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4 Tips to Avoid Building a House Without a Hammer
By Christian Bisson

IT projects have the particularity of having us work with nothing ‘physical’; this opens a whole new world of advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is the illusion of not needing proper tools to manage a project.

For example, you wouldn’t go build a house without proper tools, right? It wouldn’t even be possible. Unfortunately, its possible to manage projects without tools (result being debatable of course), so people go straight into it before they prepare. No matter if you managed to finish a couple of projects without so much pain, here are a couple of tips to prepare yourself before you tackle bigger projects:

  1. Find a proper PM tool

    A project management tool should be useful to do the following:

    • Track project information;
    • Create your project’s schedule;

    • Help communication between team members.

    A ‘proper’ tool is one that can be useful to you, and saves time more than you spend trying to figure out how it works. Out of the many PM tools out there, find one that fits your needs, and avoid using one just because it has every possible functionality, it will add noise and adds a steeper learning curve, but will not necessarily be more useful.

  2. Prepare document templates

    Documents are used all the time in project management; they have to bring value to your project management, and have to complement your PM tool. Here are various examples of documents that can (and should) be used:

    • Estimate document;
    • SOW (state of work);

    • Meeting agenda;

    • Lessons learned;

    • Reports;

    • etc.

    Again, these are but a few examples that should complement your PM tool that may take care of Risk management for example, meaning you wouldn’t need a risk register document. Same goes for many other documents that may be useful for your project.

  3. Continual improvement

    The key to have great tools is not just creating/finding them and hoping everything will be perfect after that. Make sure you fine-tune your documents or how you use your tools every chance you get. It could be a simple improvement like adding a column in your Excel used to estimate projects, to completely changing how the team manages it’s tasks with the PM tool to make it clearer for everyone.

    A good trick is to always have your templates ready to be opened so that when you have an idea or a project requires something your template didn’t have, you will be more tempted to update it as you go.

  4. Emails are not a PM tool

    Emails should be used for quick communication; to asking a couple of simple questions, to giving a quick update to a stakeholder. Unfortunately, since people lack proper tools to manage their projects, emails become the PM tool, meaning that all the project’s documentation becomes scattered inside hundreds of mails that are hopefully at least stored in a folder with the project’s name (if not all mixed in the inbox…).

    This opens the door to:

    • losing information;
    • wasting valuable time looking for information;

    • A larger quantity of mails that drastically reduce people’s efficiency, not to mention that more people tend to be included in those mails, meaning that the negative effect is spread to more people.

In conclusion…

Managing projects can be tough as it is, so why make it harder by not preparing? Get rid of the illusion that everything can be done easily without proper tools just because you are not working with physical elements.

Do you have any more tips to share? Or maybe a story? Share!

Christian Bisson is a project manager from Montreal, QC, Canada. His PM experience is concentrated in the Internet world, and he helped deliver over a 100 projects over his PM years. You can read more from Christian on his blog.

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