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Post-it Notes Just Might be a Project Manager’s Best Tool!

bondale Apr2A discussion happened recently on a LinkedIn group attempting to identify the best project management tools. While there was healthy debate, nearly all of the responses pertained to the virtues of different software solutions ranging from applications within the Microsoft Office suite up to multi-million dollar project portfolio management solutions.

However, I was surprised to see that no one chose to honor one of the most powerful, versatile and cost-effective tools in a project manager’s belt, Post-it Notes!

Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me provide my own version of Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose monologue by listing multiple ways in which Post-it Notes can help us better manage our projects.

With Scope Management, they provide an easy method of supporting requirements elicitation as well as scope inclusion and exclusion discussions. Post-it Notes can also be used to facilitate a bottom-up work breakdown structure process by having team members provide activities and then using affinity grouping to work up to key work packages.

With Time Management, they can help you develop an activity network diagram – it’s a lot easier to move notes around on a whiteboard than it is to fix incorrect dependencies using paper and pencil, and this “old school” method can encourage teams to focus exclusively on activity sequencing without becoming distracted by dates or resources as might happen when using software schedulers.

For Cost Management, when estimating costs, they can be used to help team members in brainstorming one-time and ongoing costs. They can also provide critical assistance of reminding team members to complete time sheets or to submit invoices in a timely fashion when stuck on people’s monitors!

Post-it Notes can support inspection activities when we consider Quality Management. After all, who hasn’t used Post-it Notes to mark pages in hardcopy documents which need further review or refinement? They can also be used to label and identify physical components requiring re-work.

If a process map is being developed to identify efficiency or effectiveness improvements, they can be used to develop the right process sequence and to distinguish value-add, non-value-add and value-enabling activities. They can also support prevention activities – a Post-it Note next to a lever, gauge or button can often provide a more timely reminder on correct procedure than a detailed checklist. Finally, Post-it Notes and a whiteboard make it easy to create a quick Ishikawa “fishbone” diagram when trying to identify the root cause of defects or when troubleshooting an issue.

When performing Human Resource Management, Post-it Notes can help the project team to develop a project RACI matrix in a collaborative, iterative fashion and could also be used to construct a project’s organization chart.

They can be used during team building activities – a simple one is for team members to write their names on one Post-it Note, and then have them write something unique about themselves on another. The project manager gathers and randomly sticks these two different groups of Post-it Notes on either side of a whiteboard. Then, each team member can take turns drawing links between the names & the attributes.

When faced with a conflict, project managers could consider having team members individually write what they believe the problem is on Post-it Notes and then have the whole team analyze the perceptions to develop a shared understanding of the true issue.

A project manager can also use Post-it Notes to recognize team members for small wins (getting a “You Rock!” note on your monitor can be a small, but powerful motivator) and helping them to focus on what’s critical by having them write down their top three project priorities and sticking that in a frequently observed location.

The most obvious use of Post-it Notes for supporting Communications Management is the ubiquitous “Come see me when you are back at your desk!” notification. Unlike e-mail messages or phone messages, if the recipient returns to their desk they can’t truthfully say that they never received the message!

Colored Post-it Notes can also be used to differentiate types of work items or the criticality of issues on Kanban boards, Issue boards or other types of visual dashboards. Finally, they can also be used to facilitate identification and grouping of similar lessons when conducting a lessons (to be) learned session with the project team.

Beyond their use in helping a team to brainstorm risks during identification workshops, they can also help when analyzing risks visually – a two-by-two table can be drawn on a whiteboard, and individual risks can be organized by probability and impact across the cells of the table. This is a great way to surface risk biases amongst team members and stakeholders and can also help to focus response efforts on meaningful risks.

When reviewing contracts or Statements of Work as part of project procurement activities, Post-it Notes can be used to flag specific terms and conditions requiring rework or can be used to easily identify where approvers need to sign.

Finally, with stakeholder management, similar to their use during risk analysis, Post-it Notes can help a team to categorize stakeholders on Influence/Impact axis when performing stakeholder analysis.

How many software solutions do you know which can claim to effectively support so many PMBOK knowledge areas?

I encourage you to provide me with more creative uses to support my belief that while there is no panacea tool for project management , Post-it Notes come pretty close!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

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