December 8, 2019

Becoming a Better PM – Time Management

As I discussed in my previous article self management is a key competency of a good project manager, and time management is a significant part of self management. Time management is important for everyone. As I have taken up more senior roles,  I’ve found that I’ve needed it more and more – when I was junior there was often someone else giving me direction, checking whether I had done something. When I started managing projects I realised that this was even more important. What I have found is that so many other people are dependent on the things that I do. If I don’t send that email to the vendor, they don’t start the work. If I don’t pass that message on the staff don’t do the work etc. This magnifies the negative effects of any poor time management on my part. Realising this, I put more effort into improving my time management – and learned a few lessons along the way. So here are a few techniques that work for me.

Spend a few minutes planning my day (and my week).

When discussing projects, we all recognise the truth of the old adage that to fail to plan is to plan to fail, but I hadn’t really understood how much this applies to my personal work as well. Following Dermot Crowley‘s advice I try and take 10-15 minutes at the start of each day to plan out my day. Not in any great detail, but to plan out the key tasks I’m going to try and get done that day, prioritise them, and look at roughly when I’m going to get them done in the context of the meetings and other commitments I have that day.

That’s a pretty short horizon, so I also try and spend 20-30 minutes each Monday to plan out my week. I find that if I don’t plan, then it is easy to find myself just reacting to others – doing the things that I get asked when I get asked, and reacting to whoever is “shouting loudest”.

Write down my tasks when I get them

I don’t try and just remember my tasks, and I don’t wait and write them down later. That certainly doesn’t work for me, and I don’t believe I’ve met anyone that this works for. 

In addition, I’ve learnt to write them down somewhere where they won’t get lost – a single, central task list. I used to have a book for all my meetings, which I used to write all my notes and tasks in. But you know what? I never went back and looked at that book – I used to rely on my memory, which never quite worked. Now I still use a book, but as soon as I’m back at my desk, I copy my tasks from my book into my central task list.

I find that I need two lists: today’s tasks, plus a longer full task list. Each day (during my daily planning session), I look at my complete task list and move the most urgent ones onto the day’s list. Then I look at my emails from yesterday and my calendar (so I can add any required prep onto my daily task list).

Equally with task management, I think about how this differs when I am managing a project – I need to include tasks to follow up with people to make sure they are doing their tasks.

Allocate my time

What I do, is during the sessions where I plan my day, I try to book out my time in my calendar for any important or time consuming tasks, e.g. writing a report. Also, for any recurring task that takes a regular amount of time (e.g. writing a project status report), I put that in my calendar as a recurring appointment. And I don’t just put into my calendar, I try and put n a reasonable amount of time for the particular task, and I make sure that time is marked as busy, so that people won’t try and book meetings over it – those people who respect calendars anyway!

As a project manager, I find it useful to allocate time in my diary for recurring project management activities: writing project status reports, preparing for project meetings etc.

None of these things are earth shattering revelations, but taken together they have helped me improve my ability to manage my own time, and marrying them to specific project management concerns has been a great help. I also won’t take credit for any of these ideas. They have all come from others, notably from Dermot Crowley’s book Smart Work and advice from Lachlan Mollison – who has been a great help in my journey.

November 28, 2019

What makes a good project manager?

Have you ever asked yourself what makes a good project manager? I know I have. I’ve asked it with respect to good (and bad) project managers I’ve worked with, and I’ve asked it with respect to myself as I manage projects. In conversation with others I’ve batted around obvious talking points like “it’s a combination of the ‘hard’ technical side of project management, plus the softer side of influencing people”. But the best answer I’ve ever seen is in the guide to Project Management for Development Professionals (PMDPro). For me, reading this was a bit of an epiphany. According to PMDPro, project management consists of four competencies (I’m paraphrasing a bit):

  • Technical project management – how good are you at scheduling, managing budgets etc.?
  • Leadership/interpersonal – how good are you at influencing, communicating.
  • Personal/self-management – how good are you at personal time management, organising your own work?
  • Domain expertise – how well do you know the area that the project is working in?

I think that this is the best summary I’ve ever seen on the subject. It encapsulates the soft and hard sides of project management, and the balance between being good at managing projects in general and in managing these kinds of projects. This answered that question for me – a good project manager is someone who is good at these four things. And this fitted with my experience: those people who I thought of as good PMs demonstrated excellence in these four competencies.  The big revelation for me was the inclusion of self-management. Since reading this I’ve put a lot of effort into improving that aspect of my work, and that for me is the test of a good model – is it useful, and for me this certainly was.

October 27, 2015

A Presentation on ICT for Lawyers

This post is a summary of a presentation I gave to a group of lawyers on ICT fundamentals. It represents my own opinion, and not that of my employers or anyone else! I apologies for it being so wordy – but a lot of material was covered.

My presentation walked through some fundamental concepts in ICT, some major trends that are shaping ICT, and how ICT organisations are evolving. The aim is to give a plain english summary to allow ICT lawyers to have sensible conversations about ICT to support the work that they do with ICT professionals. In my view ICT may be hard to do, but it is not hard to understand. At the end of each topic I will include my own personal view. Continue reading

November 5, 2013

NZ Government Announces Desktop as a Service

Exciting news (for me anyway)! Last Friday, November 1 2013, the New Zealand Government Chief Information Officer (Colin MacDonald, Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs) announced that the New Zealand government had negotiated contracts for the supply of Desktop as a Service (DaaS).  Continue reading

October 23, 2013

What Is the Difference Between Privacy and Security?

When talking with people about privacy and information security I often come across a common misconception – that there is nothing more to privacy than security, or that the two are roughly the same.  In particular this often comes up in discussions around the use of cloud services where people seem to think that if they address security issues with cloud services, then there is nothing more to do from a privacy perspective. Continue reading

October 21, 2013

Big News in Virtual Desktops: VMware Acquires Desktone

The big news, from my point of view, from VMworld in Barcelona was the announcement that VMware has acquired the Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) vendor Desktone. VMware is probably the leading vendor for enterprise virtual desktop technology (i.e. virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI – with their Horizon product line) – though Citrix might dispute this. Desktone are the leading provider of DaaS technology for service providers – that is virtual desktops delivered from the cloud on an as-a-Service basis. Continue reading

October 1, 2013

What Does Cloud Mean For Your Corporate Network?

If you are looking at a significant use of cloud computing, have you considered what this might mean for your network? Corporate networks are an often overlooked factor when thinking about cloud computing. The problem is that cloud computing increases the criticality of your network, because if your network isn’t available then your cloud services aren’t either. Continue reading

September 26, 2013

Cloud and Consumerisation Have Changed the Desktop Forever

This blog post is sponsored by T-Systems and the Zero Distance community.

Cloud and the consumerisation of IT have changed the face of end user computing, and the desktop in particular irrevocably. Continue reading

August 21, 2013

Why Do Something Rather Than Nothing?

We are often called on to justify the particular option or path we are taking. We often have good articulate reasons for choosing this option over that one, for why we are taking this particular path, but we are rarely asked to justify why we are doing anything at all. But surely, this is the more important question? Why are we doing something at all? Why are we doing something rather than nothing? Continue reading

July 26, 2013

What Are Architecture Documents For?

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about what the real purpose of architecture documentation is. The simple answer of “documenting the architecture” seems unsatisfactory to me – “what is the point in that?” I think. My response to him was that architecture documents are for recording (and communicating) architectural decisions.   Continue reading