Tag Archives: PM

Tag your tasks – Eliminate Static Hierarchy

Last year I wrote a post called “Microsoft Project doesn’t work“.  The headline is a bit sensational, but the sentiment is something I am going to explore further in this post.

Project management tools usually require the entry of tasks and all their accompanying data via hierarchies.  A group of tasks are made a subset of a parent task, which fits within a project, etc….  The end result is a single view hierarchy for a scope of work.

The problem with static hierarchies is that they are just one view of a complex world.  Another person in the exact same job as you, might see the structure/relationships differently.  Yet another person in a completely different role from you will almost definitely create different groupings and sub-structures for the tasks.  Over time, even YOU are likely to believe the task relationships aren’t quite right due to new information about the world changing around that structure.

Despite most project members’ mild buy-in to the initial work breakdown structure and despite the fact that almost all project plans become rapidly irrelevant, they are still the favored structure for project managers.

What if rather than grouping tasks and building a hierarchy, tasks are just tagged with keywords?   There are relatively sophisticated tools now for building views on top of those tags to show the work plan in the way that makes most sense to the viewer.  There could also be filters to take out extraneous (to that person) information and simple hyperlinks to view related sets of tasks.

There would still need to be dependencies between tasks, but those related tasks could be initially found through keyword searches and links could be established via collaborative project start-up sessions.  With dependencies established, individualized views could allow software to display specific gantt charts.

Avoiding the static hierarchy means one less artifact pinning down the original plan thereby giving more opportunity for the plan to stay ahead of the reality taking shape around it over time.

Does anyone know of any project management tools out there that work more like this?  I have not found them yet.

Microsoft Project doesn’t work

I have been using Microsoft Project for years.  There’s been a lot of love and a lot of hate.  Often at the same time.

In my opinion, it is still the best available software for setting up project tasks and project dependencies.

Unfortunately, that is where the party almost always ends.  The problem is that reality almost never follows the path we envision on Day 0.  The timeline is not the only element that changes.  What steps are required and the order of those steps ebb and flow as well throughout the project.

This is where the best part of MS Project also becomes its downfall: it is so good at identifying dependencies and assigning resources in order to build a nicely structured gantt chart, that the interdependencies are usually massive.  When elements start to shift, the number of data points and task relationships that must be maintained becomes unwieldy.

Most PM’s realize eventually that nobody else on the team is really paying much attention to the project plan and they are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep it current, so they give up.  In a horrible scenario, they try to deathmarch to the beat of the original plan.  In a better scenario, they find an alternate way to track progress and predict success.

I have found MS Project is a useful tool at the beginning of a project to identify critical path.  A critical path is the longest dependency chain.  It is a set of tasks that if one of them slips, it will slip your entire project.

Once I am ready to begin a project, I slim it down to a format that the whole team can relate to and that can be kept up to date more easily.  I also like frameworks such as IBM’s 7 keys approach which takes a much more holistic approach to project status tracking.

Anyone using MS Project all the way through a software development project?  Anyone using agile and MS Project together in some way?