Case Study: Safety at Sea

Challenge: The Royal Australian Navy’s navigation equipment was in serious need. A ship had gone aground and on some vessels, navigation sensors had been around since World War II. The navigation charts they used, although accurate, needed to be augmented with other data from other sources. They required a system to improve the safety and [...]

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Case Study: Mobile Media – Roving Reporters and iPhones

Challenge: How do you empower reporters in the field to deliver real-time video news stories?  Is it possible to cut costs for production, provide a desktop quality video editing application, and reliably send the completed content into the newsroom?  This was the challenge for VeriCorder Technology Inc. This start-up company was founded to produce mobile [...]

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Case Study: Don’t Steal my Baby

  Challenge: Maternity hospital administrators worry that their most precious occupants are safe from predators.  They don’t want anyone to be able to take a baby and leave the hospital, at least not until they’re sure the baby is leaving with the right parents. Care workers worry too.  They want the peace of mind of [...]

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Case Study: Building Revenue

Challenge: An architectural hardware manufacturer and supplier had a branch location suffering from lack of revenue. New management had taken over the business and wanted to grow profitability in its Western Canada locations. This 30 year old company was experiencing big problems with their Surrey, BC location. They were the lowest-performing branch in the company. [...]

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Case Study: I want to Build a School

Challenge: What do you do when you’re given $17.5 million dollars and asked to set up a new university endowment program?   There are a number of issues to navigate when you’re establishing a provincial program in forest research. Deciding how funds will be distributed, setting limits, and ensuring accountability are significant challenges. Applicants need equitable [...]

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Case Study: From Beta to Better.

Challenge: The US Coast Guard’s training program was obsolete.  The organization was about to upgrade 26 systems with new hardware technology and custom software.  User instructions on their computer-based training system had to change to reflect new ways to perform critical mission tasks, and new procedures for system maintenance had to be taught to fleet [...]

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Stakeholder Management – who are your influencers?

10.06.2012 0

Recently I was asked about my experiences for managing stakeholders. The term “Stakeholder” is rather broad and I’ve seen it loosely defined as anyone with an interest in the project. Technically this may be true – but really I believe a more accurate definition is anyone who has influence on the outcome of the project.

Stakeholder Management is a very complex topic because of the people involved and the uncertainty around the situations of their involvement – it deals specifically with “what can be encountered.” A skilled manager is someone that can read the situation, dig into the reasons or rationale behind a stakeholder’s position, and then negotiate a successful outcome to new encounters.

Stakeholders change too during the life of project. Those that were influential on the scope of the work may not necessarily be the ones signing off on it as an example, or discoveries during the execution of the project may result in new stakeholders being identified and they will need to be on-boarded into the project.

So how do you manage them? One of the things to remember is that their influence is greatest at the start of the project or the initiation of a new phase. Key stakeholders also need to be incorporated as needed – especially as the project develops so that they can provide the appropriate input needed for project success.

Balancing Stakeholder Interests:

  1. Get to the why.  Each stakeholder will have a different take on why the project is being done. – Does if fulfil a business need?  Are market conditions at work?  Do processes need to made more efficient?
  2. Find out what should be done.  Viewpoints on this will always be different between stakeholders and understanding their unique views may lead to a greater understanding of any hidden requirements.
  3. What does the project management plan say to address points one and two above?

Balancing interests also means that a formal change control process needs to be established.  Practical thoughts aside - following a good change control methodology will help negotiations with stakeholders.  This helps the manager to listen to what stakeholders want and help identify what cost parameters  or time frames will be needed to meet these needs.  If changes are required and agreed to, then the project management plan can be updated accordingly, reflecting not only the outcomes of the stakeholder’s interests but also the work and costs necessary to make it happen.

 Know your Influencers:

None of this can happen though if you don’t know who has influence on your project and when they might exercise it.  The analysis work has to be done up front at the beginning of the project and periodically as the project rolls out.  Build a Stakeholder Register and schedule both formal and informal meetings, workshops, etc. to get their input.  Also try questionnaires and surveys.  Don’t be afraid to build prototypes to get feedback and ideas.  It can only result in a better chance to complete your project successfully!

 

 

Virtual Team Management – Tips and Techniques

12.11.2011 0

Tips

I was asked a little while ago what were some good tips for managing teams remotely and these days it’s not uncommon to have teams spread out in different locations. We no longer need the office surrounding to get projects done or to gel as a team, thanks to all the technology that is available to us today.  Still there is a certain art in managing a team remotely and establishing an environment where team members feel the same level of support and involvement as they do if their manager is right there with them in the office.

Make use of tools. Video conferencing, email, chat programs like Skype or MSN Messenger, and web conferencing like Webex, or joinme…the choices are out there and all these tools should become part of the day to day management of a team.  There isn’t as much need to be in the office with your team every day when you are able to see them and interact with them “face to face” via your webcam.  Most people prefer to work independently for the most part, but like to have regular check-ins with the team to align their expectations and make sure they’re on the right track.  Video conference while sharing work via Webex as a weekly project update meeting can allow each person to give their update, share their own desktop and have a captive audience on the line.  These tools must become part of the company culture just like a desk and a phone might be.

Communication. All the best tools in the world won’t work if we don’t communicate with them. This is no different than managing a team in the office – the key is to bring the team together on a regular basis, allow each person to contribute, and moderate the discussion. Working remotely requires you to make a bit more effort in communication – you can’t just stand up and walk over to someone – you have to find other ways to get your points across while you’re not there.  This may seem awkward at first if you’re working with a team that is used to everyone being in one office, but with it doesn’t take long for people to thrive in this new environment.As the remote manager, you have to make sure your team feels your support and leadership without seeing you in person every day.

This can be done with frequent check-ins (even a quick call/chat to see how people are doing) and regularly scheduled update meetings that you don’t cancel / change / skip.  The regularity of communication must be  consistent and required by all team members for the team to gel.  For example, instead of one-on-one meetings, try meeting as a team so that the team members will feel more supported by each other.  That allows them the confidence to seek help from one another and not just from their manager.

 

Take responsibility. Often a company’s dynamic stems from the culture within, generated by the enthusiastic employees and the passionate leaders. When you are remote, you have to tap into that somehow.  If you don’t, you’ll find yourself feeling disconnected and out of the loop. It’s incumbent upon you as the remote manager to contribute to the company culture by making your presence known and heard. Schedule regular update meetings with peers, the management team, other departments you rely on.  The more people hear from you, the more top of mind you’ll be as someone that needs to be included in certain discussions.  This would normally happen organically if you were in the office so you have to replace that, not lose it.

Once other departments or your own team gets the hang of it and they include you in meetings, make sure you always attend. It’s too easy to tune out in conference calls, or skip them all together if you think it’s not valuable – but the more you participate and contribute, the more people will think to include you.  It’s inevitable that you’ll miss out of many of the spontaneous discussions that solve problems because people aren’t likely going to stop brainstorming to get you on the line, but you can keep yourself in the loop with frequent check-ins and scheduling on-line brainstorming sessions of your own.

Agile Methodology – Advantages beyond the Development Team

26.10.2011 1

My last post noted we’re creating a Cultural Shift in the organization – I’ve instigated moving to Agile Methodology for the development of our products. I’m happy to report that the development team likes the advantages we’ve seen. There’s more focus and discipline on estimating work as we plan for sprints, we formally review sprint success and daily troubleshoot challenges, and formally capture the lessons learned after doing the work. All these are good things to the ordered minds of engineers and for managers too.

What was unexpected in all this is the discipline that other areas of the organization are developing to support the process. The original intent was simply to develop better – better quality, better testing, having a common definition of “done” etc. The advantages of having shippable product delivered in a relatively short time frame can’t be ignored and other areas of the business are examining their methods to getting the work done.

Advantages:

  1. Requirements are becoming more tightly defined and we’re receiving them without value statements.  Instead they are becoming goal oriented without any references to subjective terms ( i.e. simple, intuitive, user-friendly).
  2. The dependencies external to the development team are handled more efficiently.  Given that we have tighter development windows, other verticals are delivering more quickly to feed their information into the development team.
  3. Having a set development window means the desire to add last minute requirements to a product release has decreased significantly.  We can always do another sprint and take the time to implement correctly.
  4. We’re able to allocate resources far more efficiently and the organization can prioritize efforts.  This is the Biggest Win!
The Biggest Win:
I recently stopped all development activity.  I’m betting some of the PM’s out there are wondering how schedules were maintained if we stopped development.  Well they weren’t for a short while.  I recognized a need for the organization to determine priorities and since we have limited resources, applying them appropriately is always a challenge.  Allocating expertise to maintain multiple deliveries is hard with a limited pool.  To combat this, we took the time we needed to create sprint plans for five different projects.  The organization was wondering how we could deliver against all five and by boiling down each intiative we could see where we had common demands on specific developers.

 

Very quickly we were able to determine which resource was a bottle neck when we compared each sprint plan.  I presented the plans to management and they were able to prioritize projects against customer demand.  By showing where resources were needed against sprint objectives, it was easy to give direction on where efforts should go.  This directly translates to greater precision for determining cash flow, budget forecasting, hiring, and external delivery promises.  Development is now working on deliverables targeted directly to customers.

 

Future:
The biggest win is the biggest advantage and will provide opportunities to improve our internal best practices.  I’m contemplating creating operational tools where agile methods are utilized alongside traditional waterfall approaches  in other areas of the business.  I can see critical path methodology extended to operational activities, feeding inputs into the agile process of the development team.