Blog Archives

Trouble relaxing during a big project?

Deadlines, delays, emails, and weekends seem to slow down projects, sometimes to a grinding halt. These same things leave the project manager feeling they can never take a vacation or even just a day or two away from the office. Without taking time away from tasks it has been proven that we are less productive and make more mistakes. Society seems to pride itself on the ability to work endless hours for the company, though  it hurts the firm .

I fall trap to the same mindset as most workers in this high-tech world at times. Last week, I decided to change things up and go on a vacation with my wife without my laptop. We strolled the streets of Orlando, playing putt-putt at Citywalk. Then drove up to Savannah, GA for a few days. I was able to relax and unwind without having to worry about work for an entire week.

Notice I did not mention that I did not work during the week. I managed all the projects I started before the trip from my iPad and iPhone. I spent a few minutes here and there updating project statuses for customers and directing my developers through our online collaboration software. This gave me the freedom of enjoying my vacation while still keeping in the loop on all tasks with my global team.

I have found that quality of life does not have to diminish just because you are running a team or an entire organization. In a way, it is almost like having a superpower, you can complete more than anyone else in other organizations with half of the effort. How many entrepreneurs do you know that take a week off after just three months of opening the doors? I was not even able to get that kind of time away from the office after two years with the last company I worked.

Isn’t it time you take a break from the desk and start enjoying life with your family and friends?

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Improve Productivity

A decrease in productivity within an organization is not only troubling for a profitable company, but can destroy your firm’s reputation. There are many factors that can lead to poor productivity from employees, such as a lack of leadership, poor communication, or the office environment.

It is no secret that unhappy employees do not do well and often share their negative opinions with their co-workers. If one suspects the morale within an organization is responsible for the lack of productivity, it is important to discover why the employees are unhappy. Long hours, unrealistic expectations, insufficient training, management issues, low pay, lack of recognition and poor working conditions can lead to serious performance problems. Involving employees in the solution (no placing the full burden on them to resolve the problem) can help reduce the issues and make sure you have developed a workable plan to increase morale and productivity.

Productivity is impossible, when you are completely uncomfortable. Talk to your employees and see if their chairs are comfortable. Are the desks at the correct height? Many offices use office furniture that all looks the same. This is great for looks, but the guy that is six-foot five is not as productive in the same desk and chair as the five foot woman next to him. Perhaps the answer is to look at providing virtual hours for employees as well. If the employee is capable of working remote, they are likely to have a setup that is comfortable for them already without any significant investment on your behalf. It has also been proven that workers who work from home 20% of the time are more productive than those who must spend 100% of the time in the office.

Employees comfort level with equipment and software can also affect productivity. If employees don’t fully understand how to use equipment or software correctly, their productivity is going to suffer. A major problem companies face is forcing employees to use equipment and software that is not enough to complete the tasks you assign. A yearly audit must be done on all equipment and software to make sure it still fits the needs of the employees.

Management is a contributing factor to low productivity. The National Business Research Institute notes productivity suffers when managers don’t keep promises, give credit or blame others for their mistakes. Managers who are too controlling can unwittingly slow down work flow by requiring even the simplest task to have manager approval. A hands-off management style also leads to problems. When managers are not readily available or unavailable, employees have no one to turn to for direction or guidance. Managers also set the tone for the department. Managers who adopt a positive attitude help foster the same attitude in their employees.

 

Virtual Teams that Work

Communication can take form in many ways, when it comes to project management. One can share documents  and distribute them in global teams. Send Emails in a moments notice, while on the phone with a client. Text messages, tweets and Facebook posts are all becoming a daily chore for workers, not just those in the media any longer. Fast collaboration, which leads to lazy communication.

How does a team keep these forms of communication from taking on a life of their own and wasting more time, than keeping a project moving? The answer is to keep the focus of the group in a single system that offers all the advantages of the aforementioned solutions. Some of the options listed above are poor choices for business communication. Texting is a useful tool for a quick reminder, however, some users try to use it as a communication tool to give instruction to a teammate. This is a bad practice and typically leads to confusion and more wasted time in lengthy exchanges. Tweets and Facebook are great to tell the public of an event, or general advertising but also are not necessarily beneficial to teamwork and lead to wasted time pulling attention from work activities toward the social and family life of the users.

With 2tasks.com a user can share documents with teammates and customers, they are notified by email of a new document on a given project. They can edit the document, or comment on the upload as well. With this communication tied to the specific document within the project, there is no trying to figure out what the communication is relating to. The chat sessions are an easy option for members of a team to quickly communicate while the focus is solely on a given project. They are not distracted by outside forces like a sms message to their phone, where you are competing for the teammates attention with their high score in Angry Birds.

With a free 60 day trial, you can try out this new technology that is changing the way businesses get things done. Just create an account in 30 seconds, and start your new project in two minutes with up to 10 team members. Start your free trial today!

Virtual Project Management and SSL

Because projects contain information that is not meant for the public, why don’t all software protect your data? Outside of the basics in today’s web development, such as not allowing SQL Injection, your Software as a Service (SaaS) model project management software should be secured under Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). This not only makes the information more secure during transmission for your company, but also shows your business partners you invite to your projects, you are concerned with their security as well. The cost of a SSL certificate is relatively inexpensive when you take into account it will give your customers piece of mind and allow them to focus on the project at had instead of worrying if they need to reword something to be more vague because prying eyes may intercept their communication.

Why Should We Share Our Ideas With the Competition?

When I started 2tasks, I made the decision to share my ideas with the world through this blog, as well as make my competition aware of my ideas and plans for my product. I even went as far a providing screenshots of my software throughout development. Visiting my Flicker account you will find everything from marker drawings of early mock ups, through screenshots of finished screens.

This was not an error on my part or a lack of security. I want to create an affordable website that my customers will view as a valuable asset to their company. This will also make the competition improve their offerings in the future, forcing me to not become complacent once I meet my immediate goals with this company.

I love competition and will strive to not only improve my company, but force others to work harder and develop new technologies to make life better for the consumer. I have no plans to stifle innovation by keeping trade secrets from my competition. Think of it as extreme open source. I will not give out my code to anyone, but am more than willing to share what I have learned along the way. I will even share how I have gone about doing certain things within my site.

Imitation is the best form of flattery as the adage goes. Many parts of 2tasks are nothing new to the average Project Manager. I am focusing on simplicity, while filling the gaps of other products already established in the market. I don’t have the arrogance of success under my belt, which gives me an advantage over the older products already available. I have used many of their products over the years and ultimately came to the conclusion that I can create a better product in a single month. On the 6th of December, I will deliver the Beta, allowing users to manage projects for 90 days free of charge.

During this time, I will tweak the software based on user suggestions and reward those who help improve the product.

What can you offer to the public free of charge to increase innovation in your chosen industry? How will you ensure you are ready to react to your competitions response?

Virtual Project Management (part 2)

In the first installment I discussed the benefits and down falls of the open source model of virtual project management. This write-up will cover Software as a Service (SaaS) virtual project management and the benefits and shortcomings of this type of solution. The benefit of SaaS is the ability to only pay for what you need in a solution. There is no need to pay for a server, install software, and do maintenance on a product, allowing you to manage projects online with a monthly fee for the service. Some companies have a yearly subscription for this type of service which can be somewhat binding, but it is still cheaper if you only need the service for a short time of you want to keep your IT costs to a flat rate monthly or yearly. 2tasks offers this in a monthly installment that can be paid through your credit card or PayPal. If you have a single project, you have the ability to only keep the account active while you need it and cancel when the project ends. You have the ability to include as many people to a project as you see necessary. There is no need to have them signup and pay a subscription to participate in your project. The target of such options makes it possible for small businesses manage projects, or a family to organize a vacation in an affordable manner. The down side to SaaS is that you are losing control of your data to another firm. Though it is secured, as the NSA can tell you, nothing is 100% safe from prying eyes. Of all of the aforementioned options, SaaS gives the end user the least overhead for the fastest launch of a project. When selecting a Virtual Project Management software solution, be sure to find one with a 90 day trial period. This gives you three months to try the product and see if it will meet your companies needs. Many of these plans have some limitations, like limited participants or no advanced options.

Virtual Project Management (part 1)

I am going to do a series on Virtual Project Management. I plan to cover the evolution of Virtual Project Management, the benefits, and weak points. There are many companies competing in his arena now. Some are based on a Software As a Service model, others are simply billing monthly for the license, and as usual there are even free open source projects. In my opinion, no solution is better than the other. I just depends on what you are looking for and the money and time involved to achieve your goal.

I will start with the open source option. Though I will not list names of specific products in my write ups, those who are searching for a viable solution will know which software I am referring to. The positive side to open source project management is that you get to host the service where you choose. This is attractive to some organizations with the knowledge to install IIS or another web hosting solution. The cost is free and there are large forums of fellow users who can answer questions or have already resolved your issue and posted it in a FAQ or sticky somewhere on the site. A problem with this solution is it is time consuming and has a soft cost which may be inhibitive to a lean company.

The very thing that makes open source an attractive option is what makes it undesirable to others. All software hosted locally requires maintenance. Instead of filing a ticket with a help desk, you must resolve all issues on your own with the help of forums and YouTube. This can take time away from your companies core competency. Anytime you do this, you are losing money and valuable resources. Plus if it is down any amount of time, you could take a hit to your companies reputation with clients, depending on how you are using the software. Security is another concern. Because everyone can see the code to your project management, there is no secret as to what measures you have in place to protect your data. This may not concern some companies, but it can be a disaster for others.

I have tried many free options over the years and have had varying levels of success. I always end up back at a hosted solution because of the time involved and other financial costs of maintaining my software. If I have to pay to host it on a server through a host anyway, and then support it myself, why not pay a couple extra dollars and give someone else the headache and let me focus on profit for my business?

SMART Project Management

The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. It discusses the importance of objectives and the difficulty in setting them. The paper said “Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Attainable – is it possible
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Paul J. Meyer describes the characteristics of S.M.A.R.T. goals in Attitude is Everything.

Specific

The first criterion stresses the need for a specific goal rather than a more general one. This means the goal is clear and unambiguous; without vagaries and platitudes. To make goals specific, they must tell a team exactly what is expected, why is it important, who’s involved, where is it going to happen and which attributes are important.

A specific goal will usually answer the five “W” questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
  • Who: Who is involved?
  • Where: Identify a location.
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

Measurable

The second criterion stresses the need for concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of the goal. The thought behind this is that if a goal is not measurable, it is not possible to know whether a team is making progress toward successful completion. Measuring progress is supposed to help a team stay on track, reach its target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.

A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

Attainable

The third criterion stresses the importance of goals that are realistic and attainable. While an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal is not extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, as these may be considered meaningless. When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. The theory states that an attainable goal may cause goal-setters to identify previously overlooked opportunities to bring themselves closer to the achievement of their goals.

An attainable goal will usually answer the question:

  • How: How can the goal be accomplished?

Relevant

The fourth criterion stresses the importance of choosing goals that matter. A bank manager’s goal to “Make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2:00pm” may be specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound, but lacks relevance. Many times you will need support to accomplish a goal: resources, a champion voice, someone to knock down obstacles. Goals that are relevant to your boss, your team, your organization will receive that needed support.

Relevant goals (when met) drive the team, department, and organization forward. A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals would be considered a relevant goal.

A relevant goal can answer yes to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?
  • Are you the right person?
  • Is it applicable in current socio- economic- technical environment?

Time-bound

The fifth criterion stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the SMART goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency.

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question:

  • When?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?
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