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Three Project Management Tools You Can’t Live Without
By Michelle Symonds

Project management tools are many and varied, and with the wide variety of project management support blogs and websites on the internet, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful things popping up that claim to help deliver successful projects. But sometimes we need to ditch the frills and go back to basics to really find project management tools that can help us get where we need to be.

Here we review three of the most tried and tested tools for project managers to use that we know can really make the difference between successful project delivery and the end result being a bit of a flop.

  1. Brainstorming

    Brainstorming comes in all shapes and sizes, but is a crucial part of the initial creative stage of the project planning process, and a good number of PM’s will conduct some type of brainstorming session early on. However, this shouldn’t be overlooked as a tool in other parts of the project too, as brainstorming techniques can help with everything from problem solving to testing.

    To use brainstorming effectively, you need to define and agree the objective of the session, manage the actual brainstorming activity and then implement actions that have been agreed during the brainstorming. Within the session you can use a range of techniques to draw ideas out from your team, such as the SWOT analysis, voting techniques, role-play and more.

  2. Fishbone diagrams

    Fishbone diagrams are valuable tools in process improvement and root cause analysis. If you come up against a problem in your project delivery, using fishbone diagrams can help identify the cause of the fault and help you to see where you can make changes to avoid it happening again.

    The fishbone diagram features a central spine running left to right and ending at the final result or problem. Onto this central spine go all the factors that feed into the final result, shown as the ‘bones’ connecting to it. At its simplest level the fishbone diagram is an effective planning and modelling tool. In more complex situations it’s a handy way to fault find, diagnose and work out bugs.

  3. Gantt charts

    Whether you enjoy written communication or visual mapping, a Gantt chart is a great way to give you and your team a bit of both. They can be effectively used for budgeting, scheduling and presenting project plans, and are easy enough to understand that they can be used for stakeholder feedback sessions too.

    In the past, Gantt charts have typically been drawn by hand, which presents an immediate flaw in the process. Gantt charts demarcate an amount of time required for a certain deliverable, but the time boxes which contain that deliverable should be able to be moved around to fit with other demands of the project. In a hand written version this would involve much rubbing out or resticking of boxes, ending up with a rather messy and illegible result. However, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Gantt charts are making a big comeback in the form of electronic apps for tablets, PCs and smartphones.

There is plenty of useful advice to be had from a good project management blog or one of the other types of PM support websites or communities but don’t forget these tried and tested tools of good project management.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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