Monday, March 25, 2013

New Project Management Features

This week we are introducing a slate of new project management features.

Now you can define work more tightly, track progress more quickly, and make your project team into high performance rock stars.

This post breaks out the greatest hits, including: 
  • A interactive Gantt chart
  • Microsoft Project integration
  • Completion criteria
  • Improved work package definition

These features have been the most requested over the past 6 months.  Read on to see how MetaTeam integrates familiar project tools into a complete project information solution.  

The Gantt Chart

Many project managers rely on Gantt charts to schedule and track work.

Some people like to point out that a Gantt chart doesn’t a project manager make.  That is very true.  But Gantt charts are the most familiar of all project management tools—as well as being very helpful.

To see MetaTeam’s Gantt chart start by clicking on the Todos button in the top nav bar.

When your Todos tab opens you will see that there is a new Gantt tab.

Clicking the Gantt tab opens a Gantt chart that shows all of your todos and tasks in one updateable view.

There are a many things you can do right in the Gantt chart.  Add tasks, set dependencies, change dates, make assignments and set percent complete.  Just what you would expect.

There are a couple of things to be aware of:
  • MetaTeam now supports assigning tasks and todo lists to multiple people
  • Dependencies are assigned by tracking code
  • Dependency relationships can take an “ss”, “sf”, “fs”, or “ff” suffix to the tracking code to indicate the type of relationship
  • You can indicate multiple dependencies by adding multiple tracking codes separated by a semi-colon
The SS, SF, FS and FF initials stand for start-to-start, start-to-finish, finish-to-start, and finish-to-finish.  These are the standard predecessor relationships.  They are commonly used by people who create detailed schedules, but most of us simply use the default finish-to-start relationship.  Finish-to-start means that the dependent task can only start after its predecessor has finished.

The ability to assign work to multiple individuals deserves a bit more explanation.

First off, be aware that you will only see the full list of assignees in the Gantt.  On the other views only the first assignee is listed in order to make sure one person takes the lead. 

The second thing to be aware of is that you can involve multiple people in a set of tasks two ways:
  • By assigning multiple individuals in the Gantt, and/or
  • By aligning one or more roles to a todo list

These options give you a great deal of flexibility in how your team works.  Aligning roles with tasks remains a very powerful combination.

Roles are ideal for situations where the team is likely to experience changes in membership.  They are also a great way to indicate who shares responsibility for the work in advance of knowing exactly who will do it.  

Because roles may indicate groups of team members they are an excellent way to channel collaboration.  And mixing role and individual assignments helps the individuals responsible know who they can rely on for help.

Microsoft Project integration

Although MetaTeam now includes a Gantt chart, we still think using Microsoft Project’s sophisticated scheduling engine for critical path planning and heavy duty project scheduling is a great idea.

Not only is Microsoft Project the most widely used tool by far, it is simply the best scheduling engine available.

That is not to say you shouldn’t use MetaTeam alone.  For many projects MetaTeam may be everything you need.

But we like Microsoft Project and we recognize its prowess as a scheduling tool—even if it doesn’t offer much else in the way of project information management or team organization.

To combine Microsoft Project with MetaTeam you need to be able to import, export and update Project files.  And now you can!

To import a Project file go to your Todos tab and look along the bottom of your list of todos.  You will see the Project import icon.

When you click the import icon an upload form opens.  There are instructions below the form that explain what to do.  But in brief, save your Microsoft Project file in XML format, select it, and click Submit.

On the next screen you see a preview of your import.  If everything looks as you expect click Submit again to complete the import.

Be aware that an import makes your MetaTeam team’s work look like the work scheduled in Project.  If your Microsoft Project file was not exported from MetaTeam it will not match up with any todo lists or tasks you have entered and they will be inactivated.  That’s not a crisis because you can reactivate them in the Archive tab, but you don’t want to have to do that.

What to do?

Again, the form gives instructions, but the short version is that you want to export your MetaTeam work to a Microsoft Project file, make your changes to that file, and then import it back into MetaTeam.  Look for the export icon also at the bottom of the Todos tab.

Now, if you have work in MetaTeam and work independently entered in Microsoft Project you may think that is a problem, but it is not. 

When you click the export icon a form opens that allows you to optionally upload an existing Microsoft Project file to be merged into your export of MetaTeam information.

Again you will be shown a preview.  If the preview looks right click the download link. 
You then have a Microsoft Project file that includes work items from MetaTeam that carry MetaTeam IDs so that they can be modified and imported back into MetaTeam.

Completion criteria

How do you know when you are done with a work item?  Knowing your acceptance criteria is the most basic part of work management. 

With this release MetaTeam expands its todo lists to include completion criteria. Criteria are the requirements for the work given by the person who takes delivery. They help you always know what "done" means, and how done your work is. 

You specify your todo list criteria on the Criteria tab within a todos list.  That is to say, Criteria is a sub-tab of the Todos tab.

Each criteria you enter has a name and description.  It also has a narrative field to explain the source of the requirement.  Once you have created a criteria you can easily indicate its status by selecting one of the options in the drop-down at the right of its name.  

Improved work package definition

Project managers use the term "work package" to identify a project deliverable.  Work packages have associated activities that track the work that goes into creating the package's deliverable.  Work packages typically include a lot of information.

From that description you can tell that MetaTeam todo lists essentially are work packages.

A work package typically contains much more information then is held by most scheduling tools like Microsoft Project.

This is what you would expect since a scheduling tool is primarily used to track hours planned and worked.  But a work package bundles up far more, including requirements and documentation, responsibilities, materials, decisions, dates, risks and other information that defines the work at hand.

MetaTeam was already an excellent tool for work package definition.  In this release we add several ways to better define a work package, including:
  • Completion criteria, as we talked about above
  • WBS and control account codes
  • Multiple assignment
  • Dependency and linking relationships
  • A browsable change log 
And of course MetaTeam already gave you the ability to track decisions and risks, attach documents or link to knowledge base articles, define auto-linked glossary terms, align roles & responsibilities, hold conversations about the work, and more. 

I'll talk more about using MetaTeam to define work packages in an upcoming post.

All in all, this is an exciting release with a lot of new capabilities to try out.

I hope you these project management features help you define, schedule and track work more effectively.

If you don't have a MetaTeam account already, learn more about MetaTeam here, and sign up for MetaTeam here.

And let us know what you think!

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