Sunday, August 19, 2007

Project Management Tips and Software

As I've alluded to in previous postings, I am swamped with being the project lead for a Mondo-Big technology deployment right now.

Every day is a new day of issues and opportunities.

Fortunately my director is very engaged and taking up a lot of the "fires" that keep coming up with it. And I have a great support team.

However, I don't think it would be going as smoothly as it is were it not for their hard work and my l33t organizational skillzs.

I'm not a professional project manager, just a humble Machiavellian telecom, desktop, and network support guy so I've been having to teach myself on the fly.

Here are some of the techniques I'm using, just in case any others find themselves placed in my position.

The Project Binder

Early on I figured that it would be smart to keep a project-binder.  It's grown from a 1" to a 2" ring binder and I might need to move up to a 3".

I printed out some custom inserts for the spine and binder cover to give it a professional appearance.  I find that If I and a professional looking touch I want to carry it and maintain it better.  It also seems to garner respect from our vendor and customers when they see it.

In the binder I have a series of pocket-dividers.  I like using pocket dividers as I can stow loose note slips and the like in them.

I have the following divisions:

Key Project Data, calendar, and Gantt Chart - These contain the technical details of the project elements and hardware, spreadsheets for deployments, project calendar and a Gantt chart.

Vendor Notes and Communications - All notes taken (by hand or electronically) as well as printed copies of emails between the vendor and our project team.

Customer Notes and Communications - All notes taken (by hand or electronically) as well as printed copies of emails between the end-customer users and our project team.

Miscellaneous - notes, handouts, and other odd documents and papers related to the project.

While I may be killing a few trees with the printing of the emails, it allows me to always have at hand those key communications to reference in meetings, on the site, and at my leisure.  Having the ability to quickly access these bits of information is crucial.

This becomes my filing system for the life of the project. Once completed, I will either keep the documents in the binder for archival reasons, or pull it and file it in a cabinet.

Note Taking - Manual Method

Inside the binder, I keep a pad of college-rule notepaper.

I like keeping a pad in each binder I use for the different projects and meetings I participate in.

I've tried various "planner systems" but haven't found them to fit my style.

The D*I*Y Planner | Paper, productivity & passion website has become a wonderful resource to me providing me "outside the traditional planner box" tips and resources.  This website is filed with planning topics as well as templates for you to create your own custom planner.

I like to draw a line down the left-edge of the sheet to keep me out of the punch-hole zone and I also leave a box in the top right corner to note my action items to follow up on.

I make a circle around an "A" to indicate to me that I need to go back and take action on a point, then I also write an update next to it on how I fulfilled that  action item.

There are a number of great notepaper generating websites.  I've used some of these for particular purposes:

I honed my art of note-taking in college.  I found that college-rule pages coupled with tiny handwriting with a precision point pen enabled me to capture very detailed notes.

If this skill doesn't come naturally to you, I would encourage you to look into the following posts for tips on note-taking.

Note Taking - Electronic Method

When I am on a conference call or have my laptop handy, I prefer to take notes electronically.  Sometimes I like to convert the written notes I take to an electronic copy as well if I will be sharing them with team-members.

I have really fallen in love with the SEO Note (freeware) application. 

Sure there is Microsoft OneNote as well as my esteemed EverNote software application, and they have great merits and polish to them.

However, SEO Note is portable (USB), fast, tiny and supports a great hierarchy and tabbed structure of note taking.  It a fantastic product and really meets the digital note-taking needs I have.

Project Management - Electronic

I am fortunate to have a copy of Microsoft Project to use at work.  As I am not a professionally trained project manager, I am sure I am nowhere close to using the full power of MS Project.  However, I can make and update a Gantt chart, print out calendars, and manage light resource assignments.

There are a number of great resources to help learn Microsoft Project:

Of course, if your budget can't spring for Microsoft Project, there are some quality open source and freeware tools that might fit your bill nicely with most all the features of the MS version.

Not really related but cool

  • Namiki - The Fine Art of Expression - Amazingly beautiful pens crafted in Japanese theme motifs.

  • Levenger - Classic writing accoutrements including pens, desk accessories and neat things for the organized writer.  I've ordered a number of pens from this site.

If you know of any helpful project management software applications or tips to share, I'd appreciate hearing from you in the comments!


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