In Atlanta, all major roadways shut down after a snow storm swept through, freezing all roads in its path. This was the scene as i walked down I-75 the morning after.
I recently purchased Microsoft’s latest tablet, the Surface Pro 2. Despite decent reviews from the media, I find myself justifying the purchase to the Apple and Android fanatics when they see me using the device. I hear the same comments from people: “Why is Microsoft persisting in trying to make a tablet?” and “I thought they killed that thing!”
And: on the surface (pardon the pun), I can understand their initial reaction. It’s definitely not the best tablet. It’s big, bulky, and heavy. It’s definitely not the best laptop. It’s small, and the keyboard falls short of, say, my Thinkpad.
And yet . . . I absolutely love this thing. Why? It’s actually a decent tablet and a decent laptop. It’s fast, has great resolution, long battery life, and it allows me to give killer demos of our viewer for Microsoft Project, our schedule analytics tool. It even runs Javelin, our new cost and schedule analytics tool. Javelin is pretty graphics-intensive and can push the hardware to its limit. The Surface Pro 2 runs Windows 8.1, and until I used Windows 8 on a tablet, I didn’t fully “get it.”
So . . . if, like me, you’ve heard nothing but hating on Microsoft tablets, my advice is to try one out and make up your own mind.
I’m glad I did.
This post is published as part of a first ever project management related global blogging initiative to publish a post on a common theme at exactly the same time. 70+ bloggers from at least 13 countries have written articles as part of this event. The complete list of all participating blogs is found here. After reading mine, please check them out.
I’ll start this “sermon” with a question for you: suppose you were hiring a leader and a team for your next project, and you had to choose between these two options:
A) Great leader, mediocre team
B) Mediocre leader, great team
Which choice would you make?
I started my project management career as part of the “B” answer. I was still attending college, working as a programmer in a makeshift office in the basement of a camera store. My boss (the owner of the company) sold point of sale and accounting software which existed mostly in his head, and when he made a sale, he would sketch for us a rough idea of what the screens should look like, and those sketches served as our design documents. He spent the bulk of his time hustling for more sales, and would rarely check on us to see how the software development was progressing. This was okay; the developers worked very well together and we produced high quality code fairly quickly.
Looking back, I can see that we were a great team with a mediocre leader. He scoffed at us for staying in college and studying computer science, saying real education was gained in the workplace. In hindsight, I can see that there was a project management “system” in place, albeit a horrible one. I probably learned as much from him as anyone, even if it was lessons on how not to lead. Of course, with no real purpose or direction, the company was never successful and made no significant impact on the world. Our “projects” led us nowhere. It was my first experience working hard on something with nothing to look forward to and very little to show for my efforts.
After my college graduation, I got serious about software development and decided to attend graduate school and get a Master’s degree in Computer Science. Over the course of my studies, I fell in love with 3-D graphics and operating systems, and after my graduation in late 1986 I jumped at the chance to take a job where I got to work on operating system internals (Unix) after graduation.
Fate had other plans for me. For whatever reason, I was given an assignment to develop a project management application to be used in-house by the Software Development department. I was given a set of requirements and asked to develop software that met those requirements. Essentially, the managers wanted a tool to schedule people on projects and balance things so every project had enough people and no one person was over-scheduled.
I was also told to research the commercially available project management applications, and soon I had in my possession a copy of Microsoft Project Version 3 for MS-DOS and MacProject version 1. Although we ended up using the software I wrote (called balance), I played with both commercial applications enough to get hooked on project management. Later in my career, I ended up writing the world’s first viewer for Microsoft Project.
27 years later, I’m still hooked on project management.
The reasons are very simple:
- I believe that project management, when done right, transforms an organization.
- When applied on a project with a powerful vision, project management can change the world.
- For all of the volumes of books about PM processes, best practices, and methodologies, great project management begins and ends with great project managers.
Few things are more challenging and more satisfying than helping people become great project managers. I started my own project management software company 13 years ago with this purpose: making great project managers. Great project managers are often great leaders and coaches, and this brings me to my favorite quote about a coach.
Don Shula, former coach of pro football’s Miami Dolphins, holds the record for the most career wins and is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. Bum Philips was the coach of the league’s Houston Oilers (before they moved to Nashville and changed their name to the Tennessee Titans). This is what Coach Philips, born and raised in the state of Texas, had to say about Coach Shula: “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.” I’ll translate that from “Texan:” he’ll coach his team against your team and win, and he’ll coach your team against his team and win.
If you see truth in the quote, I can predict how you answered my question at the beginning of this sermon.
I love that quote for two reasons. First, I grew up watching Shula’s Dolphins win against opponents who were sometimes bigger and faster but never better coached. Second, it illustrates the power, influence, and importance of coaching and leadership in an organization. For the all the humble praise great leaders bestow upon their teams, I know how big a role the leader plays in their team’s success.
I’ve seen great teams fail miserably under mediocre leadership. No vision. No common objective. No credible plan. I’ve also seen a great leader turn average teams and make them great. I’ll choose
(A) Great leader, mediocre team
every time, because great leaders build great teams, but I’ve never seen the opposite happen.
So, what does Project Management mean to me? Very simply, it gave me my professional purpose: making better project managers.
Why do I care? Great project leaders make great projects. Great project management makes the difference between victory and mediocrity, between making history and wasting time and money, between just doing your job vs. fighting for a cause. Nothing else in my professional life has been as satisfying as leading successful projects and being on successful project teams. If you’ve been a member of or led a successful project team, I think you’ll agree with me.
Can I get an “Amen?”
This Tuesday (or Wednesday in certain parts of the world), the world’s first project management flash blog is taking place. At the same time, over 70 bloggers (including me) will post an article on the same topic: What Does Project Management Means to Me? A Sermon. We’re using the #PMFlashBlog tag to make us easier to find.
The flash blog is the brainchild of Shim Marom, a (you guessed it) project management blogger from Down Under. The articles will be posted at 0100 hours GMT on September 25th, 2013 (in Atlanta time, that’s 8PM Tuesday night).
One of the bloggers (Henny Portman) created a world map showing the “who” and the “where” which is pretty cool!
I hope you’ll check out our article and the others as well. I can’t wait to see what I come up with. Here’s the list of participants:
pmFlashBlog Twitter Names
Twitter accounts of participants in the first ever Project Management Flash Blog
*Following the release date (25th Sep) the list will be updated again and Twitter users who have not released a #pmFlashBlog related post will be removed.
The latest from Cheri Essner, PMP (@CheriEssner). Cheri Essner, PMP & founder of KoreBuilders.ca. Team building is my passion & I share my experiences of renewing empowerment to take U from Me to We!. Toronto, Ontario Canada
The latest from Chris O'Halloran (@strikinggroup). Expert Project Managers, offering bespoke project management services on behalf of our clients. Each project is tailored to the needs of your business. Brisbane, Sydney, Shanghai
The latest from Henny Portman (@HennyPortman).
The latest from Adrian Fittolani (@adfit11). Program manager, Agilist, Runner, Father, Richmond supporter, Lover, Fighter, Amateur mechanic, Kids sport taxi service. Not necessarily in that order. Melbourne, Australia
The latest from Adriana Girdler, PMP (@AdrianaGirdler). President CSD & AGIC, Speaker, Author, Efficientologist, Intuitive~ Holistic practitioner of business effectiveness, positive change & inspiring leadership. Toronto Area
The latest from Allen Ruddock (@ARRAPM). Passionate about my family, good food and excellence in project & programme management. Keen Nordic walker. On a sensible health kick so I can enjoy good food,. Guildford, Surrey, UK
The latest from Angel Berniz (@angelberniz). Executive Advisor, Best Practices Expert, Author, Speaker, Influencer. Making Business work!
The latest from Barry Hodge (@BarryHodge). A Project Manager who loves Formula 1 & Plymouth Argyle. I tweet about my passion of #projectmanagement #pmot and the great work my colleagues do @bromfordgroup
The latest from Bernardo Tirado, PMP (@thePMObox). Industrial Psychologist | Six Sigma Blackbelt | Certified PMP | Author : Speaker : Trainer : Consultant : former Professor. New York City
So, I’m wondering what scheduling applications anyone reading this is using? I know at least some of you are running Microsoft Project, but is there another one out there that you prefer? I’ll start a list . . .
Project Scheduler Software
A survey of scheduling software used by the contributors to this list.
One of the oldest, probably the most widely used.
Deltek Open Plan is an enterprise-class program management solution that offers cost & budget flexibility for small or large projects.
Primavera P6 Professional Project Management, the recognized standard for high-performance project management software, is designed to handle large-scale, highly sophisticated and multifaceted projects. It can be used to organize projects up to 100,000 activities, and it provides unlimited resources and an unlimited number of target plans.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended an interesting talk by David Marquet, a retired Captain of the U.S. Navy. He mentioned a TED talk on body language given by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. In the talk, Cuddy related how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect hormone levels in the brain and body and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
A few years ago, I was attending another talk, and the speaker that day asked a room full of people to stand up, stretch our arms out wide, look up, and smile for about a minute. It was the same principle at work. I know this is subjective, and I’m sure we all looked ridiculous, but I do believe that it made many of us (including me) feel better than we felt before the exercise. It seems that your body can trick your brain into a changed state. Of course, your brain is starting the process, so maybe it’s your brain tricking your brain into producing endorphins or other “happy” chemicals. I don’t really care how it worked — it worked!
The reason that Marquet brought up this effect was because he successfully applied a similar principle to culture change in his organization. In this case, it was the crew of a nuclear submarine. He identified a change in culture that he wished to see, imagined what it would look like after that culture change happened, and immediately had people acting that way.
This got me thinking about the culture of project teams, and had me wondering whether the same principle might apply to help project teams perform better. Think about this: what aspects of the culture of your project team would you like to change? Is everyone not on the same page? Is collecting status extremely difficult? Are the estimates you receive way off base?
Once you’ve identified an aspect of the culture that you wish were different, imagine what it would look like after the issue was fixed. How would people behave differently? What would this new reality look like physically? Once you have that pictured, how can you entice the team to act that out today? What are the mechanisms that cause the new behaviors to happen? The final step: change the policy or create the program to enable those mechanisms.
It takes a bit of faith to believe that it works, but if you need some convincing, why not try out the 60 second exercise I mentioned in the second paragraph and see if it works?
If you’re looking for an insightful read, I recommend David Marquet’s book (Turn the Ship Around!). I’m enjoying it immensely.
Steelray Project Analyzer version 3.5 is here, and with this release we’re introducing a new report: the Validator report.
What’s the Validator Report?
The Validator report was designed to discover and report on corruption in large Microsoft Project schedules. If you’ve ever used Project with massive schedules that span multiple files, you have probably encountered corruption problems. Microsoft Project handles them pretty well when you have the master file open in Project. Many of the problems start occurring when you open and edit sub-projects separately.
To run a Validator report, add it like you add any other report. You’ll see it in the list of reports.
What Can the Analyzer Report Uncover?
Analyzer can report on the following 10 checks:
- Blank Resource Names with Data
- Blank Task Names with Data
- Circular Chains
- Duplicate Links
- Mismatched Links
- Missing Project Files
- No Project File
- Ghost Tasks Without a Valid Target
- Invalid Links
- Misaligned Settings
Note: To ensure a smooth analysis, it is recommended that you open the IMS (schedule) in Microsoft Project first before beginning the analysis. This ensures that all prompts and possible errors from Microsoft Project are cleared.
What Does the Output Look Like?
The tabs across the top of the output segregate the issues into three sections. The first tab contains checks that were run where issues were discovered. The second tab contains checks that were run with no issues. The final tab reflect checks that were not run.
The first tab requires the most attention. This tab will break out the issues by check. The first column contains the task name and unique ID that was identified in the violation. The message reports details of the violation.
When violations are corrected, re-run the Validator to ensure that the check comes up clean.
Optionally, the validator results can be exported to Microsoft Excel. An installation of Microsoft Excel is required to perform this function. The export mimics the tabbed output on the screen. Each tab on the screen will have a corresponding tab within Excel. The issues uncovered will be listed as tables.
Careful budgeting of resources is an important part of any successful project management strategy. Here are some tips to help you protect your bottom line without compromising the quality of your project.
As any successful project manager knows, effective budgeting is a vital component of project management. Project costs can add up quickly, putting a strain on your available resources. When this occurs, it’s important to know how to tighten the belt without compromising the quality of your work. Here are some tips for reducing your project costs to keep your team under budget and ahead of the deadline.
Use the Planning Phase to Identify Costs Early
While a lot of the planning phase is essentially guess work, taking sufficient time to accurately identify costs and possible setbacks will help get your project off to a great start. The planning phase should include your Scope of Work bottom line, a realistic project schedule, initial risk assessment, and a human resources plan. The more thorough your planning phase is, the more prepared you’ll be to address any possible timeline setbacks without blowing your budget.
Manage Human Resources Efficiently
Project costs can soar when you need to bring in an expert last minute due to unforeseen scheduling issues with your key team members. Auditing hours and being prepared for vacations or other contingencies are crucial to keep a project moving forward on the timeline.
Handle Vendors Strategically
Deal with vendor challenges deftly, before they become recurring issues. It’s important to keep pressure on them in order to meet your project needs at the agreed price. If a situation comes up where that price will no longer be able to be met, do your research to ensure that you’re still getting the best value possible.
Do Regular Audits
Major budget trouble can typically be avoided by simply staying on top of it. Regular audits allow you to address concerns before they get out of hand. Though delay and cost overrun are inherent risks of any project, they can be effectively reduced and possibly eliminated through the use of project performance monitoring and control systems.
Limiting project costs is at the forefront of any effective project manager’s mind. Here at Steelray, our Microsoft Project Viewer (a Steelray product, not a Microsoft product) saves organizations thousands. We also understand how important a high quality schedule is to keep your project tasks on time and on budget. Our project management software helps you watch the bottom line by easily locating schedule problems and suggesting solutions. Steelray Project Analyzer helps you maintain high-quality, accurate schedules to keep your project running smoothly. Using the right project management tools, planning appropriately, managing human resources effectively, and auditing often will all help reduce your project costs.
Back in 2007, we introduced Steelray Project Analyzer, our project schedule analysis tool, and with each new release we’ve learned a bit more about identifying and reporting on potential issues in a project schedule. We also learned about the difficult challenges many of our customers faced reconciling schedule data with cost data. With most of our customers, cost and schedule activities were created and tracked in two different systems. Some of our more sophisticated customers had systems to integrate the two, but this was a time consuming endeavor and no tools existed to help analyze the integrated data.
Until today, that is.
We are excited and proud to introduce Steelray Javelin, the first tool written from scratch to perform integrated cost and schedule analysis. I’ll be writing about the many innovations in Javelin in future articles. In this article, I want to tell the story of how Javelin came to be.
We’ve been talking about a product like this for several years, but have held back because of the challenges inherent in “gluing” the cost data to the schedule data when they are contained in different systems. With the establishment of UN/CEFACT XML as an industry standard and the commitment by the project management software vendors to support the standard, we decided to go for it — the time was right to do an integrated viewer and analyzer that would work with the IPMR data, the cost and schedule data in the UN/CEFACT XML format.
We didn’t want to simply retrofit our existing products to the UN/CEFACT standard, though. We started by studying the standard and figuring out exactly what would and would not be possible. With Javelin, we had three design principles:
- It must be a leapfrog product.
- It must significantly increase the user’s superpowers and give them a faster and better understanding of large project data sets.
- The viewer, the analyzer, and the output are one and the same. In other words, when you’re looking at the data, you’ll see what might be wrong with the data. You can use Javelin to present the findings in real time (as opposed to exporting to PowerPoint, something we’ve all learned to hate).
In the fall of 2012, the project was approved and we began the design. We targeted a spring 2013 release, which in hindsight was mildly insane, but we did achieve a mid-summer release. Along the way, we designed and redesigned, argued about how to make it easier to use, and even spent a few breaks hurling our trainer javelin in the field outside our office to let off some steam.
We’re very proud of the result, and look forward to the future developments that we’re working on. For information on Javelin, contact the Steelray team today.
People who have downloaded Steelray Project Analyzer version 3.4, our industry standard project schedule analysis tool, have noticed that we gave it a face lift in this latest version. What was behind the face lift?
It Was Time
The last time we significantly improved the look of Analyzer was in 2008 when we released the “G2″ version. A lot has changed since then, and it was time to do something a little more modern. We looked at how to do this without confusing existing users, and I believe that we were able to accomplish both goals. We looked at what worked well during the face lift of our viewer for Microsoft Project and applied many of those best practices.
Better Organization of Categories
Criteria categories have always been an underutilized feature in Analyzer. With version 3.4, we’ve given you much greater flexibility in how you organize the set of checks you perform against the schedule. You can now create your own categories and organize and group them however you’d like. I strongly encourage you to check out this new feature.
We’re always looking for ways to make Analyzer even easier to use, an in version 3.4, we’ve made some subtle changes to accomplish that objective. Although we’ve added more features, we’ve reduced the amount of buttons, tabs, and other screen elements you’ll have to deal with.