Project Management Tools that Pack a PunchWhen you look for project management tools, it is so easy to become overwhelmed by the Project Management Body of Knowledge’s 10 knowledge areas, 47 processes which create plans, documentation, and checklists. I know when I opened the PMBoK for the first time, it didn’t take long before I needed a wall chart to keep track of all the interconnections of processes and plans, documents and checklists.

I was overwhelmed…which lead me to throw it all out and go my own way trying to figure out project management on my own. I needed something simple and actionable, not a comprehensive dissertation. Eventually I found my PMBoK again and found a way to merge my hard-knocks tools with the formal methods.

Years later when I was working with an accounting firm’s project managers, I found they were in much the same predicament. Their project managers were accounting experts, now called to lead small teams of accountants to complete audits and such. The leadership didn’t want to take them away from the work of accounting by making them project management experts, but knew they needed to have skills to lead people and manage work.

Is this you? You have the expertise in the subject area and now called upon to lead a team. You don’t want a lot of “stuff” getting in the way of doing your work? I feel ya.

That’s why I’ve put together the 2 project management tools that I found make the biggest difference in a team’s work, spelled out simply for you. Then you can also get a full guide for how to use them and facilitate the session for your team (Check it out here.)

Since most of the team conflict I’ve seen is around expectations and communication, I find these to be essential things to work on. Here are the tools I recommend to get started for quick and easy project management.

Network Diagram

This is the chart that looks like a process map. I’ve included an example of painting a room below. Here are the basic steps of how to use it.

  • List out all the tasks that need to be done to complete the project. Choose a level of detail appropriate for the project (hours, days, weeks). Each task is performed by one or a few people, with handoffs occurring between task blocks.
  • Arrange them in order, left to right.
  • Connect items that need to be done in sequence.
  • Connect sequences in with other tasks so each task has at least one predecessor and one successor.

Network Diagram Example-Room Painting

This chart shows the connectedness of tasks on the project, enabling your team to understand their part in the project and who is involved before and after his/her task.

This is super useful in itself, but the real power of this tool is finding the critical path. The critical path tells you the tasks that, if delayed, cause an overall delay to the project. This equips you and the team for decision-making and time management. Check out my full guide on using the Network Diagram here, which has instructions and a simple example exercise for finding critical path.

RACI Chart

This is one of the most useful communication tools I’ve used with teams because it helps clear up whom on the team to involve with each piece of the project. Have you ever had the meeting to discuss why someone wasn’t informed when they expected to be? Awkward… and often painful. The goal of the RACI chart is to get those expectations out ahead of time, and can come to your defense if that awkward meeting is called.

Here’s how to make one. Create a table: Rows are the Tasks (hint: reference your network diagram); Columns are team members and stakeholders. The cells of the table are then populated with either R, A, C, I, or left blank to define the role that teammate or stakeholder has in that task.

  • Responsible – Owns the problem/project. This person is the “Doer.”
  • Accountable – To whom ‘R’ is accountable. This is the person that signs off on the work. There can only be one per task.
  • Consulted – Has information and/or capability necessary to complete the work. Their information is an input to the activity (task).
  • Informed – Must be notified of results of the activity/task. The information is passed on after the activity is complete.

Check out my full guide on using the RACI Chart here, which has instructions and a simple example to follow.

A Word to the Wise: Reality is Messy

Both of these tools are “simple” to understand. These tools used together give your team tools for prioritization, decision-making, time management, etc. as the project goes on. Even though they are awesome, they are messy to create. Often these sessions can devolve into exhausted debates about nuances of the project, banter about the true difference between responsible and accountable, or worse.

There are ways to create this that keeps the team going with minimal headaches. You do not have to have the whole team staring at the white board at the same time until it is all done. Try having pieces of it broken out and worked on in smaller groups, then have them report back to the larger group to edit. In the full guide I have a couple of ways to facilitate the session for your team.

Take heart though…the messiness is all worth it! Why would messiness be good?!?! The hard conversations and muddled expectations are being cleared up BEFORE they cause issues down the road. Misaligned expectations, misunderstanding of the critical path of the project, not knowing who to inform or involve with a task… all these can be better with these two tools in place for your team.

You got this!

These two tools are a great way to manage work and help empower your team to make great decisions, a critical piece in enabling joy in work. The Network diagram and the RACI chart are a team to have a lean project management framework without having pages and pages of planning documents. I hope these two tools can empower you to use this way for project management to be done as simply as a single piece of paper, with a network diagram on one side and RACI chart on the other.

Here’s the link to get a copy of our facilitator’s guide.

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