Tag Archives: project management

Always have a Plan B. For the not-so-happy path.

There’s a boy scout motto, that I’m sure you’re all familiar with.

“Be prepared.”

It’s simple, yet profound.

Regardless of what life throws at you, never allow yourself to be caught unaware.

I attended this PMI session Wednesday, and came away with a slightly derivative, but equally poignant motto for project management.

“Always have a ‘Plan B'”.

I’ll explain.

In web, mobile, and app development, we frequently talk about the ‘happy path’.

Its the principle that If the user does everything right and navigates through your product correctly, they’ll arrive at the right place, with the right feedback every time and your product will perform as expected.

But the ‘happy path’ is an illusion.

The series of improper clicks, unintended selections, erroneous keystrokes which can render even the most well-thought out user experience meaningless.

No one does everything right, so you’ve got to develop and test according to the ‘not-happy-path’.

In project management, the ‘happy path’ is Plan A.

It’s the plan that we all agree upon as the way to proceed.

Sponsors, beneficiaries, stakeholders, everyone signs off on Plan A, and we’re off to the races.

But what happens?

Inevitably, somewhere along the line, a milestone is missed, deliverables are delayed, unforeseen circumstances arise, and the project is in jeopardy.

You’ve got a drop date that can’t be missed.

So what do you do?

Well that’s where Plan B comes in.

Good project managers always assume that things will (not might) go wrong.

To err is human, and since we are all humanoids, erring must be factored into all (good) planning.

A Plan B is a critical component of effective project management because it acknowledges the need to have contingencies in place, in the event that your ‘happy path’ gets jacked.

The example the presenter gave at the PMI session was really good.

I can’t recall the exact details, but I’ll paraphrase.

Team A was working on a project which had a hard deadline. At some point during the project, it was decided that Team B would take over from Team A to complete the project. Needless to say, no one from Team A was happy about the decision.

During the meeting, when the change was announced, the Team B lead assured the client that everything would be done on time, “no problem.” The project manager for Team A asked if Team B needed any assistance in the transition, to which Team B demurred.

He then asked Team B’s lead if he knew (1) where Team A was on the project (he didn’t), (2) the current tools they were using to manage the project (he didn’t) and (3) whether he had a transition plan in place (he didn’t).

Sensing that Team B didn’t have a complete grasp of the magnitude of the project, Team A’s project manager proposed that the sponsor/client put certain milestones in place for Team B to meet, over the course of the upcoming week. If Team B failed to meet those milestones, the following week, Team A would reassume lead on the project, with Team B shadowing Team A on site.

Team B’s lead agreed, and then proceeded to miss the two milestones established for week 1. On Monday, of week two, Team B’s project lead contacted the client to update them on the status of the missed milestone, only to be reminded that they were due on-site to shadow Team A.

Plan B had kicked in.

Plan A – hand the project over to Team B – was the ‘happy path’. Team B was going to swoop in, pick up where Team A had left off, and deliver on time, “no problem”.

Plan B – revert to Team A – was the ‘not-so-happy-path’. In the event Team B failed, Team A would resume development and train Team B, for future projects.

Great. Now I’ve confused myself.

The moral of the story is that the project manager for Team A, had put in place a Plan B, in the event that Plan A failed, and Team B failed to deliver.

This is not to say that all plans fail.

But as Winston Churchill famously stated, “he who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

So always have a Plan B.

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My Top 5 (Productivity) iPad Apps

I’m frequently asked which apps I’ve got on my iPad by friends, colleagues and clients, alike.

Notice OutPost and OmniFocus in my dock.

But unlike most folks, who use their iPads for entertainment and have a gang of apps on their devices, from Angry Birds to HBO Go, and everything in between, I primarily use my iPad for work, and my apps are focused on productivity.

And while I’m sure you were ready for a juicy, fun, exciting or at least interesting “top 5 apps” list, this one will probably be very dry by comparison.

But among my six loyal readers, I’m certain that one of you will be rewarded with a salient or applicable take-away.

So without further ado, reader “X”, here are my Top 5 iPad Apps.

1.  OnmiOutliner

OmniOutliner is the ultimate outlining app.

For most of my clients, I am really a glorified project manager.  In this capacity, I’m routinely called upon to come up with creative ideas, and then figure out ways to design, develop, resource, implement, staff, deploy, track and report – essentially everything from ideation through execution.

I’ve found that being able to outline projects, from start to finish, and make adjustments on the fly is critical to managing all these moving parts effectively and efficiently.

OmniOutliner, by The Omni Group, is the perfect tool for creating, manipulating and sharing outlines.

OmniOutiner’s most appealing feature is it’s ease of use and malleability. I’ve created instruction manuals, proposals, schedules, equipment lists, budgets, you name it, with OmniOutliner.

From basic text/data entry, to hierarchical organization, lists, attachments, notes, reminders – I could go on and on – OmniOutliner is an organizational godsend.

2.  OmniGraffle

The perfect tool for mapping ish out!

If you’re a visual person or think in pictures, you probably find your notes peppered with sketches, diagrams, flow-charts and various other forms of doodles and drawings.

While your scrawling may appear to be scribbling and goofing-off to the casual observer, you know that these crude drawings are replete with meaning and value.

Your Moleskin notebooks are probably full of such drawings, which may (or may not) ever be referenced or used again, relegated to some dusty shelf of half-baked ideas.

OmniGraffle, also by the Omni Group, saves your (probably) good ideas from a life of obscurity, by making them useful and understandable by the common man, team member or just you.

OmniGraffle lets you create “graffles” (or drawings), maps, flow charts, organizational diagrams, wireframes, processes, or layouts, using stencils, lines, connectors and a host of useful tools.

Using the iPad screen as a canvas, OnmiGraffle can even take your hand-drawn sketch and turn it into something immediately useful.

3.  OmniFocus

OmniFocus helps you organize disparate thoughts.

Sometimes, you just want to jot down a thought, note, to-do or what-have-you because you don’t want to lose or forget the thought.

If the impulse to jot down a thought happens to you a lot, you’ve probably got a collection of scraps of paper, and/or fragments of ideas, notes and reminders, scattered about.

If you could assemble them in one place, you’d probably have a fully formed thought, idea or plan of action among those various disparate thoughts.

OmniFocus, by (once again) the Omni Group, helps to coral your random note-taking, thought-jotting, to-do-ing(?), and helps you, well, focus.

OmniFocus is all about task management, helping you to define, assign, prioritize, track and manage tasks.

With a simple-to-use interface, synching between multiple instances of OmniFocus, and integration with your calendar, it’s the perfect tool for staying organized.

4.  Outpost

Productivity personified.

As a Basecamp junkie (FYI Basecamp is a web-based project management and online collaboration tool developed by 37signals), being able to access my Basecamp account is critical to staying on top of my projects.

Sometimes, however, when wi-fi isn’t available and my 3G is spotty, accessing my account sometimes proves challenging.

OutPost, by Enormego, is an app that puts Basecamp on your iPad (and iPhone).

OutPost give you access to all of your accounts, projects, messages, assignments, contacts, calendars, milestones, writeboards and time-tracking.

It also synchronizes your activities, so that all your activities in Outpost seamlessly integrate with the Basecamp account.

OutPost is the ultimate in on-the-go productivity.

*Note: OutPost is one of the “buggier” apps that I use. It’s prone to frequent crashing. Can we work on this Enormego? Hello?

5.  SoundPaper (aka SoundNote)

Note-taking+audio recording. SoundPaper.

If you’re like me, whenever you take a meeting, you take meticulous notes.

I’ve always been really good about recalling the details of conversations – even when I wasn’t taking notes.

But sometimes, people talk fast, you mishear something or you get so caught up listening, that you stop writing.

Even the most meticulous note-taker missed an element or two, that for the life of them and despite their best efforts, they can’t recall.

SoundPaper, by David Estes, remedies that.

SoundPaper is a really handy app that combines a notepad with audio recording capabilities.

Simply click record and SoundPaper will automatically begin recording audio.

What’s especially cool about it, is that the recording is linked to your note-taking.

SoundPaper is really useful for lectures and other scenarios when your note-taking might not match the pace of the speaker.

So if you get caught up and can’t recall what was said, simply click on a word and SoundPaper takes you to the exact session and you can play back the audio you missed.

Three of the big five are in my "Productivity" tab: OmniGraffle, SoundPaper and OmniOutliner.

I’ve got a few other apps on my iPad, that I use from time-to-time, but these five are my “go-to” apps that keep me focused, organized and on-point.

If you’re looking to get yourself organized in 2012, and you’re planning on using your iPad to help you do it, then by all means, check out the apps I use!


Filed under mobile, opinion, technology, work