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Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Thu 23 May 2013 5:09 pm
by RobR
Hey guys,

I've been thrust into a PM role and I've been toying with the best way of managing things. The projects I'm managing all fall into the software development category, and with multiple developers there's never just one project to consider. At the moment we've got between 30-40 projects at different phases - from proposal to awaiting deployment.

At the moment I'm keeping all of this in an Excel spreadsheet with just one row per project, with smaller projects which don't have any milestones (e.g. just requirements -- development -- testing -- deployed') this just about works, with a larger project with multiple milestones I don't think this is going to work well at all.

A key part is being able to see all projects at once at a glance, which is why the Excel method works well. I've downloaded a trial of project but not used it that much if I'm honest, most tutorials seem to focus on how to manage one project in masses of detail.

I can see the whole master/sub project idea in Project but I'm not convinced that's the best way to go.

So, for people in a similar sitation, where you've got to keep track of lots of smaller projects mainly but a few large ones, all at once, all at different stages what approaches do you use?

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Thu 23 May 2013 7:53 pm
by dhaughey
Your current approach using Excel is not unusual. Our programme manager uses Excel to track all projects, one row per project  including their total duration. For each project he uses Microsoft Project to create detailed task level plans. The only issue is the lack of automated updates between the Microsoft Project task level plans and the Excel overview. I'm sure a good developer could write an Excel macro to solve this.

As a PM, I use Microsoft Project for tracking my software development projects at task level and use a master project to combine them. I find the master project useful for seeing my projects in one place and how they fit together over time.

I've yet to see a better approach using standalone PC software. I've tried various Excel based solutions off the Internet, but keep coming back to the Microsoft Project master and sub-project approach. The real sophistication comes with tools like Clarity from CA Technologies. These server-based solutions offer an integrated approach to portfolio, programme, project and resource management. The aim of tools like Clarity is to give a fully integrated way to managing all aspects of a project. These are high-end solutions and come with a price tag to match.

I would stay with Excel for your programme overview and light project plans, and use Microsoft Project for planning the larger projects.

Keep in mind when using Microsoft Project you will need to convert the plan to PDF format for anyone that doesn't have The application. For large plans set the paper size to A3 as this tends to give a better result printed and PDF.

I would like to find a better standalone PC solution, so any suggestions are welcome.

Duncan

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Fri 24 May 2013 5:38 am
by dhaughey
Further to my earlier post, a lot of new PMs make their MS Project plans too complicated and then find it difficult to mange them. The secret is to keep the plans as simple and realistic as possible.

I recently worked with a PM who had the tasks in his plan broken down in hours. It was hugely complicated and took us nearly a day to work through it. I tend to use half day as my smallest task duration. In software development I find this is fine. Once we'd reworked his plan it became much easier to mange and a useful tool during our daily stand-ups. And perhaps that's a good indicator, if you can't check progress against plan in a 15 minute stand-up, the plan's too complicated.

Hope this helps.

Duncan

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Fri 24 May 2013 9:03 am
by RobR
Duncan, both of these responses are really helpful. I've tried a few different hashups in Excel, none of them seem to be perfect and they all have shortcomings, at one point I even sketched out an idea for an MS SQL database (I write SQL as my main job), but I thought that was over the top and re-inventing the wheel really.

I guess I'd thought it would be an all or nothing approach I'd have to adopt with project, thinking one of the key benefits of it would be seeing a resource overview for the developers to plan when projects could start.

Did you just learn as you went along with MS Project and the whole master:sub project idea or did you follow any guides/have any formal training?

As regards the complication, I can see where your coming from, I don't think I'd go to that level! We tend to stick to day (at the most and rarely a half day), as it is I'm trying to formalise the process we have in place in small steps, getting people to write really simple proposals for example! (As opposed to just 'can you do this' as part of a chat in the kitchen)

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Fri 24 May 2013 10:59 pm
by dhaughey
I learned Microsoft Project through both training and on the job experience. It is a daunting tool when you first start using it. Only last week our Programme Manager showed me a shortcut I didn't know, so there's always plenty to learn.

If you can find somebody that knows Microsoft Project to help you that's a great way to start, otherwise, I tell people to start by creating test plans. The first efforts might not be brilliant, but it's the best way to learn the tool. It's worth persevering.

Always group your tasks into stages mirroring the project life cycle. Add frequent milestones for completion of key activities and deliverables.

There's a good tutorial here: Practical Microsoft Project for Project Planning and Tracking

I agree with you, people should write project proposals and project requests and not make casual requests that later change and evolve into something different from what was originally communicated. Good initiative!

Hope this is useful,
Duncan

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Sun 26 May 2013 11:36 am
by kwalford
RobR wrote:Duncan, both of these responses are really helpful. I've tried a few different hashups in Excel, none of them seem to be perfect and they all have shortcomings, at one point I even sketched out an idea for an MS SQL database (I write SQL as my main job), but I thought that was over the top and re-inventing the wheel really.

I guess I'd thought it would be an all or nothing approach I'd have to adopt with project, thinking one of the key benefits of it would be seeing a resource overview for the developers to plan when projects could start.

Did you just learn as you went along with MS Project and the whole master:sub project idea or did you follow any guides/have any formal training?

As regards the complication, I can see where your coming from, I don't think I'd go to that level! We tend to stick to day (at the most and rarely a half day), as it is I'm trying to formalise the process we have in place in small steps, getting people to write really simple proposals for example! (As opposed to just 'can you do this' as part of a chat in the kitchen)



If you are looking to learn MS Project 2010 then I would recommend CBT Nugget's tutorial videos (the tutor's name is Steve Casely).

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Mon 27 May 2013 3:40 am
by begeland
I agree with Duncan on using MS Project and then using a Master Project to roll them up together. You can also just create resource pools that way if you're main focus of combining is to manage resource allocations across many projects. I did that as one big one-off setup project for a consulting client of mine that couldn't figure out how to manage all their various resources across many similar projects.

I use Excel to manage most project budgets, but MS Project is what I use the most for managing each project and groups of projects. And, like Duncan said, try not to over complicate the project schedule - especially as the project is just starting.
Brad

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Mon 12 Aug 2013 5:13 pm
by RobR
dhaughey wrote:I learned Microsoft Project through both training and on the job experience. It is a daunting tool when you first start using it. Only last week our Programme Manager showed me a shortcut I didn't know, so there's always plenty to learn.

If you can find somebody that knows Microsoft Project to help you that's a great way to start, otherwise, I tell people to start by creating test plans. The first efforts might not be brilliant, but it's the best way to learn the tool. It's worth persevering.

Always group your tasks into stages mirroring the project life cycle. Add frequent milestones for completion of key activities and deliverables.

There's a good tutorial here: Practical Microsoft Project for Project Planning and Tracking

I agree with you, people should write project proposals and project requests and not make casual requests that later change and evolve into something different from what was originally communicated. Good initiative!

Hope this is useful,
Duncan


Duncan - just wanted to say I've returned to the PDF you linked to. I skimmed through it a bit before but I didn't really have much time to use Project. I then discovered a tutorial series on Udemy which seems pretty good (I'm about 1/3rd the way through). The PDF you linked to compliments this pretty nicely - it was easier to understand once some video training was done.

Cheers!

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Mon 02 Sep 2013 11:06 am
by Adi.ProofHub
In order to manage multiple projects you can also try ProofHub. In this you can manage multiple projects very easily and efficiently. It has got some amazing features like to-do lists, milestones, timesheet, file section, proofing tool. All these will help you in monitoring the progress of each project and also collaborate and communicate with team members and clients.

Re: Tracking Multiple Projects - Best Methods?

Posted: Tue 01 Oct 2013 11:41 am
by Chris_R
I am freelancer and like you I also handle multiple projects of Web development. Over the years I have tried some of the available web based project management softwares like Basecamp, Zoho, Asana. Currently I am using Proofhub and I find it relatively more user friendly and it has made my work hassle free. So you also try some of these to find the one best suited for your requirements.