Gamechanger for project planning
Published on 10 September 2020
Rockhampton Regional Council Smart Hub Business Manager Elize Hattin and Phil Martin from BitPlex, demonstrate how GamePlan can help small businesses map a plan for a new project; breaking it down into tasks and assigning human resources to work on it.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
While traditional tools such as Excel, to-do lists or white boards get the job of project planning done effectively, they don’t allow you to visualise how long things are going to take, or experiment with different people working on a task or how a big team is required.
GamePlan founder Phil Martin says regardless of how many times you have done a task before, you will always underestimate how long it takes to complete the task.
“I run a software company and a big part of our job is estimating how long things will take, which is incredibly difficult and maybe even impossible in software.
“Double the time essentially that you think it's going to take,” Phil recommends.
Frustrated with existing project planning tools that would not work exactly the away Phil needed, the software developer decided to build his own.
GamePlan is an online, visual project planning tool that scopes out projects in a fun, user-friendly format.
The platform uses simple drag and drop technology, which Phil says works equally well on an iPad or a touch interface as well.
During this HubLive, Phil uses GamePlan to build a project management plan for building a new website for a product launch.
The work area for GamePlan is a virtual whiteboard where you can list and arrange all the tasks required for a project.
Starting with the end goal or objective of what you want to achieve, GamePlan helps you work backwards to outline the exact process to achieve that goal or milestone, by capturing a list of tasks that need to be completed and the people resources required to do the job.
Tasks can be assigned a duration for completion, which then populates a Gantt chart that automatically illustrates when all these tasks are occurring.
If tasks are dependent on others, drawing an arrow between the two tells GamePlan these tasks must happen before another, which is connected and factored into the Gantt schedule.
“Arrows dictate what comes before what and the duration on the tasks.
“For example, if production did not take a day as planned, it took five days, we can change the duration and the bar gets much longer in our timeline in the Gantt chart,” he demonstrates.
When breaking tasks down on a project, Phil says there is always the fundamental questions of what does this task need to get completed, and who needs to work on it? GamePlan allows you to go through each task and ask those questions.
“Usually in the brainstorming process you will come up with more tasks that need to happen, which can be easily incorporated as you go,” Phil says.
For a month-long project, Phil says he can usually ‘GamePlan it out’ in approx. an hour, acknowledging all plans need refinement as the project develops.
“As you learn more and more about what you actually need to do, you will need to come in and adjust the plan.
“Upfront, it only takes about an hour or two of brainstorming and connecting things up to get a plan that lets you make a decision on whether or not you're going to proceed with the project, the type of resourcing that you'll need to achieve it, and how much it's going to cost,” he explains.
GamePlan defaults to one day to complete a task, based on effort, rather than duration. This means if you decide a task requires a days’ worth of effort to complete and you're only working on it for four hours a day, it will take two days of duration to complete because you're only working on it half of the time.
Phil explains another feature of GamePlan is grouping tasks to organise tasks and teams better, and allow for reporting on separated project components, such as production or marketing.
“A group’ is a way of organising tasks, milestones and meetings, so you can add other groups inside groups,” he says.
“Often when you are brainstorming tasks for a project, it looks quite messy, you will move things around and clean it up, but it is you often stop about there.
“You come up with a list of ten things to do and start on those.
“Halfway through you realise something doesn’t match or was missed and you need to go back and have those strategy discussions again.
“Doing a process in GamePlan forces you to consider what every task needs to be completed. A lot of it hinges on the overall strategy discussions at the start,” Phil advises.
“I would map out all the tasks, and then I would add all the people and see how we're going for time and see how it maps out.
“You then start to see it take shape with groups of specific things and that's a pattern I've seen when I've watched everyone use GamePlan, is you start off fairly loose and then the structure of the project evolves.
“This is something that's lost very easily in a to-do list because you're just working with a vertical list of tasks.
“On a whiteboard you need to rub things out and try again, but with this you can just move stuff around,” he illustrates.
What if the people working on your project have varying working hours and different hourly rates?
GamePlan allows you to assign personnel to tasks, enter their charge rate in the costs section, as well as customise and schedule their individual hours of work, or availability to work on the project.
“This is a really effective way of modelling and testing out what happens if you're only doing something some of the time or part-time, or you're trying to start a new project.
“If you want to model costs, you can go to the costs section which will calculate exactly how much that resource is costing,” Phil highlights.
He says when starting a new business, often people do it on the side while you have a day job.
“When you only have a few hours in the evening and maybe a few more on the weekend to get something done, this is where you can become unstuck.
“Not only do you underestimate how long something will take, I overestimate how available you are going to be… so the thing you thought would only take a week ends up taking two months because, you are only doing it on the weekends.
“GamePlan is a really effective way of modelling that,” Phil advocates.
JOINING THE DOTS
Phil explains GamePlan allows users to link groups to groups, tasks to groups and groups to tasks, forcing the project manager to think about how task relate to other factors.
The project timeline can be organised by task or by person, which allows project managers to see who is under unassigned.
The way GamePlan does its scheduling is it looks at the effort and the people and gives the mechanisms to report on costs to better informs the decision making around budgets.
“After you have your plan figured out and your resources, you look at the reports and see it is going to take until January to get this thing done for example, at a cost of $40,000.
“You can ask do we have the budget, the time and the deadline for that, and if not, then you can start scaling back your tasks and removing things to bring it back under budget,” he says.
Being an online platform, GamePlan can be accessed by all team members who can watch and contribute as you are working on the plan as well.
A PERFECT PLAN
What are some of the key things business owners need to keep in mind when doing a project plan? What's best project management practice?
Phil recommends being be super pessimistic when trying to estimate your teams time, especially if you are delivering a project internally for a fixed price.
“When you're planning out your tasks, be super critical about any estimates that you give yourself and that your team gives you, and add a lot of padding, because particularly in software or a technology field, you just don’t know what's around the corner.
“You might get halfway through your project and learn something new that's drastically different, and you need to adjust your plans,” he warns.
Phil also recommends talking to teams who have done similar projects to find out some of the challenges they had to overcome, and the surprises they did not expect along the way.
“So they may have started out with a perfect plan of what they needed to achieve, and it turned out they just didn't know about some legislation or they didn't know that this paint was going to cost four times what it was estimated to cost.
“Be open, talk to people about what you're doing, show them your plans and get some feedback on it.
“Often if you've been staring at a whiteboard or a plan for a couple of days or a week, if you show it to someone with fresh eyes, then they'll often see things that you can't,” Phil advises.
The next stage for GamePlan involves developing publishing public links to allow a link for people to see and view to be emailed.
“Soon you will be able to send people an email to a live version of the chart or the whiteboard and they will be able to watch as the plan's developing, or during weekly meetings.
“Very few people can travel now and if you're working on a remote team, you'll be able to all look at the exact the same whiteboard and the same Gantt chart and have a meaningful discussion about what work is coming up and what tasks there are to do,” Phil says.
Are you game?
Want to see GamePlan in action? Watch Phil and Elize as they brainstorm tasks, arrange priorities, connect tasks, identify themes, and assign tasks to people on the team using GamePlan here.
Visit gameplan.global for a free trial of the platform to see how it can work for your project.
Phil Martin is the Co-Founder of GamePlan, and Director of custom software company BitPlex. He is a regular HubLive guest presenter.
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