When it feels like I could use a personal project manager to help with my million tasks in various projects, Sam is there.
I am good at what I do but handling efficiently all my workload, not so much. To do that, I realized at one point, I would need to be a professional project manager myself. Or, another solution was to use a software to help me with this challenge. I tried many software solutions to try to solve this.
However I ended up not sticking to them because they were too cumbersome to use and got in the way of my work. I remember spending so much time trying to adapt to these software. It was frustrating, I knew I needed a system to help me stay on top of my different projects while still have time left, to do my job.
This bring us to Sam, Sam does many other things but in this article I will focus on how tasks can save you a lot of sleepless nights. SAM9000 Kanban is a Project Management App that helps Professional Services businesses.
It is a Task Management, Document Management, Email Management in one App. And I use it everyday.
As your Team's assistant, Sam takes care of the project and tasks management for you.
This is one of my biggest challenge: I regularly deal with tons of tasks across multiple projects for my business. In addition to planned tasks for these projects, I need to follow up on communications with external clients and coworkers. These communications in turn, generate even more last minute tasks, on the fly.
These unplanned tasks typically ran the risk of being lost. This is a situation that used to literally give me nightmares. During particularly busy periods, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, suddenly thinking about a request I had forgotten to note. Not the nicest feeling.
In this article I will explain how to use the different task functions to deal with this type of situation.
Have a group of tasks to appear in your dashboard when another group is done.
During very busy periods, I was faced with what seemed an unavoidable problem. I had so many tasks to work on, for so many competing projects. The pressure to deliver them in a timely manner didn’t help my thinking. I was stuck in a “need to do miracles for my clients” mode. Often, in the morning I did not know where to begin.
In my hurry, I would make many mistakes that made things worst. For example, I could not focus on one task at a time. I got distracted by new requests. Another mistake was not making sure I had all the necessary information to begin a project or task. This resulted in a loss of efficiency in times when I needed it the most.
To get out of this conundrum, I got the advice of an expert in agile project management. He told me that it is not about doing miracles. It is about seeing tasks and projects like the scheduling in a factory. The idea is to work on all projects simultaneously BUT to focus on one task at time. This way no project gets neglected.
In a busy period, all projects will only have a slightly increased deadline. From a customer perspective this is a nonevent if you let them know about the situation. However, this is a non-intuitive way of doing things and is normally quite hard to master.
The good news it is very simple to achieve with SAM once you understand two key concepts:
Priority Groups and the When indicator, inside each project.
Inside each of my projects the first step is to create all the tasks I am planning for this project. By default, these tasks will all have a T05 Priority and When indicator set to Later.
In Agile project management, dates are secondary. It is difficult to accept in the beginning. We are so used to calendars, dates and times, to track tasks. Problem is, dates are inflexible. If everything has a date, you cannot move things around easily, adapt to new priorities or work as a team in parallel.
Instead of dates, what is more important is deciding which tasks you will work on next, for a given project. This what the When indicator is used for with four settings to give the auto scheduling indications :
Depending on the situation, I sometimes only use the When indicator for a specific project, to indicate what to schedule and appear on my Dash. This works well for very short projects that I handle manually. Sam's AI still verifies everything.
In the following screenshot, for example, my tasks are all in default Group T05 with two tasks turned to Soon to indicate they are ready to be scheduled. There is no notion of priorities, I just turned them to Soon because I want to focus on them today. This works well when that there is no need for a specific order. There is also no efficiency that could be derived by regrouping them.
Priority Groups however are useful for larger projects and to automatize the scheduling further. I use them to regroup tasks I am planning to work on in a same period. Maybe you have seen the term of sprint in some other systems to refer to this period.
These priority Groups are containers, tasks do not necessarily need to have dependencies. The regrouping can be done for other reasons that suits your needs. I find it a very flexible way to organize my work in more manageable chunks of time. And I also often group tasks to optimize my work, by regrouping similar type of work.
However, as the name implies, the priority group will drive the order of scheduling. All tasks regrouped in the highest priority group must be marked as done for the next priority Group to be scheduled. If you turn tasks to Soon in a lower priority group, they will be ignored by the scheduling.
In the screenshot below is an example to use this powerful yet simple mechanism. Tasks are regrouped in Group T05 and Group T06 to be organized by type of work. I am using the priority group mechanism as a sort of “conveyor belt” to have new tasks appear on my dashboard, automatically. I turned tasks to Soon in both priority groups at the same time. I did this knowing that when all tasks in T05 are completed the ones in Group T06 will automatically be scheduled and appear on my dashboard.
This is a core principle in Agile Productivity Management.
How to get a task scheduled on a specific date.Even though dates are not the focus in a pure Agile Project Management system, Sam acknowledges their need in real life. There are not to be confused with a simple reminder. These are regular tasks that I would like Sam to schedule (turn to Soon) on a specific future date. To do this, I can use the Wish Start Date. This is an extra level of precision, entirely optional, the scheduling works perfectly without it, but very useful in some cases. The following situations are a few examples of when I use it:
Wish End Date. works in a similar way as Wish Start Date with the main difference being that tasks with it gets automatically turned to Rush to indicate when overdue. This gives me an extra level of protection to make sure I stay on top of a particular task.
In the screenshot below is an example of a task that I didn’t complete before the Wish End date set for it. It automatically appeared in my Dash. I could not miss it.
Deal efficiently with last minute tasks.These pesky last minutes requests! Responsible for scope creep, derailed projects… That is, until I realized they are part of an effective Agile process and that the best way to deal with them is to fully embrace them. In my case, they are also essential in delivering a good customer experience and developing a good relationship with them.
Still, dealing with last minute requests or adjustments to a scope of work used to represent a big challenge. I would forget about some of them. Or in order not to forget them, I would drop what I was working on to deal with them. This would often cause me to lose my focus and be stressed out.
The fact is, most of these last minutes requests arrive via emails. I now take full advantage of the Inbox function to handle them more effectively. My favorite strategy consists in replying briefly, in my regular email account, to acknowledge the request. This restarts the clock and minimizes the interruption.
Then, I set a specific time aside to process all my emails in Sam’s Inbox. This way I can deal with all last-minute requests for all my projects in one session and be done with it for the day.
To do this, I use Assign Project to assign emails with last minute requests. Once in the correct project, I can quickly create a new task attached to this email. This integrates the request in the flow of my other tasks. Also, the content of the email is automatically accessible when I am ready to to work on it.
Now that I am using SAM9000 agile tasks, I sleep much better!
The tasks tools are so easy to learn and yet they are powerful. They allow me to deal with the many tasks scattered across multiple projects without losing my mind. I like the simplicity of it: I can easily review and plan tasks one project at a time. Yet, it is powerful: the auto scheduling takes care of prioritizing task between projects. This way I can focus on my work and what I am good at.
To deal with these tasks, I have different tools at my disposal, When indicator, Priority Groups, Wish start Date, Wish End Date that are easy to learn. But it is when I use them in combination that I truly get the most out them. They create a synergy difficult to describe, that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate.
In a nutshell
By using a combination of When indicator with Priority groups, I can plan tasks to be scheduled to appear automatically on my Dashboard. In busy periods, I no longer feel like I do not know where to begin. Sam is your personal assistant. This is why Sam manages your dashboard and fills it with what to do next -according to what you indicated earlier.
The Inbox function in combination with Assign Email and shortcut to create tasks is another example of synergy. Since I started using them, I welcome last minute tasks as an opportunity to develop a relationship with my clients. Because they are so easy to deal with, I no longer see them as an inconvenience.
And lastly, Sam is flexible, even though dates are not the focus in a pure Agile project management, Sam acknowledges the need for them. Wish Start Date and Wish End dates in combination with the When indicator can attest to this. SAM is the assistant and the glue that allows me to deal with all my tasks in an elegant ballet.
If you work in a professional services business, it will help you too.