Saturday, January 17, 2009

4D Graphing technique for KPI visualisation

Data visualisation techniques have been an area of research since so many years. Veterans like Dr.Edward Tufte have written several books on these subjects.

Most effective data visulaisation technique will use minimum ink, represent maximum amount of data and convey the message EFFECTIVELY to the viewer with out third party explanations. In other words, the graph will speak for itself. Simplicity and pleasing appearance (Shapes & Shades) are icing on the cake.

Graphs are to be chosen on case-to-case basis. It is up to the data visulaiser to decide what he wants to convey and choose the graph accordingly.

Those who are lazy and those who don’t care about the end users will supply them with a standard table. Most users, especially senior management won’t be interested in reading and apprehending long data tables. Even if they go through the table table taking lot of time, they may not be able to come up with some conclusions, which fail the basic intention of reporting itself!

Lets take a business case in Project Management. Earned value management (EVM) is one of the greatest tools in Project Management which allow project team to assess project performance, draw conclusions and implement remedial actions for slips and overruns. It is kinda ‘Early Warning System’. CPI (Cost Performance Index) and SPI(Schedule Performance Index) are two major indices measured in EVM.

Business Case:
In company XYZ Inc, there are lots of projects executed simultaneously. Contract value of these jobs differs significantly. Profitability of the company greatly influenced by few major jobs. Now XYZ Inc has got a very good system to monitor progress & costs for each project. CPI was reported on weekly basis for all the projects by the Project Control Engineer in the following format:
There were 100’s of ongoing projects in the company and hence the table was too big. A small decrement in CPI of a big job has serious effect on overall performance of the company. How ever such critical jobs lost somewhere in the crowd of 100’s of jobs and often left un-noticed! Several bad performing small jobs also affect the profitability if not controlled on a 1-to-1 basis.

So what is the solution, which shows the ‘SIZE & SEVERITY’ of each job in single graph?

PM Karma has a solution for this. Take look at the 4D-Graph for KPI’s given below:
The bubble plot is an X-Y graph , but here it is not just showing 2 –parameters like an ordinary X-Y graph or 3 –parameters like a bubble graph. Each point in the above graph bears 4 parameters:

1.    Project ID (Y-Axis)
2.    Progress % (X-Axis)
3.    Budget value in $ (Size of bubble)
4.    CPI (Colour of bubble)

Result :
Now the management will never miss a big job with a bad CPI , since it will be represented as a ‘Big’ bubble with red colour ! The relative sizes of bubbles & colours aid the senior management to zero in ‘real trouble makers’.

While the first graph (Bubble graph) represent snapshot ‘at the moment’, the line graph given at the bottom provides trend over a period of time (weekly, as given here).

The above graph is generated using Microsoft® Excel ™. I have given different colours to bubbles by creating ‘Series’ with ranges.

The above technique can be used for other KPI’s also like SPI, Productivity ...etc. Spread your imagination, you may be able to find better ways. If you have something better , please share.
Of late, I have been doing a lot of research on unconventional data visualisation techniques. This again goes with my strategy 
“If everyone were doing things in the same way others did, the world wouldn’t have been progressed , ever!’
Disclaimer: XYZ Inc ,job numbers and budget values are imaginery and real life situations may need alternate representation/customizations.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Aftermath of global recession hype

Image Credits :
Is recession conveyed by the media is on its right size? People are still debating over it. Some people feel its about right and some feel its exaggerated.

But one doubt is still haunting me. Is there exploitation happening globally taking advantage of the “Recession” buzzword? I feel it's true.

It was not only the banks who met bankruptcy responsible for the huge unemployment generated worldwide, recently. Almost every sector is cutting down their staff.

It is a true fact that companies increase their manpower while they perform well. The increases in the manpower usually lower the work load of the employees and even create some idle / low-productive labour. A significant percentage of the additional recruitments done in past few years in large corporations are mainly to meet future business demands , for establishing systems par with global standards and contingency.

I think CEO’s are using this time for self examination of the organization. They have come out of the ‘feel good’ environment. Now the focus is on cost cutting and productivity improvement. They are raiding each and every square inch of their organisations for idle and unproductive labour. This is the "Flush out hour” ! If you are out of the job in this so called ‘recession’, understand that a ‘credit crunch’ resulted from the inability of some banking majors to repay their customers is not the reason for your job loss. It’s the ‘Organisational Restructuring Time’! CEO’s are sitting back and thinking about lean production models and all are arming themselves to reap the best results of ‘SEVERE COMMODITY CRUNCH’ which is going to emerge somewhere in the middle of 2010 !

I think I am talking sense. Did we all stopped going out? Are we not eating as much as we did last year? Aren’t we gonna purchase good cloths for our kids? Aren’t you gonna go for a vacation or a party? No , we have not changed .. as much its hyped.. but we got scared ..with some fear which don’t have any substantial back up. We are going to live the same way once we come out of this silly fear.

Oil producing countries have cut down production and delayed further expansion plans. All industry sectors reduced production. Real estate has moved to a slow pace.

Yes, we all need a break. A pause to think and re-examine ourselves, our goals and targets.

The entire world is doing that … and some people are exploiting that as well!

HR departments in all organisations will now have a good excuse for not giving you a salary hike or even a New Year bonus! They may ask you “How dare you ask for a hike when you know the whole world is going under a recession” . The poor you may think “But where all the money has gone???” When some one loses, somebody else should gain! That is the logic of universe. Now the banks have a reason for non payment of the investment to the investors and also for sacking employees. It’s always the common man who suffers at the end! Huge accounting scandals happen all the time. If you steal 10 dollar, you are a thief and if you steal 1 billion, you are genius (or a corporate business guru) !

Rules of the world are strange!


The common man, who lost his salary increment or even his job, may suffer again in 2010. Heavy production cuts are soon to build up a situation where there is shortage of essential stuff. This will obviously boost inflation – read ‘high cost of living!’.

“If you plug the canal, it will burst on your face one day… just like cannon!”

Are you prepared to face the ‘Commodity Crunch’ after the ‘Credit Crunch Season’? ... If not better be!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dr.E Sreedharan on cover page of PMI’s Pm Network Dec ’08 Edition

I was overjoyed when I received last month’s PM Network from PMI. The most respected and admired “Champion of Project Managemet” – Dr. E Sreedharan is filling the cover of December edition! I have previously written an article on the unique project management model established by Dr.Sreedharan and his miracle of completing all the projects several months AHEAD of schedule.
I recommend readers of PM Karma to grab a copy of the same which is available for PMI members in Print & Electronic format.

Electronic format can be accessed here:

Those who have missed my earler article on Dr.Sreedharan may check that out now!


Saturday, January 3, 2009

5pm™- online project management application -Review

It was Mr. Sergei Podbereschi of 5pm™ asked me to review the flagship product of QG software - 5pm™. 5pm™ is a web based Project Management tool built with common ‘Web 2.0’ features. The PHP scripted website powered with AJAX, functions as good as a desktop application.

Basically 5pm™ helps Projects Teams to plan, execute and control projects in a ‘collaborative’ way , no matter the team members are present physically in one location or not.Virtual ‘teams’ or groups formed can manage single or multi-projects (project Groups),seamlessly.

1)    No hardware / software set up is needed
2)    Web based PM environment help teams to operate form anywhere
3)    Simple user interface (Learning curve is almost nil)

Web based project management is quite an old subject. Even most of the leading packaged desktop PM application vendors (Primavera, MS Project) have web interface.
Check out this page in Wikipedia , which list out major Project Management software. also lists a comprehensive list of web based PM tools in this article.

So what is the USP for one more web based PM tool?

I would say its simplicity!

5pm™ is a very basic PM tool. The concept and the interface planning is good and bears a lot of scope for additional features and enhancement. I am not going to list out what is missing in 5pm™, since while comparing with products like Primavera, it is better to list out “what it has got”!

Again going back to the USP, simplicity is the key word. Not every one in the industry needs a fully equipped PM tool like Primavera. As I wrote in one of my previous articles, there is more number of ‘small projects’ globally than large and medium scale projects combined!
What they need basically is a tool to make a basic plan (a gantt chart) , record activity progress, communicate via e-mail /messages and share documents. 5pm™ provides these features.
I have found many companies implementing enterprise project management package and use it solely for making gantt charts which can be created using numerous free tools available online !

I have tried the application today and I am going to write a fully blown review here. To assist ‘busy’ people who are not interested in so many details, let me put the summary right here:

Overall Outlook:
Nice initiative but quite preliminary. Good for small – low critical projects with limited team size only.
Ideal for companies who require a simple project management tool which can be implemented and operated with minimum administrative effort.

•    Easy to use - simple user interface
•    Very fast
•    Good collaborative features (Sharing, notification..etc)
(Rest of the features are generally expected from any web based PM tools, so I am not listing them)


•    Very basic (Even task dependency feature is missing! – so planning is quite manual!)
(‘Very basic’ comment is applicable to all the aspects of the application starting from planning, monitoring, controlling, reporting and data handling)

Getting started with 5pm™:

1)    Creating online Pm portal with 5pm™
Route your browser to which will open the home page of 5pm™.
5pm™ gives the following usage plans:
Free trial option comes with following features:
Validity : 14 Days
Number of user accounts : 1000
Number of Projects : 1000
Storage space : 15 MB
Features: Full features enabled

This means, prospective customers can take full assessment of this tool at absolutely no cost with out compromising anything!
Click the “Sign up” tab to follow a simple registration process. You may have to provide a ‘name’ for the portal which will help you to designate a third level domain ID to operate your account (yourcompany. Apart from ‘name’ , you may have to provide your valid e-mail ID & password. This user will be powered with “Admin” rights, how ever the same can be degraded once other user accounts are created and should you require transferring admin rights to another user.
2)    Logging in and experimenting with 5PM user interface :
Once the account is created you can route your browser to yourcompany. Login with the given e-mail & password.
Valid login will take you to the welcome page ("Projects" Tab):

User interface is pleasing and well arranged. Split pane interface design is implemented with “List” and “Preview” panes. The right pane lists out Groups, Projects and activities under hierarchal way. The elements can be filtered for own activities, group’s or the entire company’s. Elements can be sorted based on the following parameters:

Click the “Settings” link on top header to launch the General settings dialog.

3)    Create our first project

The hierarchy followed in 5PM is Groups >Projects>Activity

There is an auto reminder option, which can alert you task deadlines. An option for calendar settings also provided. Once you are happy with the general settings, click “OK” to apply them and get started.
Groups can be edited by right clicking over “All Groups” and selecting “Edit Groups”.

Lets go ahead and add a project. In the left pane under “Projects” tab , click “+Add”. Select “Project” , to launch the “Add Project” dialog box:

The project can be created under any group (Eg: API Division) if you wish, or you may leave it under “no group” as I did here. “Project Team” can be formed by adding user profiles to Project team list box. Start & Deadline dates can be selected using a date picker:
Date picker does not provide facility to “Jump” to any specific Month or Year. This is a serious draw back.

Select other parameters appropriately and click “OK” to create your first project in 5PM.

Now its time to add activities to the project. Click “+Add” button again and select “Activity”

A “Task team” can be formed by adding available profiles (users) to Task team.
Repeat this again to add some more activities to the project. Select notification options as you wish. I got this notification in my Gmail, when I added the above activity:

Activities can be easily edited by right clicking them and choosing the appropriate menu item.
We can either record progress by adding a progress note or simply mark it as done , once completed. Progress recording is limited to 10%, 25%, 50%, 70%, 90% and 100%. Activities can be duplicated by selecting ‘Clone”

There is a field “Time Spent”, but I am not sure whether it is total effort in the activity or just duration. Maximum 100 hours 45 minutes are allowed to book per activity.
Messages can be posted to any activity or project:

Files can be added to “The whole Project” or to the specific “Activity”. For this, select any project or activity from the left pane and click “+Add” and select “Files” from right pane.

This file will be accessible to the project team under the selected activity. Addition of new file can be notified to Project Team / Task team or client.
“Files” tab in right pane shows list of files uploaded under selected project / activity.
The “Info” tab in the right pane gives summary of the selected Project or Activity

Any items / files added by a specific user can be found under the “My Stuff” tab in the left pane.

Now let’s take an overall look at the control panel:

Now lets move on to the “Time Line” tab in the extreme left of left pane.

4)    Project Gantt Chart in 5PM

Time line / Gantt chart is basically an Adobe Flash™ application. It provides common features like “date range”, “Daily view”, “Weekly View” and “Monthly View”. Panning is possible with “hand tool” provided, how ever zooming facility is not there.

Current date is highlighted in orange colour. Project horizon (Period between project start date and deadline date) is highlighted in dark blue.This helps to identify any activity falling outside the deadline. I have not inspected the calendar capabilities, how ever I assume the gannt chart is taking care of the calendar preferences (Otherwise it is a serious flaw!).

Projects and Activities can be stretched or dragged to change the start & finish dates. Early completion is marked as green and “Lagging” or trailing activities are marked red.

Thatz all about the time line / gant chart application in 5PM. Now lets move to reporting section

5)    Reporting in 5PM
Reports are basically extracted from the daily logs for the selected period.

I have found very minimal reporting features in 5PM, as follows:
a) Time Report :

Time report is not providing any facility to book time spent by each person in performing an activity. Such feature is common and help in claims and client billing , is absent.

b) General report:

There is an option to export the report to Excel (.CSV format).The out put may look like the following:

6)    Profiles

The bottom most tab in the left pane is “Profiles”. This is where you can find various people in your network. “Latest Activity” [sound ‘Twitte’r ? ;) ] , contact information and security level are displayed. This information will be handy for team members for communication.

Users can be added , deleted or modified:

There is an option to add multiple users at one shot.
A facility to import contacts from external mail like Gmail also provided under “+Add” menu.

7)    Search facility

Search facility is provided and it can be accessed from the “Projects” tab in the left pane.

8)Data Security
Now this is a big deal. Security of data. Projects can be secretive and even can have proprietary or confidential information which possess potential business risk.
Data communication is encrypted by 256-bit High-grade Encryption authenticated by Thawte Inc. 5PM also use independent security audits to check our servers and keep them secure. Data backup is done nightly to two different offsite locations.5PM has chosen LiquidWeb(tm) for their hosting needs. 5Pm also claim to monitor their servers with a third-party server monitoring service.
They process payments through "Pay Pal" and dont store customer credit card information.

9) Getting Help
5PM claims they have "Heroic Support® engineers". I really dont know whether they act in films ;). Jokes apart, 5PM provides demos & FAQ in their website. They also claim to have 24 X 7 help desk. (Paragraph deleted after receiving clarification about support services from 5PM)
5PM Provides demo videos in their website for basic & advanced features of the application.They also claim to have a fast and responsive help desk. "LiquidWeb" , who provide the hosting service, supports 5PM with their dedicated engineers titled "Heroic Support® engineers".

10)    Summary

I believe, I have reviewed most of the features and quite enjoyed doing that!
Web based applications are becoming more and more complex and they may replace many of the common desktop applications. Google is already moving confidently with this strategy. Document processing, image manipulation, database applications ... you name any domain of enterprise desktop software, there is a web equivalent. With ajax , now web applications have user controls similar to their desktop counterparts. Recent advancements in internet bandwidth facilitate heavy data handling through network giving the user ‘realtime’ experience!

I wish all the best to the 5PM team for their effort and as I indicated in the overview, the software is in very basic stage and there is a lot of scope for improvements. I hope the 5PM team will closely work with clients (from a range of industries practicing Project Management) and upgrade the application based on the user feed back.

It is an application worth trying and you have the luxury of using it fully featured for 14 days.
Not in the mood for working? Dont worry 5PM website has got an answer for that also. They have a Flash based game called "Office Space" which can be accessed from here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year day ~ just another day…

Photo Credits:
A New Year day is just another day. But it’s a milestone day. A day which reminds us to change calendars, open new ledgers and account books, day to keep the promises , day to look for promises others made for us and making for us.

No one shed skin and become a whole new person when the calendar changes to 2009… nothing magical happens… if at all, the probability for that is same as for any other day!

NEW YEAR DAY = HOPE  … that is the simplest way it equates to our lives!

It is the day which we dream to get a box which opens to a whole bunch of happy surprises. It is the day which everyone awaits eagerly for and at the end of which say “oh, thatz all it was!”

So, lets live this year and see what it brings for us!

PM Karma wishes all its readers a very happy, successful and prosperous New Year!