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Written by
Peter Brookes-Smith

Peter Brookes-Smith

Tools for Project Managers

I was asked recently: “What are the best tools for project managers?”. Of course, it’s an impossible question as there are so many tools and so many problems that need solving. It all depends on the context.

However, I’ll make the case for a free suite of tools by explaining how a team I was in used them in a critical situation. The suite is google docs and hangouts (instant messaging, voice and video calling).

For around 12 months, we (about 60 of us) had been developing a critical change for our long standing client (a very well known high street retailer). Deployment was time critical because there was an organisation change facilitated by our software and the comms had all gone out over the preceding months.

The weekend of deployment came and there were about 30 people who had a role to play. We set up a big hangout and everyone was on it. As each step was completed, progress was updated and there was quite a bit of chit chat with all our team. We’d done a number of dry runs so we were pretty confident of the overall process.

I checked the hangout at 2.00 in the morning and saw 10 people actively chatting about a complication. It was becoming increasingly clear that it was quite serious. Another 10 minutes and the PM initiated a conference call. The remaining experts were woken from their slumber and joined the hangout. Over the next hour, the PM directed the recovery. Small groups were requested to join the voice call via the hangout and then despatched to do further investigations and they reported back via the hangout; joining the voice call again as needed. The recovery plan formed and the PM created a google doc and we shared everyone in. The voice call grew to about 20 people.

There was a critical decision to take and we needed to brief the client (currently asleep!), give them our recommendation and get their decision. The PM took control of editing the document and he summarised the situation as we all watched. Corrections and elaborations were agreed and after 15 minutes we had: The plan, the briefing document, the decision that was required and our recommendation all succinctly written and approved by the 20 or so experts who were involved.

The PM rang the client and added them to the conference call. We all listened (on mute) as he explained the situation. Via the hangout, we fed back to the PM when we thought there was a misunderstanding or a point needed more emphasis. Gradually, the client understood the situation, his options and the pros and cons for each. He agreed with our recommendation and the communication plan for the rest of the night. The email confirmation was already written and was a pdf of the document we’d all collaborated on.

The plan was executed, the deployment recovered and all the systems opened up in the morning in good shape. Job done!

Sometimes it’s not the specialist tools that are the most useful for a PM.

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