Commercial Construction Management: A Quick Guide

PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

Construction project management covers a massive number of projects and there are all sorts of builds associated with it. Most people think of the housing market when they think of construction, especially single-occupancy homes, but that’s only a small fraction of the industry. Commercial construction management, for example, is huge.

Consider that commercial construction management entails everything from offices to retail shopping malls and medical centers. There are big, complicated projects that require project management software to organize all of the moving parts. Let’s look at what commercial construction management is, what processes it uses and the responsibility of the commercial construction project manager.

What Is Commercial Construction Management?

Commercial construction management is the process of designing, renovating and building commercial structures. These are usually large projects that include the use of heavy machinery and are funded by developers that also receive funding from local and even national governmental offices.

Commercial construction projects are awarded by contracts that’re won through a competition involving developers and contractors who submit proposal bids. Contracts are awarded to those who not only offer competitively priced bids but also include detailed plans that accurately forecast costs and scheduling.

Pricing for the commercial construction project is based on the size of the build, the budget and the scope of the project from design to breaking ground and completing the build. Value engineering is a process that looks at how to improve functionality and keep costs down and is often used to determine a more accurate, cost-effective plan.

Commercial construction management is a huge industry, accounting for nearly $100 million a year in the United States alone. As the need for commercial spaces increases, so does the demand for construction project management software that can execute work more efficiently. ProjectManager is work and project management software that offers multiple project views so managers and crew can use the tools they need to plan and execute their tasks. Our interactive Gantt chart links dependencies and sets a baseline to monitor progress in real time. It even filters for the critical path. Get started with ProjectManager for free today.

ProjectManager's Gantt chartProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager helps you plan commercial construction projects with online Gantt charts. Learn more

Residential vs. Commercial Construction Management

As noted above, residential and commercial construction management aren’t the same, though they do share many similarities. For one, the materials used are often different. Residential homes are usually framed in timber, which is more cost-effective and suitable for smaller buildings. Larger, more complex commercial construction projects require steel frames because they can support the weight of bigger buildings and have a longer life span.

The rules also differ between the two. There are strict regulations in commercial construction regarding materials, techniques, electrical systems, plumbing and design. Construction project teams need to know and conform to all these rules. Residential construction is not without regulations; while there are codes and standards it must meet, the compliance standards tend to be simpler.

Construction budgets and costs are other variables. Commercial projects are larger and more expensive than smaller residential builds. The commercial material selection, maintaining compliance and paying for a more skilled crew are all more expensive in commercial projects. There are also general labor costs that can be more expensive than residential costs due to tight schedules. Meeting those project deliverables can increase labor costs.

The way that commercial and residential construction teams interact with their clients is also different. Residential construction projects usually require working directly with an individual who will reside in the house when it’s complete. As you can imagine, this party might try to micromanage the process. Commercial projects are not without their difficulties, but they involve stakeholders who work on commercial construction projects for a living. While they too must be managed, they understand metrics and milestones, especially if you’re communicating regularly with them.

The Scale of Commercial Construction Projects

Not all commercial construction projects are the same. Commercial construction projects encompass many types of buildings including small, medium and large projects. Small-scale projects are often rebranded, such as updating the interiors of buildings. These projects can be as simple as a new paint job, new flooring or technological upgrades.

A medium-scale commercial construction project is usually an owner expanding or remodeling a building. This could stem from a company growing or a restaurant redesigning its interior. A larger-scale project is one built from scratch. There’s no foundation, no structure to build from which requires a more professional team with considerable building experience.

Other examples of commercial construction projects include restaurants, which require local permits and must follow specific regulations due to working with food. There’s also retail construction, which can be a grocery store or shopping mall. Medical facilities have their own requirements and need to have intensive plans for plumbing and electrical systems as well as critical equipment related to healthcare.

There are also office buildings of various sizes and configurations, hotels and other lodging facilities. Institutional buildings run the gamut from high schools and colleges to universities, libraries and other learning centers. Industrial structures include factories and warehouses while sports facilities are large arenas. stadiums, smaller fitness centers or even school gymnasiums and play areas.

The Commercial Construction Management Process

Now that we have a better picture of what commercial construction is and the types and sizes of structures it builds, let’s look at the process that controls commercial construction management.

Development and Planning

The first thing is to find a location, whether that’s an existing one that needs renovation or a new site to erect a structure from scratch. Both costs and zoning requirements vary depending on the type of building that’s being built. Make sure there are utilities that will meet the building’s needs. When you decide on a site, there are studies of the soil that will determine if the ground will require additional reinforcement to support the building. There’s also a boundary survey to certify the site’s elevation.

With the site determined, you next need to set a budget that outlines your hard and soft costs. This requires researching prices for similar buildings and the cost per square foot will vary widely depending on where you’re building. Using historical data and other research helps to provide a more accurate forecast of the project cost. This work is done by the commercial construction manager who handles the planning phase of the project. They oversee all the various crews, subcontractors and vendors to keep the project on schedule and within the budget.

Pre-Design

The pre-design phase overlaps with some elements of the development and planning phase. They both deal with outlining objectives for the project and a lot of what’s called pre-design could fall under planning. How this is broken up depends on the project, manager and organization. This is when the timeline, building size, orientation with roads and utilities, materials and equipment costs for the project are determined.

Design

Once decisions on the build are made, the drawings and schematics have to be created. This involves engineers staying in compliance with codes and making sure the structure has integrity. There’s also the employ of a mechanical engineer to verify the plans in terms of their internal structures. Structural engineers, electrical engineers and civil engineers are also critical to this stage of the project.

Pre-Construction

This is when you’ll pull permits for the job and get insurance for your on-site crew. The vendor bidding process also takes place during this phase to make sure your procurement meets your budget expectations. The field team for the project site will also be assembled.

Procurement

Now you’ll secure the materials necessary for construction, a critical stage in maintaining your budget. You need to keep within the costs that you estimated in the planning phase, but that doesn’t mean cutting corners. You need to have professionals working for you with quality materials to ensure the successful completion of the construction project, including your subcontractors. You’ll also want to make sure you have clear communications with the various parties involved to achieve the quality necessary for success.

Construction

This is the stage that most people think of when imagining what a commercial construction project is like. Everything you’ve done prior to this stage is essential to the successful build of your structure. The better your plan and risk management, the less likely you’ll experience delays and run overschedule. Part of this phase is site preparation where you turn the lot into a workspace. This means establishing guidelines for workers, storage for equipment and maintaining quality.

Next comes a groundbreaking, erecting temporary work buildings and storage facilities. Any vegetation must be removed and proper drainage established. You need to lay out utilities and prepare for water, waste and power connections, all of which must pass inspection in order to move forward with the project.

After this, construction can begin in earnest. That means pouring concrete to lay the foundation, building the frame of the structure and adding the roof and siding. Before the internal walls are built, the electrical and HVAC ductwork needs to be installed. Then the walls can be completed and the floors, windows and doors added. Lighting fixtures and paint are also part of this stage. The last part of the construction phase is landscaping.

Post-Construction

The commercial construction project isn’t complete until the general contractor walks the client or developer through the building to evaluate the quality of the project. A punch list is created to collect any problems that require fixing before the site is open to the public. After this, a final inspection must be passed and the site is finally complete.

Responsibilities of a Commercial Construction Project Manager

The commercial construction management process is supervised by a commercial construction project manager. They’re responsible for planning and overseeing the entire project. Some of the work they do involves negotiating contracts, securing building permits and working off and on-site to make sure the team is working according to the schedule and has the resources they need to do their jobs.

Other responsibilities include hiring staff and contractors, offering guidance as needed, monitoring progress and performance and making analyses and reports for stakeholders. They must also ensure that the project is compliant with all building, safety and governmental regulations.

When looking for a commercial construction project manager, you’ll want someone who has at least a BA in construction management, architecture or engineering. It’s often helpful if they have some professional certification and an advanced understanding of the construction process, principles, materials and tools. Naturally, you want a good communicator with leadership qualities.

Construction Project Management Templates

The commercial construction project manager needs to have a good crew working on the build, but also the right tools for themselves and their teams. Almost all commercial construction management projects use project management software, but if you’re not ready for that upgrade, ProjectManager has dozens of free construction project templates that can help you through the commercial construction project’s life cycle. Here are just a few.

Construction Estimate Template

The ability to accurately forecast your project costs is one of the most important factors in delivering your project within its budget. Our free construction estimate template for Excel is broken down into phases with details for labor and material costs to help you get a clear picture of your project costs.

Construction Schedule Template

Your commercial construction schedule acts as the framework of your structure, holding everything together. Our free construction schedule template for Excel helps you manage your deliverables, resources, allocations, milestones, tasks and more.

Punch List Template

As discussed above, the punch list is one of the final tasks of a commercial construction project. Our free punch list template for excel has everything you need to identify and correct issues in your final walk-through, from assigning tasks to tracking their status.

ProjectManager Helps Manage Commercial Construction Projects

Templates are suitable, but they’re static documents that require a lot of manual labor to update. ProjectManager is commercial construction project management software that delivers real-time data automatically, streamlines work processes and helps you make more insightful decisions.

Monitor Progress and Performance in Real Time

Our Gantt chart helps you plan and estimate the project, but without tools to monitor your progress, you’re managing blindly. Our real-time dashboard offers a high-level view of six project metrics from costs to time, and health to workload, all generated automatically from live data. You can track progress and performance and adjust your scope as necessary. There’s no setup as with inferior products, simply use it when you need it. Then, use one-click reports for a deeper look into the data, allowing you to filter and share with stakeholders to keep them updated.

ProjectManager's dashboardProjectManager's dashboard
Manage Team Schedules and Resources

Use our resource management features to keep your crew working at capacity. We give you tools to chart their availability, skill set, cost and allocation. In addition to tracking your human resources, ProjectManager also allows you to track your construction materials in real time. For example, our workload chart allows you to monitor who is working on what, and itt’s easy to balance your workload by reallocating resources from that chart. You can also manage construction equipment rental costs to help you stay on budget.

ProjectManager's workload chartProjectManager's workload chart

ProjectManager is your one-stop shop for all commercial construction management needs. We have secure timesheets, multiple project views and a collaborative platform to share files and comment at the task level. We connect your crew, whether on-site on in the office to foster greater productivity.

ProjectManager is award-winning work and project management software designed to connect hybrid teams and streamline processes with automation to help you work better. Get organized, see your work in real time and gain the efficiencies you need to succeed. Join the teams at NASA, Siemens and Nestle, to name only a few, using our software to deliver successful projects. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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What Is Organization Design? Types, Principles & More

PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

Most people think integrity means being honest. While this is true, the word has another meaning that’s important to project management: the state of being whole and undivided. In a sense, you could call organization design the approach to creating integrity in your organization.

For example, a building that has no integrity cannot stand. In the same way, a project that isn’t part of a larger organization design may struggle to succeed. Let’s define organization design and its different types and principles.

What Is Organization Design?

Organization design is a process for structuring and running organizations. It takes a holistic approach to the work done in an organization including team formations, shift patterns, reporting, decision-making, communication methods and much more. The purpose of organization design is to help an organization excel at what it does and help meet its goals. That can mean everything from a large-scale reorganization to subtle shifts in structures and systems.

Organization design often comes into play as an organization is growing or, conversely, if it is downsizing. Either of these shifts requires a company to reexamine how it does business. Other reasons that prompt organization design include a change in leadership, strategy or the marketplace in which the organization operates.

Why organization design is implemented is simply to improve how the organization works. That can mean everything from pinpointing inefficiencies to making better, faster decisions. Organization design can improve the quality of the goods or services that an organization produces, increase profits and strengthen relationships with its customer base. Internally, it can make for safer working conditions, a happier, more motivated workforce and better prepare the business for future challenges.

Creating and implementing organization design is considered to be a project, something that is more successful with project management software. ProjectManager is project management software that helps organize, monitor and report on project planning. Our Gantt charts collect all of your tasks, link dependencies to avoid bottlenecks and even filters for the critical path. You can set a baseline to track your actual progress against your planned progress in real time to keep on schedule. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt chartProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager’s Gantt charts help you implement organization design. Learn more.

Principles of Organization Design

You only have one chance at organization design and it takes a lot of time and effort. If you don’t get it right, you’re not going to reap the rewards and you likely won’t get a second chance. This makes it important to know the principles of organization design and how to move through the process correctly.

Every organization is different, of course, but they all share certain things in common. While these 10 guiding principles may alter slightly depending on who is applying them, they remain a fair roadmap for leaders who are looking to recalibrate their organizations to attain some of the many benefits possible from organization design.

  1. Free Yourself From the Past: The organization has to look reflectively at itself, its purpose and how changes to those foundational pillars will affect clients, employees and investors. As you begin to explore changes, think about how they can differentiate you from the competition and how these changes will play out over the next few years.
  2. Design With Knowledge of Your DNA: In order to know what to prioritize in organizational design, step back and identify the universal building blocks of your organization. All organizations can be divided into tangible or formal elements such as how decisions are made, how data is processed and how work is divided. Businesses also have intangible or informal elements such as how people act and are inspired to contribute.
  3. Fix Your Structure Last: The organizational chart of the company might seem like the logical first step, but you want to create a bridge that will carry the organization from the old ways to the new ways. It’s a common mistake to think that you can simply jump from one structure to another. That structure is the final step after you’ve done everything to support it and the changes it will initiate.
  4. Use Your Top Talent: You make a change by empowering the people in your organization, so no matter what structural changes you plan on making, you want to identify the strengths of your key performers and make sure they are empowered to collaborate and facilitate those changes. The leadership team is responsible for successful organization design.
  5. Know What You Can Control: It’s important to list the constraints that are slowing you down as an organization and the sacrifices that you’re always making. Know your limitations before any attempt to execute a new organization design. You should also be aware of the regulations, supply shortages and customer demand that are out of your control but don’t spend too much time focusing on the things that you can change.
  6. Promote Accountability: You want to keep everyone accountable for their jobs which requires transparency and clear communications, not micromanaging. This is likely the single most important change you can make to your organization. If communication flows without obstruction and everyone is taking responsibility for their work, the structure you design is going to work better.
  7. Benchmarking Isn’t As Important As You Think: There can be problems with tracking what competitors are doing. While it can help optimize your design and expose hidden issues, it also short-changes your unique capabilities. It’s not productive to compare your organization to others that might have a different value proposition or capabilities. If you must benchmark, focus on select elements rather than the whole organization.
  8. Organization Design Should Fit Company Purpose: Every organization is different and the right structure for your organization will likely not fit another. When designing the organization, make sure it aligns with your purpose and is consistent across the organization.
  9. Don’t Neglect the Intangible Elements: It’s easy to focus on the tangible elements of organization design, such as decision rights and the organization chart, but that won’t get the results you want. Instead, balance the tangible with the intangible if you want to get things done. The tangible is important but without addressing how people think and act in that structure, you won’t change anything.
  10. Build on Your Strengths: One of the best ways to implement successful organization design is to build on your strengths. Often the organization’s design is so far from the organization’s core values and strengths that it’s destined to fail. Make sure to find the organization’s strengths and build on that foundation.

Related: Free SWOT Analysis Template

Types of Organization Design

Just as there isn’t one type of organization, there isn’t one type of organization design. These various organizational structures are a framework for the organization to distinguish power and authority, roles and responsibilities and determine how the information will flow through the organization. Let’s take a look at some of the more common organization design structures that support organization design.

Hierarchical Structure

This is a pyramid-shared organizational chart with the CEO or manager on top and each level descending in the chain of command until the base is entry-level employees. This defines authority, shows everyone to whom they report and clarifies the career path. However, a hierarchical structure can slow down innovation and make those at the base of the pyramid feel as though they are outside the process.

Functional Structure

As in the hierarchical structure, those with more authority and responsibility are placed at the top of the chart and it then descends by responsibility. However, the organization is determined by skillset and function in the company, with each department managed independently. This gives departments a sense of self-determination and the structure can be easily scaled. But a functional structure can also create silos in the organization and block interdepartmental communications.

Horizontal or Flat Structure

The opposite of a hierarchical structure, the horizontal structure is popular with startups and other organizations in which there is not much distance between management and employees. It encourages less supervision and more involvement from everyone in the organization. Employees feel ownership and take more responsibility. It fosters communication and speeds the delivery of new ideas. However, there can be a lack of supervision that causes confusion and is difficult to maintain at scale.

Divisional Structure

As the name implies, each division in the organization controls its own resources as if an independent company within a larger organization. Each division has its own marketing, sales and IT teams. The structure lends itself to larger organizations and allows them to be more flexible, quickly responding to market changes and customer needs with a customized approach. It can also create duplicate resources, wasting time and energy. Communication can be difficult between divisions, too, leading to internal competition within the larger organization.

Matrix Structure

This grid-like structure is great for cross-functional teams that are created to serve special projects. This structure helps connect otherwise disparate parties. The matrix structure also helps managers easily find team members for whatever project they’re leading and provides a more dynamic view of the organization. Employees are encouraged to use their skills beyond those applied to their original role. It can create conflicts between managers in different departments.

Team-Based Structure

As the name suggests, this structure organizes employees by teams. This is against what’s considered to be a traditional hierarchical structure and is ideal for a more problem-solving, collaborative environment where employees have more control. This can boost productivity and performance, breaking down the silo mentality in favor of more transparency. It also allows for lateral moves throughout the organization and provides less managerial supervision. It’s a great fit for agile project management and scrum teams. It does tend to make promotional paths less clear.

Network Structure

This structure works well for organizations that don’t have their services centralized. They work with vendors, subcontractors, freelances, offsite locations and satellite offices. To bring some order to this seemingly chaotic mix, a network structure helps open communications between those involved over an old-fashioned hierarchy. It visualizes the various onsite and offsite relationships in the organization, fosters a more flexible environment and helps everyone understand the workflow so they can collaborate more freely. It can still be complex, though, and makes it difficult to know who has authority over what.

How ProjectManager Helps After Organization Design

Regardless of what type of organization design you apply in your company, ProjectManager is the one work and project management tool you’ll need to connect your hybrid teams and help them boost productivity. Our multiple project views mean you can work how you want to, whether in a more traditional, hierarchical structure, a flat, agile structure or a hybrid version.

Visualize Workflow With Kanban Boards

We’ve already shown you the Gantt chart which is great for a hierarchical structure, but that’s only one of our multiple project views. For a flat or team-based structure, you’ll want to use kanban boards to manage backlogs and collaboratively plan sprints. Managers get transparency into the process and can reallocate resources as needed to avoid bottlenecks and keep teams working at capacity.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project viewA screenshot of the Kanban board project view
Track Progress and Performance in Real Time

It’s not enough to have the tools to fulfill the dictates of the organization design you have, you need to monitor your work to make sure it’s meeting your expectations. Our software delivers real-time data for more insightful decision-making. Get a high-level view with our live dashboard which tracks six project metrics. There’s no setup required and the dashboard automatically calculates data for you. For a deeper dive into the data, there’s one-click reporting, which can be filtered to show only the information you want to see. Then, share it with stakeholders to keep them updated.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a projectProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

Whatever organization design you use, communication is key. Our software is collaborative to the core, making it simple to share plans, files and more. You can comment on tasks and get notified by email and in the app when anything is updated. There’s a single source of truth that keeps everyone working together and productively.

ProjectManager is award-winning software that connects hybrid teams and fosters greater efficiency. It facilitates organization design of all types, whether teams are together or distributed, regardless of skill set or their department. Join teams at NASA, Siemens and Nestle delivering success with our tool. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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Software Development Estimation: A Quick Guide

PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

Software development estimation is an essential part of many projects. Even before the planning stage, it’s critical to create an accurate forecast of the project’s duration, costs and more. Despite its importance, software development estimation is often overlooked.

Maybe that’s because it’s difficult to estimate properly. Software development estimation requires an understanding of all parts of your software development project and the time needed to successfully complete the work to meet the quality criteria set by your clients. There’s also money, labor and so much more. Let’s explore how software development estimation works and its techniques and tools.

What Is Software Development Estimation?

Software development estimation is a process by which one can accurately determine the amount of effort, as in time and money, necessary to deliver or maintain a software-based project. Of course, this defines any project estimation.

What’s unique to software development estimation is that it takes into consideration the software development company’s unique techniques and processes used to complete tasks. This requires using complex tools and having sound knowledge of mathematics. For a software development estimate to be considered accurate, it’s expected to have an error margin within the five to 10 percent range. Creating such a forecast involves a substantial upfront investment in both time and money, but it pays off through a better product that satisfies its customers’ needs.

Part of any software development estimate is mapping its life cycle. This means using tools such as work breakdown structure (WBS) to thoroughly understand every step in the process. ProjectManager is work and project management software with interactive Gantt charts that can import a WBS from Excel and organize your tasks, durations, dependencies and milestones. More than that, the Gantt filters for the critical path and can set a baseline to track actual progress against your plan in real time. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt chartProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager’s Gantt charts help you estimate time, costs and track progress. Learn more

How to Estimate Cost and Effort in a Software Development Project

Now that we understand what a software development estimate is, how do we estimate costs and effort in software development projects? The best way to approach this difficult problem is slowly through a series of steps. Use all of the means at your disposal. That can be historical data from similar past projects or the experience of your team and experts who can guide you.

Once you have some insight and context, it’s recommended that you follow these steps.

1. Map Your Software Development Life Cycle

To start, you need to know all of the steps in your software development life cycle. This is the first formal project management framework and goes from project planning, analysis and design to implementation, testing and maintenance. The more information you can add to activities, key roles and deliverables for each of these stages, the more accurate your software development estimate will be.

2. Check Your Project Requirements

Once you have the software development life cycle completed, it’s time to check your project requirements and ensure they match those defined by your stakeholders or client. The clearer your project requirements, the more accurate your software development estimate will be. If you skip this step, it’s almost impossible to make an accurate forecast of your costs and effort.

3. Make a Work Breakdown Structure

You started to define your activities in the first step, but now you need to collect every task and deliverable for the project. The best tool for this task is a work breakdown structure (WBS). It helps you collect all of the necessary steps to get you to the final deliverable of your software development project, which will allow you to estimate time and costs.

4. Use a Software Estimation Technique

Now that you’ve gathered the above information, the next step is to use a software estimation technique. The type you use will depend on the project methodology you’ll use for the software development project. We’ll get into more specifics about software development estimation techniques shortly.

Software Development Estimation Tools

Because of the complexity and the importance of forecasting in software development, it’s crucial that you use software estimation tools to help you get more accurate figures. As we mentioned before, brainstorming with your experienced team and experts can offer valuable insights. Historical data is also a valuable asset. The following are some other estimation tools to consider.

Work Breakdown Structure

The work breakdown structure (WBS) is part of the process of figuring out the time and effort for your project. Let’s take a closer look at this tool and how the WBS acts as a hierarchical list of project activities.

There are two formats to work breakdown structures. One is the outline view which presents the entire project and uses numbers to record its stages. For example, you would have one stage that’s the project scope and listed beneath this heading would include facets such as determining the scope, securing sponsorship, defining resources, etc., ending with scope complete. You’d then move to the software requirements stage and make another list ending with scope complete.

Related: Free Work Breakdown Structure Template for Excel

The other work breakdown structure format is a tree diagram that shows the entire project including the final deliverable on top with a row of all project stages underneath. Below each stage is the list of activities.

There are two types of work breakdown structures. A functional WBS is one in which the system is broken based on functions in the application which helps estimate the size of the system. The other is an activity WBS which is broken down based on activities that are further broken down into tasks. This is the type of WBS that helps estimate the effort and schedule.

PERT Chart

PERT is an acronym for program evaluation and review technique, also known as a three-point estimate. A PERT chart is a three-point activity estimating technique that takes into consideration uncertainty and risk. It does this by taking in three categories of estimates.

The three estimates are most likely (M), which is the most likely cost and time for the project based on a realistic look at what needs to be done; optimistic (O), which is the best-case scenario for completing the project; and pessimistic (P), which is the worst-case scenario. PERT then calculates the weighted average by using the formula: PERT Estimate = (O + 4 x M) + P) / 6.

The PERT chart can be made by identifying the tasks in your project, defining dependent tasks, connecting the tasks and using this to estimate the project timeline. The tasks, activities or events are represented as nodes and the connections as arrows. The critical path method is then used with the PERT equation to find the longest sequence of tasks that must be completed to finish your project successfully. This helps you estimate time and effort.

Product Backlog

The product backlog is an ordered list of what’s needed to be done in order to complete the project. Using the product backlog is ideal for estimating the length of your project within a certain timeframe. Estimating your product backlog allows product owners to better prioritize tasks and make decisions about scope and schedule.

Story points are often used to estimate the product backlog, a unit of measure to estimate how much effort is needed to complete a product backlog item. Don’t forget to factor in the risk involved and the complexity of the task to give you a more realistic estimate of scheduling and help to better prioritize your tasks.

Another method is the planning poker, in which you create a deck of cards that have a ranking scale and during a team meeting, everyone chooses the card they believe represents the time needed for each task. Then see if everyone picked the same card. If not, work towards a consensus.

Software Development Estimation Techniques

Here are some techniques you can use to help with software development estimation. They take into account the details of your task, the resources you have, the rate the cost to time, the duration and whether any third-party services will be required.

  • Bottom-Up Estimation: This is where a project is divided into tasks and subtasks that are easy to define and manage. This makes it easier to come up with estimates for these tasks. Adding them up from the bottom to the top is timely but accurate.
  • Top-Down Estimation: Conversely, top-down estimation reviews the overall scope of the project by identifying the major elements of work and making estimations on the effort and time for them outside of the rest of the project. It creates a rough or ball-park figure at an early stage of the project and takes less time than the bottom-up type.
  • Parametric Estimation: The first step in parametric estimation is pinpointing the requirements, complexity and technology involved in the development. Then, you compile information on what work is necessary to complete a task from similar projects. Finally, the cost is found by empirical relationships between the factors involved and the total tasks in the project. In parametric estimation, use scalability for accuracy.
  • Relative Sizing: This is a type of estimation used by agile teams. It’s done by estimating tasks or user stories by comparing or grouping them together rather than separately. It’s similar to silent grouping or affinity estimating as the agile community believes that relative over absolute estimations is more accurate.
  • Wideband Delphi: This is a consensus-based technique useful for estimating the time needed to complete a task. It relies on experts who answer questionnaires in two or more rounds. After each round, a facilitator summarizes the findings. Experts then can revise their earlier questions in the next round.

How ProjectManager Helps Software Development Estimation

ProjectManager is work and project software that’s collaborative to the core. It connects teams with one source of truth to keep everyone working productively. Whether your team is in the office or remote, they’ll love our flexible software that’s flexible enough to handle agile or more traditional project management methodologies.

Manage Product Backlogs With Kanban Boards

One estimation tool is the product backlog. Our kanban boards allow you to manage and prioritize backlog items so the whole team can collaborate on their sprint. Managers get visibility into the process and can reallocate resources as needed to keep things moving on schedule.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project viewA screenshot of the Kanban board project view

Automate Workflows Across Multiple Project Views

We already told you how our Gantt charts can filter for critical paths, but that’s only one of several project views that we offer. Explore the sheet, calendar, list view and more to work how you please. Whether you prefer the traditional Gantt chart or the agile kanban board, all views offer workflow automation to streamline your processes. Then, set someone to authorize task approvals to make sure the task meets quality expectations.

ProjectManager's workflow automationProjectManager's workflow automation

Stay on Track With Real-Time Dashboards

After you’ve made your scheduling estimate, you want to stick to it. That means monitoring your progress and performance. Our real-time dashboard does that automatically for you. It collects and calculates project data, displaying the results in easy-to-read graphs and charts across six metrics. Best of all, there’s no setup required as with inferior software options. You get real-time data when you want it for more insightful decision-making.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a projectProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

ProjectManager also offers one-click reports, task and resource management tools to keep your teams working at capacity and email and in-app notifications to make sure you’re instantly alerted of updates. Our software can help you plan, manage and report on your next software development project with ease.

ProjectManager is award-winning work and project management software that organizes teams and boosts productivity. Our collaborative platform connects hybrid teams to help them work better together. Join the teams that are delivering success at NASA, Siemens and Nestle using our tool. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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Steering Committee: Definition, Roles & Meeting Tips

PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

You’ve been tasked to lead a project and create a project plan only to learn that it’ll be reviewed by a steering committee. Or maybe you don’t currently have a steering committee for your business but you’re interested in assembling one. If you’re not sure what a steering committee is or what it does, don’t panic.

Let’s explore what a steering committee is, how it relates to project management and what steering committees do. You’ll also learn about the roles on a steering committee, how to run a steering committee meeting and how project management software can help.

What Is a Steering Committee?

A steering committee is an advisory board that has governance over a company, campaign or anything in between. Whatever the committee is in charge of steering determines who its members are. In other words, steering committees are composed of experts, authority figures and senior stakeholders.

The key concern of a steering committee focuses on the direction, scope, budget, timeline and methods used by an organization. Steering committees will meet from time to time and discuss those topics to see where they are and where they want to be in the future. They also reset any topics if necessary to stay on track.

Project management software connects projects and steering committees for better analysis and better outcomes. ProjectManager is cloud-based project management software that has real-time dashboards that deliver live data on project metrics. It requires no setup and tracks everything from cost to workload and health to tasks, providing a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's dashboardProjectManager's dashboard
ProjectManager has real-time dashboards to deliver timely data to the steering committee. Learn more.

Project Steering Committee Definition

The definition of a project steering committee is not significantly different from that of a steering committee, but it’s made up of managers who are tasked with overseeing and supporting a project. This is done from a higher level than the day-to-day activities of that project but instead from a managerial perspective.

In terms of who is selected for the committee, it’s usually based on their stake in the project. These stakeholders can include customers, contractors or even other departments in the organization that will be most affected by the project.

The people on the steering committee aren’t always working on the project; that role belongs to the project manager and their team. The steering committee is made up of more C-level executives, but because they aren’t intimate with the details of a project, they need to have clear communications to allow them to do their jobs.

What Does a Steering Committee Do?

As its name implies, the steering committee has one job: to steer a project. Just as you steer your car, a steering committee is a tool that keeps you on the road and moving in the right direction. They are there for the big decisions such as how a company will run its processes or how teams work together.

Let’s take a step back and think about the functions of a steering committee. What does it have authority to do and how does it exercise its governance over a project? That leads us to define the purpose of a steering committee.

1. Support the Project

It’s hard to manage a team and even harder when you’re managing cross-functional project teams. Of course, the project manager is the person responsible for the daily management of the team, but when they need help, the steering committee is there. Often members of the steering committee come from the heads of the various departments that have teams who are engaged in the project and might have more pull or a better rapport with them.

2. Make Decisions

We briefly touched on how a steering committee can help direct the project and make big decisions. Sometimes those decisions involve conflict resolution or resolving issues, but often, there are decisions larger than the individual project. There are times when a choice must be made about new business models or how business processes are being handled. These aren’t part of a project manager’s responsibilities and the steering committee is designed to respond more appropriately to these decisions.

3. Resolve Issues

Project managers are usually the ones who step in if there’s a conflict or bottleneck. They can smooth out the differences between parties or reallocate resources accordingly. But there can be issues that come up that the project manager and their team can’t resolve on their own. The steering committee is there to support the project and can be called on when needed to resolve these issues.

Related: Free Issue Tracking Template for Excel

4. Approve the Project Budget

The project manager creates the budget and speaks to experts and their teams to determine the number of funds necessary to complete all tasks within the necessary timeframe. The project manager then presents the project budget to the steering committee who has final approval. Additionally, if a project manager wants to add to the budget during the execution of the project, the steering committee is responsible for approving it.

5. Get Status Updates

In order to fulfill its purpose, the steering committee has to know what’s going on in a project. That doesn’t mean they need to know the minutia of the project, but they have to be regularly updated with its status. The project manager is usually the one on the project team who will present the status update to the stakeholders.

6. Encourage the Project Manager

The project manager is the most likely team member to engage with the steering committee as they need to have a good relationship to ensure the success of the project. This means that sometimes the steering committee has the project manager’s back if they need encouragement or if the project manager needs a sympathetic ear to vent.

Roles on a Steering Committee

A steering committee lives or dies on the productive involvement of its members—everyone is important and needs to participate. Roles can vary depending on the steering committee, organization and project, but in general, there are some common roles among all steering committees.

  • Business Manager: This person is responsible for the project manager and the owner of the business case. They look at the project through the lens of business and determine if it’s meeting the business objectives and interests as well as if the costs are justified against the benefits of the project.
  • Senior Users: This part of the steering committee represent the group for which the project is being done. Think of them as end-users of a product or service. This ensures that the project deliverables align with the user requirements.
  • Senior Supplier: This role provides the manpower, budget and services for the project. They make sure design, product and other standards are being met. The feasibility of the product or service under the constraints of the budget and project plan is their responsibility. This role might be someone from IT or even an external stakeholder.

How to Run a Steering Committee Meeting

A steering committee meeting covers different specifics versus other types of meetings, but in terms of how they’re run, the rules are similar. With any meeting, you don’t want to go in without an agenda as an agenda means you don’t waste anyone’s time.

Along those lines, you don’t want to get bogged down in details. The steering committee has a different view of the project than the project team and they don’t have to know about each task and whether it’s on schedule. Again, that responsibility falls under the project manager. Instead, the steering committee is there for the bigger picture and helps the project manager with decisions beyond their job description.

Someone should be taking notes during the meeting that cover broad strokes of what was discussed and any decisions that were made during the meeting. Before adjourning, review those notes and ensure everyone in attendance signs off on them to avoid problems down the road.

If you’re running the meeting, one final thought: know the people you’re working with. Having an understanding of each committee member’s personality is going to help you better communicate with them and manage them during the meeting. Knowing who you’re working with is always the way to work more productively.

How ProjectManager Helps Steering Committees

Whether you’re on steering committing or reporting to one, you need tools that can deliver real-time data in order to know what’s happening in the project and make more insightful decisions to ensure its success. ProjectManager is work and project management software that has features that allow you to manage projects and keep the steering committee updated.

Get Detailed Reports With One Click

When presenting to the steering committee, you have to come up with project metrics without getting lost in the weeds. Our one-click reporting features allow you to generate project status and portfolio status reports or more detailed reports on time, costs and more. All the reports can be filtered to show only what the steering committee wants to see. Plus, they’re easy to share as PDFs or print out if that’s preferred.

ProjectManager's status report filterProjectManager's status report filter
Share Plans on Interactive Gantt Charts

While the steering committee doesn’t want to get bogged down in the details, they do want to see the project plan. You can organize tasks, link dependencies and create milestones on the Gantt chart while filtering for the critical path and setting a baseline to track project variance. Share Gantt charts with the project team and the steering committee to keep everyone updated on progress. If the steering committee is responsible for more than one project, there’s a roadmap that can give them an overview of the whole portfolio.

ProjectManager's Gantt chartProjectManager's Gantt chart

Of course, the steering committee wants the project to succeed, and so does ProjectManager. That’s why there are task management and resource management features to keep teams working at capacity. Collaborative to the core, our software connects hybrid teams and lets them share files and collaborate, all to foster a more productive working environment. The steering committee is going to like that.

ProjectManager is award-winning work and project management software that connects hybrid teams, no matter where, how or when they work. Real-time data ensures a single source of truth so everyone is always working on the most current information. Built on a collaborative-to-the-core platform, our software helps you plan, monitor and track progress and performance in real time. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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What Is a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS)? Templates & Examples Included

PM Articles by ProjectManager.com. 

Projects are designed to deliver a product or a service within a specific timeframe and budget, a process that the project manager oversees. If that person is a product manager, he or she may apply a product breakdown structure (PBS).

But what is a product breakdown structure? We’ll get into the definition, illustrate product breakdown structure examples and even offer a free product breakdown structure template to give you practical experience with using this helpful flowchart.

What Is a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS)?

A product breakdown structure is a hierarchical chart that captures a project’s physical products that are necessary to deliver success. During the planning stage, it lists the products that’ll be delivered over the project’s life cycle to manage and organize everything that’s needed to successfully complete the project.

Often referred to as a project shopping list, its purpose is to separate the project’s final product into its constituent parts. It starts with the final deliverable and breaks it down in a hierarchical structure to the smallest products that start the chain. There are two types of products that are tracked in the product breakdown structure.

Internal & External Products

The first type of product is referred to as internal products or products that the project builds. The second type of product is called the external products; these have been brought in or supplied by another project. When any product is listed on the product breakdown structure, it’s referred to as a noun or described in the past tense. For example, the blueprint or safety training was delivered.

When completing a product breakdown structure, a project manager gains a greater understanding of what’s needed to deliver success. The PBS is used in conjunction with a product log, which lists all the products in a project, and a product description, which describes each product in greater detail. Together, these ensure that quality expectations are met.

Project managers also create a product flow diagram from the product breakdown structure which defines the order in which the products are delivered in the project. If this sounds like the seeds of a project plan, you’re right. The product breakdown structure is an essential tool to deliver an accurate and thorough project schedule.

Once you’ve done the work of a product breakdown structure and the related product documentation, you can feed that information into project management software and jumpstart your project plan. ProjectManager is work and project management software for hybrid teams with interactive Gantt charts that link dependencies, set milestones and even filter for the critical path. You can then set the baseline to capture your plan and compare it to your actual effort to stay on track. Get started with ProjectManager today for free!

ProjectManager's Gantt chartProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager has Gantt charts that show you the entire project on a timeline. Learn more.

PBS Example

The product breakdown structure can be used in any product management situation, though it stems from the PRINCE2 methodology. There, it’s used to analyze, document and communicate the outcomes of a project.

Let’s take a look at this PRINCE2 Wiki page on project plans, which has a product breakdown structure example. In the illustration below, you can see that the product breakdown structure is used for building a book website.

Example of a PBSExample of a PBS
PBS accredited to PRINCE2 Wiki.

The final deliverable is the book website which sits at the top of the chart. The next level down contains the activated site, configured site and information added, each of which delves into further detail and even sometimes branches into multiple products on the same level until you reach the bottom. While this is a straightforward product breakdown example, it can be more or less complicated depending on the project.

Related: Free Product Development Template

How to Create a PBS

Now that we know what a product breakdown structure is and have seen an example, it’s time to learn how to make a product breakdown structure to have a product log for your project. First, you need to assemble your product development team and begin the process of identifying the products in your project.

Step 1: Identify Products

Think about the products that are needed to reach your final deliverable. These should be listed by each team member.

Step 2: Consolidate Product List

Next, everyone on the team shares their product list which is then consolidated into one master list, removing any duplications.

Step 3: Divide Into Related Groups

All of the related products should be grouped which is referred to as work packages. For example, if you’re building a car, everything related to the engine, such as pistons, cylinders, etc., are grouped together. At this point, you want to write a product description for each product listed.

Repeat these steps as many times as necessary for a complete collection of products in the project. This is the start of your product breakdown structure, which will be designed from top to bottom. Using a car as an example, the top line is a car, and below that would be large products, such as the engine, chassis, etc. Below are the smaller products associated with that column until you’ve reached the smallest product that starts the sequence leading to the final product.

Product Breakdown Structure Template

Building a product breakdown structure from scratch isn’t difficult, but you can streamline the process by using a product breakdown structure template. This sets up the tree diagram for you so all you have to do is fill in the blanks and conform the chart to your project. Use our free work breakdown template for Excel as a product breakdown structure template.

Yes, the template is for a work breakdown structure, a topic we’ll discuss below. However, there are several types of breakdown structures that refer to different aspects of a project, each of which is structured as a tree diagram. Therefore, you can use our free work breakdown template as a product breakdown template by filling in the blanks as they relate to your product journey.

Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) vs. Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

Let’s take a moment to clarify the difference between the product breakdown structure and the work breakdown structure as they can be easily confused. As noted above, the structure is the same. Depending on what you put on the tree diagram, you can use the basic structure for a number of things.

The product breakdown structure is a hierarchical chart of products that will be produced during a project. It helps to understand the product flow and leads to a more complete project plan. The work breakdown structure is also a hierarchical chart but it is a delivery plan that details the work that has to be done through a project. These are usually activities, tasks or deliverables. This structure helps the project manager to build a workstream for the project, which includes tasks that are executed by the project team.

The difference is that the product breakdown structure shows the output of scope management while the work breakdown structure shows the work required to produce those products. These both inform the planning process and are important tools for managing a project.

Other Project Breakdown Structures

Breakdown structures are tools that place a part of the project in a hierarchical outline to ensure you have a complete list that can be managed in the project planning phase. The product breakdown structure is only one of four breakdown structures used in project management.

Work Breakdown Structure

As we’ve mentioned, a work breakdown structure is a visual tool that maps the deliverables in a project, starting with the last and working its way down to smaller ones. This sets up the tasks that need to be executed to deliver the project objectives.

Risk Breakdown Structure

Another popular use for the breakdown structure is a risk breakdown structure. It’s used to identify and manage all positive and negative risks that could occur over the course of the project. It’s part of any risk assessment and risk management process.

Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS)

Finally, the resource breakdown structure is a list of all resources that you’ll need to execute your project. This includes the hourly rates of team members, the materials, equipment and anything else you’ll use to execute the project.

Cost Breakdown Structure

A cost breakdown structure is another hierarchical representation of the project but it focuses on the various project costs. This is a valuable tool when identifying and managing the items on a project budget and helps apply measurable cost controls.

How ProjectManager Helps With Product Management

The product breakdown structure is a tool that sets up the planning phase. At this point, you need a powerful but easy-to-use tool that can be used by everyone in the project team, whether they’re working in a traditional or agile methodology. ProjectManager is work and project management software that connects hybrid teams no matter where they are, what they do or how they like to work.

Get Multiple Project Views

You saw how our Gantt chart can create a product roadmap for you, but that’s only one of the multiple project views that are fully synced on our software. You can toggle seamlessly between views, all of which are updated in real time. Some teams want assignments on our robust task list while agile teams prefer the kanban board that allows them to manage their backlog and plan sprints.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project viewA screenshot of the Kanban board project view

Collaborate & Manage Resources Across the Software in Real Time

Speaking of planning together, you won’t find a more collaborative tool. Users get real-time updates through email but also in the software. You don’t have to leave your work to see team members’ comments, shared files or status updates. Our software is collaborative to the core to foster more innovation from your product team.

To keep your product team working productively, you need our resource management tools. For example, a color-coded workload chart shows you who has too many or too few tasks assigned to them. This could lead to burnout and low morale. With our software, you can reallocate tasks directly from the workload chart making for a more productive and happier team.

ProjectManager's workload chartProjectManager's workload chart

There’s so much more that we can do to help you manage a successful product launch. From timesheets that streamline payroll and track time on tasks to a real-time dashboard and one-click reports that can be filtered and shared with stakeholders, ProjectManager is the one tool you’ll need to deliver product management success.

ProjectManager is award-winning work management software that connects hybrid teams with powerful and easy-to-use features that manage every aspect of your project. Join the thousands of professionals at NASA, Siemens and Nestle, among many others, who are using our tools to deliver their products on time and within budget. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

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