Mads Juul Jacobsen, project manager.

Most important project management tool: a notebook

What was your most recent project?

I was technical project manager for a project to establish self-service border control at Copenhagen Airport.

There were several project managers, and some of us left the project before the final conclusion. This made knowledge sharing between the remaining project managers and myself extremely important, so that the loss of knowledge didn’t grow too large.

What have you done to avoid the loss of knowledge?

I made sure that the remaining tasks were described clearly on a board where all tasks are described on PostIt notes with estimated time use and order of completion. Everyone can see what still needs to be done here and how things are connected. That’s my approach – I make sure that everything is visible, and preferably on boards or walls.

How did you handle knowledge sharing along the way?

Normally, I share knowledge internally in the project, but this time there were almost only external people. To make sure that all their knowledge didn’t disappear along with the project people after the end of the project, we needed regular meetings with the people who were going to take over after us to get them up to speed about the structure, the code and the architecture.

You describe yourself as ‘old school’. What do you mean by that?

People get and send plenty of emails, so I walk around a lot so that I can have daily contact with the project participants. So I bring a notebook along that I use to keep track of my tasks. On the right-hand side, I have my tasks, and on the left-hand side I categorize them as urgent/not urgent, important/not important. This gives me a good overview of what I need to deal with on a given day, which also reduces my stress levels: If I deal with everything marked as ‘urgent’ and ‘important’, it doesn’t matter about the rest.

I move the tasks I don’t get to the next page. Sometimes my to-do list covers several pages, and then I know that I’m too busy.

It’s also a good way to talk to people, because pen and paper seem less formal than when you’re standing there with an iPad.

What tools do you prefer – in addition to a notebook?

OneNote. I used PostIt notes for a while, but you can’t always have those with you. But even though I try things out on the pc, I always come back to my notebook. It works, so why spend energy on trying to find a new solution that might be just as good? However, it’s a disadvantage that I only have the one book. I’d like to find a cloud-based solution, so that I could have it on multiple platforms. It would be convenient to be able to see it on my phone on the days I don’t have it with me at a meeting.

How much emphasis do you place on knowledge sharing?

Knowledge sharing is an incredibly important part of the day-to-day work on a project. It’s easier to succeed if everyone has an understanding of a shared direction and connections – and how the individual task fits into the big picture. I’m a great believer in agile processes, and I hold daily morning meetings where each participant has five minutes to sum up the work of the previous day, what they’re doing today, and what challenges they’re experiencing. The testers get to hear how things are going with the software development, and the developers know if the testers can’t keep up. The team functions better, and if you hear that one of your co-workers is having problems this week, you’re more inclined to lend a hand. If a tester is at the airport or in a different time zone, I hold video meetings. In my experience, things just work out best if you can explain and sketch things out. As one of the developers said, you think best when you’re standing in front of a whiteboard together.