Young entrepreneurs do many ambitious projects. They don’t take up routine projects but try new things which were not tried before. Due to this, they need tools, such as:
- Estimation tool: Realistic estimate is the basis for realistic projects.
- Scheduling tool: Schedule is the guide in time to keep the project on track,
- Issue tracker tool: They need tool for managing issues, such as issue log tools. If issues are not tracked properly they can affect the project.
- Risk identification tool: They need tool for risk identification, such as SWOT analysis. Unidentified risk can result in unpredictable impact.
- Stakeholder engagement management tool: They need tool for managing stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders are vital to the project and they need to be engaged well.
We have selected these tools based on their practical importance in handling the projects. They say ‘in democracy, all are equal and some are more equal’. All PM tools are useful and these are more useful.
Let’s talk about each of the tool.
1. Estimation tool
Estimate is a rough calculation of the value, number, quantity, or extent of something. In Project management you estimate resources, duration of the tasks and costs. If you are new to the domain of the project, your estimates may vary a lot from actual. You need to improve your estimation skills based on trial and error. Estimation may be tough if the domain and technology are new to you and help is unavailable..
There are many methods for estimation. One of the best methods is the 3 point estimate.
Let us consider duration estimate for a task. In this method, you have to think through 3 scenarios and arrive at 3 estimates.
First one is Optimistic estimate(O). It is an estimate of when everything goes fine and you are able to complete the task in least amount of time. Second one is Pessimistic estimate (P). It is an estimate of when everything goes wrong and you end up taking more time to complete. The third estimate is the Most likely estimate(M). This is the estimate of when things go normal not worst or not best i.e. average.
With the 3 estimates, now you use a formula (O+4M+P)/6 to calculate the average. This formula is as per beta distribution and it is a weighted average formula. O and P are having weight as 1 and M has the weight as 4. This method can give you an accurate estimate if your O, M and P values are realistic.
3 point estimate is otherwise called as PERT estimate. PERT stands for Project Evaluation and Review Technique. The formula to find the average with triangular distribution is (O+M+P)/3. This average is normal average.
You can use the 3 point estimate method for cost estimation also. You estimate the Optimistic cost, Most likely cost and Pessimistic cost for each task. Use the same weighted average formula to arrive at the cost estimate of the task.
In 3 point estimate, the formula to calculate standard deviation is (P-O)/6.
A sample estimation is as follows.
Task : Preparation of User manual. Purpose is to arrive at the duration estimate for the user manual preparation.
Optimistic estimate: 5 days
Most likely estimate: 9 days
Pessimistic estimate: 15 days
The weighted average is (O+4M+P)/6 = (5+4*9+15)/6=56/6=9 (rounded)
3 point estimation is better than one point estimation.
2. Scheduling tool
Any project, small or big, needs a schedule. A schedule has the starting and ending dates for your project tasks.
For small projects, you may use Microsoft excel to prepare the schedule. You list down the tasks and enter the starting and ending dates. You calculate the starting and ending dates based on the task duration, the weekends and project holidays. Every time there is a change in the dates, you need to redo the calculations and update the schedule.
When the number of tasks are more, preparing and updating the schedule becomes hard. A scheduling software such as Microsoft’s MS Project or Oracle’s Primavera comes handy in such cases. Such scheduling tools let you define your project’s working and non working days (holidays, weekends). You enter the list of tasks, assigned person, the dependency between the tasks and so on.
These software tools show the Gantt charts, Schedule network diagram. Such diagrams help in easy understanding of the project schedule.
Given below is a sample schedule of a project.
|Task Id||Task||Start date||End date||Assigned to||Predecessor|
Scheduling tool helps in resource leveling. If a same project member is allocated to more than one tasks on the same day, it will be pointed out by the scheduling tool. The scheduling tools allow us to baseline the schedule. It helps in comparing the project schedule performance against the schedule baseline. Consider this analogy of baseline in real life. Our childhood photo is a baseline. This we compare with our current photo to see the variance in face and body. Scheduling tools help in updating the following schedule progress.
- % complete of the tasks.
- Actual start date.
- Actual end dates, etc.
These scheduling tools have filters. They help in filtering tasks based on persons, status, time periods and so on. Scheduling tools help in generating following types of reports.
- Resource usage.
- Schedule variance.
- Cost variance etc.
Gantt chart is the horizontal bar chart which shows start and end periods of tasks. Schedule network diagram shows the dependencies between tasks.
The author recommends the online planning tool Bitrix24. Using Bitrix24 you can do the following.
- Create tasks.
- Schedule tasks.
- Track tasks.
- Get reports on on going, upcoming and completed tasks.
The following Work flow automation is available in Bitrix24.
- Leave requests.
- Purchase requests.
- Request for technical help.
- Submitting of expenses report.
It doubles as a Customer Relationship Management tool and intranet social networking tool as well. It provides a Gantt chart view of your tasks with dependencies. It also provides a Kanban view which is a visual dashboard of your project tasks in different stages. It allows email communication, sharing of documents, chatting with other employees easily.
You can access the tool through a mobile app. Free access allows up to 12 users, 1 admin user and 5GB of online storage. Professional version provides unlimited users, 10 admin users and unlimited online storage.
3. Issue Log
Issue log should not be confused with defects log because in simple terms defects are referred as issues. Issue is a risk which has occurred and have to be dealt. Issue is a known problem. Issue may arise due to various reasons. Some common issues are non availability of an important document, need clarification on a requirement, need a certain resource without which you cannot complete a task. A sample template for the Issue log is as follows.
|Issue #||Issue description||Priority
|Category||Reported by||Assigned To||Status||Remarks|
|1||Printer not working||H||Technology||Kumar||John||Closed|
Issue log helps as a record of history , helps in not forgetting an issue by the person who has to act on it, helps in tracking issues to closure. Helps in documenting lessons learnt at the time of project closure. Issue log records the ownership and accountability of an issue. Issue log is communicated to all the relevant stakeholders and open issues to be discussed in the status meetings.
4. SWOT analysis
SWOT analysis is an important tool in identification of project risks. Each letter in SWOT represents Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. In these 4, Strengths and Weaknesses are internal. Your project’s strengths and your project’s weaknesses.
Strengths help in achieving the project objectives. Weaknesses affect achieving the project objectives. Opportunities and Threats are external conditions. These are the helpful and harming factors respectively, which come from the external that is, outside the project.
In project risks, there are two types of risks. Negative risks and Positive risks.
Negative risks are Threats. Positive risks are Opportunities. Strengths and Opportunities will help your project. Make use of them to have a positive impact on the project. Weaknesses and Threats may harm the project. Deal with them so that they don’t affect the project.
An old ad for a bike used this caption ‘Fill it , Shut it, Forget it’. Anything related to risks is not like that. Anything may change anytime. If it changes in your favor use it and if it changes into a threat , handle it before it affects the project. Depending on the project domain the scenarios may change in dynamic manner.
Once you arrive at a list of project risks using SWOT analysis, you order the risks on qualitative and quantitative basis. You plan for the risk responses and also implement the risk responses. More on that… later.
5. Stakeholder Engagement Assessment matrix
Who are the Project Stakeholders? Stakeholders are individuals,groups or organizations. They can impact the project or get affected by the project. Project team, vendors, client, public, political groups etc. are the project stakeholders.
Stakeholders may vary depending on the project. Leading, Supportive, Neutral, Resistant, and Unaware are different stakeholder engagement levels. All stakeholders may not support the project and all may not oppose the project.
A sample Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix is as follows.
Use it to record the Current Engagement level ( C ) and Desired Engagement level ( D ). For e.g. Stakeholder 1 is currently supporting the project. The desired level for that stakeholder is ‘supportive” too. You need to maintain that stakeholder in a supportive role. Stakeholder 3 below is currently resisting the project. You want to take steps to make that stakeholder become a supporter. In case of ‘Unaware’ stakeholders, educate them about the project. Try to make them as supporters of the project.
Handling stakeholders needs strategies. Make strategy and be ready to change the strategies based on the situations.
In this article, we discussed 5 Project management tools:
- 3 point estimates – used in Schedule management and Cost management.
- Scheduling tool – used in Schedule management.
- Issue log – mainly used in Stakeholder management and Communication management.
- SWOT analysis – used in Risk management.
- Stakeholder Engagement Assessment matrix – used in Stakeholder management.
The common problem many face is they get confused which tool should be used. I would say depending on the time and the project you are handling you can use a combination of any of the tools.
So who would be the best judge to decide? It is definitely you and it’s your duty to ensure your projects success by implementing these tools.