Monthly Archives: December 2008

What Agile Methods Mean to Your Process, People, and Products

Studies show that most successful projects were those that followed agile principles, proving that model-driven methods are not always the best when it came to managing changes, fast-paced project implementation, or even meeting market demands.

The concept of agile development is not new. However, many technologists still stick to the age-old notion that software development can be easily designed and the outputs predicted without giving much thought to the more dynamic factors of projects, such as communication lines, people, and change.

Project managers eventually realized that a lot of projects failed because of rigid requirements, faulty design, and the inability of project teams to adapt to change. For the most part, clients or end-users’ requirements changed through the course of development lifecycles, that by the time applications were ready for deployment, the end products were a good degree different from what was initially planned. This would have been alright, except that towards the end of the development lifecycle, time and financial resources have overshot initial estimates by a good measure.

Instead of pointing their fingers at development teams or clients, project managers learned to allow adjustments in their methodologies. In fact, many studies have shown that the most successful projects were those that followed agile principles, proving that model-driven methods are not always the best when it came to managing changes, fast-paced project implementation, or even meeting market demands.

But before adopting agile practices, project sponsors and managers should ask how agile methods could impact their products, internal operations, and people.

Impact on people and their roles

A key agile principle, “individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” emphasizes communication and collaboration of project team members. Instead of defining the roles of team members, more importance is given to how well they can perform tasks as a team and create a working version of software. Teamwork cannot be overstated in agile processes, as each member can play the part of the end-user, leader, and engineer. To be truly successful, project managers should allow team members to wear cross-functional hats, communicate freely, and focus on team goals instead of individual—or role-based—functions.

While it has been initially believed that agile method worked best with co-located teams, experiences of outsourcing service providers proved that this also worked—and perhaps better—with the offshore outsourcing development models. In the first place, collaboration and free-flowing communication is the norm, and not the physical set-up of the workplace.

Impact on process

Processes take secondary priority in agile methods. Instead of going through particular stages of the development lifecycle, rapid and short iterations move the project forward, allowing for flexibility in changing the course of the project. Moreover, instead of drowning in documentation as dictated by requirements and design, most documentation is in the form of information exchange among project members. Design and actual product are often inconsistent until the deployment stage.

Impact on product and quality

Instead of delivering software that has all the knots and bolts in place according to its original design, the highest priority is satisfying the need of the customer with a simple but working version. The adage, “in perpetual beta” also applies to agile method; software improves with every iteration until all the “nice to have” features are in place. Simplicity allows for more flexibility in change requests, especially because end-users and sponsors or clients eventually discover new requirements along the way.

By ExecutiveBrief
Technology Management Resource for Business Leaders
www.executivebrief.com

Our Projects Are Always Late

I talked with an IT professional over the weekend.  This person lamented over their constantly late projects.  I told them about Standard Time®, and how it tracks project time.  They loved the idea!  But continued the lament, claiming they would never use such a product.

I just stood there stunned.  Why not?  I didn’t ask, but assumed it had something to do with the economy, frozen purchases, and what not…

But I just kept thinking…  Wouldn’t Standard Time pay for itself?  Late projects, especially persistently late ones costs companies money.  Lots of it.  A few thousand dollars for software would tighten up those schedules and force the company into compliance.  The ROI would be 3X or more.  So, why not use it?

I suspect it’s unfamiliarity.  People simply don’t know how to use time tracking and project management products.  No training.  No familiarity.  Nobody’s firing them for late projects, so they keep doing what comes naturally.  Oh well…  🙁

 

–newshirt

Recession-Proof Your Business by Recession-Proofing IT

Whatever the economic realities may be, technology is an integral part of majority of business operations the world over. How do you maintain your tech-reliant operations in the midst of a challenging business climate?

Most global businesses depend on technology and business partners to run their operations smoothly while improving margins. In all economic climates, businesses that engage the specialization of the best technology and service providers are also best positioned to establish their brands and build customer loyalty. In the first place, what they can save on support operations and product development can be re-invested in improving market reach and further innovation.

So how can business leaders maintain their tech-reliant operations going and remain profitable? By recession-proofing their IT operations. Here are some of the steps:

1. Adopt business intelligence smarts. Any enterprise that has a significant IT workforce or is engaged in technology services knows the importance that data consolidation—or metrics—plays in the success of a product, a service, or of the enterprise. These numbers are the most reliable way to look for trends, medians or any deviations from the norm, and upon which big decisions are made. Consolidate your data.  Get a business intelligence system that allows for easier data collection and consolidation, and reports management.

2. Consolidate technologies. Technologies should help the enterprise conduct its business, not get in the way of productivity, and more so, of profitability. Due to the sheer size of their operations, many large enterprises employ multiple applications and systems to conduct almost the same services.  Are you using multiple content management systems when one will be enough to handle firm-wide communications? Do you record your project hours separately from your timekeeping application? Is your ERP system composed of too many modules run by too many vendors? Maybe it’s time to let go of some of your clunky systems that take too much time and effort to maintain, update, and consolidate. Opt for the best solutions that can serve the enterprise’s most important and only necessary computing and communication needs.

3. Go virtual. SaaS, cloud computing, and virtualization are some of the most popular buzzwords this year, thanks to businesses finding new ways to trim IT budgets without necessarily trimming operations and lowering the quality of their services. Barring security breaches, software-as-a-service is the option for small and medium size enterprises because of its speed of implementation and flexibility for small- to medium-scale operations. Cloud computing, on the other hand, is a by-product of Web 2.0 practices and excess computing and storage capacity. Lastly, thanks to the global scope of many enterprises, virtualization is not just a buzzword but an operational reality among many project teams, service providers, and even top-level executives.

4. Standardize processes; adopt agile methodologies. Time, money, and your clients’ patience are finite resources.  Work with a service provider that can help you at every stage of product development–from requirements gathering, to product or technical design, to development, to implementation, and to product release. Choose a service provider that specializes on agile development that allows for incorporation of improvements at every release of the product whether it is meant for the outside market or the organization’s internal operations.

5. Outsource, and outsource intelligently. Don’t just engage a service provider, whether offshore or nearshore, based on cost-savings alone. Look for long-term benefits from a combination of cost-savings, technology savvy, methodologies, consulting skills, and management culture of the vendor.

By ExecutiveBrief
More at: www.executivebrief.com

“We’ll Make It Project Management”

Some time ago I created a list of different styles of project management (I should have added “don’t try that at home” disclaimer there). Anyway, recently I witnessed yet another flavor, which I’ll call: “we’ll make it project management.” Luckily I view the “stunning” details from a safe distance.

The recipe is simple: no matter what happens we’ll make it. We’ve just cut a schedule in half and added a bunch of new features? But we’ll make it. One third of developers have just left? No problem, we’ll make it. Our engineers barely deal with everyday maintenance leaving aside new implementations? Dude, we’ll make it. We’ve just moved every developer from the project to do firefighting in other deals? We’ll make it, we’ll make it. A meteorite is heading right for our headquarters? You already know: We’ll make it.

The strategy is simple – verbally repeat the “we’ll make it” mantra and do nothing to prepare for incoming failure. The great thing about this project management technique is you don’t stress at all. And you have an easy answer to each question from the project team. Yes, you guessed correctly: “we’ll make it.

A prerequisite to employ this technique is an overgrown ego. A success story from the distant past also helps. It doesn’t really matter that your project was a hundred times easier to complete and that you were a decade younger and it wasn’t really a glowing triumph at all.  Small details.

So, if you’re a part of a project team where we’ll make it project management is used, well, I can only help with that famous quotation: “Run Forrest, Run!” I should have another story documenting usage of the technique shortly. I’ll share it with you for sure. After all it should be a nice story to read.

 

Author: Pawel Brodzinski

Interview: Warren Peacock from Scoutwest, Inc.

The following text is an interview with Warren Peacock of Scoutwest, Inc.  They are the developers of Standard Time® and Standard Issue® – two leading project management products.  Project Team Blog wanted to hear from an authority regarding the status quo of enterprise project tracking and management, and learn what consulting and manufacturing companies face when attempting detailed time tracking.  We’re talking full-blown project schedules, timesheets to track task status, resource allocation, employee status, detailed reporting services – the whole enchilada.  Are most companies using these tools?  Or, do they attempt to roll their own with little in-house apps and spreadsheets?  Does the economy have a bearing on these choices?  One thing is certain; Warren Peacock has heard it all.  Let’s see what he has to say.

 

Q: Warren, would you say most organizations are doing an excellent, poor, or fair job of tracking project status?
A: Based on my experience I would say they are doing a poor-to-fair job, though well intended.

 

Q: What tools are they using now?
A: Some are using actual time tracking tools like Standard Time.  However, most companies are using Excel, shareware, or shabby little in-house programs.

 

Q: Where do you see room for improvement?
A: One word…Efficiency.   Time is our most valuable commodity and success starts with improving our use of it, regardless of the industry.

 

Q: Aside from acquiring better tools for project  tracking, what are the other ongoing costs of tracking projects and employee status?
A: Lost billable hours, unfortunately this is very common.  Also, which employees are most productive?  Standard Time has one simple report that gives you that type of data.  If you need to streamline costs where do you start, what do you cut?  Again, the right tools can give you that detail.  They will show you where you spend time as an organization.  What areas are over, or under allocated.  All of this is just a glimpse of improving efficiencies with project management and associated costs.

 

Q: And the return on investment for these tools?  How do you get there?
A: That sounds complicated, yet is very simple.  Most consultants and business owners I speak with estimate they are losing anywhere from 3%-10% of their billable hours.  Without question a conservative estimate is 1-3 hours per week, per employee.  Multiply that times their billing rate and you quickly realize how fast a time tracking tool like Standard Time pays for itself.  Not to mention the loads of reports and other information available to help guide any number of key decisions, regarding customers, projects and employees.  We don’t think twice about spending money on an employee’s phone, computer and any number of other items.  Time tracking is just as important.

 

Q: Let’s talk low-hanging fruit…  What can a company do to get started cheaply?  Spreadsheets?  Paper time cards?  Smoke signals?
A: Spreadsheets work to a certain point, but again the time spent managing, compiling and crafting reports will eat an employee’s productivity and provide very basic information at best.  Standard Time is less than $150 per user and easy to use.  You can place it on your own computers or we can host it for you.  No installation necessary.  Employees can be shown the basics in 5 minutes, no down time, no compiling spreadsheets and less user error!  Instantly you have more accurate information that will help propel and streamline any organization.