Auckland-based Rod Gill helps Microsoft Project users around the world and the most common problem by far is managing multiple projects.
As a Microsoft Valued Partner (MVP), Gill regularly gives advice on the MS Project news groups.
“Almost no one these days is managing a single project with no other work. The vast majority is working on two or three projects as well as business as usual.”
He says project management tools such as MS Project are one component of the solution, which is made up of four key areas.
The first is having specific deliverables that are measurable.
Secondly, you must understand practices that do and don’t work. “For example we always say work smarter not harder, but frequently reward people for working harder. When a project slips everyone becomes firefighters, rushing to get the project in on time as well as cope with other work. The project is delivered at the last second and management says - well done for getting it done under pressure. Meanwhile, people who have worked smart and delivered quietly get no recognition. Instead managers should think about the behaviour they want to encourage, catch people doing it and reward it.”
The third key is applying simple queuing to projects. Put similar projects into queues and give managers lump sums of resources for each queue.
“The manager is given certain hours for that queue and prioritises work hours for projects in the queue. This allows you to compare apples with apples.”
The fourth key is having a project management information system, which allows you to report across all projects so that the manager knows what’s happening.
“If you’re doing serious project management you’re wasting your time if you’re not using a tool. Most people don’t make effective use of such tools because they haven’t understood the information they have to manage.”
Gill says such information includes key requirements in measurable terms – especially the resources required to do these tasks.
“If you have a fixed time frame, say five weeks, you need to predict how many hours of work each task will involve. Predicting hours of work rather than days is more useful because over a period of days there will be other projects and fire fighting to deal with.
“Say you predict 100 hours of work, then you can spread it out to 20 hours for the five weeks. Otherwise people say I’ve got five weeks, I’ll do this other stuff first. Projects start slipping and they end up pressing the firefighter button again.”
Gill says to become good at predicting work hours you must adhere to a cycle of predict, measure and learn. Gill’s best practice tips for using MS Project can be found at Project Systems.