Project Management that actually WORKS

Project Management that actually WORKS

Managing a project can get real hairy real quickly. Look at our own process as an example:

  • We begin with a great idea – taken from our storehouse of great ideas, Jira, of course.
  • We talk through of how we think it should work within our context.
  • We write out the details of what we think should be done.
  • We break down the stuff that needs to get done into small segments – 8-to-16-hour work-items.
  • We figure out the skills needed for each of these work-items.
  •  We use a Gantt Chart to set up Tasks.
  • We assign those tasks to various people using a Resources mechanism.
  • We get to work.

Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, not at all. Yes, all the pieces are in place, but how do we know how things are going on a day-to-day basis? For example, someone takes off for a day fo personal reasons – how do we know about that? And how do we figure out how that will affect the project? If you’re anything like a typical team, there are always other things that intrude on your work – customer issues, tech issues, laptop failures, you name it. And they all impact someone’s ability to deliver on the tasks they have to work on. Yes, they may have a nice dashboard that shows what they should be working on today. And they may even have ways ot marking those things as Done when done. But that’s when things are done – what about when things are being done? How do we know if things are slowing down?

The best way we’ve found is to do the following:

  1. Begin with setting the number of hours each assignment takes, right in the assignment
  2. Break the assigned hours across the days that someone’s to work on the task – say, 4 hours a day for 6 days if it takes 6 days to deliver
  3. Get everyone to track the hours that they spend on each of their task, every day, using an effect time-tracker
  4. Get people to report PTO requests regularly
  5. Report the hours spent on each task against the hours that should have been spent by now, based on the daily breakdown and the time-tracked hours
  6. Talk to people when these hours don’t match, help them fix things early.

With this simple mechanism in place, you can tell if things are slowing down, very early in the game. You can tell ahead of time if your project needs more people, more time, more money, a new laptop, whatever. That’s how you can make sure that your project management is actually working.

Now, you can do all of this and more using PK4 TimeTracker and our Project Management add-on.

  • With the Gantt chart, you can plan your whole project out, with work-breakdown at a Task level.
  • You can then assign those tasks to various people having multiple people doing things on each task, if needed.
  • People can use the Tasks tab to track when they need to do, as can you for your project.
  • Everyone can request and track PTO requests as they come up.
  • People can report the time they’ve spent on each task – they can use Salesforce, a web app, a mobile app, Jira, Slack or a Chrome Extension to report time worked.
  • If you have stages in your project, you can track those stages for each task on the Kanban Board.
  • You can see who’s working on what, what days they’re overloaded on, what days they’re on PTO – all via the Resources tab.
  • You can set up any number of Salesforce reports to track work-breakdown and time at every level of detail.

The key thing in all this is that you can track tasks as they get done, based on the time that people report for each task assignment. This gives you a much clearer idea of how things are going than jotting down notes during meetings.

Hopefully, this will get you sleeping better.🙂

Check out the details of Project Management here.

 

7 Tips to Make Team Meetings Productive

7 Tips to Make Team Meetings Productive

Productivity is an essential metric for businesses. Without high performance levels, targets aren’t met, and the bottom line can be affected, potentially jeopardizing the company. Some methods can keep performance levels high. For example, time tracking software like the PK4 TimeTracker will help make time management easier and limit wasted time.  

Individual employees must work together as a team for maximum project management effectiveness. However, getting individuals to work together can be easier said than done, with meetings often necessary to help the team gel as a unit.

Regular meetings can help make team management easier and boost productivity by getting everybody together and discussing roles and processes. Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your team meetings.

1. Create An Agenda

No meetings should begin without a meeting agenda. You should also send a message to others beforehand to ask if there’s anything they’d like to add to the schedule. Once you’ve created your agenda, you should ensure that everybody has a copy before the meeting starts.

An agenda is important because it helps ensure that everything is covered. A plan will also help ensure there’s enough time to cover everything, and it also helps you allocate time to agenda items to ensure they don’t’ run over.

During a meeting, it’s easy for people to come up with ideas that are not on the agenda, which could derail the meeting. However, such ideas may be valuable and should not be wasted. A solution to the issue is the parking lot technique that lets ideas be ‘parked’ so they can be revisited later.

2. Create the Right Environment

For a meeting to be constructive, it needs to be held in the right environment. The right environment means being in a place where you are not disturbed and where everybody has the opportunity to speak freely. Also, make sure that there’s plenty of space, everybody is comfortable, and you have all the tools you need.

In some cases, it can be constructive to hold team meetings in a casual environment with beanbags and other comfortable sitting arrangements. Helping people relax can help them think easier, helping their creativity to come out.

If your meeting involves remote workers, make sure all the equipment is in place at both ends. It’s a good idea to check equipment first to help ensure audio and video is clear and any other required functionality is working.

3. Assign Meeting Roles

Some meeting attendees should be given specific roles that will help ensure the meeting goes smoothly and is productive. The manager will usually lead the meeting, while other important roles include note-taking and time keeping.

It can also be a great idea in some meetings to assign somebody the role of devil’s advocate. This person will have the responsibility of challenging ideas to provoke thought. The devil’s advocate doesn’t necessarily have to disagree with ideas they are challenging – it’s more of a brainstorming exercise. 

4. Talk About Teamwork Not Reports

 Team meetings should ideally be about teamwork and work priorities. For example, team meetings should cover matters like roles within the team and if there is anything team members can do to be helping each other more.

It might be tempting to use a team meeting to distribute reports on project management, but this would be a waste of valuable time. Instead, reports can be sent before the meeting is held, so time is spent on more productive discussions. It’s a good idea to send the reports in plenty of time, so everybody has a chance to read them.

5. Assign Accountability

It’s all very well talking about what needs to be done, but one of the key issues is ensuring people know who is responsible. During the meeting make sure to assign accountability to the appropriate people so everybody understands who is responsible. Not only does this help the person responsible understand their role, but it also helps the rest of the team understand their position in the group. Assigning accountability during a meeting is also effective team management because it allows people to voice any concerns they might have. 

6. Ask For Feedback

No meetings should be a monologue coming from the meeting leader. Instead, they should be an opportunity for everybody to get involved and say their piece. Not only should you allow people to speak, but you should actively encourage them to speak. If needed, make sure to address everybody individually to make sure they know they have a voice.

Active listening is also very important for workplace management. Active listening means letting people speak and considering everything they are saying. Don’t be too quick to pass something off if it doesn’t sit well to begin with; the person speaking might have a very good point. 

7. Make Meetings Fun

Meetings can become boring and, when things get boring, even the most attentive of people can begin to drift away. However, if you make your team meetings fun, then you’re likely to keep everybody’s attention. So add some wit to your meetings to help make them enjoyable, while you can also try role play for a fun way to help team members understand other people’s roles in the team.

Of course, it’s important to remain professional and ensure that everything is covered. If things start getting a little too rowdy, it’s best to bring everybody’s attention back to work priorities. 

Summary

These are just a few tips that will help ensure that you get as much as possible from your meetings. Different types of organizations will need to adopt different models according to the nature of their work. For example, some will need to focus on creativity during their team meetings, while others will have more of a focus on technical issues.

Regardless, if you prepare and execute your meetings accordingly, they should help make project management easier. Do share any other tips that you find useful to make meetings more productive.

Photo by Joseph Mucira on Pixabay

 

6 Tips for Effectively Communicating Project Delays

6 Tips for Effectively Communicating Project Delays

It doesn’t matter how effective you might be at team management; it’s all but impossible to avoid the possibility of something going wrong with projects sometimes. In many cases, problems might be completely out of your hands. Delays are not uncommon, a survey has shown that a staggering 77% of projects run late, with 75% going over budget.

Although delays can be infuriating for all involved, project management will need to keep their focus and concentrate on what to do next. An important part of dealing with delays is communicating them with the client. This can be tricky to do and get the desired results, so here are 6 top tips on how to communicate project delays effectively.

1. Update The Customer as Soon as You Know

Having to tell a client that their project is delayed can be an awkward situation and something that a lot of people would try to avoid if possible. This might lead some people to try and delay telling the client, but this is only likely to worsen the situation.

It’s best to make the client aware of any delays as soon as you know. Doing so will help you maintain your professionalism despite the delay. It will also help give the client time to make other necessary arrangements. If you leave it until the last minute, you can leave the client in a tough situation with no time to fix it.

2. Keep Records

If there is a delay, the client may have questions. In such cases, it’s best to have all the answers available to you. 
Keeping productivity records will ensure you can show the client that you’ve practiced strong team management to keep the project running on time. You can also consider using project management software like the PK4 Time

Project Management in the PK4 TimeTracker

PK4 TimeTracker Gantt Chart

Tracker to help ensure you can show your client that your team has been working hard to reach the best possible performance levels.

Using a project management tool like the  PK4 TimeTracker can help you manage projects, organize tasks and build confidence within your team. You don’t need to shuffle between complex spreadsheets, email and other tools to keep your projects on course. Everything happens within one integrated system. And you’ll have all the time that your team has spent on the project, right at your finger tips. So you can present accurate data to your customer to back up your efforts.  And you can make it easy by giving your contractors access to the PK4 TimeTracker Mobile or Web app, so that tthey can track their time to the project as well, without needing to be in Salesforce.

3. Have a Solution Ready

Before you let your client know about any delays, it’s best to have a solution available. When you have a solution available, it helps to demonstrate that you’re doing what you can to rectify things as soon as possible.

Having a solution is one of the most important aspects of workplace management. Telling the client about your solution will help to take the edge of the bad news and help them to focus on the positives instead. It also allows the client to have their say about your solution, allowing them to contribute to making it work.

It’s important to remain positive yourself. Remember, you’re the professional and project management is what you do best, so you should always give the impression that you’re in control even when overall performance doesn’t go to plan.

4. Don’t Blame Others

Blaming other people for poor performance is a sign of poor team management, no matter how accurate you might be. If the client presses you for specific reasons regarding work priorities or similar, you should be honest with them, but it should never be done to try and deflect blame away from yourself.

Blaming others will make you look very unprofessional and will achieve nothing. It can make you look as though you’re unwilling to accept responsibility yourself, which could make your client concerned about how the rest of the project management will go.

There’s no need even to mention why a project has gone wrong or who is to blame in most cases. The client will usually only be concerned about what is being done to get everything back on track as much as possible. 

5. The Client Is Not Your Enemy

It’s entirely understandable if the client is frustrated at delays. After all, they have their time management and other issues to worry about. However, this does not mean a client becomes the enemy if they express their frustration.
Remember that the client will want the project completed in good time more so than you do, and they will likely cooperate with any attempt at getting things going again. You will likely need their cooperation to keep productivity high and get the project back on track, which means not making enemies.

You should certainly avoid saying it’s the client’s fault; doing so will only make them defensive. Instead, try to focus on work priorities and do what you can to get the client and team members working together to reach the same goal.

6. Update Often

In the case of a delay, it’s a good idea to keep the client regularly updated. They will be eager to know what progress is being made and will likely become frustrated if kept in the dark. You don’t necessarily need to keep in touch with them every day, but you should at least keep them posted on significant developments.

By keeping the client updated, you can help put their mind at rest while also giving them the opportunity to contribute. They may have a way of helping to make everything run as desired, so it’s a very good idea to have them fully on board. 

Summary

While communicating project delays can be awkward, you can make things go much better if you communicate effectively. Remember to communicate as quickly and as honestly as possible and be ready to present a solution. It’s also essential to always remain professional. Avoid blaming other people and instead focus on what you intend to do to overcome the problems you’re facing.

Keeping time management details and other useful records can also be very beneficial. Doing so can help you identify where things went wrong, and they can also show to clients that you’re doing your best if you’re pushed to give explanations. Regardless, it’s best to keep on communicating clearly and do what you can to keep the client and your team working hand in hand with you. 

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

 

5 Tips to Manage 1099 Contractors

5 Tips to Manage 1099 Contractors

 

More than 20 million people in the US are independent contractors. This means there’s plenty to choose from, and there’s some very good reason to use them instead of salaried employees. For example, you only need to pay independent contractors for a specific volume of work, and independent contractors will usually have all the tools they need to do a job. 

Project management involving 1099 contractors will usually take a degree of team management to get the desired results. Follow some simple steps, and you are already closer to getting the completed job you’re hoping for.

1. Set Clear Expectations

It’s a good idea to set expectations when working with anybody, especially 1099 contractors. You need to make it clear exactly what you need to be done and how it needs to be done. This should also include details on which materials are to be used and make them aware of limitations on working hours or other restrictions.

With expectations set, the contractor can then set about their task in full confidence that they’re doing what’s expected of them. If you don’t set expectations, the contractor could become confused and not fully understand the scope of the task. Such poor project management can result in a poorly done job.

Good team management also involves communicating clearly during the job as well as well as before. If there are any updates or changes to what you need, let the contractor know as soon as you know. And remember that if there are changes to the plan, you should pay the contractor according to what you agreed upon initially.

2. Use a Time Tracker

Time Tracker on the Web, Mobile

Time Tracker on the Web, Mobile

It’s usually a good idea to track how much time remote employees are working on tasks, especially if they are being paid by the hour. Let contractors know that they are being monitored, and it can help to prevent any temptations to take liberties with your time.

Using a time tracker like the  PK4 TimeTracker can also help with project management for other reasons. For example, a time tracker will help make it easier for you to keep accurate records of how long remote employees have worked for, which helps when it comes to invoicing and accounting. A time tracker can also help you see if time is being spent well, potentially helping you make changes that will help you make contractors more productive. And you can make it easy by giving your contractors access to a mobile or web app, so that the learning curve is smoother.

3. Create a Contract 

You should always create a contract before any work gets started. The contract should include details such as the scope of the work involved, the materials used, and the overall cost of doing the job. A contract should also help you provide guidelines that will help you measure the contractor’s performance and set limitations on what the contractor can or cannot do.

With the scope of the task and other details officially noted, the contractor can go ahead and start work with confidence. If, for whichever reason, the terms of the contract are not met, then you both have an option to take a legal approach if necessary.

4. Don’t Micromanage

Good team management often involves standing back and letting the professionals do what they’re good at. If you’ve recruited a professional with a solid track record, then you should have confidence that they can do what they’re skilled at without your supervision.

Micromanaging is only likely to lead to frustration, and the contractor’s productivity could take a hit. Micromanaging is also likely to be time-consuming and potentially frustrating for you, and it’s unlikely to provide any benefit.

And remember that in most cases, they’re the expert, and you are not. While you might have an idea of how a particular job should be done or how long it would take, the person with the skills and experience is far more likely to be correct.
If you want to know how your contractor is progressing, then it’s fine to request the occasional update. Depending on the nature of the job, daily or weekly updates may be ideal.

5. Pay Them Well

It can be tempting to choose a cheap contractor to save money, but it’s usually a bad idea. A skilled contractor will want to be paid what they’re worth, meaning somebody willing to do the job on the cheap is unlikely to have the required skills and experience.

While a cheaper contractor might cost you less, you’re running the risk of having to pay a lot more in the long term. In some cases, the job might need to be redone entirely, which, of course, means paying another subcontractor. Depending on the task, the wrong contractor might even cause damage that will cost even more to rectify.

While you should pay well, it’s also fine to make sure you don’t overpay. Ask around to see what the going rates are to get an idea of what it will cost.

Summary

Independent contractors are the ideal option for various tasks, and they’re best used when there’s a single job to be done. However, it makes a lot of sense to choose the right contractor and manage them effectively.

One of the key factors that will help you manage contractors is communicating clearly with them. Set expectations, clarify what you need to be done, and create a contract to confirm what you need in writing. It’s also best to avoid micromanaging contractors and instead ask for the occasional update on their progress. You can also use a time tracking app to monitor how long they’re working, including remote employees, which will help prevent disputes and make things easier when it comes to invoicing.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects is to pay a good rate. Paying well will help ensure you hire a contractor that knows what they’re doing and can get the job done properly at the first time of asking. Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of more inconvenience and more financial cost.

Photo by Claire Nakkachi on Unsplash

Plugging Gaps in Customer Support Revenues

Plugging Gaps in Customer Support Revenues

Interview with Mr. Jason Liner, VP FP&A MercuryGate International, Cary NC

MercuryGate is the only full power, feature-rich transportation management system (TMS) that is singularly focused on strategic freight transportation management automation and has been for over two decades. The result is the best-of-breed transportation management platform that enables logistics experts to execute efficiencies previously unattainable and empowers relative newcomers to perform at expert levels they could not otherwise achieve.

The MercuryGate TMS simplifies and centralizes the management of freight transportation within a single software platform to save time and money for shippers, 3PLs, brokers and carriers around the world. The platform supports all modes of transport including ocean, air, rail, truckload, LTL, last mile, parcel and intermodal to give you visibility to every shipment, automate manual processes, and make smarter decisions based on delivery performance.

Mr. Jason Liner is the Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis at MercuryGate International.

1. What is your primary role in the company?

My primary role is in Financial Planning and Analysis. As a part of my role, I work across Finance, Operations, Product Development, and Product Strategy. I help drive strategic decisions throughout the business, isolating issues and articulating appropriate business solutions.

2. What was the main challenge that you wanted to solve?

Some of our customers pay separately for Customer Support. For those customers, support is not a part of their subscription fees. We also do a fair amount of implementation services for our customers. We have three different teams working on customer-facing issues. There are Tier-1 and Tier-2 Support teams, the implementation team, and sometimes the development team. All these teams primarily work in different siloed software systems – the Customer support team in Salesforce, the implementation team in OpenAir, and the dev team in Jira. Our billing to customers is done based on the Case Number in Salesforce on yet another system. Reconciling hours spent on customer Cases across these systems was a nightmare. Some of the time details would have missing Case numbers. In addition, since some of our teams needed to log their hours in duplicate, they would often forget to do that. We recognized that we were losing out on our support revenues with all these issues. We desperately needed a single system-of-record for the hours that the different teams worked on Customer Cases. One that we could easily integrate with our billing system.

3. What is your number 1 challenge to tracking employee performance? 

Disparate and siloed systems for different teams

4. What is your team size?

About 120 people in Customer Service and Implementation teams. Plus, another 50 people in the development team who also work on customer-facing issues.

5. What are you currently doing to make your customer service team more efficient?

We have implemented the PK4 TimeTracker for all our teams in different ways. For the Customer Service team, which works in Salesforce, we have implemented the Time Tracker lightning component that tracks time right inside the Case. The process is highly efficient, and we are now tracking every minute that the team spends on a Case. For the development team, we have integrated their Jira worklogs to be brought into Salesforce directly via the TimeTracker. So their time is recorded automatically into the Time Tracker, without their having even to click a button. Our Implementation team uses the Time Tracker web app to track their hours whenever they need to work on a Case. So all hours worked are now directly tied to Cases, and it all happens seamlessly.

6. What has been the significant impact for you?

Within the first month of implementing the Time Tracker, we’ve seen our Support revenues go up because all the hours are now accurately tracked. The time that we spent reconciling and billing customers has also drastically reduced.