Climbing Mountains

The company I work for is located in Colorado.  And for recreation, we climb mountains.  While climbing one, it occurred to me that you can’t always see what’s over the next one.  There are plenty of obstacles to block your view.  Maybe the next one will be easy.  Or maybe it will kick your butt.

Running a business is like that.  At startup, you’re anxious and ready to go!  You take each hill with blind ambition.  Nothing seems impossible.  You see a few mountains on the horizon, but feel certain they’ll fall by the time you reach them.  But the things you can’t see nag you.

Business is like a mountain

 

A few years into the endeavor, and you are sure it’s licked.  But you really don’t see anything beyond the nearest hill.  Some of your biggest obstacles are yet to come.  And you don’t even know it.  That’s when you need the real stamina.  And the faith to push up that next hill, however high it may be.

What are some obstacles your fledgling business might encounter?  How about this nasty list:

  1. Well-entrenched competitors
  2. Market changes
  3. Economic downturns (remember the dot-com bust and financial meltdown?)
  4. Personnel loss

They say 80% of all businesses fail within 5 years, and 80% of those remaining fail within the next 5.  Who’s they?  I don’t now, but my little startup is nearing year 9.  Does that make it better than 96% of the rest.  Well maybe, but I still feel like we’re just wandering in the mountains like everybody else.  🙂

–newshirt

Why is SaaS only popular in small business?

While SaaS has been gaining popularity recently, it is remarkably noticeable that its popularity is still limited mostly to small and medium-size businesses. Larger enterprises are still reluctant to embrace hosted application for their IT needs.

According to a recent Forrester Research paper, “The Truth about Software as a Service,” which is a result of a late 2007 survey of IT decision-makers from North America and Europe, only 16 percent of respondents are using SaaS applications. On the other hand, 80 percent are still reluctant to adopt SaaS. Of the 80 percent, only 47 percent expressed interest, while 37 percent were “not interested at all.”

If SaaS has been gaining popularity recently, the gap between big-business IT decision-makers who were interested in it and those who were either partially interested or totally uninterested is too wide.  As if to counter the SaaS advantages that were cited in the previous blog, researchers and tech workers in big enterprises cite various reasons why it is not being widely adopted outside the realm of SMBs. 

One of the top reasons why big businesses are reluctant to adopt SaaS is business continuity. Put simply, the market’s atmosphere is fraught with uncertainty that SaaS vendors could just shut their doors easily. When it happens, where do the hosted data go? What alternatives are immediately available to end-users?

Next to business continuity, data security, vendor lock-in, and accountability are some of the issues that clients — both large and small or medium-size businesses — raise most of the time. Because many large enterprises are sensitive about their company data, they are reluctant to hand company information to third parties. In terms of accountability, there have been complaints about vendors’ dishonesty about real downtime rates and the speed with which they address it. If a service is suddenly cut off, IT departments ask how long it takes for the service to be available again and what kind of assurances are provided to address such issues.

SaaS are typically fit-for-all, so customization is another nagging issue. Maybe small businesses’ IT needs are not complex, that is why they are more willing to sign up with SaaS vendors. On the other hand, enterprises that provide more than one type of service, sell more than one product, are present in different locations, and employ thousands of employees have IT needs that are as complex as their multinational presence and multiple businesses. That most vendors do not offer customizable services to match big businesses’ needs is one of the signs that it is still in its infancy.

Related to downtimes is the issue of scalability. Can a hosted service support thousands of users who access the application simultaneously? If it cannot, can a business enlist the help of another vendor? This is where the issue of interoperability and portability also come in. In most cases, transferring data from one SaaS provider to another takes time and considerable effort.

That SaaS became popular among SMBs means it is promising. However, this promise does not translate well in big business so far.

By ExecutiveBrief
www.executivebrief.com

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

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

Economic Downturn Means Project Upturn

It is easy to become victims of the media’s scare tactics and dramatization. It is no longer good enough to simply report facts. The 24/7 news cycle has many news organizations using entertainment to fill air time. It is common knowledge that shock sells. So, we are now inundated with doom and gloom from the ever-present talking heads. Somewhere in between is the truth.

This brings me to a point about projects and the slowing economy. Should we all just stand still and wait to see what happens? Or, like many companies, do we look at this as an opportunity to gain more market share?

Projects evolve for many reasons, but even more common among them, is the understanding that projects will either create a revenue stream, or they will streamline costs which will in-turn add to the bottom line. Yet, for many businesses fear takes hold and many stand pat. If a project will save you money or make money, why stand still?

During the dot-com bust and the days following September 11th similar economic fear gripped our nation. I remember working for a small company that decided to go bold or go home. If the business was going to fail it would do so despite vision and forward thinking. The company grew and was more profitable, while a few of our competitors fell, in part, because they froze.

I believe in being prudent, but I do not believe in giving into fear. If a project makes sense, go for it.  If not, make sure it is not because of fear.

 –Warren

PM aide during the day – the power nap :)

Hello,

I’m a project manager for Hewlett-Packard and enjoy my profession.  A power nap doesn’t apply to all, as there’s some people who can’t get to sleep for awhile … maybe to tense or tight … then there are some of us … who work from home … didn’t sleep so well the night prior and sometime during the day are tapped … so I recommend – “The Power Nap” … which for me these days is about 10 – 15 minutes and then I’m good for another 2 hours at least … one can set the alarm on your cell phone {make sure it’s on the standard setting, not vibrate} and enjoy … I find I’m totally refreshed and can really be productive on the next challenge, as opposed to trying to push my way through and aren’t as effective as a moment will provide … and for those working in an office … I guess there’s always the jaunt out to the car for that quiet moment …

I used to drink coffee to muscle through those moments but 15 – 20 cups a day makes me jittery by the end of the day.  🙂

Hope this helps and … may your journey as a PM be an enjoyable one.

God bless.

Cheers,

Bill

Where My Ladies At, Yo?

Yo, dog…  Where my ladies at?  Got me a grip a cash an’ a HP blade.  I’m a IT professional!  But where my womens at, yo?

I’ve decided to convert this blog to attract the hip hop community.  Especially those from the IT industry.  How am I doing so far?  No, really, I’m just wondering where the fine ladies are at in the IT industry.  Coders, network admins, dbo’s, project managers.  There’s only one for every four men.  That’s right, about 25%.  Check out the links below.

http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Past-News/Numbers-Show-Big-Decline-of-Women-in-IT/

http://news.zdnet.co.uk/itmanagement/0,1000000308,39352947,00.htm

 

I have my own theories about the disparity in numbers…  To me, the ideal IT employee nests in the server room amongst the network cables, routers, and modems.  He beds down with a blade under his pillow – an HP server blade that is.  Occasionally – usually on a full moon – he emerges to shower, change his crusty socks and underwear, and prowl for chicks at the all-night gaming bar.  He writes a staggering mountain of code, making dark hackers look like kiddie scripters.  In past lives, I was that foul-smelling geek – so I know.

Now,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Show me a girl who wants to live like that.  Sure, I’ve seen lots of nice professional women in the IT industry.  They wear nice professional suits, and make their hair up in nice professional styles.  They’re nice.  Professional.  But they don’t “live” for the bits.  In my 25+ years in the biz, I’ve never seen a true geek chick – one who codes until her eyes run and sleeps under her monitor.  (Yes, I’ve actually bunked under my computer desk, and so have some of my friends.)

Once an IT department gets a few guys like that, they don’t the respect the “nice professional” types.  I’m sorry for the crude characterization (and maybe I’m dead wrong), but passion for the bits still sells, not professionalism.

 

Peace Out,
–newshirt

Internal vs. External IT Support

There has been a lot written in the past few years about outsourcing technical support and SaaS (software as a service). It is not an easy choice for a company to make. On one hand, dumping all of your IT issues on someone else may save a few dollars and headaches.  On the other hand, you do not always have control over the type of support your company receives–costing you more in the long run.

While many companies are using SaaS, many other companies do not. It is easy to get caught up in the latest trends, but trends are just that, and they are not always permanent. I have had the priviledge to work with a lot of major U.S. companies and while I can not say whether outsourcing is a true fad or not, I can tell you, imperically, that 75% of my contacts keep everything in-house. So do not be swayed by all of the tech media and exposure of recent trends. There is a place for both internal and external IT support. I guess it all comes down to cash flow: which one can I afford right now, and which one will be better in the long run?

 

–Warren