Monday, February 23, 2015

Desert Island PM - Stranded With Just One Tool

Good Project Management is all about the basics. A recent super complex project got me thinking about the most essential tools that a PM must rely on every day. If you were stranded on a remote desert island with access to only one PM tool to do your job, what would you choose?

The List

Many people outside of the world of project management think it is all about the classic Microsoft Project GANTT chart. This detailed task breakdown can often take ages to develop correctly using all key SMEs and stakeholders. The management and upkeep of these charts can be a full time job, and many consider them the gold standard for any serious project. While you can't argue with the value of a the GANTT as a project 'book of record', I often rely on a much simpler tool day-to-day to get real results. When push comes to shove, a good PM knows that that good tactical task management depends on your list. All you really need is a smartphone list to create and track lists on a daily, hourly and real time basis. Lists are easily managed by one person, tracking is simple and they do a great job of highlighting the work that really needs to get done right now. A good managed list is the true essence of project management.

The Spreadsheet

Everyone knows the old adage "you can't manage what you can't measure". However, we must not take this too far and end up measuring so many different elements of a project that there is no time, or inclination, to ever make sense of it. Data collected is most useful when it is easily digested by the brains that matter, and that means the brains of your key stakeholders. A simple spreadsheet is an invaluable tool to allow a PM to easily track/update data and then quickly and easily display the results. To this end, it is great to use cloud utilities like Google Spreadsheets which have a feature set that is intentionally minimized/simplified to force you to only use the functions that really matter. The key is to move away from flat spreadsheet files spread around by email and move your team to cloud spreadsheets that provide a quick and easy way to measure, collaborate and get results.

The Deck

No matter what kind of project you are managing, you can't succeed without great communication skills. Knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it, is the hallmark of seasoned PM.  A classic Powerpoint-style deck is one of the most vital PM tools to quickly communicate your tasks/progress/results. Not unlike the way a tweet forces you to communicate the essence of your message in 144 characters, a deck has always forced the PM to distill analysis and focus thought. A concise message works great every time whether talking to a senior executive, a new hire or a time-starved technical SME. The key is to follow best practices when creating your decks including clean fonts, liberal use of charts/pictures and simple templates and colours. These golden rules help to keep the message short, punchy and crystal clear.

As a rule, it is great to regularly re-examine your bag of PM tools and tricks to ensure you have the right mix to ensure your success. By considering your own desert island list, you may determine that the simplest tools are the ones that get used every day, and in every way, on your most successful projects.  A great PM knows simplicity is the key to success.

Dave Ullrich, B.Comm, PMP specializes in IT project management consulting and strategy with his company Cilantra Solutions. He has based this approach on the results of several successful IT project implementations with teams distributed across Canada, US, and the UK. He can be reached at