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5 Daily Tips for Successful Projects

An ad at the end of one of my workout videos caught my attention. A kitchen timer is ticking away. A voice says “It’s about time. Time. Time.”

A trainer appears and says, “The number one reason people don’t work out is time.” A woman appears and says, “I can’t work out for an hour. Are you kidding me? I don’t have time!”i Another ad has a trainer saying something like, “Nobody has time, but if you give me just 30 minutes every day for 21 days, I’ll give you the body you’ve always wanted.”ii Oh were it that easy!

The point is, though, that the world has become a very busy place. Everywhere we go we hear the same message—I don’t have time. I don’t have time to innovate. I don’t have time to manage my project. I don’t have time to get the requirements right. To make time, some people banish project management and business analysis under a magic invisibility cloak (under the guise of doing “Agile”), making anything to do with project management and requirements disappear altogether.

So how do we make time? We would like to propose that if you give us 30 minutes every day, we will give you that project that you’ve always wanted. Here’s how.

1. Track the effort

Tracking? That’s big brother! In project management parlance this is Monitoring and in our opinion, it’s even more important than planning. We know, though, that the very words “tracking” and monitoring” often conjure up images of Big Brother. We can already hear the accusations of “that’s micromanagement.” So let us explain what we mean by tracking.

Related Article: A Plan is Useful Fiction: How Realistic Can It Be?

Tracking involves seeing where we are against where we thought we’d be at this point in time. Tracking can be done formally or informally. It can be a conversation, can include charts like burn-down charts, can include some form of time sheet, or any combination. The most important part of tracking is to take a few minutes every day to see what we’ve accomplished, what work products/features have been produced, where we are now, and most importantly, what issues are getting in the way of getting our job done. We prefer daily conversations. We have found that this type of informal communications keeps people up-to-date and prevents our projects from getting too far off-track.

Having this kind of monitoring mechanism, particularly a visual chart like a burn-down chart, is a great way to report progress. It gives us instant credibility. Anyone can ask us where we are on our project and we know. Such a tool shows on a daily basis where we thought we’d be vs. where we actually are. This can be in the form of a big visual chart posted in the project team area, or the information can be logged in a spreadsheet and sent to various stakeholders. If tracked daily, this information can be easily rolled up into a weekly, monthly, or quarterly report for sponsors, executives, and other interested stakeholders.

2. Plan the effort

Planning? That’s so old school! We’ve certainly met team members who argue that since things change, and since they embrace change, there’s no need to plan. And while if we had to choose between planning and tracking we’d choose tracking, we still believe in planning the work. Daily. We can hear you making a thousand excuses why you don’t have time to plan. Let’s keep in mind, though, that planning, like tracking, can be formal or informal. And the smaller the deliverables, the less formal planning needs to be. Daily planning may simply be a conversation with the team about tasks to complete that day. Taking 5 minutes each day to organize our thoughts will have huge long-term benefits.

3. Monitor the requirements

Old school and big brother! There’s that Big Brother word again—monitor. In our 30 minutes, we don’t have time to elicit, analyze, document, or do anything else with the requirements. However, we do have time to be sure that the requirements are getting to the level of detail needed to get the job done. We can look at our backlog of requirements and review the progress that is being made to refine them—to get big requirements into small features that are defined in a way that is clear to everyone. We can review what is being done to ensure that issues, dependencies, and impacts are being addressed. If the meaning of the requirement is not crystal clear, we can ask questions.

4. Improve

Why?! We already do retrospectives! What we have in mind here is to every day spot problems and opportunities and recommend ways to make either the process for developing the product or the product itself better. Sure it’s similar to what we typically do during retrospectives and lessons learned workshops. The difference is when we spot problems daily, we can quickly prevent bad practices from spreading and a defective product from implementing.

5. Commit

Getting in shape requires other activities beyond our daily routine, and having successful projects involves more than daily planning, tracking, and improving. But these daily activities do make it easier to meet everyone’s expectations. Sure it involves doing things we have little appetite for. No one said having successful projects was easy. Like working out, it sometimes means committing to do what we don’t want to do. As the trainer in the video says, “Not always fun, but we have to do it”iii if we want project success.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is Co-Principal and CEO of Watermark Learning and has over 30 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes repeat presentations for national and international conferences on five continents.

Elizabeth has co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation. She has also co-authored chapters published in four separate books. Elizabeth was a lead author on several standards including the PMBOK® Guide, BABOK® Guide, and PMI’s Business Analysis for Practitioners – A Practice Guide.

Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, President and Founder of Watermark Learning, is a successful entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience in business analysis, project management, training, and consulting. He has presented workshops and seminars on business analysis and project management topics to over 10,000 participants on five different continents.

Rich loves to combine industry best practices with a practical approach and has contributed to those practices through numerous speaking sessions around the world. He has also worked on the BA Body of Knowledge versions 1.6-3.0, the PMI BA Practice Guide, and the PM Body of Knowledge, 4th edition. He and his wife Elizabeth Larson have co-authored five books on business analysis and certification preparation.

Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, PMI-PBA is a consultant and advisor for Watermark Learning/Project Management Academy, and has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth’s speaking history includes keynotes and presentations for national and international conferences on five continents. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, theater, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.

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