Today's takeaway: tagging tried and tested tools. If you follow the links to the suppliers, you can see the explanations better than I could do with sharing several screen shots. And if you come back later, you will see the newest version there instead of an aging record here.
The output of the tool on the right worked so well for me, made the draft within hours of reading a bit of the book and downloading the templates.
Paper plays easier
... than new apps. Sometimes I am aware of a habit carried over from my work as a programmer close to my internal clients: I play with tools until they work for me (and then help others get the tools right to work for them). In project management in particular, but also with other compmex topics, I found it faster to draft or roughly map out the exercise on paper first, just the gist of it, to see what data goes where. The erasable frixxion pen in three colors comes in real handy here.
Based on the paper prototype, the work with an electronic tool, even a new app, flows easier. As did the selection of new tools to test and see what works out.
Part of the tools challenge could be no handy tools that accompany the complete project workflow in an overview and drill down kind of way. Already back in 1992 when I reviewed a courtesy copy of MS Project that Microsoft had provided to the Tokyo PC User Group, I found it excellent to break down a one-time project like the proverbial office move. It lacked the capability to manage multiple small projects with team members rotating based on qualification and availability. We ended up building a filterable database and later using a group scheduler. We'll see when the company makes MS-Project available.
Mapping - plant a virtual tree
In short: Mapping a hierarchical tree is a swift way to get a workable approximation for a work breakdown structure, stakeholders and risks overview, or a resource breakdown structure. It is easy to present from a mind-map, good for the early stages.
I played with
FreeMind - the first mapping software I tried back in 2005 after a colleague shared it and urged me to try. After just a few days of getting used to, I dared to use it on the big screen for a regional management workshop in the region, found it fast enough to keep brainstorming notes and afte just a bit of rearranging and editing, was ready to present to the larger audience - without powerpoint. That went well, gathered interest, and within a few months of the colleague and I persuading the CIO, the company standardized on the commercial version:Mindjet Maps - the app version of commercial Mindjet for PC, which does everthing FreeMind does, and then some, a bit better, a bit slicker. Maps imported to the earlier Mindmanager for PC lost some of the formatting, so I didn't sweat the details. Mindjet fo PC promotes its capability to handle dates, requirements, documents, and financial forecasts, all from the same map, which may work for smaller projects in an evironment where team members know to navigate and search a shared map.
Mindmeister - freemium, collaborative with an account, has export options in the paid version. From its community site I used the project management template, but did not pursue it much further.
MindMaple - a new kid on the block, beautifully styled and easy-to-use as an iPad app. sends to email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Photo (pretty good quality).
Re-using the mapped data in a project management tool, or a spreadsheet (or even transfer between different makes of mindmappers) is at best a multi-copy-paste operation, if it works. Often it does not, despite promises of XML as a standard interface.
Providers of free and paid apps appear bent on protecting their turf by making sure the data export options are limited or crippled so as to not play friendly with competing apps or in some cases even with the vendor's own PC version. Frustrating for us who want to get work done, like the word-processor wars of 20 years ago. Let's call this "misintegrating".
W(P)BS, RBS done
Formally, the profession calls the outlining of the work to be done the Work Breakdown Structure. If you go for PMI certification, you better stick to the official wording you will find on the test. As a beginner, I find it more helpful to call the tree part outlining the deliverables and sub-deliverables that constitute the whole a Work Product Breakdown Structure. Because if I break work to do into manageable pieces it is into tasks and actions. If I break down deliverables, it is about the results, not the work to get them. We build deliverables from products, components and parts. A little aside: why work products matter.
Doing the W(P)BS by a mindmap or two is a fast way to put a flexible outline together and build agreement, and so is a RBS Resources Breakdown Structure. Done by the same tools, it helps to work out and categorize who and what we need to build, buy or re-use . Then, provided the scope of work is agreed in necessary detail, we get to the big tools that help arrange who does what when, the planners. As there is no easy way to re-use the information, it is either copy/paste from the simple tools, or, with some experience, start out by building the work products and resources structures from the start in the planning tool.
Plan the Project
No battle plan ever survived first contact with the enemy. -- General von Moltke
Before applying to corporate purchasing for the behemoth MS-Project, I tried open source.
ProjectLibre (aka Openproj), a MS-Project compatible project planner. Collapsible WBS, task assignment, scheduling and more. Minor gripe, the ever-confusing date format MM/DD/YY, no support for a global standard like YYYY-MM-DD (ISO 8601).Did not want to carry the company computer to the weekend university classes, so an iPad app was in order. Ended up buying the MS-compatible:
Planning Pro easy to use, drag and drop elements on the screen, collapsible WBS summary tasks (but app does not preserve collpsed state between sessions), task assigment, resource cost data exportable and more. Can import a Risk Register (separate app).
Seriously simple sharing
One fine Sunday I was uncomfortable realizing for a new pressing project from head office that had not been in this year's budget, I needed a really simple tool to communicate plan, progress and problems to project team and management. Like once every two weeks, and preferably on one page. Uncle Google recommended this book: One Page Project Manager. A few hours of reading and skimming later, I knew this was it.
Bought their downloadable templates (extra fee, MS-Windows versions worked out of the box, OSX didn't), and put that pressing project to paper, um, spreadsheet. For my PM studies, I also worked out my showcase project, the image above is an early draft. The dense method of recording on a single page helps to stay focused on what is important. Similar to the A3 sheets common at Toyota and other Japanese companies. Easily updated and stored in an accessible place, the One Page PM does more for me than visualizing plan, progress, and problems: after two weeks of using it, I find it speeds up my project throughput and adds to satisfaction of being on top of the daily juggle of priorities. Yes, the OPPM covers agile techniques, too.
Drop shipping holds it together
Dropbox as a workaround for limitations of the iOS ecosystem and incompatible PM tools. In effect, we are back to shuffling files between a PC, Mac, iPad and have them online wherever.
Presenting, who needs Powerpoint?
Goodreader, essential on the iPad to work offline with pdfs, kills powerpoint. For the team, I rather arrange a project walk-through or update from original scans, photos, screen shots. If detail is called for, I jump from the pdf to the active mind map, or other tool, and show the live plans and results.
For a sponsor presentation it is worth looking more professional and the added work of coming to grips with content and limits on presentation slides may help to refocus the message on what is really important.
Usually, I send agenda and materials to read up before meetings (here is why) and for my own sanity I prepare printouts which give me the context to take notes of the team input. Only when the objective is to preserve group input, such as acceptable wording about important changes, do I edit on the screen in front of everyone.
So there. What tools work for you and your project management practice?