Project Management

Solve is an internet based application that helps teams plan, organize information and manage day-to-day projects according to your own company’s processes and workflow.

Good up-front planning is essential to running a successful project, but let’s be real, just because you want it to happen “this way” isn’t going to make it so. Requirements change, issues pop-up and people respond in unexpected ways. The secret to a successful project is managing the daily project activities. This is where most traditional tools like Microsoft Project let you down and where Solve becomes essential. Projects don’t fail all of a sudden; they succeed or fail one day at a time and hinge on your team’s ability to continually synchronize information, communicate and manage changes like a smooth running machine.

Projects that require new designs or outcomes often follow a general overarching plan but approach the actual work in small phases or “sprints”. The details of the next phase are uncertain until the current one is finished and outcome reviewed by the client. This gives the team the flexibility to respond to what was learned and refine the approach for the next phase. The benefit of this type of agile approach is that it ensures the final result will meet the client’s real needs; not just what was anticipated when the project was first contemplated.

As a determined organizer lets say your project manager has mapped out every detail from start to finish and has a complex system fully configured the way they want. They’ve started to rally the troops around their plan but the team is feeling a bit overwhelmed and confused. An intricately detailed software system or project plan might look impressive, but it’s unlikely to help your team keep their promises with clients or reach their potential. Multi-tasking, multi-tracks and matrices are just going to confuse people and waste time. Project Managers may need to map things out like that for their own purposes. They shouldn’t overwhelm and confuse the team with too many details at once. All team and client facing activity is more effective if presented in a simple, flat, sequential list with the prior phases removed, current phase detailed and future phases generalized.

Enter Solve

Although Solve allows you to work the way you see best by not imposing its own predefined processes, we’d like to share a typical example of how the system is used to organize a project.

Start by creating a new “Project Blog” for each client project then link the page back to the Contact or Company page using the Related-to field. Use tags to group project blogs for future reference in ways that make sense to your business e.g. Active, Manufacture, Maintenance, Sponsored, Design, etc.

Outline the story

In the activities area of the project blog create a task-list for each phase of the project. A task-list will represent a deliverable or “outcome” the team and client can identify with and rally around; a convenient breakpoint to re-evaluate and refine future phases and tasks. A date can be enabled on the task-list which sets a milestone date for phase completion. The milestone date should be seen as a road-sign and not necessarily something each person manages to. Team members should be primarily focused on their individually assigned task’s due date.

Break each phase down to manageable tasks

Break down each phase of the project into manageable tasks within its corresponding task-list. For the current phase assign each task to a person and set a due date only if it is required i.e. don’t add noise unless it provides value. Tasks for future phases are not normally assigned until you’re about to start that phase. This keeps the next actions list uncluttered and presents achievable goals. It also keeps team members focused and motivated on the work in hand and defers decisions to a time when you have more information in-hand.

From the top, then move to the next

Drag-and-drop tasks to order them in a logical way within each task-list; most often by priority or sequence of dependency. Add hints to the task title to queue or coordinate the relationship between tasks. Complex tasks can have multiple parts or steps by adding points in the task detail (a great way to compress multiple highly related tasks to simplify the overall plan). Color labels can be added to individual tasks to imply different tracks, themes or priorities.

Supporting notes, files etc are added below each task-list to provide detailed specifications in context with the work to be completed.

Essentially you are writing a story on the project blog that communicates and coordinates the sequence of the project and the related resources needed to complete the work. Making the story clear, interesting and achievable will translate into getting more work done with less meetings, less phone calls and fewer email messages. Less overhead lets more work get done. Reorder items; add notes and section breaks to organize everything on the page in a logical way that makes sense to your team.

Everyone gets their own slice

Team members manage their work queues primarily from the Report & Update Activities window’s Next Actions report. From here everything that is required of them across all projects is listed. To improve coordination of tasks, team members can subscribe to be notified by email for changes in each project by clicking on the “Notifications” feature on a project blog record and registering their email address. This way changes are pushed to them as they happen instead of needing to check the individual project blog pages for updates.

Enable the “Do not display on the published view or send notifications” option for any activities that are for your team’s eyes only. Then publish the project blog page to your client so they can follow the process, co-work with you providing comments, filling in gaps, completing their own tasks, and generally see for themselves that you have a solid ongoing process to manage their business. Simple and continuous progress updates are a great way to keep your clients happy.

Keep it moving

It’s important for the Project Manager to track the transition from phase to phase, keeping everybody’s queue full. As the team progresses through their tasks, older information will become less important and new information and tasks will take focus. Keep moving items around the page to maintain a simple view about what is currently expected and planned. For example, after a phase is complete, delete the task-list or move it to the bottom of the page. What has happened is not nearly as important as to what needs to happen next. Reduce the prior clutter and noise; keep timely information front-of-mind.

Keep the team focused on the current phase of achievable tasks and avoid overwhelming them with 100 different tasks at once (some which may end up changing anyway!).

Solve prevents low-value micromanaging by allowing team members to mark updates of their part of the project work in a shared collaborative environment. This gives the Project Manager an up-to-date picture of where the team and the project stand. The top-down value comes in when the Project Manager aligns and guides those activities from phase-to-phase. Solve lets you gain harmony between top-down and bottom-up management styles by replacing communication with coordination.