What do you keep in your Project Management toolkit? What are the go-to favourites that you fall back on when you need to get things done?
As a freelance Project Manager, I like to keep it old-school and build my practice around the basics. While I’m happy to jump in and use whatever tools and templates an organisation will provide, I do keep these old favourites close by.
I’ve split my list into tools and applications. This reflects the way I work remotely and on client sites, using a combination of basic tools that can be applied anywhere and cloud-based apps that allow me to access my documents and information from anywhere.
These are my favourite tools and applications. While there are many others that I use every day, these are the ones that I never work without.
My Favorite Tools
1. Weekly Status Report
This is my all-time favourite tool. I keep a printed copy with me when I go to meetings so that I have it within easy reach at all time and can quickly point to my hot topics, action items, blockers, opportunities, milestones, pain points, dependencies and next steps.
To me, the status report is more than a reporting item – it is a terrific communication tool that I can sit down and talk through with my Sponsor or stakeholders. It provides a common landing point that everyone on the Project can understand and connect with.
I use the Status Report to raise priority, get attention, leverage opportunities, engage with people and focus the conversation. I don’t go anywhere without a copy.
2. RAID Log
I use a simple spreadsheet with tabs for Risks, Actions, Assumptions, Issues, Decisions, Dependencies and Change Requests. It’s quick, easy to use and universal.
I’ve used enterprise-scale PPM tools with these functions built in and am a big fan of the single, integrated Project dashboard. But if you are working remotely or travelling, a simple spreadsheet can get the job done with a minimum of effort.
3. Milestone Tracker
This is another simple Excel spreadsheet that extracts key milestones from the Project Schedule. For each milestone, I show the planned and forecast date, RAG status and trend (improving, stable and worsening).
I’m a big believer in using a RAG status to influence discussions by drawing quick, visual attention to tasks or issues that I want to highlight, so this helps in a few ways – it gives my stakeholders a very quick, simple view of the project without having to scroll through 100s of tasks and it helps me call out areas where I want more focused attention.
As much as I love technology, I also keep a bunch of old-school notebooks. Paper and pen allow me to brain dump random thoughts, scribble notes during meetings, draw lines, mind map and put different coloured asterisks next to things that need my attention.
Most importantly, I recap my days and plan my week by reading through my notebooks and editing my thoughts into my project documents. Like my status report, my notebooks come everywhere with me.
5. Project Plan (no, not the Project Schedule!)
I like to keep a copy of the Project Initiation Document so that I can refer back to it and just level set my thinking, particularly when things are crazy and stakeholders are hurling distractions and unhelpful opinions!
This document is a great reminder to draw breath occasionally and remember what we actually agreed to deliver.
6. Business Case
This is THE cornerstone document and is critical to helping you understand what your Sponsor is thinking and where his or her objectives, priorities and pain points are.
The Business Case is like the company’s DNA – it sets out the company’s funding priorities and what benefits it expects to receive. It helps me understand the company’s appetite for risk, innovation, how funding will be allocated and how success will be measured.
7. Action Log
I really could not manage without my Action Log. It’s a simple spreadsheet that I use as a brain dump for all the actions that I note in meetings, phone calls, emails and corridor conversations.
I use the Action Log as a master list of all the items on my project that will need people to complete. It gives me a bucket that I can then filter, allocate and prioritise for different team members. Chasing up progress and outcomes is really easy because the Action List traces each item back to a source event, whether a meeting, phone call, etc.
My Favorite Applications
I use OneDrive as my document repository.
While it feels like I live my entire life within the Google behemoth, OneDrive remains my preferred document repository for a couple of simple reasons.
- I can access my documents – quickly and easily, on any device and in any location; this is critical when I am on the road, in an airport or on a client site
- I can secure my documents and share them with people on a needs basis. This is really helpful when I want a team member to be able to access and edit a document
- Many of my clients work with Microsoft apps – SharePoint, Team, Outlook, OneNote, Project, Word/Excel/PowerPoint etc. Having my documents in OneDrive makes it easy for me to fit in and share with my clients
I use SmartSheet for quick, on-the-fly project scheduling. It’s cheap, reliable and does the basics well – simple to use, nice visuals, and I can flip between Gantt Chart, Card and Calendar views.
What really works for me are two features – I can export to MS Project (this is really helpful if a client wants to run with the Big Daddy) and I can invite team members to collaborate.
My teams and clients are located around the world and it’s so important that we are able to get on a call, look each other in the eye and share screens.
There are plenty of apps that allow video conferencing and while I use Cisco Webex and Skype for Business every day, I always like to be able to quickly jump on Skype if I’m on the road or unable to connect to the client’s network.
I’d also like to hear about your toolkit. Which tools and apps do you always come back to?