Project Management Tools

toolsProject management is the core functionality of any business or enterprise. In modern organizations, it is considered to be the highest responsibility task. Project management is used in any and all forms of projects, ranging from software development to developing hybrid robotic technologies.

All project managers and teams use certain highly efficient tools to manage projects. These tools can be specifically designed tools or customized productivity tools that can be adopted for project management work. These tools help managers plan, manage and track their projects more effectively.

Here is a list of the 4 most widely used project management tools:

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

WBS is generally used at the start of the project to break the project down into individual tasks and group these tasks logically. At a root level this is more of a deliverable-oriented decomposition of a project into smaller components. It represents tasks and resources more like a tree structure, with clear subdivisions of effort required to complete a project. This structure also provides the essential framework for detailed cost estimating and control along with providing direction for schedule development, management and control. One should treat creating WBS as a critical step in the process of project management.

Gantt Chart

One of the most popular and widely used projects scheduling tool, Gantt charts are used when the project is up and running to monitor project progress. A Gantt chart shows you what has to be done (the activities) and when (the schedule). Gantt charts illustrate the start and finish dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. They also show dependencies of tasks and relationship between activities. It is used on a day-to-day or weekly basis to show current schedule status using percent-complete shadings.

Network Diagram

These kinds of network diagrams are more like flow charts and are used to show the start of the project to chart how the work should flow and estimate how long each task will take to complete. Also known as the project network diagram, these diagrams are drawn from left to right to show the project chronology. The diagrams are more popularly used to graphically show a high-level project snapshot. In comparison to the Work Breakdown Structure that shows the “part-whole” relationship, network diagrams show a more “before-after” relationship for a project.

Earned Value Analysis (EVA)

This is more of an analysis of the “planned” to the “actual”. It is used when the project is up and running to compare budget forecasts with actual costs, and compare estimated progress with actual progress. With the help of this analysis, project teams can forecast future effort and cost estimations. With the help of this analysis, managers can create risk mitigation plans that are based on actual cost, schedule and progress of the work. It is an “early warning” project management tool that enables managers to identify and control problems before they become big risks.

Apart from the above, there are many more tools available on the web that can help in better project planning and management, but they all have their core function and methodology built around the above mentioned tools. The unique features about these tools are that they can be created on a simple Microsoft platform i.e. word, excel, projects etc. and can be customized based on any project requirements.

Customer Engagement is Key

Engage-CustomersGetting more customers means getting more business; this in turn increases revenues and profits. All forms of businesses are directly or indirectly dependant on building loyal customers and it is all about how we strategically plan our customer engagement plans. With changing trends and technologies, businesses tend to automate their customer acquisition and retention strategies, which eventually becomes a problem. The essence lies in making sure that the approach is more customer-engaging rather than technological centric.

Here are the top five tips on how to attract customers and also retain them in the current business environment:

Go Social:

Build your business as a personality and make sure you create and utilize your online social profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pintrest and Instagram. Give each channel a unique definition and strategy. The key is to post real-time behind-the-scenes content (photos, videos etc) to engage with your audience. Use these channels to inform customers of upcoming events, promotions and deals. Posting at least once a day shows that you are engaged. Your social media presence will help increase brand awareness for your business and will give a sense of reliability to your customers.

Go mobile:

The most important aspect of going mobile is building a responsive website i.e. making your website device agnostic, so that your customers could access it from any mobile device and/or operating system. This gives the ease to your customers to access your content from anywhere and everywhere. The second most important step is to partners with mobile search platforms that have the scale, reach and local search benefits to get your business found.

Get Loyal:

Loyal customers are all that your business wants. Focusing on loyalty can help you increase profits up to 80-90%. Initiating a loyalty program that rewards frequent visitors and encourages them to stay with you is the essence of any marketing strategy. Such forms of loyalty programs can encourage customers to spend more with each visit and with each positive experience they can also spread the word about your business.

Email Marketing:

Email marketing is by far the most important and powerful methods for growing business engagement and maintaining relationships with customers. Use standard email marketing tools to send alerts and campaigns to your customer that keeps them engaged. Try to do this at least once a month. Such tools offer email automation, with makes it very easy to send mass messages to customers, which are also traceable so you can measure results of the email click through rate and retention.

Manage Reviews:

All successful business thrives on reviews, so it is critical to have a presence on review sites. All businesses should take the extra effort to provide their complete information on these sites i.e. photos, descriptions, menus, hours and your businesses’ direct contact information etc. Displaying signs on your counter are also a great way to remind visiting customers to share their positive feedback about your great service. Now-a-days, 90% of customers state that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, so it is important to keep up with active reviews and comment politely to customers who have had a negative experience.

No matter how small or big your business is, these simple tips will help you organize, plan and kick start your marketing campaign with a fresh perspective and give a new outlook to your business. Try it and see the change.

BING it RIGHT

BING it RIGHTBING is a popular web search engine introduced by Microsoft. It is also advertised as the “decision engine” due to its unique search technology. BING was previously known as Live Search, then the Windows Live Search, and later as MSN Search.

This search engine was first introduced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 28, 2009, at the All Things Digital conference in San Diego, California, USA. The distinctive feature is the listing of search suggestions while queries are entered and a list of related searches (called “Explore pane”) that worked based on a semantic technology that Microsoft purchased from Powerset. As of August 2011, BING has been using a new index-serving technology called “Tiger” that delivers faster and more relevant results for users.

BING as a search engine offers the following additional features to its users:

• Integration with Hotmail
• Integration with Facebook
• Integration with Apple
• Integration with Windows 8
• Media features
• Instant answers
• Local info

The other exclusive feature about the search engine is that it is available in many languages and is localized for many countries. BING also offers many search products for its users, such as Bing Ads, Bing Visual Search, Bing Wolfram Alpha, Bing xRank and more. It also offers a program called Bing Rewards that allows users to earn points for searching with Bing. These points can be redeemed for various products and services on the search engine.

The BING Ads Express is a famous service offered for small businesses that are interested in promoting their business to local customers searching online across the Yahoo Bing Network. According to recent data released by Pricing Engine – a small business marketing platform – the trend is changing in the PPC (pay per click) market. Bing ads are a “more efficient” buy than Google AdWords. The analysis of the data shows that big brands may favor the higher query volume on Google, but small businesses don’t need the same kind of scale. Indeed, in some cases, significant scale can create fulfillment problems for small businesses. BING is gradually becoming a more preferred advertisement platform among small businesses.

So what’s the difference between a regular search engine and a decision engine like BING? Well, perhaps it’s rational. According to Microsoft, Bing is designed to minimize the amount of junk results we get when you perform a search and to help simplify tasks so that a user could make the most informed decision. For example, once you begin your search, Bing has an Autosuggest feature that recommends words based on the first few letters you type, and then lists them for you to choose if one should meet your match. The objective is to organize searches in ways that are easy for users to navigate. BING also has an Explore Pane – located on the left side of the home and results pages, this is intended to help users efficiently browse through their search results.

Could Bing Ever Overtake Google in Search?

That is a tough argument and the reasons are pretty logical i.e., search technology is the bread and butter for Google so they will always remain ahead of the GAME. However, mobile adoption is the future of search and Microsoft has been very instrumental in integrating the BING search engine with its vast network of assets.

Moreover, competition is a major motivator for innovation, and the search engine market has also become unpredictable. If we compare the kind of search results we get from Google versus BING, we can clearly see that it is almost the same. So, though GOOGLE has been around for quite a while and it dominates the search market, we could never be sure about the future if compared with BING.

5 Inspirational Business Stories

Inspirational Business StoriesRunning a small business can be a difficult task. Even some of the biggest and the most profitable businesses around the world have faced hardship in their early years of foundation. Here are five inspiring stories of businesses which had to overcome hurdles before establishing themselves as global brands:

1. Dyson

James Dyson was disappointed with the performance of a vacuum cleaner he was using in 1978 and he decided to design a better and more efficient model. However, before creating the world’s first bag-less vacuum cleaner, the budding inventor spent 5 years creating over 5,000 prototype versions – all of which failed. Dyson is now a global brand, with offices in England and Asia, with an expanding research and development team. The company also manufactures heaters, fans and hand dryers.

2. Innocent Drinks

In 1998, founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright began selling their smoothies for £2 a bottle at a music festival in England. They spent £500 on ingredients for their smoothies, and the recipes they used were tested by close friends and family. They put up a sign at the stall, which read ‘Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’, and customers were asked to put their empty bottle in bins marked as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. By the end of the festival, the ‘Yes’ bin had more empty bottles than the “No” bin. The founders resigned from their jobs the next day to start their business. Innocent Drinks is now the biggest selling smoothie brand in the whole of Europe.

3. Ford Motor Company

You will probably be familiar with Ford Motors, a multi-national automobile manufacturer founded by Henry Ford. Though, you might not be so familiar with the Detroit Automobile Company. This was the first company Ford started, but it went bankrupt in 1901. After a year, Ford began a new business – the Henry Ford Company – with a partner. However, after a conflict with his business partner, the company shut down. Undeterred, Ford started his third business in 1903, which he named the Ford Motor Company. This was also close to becoming another failure, but after receiving funding from an investor, the business was saved. The Ford Motor Company has now gone on to become the motor vehicle giant we know today.

4. Forever 21

The first branch of Forever 21, a global fashion retailer, opened in Los Angeles in 1984 by husband and wife Do Won Chang and Jin Sook. Before they opened the first store, Chang, an immigrant from South Korea, worked three jobs as a janitor, a petrol station assistant, and in a café. Originally called Fashion 21, the shop generated sales of $700,000 after just one year of trading. The success of Fashion 21 led Chang to open a new branch in California every six months, gradually building the brand – which was renamed Forever 21. It remains a family-run business, with Chang and Sook’s daughters also working for the company.

5. Rovio

Rovio is the developer behind the hugely successful Angry Birds game franchise, and was founded in 2003 by cousins Niklas and Mikael Hed. Rovio had created 51 different games prior to Angry Birds, some of which they sold to larger game developers such as EA Games. Rovio was close to bankruptcy in 2009, after Niklas and Mikael decided to create their own games. This was also a complicated process, with over 100 different ideas considered before settling on Angry Birds. Before Angry Birds was released in December 2009, it spent eight months in the development process, undergoing numerous changes and revisions. It failed to make a significant impact on a global scale in the first three months, but after being featured on the UK App Store, sales rocketed. As of 2014, Angry Birds has had over 2 billion downloads.

Article compiled by Pocket Social:

Pocket Social lets businesses manage company social media accounts from a smartphone, tablet or desktop. The app prioritises tasks such as discovering relevant content to read and share, finding customers to approach on social media and identifying key influencers to approach.

Try Gamification

Try GamificationWe all love playing games. The activity of playing games has been around for quite some time. From simple board games to the early days of electronic video games, such as MARIO or PONG, the desire to achieve pre-determined goals that comes with playing games is programmed in our genes. The drive is the fact that we would either win or lose. Games also put us in a mode of competition and offer a sort of exhilaration.

This need for exhilaration in our day-to-day working life has made businesses come up with a new phenomenon called “Gamification”. It is as simple as it sounds: incorporating game elements into every-day, non-game activities. This simply encourages people to do certain tasks or achieve certain goals but not like a “to-do” tasks list, but more like a game. The rewards are also simple i.e. players are awarded badges, ribbons and points for completing the required tasks or for achieving specific “check-ins”. So the more you win such credentials, the more the probability for recognition and the movement to the next level. The other side to this is that players can compare their stats with their co-workers and the rest of the online community, thus generating competition.

The whole idea is to have fun and incorporate a healthy environment of challenge and competition. So for instance if a business is incorporating such gamification techniques in simple sales driven teams, as a manager, if you feel your team is not achieving the set targets or is low in motivation, try introducing a badge or point system for your sales team. The more the team members accumulate such points for their targets, the more the distinction and recognition they get. The other element to gamification is to make it public amongst teams, so that it generates the spirit of competition and curiosity, which would encourage people to participate, in-turn benefiting the business to achieve their overall goals.

Gamification is also being used as a great tool for customer engagement. Gone are the days of boring advertisements of “Buy 10, Get 1 Free”. Now-a-days businesses are using the same point system to boost customer engagement and loyalty. Businesses are coming up with innovative ways of tracking customer activities and behavior through the mobile apps technology, thereby offering customized ways to gain more points and perks through Gamification. With the help of this new phenomenon, customers are also becoming brand advocates. They are more engaged, more interested and more involved.

Gamification is becoming a major game-changer in the business and corporate environment. Companies are linking this new phenomenon to the overall business goal. It’s a practice that can certainly deliver impressive returns if done properly. With the advent of new technologies and the internet, businesses now also have the opportunity to run rewards/points programs with their customers on a bigger scale. The key is to design a well thought about gamification plan that helps engage and motivate people, increase brand loyalty and last but not the least, help in overall business growth.

The GROW model

GROWIn order to run a profitable business one has to be good with managing people and the key to managing people is effective coaching and mentoring. As an entrepreneur, you might come across numerous instances in your daily lives where you find yourself directly or indirectly coaching people. Coaching involves making sure your people set realistic objectives and achieve those objectives in desired manner. By effective coaching you can help them make better decisions, solve problems that are holding them back, help them develop new skills which would eventually progress their careers. There are many coaching methods that one could adopt. A specific method of coaching might suite a leader, whereas the same method would not be favorable for another leader, who might be dealing with a different set of people and objectives.

In the early 90s many leaders saw the need to structure a formal and effective method to coaching and objective setting. They eventually came up with the GROW model (or process), which is a simple yet powerful framework for structuring coaching or mentoring sessions. It was developed in the United Kingdom and was used extensively in the corporate coaching market in the late 1980s and 1990s. Even in the present day work cultures, coaching is some way or the other related to the GROW methodology.

The word “GROW” is used as an acronym here and stands for:

G – Goal
R – Reality
O – Options
W – Way forward

So to put it in simple words: while coaching and setting objectives for someone, treat it as a journey i.e. first, you decide where you are going (the goal), and then establish where you currently are (your reality). You then explore various routes (the options) to your destination. In the final step, you establish the way forward i.e. prepare yourself for the journey and plan your next move. This method is a simple yet effective way to coach and helps people think more realistically.

Many a times, leaders get into discussions with their teams, where they bombard them with information, facts, steps, plan etc, but lack this simple framework. The most effective way to use the GROW methodology is to align the basic coaching framework with your firm’s objectives. For example if you were to help a team member set objectives or deliver a desired result for your company, you would first need to discuss and set a clear cut goal, examine the current reality, evaluate the options and plan the way forward. Finally, decide on a date when you’ll both review the progress.

This method is highly effective even while setting personal goals and objectives. The core of the framework is that it helps one think and channel their thought in a more structured method, rather than get into a haphazard information dump. As with many simple principles any user of GROW technique can modify and apply a great deal of skill and knowledge at each stage but the basic process will always remain the same.

BRIC – The Big Four

BRICBRIC – alternatively known as the “big four” is an acronym that refers to the newly advanced countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Goldman Sachs was the first to introduce this acronym in one of their reports in 2003, stating that by the year 2050 these four economies would be wealthier than most of the current major global economic powers. Some sources have also predicted that by the year 2027, the Big Four economies will even overtake the G7 economies.

Unlike the countries affiliated to the European Union – that have more of a political alliance – the BRIC nations have the potential to form a powerful economic coalition. Recent statistics show that in the coming years, China and India will become the world’s dominant suppliers of manufactured goods and services, while Brazil and Russia will become equally dominant as suppliers of raw materials. Further, due to the lower labor and production costs, many companies are looking at the BRIC nations as an opportunity for foreign expansion.

The BRIC nations have realized that the development of small businesses and enterprises are the most important factors for overall economic development and have accordingly prioritized the growth of the SME (Small and medium enterprises) sector. These countries feel that SMEs are of utmost importance, as they provide benefits such as employment, exports, entrepreneurship and productivity.

Internationalization is another factor towards the growth of SMEs in the BRIC nations. Due to the rapid advancements in telecommunications, transportation and the Internet, the firms of these nations are becoming international much faster. Recent developments show that Governments of the BRIC countries are nurturing the SME sector by providing them adequate funds and also supporting their technological needs.

From an investor’s stand point, the word “BRIC” has become a synonymous for “emerging markets”. Larger companies are eyeing these courtiers for investment and business expansions. The BRIC nations have also become pioneers in global competition and job creation. According to a recent study conducted by the Oxford University, finding talent for global expansion is the new imperative for these nations. With a population of almost three billion people in total and a combined GDP of US$14.8 trillion, the BRIC countries have become the most talked about nations in the world economy.

Last but not the least; technology and R&D have become the most important factors that have contributed to the development of the SME sector of the BRIC nations. These nations have realized that technology is helping them achieve longevity and sustainable growth. From the year 2002 to 2007, the BRIC nations have doubled their spending on R&D and science research, raising their collective share of global R&D spending from 17 to 24%.

So, as a business owner or investor, it is important to keep a close watch on these developing nations, as they present great potential and opportunity for business expansions. It is about time that businesses around the world start recognizing the potential that these nations have to offer in terms of market growth, cost savings, cheap labor, technology and a rapidly growing educated population.