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I lead a team of around 20 people, distributed around the world (different timezones, most of us haven't met in person). Most of the projects we work on are short term (3-4 weeks) customizations with our own designer framework and are one-man projects. Most of the developers have 2-3 projects that they work on simultaneously. I'm having a hard time trying to manage the resources and the projects. The top 2 list of the problems I am trying to solve are:

1- Get control over what the resources are working on right now. I may have some people overloaded and some others with a lot of free time, but I cannot see it right now.

2- Since the projects are short-term (and with a fixed budget) any change in the requirements affects seriously the delivery date (and changes all the delivery dates that may come after that).

  • For the first point, I am working on finding a good tool to manage my resources.
  • For the second point, I think I need to implement a project-management/development methodology. I've beed reading about the different methodologies (agile,scrum, kanban, waterfall) but since I have one-man short term projects, most of them don't seem to fit for us.

Which methodology is the correct one to use in this situation?

  • May I suggest trying out Trello - trello.com as a visualization/kanban tool - it's free and cloud based :) – PhD Jun 25 '12 at 21:11
  • Hi Mariana, welcome to PMSE! I made a small edit to your question to make it more targeted to our guidelines. We try to avoid the word "recommendation" and focus on the core question. If I missed something, please feel free to edit further. Thank you for explaining your situation in good detail. +1 – jmort253 Jun 25 '12 at 21:27
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First of all I would start something simple, focusing on the communication factor, which is, what I can see, needs some improvement. I'm not going to talk about any methodology in particular, but bits of them that will suite your needs.

For example, are all of you developers sure of their agenda/schedule for the next day? 3 days? week? If they're not, you should probably work on that, by means of having a daily "stand-up" meeting (taken from Scrum) or if you can't be the one attending, layering the communication by having 3 or 4 Scrum Masters to do that for you and then following up with you.

Difficulties here, the different time zones, but I've been there and there's always some time slot available.

I even had a very small team send an email to me with the 3 daily meeting questions:

  • What I did since my last email/daily?
  • What I'll be working on till next meeting?
  • Is there any impediment I need help with?

Then I could decide what to do and who to reach. It's more time consuming for the "manager" but it's reliable.

As for the changes in the requirements, if they tend to happen all too often, then you'll be forced to embrace an agile approach. Waterfall will eventually fail, even for short projects.

I would suggest, since you are working with fixed budget contracts, to apply the "Money for Nothing, Changes for Free" mantra (please read the link). It says:

"Changes in priorities are free if total contract work is not changed".

You could work something like this with your clients!

Bottom line, start with a very simplistic approach, no tooling yet (you can use spreadsheets or even an email), and the organically grow according to your needs. I would also suggest you to get an agile coach to guide you through the first steps, that way you'll evolve much faster and with less risk.

  • Thanks Gastón for your answer. I agree that there is a communication factor that is one of the root causes. We've tried to improve it with a wiki and some socia tool like Yammer, but it is still not enough. Also, since they are all working in different projects/clients sometimes they don't have the need to talk to each other. Also, the developers are sometimes visiting the clients, not at the office, so it's quite difficult to make a standup meeting with everybody. One option is the daily mails, I tried to do that, but it is really difficult for me to keep track of everyone on daily basis. – Mariana Silvera Jun 25 '12 at 20:12
  • About the "Money for Nothing" approach is really good and I will try to talk with my sales team about it. How can you handle when there is not a explicit change on the requirements, but you realize that the actual workflow is quite more complicated than you expected? – Mariana Silvera Jun 25 '12 at 20:18
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    It's a trade-off, if you find yourself in that spot very often (realizing that the actual workflow is more complicated), then you'll have to review and improve your analysis/design phase. Even though you'll need to produce hard evidence, without relying on feelings/notions/etc. If you present real data to your client, on time, it'll be easier for you to explain the situation and rise above it. Again, it's a matter of communication and what message you're trying to deliver. From there you'll be able to decide whether you absorb it or you can remove something to fit the new work. – Gastón Algaze Jun 26 '12 at 0:14
  • Oka, I'll try to measure that to understand where and why the initial estimation is failing. You mentioned some points that I could use from SCRUM. Does it make sense to have iterations in such short projects? Would be ok if we have a 1 week sprint? Is there anything from kanban that may help us? – Mariana Silvera Jun 26 '12 at 0:47
  • It does make sense since you need that interaction. Kanban is all about improving your processes, so again, what I would encourage you to do is to take a small but significant step towards a direction, with guidance from an agile coach if you are able to get one, and measure how well/bad it went. After a few days you should be able to adapt and see the benefits. – Gastón Algaze Jun 26 '12 at 21:12
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There's a number of tools you could use, but for me, I'd stick with a simple calendar system.

When I was running 20+ construction crews, beyond the project schedules, I'd just use a calendar and draw out where each crew was going supposed to be for the next two weeks. In this way I could see where they were going to be, and which projects were or weren't being worked on, or which crew wasn't being used completely.

I had a quick overview of deadlines, who was doing what, when they'd be available for the next job, etc.

  • Thanks Trevor for your answer. I think it will be quite difficult to manage the calendars & deadlines of 20 different developers without a tool. Also, I may add the task in the calendar but I still need some feedback (status, progress) on what happended with that task/project. We've been using a simple tool to track time for about a year now, but we still see that we don't have the visibility that we wish over the resources. – Mariana Silvera Jun 25 '12 at 20:22
  • Fair enough. Then in that case I would look at something like Asana (www.asana.com). Best of luck. – Trevor K. Nelson Jun 25 '12 at 21:40

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