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Build a successful project teamLeadership, teaming, technology adoption and measuring effectiveness are the four things that Mike Hughes, Office Business Group Lead for Microsoft Ireland believes are essential for building a successful project team.

He spoke at an Ireland Chapter of PMI event recently about collaboration best practice and how to create effective project teams in the current business climate. Here’s what he had to say.Mike Hughes

1. Leadership

Mike had four soundbites for successful leadership on project teams:

  • Lead by example
  • Strategy before technology
  • Learn to get out of the way
  • Create a supportive environment

2. Teaming

Mike said project managers should listen to employees and ensure that the right people are involved. He told us to weigh up the benefits to the individual with company benefits to aim to get a good balance.

3. Technology adoption

Mike explained how Microsoft is currently thinking about collaboration: it’s all about integrating it into the flow of work instead of something that bolts on afterwards. Full integration of collaboration and ‘social’ technologies allows project teams to adapt and evolve their work and processes.

4. Measuring effectiveness

Mike said that it was important to measure what matters with persistence. If you are trying to use a tool like Yammer (which is now owned by Microsoft) without KPI’s then you’ll fail, he said.

The death of the job description

Mike said that nobody does what’s on their job description any more (at least in the project management or technology worlds) because the reality is that non-routine work involves people needing to be able to think. Collaboration tools require leadership and that means trusting the team to do the right thing.

“Social is changing the way we work,” he said. One of the major problems for teams is staying on top of email and social tools give you an opportunity to change that. He said that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use social networks, mainly Yammer (perhaps this is because it is given away free with Office 365 licences).

MS Dublin officeDelve: Microsoft’s new search

Having so much information available through a rich network means that search is even more important. Mike also talked about a new search tool called Delve. This learns about your role and work and presents you with what he called “opportunities”. Personally I think it sounds quite scary: it is effectively predictive search based on what you normally look at and people you normally talk to. He gave the example of wanting to find a presentation that was given at a meeting: instead of contacting the meeting organiser you can simply search the organisational memory for the presentation and assuming it has been made public you can access it. It might then also show you other presentations you might find interesting and people you might like to talk to. You could spend hours having a nose through other people’s files and looking at people’s profiles.

All of Microsoft’s products are moving towards integration and allowing people to interact. Yammer is integrated into SharePoint 2013, portal tools enable sharing and search like never before.

This is the way that social is changing the way we work, and the way our colleagues expect us to work. Successful project teams are successful because they move with the times and evolve their working practices to ensure that success follows.

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Predictions for online project management software

Jason Westland

Jason Westland

In the first article in this year’s Software September feature, Jason Westland, CEO of ProjectManager.com, shares his predictions for the future of online project management software.

We’re in interesting times, as the saying goes. Online project management software has evolved almost beyond recognition in the last 10 years and it is still evolving. These are the trends I’m noticing already and where I think the industry is going.

More mobility

According to a survey by Computing, 29% of companies have a complete lockdown on mobile working. That means no tablets, no web access and no productivity while key staff are on the road. Senior and middle managers – and that’s where project managers fit – are the two largest groups of staff forming the mobile workforce. And if they can’t access their essential applications and tools while travelling or even working from home, then productivity falls.

For project managers and their teams who need constant access to status information, it’s essential to have mobile access. We’ll see more project management tools offering apps and tablet-friendly mobile sites. Products that offer this are already really popular, and companies that use in-house hosted or standalone project management software will have to reconsider how they make access to those tools available (or change the tools) so that their project teams can operate effectively.

Another part of mobile solutions is the Bring Your Own Device trend. Younger project team members are increasingly expecting to be able to use their own tablets and smartphones at work. That’s the way they run their lives outside of the office, and having to carry around another mobile device isn’t appealing. Companies need to wise up to the fact that employees (of any generation) are now tech savvy enough to get around corporate policies and install apps on their own devices. Project team members could be doing this in your organisation to ensure that they can access the tasks, risks and resource assignments that they need to stay effective while on the go – even if it means ‘bending’ company guidelines.

More security

Online project management tools are secure. But there will be more focus on security in the future, as companies come under more pressure to prove that their corporate information is safe and managed in an appropriate way.

As a result, we’ll see online project management companies talking more about the measures they have in place to secure data – and as a result of that, I think large corporations that have traditionally been risk adverse for this kind of product will start considering online tools in a new light. At ProjectManager.com we already count NASA and Thomson Reuters among our customers.

More interoperability

There are lots of project management tools – not just applications that help manage tasks and schedules, but timesheet applications, calendars, wikis, bug management tools, note-taking and brainstorming software, and a whole host of other things that project managers use to stay organised.

As more and more of our work gets moved from project notebooks into online apps and other software, we become more reliant on remembering lots of passwords. In addition, project teams often work with suppliers and contractors who don’t use the same project management tools as they do.

I hope we’ll see more interoperability – tools that interact with each other, or interfaces that enable you to access multiple tools from one place. This relies on vendors using standards and formats that are in common use, and others coming into the picture to help provide integration options. ProjectManager.com isn’t the only product that is compatible with Microsoft products, but we’re pleased that we can at least make it easy to share files between virtual team members. More and more vendors will build in integration and sharing options to make everyone’s lives easier.

Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, but the marketplace for online project management tools is evolving (along with IT in many other areas). The suppliers who don’t keep up will find their customer base moving towards applications that are fully mobile, do make them feel secure and that do offer integration and compatibility options.

So yes, we’re in very interesting times – looking back at how much has changed in the last five years it will be fascinating to see what happens in the next five!

About the author: Jason Westland is CEO of ProjectManager.com and author of The Project Management Life Cycle. Find him on Google.


In this video, Richard Gordon from Microsoft discusses the role of SharePoint, bemoans the fact companies don’t upgrade to the latest versions or use the full functionality and muses on the future of project management software. This video was filmed at the Project Management in the Collaborative Age round table discussion hosted by Microsoft and organised by APM earlier this year.


Richard: We typically see SharePoint as being the tool that aggregates information. We typically see SharePoint being used to pull project’s information together, financial information, HR information, whatever information you want whether they be from the Microsoft family or other tools and bringing all of that together into a series of portals – portals was a word that was used earlier. Portals are a great way for people can go and self-serve themselves with information.

The technology is largely already there to do that. It’s coming back to the point that Paul made that have organizations really about what they want and how they are going to share it, who have access to what. If they can work all of that out, the technology is largely there to do it already for them. So SharePoint is typically a tool that we see organizations using to aggregate information and to provide it as live portals.

In addition, you can use all the BI capabilities to actually get SharePoint to drive the management reporting using a dashboard where an executive can see something and drill down into further levels of information. Again, SharePoint can be very much used to do that. But again, it comes back to the question: ‘What do you want? When do you want it? Who can you give it to?’ and those are the big questions that as technology providers, we can go in and we can say that we’ve seen other people using it and this is our best practice and maybe here’s a bunch of templates. But we find that many organizations, yes, it’s slightly different and they all want something slightly different because of the internal politics or the regulatory bodies or the partners they are working with.

Keep with the times. Project 2010 has been out since 2010 so that’s been out a while and still not enough organizations are anywhere near using the capability. I regularly – that’s part of my job, going and showing you guys the capability – and I’m still showing it to people, their jaws are dropping and I’ve been doing this now for  a few years.

So I absolutely understand that some people don’t want to be at the very cutting edge or whatever we want to call it. Some wait for a service pack to come out, et cetera, et cetera but these days, products are tested so well that by the time they get out to a community they’re there and it’s a challenge for all us around the table. So I’m sure you don’t want to carry on potentially using those crusty old products whatever they might be and having your inbox is overloaded. Now, we have, as a group of people, to find the right way of helping each other I guess.


Can you really work on an iPad?

Software September logoSoftware September continues with a look at iPad applications for business.

Last year, I got an iPad. I didn’t choose to buy one: it was the Computer Weekly IT Blog Awards prize. I wasn’t expecting to win it, and I’d only ever seen one before. The people with me that evening were ecstatic at the prize. I hadn’t even got a bag to carry it home in. I spent the journey home wondering what an iPad was really for.

Ten days later, No Starch Press offered me a copy of My New iPad by Wallace Wang. Suddenly everything was clear. I have lived with my iPad for nearly a year now…and I love it.

My New iPad book

The book that explained the iPad

My business colleagues are sometimes sceptical. I travelled overseas for work recently and I took my iPad as well as a laptop. Yes, it’s another device to carry around. But I can read on the plane. I can write blog posts at the airport. I can write a project management book review without having to carry the book or a pad and pen. I haven’t tried getting my boarding pass on it, but it works on a colleague’s iPhone so I don’t see why it shouldn’t work on an iPad.

That’s all great, but how good is it for office work? I talked to Wallace to find out what else I could do with my iPad.

Business apps to get you started

One of the difficulties of using the iPad for business is that the office environment is often Windows based. You can read Word documents on the iPad, but there can be interoperability issues. “One of the most interesting apps I’ve seen is Parallels Mobile,” says Wallace Wang. “This app is free and connects over the Internet to your Macintosh. Parallels lets you run multiple operating systems so it’s possible to run Windows on your Mac and then Windows remotely from your Mac using your iPad.”

Wallace points out that many things you can do via your PC are also possible via the iPad. “Another interesting business app for the iPad is GoToMeeting,” he says. “It’s another free app that lets you attend webinars.”

If you use Kanban or make use of sticky notes for project planning, try iCardSort. The Lite version is free. “iCardSort mimics a desktop where you can place index cards,” says Wallace. You can type notes and colour code them. Now you can slide these notes around to arrange them by position or colour on the screen.” They do appear rather small, and it isn’t the same visual impact as a team Kanban board, but for personal projects and individual planning and note taking this is a good application.

iCard screen

Organising sticky notes with iCard Lite

Doing what you do on a PC

“My personal favourite business productivity app is Pages,” says Wallace. “It is similar to the Pages word processor on the Mac. By using Pages and the virtual keyboard on the iPad, I can type complete documents just like using an ordinary computer.” Pages is the application I use for my documents. I used to use the Notepad, but I like Pages more.

I am also using Keynote, which is a version of the Keynote presentation tool (the equivalent to Microsoft PowerPoint) for Mac. The iPad version has been reworked to make it suitable for use on the iPad screen without a mouse. The controls take some getting used to, but the slideshows you can create are fantastic. I have also bought an iPad-to-projector cable so I can broadcast directly from my iPad during meetings.

And of course you can get email and websites. Google has just recently changed the default setting so that the Google homepage on the iPad reverts to the mobile version of the website – not a good choice in my opinion, but I am researching ways around it.


Sysop, a training firm which runs ITIL courses, provides pre-course work and training manuals pre-loaded on to an iPad which is yours to keep. I haven’t seen any project management training companies doing this yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this doesn’t happen in the future.

You can annotate training manuals with your comments. You can add bookmarks to your favourite pages. You can complete worksheets and exercises on it. You can carry it around far more easily than a big fat folder. The only downside is that I doubt they will let you take it into the exam room, so it wouldn’t be any good as a solution for PRINCE2 Practitioner exams.

I’m not an early adopter of technology, but I have come to love and rely on my iPad. I’m sure with time I’ll find even more business uses for it but for now I can say that it has revolutionised the way I travel for work. What are your experiences of using an iPad at work?

Jovia Nierenberg

Jovia Nierenberg

Jovia Nierenberg is Chief Operating Officer at Experience in Software. That’s the company behind the new project management tool Webplanner. She’s only 23. I asked her about her life as a COO, what’s next for Webplanner and her advice for young women wanting to work in project management.

Jovia, how did you end up being COO at 23?

My father founded Experience in Software (EIS) in 1983. Shortly after finishing college, I began work at the company doing some basic bookkeeping. Just a few months later, my dad got sick and could run the business less and less.

We were at a pivotal turning point with the beginning of Webplanner’s development, which I was product managing. Given my father’s health complications and my experience working at the company, it made sense for me to assume more responsibility and become COO of the company. I’ve really enjoyed streamlining EIS’s business processes and learning how to run a company.

So what does your role involve?

At a small company we all wear many hats. I do everything from defining company procedures and operations to product-managing Webplanner to checking the mail. I also manage other employees, do Webplanner customer support (someone else does Project KickStart customer support), design the user interface of Webplanner, manage company finances, and various tasks that do not fit into anyone else’s job description.

Wow, that’s a varied job. Tell us about what role you play in the development of Webplanner.

Webplanner development is probably the most fun part of my job. When we have new features and pages, I draw the initial user interface sketches and work with our primary developer to turn the sketches into reality. I focus primarily on product intuitiveness; whenever a user has trouble understanding how to do something, I go back and see if that functionality can be made easier to use.

I manage the development team and communicate with customers about bugs they’ve found and changes they’d like to see. Whenever I use any web app or other piece of software, I’m thinking about how we can make Webplanner better. I record ideas and cool things I see in the world in an Evernote account.

Much of my process has been inspired by Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From. I’m very interested in how people think and plan and how we can develop Webplanner (and future applications) to help people innovate.

Webplanner screenshot

Webplanner screenshot

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of good ideas for the product. How is the development of Webplanner going and what’s next for the tool?

Very well!!! Our beta testing group has doubled in size in the month of May and is continuing to grow. Our last big hurdle before release is getting our billing system set up. Once Webplanner is on the market, we plan to go mobile with an iPhone/iPad app and an Android app.

There are also many updates in the works, including improved multi-project functionality and better integration with other software like MS Project and salesforce.com. We will, of course, continue to incorporate the feature requests we get from our users too.

First Project KickStart, now Webplanner. Why do you enjoy working with project management tools?

I am fascinated by how people think and tools that can help people accomplish their dreams. Project management software helps people turn their ideas into reality and I find that very exciting.

What advice do you have for young women who want to go into project management or software development?

No dream is too big. Passion and good planning are equally important when it comes to accomplishing your goals.

Read books that feature success stories. I recently enjoyed Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff. Read blogs and forums that interest you. Develop a network of people to bounce ideas off of. Go to local tech events and introduce yourself to people. It’s been my experience that if you’re warm and friendly, people are eager to help you when you’re starting out. I’ve gotten great advice this way.

There are also many organizations dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs. For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area (where our office is located), there is  Women 2.0, who we met at a SF New Tech event. Wherever you’re located, I recommend finding resources like that and taking advantage of what they offer.

I also want to put in a plug that at Experience in Software, we’re always looking for bright young women interns who are interested in getting into project management or who would one day like to start their own companies.

Thanks, Jovia!


“The role of director of user experience is pretty new,” says Steve Ballard, who has taken on this position at project management software company @task. “In consumer software it’s not so new. The product has to sell itself so the focus is on products that are useful.” The difference with software you use at work is that these products tend to have a sales force to sell, support and explain them. The shift towards focusing on user experience for workplace software, Ballard explains, is because users expect the same from their office tools as they do from the software they use at home. “People are expecting software to be useful,” he says.

Useful software

@task firmly believes in producing useful software. This year members of the @task team went out and practically lived with customers in their offices to find out how the software was used. What they found out became the driving force behind the latest version of their project management tool.

Before they hit the offices, the @task guys interviewed each other internally to find out who they thought the users were. Then they set out to confirm or disprove their theories with visits to 20 companies across the U.S. “We talked to people with different roles,” Ballard explains. “We talked to team members, project managers and executives, so about 60 people. We tried to live with the people a little bit – it’s kind of anthropology.”

The visitors sat with users at their desks to understand how project management software is used in practice. The Chief Technology Officer, software engineers, product managers and usability experts took turns in attending, with Ballard going along for all the visits to provide consistency. The team took trips to big companies, small companies and various different industries from financial services to pharmaceutical and manufacturing. “We thought we would see unique challenges across different industries, but we didn’t,” Ballard says. “They all struggle with the same things. We now realise that if we can make Chris happy we can make all end users happy.”

Designing for pretend people

“Chris” is a fictional person, the archetypal project management software user. Ballard explains that it is easier to design for one person than for a disparate group. “We created user personas – fictional people,” he says. The @task team built up profiles for 3 fictional users: Chris, a project team member and software end user, Jen, a project manager and Mark, a project executive. “Nobody focused on the team member for obvious reasons,” says Ballard. “The software buyer is not the main user on a daily basis. Chris is critical to the success of @task software in any organisation.”

The @task site visits uncovered the fact that most project managers force (shock, horror!) their users to input data into a project management software tool. Stream, the new version of the @task software, tries to get away from the need to do that. “Our approach with Stream is understanding Chris’s goals, and to give him something that helps him be responsible and have control over his work. This solves the adoption problem, which is an issue for all software,” Ballard explains. The big problem for project managers, he says, is coping with ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Project managers find it hard to trust the outputs from software when they have questions about the quality of the data. Stream addresses this by aiming to empower the end user through allowing them to commit to their own dates. “If we can meet Chris’s goals, we can get data into the system for the project managers,” Ballard adds.

Usability in action

“Some customers got it,” says Ballard, although he confesses it was easier to sit with customers than with non-customers. The @task usability task force did go to sit with companies who do not use their software, so they could be sure they weren’t just “designing software in a lab.” Ballard feels the experience was very useful. “We wanted to understand the whole thing holistically,” he says. “We wanted to observe the day-to-day. In the end, they understood what it was all for – which was more than just the ‘how’ of using project management software.”

They have plans to make further developments to @task focusing on Jen, the project manager persona, and Ballard believes there is scope for improvement in how project managers use and interact with software tools. “By continuing to use this process it will allow us to make some really great innovations,” says Ballard. Project managers, watch this space. There could be something revolutionary brewing in the @task software labs. After, of course, they go out and research the design with Jen in mind.


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