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Keep software projects moving even during holidays

Michelle LaBrosse offers five management tools that help project managers and their staffs remain productive even during the holidays.

Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning
Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning

Fall is here, and before you know it we'll be dealing with the holidays and offices that feel like ghost towns with from people being out on vacation. A lucky handful of workers will find this time perfect for finally completing lower-priority assignments. Other departments, such as technical support, always have a fire to put out.

Now is a good time to make sure you have a system in place to keep things moving whether you are in or out of the office.

I have found that there is a simple collection of management tools to put to work, even if I'm scheduled to unwrap my Aunt Pearl's handmade reindeer sweater 300 miles from my office. These tools help me stay connected and take the sting out of returning from vacation.

Here are my top five management tools to remain productive:

  1. Blackberry smartphone

  2. This one seems obvious, but I think we need to get into this miracle invention a bit further. For one thing, there is a lot of talk about whether the Blackberry increases or decreases productivity. In my life, it increases it with big, bold, capital letters.

    I'm often on the road, and my Blackberry allows me to stay in touch with decisions being made, as well as chime in when needed so that projects can continue to move forward without my physical stamp of approval.

    I also expect my team to use their Blackberry smartphones in the same way. When they are traveling, it's their responsibility to be responsive and keep their projects on track.

  3. Email guidelines

  4. It's hard to imagine project management without email because communication is so critical to the success of any project.

    However, when it's not managed effectively, email can become a time drain. It's important to create email guidelines in your organization. Depending on the culture of your organization, develop email rules that ensure that the communication is saving time -- not wasting it.

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    A great guideline to set in place is to put the action items at the beginning of the email message. This sets the tone of the email and offers the most important information upfront. As they say in journalism, don't bury the lead. Make sure that what's most important is in the first paragraph.

  5. A collaborative space

  6. Good project management is about collaboration and communication. We use a wiki, which is an online collaborative workspace. (I'm sure you're familiar with Wikipedia which is also a collaborative space.) Wiki was recently purchased by Google.

    There are many implementations of wiki software -- and most are both open source and free. Our wiki is a central hub for our work, where we coordinate our projects and processes. Originally, we launched this for the marketing group to reduce email and to best capture the various marketing initiatives and decisions. It was a great success, and within one week it was adopted by all the other people in the company: IT projects, facilities management to coordinate facility work, accounting to coordinate budgeting with the different parts of the business, and course development to keep track of course upgrades.

    I don't know how I managed my various teams without the wiki, and I know that our department heads are thankful to have a central place to remain in touch with one another's projects and status.

  7. Project agreement

  8. A project agreement is what will keep people focused and working with enthusiasm, direction, and confidence. Without one, people might not be on board or know what their objectives, roles, or responsibilities and timelines are.

    Defining a project at the beginning is critical. It's OK if things change, and they often do, but when you have a project agreement you have a foundation to build on and work from.

    This also prevents miscommunication within your department or with clients. Outlining everyone's expectations and getting everyone to sign off on the agreement sets a positive tone that everyone is working toward the same goal with the same intentions.

  9. PM scorecard

  10. We use an online PM scorecard that we developed that looks at three kinds of performance: business, project, and project team. The scorecard gives you a comprehensive look at all three dimensions so that you know where and how to improve. Accountability and the ability to measure ensure that you will know when you've arrived at the destination called success.

    Other than yearly reviews, people often forget to take a moment to think about what worked and did not work so that future projects have a better chance of succeeding. It's imperative for personal and professional growth as well as to continue succeeding.

Power up your productivity
You may not be able to control your colleague's urge to blow off work to study the song list in his new Guitar Hero package or the guy sneaking out the backdoor to do last-minute shopping. You do have the power, however, to keep productivity in-check and ensure that your responsibilities are covered over the holidays so that the beginning of 2009 is off to a great start.

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About the author: Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into a market leader for project management training and professional development. Additionally, the Project Management Institute selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry.

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