Monthly Archives: October 2008

International Project Management Day

Yes, there’s actually a “day” for project managers: November 6th, 2008.  See the link below for more information.  Here’s a little teaser quote from the web site.

http://www.internationalpmday.org/

The international project management day is intended to encourage project based organizations worldwide or organizations who utilize project management methodologies to schedule some type of recognition event within their organizations or coordinated locally with others to truly demonstrate appreciation for the achievements of project managers and their teams.

 

My job is more than just project management.  I oversee operations and projects.  I perform project planning, and do lots of project management.  I even write a little code from time to time.  My gut feeling is that most folks wear several hats these days.  Project management is only one of many.  But those many things can lead to distraction and bad projects.

An organization like this pulls us back into the discipline.  Back into the bedrock rules that make all successful projects work.  That’s a good thing.  If you haven’t registered for allPM’s webinar, here’s a link to do it!  http://www.iil.com/ipmday2008/webcast.asp

 

–newshirt

CIO Insight: How to Retain Top IT Workers

CIO Insight did an article listing the top 10 ways to retain IT workers.  The link to that article and results are listed below.  It’s pretty interesting, but appeals strictly to the least-common-denominator or employment.  The results could apply to a landscaping firm.

http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Management/How-to-Retain-Top-IT-Workers/

 

They rated each criteria from 1 to 3, with 1 being the lowest, and 3 being the highest.  Notice that the results have little to do with IT workers.

    Lowest                                                       Highest
        1                               2                                3

    1. Salary: 2.82
    2. Training: 2.47
    3. Incentive pay: 2.40
    4. Paid Time Off: 2.38
    5. Flex Schedule: 2.36
    6. Work Facilities: 2.26
    7. Insurance Benefits: 2.26
    8. Retirement: 2.13
    9. Work at Home: 2.06
    10. Social Environment: 1.99

I’d like to add an intagible criteria to the list: “IT Imortality.”  And I’m wondering where you would place it.  A 1 or a 3?  Send in your comments.

IT Imortality is the chance to rise above your peers in a significant way, building products that change the industry.  It involves working with the brightest and most motivated individuals on the planet.  It means leading (or participating in) a product development team that makes a true impact on your generation.

Although I cannot say I’ve achieved such a lofty status, the lure has certainly been there for every company I’ve worked for.  And, at least a few of my projects have impacted individuals around the world.  That’s offers a sense of achievement that no cubical job can.  I rate that somewhere near 3.

–newshirt

The Pros and Cons of SaaS

Why SaaS may be the next wave in enterprise computing.

Much has been said lately about Software as a Service (SaaS), which is often interchangeably referred to as “cloud computing”. While pundits may disagree on whether SaaS is cloud computing, its primary feature is application provided as a service to customers via the internet.  Because applications are hosted, this eliminates the need for installation and running of applications on clients’ computers, or even servers, as well as maintenance and support. Moreover, SaaS reduces the need to purchase and maintain hardware.

But before getting into the much-praised or marketed trend, it is worth considering first why SaaS is such a hot commodity nowadays.  According to experts, security, maintenance, and cost are among the top reasons why SaaS is being embraced by enterprises.

Moreover, due to the challenges that face companies regarding outsourcing, such as communication gaps and security, SaaS either supplements the need of businesses to outsource parts of their IT requirements. This is especially helpful for small and medium-size businesses that do not have large IT departments, or those that can only afford to pay general IT workers instead of specialists. Because staffing has become problematic due to reduced budgets that affect tech spending, SaaS offers a way to meet their technology requirements without spending more on overhead.

Whereas the application service provider (ASP) business did not make as much mark as it should have in providing enterprise computing, SaaS is being touted as the trend that will replace and even overcome ASP.  Scaling was ASP’s main challenge, which required “separate execution environment” or different server environments for hosting different applications.  SaaS replaces multiple resources to run applications with shared computing resources, such as the same software version that runs on the same platform. This proves cheaper for end-clients.

SaaS providers offer flexible contracts that have targeted costs for specific services. Many tech projects run for only a few months, so services that provide exactly what businesses need in terms of scope and time, with corresponding costs, are advantages that SaaS vendors are only too happy to explore.

SaaS provide specialized software that increasingly meet clients’ needs. As vendors gain more knowledge about what businesses want, these insights are incorporated into version upgrades, which means better software and, just as important, more responsive service.

It is common knowledge in any industry that freeing up the need to manage back-office processes, including technology services, allows companies to concentrate on bigger, more important business areas. Perhaps at the IT level itself, this is also true. Freeing up the upkeep of some technology processes allows IT departments to focus on the services that they can provide in-house.  In effect, SaaS vendors upgrade the quality of both hosted applications and, indirectly, the quality of services of in-house IT departments.

By ExecutiveBrief
www.executivebrief.com

Use Agile Method for Ongoing Maintenance?

A programmer friend of mine told me that his ongoing maintenance projects didn’t really require the Agile Method.  He said that he liked the idea, but his small team was just working on short, simple updates to an existing program.  He didn’t need a methodology to assist him on that.

We discussed the fact that the Scrum method was light, but still injected some measure of oversight into projects.  But he insisted that his ongoing work needed no such oversight.  He knew what he as doing, and didn’t need a babysitter.

Knowing this guy, I tend to believe him.  He’s been doing C++ programming for two decades, and knows exactly how to get a project done.  But the idea still bothered me.  Isn’t Scrum for everyone?

I believe the answer lies in the size and competency of the team.  Small, highly competent teams, who perform known work, can bypass the methodology.  Just like my friend said, they know what they are doing, and don’t need any “process” help.

But this guy is a rare beast.

Most engineers face a large number of unknowns, and need a simple system to guide the project team to success.  Scrum does that.  If you are unfamiliar with the method, consider getting a little help from these folks: http://www.controlchaos.com/ or these guys http://www.agilealliance.org/

 

–ray

9 Steps to a Hassle Free and Effective Software Development Project

Has your company developed entirely new software or added to software already in use throughout the organization and found the process cumbersome, frustrating, and sometimes not living up to expectations or meeting organizational goals?  If so, the solution to a smooth and effective development program may be as easy as staffing a well-qualified project manager and adopting a proven development process.

For any software development or other project initiative your company may be considering, it is critical to have in place and practice a set of effective and proven guidelines to ensure project success and delivery of the expected results: taking into consideration the role and responsibilities of a well-qualified project manager, knowledge of important business and financial aspects, and a step-by-step process that all contribute to the solid foundation and implementation of an effective project plan.
 

 

Developing a Practical Approach: The Role of the Project Manager

When undertaking a software development project, the first element to consider is the establishment of a comprehensive yet practical approach to the initiative that ultimately will lead to a successful end result.

The in-house project manager has a key role in ensuring each phase of the project is carried out as planned. The project manager is responsible for considering the potential risks involved with the project and how to avoid and resolve them, establishing and maintaining momentum throughout the project, ensuring individual project team member tasks are assigned appropriately and carried out according to specifications, and successfully addressing and resolving any conflicts that may arise during the length of the development project.

A well-qualified project manager is able to address what may seem to be an overwhelmingly complex process by developing an organized approach where the process is broken down into manageable individual tasks and understanding how to keep those involved in the project dedicated to the ultimate goal of meeting and even exceeding the expected end result.

Embarking on the Initiative: Key Steps to Consider

With a comprehensive approach and a competent project manager in place to guide the new software development initiative, there is another important element your organization may find helpful as you embark on the project: establishing specific steps that can be followed to project completion that are based on proven industry experience in such a project environment.

Two renowned experts, Dr. Gordon Scott Gehrs and Dr. Dorota Huizinga, single out nine key steps to consider as you embark on a software development project:

Step #1: Conduct Feasibility Analysis


Step #2: Analyze and Determine Requirements
Step #3: Consider Industry Best Practices
Step #4: Design
Step #5: Measuring and Tracking Progress
Step #6: Development
Step #7: Addressing Automation
Step #8: Testing
Step #9:  Gradual Implementation Practices
 

 

Full article, presenting in detail these key practical guidelines to approach a software development project, is available at: http://www.executivebrief.com/article/9-steps-to-a-hassle-free-and-effective-software-development-project/

 

By ExecutiveBrief: http://www.executivebrief.com

 

My Dead Project. What Went Wrong?

Last night I attended a party at an old friend’s house.  After small-talking my way around the deck, I hooked up with some old acquaintances, with whom I had participated in a software project.  The gig we shared had taken place back in 1999, in Atlanta.  It was one of those 90’s love-fest dot-com jobs.

While sipping cokes and gobbling slices of homemade pie, we discussed the project’s failings.  “What went wrong?” I asked my colleagues.

“I think it was the fault of the CEO,” one said.  “He just had no experience, and wasted all the money.”

“No, the development organization was all messed up,” the second said.  “The lead engineer kept jumping in and changing everything I did.”

“Well, I think they spent all their money on marketing before they even had a product to sell,” I put in.  “You have to make some sales and get customer feedback before you can spend millions on marketing.  Don’t you think?”

The discussion heated up for the better part of an hour, and I realized that none of us, even ten years later, knew exactly where the faults were.  Who had messed up?  What had gone wrong?  Why hadn’t we succeeded in shipping a product and engaged the sales channel.  None of us knew for certain, yet we all saw some pretty gross mistakes.

That really got me thinking…  Sometimes project failures are not as easy to diagnose as one might think.  Even by salty old dogs like us.  And everybody has their own opinions.  Think about that the next time your project bites the dust.  Or before it does.

 

–ray

Project Overload: Too Many Requests

I once read a bizarre statement, written by an overloaded IT manager.  He was complaining about the heavy workload his executive management was throwing on him.  Here is what he said:

When a new project request comes down, I just ignore it.  I ignore it until management makes it clear my job depends upon it.

Wow!  That’s revealing!  Evidently, this poor soul is so swamped with exciting new projects that he is forced to ignore the bulk of them.  I can vividly see how these superfluous demands go down.

First, the executives get a great idea.  Yeah!  Let’s restructure the customer database to maximize the communication [read: spam] we send out.  We’ll get some great sales!

The project is handed off to Harold in IT.  “He’ll make it happen,” the suits say.

Harold comes in Monday morning, sorts through 400 spams, and finds the outlandish request.  He rolls his eyes and drops it into the “Oh Boy!” folder.  And then he checks the ESPN stats.

The execs never give the project another thought.  They just go off and reinvent the company ten more times, dumping an equal number of requests on poor Harold.  And he ignores them all.  He doesn’t have time for the fun.  He’s got real work to do.

Am I off?  Got it all wrong?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  I’ve seen numerous projects like this get swept under the rug.  Execs don’t run the show, the little guy does…

 

–ray

A Few Reasons Why Project Changes Occur

Some of the most common reasons why change requests are made.

Change requests alter the course of a project and working within the constraints of time, budget and quality more challenging. If change requests are not handled properly, the project will overshoot its schedule and accumulate costs that are beyond the original plan.

Realize that change requests are not made because people in your team, the project sponsors, or clients cannot make up their minds. Instead, most requests for changes are made in order to improve the project and, in some cases, the process of implementing the project.

Changes are inevitable during the course of the development lifecycle, and there are various reasons why changes occur. Some of these reasons are technical, some are procedural, some are financial, and still some are political or people-related.  Whether a project manager supports the adjustments or not, it is important to think over why changes are requested and their possible impact on the integrity of the project, as well a the delivery process. Let us look at the most common reasons why changes occur.

Incomplete requirements

Scope changes –or creeping functionality–are the results of ineffective management of requirements.  These are also the results of a project manger’s inability to get approval from project sponsors. When requirements kept going through changes during the course of a development lifecycle, new features and functionalities are often added, resulting in a product that overshoots the allocated time and resources, but fails to meet an acceptable level of quality.

Organizational restructuring

If the client’s organizational structure changes midway through the project lifecycle, it is inevitable for the delivery team to expect either a closer scrutiny of the project or change requests to be submitted. Financial considerations, corporate policies, and new sets of end users are some of the factors to consider as change agents when organization restructurings happen. Some requirements are too rigid, while some requirements need more room for discrepancy in specifications.  When alpha releases prove to be too limited to one set of target users alone, then expect change requests from auxiliary end-users.

External factors, such as new vendors, technologies, or methodologies

External factors, such as the involvement of another vendor or a representative end-user, can cause diversion from the original project execution plan. This issue is often as technical as it is financial (or political). Ideas that are tied to the new vendor’s methodologies and technologies can affect the execution of the project plan halfway through the lifecycle.  Sometimes, clients can be finicky about what they want out of the project that agreed-upon requirements kept getting changed. The more a finicky client gets in contact with vendors who want to take on the project, the more ideas they get about “improving” the product and cutting the cost of development. In such a scenario, be prepared.

By ExecutiveBrief: www.executivebrief.com

 

 

 

Down Economy: Billing Clients Imperative

I suppose it goes without saying, but with a down-economy, now’s the time to bill clients for every hour you’re entitled to.  And to watch your resource utilization more closely.  Below are some areas to watch for.  Consider a product like Standard Time® to make them happen.

Resource Utilization
Resource utilization is the percentage of billable hours your employees are working.  Let’s say there are 172 billable hours in a give month (every month is different).  And let’s say Fred only worked 45 of them, and Angie worked 100.  The utilization rates would be 26% and 58%.  Not great, but workable.  Can you make money at those rates?  Well, that depends upon employee salaries and overhead.  Increase your utilization rates, and you win.  The image below is a report of utilization rates.


Utilization Rates

Correct Billing Rates
For every hour you bill clients, you have a billable rate.  Those rates depend upon employee skillsets, and the tasks performed.  Research and Development will naturally bill out at higher rates than travel and meetings.  I recommend using Standard Time® to monitor those rates for each employee.  Make sure you’re billing at the correct rates, and for every hour your people are employed.

Communications and client Login
Clients like to see what you’ve been up to.  Without a client login into your time keeping software, they aren’t certain what’s being done on their projects.  They begin to wonder.  Give them a client password, and let them peek into their own projects.  It will aid in your communications efforts.  Communications is everything in client relations.

The folks at Standard Time can demonstrate all these areas:  Give them a ping!

–ray

The Key Elements to Managing Projects the Virtual Way

It is not enough to manage projects virtually, but to properly apply e-project management processes that result in less development time but with improved quality. This is about value and not just cutting costs, after all.

Advancements in telecommunication are among the key movers of offshore outsourcing. Without it, back-office operations and application development outsourcing will not be as successful as they are today.  Better infrastructure has allowed for richer applications and cheaper communication that enable businesses and their outsourcing partners to manage people and projects efficiently from different time zones.

Adopting virtualization in managing project offers great competitive advantage to companies and offshore project teams. However, with the increasingly virtualized tech industry, it is not enough to manage projects virtually, but to properly apply e-project management processes that result in less development time but with improved quality. Remember that this is about value and not just cutting costs, after all.

To make a successful adoption of virtualization, a few key elements are involved.

Infrastructure – Both client and vendor must set up the infrastructure that can support virtualization efforts, particularly when the project at hand involves sensitive information.  Both parties need the hardware and software to host VoIP calls, and in many cases, virtual private networks (VPN).  At the start of the project, prioritize the acquisition of hardware, software, and bandwidth to support collaborative and communication efforts.

Communication Plans – Much of the success of adopting virtualization in depends heavily on communication.  On-shore project members do not have the advantages of following up colleagues whenever they want or in person. Delivery teams, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of clarifying project details immediately. In this regard, it is best to set up communication plans that define identify proper channels and approaches. Are there available people on the other end of the communication line? When should the team use virtual meetings? Is e-mail enough to update one another about the project status? Who will project members ask about issues—specific persons or entire teams? Experts agree that it is better to err on the side of over-communication.

Control and Evaluation – On top of delivering results at a time when they are expected to, offshore project teams should report plans for manpower allocations and utilization, risks and issues, and milestones.  By having these details, project teams—no matter where they are in the world—can evaluate project status and control risks. This also involves a single control system that allows for an easy generation and consolidation of data.  At the end of every period—typically weekly or monthly—such data can be measured to evaluate the success of the project in terms of quality of work, manpower and financial investment, and the lessons learned from the venture.

Collaboration Tools – A repository accessible to every member of the delivery team should be put in place. Do not rely merely on multiple copies of outputs stored in individual folders. Versioning and project management software, such as SharePoint or Perforce, allow project team members to work on single source copies of outputs, as well as archiving, checking out and backtracking of works.

By ExecutiveBrief: http://www.executivebrief.com