A Must Have Software Utility

I’m kind of obsessed with productivity tools, and they generally fall into one of two categories: the ones everyone should use and the rest.

It’s our company mission to make must-have tools (viewers, analyzersexporters) for people who are writing, updating or reviewing project schedules.  We live in a niche; we design and deliver productivity software products for a specific group of people.

Some tools have a much broader range.  One tool that everyone should use is a text snippet insertion utility.  I use TextExpander, and while I don’t know if it’s the best or the worse, I know that I love what it does and how it does it.  It works well for me.

The purpose of these tools is pretty simple:  you type abbreviations or shorthand, like “fyi”, and the tool will insert a longer set of words, like “for your information”.  I set up “b@s” to be my email address — using the first letter of each side of the @ sign.  I have dozens of abbreviations now, and for me, it’s like typing in fast motion. Filling out forms is almost fun.

Almost.

Occasionally, it expands when I don’t want it to, which means I chose an abbreviation that occurs “naturally in the wild,” so to speak.  Good abbreviations require creativity and practicality.  I tend to use the same three letters in a row like three s’s for Steelray.  (You can bet I didn’t type out the entire “Steelray” just then)

You know you love a tool when you miss it the minute you start using a computer without it installed.  The tool can be habit-forming, but in this case, it’s a good habit.  A tiny little superpower.

There are others in my “must-have” category, and most of them are like TextExpander, in that they do a very specific thing in a very useful way.  If you’re not using one, I recommend you take a week and give it a try.  It takes a little practice, but it’s worth it.

Two New Year’s Resolutions

Today is January 2, the first workday where we get to practice our New Year’s resolutions.  Did you make any?  For Steelray, New Year’s resolutions take the form of annual objectives.  This year, we’ve made two big resolutions.

listeningFirst, we resolve that we’re going to do a much better job of communicating with you.  That includes sharing news about releases and events we’re attending.  Communication is a two-way street, so it also involves listening very carefully to your feedback, ideas, and suggestions.  In fact, the listening part is the far more critical part of communication.

sharing ideasSecond, we’re going back to our roots and delivering groundbreaking software — this time in the area of schedule delay analysis.  I can’t share the details yet, but that day is coming soon.  We’ve been in R&D mode for most of last year, working on the technology.

At times, we encountered roadblocks that made us question whether we’d be able to push through. And we pushed through. (If it were easy, it would have been done already.)  We’re not there yet, but we’re getting much closer.

phone usAnd, in keeping with our first resolution, I’m spending time every day speaking with potential users of the software, understanding how it can best help and how it would be used.  So, if you’re someone who looks at schedules with the purpose of understanding the impact of changes to the schedule, please reach out to me.

Let’s talk!

IPMW 2018 Tools Talk

We are just a few days out from the start of the Integrated Program Management Workshop 2018 in Washington D.C! We are so excited to exhibit our products and demonstrate how they can improve your productivity. We will present our Tools Talk on Tuesday, November 13th from 1:30-2:15 pm in Room 307, so if you’re attending, we’d love for you to stop by our talk. If you aren’t able to make the conference or miss our presentation, continue reading for a summary (and feel free to reach out if you have any more questions about our products!)

Steelray Software Unlocks the Secrets in Your Schedule

If you think about it, a project schedule is really a large set of information that includes planned activities, assignments, and what has happened so far. On large schedules, a lot of key information is sometimes “buried.”

At Steelray, our mission is to help you make sense of your product schedules. At IPMW, we’ll be showing off new products and technologies that help you do just that. 

If you’re new to our suite of products, we’ll introduce our best-in-class suite of tools for project schedule visualization and analysis. If you’re already using our tools, you’ll see features that you probably didn’t know about that will save you a great deal of time.

Steelray Project Viewer is the leading viewer for project schedules.  At IPMW, we’ll be introducing an edition for Primavera P6 and showing how easy it is to navigate through your Primavera schedule.  With features like quick filters and a built-in search engine, we’ll show you how you can save time and make better decisions by using our viewer.

Steelray Project Analyzer is our flagship schedule analysis solution.  We introduced Analyzer at IPMW over ten years ago, and we’ll be demonstrating powerful features that no other competing solution offers.  This year, we completed an overhaul of the product that brings new levels of performance and stability to the product, and we’re excited to show this to you.

Steelray Project Exporter is an add-in for Microsoft Project that now comes in two editions:  a free version that exports to UN/CEFACT XML, and a commercial product that exports to the new IPMR2 Format 6 in JSON.  We’ve significantly improved the product, making it easier to use and more flexible, including self-correcting some common issues that break strict compliance with the standard.

Don’t forget to stop by our booth if you’re attending and keep an eye out for prizes! Looking forward to showing off our software and helping you with your project management!


A 4-Day Work Week?

Happy Friday everyone! Today, we’re discussing human productivity and the efficiency of an experimental four-day work week.

Earlier this year, a firm in New Zealand ran an experiment where it let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five. Employees chose which day of the week to take off, and the experiment resulted in more well-rested employees, better work-life balance, and limited distractions, with no change in productivity despite the shorter work hours.

The article begs the question as to the efficiency of a 40-hour work week. Of course, everyone is different, but this experiment showed that people were able to recognize inefficiencies and correct them to work smarter, not necessarily harder.

It’s vital for us as employees to recognize times that we’re doing quality work and times when we’re not. It’s difficult (maybe even impossible) to be 100% productive, all day, every day; and it’s also essential for us to take breaks. So what’s the perfect balance?

Honestly, there isn’t one universal answer. Everyone works differently, and this experiment ran well because employees had the ability to choose which extra day they took off, allowing them to optimize their time in the office and take well-deserved breaks when they needed it. But besides being bored or feeling sluggish, how do we know when we’re not productive?

Some may be familiar with the term “flow”: in other words, it’s the state of being in the zone, when one is fully immersed in an activity and has full focus and enjoyment in the process. There are, of course, varying stages between boredom and flow, and we often don’t work at a flow state for eight hours a day. But achieving a flow rhythm might reduce the time it takes to complete a task; for example, a task that might take four hours in a non-flow state might take two in flow.

There’s no real answer to achieving flow since everyone works differently. But the experiment of a four-day work week and the results it produced imply that individuals are able to deduce their own inefficiencies and make themselves better. At Steelray, we continually strive for personal betterment, in and out of the workplace, because we believe that the drive to learn and excel is what makes us remarkable people with really cool software.

Do you think you’d excel with a four-day work week? What day would you take off? How can we measure our productivity to know if we’re getting better or worse?

Unintended Consequences

A hunter was injured when a bear landed on top of him after he shot it on a hilltop.  I am not making light of this happening, and I hope the hunter makes a full and quick recovery, but this story is a perfect metaphor for the habit we sometimes have of shooting problems and at the same time accidentally creating bigger ones.

I think they like to call it “unintended consequences,” and I’ve had my share of them.

The only upside to making mountain-sized messes out of mole-sized problems with decisions is when we:

  1. learn from them
  2. figure out how our decision process failed us
  3. train ourselves to spend more thinking time on the potential side effects and future problems.

It’s definitely a process, and one I’m not finished with.  When was the last time a bear you shot landed on you?

Alan – The Artifically Intelligent PM Assistant

Alan - Artificially Intelligent PM Assistant

Dateline: December, 2024 — Steelray launches Alan, our (fictional) Artificially Intelligent Assistant Project Manager.

Let’s follow along as Alan takes on the day.

Alan begins early by checking his news feed, noting that dock workers in Brazil are threatening to strike in January. He sends an alert to the risk analyst, checking to see if the strike has been accounted for, how the risk would be mitigated, and whether a “Plan B” exists.

In other market news, new oil industry projections indicate a price dip in the coming months. Alan assesses near-term projects and calculates some schedule shifts to take advantage of lower prices before they go back up. He pings the PMs via email and highlights the schedule changes.

Later that morning a PM named Beth checks a Slack feed from Alan; he’s cross- referenced her project data with HR and reports that a key assigned resource has scheduled vacation during a critical activity. He also notes that a small shift in the project path will avoid overtime rates. Beth adjusts accordingly.

Near lunch, Alan reports back to Stephen, who’s looking to update forecasts for the OmniCorp project. Alan has been anonymously polling the participants on activities and projections, and informs Stephen that their sentiments, combined with previous project data and external factors, indicate the project will complete two weeks later than the original projection.

That afternoon, Alan detects an unusual materials charge expensed to the DOT project. The items are appropriate for the job, and the total fits into the budget, but a high one-time cost is an anomaly. He shoots a text message to Purchasing and the PM?might this be a red flag?

Before close of day, Travis, director of sales, has Alan weigh in on a new project proposal, since Alan’s access to almost unlimited data points, coupled with his machine learning capabilities, allow him to eliminate much of the guesswork in cost and timeline estimation. Travis reviews the three project scenarios offered by Alan and feels prepared for tomorrow morning’s sales meeting.

Sound like fantasy?

For the moment, it is. But not as far from reality as you might think.

Some people are hesitant about the role of AI in the future, but we see a landscape of neural nets, algorithms and bots that enable people to reach higher degrees of excellence.

And, as we continue to experience a revolution in AI?in medical diagnosis, driverless cars, stock trading, marketing, business strategy?project management won’t be far behind.

In fact, we’re planning on it.

Steelray is incorporating AI into our flagship products?to continue providing greater depth of knowledge and actionability so our clients know the truth in their data and can do something about it.

Stay tuned…