Glacier Blog

Social Networking – This is Big!

Wikipedia gives the following description of social networking services: “A social network service focuses on building… social relations among people, e.g., who share interests and/or activities. A social network service essentially consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web based and provide means for users to interact over the internet.”

By now, most of us are familiar with social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter.  These are still relatively new technologies which continue to grow at double and triple digits year after year.  For most people social networking is just that, a way to socialize with others without being physically present.  Others have made social networking an integral part of their lives and have built their livelihood on it.  Still many don’t see the point of using yet another means to contact people they already can contact nor opening themselves up to public scrutiny. 

Businesses, too, are grappling with the value of social networking and whether it is a path to higher productivity, innovation and personal growth or simply a distraction.   Regardless of how you see social networking, it is having a fundamental impact on the way we as humans interact.  So is social networking just a fad or is this the beginning of a quantum shift in human culture?   For those still on the fence, I say, “…you ain’t seen nothing yet.” 

There are basically two schools of thought concerning social networking;.  Younger generations have internalized (at least some of) these services and use them extensively to expand their networks and maintain connections.  Often they don’t distinguish between meeting someone in person or in the virtual world.  Those who haven’t yet warmed to the technology aren’t convinced that connecting legions of people, generally through asynchronous means, is something they need or want. Businesses, too, haven’t decided whether all this interconnectivity can improve productivity, reduce costs or increase innovation, although there are noted exceptions.  (For example, Sales and  Marketing and Communications groups generally benefit merely by reaching new and larger audiences.)

Advocates see social networking following a similar trajectory to the rise of the PC and email.  When first introduced, these technologies appeared to have limited value. (Ken Olson, who was then President of Digital Equipment Corporation at the Convention of the World Future Society in Boston in 1977, said “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”) and it wasn’t until people began experimenting with and improving the technology that it’s value was realized.  Social networking tools also are immature and haven’t yet realized their potential, nor do we know how integral they might become in our work and everyday lives.
As they exist today, social networking services are just another high tech tool, and like many technologies and gadgets, we simply accept them and find ways to integrate them into our daily lives.  As social networking services and technology continue to evolve, they have  the potential to become a game changer, affecting human culture and collective human intelligence in a very fundamental way.  This will be big and could possibly be the biggest cultural, productive and innovative change since the invention of the printing press.

I believe this will happen for two reasons.  First, as already mentioned, young people have embraced this technology and therein lies the future. They use Instant Messaging (IM), Facebook, Twitter, iphones, etc. as naturally as most of us use the telephone. This need to be constantly ‘connected’ seems primal, crossing cultural, socioeconomic and educational divides.  Young people are comfortable living in the real and virtual world simultaneously and do so without distinction.  As the technology becomes more accessible, and as more and more people remain perpetually connected, virtual social networks are likely to be indistinguishable from the physical networks we experience with family and friends.

The second, and perhaps more compelling reason stems from the idea behind connections themselves. Social networking is all about making lots of connections with lots of people. In biology, connections are a very powerful thing; increased connections in the brain indicates more complexity and higher intelligence, both between species (i.e. worms to reptiles to animals to man) and among individuals within a species.  Similarly, increased social connections among members of a group (i.e. wolf packs, monkey troops, human tribes, etc.) enables theses groups to function better and accomplish things which individuals cannot accomplish alone. We consider these groups of interconnected individuals more evolved because of the social connections they make.  One of the many theories of why modern humans evolved as they did is due to their ability to connect as a group, to share knowledge, pass it to subsequent generations and accomplish tasks enabling them to meet basic needs thereby freeing time for other pursuits.

We find an analogous situation with technology.  More powerful and complex computer systems can be created by connecting multiple computers together to form a network.  Now, each computer doesn’t have to store all the information it needs, it just needs to know where to go to find it. Computer connections go beyond just increased storage capacity. Networked computers can handle ever more complicated tasks by enabling parallel computing (where many tasks are handled simultaneously) and by tailoring computers to specific functions.  For example, it is common today for computer systems to be comprised of multiple servers, some very efficient at storing data, others optimized to display web pages, and still others designed for number crunching.  Linking these servers together results in a computer network much more efficient than if all these tasks needed to run on a single machine.

Still another area where new and different connections yield innovation and discovery is when different knowledge domains ‘connect’ with one another.  For example, a lot of work is occurring at the intersection of healthcare and engineering.  One such line of research involves nanotechnology as applied to drug delivery.  Here scientists and engineers are working to ‘package’ powerful anticancer drugs inside nanotubes (very tiny hollow molecules in which other molecules can be inserted), which then are made to be attracted to tumors where they release their contents while leaving healthy cells largely unaffected.

From these examples, we see that by just increasing the number of connections intelligence can increase, groups can accomplish more than individuals alone and the cross pollination of ideas can lead to innovation. 

The question is whether increased intelligence, improved performance and discovery will result from the ‘connections’ enabled by social networking.  Consider what might happen when someone wrestles with a problem – maybe it’s financial, maybe it’s medically related – it really doesn’t matter.  Many of us faced with a difficult problem would look to others we know who have knowledge in that particular area.  We ask friends and relatives, and maybe look for advice from a professional, if we can find ones we are comfortable with. Using conventional approaches, how many different ‘connections’ can an individual make and how many of those will be ‘expert’ in the relevant subject matter?  For many people, their conventional networks might yield 10 or maybe 20 expert opinions.  But how broad a spectrum would those opinions represent? More than likely, people in your immediate network are similar to you, so even if you do locate 20 experts, much of their advice might derive from a common perspective.

Now suppose you had a social network of just 10 people and each of them had a network of 10 people which you also had access to.  You now have access to 100 people, but there may only be a few experts among them. Now suppose there was a searching and sorting technology that goes beyond one level and could find qualified ‘experts’ across many levels and selectively organize and sort their advice.  Instead of 10 opinions, you might be able to tap into hundreds or maybe thousands of experts and have all that knowledge synthesized down to a short synopsis. Further, your problem could be compared to vast stores of similar problems (housed somewhere on the web) and cross referenced against hundreds of experts well beyond your network(s).  Does it sound like science fiction?  In fact, it is not too different from what Google can already do.

The idea of instant access to knowledge experts has been around for a while. When this will become commonplace is still unknown, but it is just a matter of time.  Social networking has the potential to create an easily accessible giant collective of human knowledge. Imagine instant access to hundreds of experts on any topic you wish.  The potential is mind boggling.

Another quantum advance derived from social networking might take the form of  cross cultural communications.  Anyone who has worked where multiple people are required to accomplish a task or project knows that most problems are ultimately traced back to communication failure(s) somewhere.  Omissions, misunderstandings, cultural idiosyncrasies, etc. all contribute to communication failures and missteps, even when everyone on the team has a common background.  This problem is only compounded in our global economy.  Imagine if there were social networking tools which could ‘translate’ communications between people and cultures.  Or perhaps be intelligent enough to ‘detect’ ambiguity or confusion between parties? 

Relatively modest advances in social networking might also multiply the power of connections in ways we cannot yet image.  We are just beginning to feel the effects of social networking.  If current rates of technology change continue, we should see major developments in our ability to form connections and acquire knowledge in all sorts of new ways.  Along the way the very nature of human interaction, social development and human evolution might be changed.

Project Communications – Part 2

Good communications is one of the key skills of successful project management.  In Communications Part 1, I discussed how to gauge when and how often to communicate with project stakeholders. Other elements of communication include; the mechanisms we use to communicate, timing the communication and the content of the message. In this installment I will discuss the mechanisms we use to communicate.

Communication Mechanisms

It is generally agreed that when people converse roughly two-thirds of the message is conveyed through non-verbal communications. Our words account for only about one-third of the total message. Yet today, the majority of us communicate through phone, email, instant messaging and other non-face to face means. Much of this is out of necessity; In our personal lives we tend to be on the go, as are many of the people we want to speak with. At work, our colleagues, customers, suppliers and even our boss may be miles away, or half way around the world. Sometimes though, we have a choice in how we deliver our message, and it is primarily these situations I’ll address here.

As mentioned in Part 1, communications generally have a specific purpose, either to convey information we have or obtain information we need. (I’m not forgetting the friendly or casual conversations which occur all the time, they just are not of interest here.) If communications need to achieve a result, and we want to ensure that our message is properly received and processed, then we need to create the right circumstances for the message to get through.

Too often I see people convey a message, whether through instant messenger (IM), a text message, email or even by phone, and feel their communication responsibility is fulfilled. There are many situations where delivering the message is all that is required, (e.g. wishing Aunt Martha a Happy Birthday or maybe announcing extended hours for the cafeteria), but for project managers who are ultimately responsible for a project’s success, and in numerous other cases, the message also has to be received and understood to produce the desired result. Typically project managers message to obtain information, to move someone to action, provide information to others or to manage expectations. Here, simply putting the message “out there” may not be enough.

Let’s examine the 4 mechanism we use most to communicate through and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Email

Probably the least effective mode of communication is Email. That may surprise some people but consider that:

  • It is asynchronous, there is no immediate feedback
  • Delivery is not guaranteed
  • You don’t know the mood or the circumstance in which the message is read
  • Often written it in a hurry, sometimes without clarity
  • Potentially can be made public
  • It is impersonal

Like me, you probably know of countless instances where an important email was glanced over, ignored, of maybe never even received. Sometimes the message is not received in the spirit it was sent and evokes the ire of the recipient. Perhaps the biggest faux pas occurs when something meant to be private ultimately reaches the wrong eyes (and sometimes everyone’s eyes).

Email can be incredibly useful when used in right circumstances. Use Email when:

  • Information presented or requested in easily understood and thoroughly unambiguous
  • You want to send the same messages to multiple people at once
  • A written record is needed
  • You also need to share visual information (i.e. attachments)
  • Don’t need a quick answer

Instant Messaging (IM & text messaging)

Similar to email in all respects except that feedback is generally immediate (within a few minutes or less) and you can be reasonably sure that your message was read if you get a response. IM and text messaging also affords the opportunity to clarify any miscommunications, provided you sense your message was not understood or the other person asks questions.

IM is great when simple and unambiguous communications is needed and you want immediate feedback

(Note: Twitter et. al., generally sent as a one-way conversation is not considered, but does share some aspects of email and instant messaging.)

Face to Face

By far, the most effective communication mode is face to face. Here the dimensions of sight and sound complement the words, providing multiple sensory inputs to evaluate the message. For example, with sound alone you can here emotion or confusion in someone’s voice; You may get a sense of personality from an accent or the other persons tone; Shouting, all by itself says something. Sight enables you to see facial expressions, body language and attentiveness. Together, these all provide additional clues as to whether you message is being understood and the effect it is having on the recipient.

 Face to face communications can also impart a personal or intimate component to the message, especially when you have the option of delivering the message by some other means but instead make the effort to do so personally.

Most people will communicate more effectively face to face, but this isn’t always possible to do. Those situations where you should make every effort to meet include:

  • When the subject matter is complex or ambiguous and an interactive discussion is needed.
  • You need immediate feedback
  • When there is an emotion component to your message
  • The message may elicit strong emotions from the recipient (i.e. relaying particularly good, bad or unexpected news.)
  • When the message may evoke an unpredictable response from the recipient. (In a face to face encounter you’re positioned to most effectively deal with the possible range of responses your message may generate.)

There are some instances when you may want to avoid face to face communications, but I usually find it is these encounters which most need to be handled in a face to face manner.

Phone Conversation

The last mode I’ll discuss is communicating by phone. Better than text or email, but clearly a step below face to face since we’ve don’t receive any visual clues during the conversation. Unfortunately it is often the best choice available when we need to speak with someone.

 Clearly, how we choose to deliver our message can affect the message itself. Often we don’t give it much thought, but in this very brief discussion I hope I’ve made you aware of the importance of considering which communications mechanism to use and the affect it might have on how the message is received. So next time you just want to zip off a quick response to your boss, stop for a moment and consider what that message will look like from her perspective.

The Cloud is Coming!

I recently read an InformationWeek story on cloud computing and their survey of over 500 companies. They found almost 20% of the companies surveyed are already using some form of cloud computing with nearly 35% seriously considering it. Additionally, all major industry players have, or are planning to offer, cloud computing services and a few major corporations have already taken the plunge by signing large contracts for services (e.g. GlaxoSmithKline and the City of Los Angeles each signed multi-million dollar deals to offload email to third party cloud providers.) If anyone had doubts about this technology taking hold, I think it’s safe to say that train has left the station.

For those of you not familiar with cloud computing, think of it as a computer utility, much like electricity: Customers subscribe to one or more computing power providers (i.e. analogous to an electric company) which is delivered over the Internet (electric grid) and paid for only when the computing power (electricity) is used. One difference is that we can only get electricity from the electric company, whereas computer utilities can provide many kinds of applications, data storage or raw computing power for you to use as you please. For example let’s say that for year-end closing you need twice the computing power than what is normally needed throughout the rest of the year. Currently your choices are to build an infrastructure to handle the peak load and have it remain under utilized most of the time or you limit access to the system at year end to only closing related activities.

With cloud computing there is always excess capacity for you to draw on when you need it, and when you don’t, you only pay for the computing capacity you use (actually today, most providers need some advance notice to meet an anticipated demand, but they usually can respond in days whereas companies typically need weeks to months to buy, install and configure hardware for their use.) In our year end closing example, if computing demand doubles, the cloud simply let’s you draw more resource so everyone can keep working. Consequently, as companies move applications to the cloud they can potentially eliminate much of the computing infrastructure they maintain and operate 24/7.

Sounds great, so why hasn’t this taken off like wildfire? Well, the technology is still somewhat new and companies are still evaluating whether it is reliable and cost effective. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is security…. “That’s my data in the cloud and how can I be sure it won’t get into the wrong hands?” It seems certain that within a few years any remaining technology or security concerns will be adequately resolved and companies will have evaluated and accepted any additional risks. Then I expect to see waves of companies divesting themselves of large portions of their infrastructure in favor of the pay as you go computer utility model. Much like the way companies scrambled to outsource IT development and support services to cheaper offshore locations, so too will companies jump on the cloud bandwagon.

What does this mean for the IT professional, especially the IT project manager? For many medium to large sized companies with data centers and operations staff, these areas will shrink considerably with a proportional loss of jobs, just like with outsourcing. Infrastructure project managers will also see jobs vanish as more and more computing power is delivered through the cloud enabling companies to downsize their infrastructure. IT project managers who implement applications will still be in demand, but the focus of their projects will shift from “getting systems up and running” to “seamlessly integrating applications into the business processes.” This means time spent purchasing hardware and software, installing it, burning it in and doing compatibility testing will be replaced by “negotiate computer usage licenses with cloud vendor,” tasks usually done by procurement and senior IT management. To survive, the IT project manager will have to develop expertise in delivering the overall IT service and not just providing a working technology. The emphasis of skills will need to shift from technology to social skills, a high degree of business acumen tand a fundamentally understanding of what is needed for their business to be successful. Increasingly the value that the IT project manager will be measured by their ability to:

  • Help select the right application and configure it to meet the needs of the business
  • Create or modify business processes to support or accommodate the application and changes it will bring to the organization
  • Create organizational awareness and adoption plans for the coming application
  • Train and provide post implementation coaching for users
  • Define policies and procedures to govern application and data usage
  • Ensure proper application support channels are in place
  • Define SLAs with the cloud provider(s) and contingencies if service is interrupted

These are not new tasks for IT project managers since these things are equally important for application implementations today. Unfortunately, many IT project managers tend to concentrate their efforts towards the technology and getting the system installed and working; This, at least, provides a measure of accomplishment. Even with well scoped projects which factor in these requirements at the outset, integration into the business is often downplayed or, since it tends to come at the tail end of the project, gets compressed or eliminated in order to make up for earlier slippage or cost overruns.

The cloud is coming. To end users the change will be largely transparent. Companies should see shorter technology implementation cycles and network security people will be in ever greater demand. But for IT project managers, the cloud is sure to rock the boat. Much of the technical aspects of projects will shift to the cloud provider. What will be left is aligning the application to the needs of the business (i.e. business savvy), creating supporting processes (i.e. process and problem solving skills) and influencing the business to use the application new and innovative ways (i.e. social and marketing skills). To survive the coming cloud wave, many IT project managers will have to shift their thinking and learn new skills. Their value will no longer be measured by their ability to make the technology work, but by how well they can integrate it into the business and demonstrate the value the application adds to the business’ bottom line.

Changing Behaviors

Recently on one of the network discussion boards I subscribe to someone asked,

“How do you facilitate ethical and moral behavior as a core value of your business?”

 

Questions about changing behaviors pop up a lot in Relationship Management and Project Management; not so much about ethical or moral behaviors, but often related to attitudes towards work and collaboration and the organizational culture as a whole.

I haven’t found the answer to this question, but I have some experience and some success. What follows is my response, which I hope will help you if faced with a similar situation.

Changing behaviors (or a culture) is hard. For someone to change their behavior, there generally has to be something in it for them…. true altruism is hard to find.

First you need to codify the behaviors you want encourage in a mission statement, a list of core values or even those inspirational posters you see in some offices.

Next, as was previously said, lead by example. Demonstrate the behaviors you want to encourage and make your actions visible for all to see. You must walk the talk if you want people to follow. When actions don’t match words, the message isn’t taken seriously.

Finally, figure out a way to reward good behavior and punish unwanted behaviors. Again, rewards should be showcased, but I prefer to deal with punishments privately.

Hope that helps to get you started.

The HOW of WHAT

In his book, how, Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life), Dov Seidman lays out a very compelling narrative of why the HOW of WHAT we do is the new differentiator for success. It sounds confusing, but stay with me…. In essence he says, that in the past, it was WHAT people invented or manufactured made them successful. Today, the product alone isn’t enough, it has to be coupled with HOW it is made and delivered. Part of his argument speaks to the idea that in a commoditized society, where inventions can be quickly reproduced throughout the world more cheaply, and often with little regard to intellectual property rights, many can produce the same or equivalent item. Therefore, the distinguishing factor is not WHAT is made, but HOW it is made and HOW we add value beyond the item (or service) itself.

Seidman goes further to say that in our increasingly transparent society, people today don’t just want to buy any product, they also want to know where it is made (i.e. in fair labor markets, politically acceptable countries) how it is made (i.e. environmentally friendly, without animal testing, safety tested components) and even who makes or sells it (big box stores vs. local merchants). These factors, along with things like customer service and a customer relationship (part of the HOW), make up what he considers the total customer experience. Hence, the value to the customer is no longer just the item itself (the WHAT), but is the result of multiplying the WHAT by the HOW yielding a value for the overall customer experience.

I bring this to your attention since it is one of the most elegant justifications I have seen to explain why IT Relationship Management will be a critical element in the success of every IT organization.

If we extend this idea to the delivery of IT products and services, WHAT we provide to our stakeholders and users can often be sourced (or outsourced) from different suppliers and won’t necessarily meet their needs unless we also consider HOW it is made and delivered. To bring a commoditized technology to our business partners, internal IT departments must differentiate themselves from 3rd parties if they want to provide the best overall customer experience. It is the combination of WHAT and HOW that will set internal IT departments apart from external suppliers and make them the provider of choice to their internal customers.

Internal IT departments have always had technical staff on hand to provide their company with the WHAT, but WHAT alone may not yield the full value of the IT investment.  Further, since your competition also has a similar WHAT, future innovation is more likely to come from better networking, better relationships, better collaboration, etc. Starting now, IT departments need to embrace Relationship Management and become proficient in providing the right value added services to improve their HOW, thereby improving their standing as the preferred technology supplier and their company’s competitive advantage.

Designing for Success?

Sounds like something we should all strive for, doesn’t it?  Well, maybe not in Information Technology! 

Consider this:
The other day I got a phone call at home from my wife’s benefits provider using an automated voice response system.  The exchange went something like this:

Automate Voice:  “Hello, this is company name with an important message about person’s name benefits plan. Is this person’s name?”

Me:  “No”

Automated Voice:  “We would like to speak with person’s name. Please select from these three options:
     -Hold until I call person’s name to the phone
     -Take a message for person’s name
     -Call later when person’s name will be back
Please say Hold, Message or Call Back”

Since I generally handle the benefits for our household, I said “Message”

Now, instead of providing any useful information, which is what I expected, the automated voice said, “This is an important message concerning benefits for person’s name.  Please have person’s name call us between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM Monday through Friday at 1 877-5” and then, while I was desperately reaching for pencil and paper, I accidentally pulled the phone jack out of the wall. 

When I plugged the phone back in a few seconds later, there was only a dial tone.  So I waited a while for a call back, expecting the automated voice to eventually realize the call was never completed, but a callback never came… I sure hope the message wasn’t important!  

Like many time/cost saving solutions, the problem here is this ‘process’ appears to have been designed for situations where everything works exactly as it should. It was designed for success.  I can only imagine the testing scenario; a person waiting patiently for the phone to ring, on a land line, at a desk with all their computer and writing supplies at the ready.  Clearly the designers didn’t consider (or care) about situations where:

  • No pen or paper was available to take the message (Unless there was an option later in the call to repeat the message, which I didn’t get to)
  • The call got dropped (like with me, and not unreasonable considering many people only use cell phones)
  • A call waiting signal beeps through obscuring the phone number
  • A young child answers the phone
  • A teenage answers the phone but forgets relay the message

Need I go on?  Had the ‘designers’ flowcharted the call and thought through various points of failure, they surely would have created a more resilient process.  At the very least, the call should have closed with a final confirmation question, only after which the call is considered a success.  Since I never got a call back, I assume this too wasn’t designed in.

As illustrated by this call, designing for success has severe limitations if we want to ensure a successful outcome.  Those of us that design with technology need to anticipate all possible failure modes (or abstract to classes of failures) and design alternative routes to a successful conclusion.  We need to expand our test plans to include cases where things go wrong.  With technology, we need to continually think about designing for inevitable failures.  Whether we build applications, web sites,  processes or hardware, designing for success doesn’t always ensure a successful outcome.

Project Communications – Part 1

Project managers often think of improving communications in terms of frequency; the ‘more’ I communicate the better. Frequency is a major component of the communications equation, but not the only determinate and probably not the most important.  Instead I propose that project managers think in terms of what their audiences need to know and effectiveness of the message.   

This is the first in a multipart series about project communications and what project managers can do to improve their communication effectiveness.  As suggested by the opening, this first article will examine the ‘how often’ of communications. 

Communications Frequency

I can’t recall a project management seminar or a lessons learned meeting I attended where communications was not mentioned as one of the critical areas in need of improvement. Today more than ever, as IT is increasingly segmented into functional specialties, outsourcing partners play expanded roles and solutions extend out to global communities, more and more people become project stakeholders.  Basic project management teaches that the number of communication pathways grows exponentially as the number of people on a project increases and, therefore, we can expect that communication issues are likely to remain a major hurdle to project success.

To meet this challenge, the project manager must communicate often and the information must be valuable to the respective audiences.   How often to communicate with stakeholders is generally not obvious and will depend on many factors including:

  • Number and distribution of stakeholders
  • Project complexity
  • Project uncertainty
  • Organizational culture

Nor is the communications requirement likely to stay constant throughout the project life cycle. Deciding when (and what) to communicate is something each project manager will have to evaluate against the needs of each project, project team and stakeholder groups.  A best practice is to draft a communications plan at the outset of your project to establish a minimum communications baseline. This sets the expectation and provides a definitive target to work towards.  Share the communications plan and validate it with your stakeholders to see that it meets their needs.  And don’t just defer to stakeholder preferences.  If you feel the project needs more attention that a once a month status meeting, press for more frequent communications.  Also, anticipate the need for, and modes of, emergency communications for those situations which will need immediate attention.  

There is no definitive formula to calculate project communications frequency, but that doesn’t mean communications planning is entirely a guessing game.  I have formulated the following six guidelines which I find useful in developing my communications plan. 

1.  The frequency of communications should be proportional to the actual or perceived impact the project will have to the business.

2.  Longer projects do not necessarily imply longer intervals between communications.

3.  Communicate whenever something occurs that might change a stakeholders’ current expectation (i.e. avoid surprises)

4.  Never let the organization lose sight of the project.

5.  When unsure how often to communicate with stakeholders… Ask!

6. When in doubt, err on the side of over communicating.

Finding the right communications frequency can build trust and confidence in you and the project.  Too little and the project manager maybe perceived as hiding something, too often and he/she may become a nuisance.

3 Questions for IT

The new business mantra is, “Do more, do it faster and do it with less…”, at least with most of the companies I’ve dealt with recently. While this isn’t news for Information Technology (IT) departments, they’ve been told this for years, many of the indirect ways to get the funding and resources have also dried up.  If you’re in one of these organizations trying to do more with less, I feel your pain.  If not, consider yourself lucky.

Faced with every tightening budgets, and repetitive downsizings, there are fewer people and resources available to do the same amount of work.  If you can focus on the important work, do it right the first time and help your stakeholders to also do more with less, then you stand a chance of surviving this downturn intact.

These days, every IT organization should be asking itself three questions:

Are we working on the most ‘valuable’ projects for the company?
Are we executing those projects well?
Are we delivering what our stakeholders need?

Don’t be discouraged if the answers to these questions are difficult to find.  If they were obvious there wouldn’t be much point in writing about them.  To get the answers, you need to begin searching in the right places.

Let’s start with value, what does that mean to your company?  By itself, value doesn’t mean much unless it has reference to a specific purpose; Money has value because you can buy things, customers are valuable since they buy your things.  Look for what your company values in their goals and objectives and the business strategy which supports them.

Consistently hitting your project targets means having repeatable and stable processes to depend on.  Experience is also extremely helpful and sharing knowledge can go a long way to propagate that experience across your organization.  Check that your project methodology rests on a solid foundation and project knowledge is retained and utilized.

Lastly, you may be doing everything right, but in the end your stakeholders are unhappy. Were there misses?  Is it perception?  Were expectations too high?  Ask yourself what type of relationship you have with your stakeholders.  Is it mainly transactional or do you truly understand their business needs and their perspective?  Having a business partner vested in your projects will go a long way to finding out what they really need.

Windows 7 – Managing Security Features

Windows 7 has recently launched and the technical journals are abuzz touting, among other things, the enhanced security features and the ability to create granular Group Policies.  The pundits say this will finally enable IT groups to deliver the data protection and security measures IT wants and companies need. 

 I hope that Windows 7 is everything the guru’s are saying it is and, with the new level of administrative control, companies will be able to custom configure the OS to their needs, especially related to security.  The danger here is not that these features won’t work as advertised, but they will be imposed by IT with an IT centric view, especially concerning security.

 I don’t want to diminish the importance of protecting a company’s infrastructure by keeping unlicensed and malicious software out, nor to better managing its’ desktop support by enforcing standardization.  But this needs to be balanced by the flexibility and configurability of the desktop (and infrastructure) to allow experimentation and creativity needed for innovation and continuous improvement.

 The difficulty is finding the right balance between and uncontrolled environment and one completely locked down.   My concern is that these new features in Window 7 makes it too easy for IT to lockdown the environment without first going through the more difficult task of finding the right balance for their business and providing the right governance to facilitate changes in the future.

What can project managers learn from the Healthcare debates?

I’m listening to news coverage of the Healthcare town hall meetings.  In case you haven’t been following this, senators, congressmen and even the President are hosting meetings around the country to explain, discuss and, in the case of many participants, argue and protest the healthcare proposals under consideration.

 

What I find most interesting about the process, are the parallels I see when introducing change into an organization.  Foremost among these is the misinformation and hyperbolae which often circulate and galvanize opinions well before the facts are known.  As with Healthcare, change in companies has its’ opponents and only takes a few vocal individuals to highlight the negatives and instill doubt in a process and outcome which potentially could be widely beneficial. 

 

So for you project managers who are confronted with naysayers on the job, I recommend you watch the Healthcare process unfold.  Will the administration be able to get out in front of the debate and steer the discussions around facts and legitimate points of contention, or will the process get away from them and disintegrate into ideological shouting matches over irrelevant topics?  More interesting is whether the town hall meetings are a good/effective approach to manage the debate and keep it moving in a constructive direction. 

 

As a project manager, confronted with challenges from within, how do you handle these situations?   Are you out there among your stakeholders, holding the equivalent of town hall meetings? Or do you persevere hoping the end result will justify the effort?  Do you proactively market your project to win support?  Or do you react to challenges as they arise?   I believe project managers need to get out in front of issues and rumors where they exist.  Consistent and repeated messaging will keep stakeholders informed, reducing project misinformation.  Better still is the use of proactive project marketing which can minimize distractions caused by unfounded charges and which builds a broader base of support to counteract the vocal few.  

 

Fortunately, project managers generally have more opportunities to manage their message.  They are (or can be) closer to stakeholders giving them more opportunities to interact beyond formal town hall like meetings. They have more control over message content and often have multiple channels through which to deliver that message.  As we watch the Healthcare debates unfold, maybe we can take away lessons learned and see what we can do to keep people focus on productive discourse and avoid non-productive confrontations.