Putting Face-to-Face Meetings on Pause

Putting Face-to-Face Meetings on Pause: A How-to for Project Managers

pandemic covid-19 remote work at home

Tips for Running a Successful Remote Project Meeting

One of the biggest advantages of a face-to-face project meeting is that you and your team are collaborating in real-time, full-frontal, leaving little room for misunderstandings or misinterpretations. For example, in a traditional meeting, you and you team work to add, change, or delete tasks, assess risks, discuss dates, assign resources, etc. etc. Afterwards, everyone leaves the meeting with an updated and accurate plan. Easy.

However, during a remote project meeting (either by audio link, video link or both), certain challenges arise that you may not be comfortable with, or you might not have ever experienced. So here is quick head's up on how to get the most out of your next remote project meeting... 

How to read body language, without a body... 

When in person, and you ask a team player about a milestone or deadline, you can read the person's face to collect the "meta" information on the response. You know, that pained expression or the glint of joy in their eye; but when on the phone, you don't get any of that. As a PM, you now use your built-in sonar. Listen for silence. Either engage the silent one, or have a quick follow up after the meet is over.

When having a voice-only meeting, or a mixed video and phone meeting, make sure every attendee is engaged. One tip from native culture is the idea of passing a talking stick, where each attendee is given the stick, and a certain amount of time to "hold" the stick and talk uninterrupted. Try playing with an idea like this to ensure that everyone on the other end is alive, well and contributing.

The fashion trend of "Dress for Success" just changed... 

Don't be surprised if your co-workers have shed Gucci for Nike, now that most of your team is working from home - you can even revel in the fact that your team is probally even more comfortable than ever! Being comfortable within a virtual meeting is absolutely important, but as your new role as moderator of a remote project meeting, realize that even in tees and shorts, that your team may be feeling anxious or uncomfortable within an online format. 

When first starting a remote project meeting, allow time for everyone to just share what's going on in their lives, and to let loose about working from home. Again, make sure everyone gets a turn, and gently encourage those shy online to participate.

...Meeting strangers online is now ok...

Acting as a PM moderator, make sure everyone on the line (or on the feed) is properly introduced. You can prepare a few words on each person attending, and also allow each attendee a chance to introduce themselves. For folks new to the team, make sure there is a mechanism in place to share the "distribution" list to all, and that all know how to contact each attendee of the meeting. 

When first starting a remote project meeting, allow time for everyone to just share what's going on in their lives, and to let loose about working from home. Again, make sure everyone gets a turn, and gently encourage those shy online to participate.

Whiteboard it! 

It's really surprising the amount of new tech involved with remote meeting apps and software! Interactive Whiteboards are great for brain-storming during your project meeting, and look for the feature that just captures the entire conversation - automatic meeting notes! In addition, tools like Project Plan 365, Microsoft Project or Microsoft Excel can be used in rTc mode (real-time collaboration) to update a project plan in real-time. 

Do whatever you can to reduce any "new tech" anxiety or stress amongst your team. You may even have to have a training session first, on any new tools, before you start having official remote project meetings.

What to do when difficulties arise...

A myriad of difficulties can come up before, during and after a remote project meeting, but your most important action as moderator is to stay calm and carry on. Issues, technical or otherwise, can still be resolved on another call, either with a single team member or a smaller group. Be upfront with your team, as this may be all be new to all of you - honesty and patience goes a long way online.  

Many obstacles can be mitigated ahead of time, using the tried and true approach of proper preparation. For remote meetings, this may mean a bit more time spent preparing for the meeting than you normally would (no longer can you dash from your desk to the meeting room carrying everything that you need). 

Humor is highly encouraged... don't worry too much about "wasting" time, as a bit of light-hearted play might be just what a tense situation needs.

In conclusion...

Project meetings once held face-to-face, can now be just as successful when held remotely, but certain challenges will arise; for example: 

  • Communicating remotely, where you may only be able to hear your team speaking, might take some adjustment. But have faith, back in the '50s this was the way everything was done. 
  • As a PM conducting remote project meetings, you have, in a sense, become an online moderator. Any google resources on becoming better at that, is well worth your time. 
  • Remote Meeting Technology is a blessing, but can be challenging to those new to the environment. Patience and prior training is key. Make sure you put those tasks in the plan!
  • Making team members comfortable and keeping the meeting relaxed is the perfect recipe for success. 
  • Above all, keep calm and carry on!

To learn more...

Keeping Track with Agile

Keeping Track with Agile... Using Project Plan 365!

Why Agile?

Agile project management is an iterative and incremental approach to delivering requirements throughout the project life cycle. Mainly used in software development, it has gained momentum in many other industries due to its emphasis on collaboration, flexibility, continuous improvement, and high-quality results. It uses popular project management frameworks such as Scrum (which uses Sprints that are time-boxed iterations, typically two weeks long and used to organize tasks and for quick goal shifting) and Kanban (which uses Backlog and Board status to manage work in progress).

Agile is great for teams who are looking for adaptiveness, clear and measurable deliverables, and a flexible approach to project delivery.

Why Project Plan 365?

Project Plan 365 supports both the Agile and Waterfall PM methodologies, all within the same app. That means you don’t have to choose one over the other - you get the best of all worlds - all in one place. With Project Plan 365, you can easily switch between Scrum and Kanban boards - with no disruption to data.

Project Plan 365 is especially data-flexible, meaning your data files can also be opened using Microsoft Project apps - as well as others - and Project Plan 365 actually extends the functionality of Agile planning over using Microsoft Project alone.

This tutorial will show you how to create your first Agile plan, and will also show you how to convert your Scrum to Kanban, in just one click. A practice file is available online, in case you want to follow along. If unfamiliar with Scrum & Kanban (and the difference between the two), see this cheat sheet from Development That Pays. Ok, let’s get started…

To start tracking your first Scrum...

1 Click on File/New, and choose Scrum Project.

Project templates are available for both Scrum and Kanban

2 The Sprint Planning Board displays, allowing you to add project tasks (as board items - just like sticky notes). Once added, you can move tasks into different Sprint cycles; just drag and drop to suit.

To start, an empty board…

3 To create a new board item, click on New Task, and then fill in the task description, then click Add. Repeat for any sprint task you would like to create.

Once board items are created, you can arrange them into Sprints using drag & drop

As you create the list of tasks, you sort them into Sprints (by default, three are included; Sprint 1, Sprint 2 and Sprint 3). In Agile methodology, a Sprint is a fixed time frame for work to be completed. By default, Project Plan 365 includes three sprints, with each sprint lasting 2 weeks (you can always add more; that's explained soon). As a result, the default Agile project duration is 6 weeks (3 sprints x 2 weeks):

You can change default Sprint durations by clicking Manage on the Scrum ribbon

Behind the scenes, as you add tasks to Sprint boards, they are also added to the Project Schedule. From these planning boards and sheets, you can always switch to any other view to see your data within different contexts. Go ahead, try it!

With the Manage Sprints sheet, you can set your Sprint durations (which can vary) and specify the start date of your first Sprint. All the other Sprints will be automatically calculated based on this first Sprint date. By default, Project Plan 365 generates Sprints through to the project’s finish date. But you can also specify a custom date:

Setting a custom date for Sprints

At this point, the task dates are not updated within the Gantt Chart View to reflect the sprint dates – but we know the dates of each sprint by looking at the Manage Sprints sheet.

4 To move tasks between sprints, you can drag and drop them within the Sprint Planning Board:

Creating Sprints on the Spring Planning Board

And you can also sequence tasks using the Current Sprint Board:

Sequencing Sprints on the Current Sprint Board

5 You can complete task details for Sprint board items by using either the Current Sprint Sheet or the Sprint Planning Sheet; there you can add resources, deadlines, work estimates, as well as reassigning Sprint numbers or changing the board status for each task:

Filling in task details using the Sprint sheets (Current and Planning; note that each differ slightly)

Both sheets are similar, with the major difference being that the Sprint Planning Sheet does not show completed tasks, and does show the Agile column by default.

You can add or hide columns to any view in Project Plan 365, for example you can hide the Task Summary column or add the Agile column anywhere you’d like. Also, setting Agile=No will remove that task from all Agile views.

6 You can further customize your sheets by, say, adding the % Complete column, and then tracking progress here:Both sheets are similar, with the major difference being that the Sprint Planning Sheet does not show completed tasks, and does show the Agile column by default.

Adding the % Complete column is very useful

7 You can also customize your boards by, say, adding/deleting/re-naming/moving board columns, or by deleting tasks, assigning resources, marking 100% completes, etc.

Adding, deleting, renaming or moving columns with a right click
Manipulating tasks with right-clicks

Switching between the two Agile flavors...

If you want to switch between the two flavors of Agile (Scrum or Kanban), you can do this from the Scrum ribbon/Agile, from the Project ribbon/Agile, or from the Kanban ribbon/Agile.

Just hit the button you need!
Kanban boards and sheets - just like with Scrum!

When switching to Kanban, you will see very similar features to Scrum. Kanban is all about visualizing your work, limiting work in progress, and maximizing efficiency (or flow). In contrast, Scrum has a Sprint Planning Board that allows you to select which tasks belong to each Sprint. You will not find this when switching to Kanban. Here you use the Backlog Board and Backlog Sheet instead (which is the similar to the Current Planning Board within Scrum).

In conclusion...

To sum up, in this tutorial we learned how to:

  1. Start a Scrum from scratch.
  2. Add tasks to the Sprint Planning Board.
  3. Sequence tasks using the Current Sprint Board
  4. Add details to tasks and manipulate columns in both the Current Sprint Sheet and in the Sprint Planning Sheet.
  5. Switch between Scrum and Kanban displays of the project plan.
For help with this - or anything else PM-related at all - please complete a support ticket and we’ll get right back to you. 

To learn more...