Enhancing Productivity of a Product Team by usvoruganti


									Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team
Overcoming the Challenges of Information Overload

Revision 3.0 October 2006

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


The Knowledge Gap in a Project Team
The Problem
It all seemed so straightforward at the beginning of the project. Sure, there were a lot of features you wanted to build. And, at that time, the team had a clear understanding of how to build them, their sequencing in the roll-out and how to help the marketing department. That is, until a lead person left. Then the new marketing director repositioned the product. He added features that were inadequately researched and discarded many current features. Key product research was coming from an affiliate on another coast. And now, the project is one big mess. And, oh, did I mention, the deadline didn’t change! This story will strike a chord with most project team members. If you haven’t experienced this or something very much like it, chances are, you soon will. What do members of a project team actually do? Product Managers spend time: • • • • Meeting with their team members to discuss tasks. Collecting and summarizing task status reports. Answering questions and clarifying issues. Updating management and customers about project progress.

Team members spend time: • • • Understanding their assignments. Communicating with management about their progress. Working on building the products that represent their deliverables.

In business, this last function is considered the most important job of the team. A big key is keeping the flow of knowledge moving throughout the project, with as little friction as possible. If the project team is involved in repairing or tending to the knowledge flow, the chances are, they are experiencing reduced productivity and probably a lot of frustration.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


To recap, product development teams experience many challenges in the ways they deal with information and knowledge: • • • Team leads and key developers are making decisions based on inaccurate or out-of-date information. Team Managers spent an inordinate amount of hours collecting, sorting out, and summarizing weekly status reports. Deliverable schedules are often kept in a location separate from the actual task details. Project managers need to know the schedule as well as the task details and history of their development. Because of intense specialization and focus, development team members can’t quickly and conveniently find information related to their area of responsibility. Newly recruited team members have difficulty “hitting the ground running”, because the ground they need to stand on, project knowledge, does not exist in any disciplined or organized format. Team members who suddenly leave the project will work on their assignments, up until the minute they clean out their desk. There is never any time for proper knowledge transfer to the team or to the replacement worker. Discussion threads are great, but they are not related to key project tasks. Key deliverables are often at variance with marketing brochures because of poor coordination between engineering and marketing, caused in most part by last-minute changes.

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Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


Industry Responses to the Knowledge Gap
Many earlier attempts to apply computer technology to the knowledge gap were ineffective. They may have been focused on parts of the problem that computers don’t do well. Or they may have dismissed the all-crucial role of the human in guiding the computer system. In some cases (voice recognition), these truly daunting challenges required several generations of processing gains in hardware. Different vendors with differing agendas and core competencies have focused current product responses on various aspects of the problem.

Technology Tool
Project management tool: MS Project, and others

Enables management of detailed projects, revealing critical dependencies, resource conflicts, etc. Collaboration at the document level.

Key Strengths
Very good at revealing resource conflicts, critical dependencies, etc.

Key Limitations
Works best when there are infrequent changes to tasks, priorities, etc.

Document Library Products

Usually have strong database replication. May scale well. Fine for managing co-authorship of documents. Very popular user interface which many people are familiar with.

Don’t integrate well with other information products.

Distant collaboration tools WEB portals

Allowing remote users to share documents (files). Provides a navigational framework for WEB resources. Customizable.

Not integrated into a whole project approach.

Normally are built to deal only with WEB tools / data formats. Usually not devote to any particular application.

Most of these responses have one or more of the following characteristics: • • • • They do a great job of solving a very narrow, specialized part of the problem. They often have a high purchase (development) cost. They often require a large investment of time and effort, particularly in a dynamically changing setting. They are usually not easy to use. Hence, they demand that the worker adapt himself/herself heavily towards the methods of the tool, rather than complementing natural human ways of working with knowledge.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


• • • •

They don’t scale well in human terms. Increasing complexity and details of the knowledge tends to exponentially increase the demands on maintaining the “database” of the tool. They are at their best when the knowledge base is static, at their worst under conditions of dynamic change. They may not integrate well with other project management products. They generally offer a “one size fits all” approach, or one-dimensional view.

Another key weakness of most of the industry responses we have reviewed is that they focus on the outward technology(ies), but not as well on the natural activities, needs and concerns of the individual and small group. They don’t help the small to medium teams continually converge on what is most important to the project. When the key project leadership should be feeding the team with information, guidance, clarification and priorities; they are often tied down feeding the very tool that is supposed to liberate them and create more productivity. Small to medium development teams need flexibility within a framework of useful tools. They need the flexibility to focus on different outcomes and different ways of working with knowledge at the different stages of the project’s life cycle.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


What is Important to a Project Team
It all comes down to keeping the team focused on what is most important to their productive output. Here are the elements that contribute to maintaining that focus:

Keep track of the schedule Very flat learning curve

We must know and understand the expectation of the project deliverables.

Team members are already very busy doing the daily work. Introducing a new paradigm or software product only adds to the workload and will definitely encounter resistance. Without the cooperation of knowledge contributors, it is very unlikely that you can reap the benefits of the system. The basic knowledge base of the project is the bedrock upon which all other project deliverables must be built. The system must provide a way to organize the incoming information easily using a simple drag and drop operation. Developers hate meetings and smart managers minimize them. Yet, developers need ways of collaborating that are woven right into the fabric of the project. Developers prefer EMAIL, but plain EMAIL has insufficient richness and depth for tracking a debate. Discussion threads and custom views add more dimensions to the collaboration process. Decisions are based on many factors: knowledge acquired about the project, knowledge and experience from outside the project; and the input of multiple team contributors. Decisions take place in numerous contexts in the project: work assignments, mediated findings during a project debate and team voting. Not only is it important to have tools to enable the decision-making process, it is critical to be able to document these decisions and make it convenient for the entire team to remain informed. It is the norm for project leaders to insulate management from the details of a project, delivering summary status presentations. Building a knowledge base of task information makes it easier for management to “drill down” into the project in the areas of their interest.

Building a base of knowledge without even knowing it Collaborating effectively

Making effective decisions

Balancing “push” and “pull”

An EMAIL distribution list is an example of a pure “push” distribution method. Information is “pushed” at you. Conversely, you “pull” information when you go to a WEB site looking for a software download. “Push” is useful to get the recipient’s attention. But how helpful is it, if the recipient is swamped? “Pull” places less immediate demands on the user, but what if they aren’t aware of the existence of the information? The best policy is to find the appropriate balance between “push” and “pull” within the project. “Push” truly urgent items. Let team members “pull” the important information they need to complete their task. Create “virtual push” by setting up project mail boxes for each member. Let team members set their level of “push”/”pull”.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


The iS*Project Approach
The iS*Project approach treats a task as a manageable knowledge unit where it has its own life cycle. Examples of a knowledge unit are: one row in an Excel spreadsheet, an item in a project plan, a task and an action item etc. The structure where these units of information reside can be in the form of simple linear list, or a tree structure. One natural and easy method of building this knowledge base is to select a platform which supports and integrates with existing software. Not only do you get the benefit of not having to reenter the data, you also inherit the task management structure you have been using for years. The following summarizes the functional categories representing the essential elements to build a central project and task management knowledgebase.

Project Planning
MS Project Plans iS*Project reads/writes directly into the MS Project MPP files and maintains a tandem database to hold the task details and weekly status reports. Use MS Project for time and resource scheduling. Team project essentially means team task management. Some tasks require careful scheduling while others are just tracking progress made. There aren’t enough task dependencies or resources to warrant a project scheduling package such as Microsoft Project.

Indirect Project Tasks

Task Life Cycle
Knowledge techniques are ground-floor features Contributors of knowledge create manageable units such as tasks, questions, action items, suggestions and research ideas via standard tools such as Microsoft Office Suite and Microsoft Project. Units of information entered into iS*Project are organized into a tree structure. Once entered, any of these units may be assigned and tracked until completion. Enhanced Task attributes such as attachments, journal, discussion and task content linking. All accessible from team member’s MS Outlook Task Folder. Instead of using a rigid job flow concept, iS*Project uses simple assignment, % complete, and detail status reports to ensure each unit (task) is attended to at the right time. In addition to identifying each task by a control number and a title, iS*Project enables the user to insert task related details such as a general description, attachments (forms, design specs, drawings), discussions (comments or blogs), extension fields (user defined fields), content linking (link to related tasks or documents) and version history.

Task Details

Progress Traceability


Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


Status Reports

To obtain detail visibility of the progress of a task, iS*Project allows convenient entry of task status report on a periodic basis. Furthermore, once the status reports have been filed, the reports follow the task. This automatic organization allows the project manager to backtrack into the detailed events which lead up to the current situation.

Executive Level Summary
Dashboards iS*Project integrates with Excel for a dashboard view of task status. Color coded views of critical events. Other software only allows viewing by way of filters. Filters funnel out data but dashboards include them and display selected criteria with color coding. For the more common extraction of data for easy view, the software provides facility to create Views. The Views are not just a static advanced search but are saved as a dynamic filter. If you run multiple projects or are in a Project Management Organization, it will be essential to understand the progress of all active projects. Having a summary report of all active projects enables project managers like you to keep a close eye on the entire project portfolio.

Configurable Views

Project Portfolio

Document Library Each team member is contributing to the knowledge base while they work on the project. They contribute when they author or review a document. The document must be entered into a central repository for other members to access. iS*Project offers a full service document library including check-in, check-out, version control and role based security. In most cases, discussions are task based rather than general discussions such as blogging. In iS*Project multiple topic threads can be associated with a task. These are called task level discussions. Critical events require immediate attention. The project management system must have the capability to notify project managers of events that are identified as critical.

Task Level Discussions

Event Notifications

External Interface and Security
Secure Access from Web It is important to allow your client or the members of another department to review the progress of the tasks you are managing. Having a full web based system enables such access. While access is encouraged, we must also ensure that privileges are granted to those and only those that are authorized.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


Role based security

Using Role-based Security Scheme to ensure access is authorized. Task level user encryption function included to ultra-secure task specifications.

Easy to use, Easy to Lean.
MS Outlook Integration Active tasks assignments are distributed to team member’s Outlook My Task Folder. This makes the tasks easily accessible from a familiar interface. Project Managers use MS Excel on a daily basis to model the progress of project. In order to provide the most up-to-date information for this analysis, one must maintain the current status of tasks. These tasks can then be exported to MS Excel easily for detail analysis and projections. iS*Project provides the easiest MS Excel link to task groups. The export criteria can be saved for reuse. MS Project Plans are a primary sources for task lists. While MS Project is used as the primary tool to keep track of tasks, iS*Project supplements it for task detail, portfolio and collaboration. Project managers can work as normal from their favorite MS Project Plan and at the same time have convenient access to the task details and status reports.

MS Excel Integration

MS Project Integration

About KM Sciences, Inc.
KM Sciences’ principals have developed hardware and software solutions in the computer industry for
nearly 25 years. We have pioneered open-systems telecommunications for mainframes, integrated hardware peripherals with operating systems. We have also worked with and for large airlines, banks, the government, military and commercial organizations. In spite of the dizzying progress of miniaturization and the current rapid pace of product rollouts, extreme challenges remain for the small-to-medium development team. Those challenges center around the difficulty of managing massive amounts of information in the face of dynamic change – and the need to transform all of this into project knowledge. The best industry tools for managing the rich details of product development appear to work best when projects are less dynamic. These expensive tools also require a great deal of training and investment of time on the part of the project team. Recognizing that the small-to-medium product development team has not been well-served by commercial knowledge management tools; KM Sciences developed iS*Project, a comprehensive management product for project teams. At its base, iS*Project is an easy tool. It allows software developers to have up-to-date project knowledge without imposing intense new workloads on project managers, team leads or the developers themselves. It is intuitive and operates using the same set of the popular Microsoft Office Suite platforms.

Enhancing Productivity of a Project Team


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