How to maximize the return on your software investment

October 27th, 2016

This is a guest post from Diana Eskander at Genius Project

The success of your software implementation is a two-way street. All systems work best when the people using them are fully on board and making the most out of the features and services offered.
It wasn’t too long ago, that your company made the leap and invested in software that promised to radically improve your business. Whether it’s to automate your billing process, manage customer information or plan your projects, most companies can’t survive without their application software. Often, most end users are only utilizing a small fraction of the features available. Which means many companies are paying major dollars, without necessarily reaping all the benefits.

This white paper explores simple but necessary strategies for maximizing the return on your software investment.

Employee buy-in

After performing due diligence for gathering your company requirements and ensuring that the software is in fact, suitable for your organization, the most important next step is to get employee buy-in. Generally speaking, employees are the ones inputting the required information into the system for reporting and tracking purposes. Without their buy-in, which ideally, should be addressed before purchasing the software, you cannot be sure just how well the system is going to be received or adopted.

Whoever is going to be using the system the most, needs to be a major part of both the decision-making and purchasing process. Ultimately, there is no greater factor to how well your software is implemented and utilized, then how often and how diligently the users, use it.

Take advantage of the free-trial period offered by most software providers. Have some of your team members try the solution before buying it. This is something that we insist companies do when they’re considering Genius Project as their enterprise project management software.

There needs to be a person or people within the organization who are designated for making sure team members share their input during the tool selection process and that they have access to training and additional resources. This ambassador if you will, needs to serve as a role model for using the tool the proper way.

Adoption by your team members is truly the most critical success factor.

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Training

Training your users on the new system cannot be overlooked, and this training should go beyond the frontline of users. Anyone who will be directly or indirectly implicated by the system should understand its use, and how the information is gathered, stored and manipulated. Leadership needs to be involved in this training too.

Upfront training is critical for obvious reasons; people need to know how to use the various features of the system and to understand how this affects, or more accurately, changes, their daily processes. But beyond the initial onboarding, training needs to be ongoing. As users get more adapted to the system, and the idea of using it, they’ll grasp more from the training. At this point, they have a better idea of the context in which they will be using it, and ideally, how it improves their working process. Further, once the company or department knows how people are using the application, they can more readily pinpoint what areas need to be improved and explored.

One of the greatest resources at this stage, are the people who use the system the most – which is not necessarily, the IT department. Encourage these people to help others and reward them for doing so. Take advantage of all the training materials and opportunities offered by your software provider, such as, webinars, online tutorials and the Help Desk.

Further, we suggest investing in specialized training. Not all users use the system in the same way, ie. Project managers and team members may use it in very different ways. It’s important, and valuable to specify the training for specific users.

Stay in close communication with your sales rep

There is no better way to get your feedback and suggestions heard than to communicate them directly to the person who guided you from being a prospect to their software buyer. By staying in communication with your representative, you can benefit from their expertise. If the software you’re using is the lifeline of your business, it’s definitely in your best interest to nurture that relationship.

Respond to customer surveys, provide feedback, testimonials and participate in case studies. You have the opportunity to represent your industry and what you need, and to get your ideas and questions heard from the source.

Your representatives want to know how they can help you get the most out of your investment, so be receptive to their communication efforts and don’t hesitate to reach out to them directly when further support is needed.

Implement new upgrades

Your software vendor works hard to continuously improve their product, based on client feedback, requests and recommendations. These improvements are specifically designed to make the use of the system easier and more effective. Keep your system up to date! Your IT department should have the code updates for the latest version, with all the latest features. One of them most important reasons for updating your software is for security. The reality is that there are hackers are always trying to break their way into online systems and applications. Software providers stay ahead of the curve by performing these regular updates.

Support and SLAs (Service Level Agreements)

An SLA keeps the terms of agreement between the vendor and the software buyer clear and comprehensible. The client knows what services it can expect to receive and the provider is held accountable for its performance. An SLA is important for any significant service relationship, and most providers are ready to supply a standard version.

Change management

One of the biggest challenges that comes with implementing any new software is managing the change it brings in the way people work. It’s challenging to shift people’s habits and processes in a new direction, but it is often necessary for growth and evolution. When adopting a new tool like PPM software, this can provide the perfect window to rethink some of your project management methodology and processes. Utilizing a PPM consultant at this stage can help transform your PPM to the next level, and help to communicate the value of these changes to your entire team.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the most successful software implementation, in terms of maximizing the value of your investment, comes down to understanding what you really want the software to do, and then translating that into action through your most valuable resource, people.

To learn about how Genius Project supports its clients after their purchase please see the following resources:

Implementation Services

Standard SLA

Guided Training

Self-Service Training

Customer Support

Managing Project Expectations: How to define and organize project scope

June 19th, 2016

This is a guest post from Diana Eskander at Genius Project

Abstract:

Project scope: the intended result of a project, and what’s required to bring it to completion. Projects range in size, complexity, duration, resources, stakeholders – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Defining the scope of a given project – what the intended result is, and what’s required to bring it to completion.

It creates clarity and accountability, and carves out the path for success. Establishing project scope can prove to be difficult. It requires you to step back and have a global understanding of the project environment and to be analytical.

You have to get intimate with the specific details. There are plenty of elements to take into account in order to scope the main lines of a program or project. This white paper examines how to define the scope of a project and consequently, how to organize the information in a comprehensive way that can be referred to by all stakeholders, at any time.

How essential is a project scope?

Companies and teams don’t always take the time to define the scope of a project, because it’s often seen as a waste of time; and people usually want to go straight to planning. Nevertheless, the time before project initiation is very important for maximizing success.

Projects often see failure for many reasons; one of the main ones being unfounded expectations, due to a lack of understanding of the intended goal of the project. It can also be due to a lack of
knowledge and organizational skills, which make deadlines difficult to adhere to. Taking the time to develop a project scope should be seen as an investment, not as a loss. The greater the preparation, the greater the chances of success.

Determining the what, the objective

Once a project is defined as one, the next step is to gain clarity on exactly why the project is being initiated – and what its ultimate purpose is. In other words, what is the intended outcome?
The why is the motivation.

At this stage we’re not talking about the “how”, we’re talking about the “what”. In order to determine all the parts of the what, we suggest using the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Relevant, Time-bound.

To dig deeper into the what and why, identify how the project is linked to the company’s overall strategy. This will help you get an understanding for the
importance of the project, the context and the desired outcomes. It’s also a good idea to make an exhaustive list of all the stakeholders – knowing who’s involved is a major help to gaining a clearer picture of what the outcome should be.

To get the full view of the intended goal or outcome, you’ll want to refer to all the original documentation, such as the initial project proposal. The information here will usually point to all the answers you’re looking for about why the project was initiated and what the end result should explicitly look like – or what functionalities it should provide.

Based on all the learnings, a project scope statement is put together to summarize what the project intends to produce (product, service, specific result), its complexity and size. This  documentation serves a major purpose when your team is in the thick of the project, because it can be referred to for clarification and for keeping people in alignment with the desired
outcome.

A little note of caution; it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to create a project scope without making some assumptions – and that’s ok. Because waiting until every last detail is figured out, likely means that you’ll be waiting until the project is over. Create a document with all the assumptions and adjust it as you get clearer on the details.

But, it’s not only your assumptions that will change – the scope is bound to change too. Some details, complications, etc., are simply unforeseeable from the get go. So it’s also a good idea to build in a contingency for the unknown.

First comes scope, then comes budget and time

Once the scope is defined, you can start making calculations for how much the project will cost, and how much time it will take to complete it.

Cost and time constraints are directly tied to the project scope. Cost and time constraints are directly tied to the project scope

So as you can see, getting the scope as accurate as possible, makes your calculations more accurate as well.

In terms of getting concrete data for time and schedule constraints, determine if there’s an event date, launch date or business cycle for which the results of the project are needed.

Based on any constraints that you discover, certain pieces of the project will have to be shifted in priority, in order to
deliver on time and on budget.

To get even more information on budget, time and workload needs, talk to your stakeholders. You’ll need to establish a schedule with all the relevant information.

For example, an IT project can only be planned if you know how much time the developer requires to implement the concept. And the easiest way to get this information is to ask the developer. The tasks then need to be organized into a schedule, along with the subsequent costs.

Organizing Project Scope

The “how”, is about finding the right method for the project. This method will help you achieve it in a logical and
organized way.

One of the simplest ways to organize and capture the scope of a project is with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

This creates structure around the scope of a project by creating a hierarchy of the deliverables, and a breakdown of the tasks required to complete them. In the simplest terms, it breaks up all the activities that need to be performed, down to the smallest actions.

With Genius Project, you can take the WBS a little further and put into the software’s Gantt chart, Genius Planner, for a holistic view of interdependencies, resource requirements and duration period for each deliverable. As soon as your request becomes a project, the Gantt chart becomes an invaluable tool for planning resources, costs and deadlines.

The software allows users to create project requests, which can include a description and attachments. There’ s also a section for project ranking, with up to 10 fields that the user can fill out. This information aims at informing the management level. The ranking can be set up with budget constraints, or risks, for example. Genius Project calculates the ranking from 1 to 100 automatically, in order for management to evaluate the priority of the
project. The requests can be set up with workflows in order to get approval from different departments.

The project request can move through several stages of approval in order to ensure its feasibility. If we use the automotive industry as an example, it could look something like this:

The government has built roads using new materials, and therefore, tire companies need to adapt their products. The initiative to change the tires, needs to be validated and approved within the company.

In the basic system, each user can put in a request. The Marketing department can validate that there’s a market for the new tires, the Technical Department can confirm that the innovation is possible and the Finance Department can approve the budget.

When the project is approved, Genius Project will change the request into a project. All the information is copied into the project document, which offers more detailed information related to costs, resources, etc. At this time, the Project Manager can start planning the tasks, the processes and the timeframe, and all this information can be used to create the project scope statement.

There’s a lot to consider when putting together a project scope. The key is to look at all the information, to get informed by speaking with stakeholders and to build in a contingency for any changes and/or assumptions that need to be made.

Once this information is organized into a project scope statement and work breakdown structure, ensure that both
documents are readily available to team members to refer to throughout execution of the project.

 

Discover the many possibilities for your teams to use Genius Project, to improve project management

Top three indicators that you’re ready for a project management tool

April 6th, 2016

This is a guest post from Diana Eskander at Genius Project

ABSTRACT
Project management is critical for an organization of any size, for accomplishing goals and reaching new milestones. But the question remains, how do you know if your organization is ready to take the plunge and invest in a project management tool?

A business in its growth stage looking for scalability and to establish processes that can be maintained and sustained over a long and fruitful future, is more than likely, well positioned for a project management solution. For project-centric organizations, there’s no question that a PM tool is necessary for managing demand, resources, time, etc. But for other organizations, the answer isn’t always as clear.

That’s why we decided to conduct an interview with 150 software buyers – to help us identify the top three indicators that a company is ready to upgrade from their current practices, such as using email and excel, to more sophisticated project management systems. This white paper will reveal the three indicators that drive companies to invest in a project management tool.

1. The need to manage deadlines, track status updates and budgets

The most consistent answer we received for why companies have decided to upgrade to a project management software was due to the need to manage deadlines, track status updates and of course, budgets. These companies require project managers to provide project status reports (what phases the projects are in) and whether or not they’re over budget, to department managers. The buyers’ top priority is to provide transparency and a summary view of all ongoing projects within the company and to have this information displayed in a project dashboard.

We had a few buyers who needed to manage client training and coordinate demonstrations. They were in need of a solution that would help track tasks and percent completion of projects. They needed to have a crystal clear picture for which of their clients had received product demonstrations and trainings, and a system that would serve as a repository of all projects.

A powerful project management system will provide:
• Predefined and configurable dashboards
• Adhoc reporting with custom views
• Automatic generation and distribution of reports

In other words, the system will allow stakeholders to get a holistic view of all ongoing projects and the ability to compare their current statuses with their defined objectives.

Here’s a view of Genius Project analytics, which enables users to drill down to the smallest details:Genius Project analytics

2. Companies have tasks that depend on each other and are part of a workflow process

Next point on the list of critical reasons why our surveyees decided to buy a project management tool, is that they have processes within their organization that require systematic approvals, or a multitude of interdependent tasks. For example, when one team member completes a task, it automatically moves to the next team member’s queue. One example that came up several times was in the case of a marketing agency. The ad copy they produce for their clients needs to go through an approval workflow, to make sure all the required stakeholders sign off on the final ad, before it’s made public.

Some typical benefits of workflow management are:
• Ensuring that processes are followed
• Automatic distribution of information
• Workflow based notifications
• Document creation
• Roles based workflow

Here’s a view of Genius project’s workflow management, which can be defined based on the needs of the organization:Genius Project workflow

3. The need to track time and billable hours

When it comes to managing resources and budgets, it becomes incredibly challenging to do so without an ability to track time and even more so, billable hours. Add to that the layer of complexity of various billing rates for tasks and people, and what should be a simple process turns into a project of its own – unless of course you have a tool that seamlessly tracks this information for you.

One comment we consistently received in our survey is that before they purchased a project management tool, they were using a variety of products to keep track of costs associated to certain tasks and different contractors, and that information was starting to get lost. The ability to keep all information in one place, especially as they continue to grow, has been an integral part of their success.

A project management tool will ultimately allow organizations seamlessly provide:
• Workload and capacity reports
• Weekly time and expense reports
• Project progress and cost reports

Here’s an example of time reporting in Genius Project:

Genius Project time reporting

Ultimately, companies that have their sights set on expansion and project and information management were keen to implement a robust solution that would sustain them over the very long term. The purchase of a project management tool was a clear investment and protection of their work and efforts as they continue to evolve and scale their business. There are numerous tools to consider, and the right one will depend on the needs of each organization. To help clarify the differences we invite you to refer to this Market Landscape Report: Navigating the PM & PPM Software Sector.

 

Genius Project is a complete project portfolio and project management solution that connects the various departments within an organization, facilitates communication and ensures uniformity of enterprise processes and workflows. Each feature of Genius Project reflects years of experience and knowledge in project management and dedication to helping companies succeed.

Thoughtful Communication

December 16th, 2015

This is a guest post by Ben Richardson, a director of Acuity Training, a UK based business that offers a variety of Microsoft Project and other project management courses. It is a follow up to his previous post of the 1st October 2015.

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My previous article introduced the three key ways that top class project managers keep their projects on track. This is despite the inevitable delays and problems in any large project.

This post will expand on the first point that I made in that post. Namely, they know how to communicate thoughtfully.

To be clear, top project managers know how to be assertive. They ensure that their needs are clearly communicated and understood. They don’t pussyfoot around difficult problems or conversations.

What it does mean is that they have the emotional intelligence to know that people have different priorities and drivers. Ignoring this fact will lead to delays and miscommunication.

They also know that executing large projects has a significant emotional element to it. Many (should that be most?) people do not like change at heart. This is doubly so when they feel threatened by a proposed change. Strong communication skills allow project managers to address these fears head on and help people to move past them at the start of a project.

This post can’t cover all aspects of communication. However the following three points are a very good place to start.

TheHighwaysAgency

 

Image credit The Highways Agency

 

  1. Good communication takes time

Differing ages, perspectives and experiences mean that people can approach projects in wildly differing ways.

This isn’t because they are stupid, or inexperienced. Everyone has had different experiences of projects in their life to date. These will colour their view of any new project that they are introduced to.

Top project managers will take the time to explain their project from the basics up. They don’t rush the basics. They ensure everyone is clear on the who, what, why, when, where and how of the project. This ensures that everyone starts from the same place.

They also know that they will need to repeat themselves often to ensure that their message really gets through. Often people who aren’t heavily involved in a project will need the basics explaining a couple (perhaps three) times to really get it. Frustrating as it might be, it’s not that they are stupid. It’s just that your project isn’t top of their list of priorities.

They also allow plenty of time for and make themselves available for questions through out the project. Answering questions will allay people’s concerns. Unanswered questions are why unfounded rumours get started.

Taking time to communicate clearly also has the effect of making the people the project manager is speaking to feel valued and listened to. This will help build relationships that will survive the stresses of a large project.

  1. Good communication requires empathy

Great communicators are empathetic. They can see things from other people’s perspectives and are open to their ideas. Empathetic communicators are sensitive to other people’s feelings and demonstrate this to the people they are dealing with.

No one can ever know what is going on in someone else’s mind. However, the ability to show people that you care about their feelings and ideas is vital.

The first step in understanding someone else’s emotions is getting them to be open about them. Openness is usually reciprocated. Top project managers will often disclose their own feelings in order encourage others to do the same.  They will also show people that they are paying attention, physically and mentally, to what they are saying. This shows that they really care about what is being said.

Having got them to opened up it is important to show people that their point has been taken on board. The easiest way to do this, and to be sure that you have understood them correctly, is to paraphrase what they have just said and repeat it back to them.  This allows people to correct misunderstandings and also feel listened to.

Once you have got people to open up so that you are clear on their point of view you can then move to dealing with their issues.

  1. You don’t get bonus points for figuring it all out yourself

As project manager the project is yours. People expect you to led it and tackle problems as they arise. That’s your job. However, it doesn’t mean that you are expected to have all the answers.

Other people will not think less of you for asking for their opinion, especially if it relates to their area of expertise. In fact, asking someone for their opinion has been shown in a Harvard study ((( link to http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Advice%20Seeking_59ad2c42-54d6-4b32-8517-a99eeae0a45c.pdf))) to increase their opinion of the person asking for the advice.

In many situations people’s opinions and priorities will be at odds with yours. If this happens don’t think that you have to come up with the solution.

Asking ‘Well can you suggest anything?’ or ‘How would you tackle this?’ is a good way to use their knowledge and show them that you value their input. When people feel that their concerns and issues are understood they will usually help to work around any issues that they generate for other people.

The joy of really good communication is that people will help you to deal with their concerns if you get it right. This brings me to my ultimate point.

The time you invest in good communication will pay itself back many times over in almost every instance. If you view it as something to be invested in because of the return that it will pay you then you will approach it the right way.

The Softer Side of Project Management

October 1st, 2015

This is a guest post by Ben Richardson, a director of Acuity Training, a UK based business that offers a variety of MS Project and other project management courses

“The P in “PM” is as much about People Management as it is about Project Management” Cornelius Fichtner

The best project managers have an uncanny ability to stick to their plans.

The question is how?

In many projects people are the greatest unknown quantity. Will they buy in? How fast with they move? How can we avoid them feeling threatened or being unreceptive to change?

These sorts of issues can derail the best-laid plans almost before the project has started. The best project managers are pro-active about people and change issues and in large part it is this that is the secret of their success.

The softer side of project management isn’t magic though. Let’s take a look at the key elements:

A good project manager needs to be able to communicate with their team. Image source

  1. Thoughtful Communication

Motivating and achieving buy-in from large numbers of individuals requires strong communication skills.

This is not about repeating the same communication mantra-like over and over again. It is about pro-actively engaging with people.

The first step is to introduce the project, explaining the context of the project and the impact that this will have on the organisation. However, having done that, it is vital that a project manager discusses how the requirements of the project will impact the individuals that they are with.

This communication needs to be specific to the group that the PM is talking to. Taking the time to discuss the impacts on, and concerns of, each the multiple different stakeholders will deal with most of their concerns upfront and should remove blocks to the project proceeding.

It will also allow the PM to build strong relationships and clear communication lines with key stakeholders that will be very useful through out the project.

  1. Confidence & Energy

As PM you are the face of the project. You are leading the various parties contributing to the project. Remember this at all times.

People don’t engage with and follow leaders that are low energy, or lack confidence. If there is doubt in their mind that the project will be driven to a successful conclusion, their commitment will waiver, causing further problems and delays.

Inevitably you will be faced with difficult decisions as a project proceeds and issues arise. When they do you must face them head-on with confidence and energy. Decide on the best course of action and run with it. Communicate the change clearly and positively to people. Their confidence of achieving success will in large part be based on the confidence that you express in achieving success.

When faced with a tough call, don’t hesitate to ask for different people’s opinions and views. This is a positive thing to do showing that you value their views. But remember the decision is yours and you must get on and make it.

When making difficult decisions keep in mind that people don’t expect you to get everything 100% right. They can live with a wrong decision that is subsequently changed.

What they can’t live with is not being kept informed or decisions not being made and communicated in a timely fashion.

  1. Negotiation & Clarity

Negotiations will take place throughout the life span of a project. Whether agreeing SLAs and pricing with external suppliers or arguing for allocations of time and resource internally, the best project managers know that a large part of their job is negotiation.

The first step in any negotiation is to try to understand the other party’s issues and concerns. When you understand clearly their issues and priorities you should explain to the other party what you are seeking and why you are seeking it. This will establish the respective positions and priorities clearly.

Seeking to understand the other party shows your respect for their position and that you are seeking to work collaboratively to meet your mutual objectives rather than treating their concerns as an inconvenience.

This approach will then allow you to discuss the different ways that things can be approached to try to find the all important ‘win-win’ outcomes that allow both parties to walk away feeling that the agreement works for them.

Especially with lengthy projects the ability to reach agreements that don’t leave one party bitter is very important. It is likely that that other person or organisation’s buy in will be required in future.

If negotiations are not handled respectfully it is unlikely that the project manager will receive co-operation from the other party in future.

Negotiation is an essential soft skill to possess as a project manager. Image source:

Conclusion

Whilst we’re not saying that hard skills aren’t crucial to project management, it’s important to remember that there’s a softer side too.

World-class project managers combine the ability to analyse and manage multiple information streams with very strong soft skills. The ability to achieve buy-in and effect change across multiple stakeholders is the key to dealing with the inevitable issues as effectively as they do.

Image credits: kelbycarr and SalFalko