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What We’re Reading: Christoph Waltz and the State of American Productivity

The LiquidPlanner Blog - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 16:49
Illustration Businessman Reading Business News on Tablet PC, Minimal Flat Style - Vector

Americans. Like it or not, we’re obsessed with productivity. So much so that Samsung, the South Korea-based electronics giant recently launched an amazingly funny, even if slightly backhanded video about the subject to promote their newest mobile device. The ad, which ran liberally during the Rio Olympic Games, is both funny and accurate—which is likely why I loved it.

what we

In that spirit, here are a collection of stories that speak to the state of productivity today. I hope you enjoy these posts while checking email, listening in on a conference call, and texting your friends about weekend plans.

Bonus Story! The most read blog post of the week:

Read something that you want to share? Find me on Twitter @mmerwin.

If you want to read up on how to be the top dog of project managers, download our handbook, The Ultimate Project Management Guide.”

Ultimate PM Guide

The post What We’re Reading: Christoph Waltz and the State of American Productivity appeared first on LiquidPlanner.

Categories: Companies

JIRA and Kanban vs. LeanKit

LeanKit Blog - Fri, 08/26/2016 - 15:30

JIRA, Kanban Boards, and LeanKit
Kanban is used across many types of organizations to visualize work, limit...

The post JIRA and Kanban vs. LeanKit appeared first on Blog | LeanKit.

Categories: Companies

Understanding Agile

Understanding AgileThis is a guest article by Isidora Roskic.

Learning to successfully manage agile projects requires you to first familiarise yourself with the concept of Agile. What is the agile methodology? Where did it start? What does it truly encompass?

If you know all of the answers then you’re off to a good start! If not then the following will help.

Where It All Began

The agile movement first began in the 1970s when it was introduced by a doctor named Winston Royce.

Royce sought out an alternative to the traditional project management approach which was based on an assembly line routine. In fact he believed projects should be managed totally differently.

He believed project teams could respond better to uncertainty if they followed a pattern of incremental work. Today the pattern is known as sprints. They are extremely useful to project managers using agile methods because they allow all aspects of the project to be reviewed and analysed to help discover any issues.

However, there are many things you need to keep in mind as a project manager if you choose to follow this approach. Let’s start with three things that make agile projects different from what you might be used to.

#1: Teams

Teams are often self-directed. You need to understand this because you may need to keep a bit more distance than you’re used to. They should be free to accomplish their tasks as they choose as long as they are still following the guidelines and company policies – whatever rules you have in place for getting work done.

This means you don’t need to monitor their every move. Create project objectives and clarify any confusion that may exist, but once that’s done, step back and leave them to it.

#2: Goals

Agile management doesn’t involve as much upfront planning as other methodologies (such as waterfall) do. It’s very common to develop your project requirements progressively, as needs arise, and as the end users develop their own thinking around the outcomes they expect and need.

As a project manager you will have to recognise how this may impact the final outcome of the project. The end result, after your set of sprints is finished, maybe (is quite likely to be, in many cases) different to what was first envisioned.

However, it is your job to maintain the vision and ensure you are still achieving the project’s objectives, even if the output and deliverables are different to what you thought you’d be building when you started.

It’s your job to ensure you are still achieving the project’s objectives, even if the deliverables have changed since the project began. 

#3: Feedback

As a project manager working in an agile environment your focus should not only be on monitoring the overall progress of the project but also on providing all team members with constructive feedback.

Since task performers are given more flexibility with the way in which they complete their work, it’s important to take the time to provide commentary on how they are doing.

Remember that feedback goes both ways. You must also seek out information from customers and other stakeholders to gather opinions about your products, projects. You can do that by taking a customer-centric approach on the project.

It’s crucial that you learn from your mistakes and evolve future deliverables. Since agile project management can be difficult to get to grips with at first, it’s important that you get users involved and engaged as they can be on your side as you test out new ways of doing things. After all, you are all on the same team.

Armed with an understanding of those 3 things, you can get to the heart of the framework.

Joining The Scrum

It’s known as the “scrum”. Scrum is one of several Agile frameworks (and the one that we’re focusing on in this article) that uses precise roles, meetings, and events to deliver the final product in a specific time frame.

The scrum contains 3 roles: the product owner, the scrum master and the team.

Simply put, the product owner is essentially the stakeholder representative. They prioritise project funding, communicate what the final product should look like and help guide its development.

The scrum master manages this process; they oversee communication, solve problems that may arise and ensure each sprint doesn’t take on any additional, unforeseen objectives.

And lastly, the team is made up of a group of individuals working on short phases of work that deliver products at their completion, known as “sprints”.

If you’re keen to find out more about how Scrum stacks up, read more about how Scrum compares to Kanban and Scrumban as an Agile method.

Making The Switch to Agile

As a project manager you are probably used to endless streams of information and overwhelming data flows, but it’s understandable if Agile seems a bit beyond the normal. Without a doubt agile project management can be difficult but it doesn’t have to be.

With the help of a strong project management tool, you can master working with agile methodologies in no time.

Of course, software won’t replace the understanding you’ll get from working alongside an experienced scrum master and agile team. Training and a supportive work culture where everyone understands what agile is all about will also help you make a success of managing projects in this way.

Project management software like ITM Platform can make this easier by guiding you through the steps to get the work done. Choose a tool that’s designed to support the project management approach you want to use and then even if you aren’t 100% familiar with it, you’ve got some support.

Register for a free demo here*

ITMPlatform Free Trial

About the author: About the author: Isidora Roskic is a blogger at ITMPlatform.

*This article contains affiliate links, meaning I make a small commission if you click and sign up. There’s no charge to you and it helps keep this website going! Thanks!

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  1. 5 Team structures for Agile teams Catherine Powell, principal at Abakas, a Boston based firm, spoke about agile team structures at Øredev, the software development conference in Sweden at the end...
  2. Comparing Agile Methods: Scrum, Kanban and Scrumban Have you ever wondered what the difference is between Scrum, Kanban and Scrumban? Me too. So I set out to find out what the differences...
  3. Debunking Agile Agile is: Change friendly Iterative Collaborative Chunked delivery Communications focused Business focused Scope tolerant Quality focused (if you do it correctly!) These were the themes...
  4. Agile and Distributed Teams: research results I’ve been working with ProjectsAtWork this year to research and analyse good practices for making Agile successful with distributed teams. Agile isn’t the first approach...
  5. Why use Kanban? In this video I ask Josh Nankivel from why he has chosen to use Kanban for managing the tasks for his project team. A...

Categories: Blogs

How to Manage Supply Chain Complexity Using Project Management

The LiquidPlanner Blog - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 16:55
Manage Supply Chain Complexity With Project Management supply chain software

Supply chains continue to increase in complexity. I’ve observed this firsthand from managing hundreds of projects in manufacturing organizations over the last 25 years, including navigating end-to-end supply chain. Being able to effectively manage this complexity is essential to achieve important business objectives–growth and profitability.

For starters, you want to identify the factors that contribute to these complexities: the geographical spread of customers and suppliers; risk and security considerations; regulatory and compliance hurdles; increased customer expectations for shortened lead times, and an increase in the number of players involved are all factors that are increasing supply chain complexity. After all, we live in a global world!

A common thread through all these factors is the number of connection points between suppliers and customers.

Connection Points Drive Complexity
My most successful clients manage complexity by focusing in on connection points. Connection points are those points that link two or more unique people, processes, systems, functions or supply chain partners.

For example, when two functional departments work together to introduce a new product, there will undoubtedly be several points of intersection. These points are typically more complex to manage, and create a higher degree of delays and issues than other points in the new product development process. Imagine developing a new product while collaborating with suppliers and customers. The customers are providing feedback and suggestions on their needs; in the meantime, the suppliers could be collaborating on a new design, new packaging or ways to reduce line scrap. These connection points increase complexity. And one of the most effective ways to manage these complexities is using project management processes and tools.

Here are three ways project management helps teams manage the connection points of supply chain complexity.

1. Use the Critical Path Method

These supply chain connection points are usually on the critical path of the project. Critical path, a project management technique used to show the sequence of activities in a project schedule, helps organizations get a handle on this complexity. Project management software lets you visualize this critical path—a path that includes tasks with dependencies, arranged in a particular order that’s required to complete the project on the shortest path to success.

Using project management tools to identify and manage the critical path is an effective way to do everything from reminding product groups of upcoming collaborative tasks, to making sure that teams and vendors are focusing on the right activity at the right time, or at least aware of delays that can affect other pressing deadlines.

Once you know the tasks specific to the critical path, the secret to success is to focus 80 percent of your attention on these particular tasks. This way you simplify your approach but have the largest impact.

supply chain 2. Communicate and Collaborate

It’s no secret that communication is at the crux of success when managing complexity. For example, a SIOP (sales and inventory operation plan) or a sales and operations planning process can run across supply chain partners, which provides a vehicle to communicate and collaborate on demand-and-supply topics.

I’ve worked with manufacturers and distributors from a wide variety of industries (aerospace, building products, food) and found that although a SIOP process does an effective job of aligning demand and supply, it does an even better job of facilitating the cross-communication of all the functions of an organization—often including the customers and suppliers.

Another way to bridge any communication gaps is to use collaborative project management software. It provides a single source of truth for project and team activity and schedule updates, especially when connection points include global teams working in different time zones.

Here’s another simple way to approach communication to streamline supply chain complexities:  Pick up the phone. If the operations plan or project management platform reveals incoming issues, talk to those task owners who are dependent on you, as well as the people you’re dependent upon.

3. Use Agile Processes

Last but definitely not least, consider following an Agile approach to managing supply chain complexity. Agile, a set of fast and flexible processes that accounts for change, helps teams adapt to marketplace opportunities, and improves business performance, lets you to break down complexity into reasonable chunks. Once you try a simple set of circumstances, you add layers of complexity and test again. Thus, it becomes easier to identify issues and manage complexity because you understand what each layer of complexity affects.

Here’s an example: I once worked with a building products manufacturer to select an ERP system and design business processes for the new ERP system. My team started out by reviewing a simple configuration. Once we got the simple configuration working, we added complexity—layers of options customers might request, data we wanted to collect for business intelligence reporting, etc. By following this Agile approach, we were able to build up to a solution that supported the business in a faster-moving and more successful way (which also focused on the 80/20 rule from a functionality perspective). If we had tried a complex equation, we would have been challenged to figure out which of the many issues arose from which factor or input.

Since the global recession, volatility and complexity are the new normal in supply chain manufacturing. If you lead a team or a project, the more you learn how to successfully manage complexity, the more you’ll thrive. And simplifying complexity is a starting point that will pay big dividends. Also, in today’s Internet-purchasing world, speed is cornerstone. Since managing complexity improves speed and effectiveness, companies that can manage complexity often leapfrog their competition.

The best way to manage all those connection points? The right project management methodology—one that’s dynamic and will support the way teams really work and respond to changes. To learn more, download “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

The post How to Manage Supply Chain Complexity Using Project Management appeared first on LiquidPlanner.

Categories: Companies

Epic empowerment makes Asana a top cloud company to work for

Asana Blog - Thu, 08/25/2016 - 14:05
Asana top cloud company

Asana recently welcomed Anna Binder as our first head of people operations.

Today, I want to share some exciting news: Asana has earned the #1 spot on the Glassdoor/Battery 50 Highest Rated Private Cloud Computing Companies to Work For list. Glassdoor, the jobs and recruiting marketplace, partnered with Battery Ventures to compile the list of companies with the highest levels of employee satisfaction.

We’re honored and humbled to be at the top of the list. It’s especially meaningful because it reflects our deep commitment to the idea of fast growth and mindful business. At Asana, we fundamentally believe that investing in creating a great culture is the best way to build a successful business. And that means investing in what some people have called “epic empowerment.”

This investment isn’t monetary; it’s the time and effort that goes into creating, maintaining, and evolving our internal operating system—from how we make decisions to the people programs we offer—to not only drive long-term engagement and satisfaction in a growing company of now more than 200, but ultimately, business results.

With today’s announcement from Glassdoor and Battery Ventures, I want to reflect on some components of the operating system that make Asana so unique and special—as well as a great place to work.

We distribute responsibility

The backbone of how we work together day in and day out is our unique Areas of Responsibility (AoR) org structure. It’s our way of intentionally distributing responsibilities across the team, instead of centralizing it with managers. This creates a level of clarity, accountability, and opportunity for personal growth that’s uncommon in companies with more traditional management hierarchies.

It’s only when Asanas feel empowered and trusted to do great things that they’re able to help our customers to do the same.

The AoR system is by no means perfect and can feel uncomfortable at times, but we wholeheartedly embrace it because it empowers every Asana to make decisions around the work they own, and to trust the AoR owners of other areas. While command-and-control environments may lead to short-term results, we believe epic empowerment through the AoR system is how you drive deep and long-lasting engagement and long-term business success. It’s only when Asanas feel empowered and trusted to do great things that they’re able to help our customers to do the same.  

We’re real with each other

One of our company commitments is to “be real with yourself and others.” It means we encourage Asanas to bring their whole selves to work. Because while we don’t always agree on everything, we believe that communicating direct feedback and approaching conflict with curiosity and openness makes us better teammates.

To build and sustain this culture of mindfulness, we offer every new hire the opportunity to attend a Conscious Leadership Group workshop. It provides a common framework and language for us to acknowledge and express our emotions while fostering empathy for each other. By bringing our whole selves to work—and feeling our feelings all the way through, even on the job—we’re able to sustain a culture of mindfulness and create a diverse and inclusive workplace.

We focus on the whole self

Culture is too-often misdefined as perks and benefits. And for many great companies competing for talent (especially in tech), there’s pressure to offer an ever-growing number of perks that emphasize convenience. But we believe that culture is what connects business goals, values, and people. So while they pride themselves on world-class perks and benefits, we’re focused on nourishing the whole self.

In other words, we invest in programs that enable everyone to learn and grow in all directions, both professionally and personally. This includes everything from our culinary program, which (literally) feeds and keeps us energized with nutritionally-balanced meals, to our coaching program available to all Asanas, not just senior leaders.

Fostering balance in the workplace is how we’re able to nurture a happy and healthy team, not just today, but for the long run.

Most importantly, we take work-life balance seriously by encouraging mindfulness and flexibility. As Dustin wrote last year, “we can all do better at being productive individuals while not simultaneously running ourselves empty.” Fostering balance in the workplace is how we’re able to nurture a happy and healthy team, not just today, but for the long run.

Let’s do great things together

We couldn’t be more thrilled about our top ranking because when you’re focused on the long term, proof points like this are incredibly encouraging and validating. And we still have so much work ahead of us. So if you’d like to join us in epic empowerment, we’d love to talk to you.

Want to learn more from our own employees who work here at Asana? Check out Asana’s company reviews on Glassdoor.

Categories: Companies

Let’s take this offline… with iOS!

Asana Blog - Wed, 08/24/2016 - 19:06

Ever since we launched offline access for our Android app, our iOS users have been asking when they can get in on the offline action. We’re happy to announce your day is here! Offline is now available for Asana on iOS, so you can perform all your major workflows even without internet access. Track your work on a train, plane, or anywhere else life takes you.

Download the latest version of the iOS app and start using offline today. Create tasks for yourself as you think of great ideas, check your notifications, add comments, complete tasks—and much more—on the go.

What you can do offline

Here’s a full list of actions you can perform offline:

  • Create a task
  • Complete a task
  • Archive or unarchive your inbox story
  • Change a task’s assignee and due date
  • Edit a task’s name
  • Add or remove tags or projects
  • Create a project
  • Add a comment
  • Invite teammates
  • Add or remove followers
  • Add or remove tags
  • Heart a task, conversation, or inbox story
  • Add subtasks
  • …and more coming soon!
What happens when you perform an action offline?

Here’s what will happen when you use the iOS app offline:

  1. You’ll see a banner at the bottom of your app letting you know “Asana is offline.”
  2. As you perform actions, Asana will tally items pending sync.
  3. For larger actions, such as creating or editing tasks, subtasks, projects, or comments, you’ll see a light grey cloud icon next to the item. This means the update is currently only visible to you.
  4. When you get back online, the clouds will disappear and the pending number will count down until the bottom banner disappears. The changes you’ve made will sync and your entire team will see the updated tasks, projects, or conversations


While offline, if you open a project or list you’ve never loaded in the app before, the tasks and conversations won’t load. But you can add tasks to that project while you’re offline.

No internet? No problem

Sometimes the most brilliant ideas come at the most inopportune times—like when you’re on the subway, or on an off-the-grid camping weekend. Now you can capture those ideas in Asana, even when life takes you away from an internet connection.
Where will you use Asana offline on iOS? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: Companies

Ellen Maynes: Inspiring Women in Project Management

Ellen Maynes interviewDo you think project management is all about building bridges or IT systems? What if I said project managers were getting involved in brokering world peace? Oh yes.

Today’s interview is with Ellen Maynes, project management consultant, 2016 Global Peace Fellow, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever spoken to. Ellen might just inspire you to take your project management to the next level.

Ellen, tell me what you are doing in Myanmar?

I came to Myanmar from Bangkok where I’d been participating in the Rotary Global Peace Fellowship. The end of my fellowship program coincided with the appointment of the new democratic leadership in Myanmar.

Based on my interest in women’s leadership, multi-sector partnerships, the peace process and Myanmar itself, I decided it was a good time to apply my skills working here. Myanmar is interesting, and at times it’s also intensely frustrating and at others exhilarating!

What projects are you involved with and how are you using your project management skills?

I am involved in three projects at the moment. Firstly, I’m participating in the newly created Myanmar Women’s Mentoring Network as a mentor for young Burmese women.

I’m also involved in designing a project management curriculum in Timor Leste for Engineers Without Borders – a project I’m working on remotely.

I’m also the Public Engagement Strategist for #womenseriously.

Wow. What does #womenseriously do?

#womenseriously is a global movement advocating for women’s representation at peace and decision making tables around the world.

Right now, the world is a pretty conflicted place. Governments, military and ethic groups are all working to broker peace, but women are missing from the conversation.

Less than 10% of participants at peace tables are women, even though all the research shows that when men and women work together to broker peace, the peace is more sustainable.

When men and women work together to broker peace, the peace is more sustainable.
Click To Tweet

This October, #womenseriously are running a campaign asking people around the world to host peace tables in their communities to elevate the issue and call for change.

I’m also project managing the global launch of Women’s Peace Tables Worldwide in Dublin in September, it’s all very exciting!

OK, how can we find out more about that?

You can see more information here: and get your tickets here.

Ellen Maynes Connect with Others Quote

How did you learn your project management skills?

I learnt much of the theory through a bachelor and masters degree at university. However, my real learnings were on the job, working in various roles across the corporate and social sector in Australia, Europe and Asia.

I learnt that the best project managers were the ones who connected with people, were great leaders, team-builders and communicators.

You mentioned you were writing a curriculum for project managers. What’s the appetite for PM training like in Myanmar?

The appetite for building technical and project management capacity in the region is enormous. Particularly in countries like Timor Leste and Myanmar, where years of conflict affected has impacted men and women’s access to education and work experience.

What role do women play in the PM community there?

Unfortunately, women are underrepresented in the workforce in general and in project management.

It’s great to see initiatives like the Myanmar Women’s Mentoring Network which aims to support women in the workforce.

You’ve worked on some amazing initiatives. What has your favourite been so far?

Good question! One of my favourites involved designing and delivering a Journalism Fellowship Program for young Australian journalists in Cambodia during my time at World Vision. The immersion program was very powerful, all the successful applicants were women.

They learnt about post-genocide issues in Cambodia, including logging and deforestation, human trafficking and health issues including the effects of trauma. All these journalists have gone on to achieve great things in their careers such as awards and impressive job opportunities in Australia and overseas.

You’ve worked around the world as well. What’s your top tip for women wanting to build an international career in project management?

Don’t go it alone. Connect with others doing what you do (or want to do). Technology has also made it very easy to stay connected, no matter where you are. Last week I had a great Skype conversation with a project manager in Australia, about conscious project leadership.

My other advice is to get a good mentor. Or several. For me, having the support of mentors has been very important. These wonderful individuals have supported, motivated and challenged me throughout my career. They’re part of my journey too.

Thanks, Ellen!

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  2. Inspiring Women in Project Management: Monica Borrell Monica Borrell is the latest woman to be profiled in my Inspiring Women in Project Management series. Find out why I think she's an inspiration...
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Categories: Blogs

What will you be remembered for?

Ron Rosenhead's Project Management Blog - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 17:18

I have recently taken up Nordic Walking (many thanks to Saracens Rugby Club Sports Foundation for the taster session) and I am really enjoying it.

I recently decided to go to Trent Park (in  Enfield) ) for a long walk and while walking I stopped for a moment to absorb what was around me.

It was breath taking – trees for miles all around me, fields and a lake. The park has many facilities including a petting zoo, several cafes and playgrounds for children. It really is a magnificent park.


Trent Park – picture of Trent Park web site –

The park has lots of history with its royal hunting grounds, the Estate being sold to Philip Sassoon (cousin of Siegfried Sassoon), its Japanese garden and hundreds of paths for you to walk over or simply sit down and relax.

In the few moments I stood still and absorbed the wonderful scenery I said a quiet thank you to the many people who put this park together. They have really given us, our children and their children a real legacy.

I then thought about the many projects that I have seen over the many years of working in project management. I wondered about the legacy of these projects. How many of them have simply been filed in the ‘not now’ tray or simply forgotten about? What about those projects that delivered, but on reflection did not have any benefits at all and should have been stopped part way through?

Project management is about delivering some benefits and again I thank quite openly, the many people making Trent Park (and the many other parks around the UK) such wonderful places to visit and from which we can all benefit.



Camelot Moat – courtesy of

But, what about your project? Will your name be held in lights as the person who really delivered a great project with great benefits? Or will you be the person who delivered a project that was quickly forgotten and filed in the WPB (waste paper bin)?



So once again, what’s will you be remembered for?



My grateful thanks to Saracens Rugby Club for helping me kick start my Nordic walking and Daniela for her great enthusiasm and instruction


Pictures courtesy of the Trent Country Park web site


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Categories: Blogs

Making the Inc. 5000: We’re Niche and We’re Proud of It

The LiquidPlanner Blog - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 16:10
Making the Inc. 5000

Hi LiquidPlanner readers! We’ve got some exciting news to share this week.

I’m thrilled to announce that we made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America! It’s an honor to be included as it’s one of, if not the most comprehensive look at the trajectory of thousands of innovative companies that don’t typically talk about financial performance. The Inc. 5000 rankings are based on three years of verified revenue growth, and while it’s scary to reveal, I’m incredibly proud of our results.

The Inc. 5000 listing is a great follow up to our successful launch of LiquidPlanner Small Team edition, something we think will be a game changer for our business. Small Team edition is built to help teams of five take advantage of our fab online project scheduling and collaboration software. Our goal is to help every team, independent of size, ditch old-school spreadsheets and instead modernize how they approach planning and accomplishing work with a dynamic online project tool like LiquidPlanner.

Making the Inc. 5000

For those of you who run a business, you know how challenging it is gain market traction and stand out in a crowded industry. The project and work management space is no different. Project management plays a massive role in every business. Do it well and your team can turn strategies into plans, plans into action and action into industry-winning products. We take great pride in helping our customers do this in a dynamic manner, every day.

Make no mistake, we’re OK with being niche; in fact, we’re banking on it. I can say, quite proudly, that being niche is helping us achieve our goals, from winning customers in the technology and manufacturing space to hitting critical financial milestones. We’re niche and we’re proud of it.

And that’s why the Inc. 5000 recognition is important. It’s a stepping stone in a long path of validation that our approach not only works, but works really well.

At our core, we’re a company built upon the fundamental believe that ingenuity, creativity and attention to details at the product, customer service and financial level is what makes us unique and ultimately successful.

So, a big thanks to the entire LiquidPlanner team who busts their asses every day to build a unique and powerful product backed by amazing customer support and service. I’d also like to say thank you to our customers – we’re here as long as you get value from LiquidPlanner every day. Thank you!

Check out our Inc. 5000 profile here.

To learn more about how we help companies grow and thrive, download our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

Intro to Dynamic PM

The post Making the Inc. 5000: We’re Niche and We’re Proud of It appeared first on LiquidPlanner.

Categories: Companies

My Favorite LeanKit Feature: Subscribe to a Card

LeanKit Blog - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 15:47

Hana here, from Product Marketing at LeanKit. One of my main roles is as a liaison between our Product and...

The post My Favorite LeanKit Feature: Subscribe to a Card appeared first on Blog | LeanKit.

Categories: Companies

Connecting Project Benefits to Business Strategy for Success

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Tue, 08/23/2016 - 05:01

The current PMI Pulse titled Delivering Value: Focus on Benefits during Project Execution provides some guidance on how to manage the benefits side of an IT project. But the article misses the mark on an important concept. This is a chart in the paper, suggesting the metrics of the benefits.

But where do these metrics come from?

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 1.00.29 PM

The question is where do the measures of the benefits listed in the above chart come from? 

The answer is they come from the Strategy of the IT function. Where is the strategy defined? The answer is in the Balanced Scorecard. This is how ALL connections are made in enterprise IT projects. Why are we doing something? How will we recognize that it's the right thing to do? What are the measures of the outcomes connected to each other and connected to the top level strategy to the strategic needs of the firm.

When you hear we can't forecast the benefits in the future from our work, you can count on the firm spending a pile of money for probably not much value. Follow the steps starting on page 47 in the presentation above and build the 4 perspectives and connect the initiatives.
  • Stakeholder - what does the business need in terms of beneficial outcomes?
  • Internal Processes - what governance processes will be used to produce these outcomes?
  • Learings and Growth - what people, information, and organizational elements will be needed to execute the process to produce the benefical outcomes?
  • Budget - what are you willing to spend to achieve these beneficial outcomes

As always, each of these is a random variable operating in the presence of uncertanty, creating risk that they will not be achieved. As always, this means making estimates of both the beneficial outcomes and the cost to achieve them. 

Like all non-trivial projects, estimating is a critical success factor. Uncertainty is unavoidable. Making decisions in the presence of uncertanty is unavoidable. Having some hope that the decision will result in a beneficial outcomes requires making estimates of that outcome and choosing the most likely beneficial outcome.  

Anyone telling you otherwise is working in a de-minimis project. 

So Let's Apply These Principles to a Recent Post

A post Uncertainty of benefits versus costs, has some ideas that need addressing ...

  • Return of an investment is the benefits minus the costs. 
    • And both are random variables subject to reducible and irreducible uncertanties.
    • Start by building a model of these uncertainties.
    • Apply that model and update it with data from the project as it proceeds.
  • Most people focus way too much on costs and not enough on benefits.
    • Why? This is bad management. This is naive management. Stop doing stupid things on purpose.
    • Risk Management (from the underlying uncertainties) is how adults manage projects - Tim Lister.
    • Behave like an adult, manage the risk.
  • If you are working on anything innovative, your benefit uncertainty is crazy high.
    • Says who?
    • If you don't have some statistically confident sense of what the pay off is going to be, you'd better be ready to spend money to find out before you spend all the money.
    • This is naive project management and naive business management.
    • It's counter to the first bullet - ROI = (Value - Cost)/Cost. 
    • Having an acceptable level of confidence in both Value and Cost is part of Adult Management of other people's money.
  • But we can’t estimate based on data, it has to be guesses!
    • No estimates, are not guesses unless done by a Child. 
    • Estimates ARE based on data. This is called Reference Class Forecasting. Also parametric models use past performance to project future performance.
    • If Your cost estimation might be off by +/- 50%, but your benefit estimation could be off by +/-95% (or more), you're pretty much clueless about what the customer wants. Or you're spending money on a R&D project to find out. This is one of those examples conjectured by inexperienced estimators. This is not how it works in any mature firm.
    • Adults don't guess, they estimate.
    • Adults know how to estimate. Lots of books, papers, and tools.
  • So we should all stop doing estimates, right?
    • No - an estimate is a forecast and a commitment.
    • The commitment MUST have a confidence level.
    • We have 80% confidence of launching on or before the 3rd week in November 2014 for 4 astronauts in our vehicle to the International Space station. This was a VERY innovative system. This is why a contract for $3.5B was awarded. This approach is applicable to ALL projects
    • Any de minimis projects have not deadline or a Not to Exceed target cost.

All projects are probabilistic. All projects have uncertainty in cost and benefits. Estimating both cost and benefit, continuously updating those estimates, and taking action to correct unfavorable variances from plan, is how adults manage projects.

  Related articles Strategy is Not the Same as Operational Effectiveness Decision Making Without Estimates? Local Firm Has Critical Message for Project Managers Architecture -Center ERP Systems in the Manufacturing Domain The Purpose Of Guiding Principles in Project Management Herding Cats: Large Programs Require Special Processes Herding Cats: The Problems with Schedules Quote of the Day The Cost Estimating Problem Estimating Processes in Support of Economic Analysis
Categories: Blogs

How “deep work” changes the way we work

Asana Blog - Mon, 08/22/2016 - 19:23
deep work

deep work

Cal Newport, an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, published his fourth book in January called, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. While some of his tips are simple—log out of email, social media, and team collaboration platforms when you want to get something important done—what he ultimately suggests is revolutionary. To be truly productive, we should be logging out and working, uninterrupted, for long stretches at a time every day.

The brain science that Newport shares in the book is fascinating. When we work on something cognitively intensive without distraction, fatty threads in our brains wire neurons together—the literal manifestation of “rewiring your brain.” These neuron bundles help us do our work faster, more effectively, and more skillfully. Every time we’re interrupted, those fatty neurological threads stop sewing and don’t start up again until we’ve fully regained focus.

Newport argues that we could be missing out on our lifetime’s great thinkers, innovators, and artists, because, by getting distracted and multitasking, people are working against their brains’ attempts to help them become masters.

We could be missing out on our lifetime’s great thinkers, innovators, and artists, because of workplace distractions.

Can leaders encourage employees to try shorter stretches of “deep work” during the workday without hampering team communication or collaboration? Should managers encourage “deep work” in their workplaces?

In a recent interview, Newport was emphatic: yes. “Deep work is the type of effort required to master complicated new skills and to produce at a high level,” he said. “Neither of these activities can happen in a state of frequently fragmented attention.”

Newport said that his own life and processes were improved by researching and writing this book: “I enjoyed diving deeper into the thinking behind why this activity can be so enjoyable and make your life feel more meaningful. It provided a nice boost to my own ongoing efforts to sustain a deep life.”

If you want to get more done by “going deep,” consider adopting these systems—and encourage your team to do the same.

Get on the same page with your team

Jenny Blake, a New York-based author who interviewed Cal Newport on her podcast, encourages you to consider what times of day you are most energetic and productive, and block those windows off on your calendar for deep work. If you feel you need to clear this with your manager or your colleagues first, that’s fine.

But Blake says not to worry that having deep work windows comes off as standoffish or self-indulgent. “You can encourage people to understand, ‘This is how I do my best work. This is when I’m most productive.’ Having deep work time creates the highest ROI for yourself and for your team. You’ll feel proud of the work you accomplish. It’s about putting our attention and energy on the work that matters most. It will make a greater impact on the team.”

“Having deep work time creates the highest ROI for yourself and for your team.” Tweet Block off time for deep work—and stick to it

“Whatever that precious block of time is, those two to four hours, block it off on your calendar,” says Blake. Turn off your cell phone, sign out of email, and turn off the ringer on your desk phone. If your office has an open floorplan, put on your headphones and plug them into your computer to give off the “I’m in the zone” vibe.

If this seems too intense, take incremental steps. Identify an hour during the day when you are most productive, and have a one-hour deep work window three days a week. Work your way up to an everyday practice and to working in longer stretches.

Set up office hours for meetings and calls

For those interested in an immersive deep work experiment, Newport recommends an inverse approach to blocking off “deep work windows.” He said, “I think more offices should reverse this strategy and require employees to specify when they can be disturbed. Imagine, for example, that each employee has a 30-minute “office hour” every two hours during the work day. During these hours they are fully accessible. Outside these hours they cannot be reached and instead they spend that time producing valuable results.”

In the way that some people only check their email at certain times of day, Newport’s advice extends that strategy to in-person meetings and real-time phone calls. The rest of the day can be devoted to projects and working on long-term goals, all in two-hour chunks.

Make open offices work for you

If you work in an open office, odds are good there are people all around you. Odds are also good you’ve already invested in a pair of headphones (Newport recommends “big, big headphones”).

Jenny Blake says that most people understand the office social norm that a person wearing headphones probably doesn’t want to be interrupted. Says Blake, “When you’re doing deep work, it’s important to not let oneself get hijacked or interrupted. If someone taps you on the shoulder when you’re wearing headphones, you can say, ‘Hi. I’m right in the middle of something, but can I find you in 20 minutes?’”

“The joy of deep work is the joy of making huge strides on a big project.”Tweet

Blake also says that employees can ask strategically for a work-from-home day to make big progress on an important project. Says Blake, “Instead of saying, ‘I want to work from home on Friday,’ say: ‘If I work one day at home this week, here’s what I plan to deliver. If I have one clear day, I can knock it out.’”

Says Blake, “The joy of deep work is the joy of making huge strides on a big project.” In other words, deep work is worth it to attain that glowy end-of-day feeling where you think, “Whoa, I was productive today.”

Liz Funk is a New York-based freelance writer who covers entrepreneurship, careers, and happiness at work.

Categories: Companies

Ghost Schedules: An Overview for Project Controllers

ghost schedules in project controlsAny project controls professional knows that during the course of a project multiple versions of a project schedule will be created. Schedules are often created at different levels. It usually takes a few iterations to get to an agree-upon baseline. Then there are progress schedules, scenario schedules, mitigation schedules, and perhaps even a recovery schedule. But what about ghost schedules? There might even be a ghost schedule. What Is A Ghost Schedule? Ghost schedules are essentially
Categories: Blogs

Are You Ready For The Social Tech Revolution?

Are you ready for the social tech revolution?

One day your project management status updates might self-destruct. In this article, Jerry Giltenane explains why.

Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 31% or 2.3 billion people actively use social media to communicate, to share and to build a sense of community. In a parallel universe, some of the key drivers of project management are to communicate, to inform and to develop high performing teams. Given how popular and powerful social media has become, what will this mean for the way we manage projects?

Communication is considered to be the lifeblood of project management. The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be. Any tool that will help internal communication has to be seriously considered (here are some tips on how to choose tools), particularly in today’s workplace where virtual project teams, spread all over the globe, are common.

The Position Today…

Some organisations already have begun to use enterprise-grade social media, although these business-focused tools tend to be a little different to the tools that flourish in the wild.

For example, Yammer is deployed as a business-focused alternative to Facebook; various Instant Messaging tools such as Skype for Business take the place of WhatsApp and enterprise tools such as SocialCast are found in organisations as a replacement for micro-blogging tools such as Twitter.

The value of these social-media inspired tools is well known and this article does not intend to review those benefits in detail.  Instead, I will reflect briefly on some key traits that will drive adoption of such tools within businesses and within project teams and I will highlight the important lessons we need to learn if we are to leverage the power of these tools to the potential.

…And How We Got Here

Up until the 1980’s, staff sent and received their internal communications via paper using internal post – the Mail Room was the nerve centre of an organisation.

Then email arrived.

It quickly became the dominant business communication channel. People of my generation started to use web-based email clients such as Hotmail back in the 90’s before they ever started work.

Once those people entered the workforce, they were very comfortable with email, knew how to use it and indeed they expected it to be the primary communication choice in large organisations (apart from actual face to face communication – but that is a story for a different day!).

The etiquette and rules of engagement when using email were understood by new employees before they even entered the workforce.

Fast forward to today’s new entrants into the workforce. These Millennials consider email to be from a bygone age. They are much more comfortable using more social media-related tools. These are the people who will be managing large projects in five years’ time – and these people will expect to use the equivalent of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram to communicate their thoughts and messages to the project team.

Moreover, the project managers of tomorrow and will be using tools such ooVoo (Group video chat), Vine (6 second video loops) and anonymous confessional apps such as Whisper, and SnapChat – the self-destructing message intended for short-lived communications.

The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be.
Click To Tweet

Project Tools Need To Mimic Social Tools

The important lesson for us incumbents in the world of project management is not to learn the latest hot tools that new entrants are using in their personal lives, but to understand that when these people start working in project teams, they will not only be comfortable with social media tools – they will expect and demand that those tools are used.

They will view emails to be as old-fashioned and cumbersome as we now think of ink and quills and blotting paper. They will treat cumbersome corporate collaboration tools as being pale imitations of the tools they normally use.

One day, our project updates will self-destruct.

Businesses Need To Be Ready

Organisations must understand this change is coming and must design and integrate better enterprise-level social media tools which mimic the ease-of-use and the user experience of the tools used every day by the new generation.

Some key traits that have been proven to influence enterprise social media tools are:

  • Ease of adoption
  • Performance expectancy
  • Social influence
  • Team trust.

These elements must be designed into the new set of enterprise social media tools if they are to gain traction. Additionally, effort must be spent to ensure that business social media tools reflect the reality of how social media is used out in the real world.

The Future Is Short And Social

It may not be long now before Vine-like video loops are used in getting project updates from virtual teams; we may see use of confessional anonymous platforms to report project issues and how long will it be before we see self-destructing messages are utilised to deliver sensitive news? It could be a great solution to the “don’t shoot the messenger” problem in organizations.

It cannot be long until you are live micro-blogging a big deployment in your organisation because that is the way team members expect to receive updates on events in general.

If adopting these new social media technologies helps people to be more comfortable in communicating openly within project teams, this will be a huge plus for an organisation and it will lead to more successful projects.

About the author: Jerry Giltenane is a professional services director and author of a chapter in Strategic Integration of Social Media in Project Management Practice. You can reach him at

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Categories: Blogs

Project Initiation Checklist [Free Download]

Project Initiation Checklist

This month’s free template is a project initiation checklist.

Project Initiation Checklist

This is the first page of the Project Initiation Checklist

It’s a quick way to speed up finding out what you need to know from your project sponsor when you meet for the first time. Covering everything from what they think success looks like to who else needs to be involved, you can use it as a prompt to help you get your project off to a great start.

It’s a PDF document so you can print it out and take it along to the meeting, then tick off the boxes as you ask the questions. Or copy them into a document of your own so it makes it look like you’ve done all the thinking and prep before the meeting. I don’t mind

Categories: Blogs

Invoking "Laws" Without a Domain or Context

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 22:31

It seems to be common invoke Laws in place of actual facts when trying to support a point. Here's two recent ones I've encountered with some Agile and #NoEstimates advocates. Two of my favorite are:

  • Goodhart's Law
  • Hofstadter's law

These are not Laws in the same way as the Laws of Physics, Laws of Chemistry, Laws of Queuing theory - which is why it's so easy to misapply them, misuse them, use them to obviscate the situation and hide behind fancy terms which have no meaning to the problem at hand. Here's some real laws.

  • Newton's Law(s), there are three of them:
    • First law: When viewed in an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a net force.
    • Second law: In an inertial reference frame, the vector sum of the forces F on an object is equal to the mass m of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector a of the object: F = ma.
    • Third law: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.
  • Boyle's Law - For a fixed mass of gas at constant temperature, the volume is inversely proportional to the pressure. pv = Constant.
  • Charle's Laws - For a fixed mass of gas at constant pressure, the volume is directly proportional to the kelvin temperature. V = Constant x T
  • 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.
  • Little's Law - which is l = λw, which asserts that the time average number of customers in a queueing system, l, is equal to the rate at which customers arrive and enter the system, λ, times the average sojourn time of a customer, w. And just to be clear the statistics of the processes in Little's Law are IID - Independent, Identicially Distribution and Stationary. Rarely the case in software development, where Little's Law is misused often.

Misuse of Goodhart's Law

This post, like many of other posts, was stimulated by a conversation on social media. Sometimes the conversations trigger ideas that have laid dormant for awhile. Sometimes, I get a new idea from a word or a phrase. But most of the time, they come from a post that was either wrong, misinformed, or worse misrepresenting  no principles.

The OP claimed Goodhart's Law was the source of most of the problems with software development. See the law below. 

But the real issue with invoking Goodhart's Law has several dimensions, using Goodhart's Law named after the economist who originated it, Charles Goodhart. Its most popular formulation is: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." This law is part of a broader discussion of making policy decision on macro economic models. 

Given that the structure of an econometric model consists of optimal decision rules of economic agents, and that optimal decision rules vary systematically with changes in the structure of series relevant to the decision maker, it follows that any change in policy will systematically alter the structure of econometric models.

What this says is again when the measure becomes the target, that target impacts the measure, changing the target

So first a big question

Is this macroeconomic model a correct  operational model for software development processes - measuring changes the target?

Setting targets and measuring performance against that target is the basis of all closed loop control systems used to manage projects. In our domain this control system is the Risk Adjusted Earned Value Management System (EVMS). EVM is a project management technique for measuring project performance and progress in an objective manner. A baseline of the planned value is established, work is performed, physical percent complete is measured, and the earned value is calculated. This process provides actionable information about the performance of the project using Quantifiable Backup Data (QBD) for the expected outcomes of the work, for the expected cost, at the expected time all adjusted for the reducible and irreducible uncertanties of the work.

Without setting a target to measure against, we have:

  • No baseline control.
  • No measures of effectiveness.
  • No measures of performance.
  • No technical performance measures.
  • No Key Performance Parameters.

With no target and no measures of progress toward the target ... 

We have no project management, no program controls, we have no closed loop control system.

With these missing pieces, the project is doomed on day one. And then we're surprised it runs over cost and schedule, and doesn't deliver the needed capabilities in exchange for the cost and time invested.

When you hear Goodhart's Law is the cause of project failure, you're likely talking to someone with little understanding of managing projects with a budget and do date for the needed capabilities - you know an actual project. So what this means in economics and not in project management is ...

... when a feature of the economy is picked as an indicator of the economy, then it inexorably ceases to function as that indicator because people start to game it. - Mario Biagioli, Nature (volume 535, page 201, 2015)

Note the term Economy, not cost, schedule, and technical performance measures of projects. Measuring the goals and activities of monetary policy Goodhart might be applicable. For managing development of products with other people's money, probably not.

Gaming of the system is certainly possible on projects. But unlike the open economy, those gaming the project measures can be made to stop, with a simple command. Stop gaming or I'll find someone else to take your place.

Misuse of Hofstadter's Law

My next favorite misused law is this one, which is popular among the #Noestimates advocates who claim estimating can't be done. 

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law — Douglas HofstadterGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Hofstadter's Law is about the development and use of self-referencing systems. The statement is about how long it takes is itself a self-referencing statement. He's speaking about the development of a Chess playing program - and doing so from the perspective of 1978 style software development. The game playing programs use a look ahead tree with branches of the moves and countermoves. The art of the program is to avoid exploring every branch of the look ahead tree down to the terminal nodes. In chess - actual chess, people - not the computer - have the skill to know what branches to look down and what branches to not look down. 

In the early days (before 1978) people used to estimate that it would be ten years until the computer was a world champion, But after ten years (1988) it was still estimated that day was still ten years away. 

This notion is part of the recursive Hofstadter's Law which is what the whole book is about. The principle of Recursion and Unpredictability is described at the bottom of page 152. 

For a set to be recursively enumerable (the condition to traverse the look ahead tree for all position moves), means it can be generated from a set of starting points (axioms), by the repeated application of rules of inference. Thus, the set grows and grows, each new element being compounded somehow out of previous elements, in a sort of mathematical snowball. But this is the essence of recursion - something being defined in terms of simpler versions of itself, instead of explicitly. 

Recursive enumeration is a process in which new things emerge from old things by fixed rules. There seem to be many surprises in such processes ...

So if you work on the development of recursive enumeration based software systems, then yes - estimating when you'll have your program working is likely going to be hard. Or if you work on the development of software that has no stated Capabilities, no Product Roadmap, no Release Plan, no Product Owner or Customer that may have even the slightest notion of what Done Looks like in units of measure meaningful to the decision makers, then probably you can apply Hofstadter's Law. Yourdan calls this type of project A Death March Project - good luck with that.

If not, then DO NOT fall prey to the misuse of Hofstadter's Law by those likely to not have actually read Hofstadter's book, nor have the skills and experience to understand the processes needed to produce credible estimates.

So once again, time to call BS, when quotes are misused

Related articles Agile Software Development in the DOD Empirical Data Used to Estimate Future Performance Thinking, Talking, Doing on the Road to Improvement Herding Cats: The Misuse Hofstadter's Law Just Because You Say Words, It Doesn't Make Then True There is No Such Thing as Free Doing the Math Building a Credible Performance Measurement Baseline Your Project Needs a Budget and Other Things
Categories: Blogs

Choosing a Kanban App: 7 Things You Need to Consider

LeanKit Blog - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 21:55

Not all Kanban apps are created equal. Read these helpful tips before choosing a Kanban app for your team.

The post Choosing a Kanban App: 7 Things You Need to Consider appeared first on Blog | LeanKit.

Categories: Companies

Top 4 Tech Trends In Construction And Engineering

Top 4 Tech Trends In Construction And EngineeringTechnology is taking over the world. Technology that we never thought would dominate has become a staple when it comes to planning and executing a project in construction and engineering.According to a 2016 survey by PwC, 74% of respondents stated that technological advances are the top global trends that will transform stakeholders' expectations over the next 5 years. Coming in second place are shift in global economic power and resource scarcity.Today's technology in
Categories: Blogs

Continous Integration Testing for a Rainy Day

Tasktop Blog - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 18:28

thunderstorm-smallIn an increasingly Cloud-centric world, we need to build and support an ever-growing list of SaaS SDLC integrations. That includes tools like Atlassian Cloud (JIRA), Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team Services, and HPE’s new Octane ALM offering.

Supporting Cloud-based integrations poses some interesting challenges:

  1. Cloud vendors typically choose a high cadence release cycle relative to on-premise deliveries. A frequent release schedule implies a higher risk of regressions sneaking into the API’s our connectors depend on.
  2. Often there is no pre-release instance available to validate our product workflows ahead of time.
  3. Releases take effect immediately. Compared with on-premise software, there is a relatively small window of opportunity to detect, investigate, and resolve issues before we receive support tickets from our customers.

Automated testing is a key ingredient of our success in building and delivering high quality, full-featured SDLC integration solutions to our customers. Our Continuous Integration system executes integration tests in rolling builds throughout the day and with every commit that we push to Gerrit.

The value of our testing infrastructure doesn’t end once our products ship. Besides helping us to validate support for new versions of on-premise tools, those same integration tests serve as an early warning system for regressions with supported on-demand tools.

Case in point, several weeks ago an integration test failed against an on-demand ALM instance in a routine rolling build late one Thursday evening. Subsequent builds the next morning failed consistently with the same error. Given there weren’t any changes to our code between the last successful build mid-Thursday and the recent failed builds, it immediately raised suspicion that the on-demand instance had been updated and an API regression had slipped in. Further investigation confirmed that the vendor had deployed an update to their on-demand instance Thursday afternoon.

The following week, we received a support ticket from one of our customers impacted by this regression. By then we already had:

  • a patch to workaround the issue and limit the impact to our product workflows.
  • an open and active support case with the vendor that included a standalone, reproducible test case.

Our customer received the interim patch in a Service Release build right away while we continued to coordinate with the vendor’s support team on a permanent fix. Thanks to fantastic and timely support from the vendor, we implemented a fix soon afterwards that re-enabled our product’s full capabilities against their on-demand ALM instance. That patch was delivered in a subsequent Service Release.

This example highlights several compelling advantages of our testing infrastructure and processes:

  1. Detecting an error soon after it’s introduced buys precious time for the engineering teams to troubleshoot the issue before it turns into a customer escalation.
  2. Our customers gain confidence in our ability to identify and resolve issues the moment they arise. Fast turnaround time on support tickets = satisfied customers.
  3. We provide value to our supported SaaS tool vendors by notifying them of regressions soon after they deploy a release. We are effectively performing additional integration testing of their products.
  4. Situations like this one create a positive-feedback loop for the engineering and support teams. It reinforces the value of our existing test assets and motivates us to introduce new tests.

Continuous integration testing: an accurate and timely forecast for stormy weather.

Categories: Companies

5 Common Problems for Small Project Teams

The LiquidPlanner Blog - Thu, 08/18/2016 - 17:25
Small team problemsSmall team problems

“Small is beautiful.” So championed British economist E. F. Schumacher, and those of us who have worked in small teams are highly likely to agree.

Small teams (10 and under) often work on highly complex problems, in fast-moving environments and with a high degree of trust. A great team can deliver amazing projects and create bonds that go far beyond the office, with team members becoming lifelong friends.

Or, it might not work out like that at all!

Small teams have their challenges too. And while many of the problems are similar to the ones that all teams face—disagreements, clashing personalities, unclear priorities—there are some challenges that are more specific to smaller teams.

Here are five common problems that you might face while working in a small team, and how you can solve each one. (If you act early, you might even avoid some of these!)

  1. You Take Your Teammates for Granted

When you’ve worked in a small team for a while, you tend to take liberties because you know you can get away with it. Someone always gets the coffees. Someone always talks about sports and someone else is the complainer. Like a family, you create your role and patterns.

But, as sometimes happens in families, you can end up taking each other for granted.

Taking your teammates for granted means not showing appreciation when someone helps you out or does standout work on a project.  It’s easy to expect certain behaviors as standard: There’s the person who always meets the deadline, someone else who alerts you of schedule changes the second something comes up, the person who pitches in when extra features get added. Either because this is the status quo or you get really busy, it’s easy to forget to stop and say a simple “thank you” or “nice job.” Everyone wants to feel like they matter—think about how it makes you feel when a team mate acknowledges something you did.

To solve the problem: It’s easy to underestimate the value someone brings to the team, especially if you see them bringing their A game day after day. Schedule some time as a team to meet and go through your successes—those you’ve had individually and together. Also remember to put time in your project plan for a little celebration at the close of a project. It’s a nice (and easy) way to thank each other for the efforts on a project. And don’t forget to say some kind words in passing, it takes mere seconds.

  1. Personalities Clash

In a big team you can generally avoid that annoying person who always wants to tap you for advice when you’re really busy. But in a small team you can’t avoid clashes in personality or working style because that person is always right there.

Differences are more obvious because there are fewer people to dilute the effect of someone noisy or abrupt. Clashing work styles can create an uncomfortable atmosphere at work where someone insists on doing a task a particular way, despite that not being the best way for the team.

To solve the problem: The best way to avoid clashes of working style and personality is to hire carefully. Really carefully. If you can, involve other team members in the hiring process and think about cultural fit as well as their skills. The next best solution is to make sure that you have processes in place for common project management tasks so that there is only one way to do the work. This should smooth some of the clashes by creating common standards.

  1. People Are Harder to Replace

When your team is only a few people, losing someone can be a huge blow. Whether this absence is for a few days or a week (training, holiday, sick), or they leave the company, an absent colleague leaves a big hole in the team.

In small teams, there’s a greater chance that everyone stretches to take on more work, or each individual is an expert in an area. This means when someone’s gone you’ll miss her knowledge, her input to the project and the role she plays both practically and socially in the team.

To solve the problem: Systems, processes and tools make it easier to store organizational knowledge and project information. In other words, document everything. This way, if someone does drop out of the team for any reason, you’ve got the vast majority of what they know codified in your project management tool.

However, it won’t help replace their cheerful smile or their in-depth knowledge of 1980s pop music for the company quiz night.

  1. You Share Too Much of the Work

Wait, isn’t this an advantage? In a project environment, especially if you’re working with Agile or Lean methods, it’s often all about being proactive about taking responsibility and doing what needs to be done to get the job completed.

But when everyone is having a go at everything, there can be problems. For example, two of you might decide to do the same task and not let each other know. Or, two team members contact a customer to ask a question or set up a meeting. While it’s great that your team is proactive and everyone steps up when a task needs doing, sharing the workload without talking about who is doing what can be a massive problem.

It’s also a problem when the reverse happens: Everyone thought that someone else booked the meeting room; or that another teammate contacted the client, when nobody did. In small teams, where you expect the team to self-manage, you risk more tasks falling through the cracks.

To solve the problem: Clear lines of communication help but the problem is really about organizing work responsibility. Project management software can keep everyone on the same page. It makes it easy to shift responsibility about too, so if you’ve got a regular task that needs to be done it can be rotated around the team. Don’t think that just because you’re a small team you don’t need a work management tool!

  1. Too Much to Do, Not Enough Time!

Small teams struggle to get everything done. It’s something I’ve seen over and over again, in my teams and in others. With limited resources it’s hard to fit all the work in. Also, small teams are often made up of highly motivated, dedicated individuals and they all want to offer the best service and products to customers.

That can lead to gold-plating the solution or spending too much time researching new technical options and so on—on top of trying to get the day job done.

To solve the problem: Systemize! Get as much of your job, project, processes and tasks automated and repeatable. Don’t reinvent the wheel on every project: Use templates for schedules and documentation. Standardize your processes as much as possible so you don’t have to think about them. Use top quality project management software to make your processes as seamless as possible.

When people come together to work together, there will always be hiccups. But today, we have so many tools and processes to use and a wealth of knowledge to tap, there’s always a way to navigate these common problems.

Extra! Do you like being part of a team?

We took to the streets and asked people in downtown Seattle about their experience working in teams. Check it out here:


If you’re looking for ways to better manage your small team, check out our Small Team edition. It’s new!

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