.
What is a Project Manager?
The term “project manager” can describe anyone who is responsible for a deadline, a budget, resources (systems/services) or people. Consequently, anyone who has managed a project is familiar with some of the complexities that come with the job, including:
- The ability to effectivly communicate
- The ability to manage resources
- The ability to manage stakeholders and executive sponsorship
Some project managers are dedicated to only managing projects. Large organizations hire dedicated project managers to properly scope, estimate, plan and execute projects on time and on budget. Other project managers may help to manage projects, however; their primary job function is not to manage projects. Whether in a formal or informal project management role, anyone who engages with work teams can be classified as a project manager.
Project managers must understand each person’s roles and responsibilities to ensure proper communication takes place in the light of ongoing changes.
As the work itself becomes more complex, the size of the project (scope) increases. The scope of a project refers to the specific goals of a project and largely determines what the project will ultimately cost. When a project’s scope increases, or new goals are added that were not part of the original work estimate, it is referred to as “scope-creep” and is a major factor in why some projects are completed late and/or over budget. Preventing scope-creep is the responsibility of the project manager under the protection of a project “sponsor,” an executive, business owner or another person with signing power within the organization who approves of and supports the project throughout its entirety.
Tools of a Project Manager
Effective project management tools are vitally important to project managers. The abundance of details that require tracking (dates, resources, tasks and milestones) to drive a project forward could drive a person crazy should they rely on memory or handwritten notes alone.
Project managers usually use at least one, if not several, project management tools to help keep track of the constantly-changing details. Tools for a project manager help reduce the complexity of a project by allowing a project manager to pool resources, view trends in productivity and help team members stay focused on the right things. Some of the most common tools used by project managers include spreadsheets, whiteboards, and online collaboration sites such as online kanban boards.