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Struggling Project Management

Struggling Project Management

Struggling Project Management

Hey All,

Thank you to all the members for this great resource. Long time user, first time poster.

My issue: As a PM and Designer, do I work to solve the problems of a company's lack of project management tools or do my job as a Designer? See below.

I work in a small survey firm that doesn't have any project management system and our residential construction side(which I oversee)is lacking in traceable accountability and project management. Our turn around is quoted at 5 weeks with about 40 new projects per month which I manage and work on myself. Mind you, we are all remote as of Covid and our office staff is much smaller than our field crew staff. I use Google Sheets for keeping track on my end and overseeing one other draftsman but there is no feedback on what is past due, etc. As you can imagine, keeping up to date with revisions can be a challenge and nearly doubles our workload per week. When I came on, there was a KMZ list that I worked off of. That's it. Any advice would be great. Thanks!

RE: Struggling Project Management

If you're a manager AND and a designer, then I'd say you do both. Delegate some of the design work to the other drafters so you can get a handle on the workflow. They may have to work a little harder for a week or so while you get it set up, but if you do it right they'll probably thank you afterward. I don't use Google Sheets, but I know it's somewhat similar to Excel. I'm going to assume it has the needed functionality for this. With what you have, you could just set a conditional formatting rule for your "due date" column that turns yellow when you hit your internal QC deadline and red when it hits the deadline quoted to the client (or X days before if you want time to react). That's a start, at least.

Beyond that, there are lots of project management tools out there from the simple to the complex. Gantt charts, Kanban Boards, Timelines, etc. Fancy ones include resource tracking so you have visibility on when your team is getting overloaded.

RE: Struggling Project Management

Thanks for the quick phamENG! I should have also noted that we are well understaffed for our expected turn arounds. As I only have one slow drafter to schedule work with. I do really like that idea of the conditional formatting to help with our sheet!

My main concern is whether I should be killing time brainstorming better practices for the project management that isn't in place to begin with? We will never catch up because that's not how a business scales to big $$. But when I have upset customers breathing down the admin's neck, in turn, down mine, how am I to successfully manage mismanagement? Or is it something beyond my scope?

RE: Struggling Project Management

No amount of management will overcome understaffing. The best you can do is make the process as efficient as possible to reduce the degree of understaffing (if you're not able to increase staff numbers).

With 40 projects a month and the description of surveying, it sounds like you're in process management rather than project management? Ie repetitive process that you don't need to re-plan each time. In that case, you need to automate, starting with whatever you already know is the bottleneck - sounds like drafting. Find out what's being done by a human that needn't be. Your drafter probably already knows, it'll be something s/he hates and always thinks "There has to be a better way."

RE: Struggling Project Management

Quote (Survey352)

Or is it something beyond my scope?

That's between you and your boss. I don't know how your job description was written. But if you're responsible for overseeing the workflows for your 'division' of the company, then my first (blunt) observation is that it's your mismanagement. You may not have created the situation, but you own it and it's your mess to deal with. Now, if this is just some job that you don't care about, then let it ride. But if this is your career and you care about the product you're putting out and your company's and your own reputation (I don't know, maybe you'd like to be managing the whole show, or move on to an office with your name on the sign?) then the buck should stop with you whenever and wherever that's possible.

First step is probably to figure out turnaround time. From the time a job starts (survey crew gets in the truck, not when the proposal is signed) to delivery of the finished product, how long does it take? If there's a range, how big is it? Can you identify variables that impact that time? Once you have that information, you can estimate a completion date based on the scheduled start date. This assumes you have scheduled start dates for the surveys. If you don't, you should. If managing the field crews isn't your job, work with that supervisor to get the schedule. If they never meet it, talk to them about fixing it to make it more realistic. In the end, you should have the ability to create a more accurate schedule to keep things on track and keep clients happy. There will always be those people who want it yesterday and if you don't treat them like the Emperor of the World then you're worthless....but 98% of clients just want realistic expectations. "I want it back in 3 weeks." "We can do 4." "I really want 3." "Sorry, 4 is the best we can do." "Well okay then, I'll talk to you again in 4 weeks." Just have to hold the line.

So once that's worked out, change the turnaround language form "5 weeks" to "Approximately 5-6 weeks from receipt of signed proposal, but this may vary based on workload. You will receive a more accurate completion date within 2 business days of receipt of signed proposal." If you start seeing the backlog build past 6 weeks consistently, change it again to 6-7, etc.

RE: Struggling Project Management

I feel like there's a gap in the description of how work moves through your hands.

Just guessing - you are given work to parcel out but aren't in charge of the drafters and they turn their work over to someone else who doesn't tell you what has been done.

I dealt with that by simply saying that people doing the work would get no more work until I saw proof they had completed what had already been given them. Too bad they didn't report to me - several were so pathetically inept that they only survived because their manager didn't want to admit they didn't actually do anything, which would look bad for him, and he disliked confrontation to the point he never wanted to know what I assignments I'd made. Mostly the bad ones were contract workers and could have been dismissed for no reason.

Edit: I just recalled - the reason they were forced onto my project was the project they had been hired for ran out of money and I was under budget. I had already turned several of them down at their initial interview. Sorry, but "How do I create a part model" isn't what I expect from an applicant for a CAD intensive job to ask.

Hiring tip - if a person tells how many hours they have used some software that's a huge warning sign.

RE: Struggling Project Management

Well, the good news is you aren't alone. Most small companies struggle with establishing efficient project management processes, especially when you get into small teams that are rearranging constantly depending on project workload, and multiple project managers "competing" for resources.

The bad news -- most of the actual challenges here are more people-centric than process-centric. They're going to be fairly unique and individual (or at least require customization) for your team composition, typical clients, and to make the gap adapting to a new system from your existing workflow as small as possible. And depending on how similar or variable your projects are, you may or may not have good estimates and data to forecast how many resources will be needed for each.

Absolutely, observe and automate your pain points. Build some templates for proposals, project schedules and the like. You might even keep a running forecast sheet to help your team communicate and plan for the next 2-3 weeks looking ahead. But in my experience, you might do best to start just by creating a system that provides a rolling measurement of how well your team is doing compared to your estimates so that you can identify pain points and improve in the future. It's hard to actually manage (with any tangible benefit) in real time.

(I haven't yet found anything paid that significantly beats an Excel/Sheets setup for tracking of engineering projects in small teams. I've used Trello and similar board with some success, but that decision is mostly based on what your team is already comfortable using and how your cloud/remote collaboration is already structured)

just call me Lo.

RE: Struggling Project Management


My main concern is whether I should be killing time brainstorming better practices for the project management that isn't in place to begin with?

No, PMs can certainly assist but this is really the larger organization's responsibility. The PM's primary role is to track past and current project data, and ask why the pace of work is/isnt changing and how to improve it. Everybody else should be answering the "why" and proposing ways to improve process to a monthly/quarterly/etc process change board. I would start by sitting down with dept leads to create a list of metrics for each dept's work to be tracked on, collect the necessary data to analyze/compare projects, and start asking "why." Let others answer the question, and when they do be sure to help facilitate (aka push) the change however necessary.

RE: Struggling Project Management

Manager: "Around here we all wear many hats."

Employee: "Would be nice if some of you wore pants on occasion."

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