We are a project shop with numerous customers booking software development projects as they see fit, so we always work on several projects concurrently in various sub-teams.
We always strive for a working experience that provides more productivity and delight. One major concept of achieving it is “make it visible”. This idea is perfectly described in the awesome book “Behind Closed Doors” by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby from the Pragmatic Bookshelf. Lets see how we applied the concept to the task of managing our project load.
What is the Project Cockpit?
The Project Cockpit is a whiteboard with titled index cards and separated regions. If you glance at it, you might be reminded of a scrum board. In effect, it serves the same purpose: Tracking progress (of whole projects) and making it visible.
Here is a photo of our Project Cockpit (with actual project names obscured for obvious reasons):
How does it work?
In summary, each project gets a card and transitions through its lifecycle, from left to right on the cockpit.
The Project Cockpit consists of two main areas, “upcoming projects” and “current projects”. Both areas are separated into three stages eachs, denoting the usual steps of project placing and project realization.
Every project we are contacted for gets represented by an index card with some adhesive tape and a whiteboard magnet on its back. The project card enters the cockpit on the left (in the “future” or “inquiry” region) and moves to the right during its lifecycle. The y-axis of the chart denotes the “importance” of the project, with higher being more important.
In the “upcoming” area, projects are in acquisition phase and might drop out to the bottom, either into the “delay filing” or the “trash”. The former is used if a project was blocked, but is likely to make progress in the future. The latter is the special place we put projects that went awry. It’s a seldom action, but finally putting a project card there was always a relief.
The more natural (and successful) progress of a project card is the advance from the “upcoming” area to the “present” bar. The project is now appointed and might get a redefinition on importance. Soon, it will enter the right area of “current” projects and be worked on.
The right area of “current” projects is a direct indicator of our current workload. From here on, project cards move to the rightmost bar labeled “past” projects. Past projects are achievements to be proud of (until the card magnet is needed for a new project card).
If you want to, you can color code the project cards for their urgency or apply fancy numbers stating their volume.
What’s the benefit?
The Project Cockpit enables every member of our company to stay informed about the project situation. It’s a great place to agree upon the importance of new projects and keep long running acquisitions (the delay filing cases) in mind. The whiteboard acts as an information radiator, everybody participates in project and workload planning because it’s always present. Unlike simpler approaches to the task, our Project Cockpit includes project importance, urgency and volume without overly complicating the matter.
The whiteboard occupies a wall in our meeting room, so every customer visiting us gets a glance on it. As we use internal code names, most customers even don’t spot their own project, let alone associate the other ones. But its always clear to them in which occupancy condition we are, without a word said about it.
Ultimately, we get visibility of very crucial information from our Project Cockpit: When the left side is crowded, it’s a pleasure, when the right side is crowded, it’s a pressure