As project managers, we know there is no magic formula for delivering projects successfully. We follow an approach (or approaches) then drive the project based on our experience, type of project, risks, stakeholder demands, resources and constraints. As we find or hear about new techniques that work, we mix these into our projects.
One of the big project challenges I encounter is finding the optimal amount of pressure to put on team members to deliver tasks on time for imminent deliveries. Too much pressure is often asphyxiating; too little pressure leads to lack of interest and underperformance. For a recent project, a bank account management implementation that went live in late 2018, I was able to solve this problem by mixing in techniques that originated in the manufacturing world (a collaborative version of Kanban) and techniques used in software development (standup meetings) to create a successful cocktail.
Classic Kanban (literally meaning “sign” or “billboard”) enables manufacturing team members to visualize inventory levels in production according to customer orders so they can respond to such changes in demand. One key benefit of Kanban is that mapping out tasks triggers an action by the person responsible.
Many providers of project management tools have caught on to these benefits and now offer a visualized electronic form of Kanban to supplement the project plan. (The “inventory” of manufacturing becomes the “tasks” of project management.)
For my project, the introduction of a collaborative Kanban tool brought several benefits:
■ Enhanced transparency for both the project manager and team members into the inventory of tasks (what is done, ongoing or still needs to be done).
■ Clear communication about the deadline of each task.
■ Flexibility to create new items for the inventory if existing tasks need breaking down or new items pop up.
■ Better traceability and documentation at all steps in the work cycle.
■ Ability of the team members to update the content of the Kanban cards, so colleagues and project managers are informed on the status, which led to less micromanagement.
■ Accessibility for all team members, regardless of location.
It's worth exploring the various Kanban tools, taking note of how much flexibility the tools offer (such as whether you can define your own categories, dependencies and ownership; whether you can get automated email reminders linked to deadlines; and if you can integrate with Gantt charts and reporting).
Tools alone cannot solve all issues, however. For this project, I also introduced weekly standup meetings. Software developers rely on this technique to review the tasks being worked on, discuss problems identified, connect with the rest of the team on shared issues and keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
While the standups immediately brought more focus and organization to project, we discovered that setting basic ground rules made them even more effective:
■ Standups were held weekly, on Mondays, and were never rescheduled.
■ Attendance was mandatory for all team members unless their absence was scheduled in advance.
■ Items or tasks in the Kanban board had to be updated before the standups.
■ The standups were short, so each project member had a limited time to quickly summarize key successes and failures and mention what tasks he or she would be working on during the week. Longer topics were discussed outside the meeting.
Share Your Thoughts
No one knows project management better than you, the project professionals “Getting It Done.” So every month, PM Network shares your expertise on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all project topics in between. If you're interested in contributing, email [email protected].
Looking back, I realize we could have done a few things better—having a timekeeper in the meetings and leveraging more of the out-of-the-box features of the tool, such as color-coding the Kanban cards. But in general we found that mixing the two techniques resulted in a well-informed and collaborative project team. It helped create greater transparency among all stakeholders on project progress, and fostered the right balance between pressure and delivery for ongoing tasks. PM
|Felix Meyer, PMP, is a project manager at ABB Capital BV, Zurich, Switzerland.|