Going from a rough roadmap to the critical path
A key for Michael getting a project off the ground quickly is Aeon Timeline's flexibility to quickly assemble task lists on limited information, and only introduce or work out dates when they become relevant.
When we spoke to Michael, he was in the initial stages of a high-tech communications rollout across a company with hundreds of branches, and building expectations early in the project is crucial to gain the customer's trust.
"I start with the Spreadsheet View, because I can quickly hack in the tasks without any specifics, and then I work them out later. Depending on the project, if I have any specific due dates for particular tasks, then I put them in as well — usually, the start date is known, and sometimes the end date if the client says "we need this done by December", and so I need to see if its feasible.
For a rollout project like this, we have a preparation phase, a pilot phase, and then a go-live phase. I use these as starting points, and do a rough roadmap: "okay, we can start in 3 weeks time, we can do the preparation in 4 weeks, but there is a risk that the contract phase may require more time if the legal team is overloaded".
We have a kickoff meeting with the stakeholders and key people from each team, where we try to build an overview and see how long running the project might be. I would add dates to the top-level tasks, so we have a high-level roadmap, which still needs to be verified.
Then I bring the detail in, and sometimes I see we have overlooked something, and it will take longer. I use dependencies to mark connections between important tasks, so that I can observe those key points on the critical path to make sure there won't be a delay.
Sometimes I don't need the dates, because the uncertainty of the amount of work, and the details are too unknown, so it is just a rough sketch. We have the phases there without any dates. Then we add the child tasks into it first, to determine the actual end date."
Clear assignments and responsibilities
While it is important to build a timeline his client can trust, assigning responsibilities within the project is just as important in ensuring a successful project. Michael has customised our Project Management template so he can use Relationship View to build a RACI matrix that captures who is Responsible and Accountable, and who must be be Consulted or kept Informed.
"I don't remember the last project where I didn't do a RACI matrix.
If you just work with a timeline or gantt chart and a list of tasks, even if they are structured, people look at it and say: "this makes sense, the timeline looks realistic, and we agree to this". But then there is uncertainty on who is really doing the work. It might be obvious if it is a technical task, but if there is an administrative thing to do, there are several candidates.
In a high-level meeting, Aeon Timeline is the best tool I know to construct the matrix. Because sometimes during these meetings, things comes up where they say, "Okay, you need to talk to the legal team, but there is a different business requirements document". And we can just note it on the task and stay in focus.
Previously I would need to note it down, and then do a second session or send an update document to the team, so this is much more efficient.
The key thing for me is you can twist the project around — look at the responsibilities, look at the timeline — and you can define the properties as you need them.
For the relationship types, as an example, I changed some existing ones and added the ones that were missing. You are completely free, and you can immediately use them in this relationship view, which isn't something I have seen anywhere else. It is a unique thing for me which is immensely useful."