Free Online Gantt Chart Tool

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 18-May-09

For clients who occasionally need to create GANTT Charts or project timelines, investment in a project planning tool such as MS Project, Merlin or OmniPlan just isn’t appropriate.

We’ve recently been testing a free Software as a Service (SaaS) tool which appears to do the trick, and quite nicely too. What’s more it’s possible to save, and even import/export with Microsoft Project. Obviously it’s a stripped down functionality compared to the commercially available tools, but still a very useful tool to those not managing projects themselves.

Give it a try, and do let us know how you get on.

Project Management Matters

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 20-Apr-09
The current turmoil in the world economy is taking recognition of Project Management as a core business competence to a new level. The fundamental principles are fairly stable, but the knowledge of how to apply them remains in high demand.

Over recent years, Project management has grown into a vital tool for success as we have often observed. Driven through necessity in the current climate, trends such as fewer management layers, greater flexibility, and more project-based work have made structured project management much more critical.

Project Management has abandoned its historic homes in ‘big’ industries (e.g. construction, engineering and aerospace) to transform the service, financial, computer, and general management sectors.  Did you know that in the UK alone, more than £250 billion is spent on projects every year, yet as the OGC (Office of Government Commerce) tells us something like 70% fail to meet their objectives.

At ProjExc we take a 3-step approach to helping businesses in these sectors improve their project management capabilities:

1. Methods,
2. Tools, and then
3. Competence.
We use our experience of the big businesses and help scale it to suit those who need it to thrive it these challenging times.

For more information take a look at our website at, or even better call us now.

No Such thing as “can’t”

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 29-Sep-08

Parents are constantly enabling the beliefs of their youngsters, by helping them to understand that they can achieve their goals and aspirations, they just may not yet have learnt how to.

As one gets older this remains true, whilst there is another block to success that grows. We start to choose not to do the things that can help us to achieve our goals. We make conscious choices in our lives that become obstacles to our own success. This is something that we see again and again in business, and it is all too often encountered in project management.

At a global level we see far too much evidence of the “can’t do culture“. For example we see this in the government reported statistics on project failures which have remained at the ludicrously high levels (65%+). Why as a business community is this accepted?

There is an argument individual failures have been accepted in the last decade as a result of it being masked by the continuing growth of business. Of course if that growth is challenged (say in times of a credit crunch or worse) customer satisfaction; operational efficiency; profitability; return on investment, and cash flow become increasingly important. We are talking to clients now who at very senior levels are seeing or demanding much more pressure on project success – i.e. meeting their objectives.

This is also true in broader programme management where there is increasing pressure to ensure that individual project deliverables are combined to create business capability and ultimately realise benefits from those capabilities. We must believe that a programme can succeed when we commence. As we move from belief to delivery, it is critical that basic elements for success are considered and defined at the outset, and then monitored. These elements include business strategy, benefits, risks, issues, resourcing, scope control as well as timeframes.

At ProjExc we have the systems, skills and experience to help. We can support your success by guiding your organisation in how you can do it for yourself, or by providing 1st class programme and project managers on a full or part-time basis. Whether you need an independent view on a plan, support in facilitating and defining your business strategy, someone to quickly create a best of breed PMO, or the help of a project troubleshooter, ProjExc are the team that CAN!

Frustrated by Project Failure?

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 22-Sep-08

Every day we come across more reasons for project failure, and it’s rare that they can’t be boiled down into a small number of headings. We were interested to see a summary of 5 reasons on the Project Management Hut blog recently:

  1. Executive Level Non-Support. All executives must stand behind the project plan if it can have any chance for success.
  2. Improper Staffing. I have never seen a project succeed when overtime is pre-scheduled into the plan. Outside resources or consultants are the best alternative when in-house staff resources are inadequate.
  3. Poor Project Management. Very few skilled managers ever get the opportunity to manage a project from inception to completion. As a result, most assigned project managers lack the experience in handling the broad range of problems that arise during the course of a project.
  4. Unreasonable Completion Dates. Management in its wisdom will declare target completion dates, or worse…deadlines, even before a project plan is constructed.
  5. Poor Project Planning. While many tools exist to assist in this process, it is the analysis of an experienced project manager that is needed to develop the plan and smooth out its deficiencies.

Our experience is that failure usually falls under 3 headings:

  1. Lack of adequate planning
  2. Lack of control & communication during the execution of the project
  3. Failing to review the project and jumping headfirst into the next one without learning important lessons

If you need help in making sure that your projects are sure to succeed, do get in contact with us and we can explore how best we can achieve that for you. Call us on 0845 527 9971

5 Tips for establishing a project management office (PMO)

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 22-Sep-08

We’re always on the look-out for tips to help our clients. An interesting article on recently highlighted these 5 tips:

1. Know what you are trying to accomplish

2. Get executive sponsorship

3. Create a reporting relationship for the project management office

4. Put the PMO in charge of process, not punitive measures

5. Select project management software

Not surprisingly the article is based on suggestions from a software tools provider (albeit with strong consultancy experience), but good advice all the same. Love the closing comment in the article “If you don’t have a good process, you’re not going to get good results” which anyone who has met us knows is a principle at our core

Project Portfolio Management (PPM)

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 22-Sep-08

These days, many companies are finding that an effective way to evaluate the entire portfolio and control costs is to use a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution, which make it easier to look at projects as an aggregate collection of cost centres to help identify inefficiencies. With PPM, organisations can also more easily determine which projects add the most value to the business.

For example, we note that Keith Carlson, CEO of on-demand PPM vendor Innotas has recently stated “In tough economic times, leaders need to streamline the project portfolio in order to get leaner while still maintaining their ability to produce value. But without an integrated PPM solution, the entire exercise of prioritizing the project portfolio can become uninformed guesswork.”

Like with many other parts of PM, PMO and Programme Management, with the emergence of web-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, PPM is now available at a fraction of the price of installed solutions. Instead of requiring commitment to costly and inefficient enterprise-wide site licenses, SaaS PPM solutions can be deployed on a subscription or per-seat basis, and users can be added or subtracted at any time. SaaS solutions are also faster to implement and carry a much lower risk burden than traditional enterprise software. Whatever type of PPM solution an organisation chooses – installed or SaaS – there are several key steps to evaluating the project portfolio: high-value projects to decide on the right combination to fund.
2.evaluate and rank which projects are the most valuable to the organization.
3.look for ways to allocate limited resources to the most important projects by ensuring high-value projects are properly covered and the delivery process is in place to ensure happy stakeholders.
4.look for opportunities to merge projects and gain efficiencies. Ask how projects relate to each other, has the company developed a consistent and holistic view of the overall project portfolio and can these projects be combined into one integrated initiative.
5.monitor project performance closely to get better control of potential cost overruns.

With PPM in place as a centralised, visible management framework, unforeseen cost overrun meltdowns can be avoided more easily.

We note that Innotas recently released a white paper, “Focus Under Pressure: Why Project Portfolio Management Becomes Mission-Critical in a Down Economy,” which defines five key steps to evaluating the project portfolio with an eye for cutting costs and doing more with less.
A theme close to the hearts of a number of our clients right now!

Credit crunch puts emphasis on great project management

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 11-Jul-08

With increasing pressure on businesses currently to ensure that they are making the best return for their fixed costs, strong project management is becoming more and more relevant. Whether they are launching new products, streamlining processes, implementing new systems, consolidating operations, or turning businesses around they need to be using efficient methods, great tools and 1st class project managers.

ProjExc are busy helping clients get their project management methods and tools in place, and our friends at Pyramid8 then help us find great project managers to use them. Of course in times of financial turbulence permanent it can be important to keep the fixed costs down, which is why we offer fantastic interim PMs to bridge the gap.

Project management – breeding ground for business leaders

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 04-Jun-08

There was a fascinating article in The Times last week. It is well worth a read for a number of reasons, not least for some of the quotes. You can get to the full article here.
It is noteworthy that our views at ProjExc (also believed as central by colleagues at other PM consultancies) around Leadership being the key to successful delivery of projects, are generally supported in the article. I was also interested to see that project and programme management were being linked (or confused).

Some of the thought provoking quotes we enjoyed include:
Successful programme managers (senior project managers who handle large complex projects or portfolios of projects) need to direct a diverse team of professionals, confidently manage lawyers and budgets and posses a well-honed set of soft skills, including the ability to communicate with the media and government” and “There are plenty of places teaching project management, but when you go up to the level of hugely complex projects we are not doing enough,” Janet Smart, director of the BT Centre for Major Programme Management in Oxford.

Martin Barnes, president of the Association for Project Management, “The management of change, which is what project managers excel at, is the most difficult thing you can do, so if you have done this in the middle of your career you are very well equipped to go into top management afterwards.”

Philip Diab, chairman of the board of the Project Management Institute, says that good project managers need to have three distinct skill sets: the ability to bring together and manage a diverse team; soft skills such as emotional intelligence; and the vision to make change happen. “Project management is an excellent breeding ground for future leaders because you are acting like a mini CEO on a project.

Don’t Be a Scapegoat

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 28-May-08
Cautionary advice for project managers looking at IT/change projects from ZDNET, in an interesting article.  Here are the top tips (more details in the article so follow the link):
•Get your head out of the software
•Plan and define as much as possible—but don’t go overboard.
•Manage scope creep—for real.
•Don’t be lazy with risk management.
•Get a grip on expectations.
•Govern with strength.
•Prepare for intervention.
•Drive behaviour to use the technology.
Interesting that the first tip came first.  All too often we meet businesses (usually, but not only, in the technology sector) whose people get excited about a piece of software that looks great on the monitor, helps justify the next PC upgrade, but does nothing for the project or the business.  Every time we would encourage clients to go through the process of planning, scoping, controlling risks and the like using the simplest tool that meets the need (pens, paper and MS Office often fit the bill – in more ways than one!).
What do you think? We’d love to hear your views.

Project Managers – technical competence

Originally posted on the ProjExc Project Excellence Blog on 20-May-08

ProjExc often help their clients to source project managers. One of the early obstacles in identifying the ideal candidate profile is agreeing the need for “technical” knowledge. This can be technical knowledge of the product or experiential knowledge of the market place.
There isn’t a definitive answer.

One camp believes that unless you have a thorough understanding of the product/market there is no way that you can successfully manage a project in that space. The other camp says all that is needed to successfully manage a project is solid project management skills, tools and processes, while technical knowledge will create a natural draw to work in the project rather than on ensuring its success.

As with most things in life, ProjExc are proponents of balance. Generally, solid project management competence is the key. Planning and issue resolution can be helped by a little “technical” knowledge (sufficient to know when one is having the wool pulled over one’s eyes).

ProjExc would love to know your views on this. Contact them by email, via their website, call them on, or post your thoughts on their blog.