Lecture notes Advance Project management

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THE PRINCIPLES OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT BY MERI WILLIAMS RUN PROJECTS ON TIME AND TO BUDGET USING THIS SIMPLE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE Chapter 1 So What Is Project Management Anyway? We’ve all been there: the project seems to be going along fine, although if you’re completely honest you’re probably a little behind. You’re mentally keeping track of all those little items that you need to make sure get done. Then the client calls with a set of changes. You’re excited as you think they’re “getting it” and so you get stuck in straight away. A week later, you’re dreading the “how’s it going” call because you know you have no idea anymore. You’re lost amidst all the work. You need project management. In this chapter, we’ll firstly have a look at some definitions of project management, ranging from the official to the rather more informal. We’ll then consider the project life cycle and uncover some surprises about which parts matter most. We’ll also see why project management tends to be a subject that many find less than enthralling, and why project management skills are increasingly in demand. Then, we’ll discuss what project management isn’t and see how misusing the tools can lead to complications. 2 The Principles of Project Management What Is Project Management? An official definition of project management, courtesy of the Project Management Institute, defines the term as: “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and tech- 1 niques to project activities to meet project requirements.” A more tangible (but less interesting) description is that project management is everything you need to make a project happen on time and within budget to deliver the needed scope and quality. My Definition of Project Management My personal definition of project management is that it’s the easiest way to look like a superhero without the involvement of radioactive spiders or having ques- tionable parentage. In order to really get our heads around these definitions, we need to discuss some of the terms. A project is distinguished from regular work in that it’s a one-time effort to change things in some way. So the creation of a new web site would be a project; ongoing maintenance and minor updates would not. Time and budget are familiar terms—perhaps the project is intended to take six weeks and have a budget of 20,000. Scope refers to the list of deliverables or features that have been agreed—this is where the scale of the required solution is identified. For instance, creating a new web site for the company may realistically be possible in six weeks, but rewriting all the accounting software isn’t. Quality is exactly what it says on the tin, but in project-speak, quality may include not only the quality of the finished product, but also the approach. Some industries require that particular quality management approaches be used—for instance, factories producing automot- ive parts have to meet particular international standards. 1 PMBOK Guide, 3rd Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., Pennsylvania, 2004. So What Is Project Management Anyway? 3 These four aspects (time, budget, scope, and quality) make up what’s known as the balance quadrant, which is pictured in Figure 1.1. The balance quadrant demonstrates the interrelation- ship between the four aspects and how a change to one aspect will unbalance the quadrant. For instance, an increase in the project’s scope will have an impact on the time, the cost, and the 2 quality of the project. In practice, any project decision you or your clients make will have an impact on these four aspects—will it make the project more expensive, take longer, be of lower Figure 1.1. The balance quadrant or higher quality, or affect its scope? Essentially, project management is a set of skills and tools that will help you get the project right in every way. Understanding the Project Life Cycle The generic project life cycle is fairly simple—first you start the project (called Initiating), then you go on to actually do the project (through the Planning, Execut- ing, and Controlling phases, which form a loop), and finally you finish with everyone happy, a strategy for the future in place, and a check in your hand (Closing). This process is illustrated in Figure 1.2. Figure 1.2. The project life cycle 2 You may previously have heard of the project triangle (containing three of those four elements)—essen- tially, the balance quadrant is a real-world version of that concept. For more on the project triangle, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_triangle/. 4 The Principles of Project Management In the coming chapters, we’ll look into each phase in more detail. Much of the work required in these phases will be very familiar to you—after all, you’ve been success- fully getting work done already The real message of the project life cycle, though, is that the areas that take the most time are not necessarily the most important. Most people spend most of the project time working in the Executing and Controlling phases—actually doing the tasks, building the product, and making sure everything is on track. Of course, this work is hugely valuable—without it, there wouldn’t be much point starting the project at all—but these phases aren’t typically where the success or failure of a project is dictated. That happens in the other three phases—Initiating, Planning, and Closing—which makes them the most important phases of all. But why are Initiating, Planning, and Closing so important? The way to think about this is to imagine the repercussions if these phases were completed badly or even ignored completely. Failure to Launch … or Land If Initiating isn’t done right, you often end up in a situation where the project team members have very different ideas about the project’s purpose, and eventually dis- agree about the point at which the project is really finished. If you think success is a good design and a series of static pages, but the customers’ number one requirement is “first result on Google,” you could deliver a great product that they view as a failure. The Initiating phase provides an opportunity to ensure that everyone in the team is on the same page from the start, and that misconceptions and conflicts are addressed, rather than left to fester. Good initiation will also ensure that you identify all the project stakeholders (all those who are involved, interested in, or affected by the project) up-front, which avoids the likelihood that they’ll pop up at inopportune moments during the project So What Is Project Management Anyway? 5 Example 1.1. Knowing Your Stakeholders I once worked on a project that was meant to deliver a new software program to a team that collected data from different supermarkets and turned it into reports. The designer was intent on making the program as user-friendly as possible, which was a laudable aim, but sadly his definition of usable was significantly different from that of the actual users The designer had focused on making the software so simple that anyone could use it—even a novice—when in fact only a very limited number of data-entry clerks were going to use it. They were rather upset when they discovered they weren’t to be consulted, and quite disgruntled when they were presented with a system that, it appeared, would make their work take four times longer than before The reality was that, for them, speed was the most important factor. Ignoring these stakeholders led to disastrous consequences for the project—the entire design was scrapped and six months’ work had to be redone. Of course, this time, the data-entry clerks were properly involved in the design process Failing in the Planning phase can be equally disastrous for your project. If you don’t plan at all, how will you know what you should be doing next? Similarly, planning once at the beginning of the project, and expecting just to be able to follow that plan, is both wonderfully naïve and seriously dangerous. Unless you’re far more prescient than the rest of us, it’s incredibly difficult to plan what should be done on Tuesday three months from now. The best planning approach tends to be one that lets you plan the project’s immediate future in detail, and plan tasks that lie further out at a higher level. This is known as the rolling wave approach to planning. The deliverables for the next three to four weeks are broken down into sections, so that it’s possible to keep track of the project’s progress on a day-to-day basis. Anything further off than a month is left unplanned, as a high-level deliverable, so that you can keeping an eye on what lies ahead without becoming overly focused on the minute details. Not paying proper attention to the closure of your project can be just as problematic as poor initiating or planning. If you think your project is finished when you finish 6 The Principles of Project Management building the product, then you’re in for a nasty surprise: what I call zombie stake- holders, who keep coming back, again and again, asking for “just one more change,” or insisting that you fix remaining bugs and issues that they find. Part of finishing a project with excellence is making sure that the product you’ve built has a future. If you’re inclined to pick up support contracts for all the projects you implement, you need to execute the Closing phase properly—ad hoc arrangements will always come back to bite you later. If you intend to hand over the future maintenance and support of the product to someone else—perhaps a person who’s internal to your customer’s organization—then, again, this needs care. Just throwing the work over the fence to them and wandering off to your next project will almost guarantee dissatisfaction on one side or the other eventually. Negative Perceptions of Project Management Some unfortunate misperceptions make project management rate on most people’s list of preferred activities somewhere between putting the garbage out and deliber- ately stubbing their big toes—that is, somewhere between tedious and painful. It’s Boring The first misperception is that project management is an incredibly boring distraction from “real work.” Whatever your current vocation, you’re probably engaged in it because you enjoy it, and are good at it. Taking time away from what you normally do to focus on project management just doesn’t feel right. The reality, though, is that without an appropriate focus on project management, all that real work could be for nothing—what you build might be beautiful, but it won’t help anyone if it’s not what the customer needed, costs twice as much as planned, or is completed a month late. So, at the very worst, we should agree that project management is a necessary evil. By the end of this book, I hope to convince you that it is also an incredibly useful skillset both inside and outside of work, and can really help you showcase your other abilities. So What Is Project Management Anyway? 7 It Takes Too Long The second misperception that drives people’s view of project management is that it takes a huge amount of time. This can be true. If you try to do everything that traditional project management demands, you can certainly feel like managing your projects is turning into a full-time job. What is needed is a balance between the science of project management (what you’re told you should do) and the art of project management (what you actually need to do). In this book, we’ll focus on the minimalist side of the art: the judicious applic- ation of the right tools in the right situations is the hallmark of a great project manager. It’s Too Hard The other negative perception of project management is that it’s just plain difficult. Personally, I believe that anyone can pick up project management skills and apply them in a useful manner. I also believe that most people have already mastered more difficult disciplines in their current jobs. Why, then, is project management so scary? One reason is that project management is talked about far less than other topics. Although it’s easy to argue that most people will need to manage a project of some sort at some point in their lives, it’s still not an area that’s generally covered at school or even at college. Another reason for the perception that project management is so difficult is that many project management tools are complicated The first time I opened Microsoft Project I was completely perplexed—what was I meant to be doing? Eventually I borrowed someone else’s existing project plan and adapted it, slowly learning the quirks of the software. Since then, the number of project documents I’ve seen written in Excel, PowerPoint, or even text files continues to convince me that many project management tools are just too complex for most people. Project management can also be a world of its own, complete with acronyms, jargon, slang, and in-jokes. In fact, some project managers rely on this, overusing the ter- minology to make their jobs seem more mystical. Others just enjoy the fact that 8 The Principles of Project Management project management seems to have created a whole new category of Dilbert cartoons and try not to imitate them too much. The approaches and tools that we’ll cover in the upcoming chapters are all simple to understand and easy to apply. You may find that you’re flexing different muscles than you do in your normal day-to-day work, but equally you’ll feel the benefit of that increased strength in your regular activities as well. More importantly, you’ll gain a skillset that is increasingly important in today’s world. What Project Management Isn’t We’ve talked a lot already about what project management is; now we need to consider some of the things for which it’s often mistaken. The reason we’re address- ing this up-front is that the misuse of project management tools for other purposes is one of the main reasons for those negative perceptions we discussed earlier. Firstly, project management is not personal productivity. This is an easy mistake to make, however. Most folks’ early experience with project management is on smaller projects on which they’re doing most of the work themselves. It’s easy to start treating the project schedule as your diary, the task list as your to-do list. But as soon as you add anyone else to the project, be it a client who wants to understand the time line or a colleague helping out with some of the work, this approach starts to cause problems. If you make your project management tools double as personal productivity tools, you’ll almost certainly be including far too much detail. Keep a clean line between what you need for yourself personally, and what the project needs. This way, when you have slightly larger projects with more people involved, your tools will scale. Secondly, project management is not people management. This may seem obvious, but I’m always surprised by the number of managers I meet who seem to think that they can manage their people in the same way they do a project. People are infinitely more complex than your average project. There are also some amazing books out there about people management—if you’re interested, some resources are supplied in Appendix B. We’ll talk later on about how to manage the involvement of people in your project, but if you have people reporting to you, and you’re responsible for their careers, So What Is Project Management Anyway? 9 the references in Appendix B can tell you a lot more about how to keep them pro- ductive and happy than can any book on project management. Thirdly, project management is not operations or service management. The chal- lenges and best practices for ongoing day-to-day operations are very different from those involved in project management. An incident in a live system has to be dealt with in a very different way from an issue on your project. Again, a wealth of in- formation is available that details the best approach to operations management—cov- ering everything from ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) through to anecdotes about how Google deals with machine burnout in its vast array of in- dexing computers. Why You Need PM Skills Projects are an increasing feature of modern work. Once, workers performed the same set of tasks, day after day, focusing on getting more of the same done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Today, one of the few constants is that the work you do today will be different from what you do tomorrow. For many, our jobs consist of an ongoing stream of new projects, new technologies, and new challenges. This is particularly true in our modern world, where technology is an intrinsic part of almost any business. These days, it’s hard to imagine a company that could survive without telephones, email, computers, and handhelds. It’s even harder to imagine technology staying the same for more than a few years—at the most We also face changing expectations among our clients and business partners. Today, there’s much more of an expectation that you will deliver not just an isolated product, but a solution to a business problem. Delivering that full solution requires a broader skillset than was traditionally expected. What’s In It for Me? So, how will project management help you? What will it give you that you don’t already have? First and foremost, developing your project management skills will empower you to deliver the real solution that your customers and clients want. You’ll be able to 10 The Principles of Project Management manage everything, from start to finish—including their involvement—in a much more effective manner. Secondly, investing some time in project management will make everything else run more smoothly. In fact, you’ll hopefully find that instead of detracting from the real work, your new-found project management skills will allow you more time to focus on the work that you really enjoy, by making managing the process aspects of your job much less stressful. You never know—project management might even become the work that you love best Thirdly, project management is one of those valuable transferable skills that careers advisors are always so keen on. Wherever you see your career going, there aren’t a lot of places in which project management wouldn’t be a bonus. If you find that you like it enough to want to make it the focus of your career, you might consider investing in professional qualifications. The Underlying Principles of Project Management Before we move to look at the methods, practices, and tools of project management, let’s first take some time to think about some underlying principles. These are fun- damental truths—and while ignoring them won’t necessarily spell disaster for your project, it can greatly diminish your chances of success. Doing PM Right Is an Investment In Making the “Real Work” Matter It can be easy to see project management as a function that’s all overhead and no return. This is especially true when you first start to make use of the approaches and practices we’ve discussed so far—they can feel a little alien. But you can rest assured that your project management work will become much easier with practice. Even if project management really was as boring, tedious, and difficult as some people assume it to be, it would still be worth doing. The reason I believe this point to be fundamentally true is that without decent project management, the value of everything else you do can be negated. Failing to invest in project management on the basis that the funds can be better spent in other areas of the project (for instance, So What Is Project Management Anyway? 11 on employing more team members to do the real work) can seem like a good idea, but it leaves the project team open to a much greater risk of delivering late, over- spending, or creating a product that’s not up to scratch or in line with what the customer wants. Countless things can go wrong on any project, and that’s why project management is an essential function. Project management is an investment in getting it right—a bit like making sure that the foundations and walls of a building are strong before you start the intricate carving on the front door. Setting up your project to succeed, and adhering to the processes that will keep it on track, can determine whether all the real work pays off in the end or not. People Problems Can’t Be Solved with Software With all the modern technology now at our disposal, many of us like to believe that we can heal the world’s problems with appropriate application of hardware and software. Perhaps ending world hunger is a little beyond our abilities, but what about getting teams to work well together? Surely that can be solved with the judi- cious introduction of a nice web application? Sadly, people are a lot more complex, and can seem more irrational, than we like to believe. We can’t solve people problems with software—the best we can hope to achieve is to refocus some of the teams’ anger and resentment onto the tool that you introduce. When you start work on a new project, look at the situation and identify the people and the process problems separately. Then, look at how you can address the people problems before you begin to try to find a solution to the process problems. The good news is that a lot of the art of project management is about solving people problems. We’ll be talking about this a great deal in the coming chapters—especially in Chapter 4, which focuses on good communication and collaboration. Of course, addressing people problems isn’t just something that you need to do at the start of a project. You’ll need to monitor your team and the people your project affects as the project progresses, and address issues as they arise. When something goes wrong, look for people problems first. The role of the project manager is to make sure that the different parties’ viewpoints are heard, and that everyone agrees 12 The Principles of Project Management to respect the course of action chosen, even if, as individuals, they would have made a different decision. If it Doesn’t Add Value, it Won’t Get Done As you become more of a project manager, you’ll find you have a mile-long list of things you’d like the team to do: track exactly how much time team members spend coding each new feature, detail exactly which budget element the yesterday’s pizza order should be charged to, update the plan to show the team’s progress every day, keep logs of how accurate the time estimates were, and so on. There are myriad examples of things that would make your life as a project manager much easier if only everyone would play ball. But the reality is that, if an item helps only you, rather than benefiting the whole project team, it will be very difficult to convince anyone else to complete that task, since they’ll see no benefit in doing so. No one likes doing pointless work (and we all define “pointless” from our own personal perspectives), and you can be assured that your team members will indicate to you whether a task you’ve asked them to do has any value. If a task doesn’t have value, don’t ask your mean members to do it. Your project team contains brilliant people—whether they’re designers or developers, carpenters or plumbers—and you should only take their time away from doing what they’re best at when it’s absolutely necessary. Make sure that everything you ask your team to do adds value to the project at both an individual and collective level. Perceived Value Versus Real Value Sometimes the reason why your team members can’t see value in a task is simply that you haven’t explained the point of a particular process. Be on the lookout for tasks that provide value to both the individual and the project, but the team hasn’t realized this. It’s up to you to make sure the team members understand the value of the work they’re doing. The Best Tool Is the One that Works and Gets Used If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me a link to a new Web 2.0 project management tool, my house would even more crammed with SciFi DVD box sets So What Is Project Management Anyway? 13 than it is now. There are literally thousands of tools out there—so many, in fact, that selecting one to use on a project can become an overwhelming task. Fortunately, choosing the right project management tool is much less of an individual decision than you might expect. After all, project management is about in-process communication—you’ll need to be able to share the project plan, and have everyone update the issue list and collaborate on the project documentation. And whatever tool you use, you’ll want the entire team to adopt it enthusiastically. These require- ments will severely—and quite helpfully—limit the tools that you can consider using. That’s why some organizations run their entire project management process through 3 Excel or Powerpoint. It’s also why those managing house renovation projects will display a board or flipchart that lists the current priorities in a spot where every person who enters the house will see it. The best tool is often dictated by the software or tracking techniques that the members of the team are comfortable using—which is why tools that appear to have all the right features can fail abysmally. You’d be surprised by the number of project managers who didn’t realize their clients or team members couldn’t open the plan they’d compiled in Microsoft Project until the third set of delays that resulted the fact that no one could see the schedule. When you’re choosing project management tools, make sure that you’re picking not only one that’s functional—it will get the job done—but one that will be adopted wholeheartedly by all the people involved in the project. To help you understand what you really need, as well as what your options are, we’ll be discussing the sorts of tools and best practices that are useful in each project phase. In Appendix A, you’ll find some pointers to specific software that you can consider. 3 No, really, I’ve actually seen an entire project run through PowerPoint. I have the emotional scars to prove it 14 The Principles of Project Management The Best Way to Communicate Is the Way That Gets You Heard This point closely echoes the previous one. Choosing the right form, method, and content for your communication is hugely important to your project’s success. Chapter 4 is dedicated to a discussion of your options, but the underlying commu- nications principle is that you should choose the approach that will actually get you heard. Communication is an area in which it’s particularly important to understand organ- izational culture—which statement is really just management speak for the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If your, or your client’s, company is the kind of environment where emails are ignored and face-to-face meetings are the only way to make decisions, you need to make sure you have face-to-face meetings. Likewise, if items are agreed to in meetings but aren’t binding until someone sends out the meeting minutes, then it’s of paramount importance that you send the minutes of your meetings promptly, and that you include people’s names against the action steps. Even if you agree as a team, for instance, that project status updates will be sent out weekly, over email, don’t take it for granted that they’re being read. Silence can easily be interpreted as tacit agreement, but it can also mean, “Sorry, this project rates on my priority list somewhere below watching the football and reading comics online.” Ask the people you’re trying to communicate with whether your commu- nication is actually working—don’t just keep doing what you’re doing, and risk having everything to explode at a later date. Choosing the Right Tools and Processes Is the PM’s Most Important Job As you’ve probably gathered from our discussions of the other underlying principles at play in the world of project management, as the project manager, you’ll need to make a lot of choices: which tools to use, how to communicate with your team and your clients, and how best to design your work processes—among other things Making the right decisions about which processes and tools you’ll use is going to be your most important job as a project manager. So What Is Project Management Anyway? 15 Anyone can write a project plan or update an issue list. On the other hand, writing a project plan that everyone will actually follow, or creating an issue list management process that people will actually use, are separate challenges. Project management isn’t about going it alone and creating all the artifacts (the plans, schedules, issue lists, status updates, and so on) by yourself. It’s about running the project; those artifacts should be no more—or less—than useful and effective by-products of a project that’s going well. Choosing or designing the right processes and finding the tools to support them is going to be your biggest challenge as a project manager. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of help—Appendix A is devoted to an exploration of various project manage- ment tools, and in each of the coming chapters, we’ll discuss the best practices for the given project phase. There’s also a wealth of information on the Web, as Ap- pendix B reveals, and probably at least some prior experience in your own organiz- ation. Don’t think of any of the decisions you make about the project as being trivial. Un- derstand the importance and the implications of each choice, and be prepared to change when something isn’t working well. Take responsibility not only for intro- ducing the tools, but also for marshaling their adoption. And above all, watch out for signs of a deeper problem—the times when no extra features or better performance will improve the adoption of a given tool or approach, because the underlying processes are broken. Equally, look for opportunities or fluctuations—tools that really helped a new team that hadn’t gelled at the beginning of the project could become obsolete as their collaboration improves. Summary Now that we’ve talked about what project management is (and isn’t), discussed the project life cycle, and identified why gaining project management skills is going to make you a superstar, we need to get started In the next chapter, we’ll look at how to identify the best projects and get them off to a running start. Chapter 2 Getting Started You’ve already got an understanding of the basic project life cycle, and we’ve just talked through some of the underlying principles of project management. But I bet you’re itching to actually do something. In this chapter, we’ll talk about the work that comes before the project life cycle—finding possible projects, working out which projects are worth pursuing, and getting to know the different groups of people who will be involved in any project. Finally, we’ll discuss the process of actually initiating a project. In each of the sections that follow, you’ll find a discussion of what the process is and why it matters, followed by tools and best practices that will help you get your project off to a flying start. Discovery: Finding the Projects Projects don’t just spring from nowhere. Although many project managers only get involved when it’s already been decided that a project will be undertaken to achieve some end, there is, of course, a phase before this: discovery. Discovery is the process 18 The Principles of Project Management by which the organization reviews the available opportunities and decides which of them will become projects in due course. Ideally, the discovery process should ensure that the best opportunities are pur- sued—not just those that were mentioned first, or those that have the loudest sup- porters. Where this process is undertaken, it’s usually combined with some sort of portfolio planning through which the potential projects are matched against the resources or capabilities of the organization itself. The eventual result is a list of projects that are truly the top priorities. The sad reality is that in many cases, there’s either no process at all for discovery and portfolio planning, or the process that’s in place doesn’t result in the selection of projects that will deliver the most value. It’s also true that as a project manager, your influence may be very limited at this stage—after all, in many cases, you won’t even know about the potential projects until one is assigned to you However, understanding what has been discovered, and how the project that you’re managing came to be started, is very important. It can tell you whether the project is truly of high value to the organization for which you’re working (either as an employee, contractor, or service provider) or whether its potential value still needs to be ascertained. It may also give you early insight into the complexities you might have to face during the project. If you find that little or no discovery work has been done, don’t despair—do it yourself Find out why people in the organization think your project is important. Understand what they’re expecting the project to deliver—try to focus on what it means to them, not the nuts and bolts of what will be built. If their answers suggest that they don’t think the project matters, find out where they think the time and effort would be better spent. Your first instinct will be to protect your project, but you might find an opportunity for another project that will deliver even more value. Even if you don’t end up jet- tisoning the original project and taking on the new one instead, bringing it to the attention of the stakeholders within the organization will make you stand out as a project manager who really cares about the good of the company, not just your own projects. Getting Started 19 Example 2.1. Choosing the Wrong Options Imagine there’s a team at a company you’re working with that deals with customer orders. The team members have identified a number of opportunities: Remove manual work from current processes. Many in the team feel that they spend almost all their time shuffling paper, rather than actually dealing with the customers. Speed up inventory checking. When a customer places an order, the team members have to call up the invent- ory team to find out whether the goods are in stock or not. Making this process faster would improve their efficiency greatly. Improve tracking of customer orders, queries, and complaints. Currently, all tracking of customer interactions is done manually. There’s actually one person in the team whose full-time job is collecting the information and putting it in an Excel spreadsheet Allow customers to interact in more ways. A number of customers have signalled that they’d like to be able to email the team as a whole, or to input queries and complaints online. As you might have guessed, the opportunities above are ordered in terms of import- ance. The team feels that reducing their manual work is most important, with the inventory tracking improvements and customer tracking automation coming a close second. Once these fundamental issues have been fixed, the team feels that it can start work on items that will really benefit the customer—introducing a web site and email addresses so they can log orders, queries, and so on. When people from elsewhere in the organization get involved, however, they get very focused on the web site for the customers. Marketing can see that this will be a real selling point and the sales teams think that it will delight their contacts. They don’t realize that in order for the customer web site to be successful, the team needs to have all the other opportunities addressed first.

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