planning activities

Planning activities to help your project team

In all organizations, projects are a key means of building value, and planning activities to help the team di progetto becomes a critical step.

Managing an organization while lacking ideas and without proper planning undoubtedly leads to failure. No matter the scale or scope, project planning articulates when each task should be performed and the order to follow.

In this article we will look into this topic down to the detail.

Project activities definition

Activities do not stand for a project’s deliverables, but for the individual units of work that must be completed to meet those deliverables.

The definition of activities uses everything you already know about the project to break down work into tasks that can be measured.

Examining lessons learned from similar projects can give you an idea of what the tasks will be on the current project.

Also, the feedback from those who have been on similar projects in the past can also help define the tasks.

However, if the project is completely new, one option is to ask for support from experts in that particular field to help define the activities.

Project activities list

After the tasks have been determined and the work packages have been completed, the task list is completed.

A project task list is a list of everything that needs to be accomplished to complete the project within a reasonable time frame and cost.

Then, you would define the attributes of the activities. In other words, you describe each activity by including all the information needed to understand the work order.

planning project's activities

Milestones

All of the major checkpoints in the project are marked as milestones.

For example, some of these milestones might be listed in the contract as requirements for successful completion, others might be notable items in the project that the project manager wants to keep track of.

The sequencing process of project activities

Now that you know about the tasks, their details and milestones, you need to focus on the work order.

Here is where you use the process of sequencing or scheduling activities. Basically, this is where you consider what comes first and what follows, the activities that are dependent on each other, possible alternatives, etc.

Creating a Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that shows graphically a project schedule.

Gantt charts are easy to read and are commonly employed to display graphically planned activities.

These charts show the start and end dates of a project’s activities as well as dependency relationships between activities.

Milestones are set sequentially on the bar chart, starting in the upper left corner and ending in the lower right corner.

A Gantt chart can be drawn easily and quickly and is often the first tool used by a project manager to provide a rough estimate of the time required to complete key activities.

You can add additional information to a Gantt chart, such as:

  • Milestones can be marked using a symbol such as a diamond or triangle.
  • Meetings could be noted using a different symbol such as a circle.
  • Progress checks could be marked with a square.

For a complex project, a project manager might also opt to create a separate Gantt chart for each core phase.

This type of chart provides a convenient tool for monitoring and controlling as the project progresses.

Network chart creation

Many project managers use network charts in project planning.

A network chart is a great way to visualize inter-relationships of project activities and provides a graphical representation of the activities and how they relate to each other.

The activities in the network are, specifically, work packages.

The network chart provides key data to the project team, including information about how the activities are related, where the risk points are in the schedule, how long it will take to complete the project, and when each activity should begin and end.

Critical path to planning activities

A critical path describes what sequence of activities would allow the project to be completed in the shortest possible time and is based on the idea that some activities must be completed before others can begin.

To determine your critical path, begin with the network chart to find the longest path in the network, i.e., the longest sequence of activities.

You must make sure to consider the longest path in terms of time and not the path with the most nodes.

Planning a project is considered risky if the critical path is prone to changes once the project begins.

Allocating resources

The last step is to allocate resources to begin the actual work and to execute the planning made.

Resources must be allocated to the right tasks based on their knowledge, skills and availability.

Onboard a project management tool

Regardless of how detailed the project plan is and how well prepared a project manager is, there are still plenty of challenges in project management.

Thankfully, project management software like Twproject can greatly help in planning tasks to assist not only the project team, but also the project manager themselves.

Twproject can help you in every steps mentioned before, setting milestones, creating your Gantt chart, balancing resource workload and creating a network for your project team.

Try it for free now by clicking down below.

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project's performances

Measure your project’s performance

Measuring your project’s performance  doesn’t just mean meeting project budget and timelines.  In fact, other types of performance are also expected to be monitored and measured. This is intended to measure the ROI nd to determine if goals are being met.

Generally speaking, at different times during the project life cycle, it is best to measure five deliverables: schedule, quality, cost, stakeholder  satisfaction, and project scope.

This information can be used to grant – or deny – approval to proceed with the subsequent section of work.

But, before you move on to measuring your project’s performance, you need to set your goals.

Setting and measuring project objectives

A project’s success can be measured in many ways, including if it meets deadlines, if it is within budget, if it has led to more sales, improved customer service or efficiency, or a combination of these or other factors.

The first step, therefore, is to establish what the objectives of the project will be, and what will be regarded as a success.

Once these goals have been established, metrics can be determined to monitor the status of activities.

Why is it important to define and measure the success or performance of a project? For the simple reason that “what gets measured, can be managed.”

The 5 performances to measure in a project

Here are the five benefits to be measured:

1. Project schedule

Successful project management is often determined by whether or not the original timeline has been met or not.

Experienced project managers know how difficult it is to fully meet a project schedule, but this definitely becomes easier if you constantly measure progress as you progress through the work.

Evaluating the schedule is something you can do more formally at the end of a phase or as part of a monthly report to project stakeholders.

It’s easy to update your project schedule if you use a Gantt chart, where tasks and deadlines are converted in graphic time sequences.

To measure your project performance, you can easily compare milestones, check to see if they still meet the originally agreed-upon dates, and, if applicable, calculate the slippage and the impact the delay will have on the overall project schedule.

2. Quality

Quality plays an important role among performance measurement. The end of a project phase is a great moment for a quality check.

Here you can check both the quality of your project management practices and the final results.

A quality check can gauge whether what you are doing meets the standards set by the quality requirements.

It’s better to find out quality issues early, as trying to solve them later in the project could become really costly.

3. Budget and costs

the project's performances

Cost Management  is the torment and delight of many project managers who regard cost management as one of their top priorities on a project.

Here, you compare the actual current expense with what you had budgeted and, if there are any variations, look for the reason why.

These values must then be forecast into the future to eventually re-predict the final total budget for the project and compare it to the original estimate.

If these forecasts escalate too much, it is an indication that spending and cost management are out of control and action to fix the problem is required.

4. Stakeholder satisfaction

Project stakeholders are key to accomplishing a large portion of work, so it’s worth talking to them regularly to find out how they feel about the project at that particular time and what could be done differently.

This is a difficult element to document statistically or numerically, although there is nothing to stop you from asking them for an objective rating, for example using a series of 1-10 scores.

If stakeholders do not fully support some decisions regarding the project, you can implement plans to engage these people to the fullest and try to find common ground.

5. Project scope

The last factor is to determine whether the benefits of the project are still feasible and whether the business problem to be solved that led to the launch of this project still stands.

This is because certain types of initiatives are launched to address a particular need, but by the end of the project the business environment has changed to the extent that the project becomes redundant.

Nobody made the effort to monitor the business case during the project lifecycle, so no one realized that the work was no longer needed.

Regularly checking your business case and reassessing it given your current business objectives then becomes a parameter to be checked regularly.

 

Other elements can, of course, be added to this list depending on the type of your project, organization, and industry.

Indeed, performance to be measured during the project should be reflective of what is important to the project manager, the team, the stakeholders, and the company as a whole.

Also, at the end of a project, a thorough and final evaluation will be performed.

Project management metrics are essential for implementing practical and sustainable project management practices and processes in any organization.

The key is to try to use metrics that are simple, convenient, and relevant to the business and industry in which you operate.

Using Twproject, these measurements become very straightforward. Measure them for free with Twproject by clicking on the banner below.

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precedence diagramming

The Precedence Diagramming Method in Project Activities

The precedence diagramming method of project activities is a visual representation technique that shows the interdependencies of activities and is used in the development of project planning.

With so many challenging responsibilities involved in managing a project, project management has become even more demanding, so using assistive tools is becoming increasingly valuable.

The precedence diagramming method is a great communication tool for stakeholders.

Let’s have a look at it in more detail in this article.

What is the Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM)?

The Precedence Diagramming Method, is a visual strategy for project planning network diagram development that makes use of rectangles, also called nodes, to symbolize activities. Because of this, it is also called Activity on Node (AON).

This method visually represents any pre-existing, recognized planning activity through the use of interconnected nodes.

The major benefit of using the precedence diagram method is that it quickly allows the project team to understand all scheduled and affiliated activities.

Using the precedence diagramming method, you can:

  • Visually display the project progression as a precedence diagram
  • Determine if you are on schedule
  • Quickly identify dependencies among activities and the effect of any modifications
  • Pinpoint critical processes and activities and report them as a critical course.

A precedence diagram can represent a whole project, but you can also create a partial diagram that shows only a portion of a project.

Indeed, not all stakeholders, are interested in having the overall, detailed presentation.

How to build a precedence diagramming method (PDM)

To build a PDM method of precedence diagramming, the preliminary stage of planning is to focus on the work breakdown structure.

The overall project becomes more convenient and manageable when breaking the tasks down into smaller assignments.

Below are some steps for creating a precedence diagram:

  • Make sure you have a blank page or a blackboard to draw the plan on
  • Insert the final result of the work breakdown structure on the right side of the page
  • Report each activity from the breakdown structure and arrange them in the order in which they are to happen.
  • Work from the left until you have dependencies between tasks and get a function sequence going from left to right.
  • Make sure there is no standalone activity with no connection.

As the project advances, there may be more tasks that need to be done; these can be included in the diagram and work breakdown structure.

precedence diagramming method

Relationship types in precedence diagramming method

With the precedence diagramming method, four types of relationships are used in activities. These are:

  • Finish-Start (FS): is the most common relationship type used between activities. An activity cannot begin until the previous one is completed. For example, to paint a wall you must first build it, so the first activity is building the wall, and the second one is painting it.
  • Start-Finish (SF): is the lesser used relationship in a precedence diagramming method. In this case, the B activity may end only after the A activity begins. For example, your old house will be demolished to build a new one. In this case, you cannot move into your new house until it is ready. Therefore, the second activity (building the new house) must be completed before the first activity (moving into a new house) begins.
  • Start-Start (SS): is a type of relationship that shows that the next activity cannot be started until the first one begins. Both activities should therefore begin at the same time. For example, you need to apply a coating to a wall, but the wall needs to be cleaned first. Therefore, one team will clean the wall, while the other team will coat it. Both activities can begin at the same time.
  • Finish-Finish (FF): In this case, the following activity cannot be completed until the first one is concluded. For example, in an IT project, during testing, bugs will be found related to the software being developed. These bugs will be fixed by the developers, and then the testing team will have to double-check that the bug is actually fixed. Therefore, testing and bug fixing activities are an example of this type of relationship.

Dependency types in precedence diagramming method

Four types of dependencies are used to define activity sequences:

  • Mandatory Dependency: This dependency is also known as “hard logic” and you cannot avoid it because the beginning of the next activity depends on this type of connection. For instance, you can’t build a ceiling until you have built all the walls of a house.
  • Discretionary Dependency: this dependency is also known as “soft logic” and is involved in resource optimization. For instance, you can build all four walls of a house in any sequence. However, if building them in a certain order is beneficial, then they will be built in that exact order. Discretionary dependencies are supervised by the project team and can be modified to shorten the project. In this technique, the tasks remain the same, but the order changes.
  • External Dependency: These come, of course, externally to the project and the team has no control over them. For example, you may need government approval before you begin your next project activity.
  • Internal Dependency: these are under the project or organization’s control. For example, a resource cannot be obtained until it is released from another project.

Benefits of the precedence diagramming method

The use of the precedence diagramming method brings a number of benefits to project management, including:

  • It helps in finding relationships and dependencies between activities. This , in turn, helps in planning and avoiding risks.
  • It helps to find critical activities and focus on them. Any delay in critical activities will set back the entire program.
  • It is a fine communication tool, as project stakeholders can see the activities and get an understanding of the program.
  • Without a precedence diagram, project planning cannot be developed.

Start now with our help

The amount of effort involved in creating a precedence diagram is relatively high, mainly because prior knowledge of work packages and the critical path is required, but with a project management software is so much easier.

Twproject can help you designing your WBS and your precedence diagram in few steps with important benefits.

The predictive power of the precedence diagram depends on the quality of the estimates of effort and task duration, and all this can be learned in time thanks to a software that can keep all your project history for future analysis.

Create your precedence diagram, assign your team to correct phases with correct estimation, keep track of everything is happening and helps your team with prioritized to do lists. Track your project history and learn for your experience!

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project backlog

Product backlog

A product backlog is a list of work priorities for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and requirements.

Included within this document are new features, changes to existing ones, bug fixes, infrastructure changes, or other activities to achieve a specific outcome.

The product backlog is the only authoritative source for the things a team works on; this means that nothing is done that is not covered in the product backlog.

Conversely, having an item in the backlog does not guarantee that it will be delivered. In fact, this only represents an option the team has to deliver a certain outcome, but not a commitment.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the project backlog is a dynamic one that constantly changes as work progresses with new ideas appearing and different elements moving up or down.

How to manage the product backlog?

Managing a product backlog comes with several responsibilities.

Since the product roadmap is updated frequently, it must be closely linked to the product backlog. Therefore, accordingly, the backlog must be redefined to reflect changes and new findings.

In addition, care should be taken to keep this important document organized and easy to reference.

As stated earlier, the product backlog is a dynamic document and any member of the development team can add items, but only the product owner – who is responsible for it – decides the order of priorities and work.

the project backlog

How to create a successful product backlog

Here are some practical tips for creating and maintaining a successful product backlog:

  • Keep it organized and up-to-date: The product backlog must be a trusted source of information for the development team. It’s essential to keep it manageable, and a typical mistake is to make the document too exhaustive and packed with items. The product manager must decide what to do to maximize the result while minimizing the output.
  • Don’t create multiple lists: It is easier for everyone if you just work from a single backlog list. This way the work will be more transparent and no information will be lost.
  • Focus on individual element value: if something doesn’t bring value, it shouldn’t be part of your product backlog.
  • Promote discussion and feedback: stakeholders and development team members may question priorities in the product backlog. In these cases, it’s important to talk to each other and collect feedback to understand whether the change is motivated or not.
  • Reorganize continuously – also known as product backlog grooming or backlog refining: the product backlog is a living document and, as a result, it evolves, changes, grows and shrinks over time. Therefore, it needs to be continually reordered and reorganized.

How to structure the product backlog

The product backlog can include hundreds of tasks, and arranging those items by size and relevance is one of the product manager’s most important tasks.

Smaller tasks and work items are usually achieved by subdividing the larger work items.

The items that are included in the product backlog must fall under the INVEST method items:

  • Independent: each element must be independent of one another and each must serve a different function.
  • Negotiable: each element must be open for trading.
  • Valuable: each element must bring value and benefits to the customer, team and stakeholders.
  • Estimable: the team should be able to estimate how long the item will take to process.
  • Sized appropriately
  • Testable

 

The organization of activities in a product backlog should follow the DEEP method, which stands for:

  • Detailed appropriately
  • Estimated appropriately – in other words, to the best of the team’s ability. Clearly, when the business is brand new, it will be more difficult to give a fair estimate.
  • Emergent: The product backlog evolves continuously. As new items are added, existing items are modified or refined.
  • Prioritized: When deciding how to rank work items in the product backlog, the product manager uses the acronym DIVE which stands for:
    • Dependencies: For example, if task A depends on task B, B should be ranked higher than A.
    • Insure against risks: activities that help in minimizing risk have higher priority.
    • Business value: the more valuable the activities are to the customer and the company, the higher priority they get.
    • Estimated effort: How much time is expected to be required to perform the task?

 

The product backlog is therefore a strong tool for the product manager, as it serves as a transition from strategic thinking to practical day-to-day work.

Product Backlog is easier with a little help

Project management software like Twproject can make your life easier managing your product backlog. It is not just a matter of writing it, but also about organizing it by priority, measure it, schedule it sprint by sprint and assign it to the write person.

With Twproject, in the Kanban board, you can do all of them in a very handy way.

Remember, product backlog is a paper that promotes focus, transparency and collaboration.

Proper planning and organization is an essential part of success.

See here an example of how to manage a project with SCRUM in Twproject.

When properly created and managed, the product backlog becomes a tool that helps teams manage constant change, achieve maximum productivity, and deliver maximum value to both company and customer.

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npv and irr

Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR): Project selection methods

Distinguishing between data returned by Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) (two project selection methods), when analyzing a project, is important because these methods can yield contradictory results.

The resulting difference could be due to a difference in cash flow between the two projects.

Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) are two of the most widely used investment analysis techniques.

They are similar because both are cash flow models, that is, they incorporate the time value of money, but they differ in their fundamental approach and their strengths and weaknesses.

The NPV is an absolute measure, i.e., it is the amount in dollars/euros/etc. of value added or lost by engaging in a project.

IRR, on the other hand, is a relative measure, i.e., it is the rate of return a project offers over its life, in percentages.

Financial managers and entrepreneurs usually favor performance measurements expressed in percentages rather than absolute values, so they tend to lean toward decisions expressed this way, as is the case with Internal Rate of Return (IRR).

Yet while this rate is usually a reliable method of determining whether a capital investment project is a good investment or not, under some conditions IRR is not reliable, while NPV is.

Let’s discuss these two concepts in this article.

What is Internal Rate of Return (IRR)?

Internal Rate of Return is a way of expressing a given project’s value as a percentage rather than an absolute value.

In financial jargon, the internal rate of return is the discount rate or the firm’s cost of capital, which causes the present value of the project’s cash inflows to equal the initial investment.

In other words, the IRR is an estimate of the project’s rate of return.

What is Net Present Value (NPV)?

Net Present Value represents positive and negative future cash flows during a project’s life cycle.

NPV stands for an intrinsic assessment and is applicable in accounting and finance where it is used to determine investment security, assess new endeavors, evaluate a business, or find ways to achieve cost reduction.

The most commonly used NPV is found using a cash flow model, making it a more refined analysis than an IRR calculation.

As long as the Net Present Value of a project is greater than zero, the project is considered financially feasible.

Net present value and internal rate of return

Conflict between Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR)?

The root cause of NPV and IRR conflict lies in cash flow nature, project nature, and project size.

Independent projects are projects where the decision regarding acceptance of one project does not affect the decision concerning the others.

Since all independent projects can be accepted if they add value, no conflicts arise between NPV and IRR. Thus, the company can accept all projects with a positive NPV.

However, in the case of mutually exclusive projects, a conflict between NPV and IRR may arise if one project has a higher NPV but another has a higher IRR.

Mutually exclusive projects are projects where the acceptance of one project excludes the others from further consideration.

Conflict arises because of the relative size of the project or the different cash flow distribution of the projects, and in this case you need to carefully consider which project to accept into your portfolio.

Similarities and differences between NPV and IRR

NPV takes into account the capital cost and provides a dollar estimate of value added, which is easier to understand.

A particularly important feature of NPV analysis is its potential to increase and decrease the rate to allow for different levels of project risk (you might also be interested in knowing more about the risk assessment matrix system).

However, NPV depends on the project scale. Without careful analysis, an investor might select a project with a high NPV while overlooking the fact that many projects with small NPVs could be completed with the same investment, resulting in a higher aggregate NPV.

This requires careful capital rationing analysis.

Project scale, on the other hand, is irrelevant in the case of IRR. Here you will rank a project that requires an initial investment of €1 million, for example, and generates €1 million each in year 1 and year 2 at the same level as a project that generates $1 in year 1 and year 2 each with an initial investment of $1.

This feature makes it a great complement to Net Present Value.

IRR is also easier to figure because it does not require estimating the cost of capital or hurdle rate, but only requires the initial investment and cash flows.

However, this same convenience can become a downside if projects are accepted without a cost of capital comparison.

Yet another rather major weakness is the multiple IRR problem: in the case of non-normal cash flows, i.e., when a project has positive cash flows followed by negative cash flows, the IRR takes on multiple values, making the decision more difficult.

How to decide between Net Present Value (NPV) and Internal Rate of Return (IRR)?

Generally speaking, if a project’s IRR is greater than or equal to the project’s cost of capital, then it would be wise to accept it.

However, if the IRR is less than the project’s cost of capital, it is better to pass it up.

The bottom line is that you never want to take on a project that returns less money than the company’s cost of capital.

Net Present Value is more commonly used since it is a more polished analysis than the IRR calculation.

If rates of return change over the life of the project, in fact, an NPV analysis can include these changes.

Thus, as long as the Net Present Value of a project is greater than zero, the project is considered financially feasible.

 

To wrap up, the general rule of thumb is to use Net Present Value, while Internal Rate of Return tends to be calculated as part of the capital budgeting process and provided as additional information.

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decision making process

Decision making and its impact on problem solving

Decision making and its impact in problem solving is simply undeniable and is an intrinsic part of effective project management.

It is key for a project manager to make sound decisions and fix problems appropriately as it affects the overall organizational functioning.

Problem solving and decision making are typically intertwined; you cannot solve a problem without making a decision.

The importance of decision making in problem solving

Also in project management, problems are an everyday event, or nearly so.

It would be awesome to just pretend nothing happened and make them magically disappear, but if you don’t seek solutions, the problems will persevere.

In the workplace, if the problem-solving habit is not established in the company culture, the organization will eventually fall apart.

Therefore, the project manager must have the training and the proper decision-making process to solve business problems independently and confidently.

This way, the decision-making process will be an asset to the organization.

The 6 stages of the decision-making process

Even though some people are more in tune with proper decision making, this skill can still be learned and mastered by any person.

Below are the 6 steps of the problem-solving decision-making process.

The Decision Making Process: Defining and Identifying the Problem Clearly

This might be the most overlooked piece of the decision-making process because it sounds so obvious, yet it is critical that all stakeholders are properly aligned on the issue at hand.

You might be shocked to discover how much information can be lost, especially in a larger corporate organization.

If problems are complex, it can be beneficial to break them down into smaller pieces as early as project planning.

It’s important to stay clear of emotion and judgmental bias as you define the problem to make it as objective as possible.

Here is a list of questions that can help you define and identify a problem:

  • What is happening precisely?
  • Where is this happening?
  • How is this happening?
  • How often is this happening?
  • With whom is this happening?
  • Why is this happening?

The Decision Making Process: Collecting Information

Most problems cannot be solved without a fair share of data or information.

During this decision-making stage, what is important is to collect relevant information.

Usually, having too much data hinders the process and results in a waste of time. Likewise, there may be instances when data collection generates a new perspective or problem.

In this scenario, it may be worth going back to Step 1 and revisiting the problem at hand.

decision making

The Decision Making Process: Brainstorming possible solutions

This is the time to be creative.

During this phase, the project manager, with the help of the project team and/or stakeholders, should consider any type of idea that could become a solution.

Brainstorming works best in an atmosphere free of bias because you never know which idea will plant the seed and stimulate the growth of the correct decision.

Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, the more complex the issue the more ideas are needed, even those that may initially seem wild.

The Decision Making Process: Narrowing down options

From the lengthy list of potential ideas, now it’s time to narrow it down.

The ways in which you get to choose the main ideas may vary, but may include:

  • Pros and cons list: identify the benefits and drawbacks of each option
  • SWOT analysis: breakdown of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each option
  • Scenario analysis: projection of potential likely scenarios that will result from each option

Different problems will require different levels of understanding of each potential option.

This assessment process helps narrow down the options and aid in choosing the most effective and feasible solution.

It is a good idea to include key stakeholders in this process to get an unbiased and balanced view.

Here are some questions that can be helpful at this stage:

  • What will the situation be like when the problem will be fixed?
  • What steps should be taken to implement the best solution to the problem?
  • What resources will be needed in terms of people, budget, and facilities?
  • How long will it take to implement the solution?
  • Who will be the main responsible for ensuring the plan gets executed?

The Decision Making Process: Implementing the solution adopted

This is the action phase, where the chosen solution gets actually executed on the problem.

This requires a decent plan and good execution, and constant monitoring of the steps is necessary.

However, in this step, two things must be kept in mind:

  • First, choose the option that has the company’s interest at heart. There will be times when some employees will be negatively impacted by a decision, but in most cases the best solution for the organization as a whole is always taken.
  • Secondly, keep in mind that not all stakeholders may be happy with the solution implemented. Only in rare cases will all of the single members of an entire company be fully satisfied with a major decision, and that is the case in most cases. Often, however, employees who are initially dissatisfied will eventually see that the decision was made for the overall good of the company and will adapt accordingly.

The Decision Making Process: Assessing results

Assessing the results leads to understanding the effectiveness of the adopted solution.

To understand if the plan was successful, it is necessary to get an idea of what helped and what didn’t and try to incorporate the changes.

In case the solution did not prove to be effective, you move on to choose a new option from the alternatives.

 

Therefore, decision making is critical to problem solving, even in project management.

It may seem like a lot of work, but by taking the necessary steps to solve important problems and come to a successful resolution will save much more time and lead to a healthier business in the long run.

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metodo down method

Top-down and bottom-up – Different approaches for different problems in project management

Top-down and bottom-up stand for different approaches to different problems in project management.

Project management approaches and strategies get constantly evaluated, reviewed and improved, and successful project manager make it a priority to stay informed about the latest developments in their field.

In recent years, the world of project management has seen a growing debate between these two fundamentally different approaches.

In this article, we will attempt to shed light on these two strategies.

Top-down project management

The top-down approach is the most traditional of these two.

A top-down strategy involves all key decisions being made by the project manager or organization’s leaders.

When a project is managed from the top-down, the work breakdown structure and project plan are completed and drafted from the top, meaning the top management, after which team members are told what tasks they should complete and when they should be accomplished.

What is most important to an organization is profitability. Projects are not usually directly accountable for generating profits for the company, but rather they make the products that companies sell.

Time to market is very important for an organization; therefore, the company wants products and services to be developed as quickly as possible.

Top-down management is a very common method and is suitable for projects where there are few unfamiliar activities and a handful of unique challenges to be addressed.

Pros and cons of the top-down approach

Here are the pros and cons of the top-down management approach:

Pros:

  • The advantage of the top-down planning is that the goals at all hierarchical levels are mostly the same as the goals of the company as a whole, since top management itself manages the work of all departments.
  • Complex and time-consuming coordination tasks are cut out so that the plan can be created more quickly.
  • Yet, if the project leader knows how things are going at other levels and sets clear expectations and goals that aren’t blurred by several different voices, the project team doesn’t get distracted from participating in project decision-making. This provides them with more time to focus on their tasks. It’s still important, however, that the decision-maker considers exactly how the decisions will impact both project and employees, otherwise the results could be negative.

Cons:

  • The main downside of the top-down planning approach lies in the fact that management is very rarely familiar with individual departmental opportunities and problems. This causes bottlenecks and reduced productivity as well as the pursuit of unrealistic and therefore unachievable goals.
  • Moreover, many organizations have begun to experience that the top-down approach can leave team members demoralized and unmotivated, as they typically have very little control over what they need to do and how they should do it.
  • Then again, following this approach, ambiguity opens the door to potential failure. As a matter of fact, managers should be as specific as possible when communicating their expectations
  • Lastly, the idea of a single person – or a limited group of leaders – leading the project and making decisions for everyone, especially if they are often inefficient, can bring up a dictatorial climate, affecting team morale. On top of that, if the leader is not perceived as such, it will be harder for employees to take responsibility.

Bottom-up project management

Bottom-up project management is steadily gaining popularity, in particular in industries where projects involve new challenges that demand innovative solutions.

In the bottom-up model, project goals are still established by organizational leadership, yet the team members who will carry out the work are asked to provide input on how the project goals will be achieved.

Project to-do lists and deadlines are usually not completed until the project team has assessed what to do, which often results in more realistic schedules and fewer (nasty) surprises along the way.

To-do lists are integrated into the overall plan to help prevent undesirable surprises, and there is complete transparency in terms of deadlines, budgets, deliverables, risks, and potential problems.

Pros and cons of the bottom-up approach

Also the bottom-up management approach has its own pros and cons. Let’s see what they are:

Pros:

  • Organizations often find that employees are more personally involved in plans that employ a bottom-up approach. Plans are developed at the lowest levels and are then handed off to each next higher level, reaching senior management for approval.
  • Another plus is that with bottom-up planning, more focus is given to the project because there are more employees that are involved, each with their own area of expertise and where everyone has the chance to devise project solutions that focus more on practical requirements than abstract notions. Plans are thus more realistic.

Cons:

  • A potential drawback to this strategy is that the initial stages of the project can take much longer and require more effort to coordinate, as project managers must incorporate input from a large number of stakeholders into the project plan. Too many ideas, in fact, can stall business agility or even result in bottlenecks or problems.
  • And again, despite all its pros, the bottom-up style alone will not be able to make projects thrive. In fact, according to many experts, the bottom-up approach is not the ideal solution, as it sometimes fails to provide clarity and control.
  • Ultimately, some people have an ego. When everyone has a voice, the motivation of some employees may be purely personal, boosting their self-esteem rather than being focused on the greater good and the real goal. This can lead to conflict and division within the project team, and a negative competitive environment.

bottom-up method

Il New York Times: an actual example

One of the most popular examples when it comes to the top-down and bottom-up approach is the New York Times, a leading journalism company.

This company implemented a top-down management style and according to the American Journalism Review, New York Times executives felt that what they were doing was not capable of creating a vibrant workplace and a successful business.

Power was centralized and editors at the top of management had overall control.

As a result, employees at lower levels felt that their voices didn’t count and weren’t being heard.

Journalists were not morally motivated to perform their jobs and there was no effective collaboration among them.

Managers then realized that they needed to give teams more freedom.

It took quite some time to introduce elements of the bottom-up management approach, but in the end it was worth it, as collaboration has now improved and teams are working more productively.

Deciding between top-down and bottom-up approaches: the hybrid method

The top-down management approach, as seen above, is the classic management method that is applied in most organizations.

Over the years, however, its flaws have begun to become clear, especially for organizations that seek a vibrant, collaborative, flexible and agile work environment.

That’s why many organizations have started to implement the bottom-up approach, yet even this management method is not the perfect solution, as it sometimes lacks clarity and control.

Therefore, the best direction, according to many experts, lies in balancing these two opposing approaches and just taking the best practices from both: opting for a hybrid method.

Indeed, in few cases is a formal, static decision on either approach an optimal choice for the organization.

Historically, it is the top-down approach that has ruled in most companies, however, an increasing number of organizations are looking for ways to incorporate some elements of the bottom-up philosophy into their current project management practices.

Even organizations in industries where projects are typically repeatable and predictable can improve the morale of their employees by allowing team members to participate in the project planning process.

Moreover, organizations in fast-moving industries, such as technology, have even stronger incentives to move to bottom-up project management in order to get the most benefit from their employees’ experience, creativity, and innovative knowledge.

It’s no surprise, then, that a holistic approach that combines both methods is undeniably the most wise strategy.

The most effective way to set a successful roadmap might actually be a hybrid approach, starting with a brief assessment of the actual organization relative to resource management best practices.

A mix of both planning methods allows for efficient, business-goal-driven implementation and the inclusion of all relevant departments.

This can greatly increase the quality of planning outcomes.

Using technology as a tool to combine both approaches

Traditional project management tools were designed with the top-down approach in mind.

Specifically, traditional applications were not designed for bottom-up management and were focused on the project manager, making them the main link in project communication.

Team members very often didn’t have access to the project plan and cannot give contributions.

Therefore, it was the project manager who must collect all the data and manually enter the information into the project plan, and then communicate the changes to business leaders.

Fortunately, the old ways of sharing and receiving information have been radically transformed in recent years.

New technologies change the old way of managing projects and bring new models of collaboration, based on collective intelligence.

This collective knowledge and intelligence is now successfully collected and shared in a flexible, collaborative environment brought to you by new, second-generation project management software.

This allows a project management software like Twproject to combine the benefits of both management approaches. Twproject lets you manage projects with bottom-up strategy, top-down but also both of them together.

Project management democratization should not be regarded negatively.

The main goal is to find ways to make project management and collaboration more efficient, and new technologies applied to project management make everything more effective and teams more productive.

In the end, projects do get delivered faster and that’s to everyone’s benefit.

By the way… have you not tried TWproject yet? Do it right now by clicking the button below!

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constraints theory

Theory of Constraints in Project Management

Theory of Constraints in Project Management is an approach that helps you to pinpoint the crucial limiting factor, usually referred to as a constraint or bottleneck, that gets in the way of achieving a goal.

The main goal of this theory is to find and address that constraint to the extent that it is no longer a limiting factor.

The Theory of Constraints is often associated with the saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” because the process of finding a weak link in a chain is very similar to finding a bottleneck in a system.

Theory of Constraints Goal

The theory of constraints hypothesizes that any complex system consists of multiple related activities, where one of them, the weak link in the chain, could potentially disrupt the entire system.

According to the theory of constraints, the best way for an organization to achieve its goals is to reduce operating expenses, reduce inventory, and increase throughput.

Operating expenses are all the money the system spends to convert inventory, or stock, into throughput.

Inventory represents all the money the system has invested in buying goods it intends to sell.

Throughput is the rate at which the system generates money through sales.

Before the goal itself can be achieved, all of the preconditions must first be met.

The five implementation steps

Theory of Constraints provides a specific methodology for identifying and eliminating bottlenecks within your system.

Here are its five implementation steps:

  • Identify the constraint: every system has at least one constraint that limits its growth, otherwise it would expand endlessly. First and foremost it is necessary to identify the constraint which can be physical, such as a material or managerial weakness, such as an inefficient procedure.
  • Decide how to leverage the constraint: After having identified the bottleneck, you need to plan your processes so as to leverage the constraint, if physical, to its fullest. In fact, production lost in the bottleneck is production lost by the system in general. When the constraint lies in the managerial level, it should not be leveraged at all, but rather eliminated and replaced by a more efficient process that increases throughput.
  • Subordinate activities according to the decision taken: each activity that is part of the production cycle where the system constraint is present is reorganized accordingly to match the constraint’s maximum throughput. Since, as we have seen before, the constraint determines the throughput of the organization, subordinating tasks is the most efficient way to use the available resources. It is important to note that the previous steps involve, in most cases, a limited number of people, but at this stage all people operating in the system must be involved.
  • Elevate the constraint: Elevating means increasing the throughput of the constraint. If you get to this point, it means that the previous changes were not sufficient to improve the system to the point where the constraint was eliminated. Actions to increase the capacity of the constraint may be different, such as buying new equipment or hiring more manpower. When this step is completed it will mean that the constraint has been eliminated.
  • Repeat the steps for each constraint you found for continuous system improvement: This step recommends not to sit back once results have been achieved. One constraint has been eliminated, but it does not mean that there are no other bottlenecks. This is because every change you make to the system can create new constraints that were not previously present. It is therefore essential not to let passiveness itself become the system constraint.

constraints theory in pm

Theory of Constraints in Project Management – Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

As mentioned earlier, the theory of constraints is a method that can be used to improve management techniques.

This means that in the project management context, the theory of constraints can be used to plan more efficiently the various activities that are part of the production cycle.

Hence, Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), or the critical chain method, originates.

This method was devised as a response to the poor performance of many projects, such as longer than expected work periods, frequently missed deadlines, cost overruns, and lower quality than originally promised.

The first step of the CCPM method is to determine the critical link in the project, i.e., the longest delivery path considering estimated activities and material availability.

This method differs from others by offering a different estimate of task duration and redistributing task safety time, which will not be eliminated, but instead reinserted into other parts of the process. This is known as buffer management.

The underlying philosophy is that uncertainty in activity duration is the primary driver of a project’s delay and any other unsatisfactory outcomes.

The key would then be to shift the focus from the duration of individual activities to the duration of the entire project.

Safety time allowances of tasks, which often turn out to be unnecessary, are reallocated to strategic points in the project.

Each task is associated with a buffer, the consumption of which gives an indication of project progress.

In CCPM, monitoring is done by comparing the percentage of buffer remaining and the percentage of chain completed.

As long as certain proportions between these two variables are met, the project can be said to be on track. If, on the other hand, the critical limit is exceeded, it will be necessary to take measures.

Buffers are divided into three equal parts with different colors: green, yellow and red. If the level of consumption of the buffer is in the green zone, no action is required and it can be said that the work is going well.

If the level enters in the yellow zone you must start to think about possible corrective actions.

When the consumption level enters the red zone, the critical limit has been exceeded and action is required to solve the problem.

Theory of Constraints Benefits

One of the most valuable features of the theory of constraints is that it emphasizes the improvement process.

A successful implementation of this approach comes with a number of advantages:

  • Enhances the system
  • Allows to produce more
  • Increases profit
  • Reduces delivery times
  • Creates a smoother and faster product flow
  • Reduces inventory and work in progress

 

Therefore, managing a project using the theory of constraints provides increased system productivity.

It also ensures that the project is delivered on time and within its planned budget.

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analytic skills of the pm

Analytical skills for successful projects

As a project manager, possessing analytical skills for successful projects is the absolute core of required skills.

Analytical thinking can help you explore complex problems, make decisions and find solutions.

So let’s take a closer look at the definition of analytical thinking and why it is so important.

What are analytical skills?

Analytical skills are those competencies that allow you to observe, investigate and interpret a given situation in order to develop complex ideas and solutions.

You can apply analytical thinking in virtually any situation, such as in project management or in relationship problems, customer needs and more.

Analyzing a topic means having a strong understanding of it and being able to discuss it with some level of expertise.

People with strong analytical skills can often analyze a situation, topic or problem quickly and often work well in a team environment.

The analytical thought process

The application process for analytical skills usually involves the following steps:

  1. Issue or problem identification
  2. Information collection through observation
  3. Possible solutions developed after a thorough understanding of the topic
  4. Test solutions or new ideas based on what you understand
  5. Post-analysis or review of what solutions worked to evaluate and apply new learnings

A key element of analytical thinking is the capability to quickly identify cause and effect correlations; this means understanding what might happen during the problem-solving process and examining how new ideas relate to the situation.

Why are analytical skills important?

Analytical skills are important soft skills because they allow you to find solutions to common problems and make well-informed judgments about what action to undertake next.

Understanding problems and analyzing the situation to find feasible solutions is a key skill in every position and in every industry.

Developing this skill can improve to achieve business goals and support personal career goals.

Using analytical skills in daily work demonstrates reliable and pragmatic thinking, with decisions made based on analysis of meaningful data.

analytics skills

Analytical skills examples

Here are some examples of analytical skills for successful projects:

  1. Critical thinking

Critical thinking is a major skill in any job position, from managers to CEOs, from contractors to the freelance workers. This way of thinking provides the ability to question an idea, assertion or opinion. For example, if told that a certain task can’t be done or a certain goal can’t be achieved, critical thinking skills require asking deeper questions so you can understand why and what the causes are. Critical thinkers take the time to fully understand a problem in order to develop a feasible solution.

  1. Data and information analysis

Data and information analysis is one of the major parts contained in the analytical skills. After identifying a problem, it is important to know how to review and analyze the data or information that will be essential to its resolution. To collect and analyze the proper data, it is important to first know the right questions to ask.

  1. Research

Research is an integral part of the analytical thinking process. Once a problem has been identified, it is important to conduct the necessary research for a solution. This can be as quick and easy as asking a co-worker who may be more knowledgeable or as laborious as searching through official channels. The research process involves knowing what information is valuable or essential to solving the problem.

  1. Communication

It is crucial to constantly be in communication with stakeholders as problems are identified, solutions are developed, research is conducted, and results are discussed. Once a problem or solution has been identified, communicating it effectively to stakeholders is essential to achieving the end goal. Transferring this information clearly and completely is a key skill in the analytical thinking process.

  1. Troubleshooting

After a problem, situation, or area for improvement has been determined and the research has been completed, it is important to find a solution. Analytical skills are then used to sort and organize the data discovered during the research phase to find a reasonable and effective solution.

How to improve analytical skills

Improving your analytical skills can help you achieve various goals not only in your career, but also in your personal life.

You can improve your analytical skills by following some of these tips:

  • Undertake a leadership role that requires using critical analytical skills.
  • Practice key analytical skills in your current role.
  • Attend classes and trainings that boost the use of analytical skills.
  • Take part in activities that require the use of analytical skills.
  • Ask for advice or mentoring from industry professionals known for their analytical skills.
  • Improve subject matter knowledge, which is crucial for faster problem solving.

One trick is to also consider what analytical skills you possess and those in which you have room for improvement and potential.

Take note of specific times when you have used analytical skills to improve something or solve a problem, either at work or in your personal life, and consider what you could improve upon.

This is clearly a process that evolves and grows throughout life.

Analytical skills can be learned and improved over time and through the right exercises.

 

Ultimately, analytical skills for successful projects are often defined as the capability of breaking down problems into parts to see connections or interdependencies.

Project managers who have analytical skills can plan efficiently and then drive projects to success.

Furthermore, they can accurately predict outcomes and develop plans to achieve goals and objectives.

How a project management software can help?

A software like Twproject can guide you in breaking down the wbs of your project, in defining the dependencies between the various phases and in the analysis of the durations. In addition to this, constant and lasting use will make evident the real effort spent and will allow you, over time, to refine this breakdown also highlighting repeated criticalities that can therefore be avoided.

The wbs can also be further refined up to the insertion of all the daily activities (attached to-do lists), to help, not only the project manager, but also the whole team to manage the activities in an organized way.

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Gantt timeline

Gantt timeline and its relevance to project management software

A timeline can be described as a chart that helps you understand the progress of a project in terms of activities on the Y axis and their duration on the X axis. We had already discussed Gantt in a different article, today we will try to explore other aspects of a timeline.

If the standard vertical to-do list doesn’t provide the necessary information to manage a project, the timeline may be the solution; it is an extremely useful tool in project planning.

Also, the option of having the Gantt timeline available in an automated manner can exponentially improve the workflow and its charting.

So let’s see in this article the importance of a timeline in a project management software.

How can the automated Gantt timeline benefit the project team?

The timeline is a tool that is used in two key phases of the project life cycle: planning and monitoring.

The most common project management actions performed using this tool are:

  • Visualizing the schedule
  • Allocating due dates to tasks
  • Allocating resources to activities
  • Identifying the critical path
  • Tracking work items progression

Some of the distinguishing elements that set project management software apart from a manual Gantt timeline include:

  • Color coding. To portray different attributes of the activity, such as who is responsible for its completion. For example: all of Maria’s activities are blue, all of Francesco’s activities are yellow, etc.
  • To display how much work of a given task has been completed. For example, a task that is 50% complete is half shaded.
  • Dependent activities. A software allows you to automatically cycle through the planning when changes are made to one of the dependent activities.
  • Drag-and-drop. This allows users to easily move a task to change the schedule, even automatically updating following tasks due dates.
  • Easily hide or show task details. Users can click or hover over a task to view its details, such as start date, expected end date, completion percentage, and who is in charge.

Now let’s see what additional benefits having the timeline in a project management software brings.

Benefits of the timeline in a project management software: Complex information is more manageable

Gantt timeline makes a project’s critical information easily manageable and accessible.

Users can learn at a glance:

  • Who on the team will accomplish the task
  • When the task will be completed
  • How that particular task relates to the project as a whole

To pass on this information, tasks are displayed as horizontal lines and are color-coded to represent the employee or department to which they are assigned.

Benefits of the timeline in a project management software: Increased team productivity

the Gantt timeline

Task assignments and progress information are displayed publicly in work progress Meetings, helping individuals to maintain control over their work and allowing team members to assume responsibility.

Once a project is underway, the Gantt timeline shows progress in several ways, including::

  • Activity will be shaded, thus reflecting the completion percentage.
  • Users can hover or click on a task to view extra details, such as “start date,” “end date,” and “duration.”
  • Also, some tools allow managers or administrators to schedule alerts via email or other messaging tools when a task is approaching its due date or if a task is in danger of not being completed on time, allowing corrective measures to be implemented.

Thus, by publicly tracking progress, the automated timeline can also be used as a motivational tool.

Progress tracking can be used to motivate teams to make an effort to achieve and complete the tasks for which they are accountable.

Benefits of the timeline in a project management software: Improved resource planning

The Gantt timeline allows the project manager to distribute work more effectively among resources due to current and future project schedules mapped to their respective timelines.

Needless to say, Gantt is not the only planning tool used, and many project management software includes resource management capabilities.

Yet, any software that includes a timeline offers additional insight into employee use and availability.

Benefits of the timeline in a project management software: Information centralization

Centralizing project information through a timeline helps to keep different stakeholders in line, allowing them to easily share information and remain up-to-date.

This is a great way to summarize complex project data for a range of audiences, as users can choose to view only the information that is most important to them.

In fact, the Gantt timeline is compressible and expandable, allowing the user to select the appropriate level of detail.

This is particularly true when using cloud-based project management software that automatically updates and reflects any changes made in real time.

Because these solutions allow any user to log in at any time from any device, remote teams can thus be even more connected.

Benefits of the timeline in a project management software:  Project and team requirements are straightforward

The timeline helps employees to better understand their responsibilities and how their activities are tied to the overall project.

This also helps project managers and other stakeholders in determining project milestones.

The timeline basically is a sort of map that helps everyone involved in a project visualize how they will get from the beginning to the end result.

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The importance of Gantt charts cannot be denied once you become familiar with them, and with Twproject is so much easier.

Twproject allows you to draw the project wbs, add durations and dependencies between tree nodes, assign resources, until you have a complete Gantt of the project that will guide you throughout its entire  life cycle:

 

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the babok guide

Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide)

Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK ® Guide) is the ultimate guide to the business analysis art. Few analysts can really work without relying on it.

The guide is described as “a globally recognized standard for the practice of business analysis,” written with the aim of defining the skills and knowledge that a seasoned professional should display… and that’s just what it does.

BABOK® is a comprehensive guide that at the same time can be applicable to any industry or knowledge level.

With the BABOK®, analysts:

  • will have an authoritative and concise encyclopedia of what they should know to be regarded as competent in every facet of their profession.
  • will keep at the forefront and up-to-date in their field, becoming familiar with the latest business analysis practices.
  • will gain access to a comprehensive list of techniques and concepts, along with details about how to implement them correctly.

BABOK® thus acts as a common denominator for the profession, providing a consistent standard of what is included in business analysis.

This guide outlines requirements, tasks, stakeholder and skills in a broad way that can be applied within any company.

Clearly, this is not to say that the BABOK® is intended to replace real-world experience or formal education programs, but it is nonetheless an essential reference guide that is comprehensive and covers virtually every aspect of the profession.
babok guide

BABOK® Structure

The content of this guide is structured in chapters, where each relates to the business analysis knowledge areas, including:

  • Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring. This chapter covers how to decide what you need to do to complete an analysis; in short, how to plan your project. It will help you decide intelligently what stakeholders, tools, activities, and techniques you need to get the job done.
  • Elicitation. This chapter covers the research process, i.e., how best to “extract” needs from stakeholders and how to recognize needs they don’t know they have. Techniques for doing this, such as brainstorming, are among the topics covered.
  • Enterprise Analysis. This chapter describes the key process of keeping everyone up-to-date and on the same page throughout the project lifecycle. The chapter goes into details such as requirements review and approval processes.
  • Requirements Analysis. Here it elaborates on how to write and state requirements that will meet business needs. Key sections include methods for prioritizing and organizing requirements, along with the most efficient techniques for presenting requirements, such as status diagrams, flow charts, and more.
  • Solution Assessment and Validation. This chapter outlines in detail how to choose the best solutions for specific business needs, as well as assessing how the chosen solution has worked – or didn’t – after its implementation. Here you will learn about risks, dependencies, and limitations that must be identified before offering any solution.
  • Requirements Management and Communication. This chapter covers how to identify the business needs, namely the reason for the project. This is a pivotal part of the analyst’s job. The authors include SMART measurement criteria, SWOT analysis, and other measurement factors that make the identification of needs objective and concrete.

Each of these domains is then broken down into a series of tasks that allow the analyst to accomplish the goals of each area.

Each of these tasks includes the following aspects:

  • Purpose
  • A description of why the task is needed and the expected outcomes
  • Required inputs
  • Support elements for the correct execution of the task
  • Relevant techniques for successfully completing the task
  • Stakeholders to be engaged in carrying out the task
  • Expected outputs

Each of these topics and many more are thoroughly documented and reviewed, and best practices are defined.

BABOK® covers everything; any relevant business analysis topic is explored.

Furthermore, most chapters are accompanied by diagrams and charts to help the reader understand each concept.

BABOK®, as its authors highlight, is not a methodology for performing business analysis; here you will not find any detailed description of how to carry out the work of business analysis, but you will find a virtual encyclopedia of endless possibilities that gives you an idea of how you can get the job done.

Whether you are looking to kickstart your career in business analysis or you want to make sure you are doing your best work, BABOK® is an imperative resource.

BABOK® in project management

The boundaries between business analysis and project management, in particular, are thin, especially when dealing with organizational change projects.

Moreover, a project manager must be able to both interpret and assess the impact on the organization of the projects they are working on.

Hence, within the PMBOK®, you can find several references to business analysis techniques.

This is how the BABOK® can also become an important reference for any project manager.

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project delays

Bottlenecks and project delays

A bottleneck is basically a situation where work is delayed.

It can be a one-off event due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a team member who gets sick, or it can be events that happen on a regular basis due to poor planning or a lack of resources.

The most common methods of getting things back on track include working overtime, hiring additional support and pushing back the delivery date.

The problem is that all of these solutions end up eating up, and sometimes draining, the project budget, employee energy, and client patience.

Rather than looking for a quick fix, it’s important to address bottlenecks in projects before they arise.

This means a strong measure of forward planning, excellent communication with the team and beyond, and the right tools for the task.

What is a bottleneck and what is the cause?

Bottlenecks in projects occur when the team or an employee cannot process their work in a timely manner, thus causing a delay.

This could be due to a team member having to take an unplanned break, a technical issue arises, a communication breakdown occurs, or the manager has overestimated how much their team could do at maximum capacity.

Although it’s difficult to predict employee illness and faulty or out-of-service equipment, there are things you can do to help your team keep moving forward regardless.

How to find a bottleneck

When using a spreadsheet as a planning tool, you should identify bottlenecks where the number of hours of work to be done in a day exceeds the number of work hours in the day, either for an individual or for the team as a whole.

If you use a project management software, ou can leverage Gantt charts s a graphic way to organize schedules and quickly identify problems.

If you are working following the Lean method, you can keep track of work through Kanban charts and thus finding very quickly where there is an overrun – this is a possible sign of a potential bottleneck.

However, it is worth remembering that not all short delays are an indication of a bottleneck.

In this case, you can measure for how long work remains in the queue and note the number of items waiting.

If tasks start piling up faster than they are being processed, you are almost certainly experiencing a bottleneck.

How to stop a bottleneck before it happens

The most obvious and easiest way to deal with a bottleneck is to invest money and resources, but this is not always necessary.

Here are two of the most popular techniques for stopping a bottleneck before it’s too late:

Stopping a bottleneck: Processing the critical path

The Critical Path Method (CPM), helps identifying the most important activities and then coming up with the quickest way to complete a project. To process a project’s critical path, you need to identify the longest section of dependent activities. This gives a sort of “bare minimum” time frame that you can use to plan the project.

Stopping a bottleneck: Distributing resources – leveling

Resource leveling is, simply put, the act of working on a project with people assigned to a set of tasks and doing it in such a way that they don’t have to work overtime.

Basically, it’s a process of shuffling tasks so that team members can work on tasks consecutively instead of simultaneously, thus helping to avoid bottlenecks.

How to limit a bottleneck when it happens

Not every bottleneck necessarily escalates into a disaster. Here are some possible solutions to limit the effects of a bottleneck once it happens:

How to limit a bottleneck: Act promptly

Bottlenecks have a domino effect on the rest of the workflow, also introducing an element of chaos. When schedules change, deadlines can be ignored and emotions can overrule rationality, leading to bad decisions.

The key to mitigating blowback is to act quickly. If a bottleneck has already started, you need to address it immediately and not give it any more space.
project bottlenecks

How to limit a bottleneck: Do not compromise quality

In the case of a bottleneck, a project manager might be tempted to skip certain steps not considered so necessary, such as quality control. However, this is a bad idea.

Each project step is necessary, and skipping them may save time, but could lead to bigger problems later on.

How to limit a bottleneck: Keeping WIP (Work in progress) limits

The purpose here is to limit the amount of work that can be delayed in Work in Progress (WIP) stage. This is also less daunting and stressful for project team members.

How to limit a bottleneck: Increase resources

If you have people willing to help, why not take advantage of them? This will help get the job done quickly and efficiently. One way to do this would be to keep a list of trusted freelancers or external contractors who will work on call and can serve as backup.

It’s also a good idea to have a small budget set aside in case of an emergency.

How to limit a bottleneck: Prepare for all eventualities

The best way to address a bottleneck is to plan for one before it occurs. In this case, investing in good project management software allows for activity tracking tools and charts that help the project manager detect any potential bottlenecks ahead of time.

With a software like Twproject, for example, you could identify overloaded resources and take actions before a bottleneck became a real problem for your project.

 

Bottlenecks are one of the main reasons why projects get delayed, budgets are not met due to additional costs, and the whole process becomes unpredictable.

Preventing is always better than treating, even in the case of bottlenecks it is always better to have a plan to avoid encountering these obstacles, but even if they do occur, with the proper strategy it is always possible to avoid problems that will undermine a project’s success.

Avoid delays and bottlenecks.

One try is worth a million words.
preventive action

Preventive and corrective actions in project quality

Corrective and preventive actions are processes used to identify, record, and address defects, deficiencies, and nonconformities.

These are also called “CAPA” (“Corrective Actions Preventive Actions”) and constitute an organization’s immune system.

Typically, corrective action, preventive action, and defect repair are terms commonly used in project quality management.

Defect correction is a simple concept, yet distinguishing corrective action and preventive action can be difficult; in fact, the difference is so minimal that many people get confused.

What is the CAPA?

CAPA, as stated previously, is the abbreviation for Corrective Actions Preventive Actions.

These two aspects of CAPA are usually connected, but here’s the main difference between the two:

  • Corrective action: elimination of the cause(s) of an existing non-conformity or undesirable situation in order to prevent its future recurrence.
  • Preventive action: identification and elimination of the causes of potential nonconformities in order to prevent their occurrence.

In standards-based quality certifications such as ISO 9000 for example, the preventive action description directly follows the corrective action description, which has led to the misconception that the two processes should work together.

Actually, they are two separate paths and preventive action ideally precedes corrective action to prevent or avoid the need for corrective action.

Thus, corrective action is reactive, while preventive action is proactive.

What does corrective action mean?

Corrective action means identifying, documenting and eliminating the root cause of a nonconformity or problem to prevent the problem from repeating.

Corrective actions are looked at in more detail than corrections – which solve immediate problems – and corrective actions are typically implemented over a slightly longer period of time to prevent recurrence.

For example, if you put a bucket under a leaky pipe, this is a correction because it solves a problem immediately. However, if you inspect the entire sink and drain and notice that the pipe is dripping and clogging repeatedly due to a damaged gasket which is then replaced, this is a corrective action.

Corrective Process Steps

Here are some steps you can find in a corrective process:

  • Identifying and documenting the problem promptly. Ask questions to obtain details and determine if this is a one-time event or if it has the potential to recur.
  • Implementing a temporary fix, mitigation, or repair.
  • Determining the cause of the problem.
  • Determining the solution that will prevent the problem from recurring. Solutions may include new parts or process changes.
  • Implementing corrective action and making sure everything is reported.
  • Verifying that the action continues to be effective and that the problem does not recur.

corrective action

What is preventive action?

Preventive action is now considered a part of good planning and proper risk analysis and management.

This fully embraces the idea that prevention comes first and eradicates problems and, therefore, the necessity for corrective action.

Preventive action determines what in a project might deviate from the chosen path and cause, for example, over budget or low quality output.

A good example, referring back to the previous one, would be to check the pipes and drains of all the sinks present to see if certain parts should be replaced before they fail.

A preventive action process, besides including a specific preventive action plan to mitigate potential problems, also includes implementing controls to ensure that any preventive measures continue to work.

Preventive action means identifying not only potential problems, but also improvement potential opportunities.

Popular – yet wrong – ideas about CAPA

Although regulations may require organizations to properly record CAPA processes and adhere to them, organizations often have the following misconceptions about this concept:

  • It is a punishment because something went wrong
  • It’s extra work. The solution is to set up a review board with people trained in appropriate roles so that CAPA becomes a regular responsibility.
  • Training is too expensive. Management often complains that neither budgets nor programs offer resources for training employees in the efficient implementation of CAPA, yet you can save money by setting up a process.

CAPA is easier with a little help

Companies will always find flaws in their products or processes, but there will always be room for improvement, and that is the reason why, using a software management software is crucial.

Corrective action is an activity that has been determined to correct or resolve a present problem, while preventive action is defined as an activity identified to prevent a problem that may occur in the near or distant future, both, with a software like Twproject can be determined easily.

Twproject will show late projects in real time and issues incurred for corrective actions and, at the same time, can create a knowledge base for preventive actions for future projects.

Although the purpose is different for both, preventive and corrective actions are created to address issues in the past, present, or future.

The ability to identify risks and help identify corrective and preventive actions is an important skill that organizations can – and should – develop and use to their advantage at the expense of the common, but misconceptions surrounding CAPA.

Prevent, identify and correct risks.

One try is worth a million words.
relevance of strategic thinking

Strategic thinking and its relevance for a successful project manager

Strategic thinking and its importance is what elevates a project manager to the next level. Project managers are definitely accountable for a project’s timely delivery, but it’s their skill in crafting a strategy that makes the difference.

Project managers in fact spend most of their days trying to push the project toward its ultimate goal, and generally their focus is somewhat “short ranged.”

They do keep the end goal in mind, but their focus is usually on the next step, or two or three.

This type of thinking is tactical. However, strategic thinking is different.

When thinking strategically, much more emphasis is given to the long-term goal.

In project work, an effective strategy can greatly reduce the level of tactical effort required.

Strategic thinking is therefore the first step in successfully executing any project.

Strategic thinking and how to strengthen it in the business scenario

There’s no denying that everyday life can make this difficult as project managers manage multiple work streams and find themselves under increasing pressure to deliver more at a faster pace (and often with fewer resources).

When you have so much going on, it can be hard to see beyond the current to-do list.

Some organizations solve this problem by creating program manager or project portfolio roles.

These people are assigned to supervise a series of projects and are typically in charge of defining a vision for the group that supports business goals.

Yet everyone, in their small way and project manager included, benefits from more strategic thinking.

When you know where you are going and why, you are more psychologically prepared to add value and make an impact.

Here, then, is how a project manager can strengthen their strategic thinking skills every day:

  • Think big

It might seem difficult to get the big picture when you’re working through the details, but it’s important to think holistically about how each effort supports overall business goals.

  • Become even more curious

Awareness of the big picture is not the same as knowledge. It’s critical to constantly look for the why of things and understand what the criteria are for achieving long-term success.

  • Ponder and analyze

After each project, a retrospective look back is necessary. It may be worth starting a project log to also note any revelations as you move forward. Think about and analyze these reports and weigh what went well and what you want to improve next time, ask for feedback from colleagues and stakeholders.

Shifting from tactical to strategic project management

It has become quite clear that successful project management not only requires the application of tactical management, but also strategic thinking.

However, traditionally, project management has been mainly a tactical tool, focusing on accomplishing work, managing schedules, and driving projects to completion within set time e and budget constraints.

However, as organizations began to face an unprecedented marketplace and increased competition, increasingly more of them have come to recognize that project managers can bring much more value than simply ensuring the successful coordination of activities.

Simply put, project managers can and should operate at a more strategic level to help an organization evolve, innovate and prosper.

The rise of this approach is all about aligning a company’s project objectives with its strategic goals and overall mission.

Strategic project management is not simply about executing projects for the sake of continuity of operations; it involves carefully selecting, prioritizing, and channeling resources to the projects that will contribute most to organizational success while increasing revenues.

How to ensure projects support the strategy

strategic thinking

Projects are the core of a strategy – this is where stuff moves and progress is made.

So how can you make sure that activities are well aligned with the business strategy?

  • Ensure projects support objectives

In short: every active goal needs at least one Project. You can have future goals that have not yet “started,” but any currently “active” goal should have at least one project related to it. Depending on the scope of each goal, you may also need to have multiple projects for each one.

  • Ensure that projects meet their objectives

Goals are met if related projects are delivered. Should this not be the case – i.e., projects are successfully completed, but the goal is not met – you need to find out where the shortcoming lies.

  • Ensure sub-projects align with objectives

As stated before, every project should have a clear link to one or more objectives, although there may be cases, such as sub-projects, where this connection is not so straightforward. Even if a project is not directly linked to a goal, the objective must still support what you are trying to accomplish. A good example is when there is a sub-project within a “parent” project that clearly aligns with a goal. In this case, the sub-project is still indirectly connected to the business strategy.

Benefits of strategic thinking in project management

Implementing strategic thinking into project management leads to competitive advantage in the marketplace.

The art of identifying and choosing the proper projects to work on in a given period of time is proving to be a particularly significant benefit in the modern marketplace.

Strategic thinking applied by project management in project selection enables the identification and selection of projects that will provide the greatest value to an organization.

As opposed to the practice of conducting expensive projects that are not fully compatible with business objectives, this alignment can shed a new light on the project selection process.

Funds are spent more mindfully to improve their impact on the organization’s overall performance, thereby increasing profitability and reducing unnecessary expenditures.

This alignment can also improve project success rates and the organization’s ability to quickly meet customer needs and expectations.

When each project contributes directly to the company’s bottom line, the organization as a whole improves, thus improving customer experiences and retention rates.

 

Ultimately, tactical management is definitely important to a project, but it is still incomplete if strategic thinking is not also applied.

One simply will not work without the other. Therefore, as a project manager with sound tactical skills, it is also important to develop a long-term strategic thinking attitude.

Plan your projects’ strategies with Twproject.

One try is worth a million words.
work package of a project

Work packages: what are they and what relation do they have with wbs?

Work packages, what are they and what relation do they have with wbs? That’s what we will discuss in this article.

A work package is a set of inter-related activities within a project.

These activities are grouped to create a sort of mini-project within a project.

Work packages, in short, are the smallest unit of work into which a project can be split during the work breakdown structure creation, the so-called WBS.

What are project Work Packages

A work package is generally established as a result of the following characteristics that activities may share:

  • Type of work involved (i.e. Marketing, finance, etc.).
  • Task Results
  • Geographical location where said activities take place
  • Time when the activities will be completed
  • Technology or materials that will be used
  • Team leaders in charge
  • Specific stakeholders

By bringing related activities together, a work package becomes an element that is easier for the project team to understand.

Team members are thus able to see the connection between different work streams and focus on those that apply to them.

As part of a work breakdown program – work breakdown structure WBS -, using work packages delivers a greater sense of understanding because each block of related activities can be easily visualized.

To tell the difference between what is a work package and a true stand-alone project, you need to examine the outcomes.

Each work package is always just one element of something bigger, so its outcomes will be directly related to promoting the goals of the overall project.

Let’s use the following example: If you add a new feature to a technology product, such as project management software, there may be several work packages related to its development, including:

  • Design
  • Development
  • Test
  • Integration
  • Roll out

work packages

Within each of these packages there will be a variety of different activities. However, by keeping related activities organized, it will become easier to communicate with lead teams and set milestones and deadlines to better manage the entire project’s critical path.

The use of work packages also provides a reference point for describing and managing the various metrics related to a project, such as:

  • Budget: knowing how much is allocated to each area and how well this is being met.
  • Deadlines: how well they are being met and whether some areas are causing more delays than others.
  • Risks: what needs to be monitored to know where and how likely problems are to occur.
  • Priorities: significance of different areas and what you need to focus on first.
  • Stakeholders: knowing who needs to be kept up-to-date on different aspects of the business.

Why are work packages important?

By segmenting a project into work packages, the Work Breakdown Structures development becomes easier and project managers will have a greater level of control over the various tasks.

Other benefits include:

  • Work packages enable simultaneous work by multiple teams on different components of a project. Each team follows tasks defined for that work package and completes them within the given deadline.
  • When teams have completed their individual work packages, the entire project reunites seamlessly. The completion of a work package is often overseen by a specific person who may be the project manager himself or a specifically assigned supervisor.
  • Even though costs are estimated at the activity level, these estimations are aggregated at the work package level, where they are measured, managed, and controlled.
  • For each work package, direct labor costs, direct costs for material, equipment, travel, contractual services, and other non-personal resources, and associated indirect costs can be determined. Then, the individual costs of all work packages are aggregated to reach the authorized cost baseline or authorized budget for the project.

Work package performance measurement

A work package performance can be measured using the earned value management technique.

This integrates project scope, costs, and schedule measures to help the team assess and measure project performance and progress.

It involves preparing a baseline against which the performance of work packages can be measured for the duration of the project.

Earned value management develops and monitors three key dimensions for each work package:

  • Planned value: the planned value is the authorized budget assigned to the work to be performed for the work package.
  • Earned value: the earned value is the value of the work performed expressed in terms of the approved budget allocated to the work package.
  • Actual cost: Actual cost is the total cost actually sustained and recorded for the performance of the work performed for a work package.

Work package preparation guidelines

When breaking down a WBS to the work package level, WBS nodes may be split to extreme levels, wasting time and making the project difficult to understand, manage, and adjust.

There are many factors to consider when deciding how far to decompose the WBS, however the most important are:

  • Work packages should be small enough to estimate time and cost.
  • The project manager and project team should be positive that the current level of detail provides sufficient information to proceed with the following tasks.
  • Work packages should be small enough to be assigned to a single person or group that can be held accountable for results.
  • Although this might differ from project to project, most project managers agree that the 8/80 rule can be applied to measure a work package. This rule says that no work package should be under 8 hours and over 80 hours.
  • Work packages may reside at different levels in the WBS hierarchy. Project managers should not artificially force WBS into a structure where all work packages are at the same hierarchical level. This could lead to problems arising as the project progresses, such as forced details or lack of control where it is really needed.

Get Started

For project managers, the successful use of work packages is key as it allows them to easily differentiate and outsource tasks required to deliver a project, for this reason, having a project management software helping you is essential.

A software like Twproject could help you designing the WBS easily, deviding the project in work packages for enhancing delegation.

The most important benefit, however, is that work packages allow a major project to be segmented into more manageable parts so that neither the project manager nor the team is overwhelmed by the size of the project undertaken.

Start now designing your WBS

showcase a project

How to successfully showcase a project: 6 key tips

Knowing how to deliver a project in the right way is key to the project manager’s success and ensures that they are credited for their professionalism.

Furthermore, it is obvious that a good presentation significantly increases the chances of approval.

Yet, and if you’ve been through this you know it well, how many times before the presentation of a project you are tormented by doubts and questions such as “What if I’m wrong?… What if I will bore the audience?… What if I will forget some important detail?… What if I won’t be able to answer a question?”

Whether in front of an audience of hundreds of people or before a small group, many speakers wonder how to present their projects successfully and are nervous before going in front of an audience.

No matter how high or low the stakes, here are six tips that will boost confidence and help engage the audience.

In this article, we want to give you 6 key tips to overcome fears and perfectly present a project.

How to successfully present a project: 1. Establish your credibility

The material presented won’t be considered meaningful and the audience won’t be impressed if the speaker can’t convince them of their credibility.

Even in the case of an expert with many qualifications, the audience may still “put up a wall” if they don’t trust the speaker.

Establishing credibility begins the very moment the speaker enters the room. Here are some tips:

  • Dress accordingly for the audience and situation so that your attire will not distract from your presentation.
  • Convey confidence through body language by standing upright, looking the audience in their eyes, and avoiding nervous tics like twitching your hands or clicking your pen.
  • At the beginning of the presentation, establish credibility by explaining what qualifies the presenter to present the project.
  • Ultimately, polish every aspect of the presentation ahead of time, from the use of high-quality images to speech practice.

How to successfully present a project: 2. Make the most out of your space

Moving around on a stage, in a classroom or conference room will not only make the speaker appear more in control of the situation and more confident about their presentation, it will also keep the audience more engaged by making their presentation more dynamic. At the same time, this doesn’t mean walking incessantly as too much movement can be distracting and disruptive.

How to successfully present a project: 3. Do not be afraid of silence

It is tempting to fill in any silence gaps by talking constantly, but by doing so you are not giving the audience enough time to internalize what you are presenting.

Talking too much and too fast can also give the impression of a nervous speaker. Allowing for pauses and some silence will help the audience assimilate and retain more information.

A trick, for example, is to pause after presenting a big problem or solution and let the weight of that information fall on the audience. Or, allow some visual elements of the presentation to speak for themselves when showing a significant image or important graphic.

With practice, silence can become an important ally in impressing an audience.

How to successfully present a project: 4. Don’t linger on mistakes

Mistakes happen and to err is human. Laptops can crash, devices can fail, or one might forget a few key phrases or concepts. Audiences are less likely to judge a speaker based on their mistakes and more likely to appreciate how that speaker picks up. Should an error occur, it is important not to linger on it and move on.

How to successfully present a project: 5. Use visual elements

Visual elements often can make or break a presentation, highlight project results or not be understood.

By using an interactive presentation tool, you can bring abstract ideas to life by synthesizing and visualizing concepts through images and video.

Each time you include a visual element in a presentation though, you need to remember that the content of the presentation should be complementary to what is being said by the presenter and should not serve as the main act.

An example that should not be copied is that of speakers who do nothing more than read their presentation verbatim.

successfully showcase a project

How to successfully present a project: 6. Engage your audience

You need to engage the audience from the get go and keep the attention level high throughout your project presentation.

The beginning of the presentation is like the first page of a book. After that first line or paragraph, would the audience keep reading?

The audience can be engaged by presenting the problem which your presentation will attempt to address, sharing a personal anecdote, or making a connection to current events or other important issues encompassing the conversation on a broader level.

Once the audience has been captivated, their attention can be held through a dialogue with them or an interactive presentation. If it is appropriate to the situation, the speaker can ask questions and get the audience to interact and take an active part.

If you can make the audience feel like they are part of the presentation and not a passive element, they will most likely appreciate the presentation and the message will be remembered

 

Presentation skills aren’t something people are born with. Sure, some may be more gifted than others, but despite the naturalness with which some speakers may seem comfortable in front of an audience, even the most talented speakers usually practice a lot.

Preparing for a presentation, which begins with the research and gathering of material and information about the target group to the creation of the presentation, gets easier as experience and routine increase.

Like all things, the more often you face the challenge of speaking in front of an audience, the easier it will be to avoid making mistakes in the future.

How a project management software can help you presenting your project

Project progress, delivery times, costs, commitment of resources, data turning around your project are so many and being able to show them effectively without boring your audience can be tricky.  Of course, you can help yourself with tools such as Excel sheets and charts but having a project management software to help you can show the results of the project in real time.

Project management software can show your Gantt and how it has changed in time.

The load of your resources and the progress of the work done in addition to the project costs and all the attached documentation. Comprehensive statistics can help you highlight any problems encountered by being sure to show updated data at each meeting!

Still in doubt? Well, you can try yourself with a free demo.

company change

Company organizational change: change management process and project manager’s role

Organizational transformation within a company is typically undertaken because it is believed that the transition will enable a firm to work at a higher level. The aim is to become more efficient, productive, in short, to transform the company into innovative and more profitable.

It’s also meant to keep up with new technological and economic developments; in some ways, organizations are forced to embrace change.

If change is poorly dealt with, however, it can become a double-edged sword, leading to a loss of productivity and poor employee performance. In this regard, you may find it worthwhile to read another article in which we discussed how to deal with resistance to change in your company.

Managers, including project managers, need to understand their role in change management.

Hence, here are some tips you can use to manage the change management process in your company more effectively.

What is organizational change?

Organizational change is the process in which a company modifies strategic or operational key components.

This may involve changes to the company’s culture, essential technologies, organizational structure, or key initiatives and objectives.

Organizational change is typically categorized into two types: adaptive change or transformational change.

  • Adaptive changes are small, incremental changes that an organization makes to evolve over time and can be thought of as the tweaking of business processes and strategies.
  • Transformational changes are larger in scope and scale and typically bring a major change in direction for the organization. These changes are often the result of external forces putting pressure on the company, such as the arrival of a new competitor.

Why does a company change?

Organizational change is the motion of an organization from one state of affairs to another.

A change in the environment often requires a change within the organization operating within that environment.

This change might be planned years in advance, be incremental and slow or, in cases of extreme urgency, be abrupt and drastic.

In any case, regardless of the type, change involves abandoning old ways and processes of working and adapting to new methodologies, strategies and visions.

Let’s see what can be the reasons for a company change:

  1. Organization demographics: The average workforce age is steadily increasing. The baby boom generation approaching retirement age and insufficient numbers of young workers are not helping to close the gap. Organizations may realize that as the workforce ages, the benefits preferred by workers may change. Work arrangements such as flexible work schedules and job sharing may become more popular as employees remain in the workforce after retirement. Thus, organizations need to formulate new strategies to address these different needs.
  2. Technology: Sometimes change is driven by quick technological developments that, over time, will become increasingly commonplace.
  3. Globalization: Globalization is another threat – an opportunity for organizations, depending on their capability of adapting to it. Due to differences in national economies and living standards across countries, organizations in developed countries are discovering that it is often cheaper to produce goods and provide services in less developed countries. Yet economies in countries are not static either, and given these changes, understanding how to manage a global workforce is a must. Managing employee stress from moving abroad, retraining the workforce, and learning how to compete with a global workforce are changes that companies must deal with.
  4. Market conditions changes: Market changes can also create internal shifts as companies must adapt. A very clear example of this is the Coronavirus pandemic that has literally upset the majority of industries.
  5. Growth: It is obvious for small startups to grow if they are successful, and as an organization grows, organizational change is required accordingly.
  6. Poor performance: Change can happen even if the company is underperforming and there is a threat perceived from the environment. In fact, poorly performing companies often find it easier to change compared to successful businesses. How come? High performance can lead to overconfidence and inaction. As a result, successful companies often continue to do what made them successful in the first place.

organizational change

Tips for change management in a company

Here are five tips and strategies you can use to better manage change within a company.

1. Understanding change process

All change processes have a series of starting conditions – Point A – and an end point – Point B.

The change process is all that happens between these two points and includes several steps that are generally grouped into three phases: preparation, implementation, and follow-through.

Here’s what happens during each phase:

Preparation: the change manager focuses on preparing both the organization and its employees; this means helping employees understand the need for the upcoming transition and mapping out the vision and plan to achieve it.

Implementation: the change manager focuses on implementing changes in a way that is compatible with the company’s vision for the future.

Follow-through: the change manager focuses on ensuring that change is integrated into the company’s culture and operations.

2. Understanding forces of change

To effectively deal with change, managers must first understand why this is necessary.

Without doing so, it can be challenging to create a plan that tackles core concerns and fundamental questions such as:

  • Which pressures are driving change?
  • Are these internal pressures, like a new leadership?
  • Are these external pressures, such as the development of new technology or the arrival of a new competitor?

If people understand the factors that necessitated an organizational change, they will be more likely to embrace it.

3. Create a plan

After understanding the reason for the change, you need to create a plan.

This plan should broadly outline why the change is needed, define its scope, determine key stakeholders, build a team and provide a detailed roadmap of the steps needed to complete the transition.

By having a defined strategy in place, it makes it easier to communicate the change to employees and monitor progress.

4. Communicate

When leading an organization during a time of significant change, clear and purposeful communication is one of the most powerful assets.

In short, leaders must be able to communicate change to two very different audiences: the first consisting of employees and the second consisting of management.

In the former case, these people must understand the need for change and the impact it will have on their job responsibilities.

In the second case, these people must be convinced that the change is necessary and, once they agree, they must be regularly updated on the status of the project.

5. Prepare for roadblocks

Regardless of how much you prepare for a change, often not everything will work out according to plan.

Even at the planning stage, it is critical to try to foresee potential roadblocks.

Once these obstacles are identified, even the most complex problems can be addressed and fixed.

 

As Heraclitus said twenty centuries ago, “Everything flows.”

In other words, change is a human constant and, consequently, it is also a constant in the business sector.

Adapting to and managing change therefore becomes a fundamental skill for dealing not only with the future, but also with the present.

New targets, a new way of working.

direct costs

Direct and indirect costs impact in projects

How do direct and indirect costs impact projects? This is the good question a fellow reader asked us and we would like to answer it in this article.

Cost classification is an important concept in budgeting, accounting and project management (you may find this article about project management tools).

CONTENT

Cost classification and expense categorization helps the project team to understand what type of costs will be faced during the life cycle of a project.

When creating your base budget, you should list your costs, both direct and indirect.

Essentially, direct costs and indirect costs are two different concepts used for budgeting and accounting purposes. However, it is not always easy to come up with a definite list because direct and indirect costs are based on product and activity nature.

Typically, direct costs are ascribed to a product, good, or service. In other words, direct costs are directly related to the product.

Conversely, indirect costs are those costs required to produce the product and are therefore not directly related to the product.

Understanding direct and indirect costs is key to ensuring that business expenses are adequately monitored.

What are direct costs? Definition and examples

Direct costs are expenses that an organization can easily associate with a specific cost object, which can be a specific product, department, or project.

This can include software, equipment, and raw materials, but it also can include manpower, assuming that this manpower is specific to the product, department, or project.

For example, if an employee is recruited to work on a specific project, either exclusively or for an assigned number of hours, their work on that project is a direct cost.

If an organization develops software and needs specific resources, such as development applications, these are also direct costs.

Thus, direct labor and materials make up the majority of direct costs.

For example, an appliance manufacturer requires steel, electronic components, and other raw materials to create its product.

Typically, most direct costs are variable. Smartphone hardware, for example, is a variable direct cost because its production depends on the number of units ordered.

One notable exception is direct employment costs, which usually remain constant throughout the year. In fact, an employee’s wage generally does not increase or decrease in direct relation to the number of outputs produced.

What are indirect costs? Definition and examples

Indirect costs are more than expenses involved in creating a product to include costs related to maintaining and operating a business.

These overhead costs are those that remain after factoring in direct costs.

Materials and supplies needed for the everyday operations of a business are examples of indirect costs.

Even though these items contribute to the business as a whole, they are not attributed to the creation of any services.

Indirect costs include supplies, utilities, office equipment rentals, computers, and business phones.

Just like direct costs, indirect costs can be either fixed or variable. Fixed indirect costs include things like rent, while variable indirect costs include fluctuations in power and gas costs.

indirect costs

Differences between direct and indirect costs

A simple catch for classifying payments as direct or indirect costs is that direct costs include the costs involved in creating, developing, and releasing a product.

Direct costs include:

  • Production supplies
  • Equipment
  • Raw materials
  • Manpower cost
  • Other production costs

Conversely, indirect costs include costs that are not directly related to the development of an organization’s product or service.

Indirect costs include:

  • Utilities
  • Office supplies
  • Office tech equipment
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Employee benefits and incentive programs
  • Insurance costs

As a project manager, understanding the difference between both types of costs is critical because this helps you have a better understanding of the product or service you are producing and because you will be able to have a better understanding of accounting and better plan for the business’ future.

There are some costs that are in the gray area that should be counted as direct or indirect costs, however.

Shipping or the cost of an accountant’s work are sometimes difficult to put into a specific category, as they can relate to different activities.

What companies do is see what their use and relevance is and put these costs into their respective categories.

Main differences between direct and indirect costs

Here are the main differences between direct and indirect costs:

  • The best way to determine if a cost is direct is to compare changes in the cost with changes in the associated cost object. Indirect costs are costs that are used by multiple activities and therefore cannot be attributed to specific cost objects.
  • The direct cost concept is immensely useful for short-term decision making, but can lead to negative results when used for long-term decision making because it does not include all of the costs that can be applied to long-term decisions. Conversely, the indirect cost concept is useful for short and long-term decision making. Indirect costs are those required to keep a business or organization running.
  • Direct costs vary significantly within a given product volume and therefore are considered a variable cost. Indirect costs do not vary significantly within certain product volumes or other activity indicators and therefore are considered a fixed cost.
  • The operating leverage concept measures an organization’s set-up from fixed cost and variable cost to total cost. If a major portion of the organization’s costs are fixed cost (indirect cost), then it has a high operating leverage and can earn a large profit on each incremental sale, but must achieve enough sales volume to exceed breakeven. On the other hand, if a major portion of the organization’s costs are given by variable costs (direct cost), then this has low operating leverage and the company earns a smaller profit on each incremental sale, but it does not have to generate much sales volume to cover its lower fixed cost.
  • Direct costs are easily identifiable by cost object, while indirect costs cannot be easily identified.

Why it is important to define direct and indirect costs

It may look like a futile job from an accounting standpoint, however, properly classifying direct and indirect costs will benefit an organization and project in several ways.

 

  1. More accurate pricing: Tracking direct and indirect costs is key for determining the final product cost. If you are unaware what it costs to produce the product, how can you know how much to charge your customers? When setting prices for products, it’s important not to forget to factor in indirect costs as well to make sure you have a decent profit margin.

 

  1. Potential tax benefits: Many business expenses are tax-deductible, but these costs will need to be accurately accounted for in order to obtain any deductions or possible funding. In the case of government grants or other forms of external funding, for example, identifying direct and indirect costs becomes doubly important. Subsidies rules are often very strict about what qualifies as a direct or indirect cost, and each classification will be assigned a specific amount of funding. In some cases, this funding can largely support the direct costs of a project, which is why it is very important to classify them correctly.

 

  1. More accurate budgeting: It is impossible to create an accurate budget without properly accounting for direct and indirect costs. If you are in the process of preparing a budget for the upcoming year, it is important to know how much you are currently paying for materials and supplies, as well as how much your direct labor costs are. You will also need to budget for any other operating expenses such as rent, insurance, taxes, and office supplies.

 

  1. Accurate financial reporting: Particularly in the case of small businesses, if direct and indirect expenses are not properly accounted for, costs may be underestimated, which will lead to mistakenly overestimating one’s net income believing that one has more income than one actually does.

 

 

By being aware of direct and indirect costs, project managers can gain a better understanding of the financial health of their project and, why not, the organization as a whole.

You can swiftly identify areas where money is being wasted and areas where costs need to be reduced.

In other words, the cost classification process is very important in project cost management, as it allows you to develop an effective cost control system and proper profit planning.

Measure direct and indirect costs of a project with Twproject.

cycle time and lead time

Cycle Time to Lead Time Ratio

Lead time and cycle time are widely used terms in the Kanban world.

However, quite often, people get confused when trying to understand the difference between them and their significance.

For the sake of dispelling doubts once and for all regarding the identification and differentiation between Cycle Times and Lead Times, we have decided to shed some light on the matter with this article.

What is Cycle Time?

Cycle time is basically simply the amount of time it takes for a task to get from a “In Progress” state to a “Completed” one.

The clock starts ticking on the cycle time as soon as the task goes from a “Ready” state to a “In Progress” state and stops ticking when the work element goes from a “In Progress” state to a “Completed” one.

What exactly these states mean will vary depending on the work and context.

If the work element moves back and forth, for example because the client changes their mind or doesn’t accept the work and insists that it be modified or done again (you might be interested in this article on how to manage change requests on a project), the clock won’t reset, but it will continue to tick.

Cycle time is a very important measure that portrays the efficiency of a system in processing units of work.

However, it has nothing to do with what happens outside of that system, such as the queue to put work into that system. That’s where lead time or delivery time comes into play.

What is Lead Time?

The business environment is dynamic and produces new customer requests continuously, and these requests reach the organization as work requests.

Lead Time is the length of time between the occurrence of a new task in the workflow (“queued” status) and its final release from the system (“completed” status).

Lead Time is therefore inevitably always longer than Cycle Time.

Lead Time and Cycle Time Example

If these two concepts still sound confusing, here’s an example to straighten things out.

Let’s imagine a coffee shop with a barista, a cashier and some customers. As soon as the customer orders a coffee from the cashier, that work goes into the queue. That is, the customer has placed an order for a coffee and expects to receive it as soon as possible. The Lead Time clock has therefore started ticking. If there are no other orders in the system, the barista can start brewing coffee right away. As soon as the barista starts working on that coffee, the Cycle Time clock starts ticking.

Cycle time is simply the time needed by the barista to prepare a coffee. The only way to improve it is for the barista to become faster at brewing coffee.

cycle time and lead time ratio

If the barista can start brewing a coffee the very second an order is placed, the delivery time is equal to the cycle time.

But if orders start coming in faster than a barista can make coffees, orders will pile up.

If the barista can make a coffee in one minute, but a coffee order comes in every 20 seconds, the cycle time remains at one minute, but the delivery time will begin to increase continuously as orders pile up.

Professor John Little (MIT professor) came to the conclusion after various researches that the more work you have in progress, the greater the cycle time of the system.

The equation has come to be known as Little’s Law:

Cycle time = work in progress / productivity

How can you reduce the gap between lead time and cycle time?

Sometimes, a task can spend considerable time in a waiting status before a team member is able to start working on it.

This leads to a larger gap between lead time and cycle time, and as a result, tasks reach the completion stage more slowly.

To find the source of this problem, you can use two analysis tools:

  • Cycle time scatterplot
  • Heatmap

 

The Scatterplot provides extensive information about the cycle time of all tasks over a predetermined period of time.

In this way, you can identify the tasks that took the longest amount of time to complete.

The heatmap shows data for the total amount of time activities spend in different stages of the workflow.

It can help you understand where tasks spend the most time as the workflow progresses.

Both tools will help you pinpoint which parts of a work process are troublesome and take action to fix them.

You need to remember that work is in fact a continuous process and is constantly changing.

 

Therefore, you need to monitor the workflow regularly and use the appropriate analytical tools.

Plan your work and your project deadlines.

project configuration management

Configuration Management

Configuration Management is a technical management discipline that is used to track changes in complex systems development, and was originally introduced during the 1950s by the U.S. Department of Defense.

This system received several highly technical names over the years, until consolidated guidance was published in 2001 that established the technical management system now known as configuration management.

Project configuration management is the process of tracking and controlling changes to important project documents and products. This includes project deliverables and project management documents, such as the project schedule document.

Everything that requires tracking through the project change control system is specifically identified in a project’s configuration management plan.

These documents are not generally open to change by anyone at any time.

Instead, all changes are documented and approved, only when strictly necessary, within a project’s configuration management plan.

Configuration management provides documentation that explains why changes to the project occurred, who approved those changes, and who is the assigned change owner.

What is the goal of project configuration management?

The goal of configuration management in a project is therefore to manage the project’s fundamental restrictions of scope, time, cost, and quality.

Within a project, the purpose of configuration management is to identify, monitor, and protect project deliverables from unauthorized changes.

Configuration management is a practice that provides accurate control over project resources by enabling the project manager to:

  • Specify product versions in use and existing, and store information about their status, who owns them, and the relationships among them
  • Maintain an up-to-date record containing this information
  • Monitor product changes Ensuring that modifications are implemented only with prior approval of the designated authorities
  • Check records to ensure they contain the authorized products

Within a project, the role of configuration management is to provide:

  • Mechanisms for management, traceability and control of all project products; keep the files of every product of a project once they have been checked for their quality, controlling their access and keeping records of their status
  • Store each product safely and securely in the most appropriate way, this will include managing access to the product in such a way as to prevent damage to it and to safeguard it from inappropriate access
  • A system for recording, tracking and archiving every issue related to the project

How to run project configuration management

project configuration

Now let’s look at the 5 steps to properly run a project’s configuration management.

How to run configuration management: Be ready from the get-go

The most important guideline is to begin configuration early in the project lifecycle. The project manager should assess the potential for smoothness in the early stages and create the appropriate scaled configuration management system during project planning rather than halfway through execution.

How to run configuration management: Establish a clear baseline

It is very important to establish a clear baseline plan, i.e., the project description as defined at the beginning of the project, as well as to document the different versions during development and the final phase when the project will be released.

How to run configuration management: Consider a design and product configuration

You have to consider configuration management for two areas:

  • project management changes
  • content or product changes.

How to run configuration management: Record the owner of the documents

Another best practice is to document who owns the different parts of the project. When these owners change and the next individual brings a new perspective into the project, normally there is a temporary increase in the rate of change. Stakeholder support for changes to project and the configuration management process are therefore crucial to system success. With CM processes, change acceptance decisions should be taken at the appointed and recognized change control committee level.

How to run configuration management: Record plan change

Documenting plan changes can be done with simple tools in the case of the simplest projects or with specific project management software. In order for this to work effectively, the plan document must be created with particular consideration.

Where this is the CM method, the rule of thumb is that nothing in the plan should be changed unless it is recorded in the change documentation, thus tracking all project management and any changes.

Each modification is assigned a unique ID, the date of the modification, a reference to the section number, and a description are recorded. Finally, the change to the project or product is described in all necessary details.

 

Bottom line, we can say that changes are and will continue to be an inevitable part of any project’s design and implementation.

Even the best series of design plans does not guarantee that a particular project will not undergo numerous changes.

This is particularly true when the scope involves a large-scale, multi-contract, multi-phase complex project.

The primary causes of project changes involve changes in design standards, changes in project scope, unforeseen complexities, or difficulties and delays in project implementation.

Project managers, to help control the impact these changes can have on cost, schedule, and performance, are beginning to see the value in using configuration management principles.

Use Twproject to manage your projects’ configuration.