Origin of the project

The first likely origin of the project is a sponsor inside the same organization. You might be in luck and the people in high level positions in your org will prefer very abstract communication, short and to the point. A project could be started after a meeting, or based on a reaction to a report someone is presenting. There is not much to examine here, and it will be the Project Manager’s responsibility to actually create a Business Case that the sponsor will then study and approve (or return, for clarifications).

For verbose C-level types however, be prepared to ingest dozens of pages of documents, supporting the desired outcomes and highlighting risks or opportunities. In both cases, the Project Manager will need to take copious notes both for themselves and as raw materials with which to compose the project’s official documentation.

The second likely origin of the project is an external customer. There will be a few rounds of negotiations between you org and the customer, which will result in a contract. This contract will contain all the necessary clauses, but they will be formulated in a way that is mainly meant to cover both companies. It is the Project Manager’s job to turn that contract into an actual project.

The Document App

Writing local documents and sending them via email is a recipe for disaster. There is no version control, people might be out of office when you send the email, and so on. Even worse, people might start sharing your documents among themselves, ignoring the fact that you made a new version available.

It becomes obvious that a single application is required, in order to offer everyone access to the same version of the documents. The Project Manager will usually find a way to arrange documents in this application, in a way that makes sense for the structure of the project.

Sure, people might not know which document contains the information they’re looking for, but that’s the Project Manager’s job, to point them in the right direction. All this, however, takes away time and focus from the Project Manager.

The Planning App

Once the Business Case or the customer contract is stable, the Project Manager starts to unpack information into a format that is conducive to project management. One of the pillars of project management is planning. This happens along the time axis, where we can find deadlines and milestones, but it will also take into account resource availability (both people and materials/services).

The Project Manager will likely wish to use an application that allows the arrangement of information in a way that is useful for project management. This will serve as the skeleton of the project, allowing the Project Manager to formulate a baseline and to react to any blockers or new developments.

Unfortunately, since such applications tend to “side” with the Project Manager when it comes to terms used, user interfaces or flows, there is very little incentive for the sponsor or the team to use it as well. This creates a divide between the Project Manager and the other people involved in the project, because now the Project Manager must act as a translation layer for this app. Data comes in from other systems (or people) - the Project Manager must translate it into data that can be ingested by the Planning App. Conversely, when the Project Manager needs to present data from the Planning App to the project team, they need to format it in a way that is compatible with the systems and workflows of the team.

The Effort App

The project team has a huge influence here. For self-organizing teams, it is usually the case that the team chooses their own app where they create tasks and follow progress. This is a boost in productivity for the team, since it takes into account their preferences and previous experience with whatever apps they prefer.

This creates a disconnect, however, between the team and the Project Manager. It’s very rare to find a Planning App that can add tasks into the team’s favorite Effort App. And it’s very rare for an Effort App to be able to feed blockers and other things back into a Planning App, where the Project Manager could see them and take the appropriate actions.

Of course, most Effort Apps have some ways to organize the tasks (lists, boards and so on), but this task organization is very far from the planning a Project Manager needs to perform.

The Communication App

When it comes to communication, it’s hard to make the wrong choice. Most, if not all communication apps are able to easily satisfy any team’s requirements. But communication is never just an activity, or just a process. It depends heavily on the actual topics being discussed. You might create a channel for a specific topic, or even for a project. But still, having one single place to discuss the myriad of potential issues is, well, cluttered.

And this is the ideal case, when teams actually use a single communication app for all their needs. But it’s rarely so. Important things tend to be sent via email, so a “paper trail” exists. Urgent things will sometimes prompt calls from someone that needs them fixed right now.

And finally, everyone’s favorite: meetings. You can of course use your team’s Communication App for internal meetings, but customers don’t always use (or prefer) the same apps. You then need to fire up whatever works for both parties and have an hour or two of conversation focused on a specific topic. For all their problems, meetings do have this advantage, they tend to keep the conversation focused, due to their time-limited nature.

The Money App

Aside from all the things mentioned above, the Project Manager needs to manage the project budget. Whether built top-down or bottom-up, the budget needs to be allocated to the deliverables in proper amounts.

Even further, the budget needs to be comparable with the expenses during the project, so that the plan can be compared to the actual situation. Whether using an ERP or simple spreadsheets, the Project Manager will most likely use an app that is not being actively used by the team or the external customers.

This makes it very difficult for the Project Manager to get feedback from the team about cost risks, or any other new developments. If the team’s billable hours are managed in the Effort App, the Project Manager needs to get them from there and translate them into the Money App. All this increases the load of the Project Manager and invites all kinds of “translation errors”.

The Reporting App

Here is where the real challenge begins. At first, the Project Manager will plan the project in an app that allows this. Then they delegate the work to the team, which uses their preferred Effort App. From there, the team uses one of the Communication Apps to raise issues to the Project Manager, along with financial risks and information. The Project Manager then compiles all this information back into their Planning App or Reporting App.

This long and complex process is very likely to introduce many errors and yet another load on the Project Manager.

The Right Solution

Notice how in the case of using multiple apps, the Project Manager is the one that is doing all the correlation and tracking between them. This makes the Project Manager a bottleneck, because while they have a great deal of control over the planning, when it comes to the execution and blockers, they need to act as a translation layer between the team and the software being used for reporting or planning.

Let’s talk about how a proper project management app replaces all those apps and actually ties everything togethe.

Documents are everywhere. Create rich text documents for the Projects, Stages, Deliverables, Work Packages and Tasks. Everything can be thoroughly explained, with sections, lists, tables and so on. By definition, each document is a representation of a project entity, so no more searching through folders for the properly named documents.

Time is managed by segmenting it into Stages, but you can really name them whatever you want. You can use Sprints, Releases, or something else that is specific to your domain. The nice part about Stages is the fact that everything is connected to a Stage. Your Deliverables, Work Packages and Tasks will all belong to a single stage. The way Graceful Efforts helps the team is by marking one Stage as the current stage. That way, the team is focused on what should happen now.

Tasks are conveniently linked to Deliverables, so that every task is guaranteed to contribute to the project scope. You can look at Deliverables as simple task lists, or you can look at them from a project management perspective, your call. The important thing is that Tasks can be marked as Blocked, and work can be logged on them in one hour increments.

Communication is guaranteed to stay on topic. Add comments to the Project, to Deliverables, to Stages, Work Packages and Tasks. No more discussing things in other apps, then coming back to update Tasks or Deliverables. Do it all seamlessly, in the same software.

Do you need to track financial information ? That’s ok. Define Cost Types according to your org’s policy or according to the contract you signed with your customer. One implicit Cost Type is the Team, since once you invite someone in the project you can specify an hourly rate for them. That hourly rate gets multiplied with their logged hours to give you a very accurate idea of the cost of labor. Use the same Cost Types to add Planned Costs and Actual Expenses to your Deliverables. Finally, look at your high level Budget and compare it to the Expense Report.

Since all the information is in one application, reporting is easy to do. Look at this-moment snapshots that compare the overall Project progress with the Current Stage and any eventual Work Packages, or build your own report templates with the things you’re interested in. Use Earned Value Management at both the Project and Current Stage levels to get a professional look at your project’s health indicators.

Your Solution

If what you read so far sounds good, then you’re in luck. That is precisely how Graceful Efforts is organized. To explore all the features described above and many others, you can create a free account and use the free trial to determine if Graceful Efforts is a good fit for your team.