Misalignment at the top of an organisation is obviously the most damaging. Lack of alignment at lower levels can possibly be seen early on by good management and can be fixed (albeit, perhaps at a high cost).

Lack of alignment at the top is an unforced error at best and insidious at worst. The folks in charge of the wheel are themselves disorganised with no one watching over; by the time the board takes action huge damage has occurred. Likely there is an “agreement” with business goals, but then things falls apart at various levels: territorial skirmishes, politics, execution, budget, personal agendas, ego, ambition, organisation mismatch to strategy, weak planning, lack of execution depth, lack of organisational stamina and courage. You know.

Of course, The Current Plan does not solve these problems. However we do know that business alignment is one of the key pillars of business success. We want to see organisations align execution to stated business goals. You can learn much just by listening. You can learn much by cross-checking execution against top level goals and planning (look for future posts on this).

Coming to alignment shines a bright light on an organisation.

Much is written in the Internet Era on open organisations, self-managing, entrepreneur-within, individual excellence and leadership through influence. Truly and sincerely, these are all wonderful advances in business management.  The Current Plan brings another perspective to business success: A focus on business alignment: The Current Plan. It’s not just software (although it is a great facilitator) but some key principles: Know and state your goals and then track execution against goals. Simple. Common sense. But that’s our belief. We’re still building some of the key supporting aspects within our product, but we have what is needed right now. Our mission: Align. Your business.

Business alignment is difficult but necessary in reducing costs and improving time to market of your services or products. In fact, business alignment is an exceedingly difficult thing to accomplish.

Starting with business goals and strategy one moves down the organisation and one sees “drift”. Goals get lost, new goals are added, goals get changed, goals are misunderstood, priorities are switched. The “lead” is lost and before you know: the company starts organically making it’s own plan.

In order to improve business alignment, The Current Plan asks: What are you doing and why? The business inventory of projects defines the “who, what and when”. The “why” must be asked in the manner: How does this project contribute to these goals? The project dashboard provides a quick-to-view top-level summary of business projects and allows the viewer to drill down as far as required. Individual projects are maintained by each team or team leader and the dashboard results are accurate in real-time.

In the film “The Bourne Legacy” there is a scene of a business meeting. One of the attendees starts to drift to other subjects. The manager: “I don’t know what meeting you’re attending, but this meeting is about …”.  Let’s get aligned.

Do you know the big picture and small picture of where your resources are being spent?

One of the priorities in business alignment is to know the plan for resources. Does everyone agree what the current plan — the plan of record — is for the upcoming weeks, months and quarters? The Current Plan lets you start planning with specific resources or “anonymous resources”. Planning can be done in detail for the near future and more loosely for future periods where perhaps there are still some unknown variables.

The Current Plan lets you set the planning time scale at different granularities: half-days, days, weeks, months, quarters and years. Identify key initiatives and put down a plan of record for estimate resources at any level (departments, teams, individuals). Because we make it easy to collaborate in parallel, planning can be accomplished “top down” (as a way to reflect overall business strategy) and “bottom-up” (allowing managers to plan based upon their situational knowledge.

The project dashboard provides a visual and easily understood way for all to understand where and how resources have and will be applied to accomplish business strategy.

The Current Plan provides an easy and convenient method for providing high-level views of projects that are relevant to them. Senior management are able to collect projects that are important to them and get a view that ranges from a one-line summary all the way to a drill-down to specific line items. As with all views, the timeline can be zoomed in or out as well as a mixture of time scales. For example near time can be at a detailed level (e.g. weeks), while more distance time can be view in quarters.

All projects within a portfolio are stacked vertically and in the extreme, a one page summary report of projects can be viewed.

Successful organization and portfolio results require excellent alignment across the business. The Current Plan provides mechanisms for individual project managers to manage and update their project executions and schedules.

From these bottom-up actions of project managers, senior managers and executives are able to quickly and accurately view an across-the-business aggregate of individual business initiatives; from this they are in a position to verify alignment with top-down expectations.

The concise and visual nature of The Current Plan quickly provides senior managers the data they need to assess situations and if necessary, the trigger points from which to take action or interventions.

So how does The Current Plan make this work in concrete terms?

Top-down: Projects and initiative are identified to accomplish high-level business goals.  Project or business managers are able to drill down to establish firm plans and costs. At any point in time, there is clear alignment between manages and senior managers: dates, resources and costs.

Bottom-up: Managers are able to plan their responsibilities, identify milestones and track progress. If milestones slip, all relevant stakeholders are quickly able to asses impacts. Senior managers are able to see the overall landscape and measure against their expectations.

Coming from that “other” project planning software? We give you: Color! A full spectrum of vibrant and sophisticated colors to lay out your project schedule. Icons in different color emphasis key points and de-emphasis secondary points. In keeping with our easy-to-use focus, changing colors is a single click away.

Users using our web-based application on the Apple iPad will see the full effect of viewing project plans on the vivid iPad display (use the pinch gesture to zoom in and out of the project view).

Leave behind those  one-color Gantt displays and move to our multi-color, dynamic and better-than-Gantt approach!

We’re keen on pragmatic project planning. Our tool let’s you quickly visualize key aspects of a project. The better-than-Gantt approach provides super flexibility and breaks away from traditional restrictive patterns. We don’t want you entering stacks of data. Instead, choose the appropriate time granularity and drag and drop icons onto the planning page.

For events in the future you are able to choose a coarser granularity … perhaps the future is planned in months or quarters, but for the short term you might need to plan in week increments and for the immediate time frame you may want to see items mapped by the day. Conversely, for time that has passed you may want to collapse all that detail into months, quarters or even years!

Varying the time granularity of your planning and visualization will provide a more compelling and clear communication of your project plan.

Your first project is free! We want to make your decision to use our site as simple and welcoming as possible.  Register your company (no credit card or payment is required) and use all of the features of our site for planning one project. Of course, the only feature not available on a free account is the ability to add additional projects to your portfolio!

You’ll be able to add multiple users and share and collaborate on the single project as much as you like. We also welcome users that need to manage only a single project to use our site for free! We know you’ll love the site and recommend it to your colleagues … and of course we hope that you’ll upgrade so that all of your projects can be planned as a portfolio!

Once you’ve tried the site and are ready to add additional projects, you can seamlessly upgrade to a paid subscription. Combined with our generous refund policy (see our pricing page) we’ve provided our customers an easy way to understand and evaluate our site!

A quick note to our users about our new tabbed user interface.

Tabbed user interface for project planning

As can be seen, we’ve replaced the dropdown selector with multiple tabs; the tabs clearly show the major functional areas of the site.

Projects: This is the main project planning view which shows your current active (open) project in conjunction with the rest of your project portfolio.

Loading: Shows resource loading for all resources that you have access to. From here you can drill drown to individual people and specific days.

Backlog: Shows the project backlog (also known as the product backlog in Agile/Scrum methodology)  for the active project.

Teams: Shows the current team makeup. From here you can configure teams for a particular project.

Resources: Shows the enterprise-wide resources that are visible to you. Depending on your access permissions you can add, delete and modify resource data.

Not shown is the “More” menu which takes you to supporting functionality such setting project share settings, holidays and vacations, hours-per-day, account payment settings and your company branding.

The project backlog (also known as the product backlog) is a useful tool in project planning differently.

The concept (originating from the Agile/Scrum project methodology) provides a way to inventory, prioritize and plan self-contained units of work. The method is informal yet structured. It lends itself to both “bottom up” and “top down” planning. Think of it a giant  “to do” list for your project.

From a planning perspective it provides a clear view into the available items that need to be accomplished. Based upon an agile approach, the work can be scheduled on an as-needed basis.

We strongly urge your team to try this technique on one of your projects: It is extremely collaborative and lends itself to brain-storming for ideas.

The Structure

Every project has its own backlog of items. Each item consists of:

  • Title/description: A brief summary of the item.
  • Rank: This is a priority relative to other items – helps to informally sequence the plan to complete all items.
  • Status: Can be Not Started, Active, Done, Dropped or Suspended
  • Type: This is your internal categorization of the item. Some examples: Admin, New Product, Sales, Engineering, Legal, etc.
  • Estimate: Measured in units – lets you give a size or complexity for the item. As simple or accurate as your project needs.
  • Phase: Allows you to assigned an item to different project phases. Some examples: Pre-rollout, Post-rollout, Phase 1, Production, etc.
  • Sprint: From the Agile/Scrum methodology, this assigns an item to a specific small unit of time. For example, every 2 weeks you could start a “sprint” — starting at Sprint 1.  The sprints can be planned just-in-time or in advance … no fixed rules!
  • Assigned: Tag each item with the “owner” responsible for the item.
  • Source: Tag each item with the source of the item. Helps to followup if there are additional questions.
  • Definition-of-done: An invaluable piece of information! How do we know when the item can be closed or marked done? Plan ahead and list all the criteria that must be met for the item to be considered closed.

The Method

Be as informal or formal as you like. The backlog can be started as soon as a project is created. Add items as they arise … perhaps an initial brainstorming session with the project team. The ease of adding items make it ideal for a collaborative meeting. As the project progresses, update the backlog and add items as required. The table view lets everyone see what needs to be done.

The Screens

The backlog is accessed by the main dropdown: select the “Backlog” menu item. The primary screen shows a table of the entire backlog for the current project:

To add a new item select the “Add” link. To update or modify an existing entry simple click on the row and a popup dialog with be displayed:

Gantt charts are a natural way to display tasks, dependencies and time relationships. We’ve taken Gantt many steps forward! Our approach allows not only Gantt bars, but also the ability to show discontinuities in task activity.  Also, we show multiple different resources on the same task visualized with clear icons and colors.

Take a look at the task “Industry Vertical Site #1″. You’ll see that Marketing is involved for a short period, a gap and then back to the task. Meantime, “Jim” has a short period of involvement during the gap.

Then take a look the task “San Diego Conference”. Once again, the visual presentation affords the ability to show multiple resources and their relationships. In the case that there is an overlap in time, the software automatically opens another row to display the icons. The user does not have to manage this … the software figures it out!

 

In today’s fast-paced, matrixed organizations, the ability to quickly view the status of enterprise resources is an important and valuable component of project planning and key in providing an agile response to changing situations.

The Current Plan .com provides instant and visual status of corporate resources. Utilization can be viewed at the departmental level or at the individual level. Additional drill down at the individual level shows utilization by project and then by tasks within projects. The data for the visualization is drawn directly from current project plans. This provides the benefit of not requiring additional effort on the part of project managers and the benefit of being always current and accurate.

The visualization shows resource utilization at any time granularity and also at multiple time granularities (for example, days, weeks, months, quarters, years). The utilization for each time period is calculated and shown with larger and smaller icons. In the event of over-utilization and extreme over-utilization, the colors amber and red are displayed.

Resource costs can be seen from 3 different viewpoints.

The first and most obvious viewpoint is the actual cost of the resource to the project manager, company or profit center. This typically is very specific to the resource and is also usually considered to be private and confidential.

The second viewpoint is the nominal or budgeting cost. These costs are typically not specific to an individual resource, are generic to a resource category and are used for day-to-day planning purposes. For example, one could budget $500/hr for legal advice and tasks, $30/hr for marketing support costs or $50/hr for engineering resources. These numbers are not usually considered private or confidential and so visibility can be opened up when sharing plans.

The third type of cost, somewhat unique to The Current Plan.com, is the billable cost. The billable cost is the cost charged out to the third party that has commissioned the project. For professional services organizations, it is extremely valuable to have current data on resources and to get a handle on operating margins. Knowing the current difference between nominal (or actual) cost of a project and the billable cost of a project is a key to planning and proposing projects.

Our approach to defining project tasks is to leverage the idea of drag-and-drop.

Tasks are defined by dragging a team icon (representing a project resource or group of resources) onto the calendar grid. Aside from this ease of use and intuitiveness, this approach has other benefits: Tasks can be scheduled in non-continuous calendar stretches and it becomes very easy to mix and match multiple teams and resources onto a single task effort.

Visually, the effect is very clear. One can readily see the project plan laid out on the calendar (not a Gantt chart!) in full color, with different resources identified by individual icons.

Unlike most (if not all) other project planning software, tasks are not defined by keying in numerical values such as start date, end date, duration, etc. Simply open up the calendar grid to the appropriate level and drag icons on the appropriate time period. This works through to the iPad: simply point and drag a team icon and let it go over the calendar grid.

It is worthwhile to take a deeper look into the ease of setting up project plan sharing and collaboration with your corporate partners (or any organization outside of your own).

Each company registered with The Current Plan .com is fully in control of its own projects and access rights. Each company has an account administrator – the individual that first registered your company. Once signed up, additional users at the company are enabled (by the account administrator) by simply adding email addresses. Every new project is owned by the person that created the project — the project owner.

In order to share a project with a person at another organization, their email address must be added to a project share list by the project owner. While (or after) adding the user, permissions are set: for example, view only, task modify, view cost amounts, etc.

Your guest sharer must belong to a company that is already registered with The Current Plan .com. Once share access has been provided, they will see the shared project integrated into their project portfolio view.

It’s that simple: Add an email address to the project share list, set permissions and you’re done!

Our priority is to maintain ease of use and ease of access.

To support this, our website runs on most recent versions of the top browsers: Firefox, IE, Chrome, Opera and Safari. Although IE 6 has some inherent capability challenges, we do support it. We make use of a couple of cookies (for login management) and JavaScript.  We do not require: Flash, Silverlight, DLLs or Java plugins; no downloads are needed.

Although corporate standards vary (different browsers, different version of the same browser), our customers find that sharing and collaborating across project teams is made easier by our wide browser support.

When the Apple iPad came out in early 2010, we made it a priority to support it. A few changes to our code were required and some usability changes required. For example, you’ll notice that  when dragging team icons, we offset the icon up and to the left so that the icon is visible while being positioned and not hidden under your finger. A small change but a big usability improvement.

Our rendition of project plans look great on standard browsers, however, they look stunning on the iPad! For senior managers looking to get a quick and portable view of project portfolios, the TheCurrentPlan.com + iPad combination make a great tool.

If you do find a problem using our site on your browser, please let us know. We will try very hard to resolve technical issues.

How often have you been involved in multi-partner projects and wished for a precise and clear communication of all plans and milestones?

Project planning collaboration and ease of sharing are two of the key benefits of using TheCurrentPlan.com.

As our site is fully web-based,  multiple users are able to concurrently view and modify project plans without the need for passing around or emailing project files. Updates are seen instantly by all of your project members and stakeholders.

Our sharing capabilities are particularly powerful. Users share plans amongst their project team, and likewise,  easily share projects with the different departments of their corporation. Imagine the time saved by not having to email plans weekly or even worse, emailing updates to updates!

Where the website stands out, is the ability to share, with precise control, one or more plans with your corporate partners. Our project view allows multiple projects, including projects from your corporate partners, to be seen in a unified view. The multi-project view provides a quick way to check on project phases and milestones across all of your collaborating project teams.

When sharing projects, control is provided over specific projects, ability to modify tasks, viewing of nominal (budgeted costs), viewing of actual costs (typically held private to key managers) and the ability to select sharing to individual users.

We’re up! Welcome to The Current Plan .com!

If you’re looking for a web-based project planning tool that supports collaboration between users, departments and between separate corporations, you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve left the Beta sign on just to be cautious. To be fair, we have also planned several new features that will be rolled over the next few months. As the user population grows, we’ll be assessing their feedback and adjusting the site as required. Stay tuned to this blog for news.

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