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  • Listing sub-projects on the master projects list

    I'd like some advice on the following:-

    As a project manager I have a number of complex projects on the go at any one time. Each project can have sub-projects which, in turn, have there own sub-projects. Often sub-projects have dependencies between them, some are delagated to my reportees, some are critical path etc.

    I often use Excel or MS Project to manage these projects.

    My problem is how should I integrate them onto my GTD Projects list whilst minimising duplication between this and the Excel spreadsheet/MS Project schedule?

    My initial feeling was to list each project and sub-project separately. However, on a flat list (I'm plain Palm vanilla flavour) I just find that this is too little information for me to feel comfortable with.

    The other way I have tried is to just list the "master" project and then use the Excel Spreadsheet/Microsoft Project as Project Support so that it gets reviewed each week.

    My problem here is that I then feel that my Project list is not truly representative ie it may only contain a dozen or so entries but in reality I know that I have 5 or 6 times that many GTD Projects on the go.

    I have tried using Bonsai as an outline manager and whilst I love it it does appeal to the creative tinker in me (hence why I want to stay vanilla). Also I found I was back into duplication mode ie I would create an outline equivalent of my Excel spreadsheet.

    I would be interested in hearing from any other project managers about how they handle this scenario. If you use an outliner, how do you avoid duplication and making it too complex?

  • #2
    Are the subprojects parallel, or sequential?

    Sequential projects have to be completed in a particular order. You can't test a piece of software until you write it, for instance. For those, you might extend the Next Action paradigm up a level. That is, subprojects that are currently doable and moving forward go on your Project list, while the rest remain in the support materials for the master project until you need them.

    Parallel subprojects don't depend on each other. If you're staffing a product team, you can hire the sales manager independently of the engineering manager. For these, you might flatten the hierarchy to put all the currently actionable subprojects on your Project list where you can see what's happening with them.

    You might also want to rethink how you decide whether something is a project or a next action. For example, suppose you ask a direct report to research some costs for your budget projections. For him, the research is a project. But for you, it might distill down to a single Next Action: "@Waiting For: Get cost numbers from Bob." As I understand it, your lists should include only tasks that you personally need to do. Anything else goes in your project support materials. This is important, because the number of tasks that you can personally do is relatively small compared to the number of tasks your team can accomplish. Filling your lists with other people's actions is almost guaranteed to overwhelm your system.

    If it were me, I would make sure that my Project list had the right granularity to match what I was actually doing. That is, I would want to list each of the individual (current, see above) subprojects. Otherwise, my brain would know that the subprojects existed and, not seeing them on the Project list, would worry that the system had lost them.

    Since all of this information is in Excel or MS Project already, maybe you could use one of those tools to manage your master project list? Maybe you could create a summary spreadsheet in Excel, or a meta-project in MS Project, then export that file to your Palm?

    Hope this helps!

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      My initial impression is that there's a fundamental difference between "the plan" and the actual actions that need to be taken. The things in your MS Project aren't really to-do's, at least, not in the Next Action sense. You can't actually act on something that has a dependancy, so you shouldn't put that on your Next Actions list.

      More importantly, there's a difference between the company's project list and your own personal project list. You might have a project like "Give presentation for XYZ product" which is something you're responsible for, but won't go on an MS Project anywhere.

      GTD is great for keeping yourself up to date and stress free, but isn't really a tool for managing large corporate projects. You need two seperate review & tracking processes for each, even though there may be significant overlap.

      Just my 2 cents.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by MarkTAW
        My initial impression is that there's a fundamental difference between "the plan" and the actual actions that need to be taken. The things in your MS Project aren't really to-do's, at least, not in the Next Action sense. You can't actually act on something that has a dependancy, so you shouldn't put that on your Next Actions list.

        More importantly, there's a difference between the company's project list and your own personal project list. You might have a project like "Give presentation for XYZ product" which is something you're responsible for, but won't go on an MS Project anywhere.

        GTD is great for keeping yourself up to date and stress free, but isn't really a tool for managing large corporate projects. You need two seperate review & tracking processes for each, even though there may be significant overlap.

        Just my 2 cents.
        I am really curious about this, and I hope there will be a lot more discussion. I am a heavy-duty Microsoft Project driver with many years and many large multi-site, multi-team projects.

        I think that the leaf level tasks (not the hierarchcial tasks) are in fact GTD actions.

        Do other people not elaborate their Project plans down that far?

        Or is there a fundamental difference between the leaf-level nodes on a Microsoft Project plan and GTD actions that would show up on each participant's GTD task list?

        Comment


        • #5
          I suspect that some leaf node tasks may be GTD next actions, but that not all GTD next actions are leaf node tasks.

          For example, a very detailed project plan might include "write first draft of launch press release." However, even an absurdly detailed plan is unlikely to include things like "find out when the marketing manager will be able to approve press release" or "verify marketing contact information."

          It seems to me that GTD excels at the point where most project planning tools leave off: with the very small 15-45 minute tasks that are too unpredictable or too trivial to put in the project plan, but are essential to actually move the plan forward. I suspect that actually managing a complex project down to the level of 15 minute tasks would drive your direct reports into micromanagement-induced paralysis. And would be pointless anyway because so many unpredictable things happen at that level of granularity.

          Katherine

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by kewms
            I suspect that some leaf node tasks may be GTD next actions, but that not all GTD next actions are leaf node tasks.

            For example, a very detailed project plan might include "write first draft of launch press release." However, even an absurdly detailed plan is unlikely to include things like "find out when the marketing manager will be able to approve press release" or "verify marketing contact information."

            It seems to me that GTD excels at the point where most project planning tools leave off: with the very small 15-45 minute tasks that are too unpredictable or too trivial to put in the project plan, but are essential to actually move the plan forward. I suspect that actually managing a complex project down to the level of 15 minute tasks would drive your direct reports into micromanagement-induced paralysis. And would be pointless anyway because so many unpredictable things happen at that level of granularity.

            Katherine
            That makes great sense. Thank you for the clarification. As you can probably tell, I am pretty new to GTD and I am wrestling with many of the fundamental concepts.

            Comment


            • #7
              It Depends...

              This has been an interesting and valuable thread. I'll share with you my experiences and how I've used GTD (I use the Add-in for Outlook) and project planning software to address this.

              For me a GTD project has a great deal of flexibility. Here are some examples:

              1. Personal (small) projects for which I am completely responsible. These are the day to day projects for which I have more-or-less complete responsibility. e.g. User Group Presentation is a project that I'm currently working on that is mostly within my control. (Though I have a few waiting for next actions in the plan such as marketing review, editing, and review & approval, the responsibility to brainstorm, create power point, draft paper, practice delivery, etc. all belong to me.) These are GTD tasks that have next actions in my NA lists and a project work break down structure in the notes field of the project Master Task.

              2. Team (small) projects for which an individual team member on my team has major responsibility and I have supervisory and/or minor involvement. These also are GTD projects. I typically have only a Master Task project for these projects unless I need to do something to support the person on my team who is responsible for the project. Any thing that I must do to support the project goes as a next action for me. I only track the status (e.g. % complete) for the master project task otherwise.

              3. Team (large) projects for which my team has major responsibility and may utilize multiple resources accross our team. These projects typically are project Master Tasks which have a link to a MS Project Plan in the notes field. That way I can instantly update the Project Plan from the Master Task Item. Subtasks on the MS Project Plan may be divided into a subtasks for the GTD Project (see sub-tasks in the GTD help).

              4. Complex Milestones inside of type (3) projects above are sometimes assigned their own GTD Project.

              So far this seems to be working fairly well. I've played a little with Natara's Project@Hand, but I didn't much care for the interface to 1.1 and version 2, which I like much better does not sync with MS Project... I've tried keeping up with one or two projects in Project@Hand, but I haven't decided if it is worth the duplication of effort...

              MarkTaw,

              I understand your point about two systems for two separate functions. Unfortunately, that mindset is a significant drain on productivity... It's quite possible to design systems that will meet both needs. Unfortunately no one has done so yet...

              Comment


              • #8
                I agree, keeping both completely seperate is sort of rediculous. What I mean is that in my head, they're two seperate inerlocking tools. Left hand and right hand. What the organization needs to do, what I need to do.

                Maybe this metaphor will help.

                I own corporation XYZ and I hire a project manager. I still need to steer the company, but the project manager takes care of a lot of the details on certain projects.

                I am the project manager, and I use GTD. I need to steer the project, but I also need to take care of the details of what I need to do, which is where GTD comes in.

                It's the same sort of relationship.

                This kind of thing is difficult because GTD is a way of managing your time and your actions, but when you're a project manager, you have to manage a lot of other things as well. If you only had to manage your actions, or only had to manage the project and could delegate 100% of the work to other people it would be easy.

                But because you're given a red tool for managing projects and a blue tool for managing your time whenever you come across something, the choice between using the red tool and the blue tool is confusing. Some things are clear-cut, but other things could be either/or, or both.

                "Revise subsystem B" is both a project task, which you've delegated, and something you personally have to wait for. You need to track it with the red tool to ensure the project is on time, but you also need to track it with the blue tool to ensure you personally don't forget about it.

                Wouldn't it be great if there was a tool that could contain both, and you could simply add red and blue flags and it would appear on two different lists.

                I think the answer would lie in keeping seperate project lists, and reviewing them regularly (project goals, personal goals), and keeping next actions for things you specifically can do.

                These project lists would be one level of granularity below the MS Projects/Excel spreadsheet, as was pointed out before - no level of granularity on an MS Project can get every project on there. I would also reduce the granularity in MS Project and start relying on my lists for anything that doesn't fall into neat 8 hour chunks.

                So 1. MS Project, 2. Goals Lists, 3. Next Actions.

                One of the things that strikes me about GTD is that it's very time agnostic. Unlike MS Project, it doesn't care when things get done, nor does it care how long they'll take to get done. The only thing that's important is the order. If "A" has to be done before "B" then "A" is the only thing you write down or worry about.

                This agrees with me more than MS Project style management where each item is timelined in a GANTT chart. Of course, GANTT charts are very good at doing things like predicting when dependancies will come up.

                My personal preference would be to use MS Project for those dependancies and broad strokes, figuring out how long the project will take, and even planning the microcosmic substeps if you feel it's important to list every substep somewhere so you can track them.

                But then use GTD/lists to ensure things are going well on a day-to-day basis, using the MS Project file for reviews.

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