May 202012

Big whiteboard - ultimate project management tool

This is my favorite project management tool for smaller projects – the inevitable whiteboard. I like it much better than MS Project and other tools that require either a dedicated paper-pusher or too much time to enter and process info, not to mention the effort of the team members and the management to read and comprehend the whole enchilada.

When I used to meet with my staff and plan an event, a big drawing board was an indispensable tool for all of us. As we are discussing the steps, we make drawings and numerate steps, in this case with a legend aside showing man hours for involved internal staff and outside companies, and any required downtime and similar details. Then I take a photo (not having a more expensive high tech capture tool I always wanted) and email it to all the staff members involved. After that comes my negotiation with all the external companies for weekend and night time work and with users of affected systems for downtime, when and if necessary. I keep updating the graph and at some point this gets either attached to an email or most important parts get converted to an email with numbered list and sent to the CIO and discussed at the change control meeting, after which the public announcements get sent out and downtime messages set up on load balancer and status pages.

It doesn’t look fancy but it’s surprisingly effective and much faster than typing every task in project software, not to mention the graph from the meeting being worth a thousand words to participants, making it easy to remember steps and procedures. I know in bigger projects these don’t exclude but complement each other, but if I can have (enough time for) only one, I’ll always ditch the software (I know, who am I and what did I do to the real Zarko the computer guy?). I had several different versions of the graph above that we updated as the phases and stages evolved, and this one was devised in the initial meeting with an action team that was retiring the old SAN (EVA5000) and integrating its hundred-something fibre channel hard drives into the two new units (EVA8000), and reorganizing and moving server cabinets (numerated boxes shown in a simplified floor plan of server racks in both data centers) both at central office (two data centers) and colocation (colo).

Since the old EVA5000 SAN had reached the end of its support, we retired and dismantled it (actually only its controllers), but reused its rack and reintegrated 6 bays of drives (total of 12) into existing newer EVA8000 units in each data center. This required making space in adjacent racks because each EVA8000 rack was already filled with drives.

Since we took advantage of the opportunity to perform other work requiring downtime, the whole project involved moving racks, establishing new power circuits, moving servers around racks, installing new servers, reorganizing cables, etc., etc. I kept updating this drawing and it remained on my office whiteboard for a few weeks, refreshing our memory, keeping us on track and keeping things under control until the project was finished. In projects like this I often find it much more convenient and efficient to keep everyone focused with drawings and graphs. I miss a big drawing board like this at home, but then someone else might draw some not so exciting projects for me on it ;-).

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