The Secret of Effective Project Management

Let me get straight to the point. The Secret of Effective Project Management is finding the right balance between managing too little and managing too much. And in order to understand how to walk this elusive middle path, let us first take a look at the extremes.

In a quest to give their team a free hand and keep things moving fast, some managers end up taking an over simplified approach. When they do this, they lose track of important aspects of work. When their team would want their guidance, they wouldn’t know it and hence would not be available to them. As a result, the team would end up heading in a different direction from the one they want to steer it in. On the other hand, other managers wanting to stay in charge make their processes too sophisticated. They fill their work places with rules, regulations and policies. A large part of the workday is spent logging what is done, getting permissions and just adhering to protocol. And all this makes the team’s progress a lot slower than what it can be.

Let us examine this phenomenon with an example. Say a manager needs to work with a team of designers to create a new website for his company. An over-simplifying manager gives the team an idea of what he wants, agrees on a deadline and disappears till then. He believes, he has given his designers a lot of freedom. But when the work is done, he realizes many things don’t fall in place. He wants to project his business as long-serving, stable and trustworthy and the heavy use of fire-engine-red and sporty fonts don’t really reinforce that.  He realizes with much despair that the site needs lots of rework and this is good news to nobody.

The manager who overdoes things, creates a detailed specs document that specifies permitted image and font sizes, graphics to text ratio, page sizes and a long list of dos and don’ts. She wants the team to log the time spent on each file they create and also send her daily reports on progress. And the team feels it would be easier to write a program that parses through these specs and dumps a matching template than create one themselves!

The manager who strikes the balance, begins by clarifying the problem. He tells his team what his company is about, who the target audience is and what he wants to convey to them. He then inspires them by showing them samples of what he considers to be masterworks along the lines of what he wants. He breaks down the project into milestones; points where a tangible portion of the work could be said to be completed. And as the work progresses, he reviews the project when these points are reached. Options are discussed and changes are iterated over during these reviews. Thus he gives his team space to exercise creativity and come up with great work and at the same time makes sure it serves his needs.

When selecting a tool to manage a project, how it enables the manager to strike this balance becomes a critical consideration. Limitations in the tool by itself, can push her towards either extreme, making the balance harder, if not impossible to achieve.

Project management is a hot market and we see new project tracker apps appear here every other day. Many of them are projected as simple to use and they are. But this simplicity often comes at the cost of depth — to manage a complex project today, you need a good set of tracking, reporting and collaboration features and most of these apps are little more than glorified to-do lists.

At the other extreme, we have apps that are too complicated. “I have seen many people use Microsoft Project for planning,” says Srinivasan Venkatachalam an Associate Manager at Accenture. “But when it comes to execution, it makes you follow so many steps that life becomes difficult for everybody. Employees such as developers, see tasks like logging hours, not as part of work, but something that gets in its way! If you force them to do too much of it, I find they end up filling junk data just to please you. And junk data is worse than no data!”

“Half the night @Jira tested,” tweets Kai Schenkercofounder and CEO Lauscher Lounge, “This tool is a monster, but I fear too monstrous for our projects…”

Zoho Projects has been designed to make it effortless for you to strike this balance. We offer a rich set of features that can address all possible needs of a manager. The workflow is designed such that these features stay relevant to context, so they never get in the way when you don’t need them.

We were looking for a simple cloud based project tracking, time tracking and bug tracking tool which was easy to maintain and that could be made available to our team at multiple locations,” says Rajesh RaoAVP Platforms at HCL Technologies, “It was very important for the tool to be user friendly so that we did not spend much time training users and maintaining the tool. We evaluated some of the top cloud based project tracking tools and found Zoho to be very efficient and simple to use. It was a fit into all our requirements.

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