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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.


Gamification in project management

Connect 4

Last year, it was all about social media. This year’s hot new trend is gamification. What’s that, I hear you ask? It’s such a new word that my spellchecker flags it up as an error.

Gamification has been around for a while. It’s the art of making work seem less like, well, work. It’s about using techniques used in games in non-gaming contexts in order to increase engagement. Back in 1999 when I worked for American Express, we had a company-wide game. For every shop you reported that did not accept the Amex card, you received a game card with a picture on. It was a bit like Snap. If you matched the pictures on the cards you could cash them in for a prize. I remember collecting dozens of cards and being disappointed when they didn’t match and elated when they did. I must have got a few prizes that summer but I can’t even remember what they were. It’s playing the game that I remember, not the outcome.

APM have even set up a gamification in project management group this year. The Gamification Study Tour is funding a group of new project managers in the Thames Valley region to investigate innovative methods for improving engagement amongst project stakeholders through gamification.

So how does it work?

Gamification in practice

People like recognition, and they like to feel part of something. Gamification techniques tap into that – the idea of leaderboards, badges and levels. Games often include things to collect (like houses in Monopoly) or privileges if you hold a certain card (like The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game), or a way of collecting points (like Scrabble).

Putting these social triggers into the workplace is supposed to make people feel more engaged. We see it through:

  • Badges, awards and shields (like on projectmanagement.com)
  • Leaderboards (like the LinkedIn groups ‘top influencers this week’ feature)
  • Points (like RedCritter Tracker, an agile project management software tool)

The APM group identified 5 benefits to like this. They are:

  • Increasing productivity, as people stay at their tasks for longer because they are more fun
  • Improving morale, as people like social recognition, collecting ‘likes’ etc
  • Increasing quality, although I don’t know how this is related to gamification techniques
  • Increasing employee retention, because life at work is nicer
  • Creating an exciting work environment, because we all like to work somewhere exciting!

I’m also sure that some people would be very happy in a work environment that doesn’t encourage competition or too much excitement through leaderboards, so I think there are some people who would be very much left out of any project gamification activity. PropsToYou is a project management tool that doesn’t use leaderboards and instead encourages people towards their personal best. I think we’ll see more of this kind of use of game theory in the future as people get better at how to understand the practical aspects of motivational theory in a business environment.

Gamification for collecting data

Gamification makes sense from a business perspective as well as an employee engagement perspective. Better data leads to better decisions.

Of course, companies only build game-like features into their software or processes for a reason. Like the Amex game, it’s about collecting data. If you use gamification features on your online project management tool, you can encourage people to enter their project reports, task updates and so on. Anything that encourages people to use the product has to be a good thing, as often software implementations fail not because the software is no good but because people prefer to work outside it.

With consumer-led gaming, companies can get all sorts of data about customers. Starbucks is doing this at the moment with the 2012 Red Cup Challenge, a Facebook game that I’m sure shares your details with Starbucks behind the scenes and therefore gives them useful information on their customer base.

In short, gamification makes sense from a business perspective as well as an employee engagement perspective. Better data leads to better decisions.

The difference between gamification and behaviour shaping

In my latest book, Customer-Centric Project Management, I talk about gamification as one of the ways to address the challenge of needing to collaborate on project teams. I was lucky to have some insight from Mattias Hällström, Founder and Director of R&D at Projectplace. “One of the major reasons for Facebook’s success is the way the ‘like’ feature is implemented to encourage positive feedback,” he said. “Heavy Facebook users get addicted to positive feedback from their friends.”

Mattias explained that in behavioural science, the human reaction to positive feedback is explained as intermittent re-enforcement of behaviour by the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is intimately connected to human emotion. “It is a powerful social mechanism hard-wired into the human brain,” he said. “Positive feedback creates trust and reduces defensive behaviour, and it has evolved to enable humans to rapidly align their behaviour to each other to cooperate efficiently.”

Projectplace has tapped into this by including features that help the project manager to shape team member and stakeholder behaviour. They call this ‘behaviour shaping’ instead of gamification. “That’s why we have implemented a Facebook inspired ‘like’-feature in the Projectplace Conversations tool,” Mattias explained. “With this the project manager has a well-recognised and powerful usage model to encourage desired behaviour of team members and project stakeholders. We call this ‘Collaborative Planning’. Our goal is to help people involved in a project to coordinate and align their commitments with the project purpose to become more customer-centric.”

I think we’ll see more companies adopting gamification and behaviour shaping techniques in project management, and this will evolve as people realise that there is more to successful game-style features than leaderboards and setting up project team members to compete with each other.

However, I’m not aware of any research into this in the project management field particularly. It seems as if most of the academic work has been around driving consumer behaviour, so things like getting people to buy more stuff with Facebook games, which is not workplace-related. If anyone knows of any research into gamification specifically, please let me know in the comments! Equally, if you have any experience of using the game-like features of PropsToYou, RedCritter or ProjectPlace (or another tool), let us know what you thought of them and whether this kind of thing encourages and engages you at work.


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!


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