The First Nine Minutes

Recently I was listening to an interview with astronaut Chris Hadfield, when he was asked about how he personally coped with the risk of sitting in the shuttle, facing blast off and a stint of 6 months in space. His answer was interesting in that he noted that the vast majority of the risk that he and the mission faced occurred during a typical 6 month mission was in the first 9 minutes! Of course should anything go wrong within those first 9 minutes, then it would have tragic and severe impact both on the astronauts and the mission.

In many respects space travel is the ultimate project, however I would argue that in most earth based projects, that the first “Nine Minutes” may even be a biggest risk to a project.

It is in the early stages of a project that the key tasks of gathering, understanding and approving the requirements to allow the scope of the project to be clearly and correctly defined is undertaken. The big difference though between the first 9 minutes of a shuttle mission and your typical project start phase is that in most cases, mistakes or errors in the initial stage of a project (particularly in requirements) will not become apparent until the end or towards the end of the project and end up being very costly in terms of rework where as in the case of Chris Hadfield, issues become more apparent quickly and dramatically.

One might think that the importance of good requirements management is well known and common sense , but in reality, research shows (no alternative facts here) that the rate of project failure attributed to poor requirements is actually increasing. This PMI Report notes that “inaccurate requirements gathering” as a primary reason for project failures grew from 37% in 2014 from 32% in 2013. This is somewhat surprising, given the rise in the numbers of project managers being certified as well as increased project training and better tools.

It is clear that more emphasis must be put on the requirements phase of a project and indeed the PMI have also recognised this in terms of their new BA certification programs as well as the growth in the importance of the IIBA and their CBAP certification path. Having taken the CBAP certification a few years ago (primarily because I saw at first hand the frustration of incomplete, incorrect and poorly managed requirements), it certainly drove home the importance of work of a BA and the tester, as both these roles are becoming more and more important in today’s more world of more complex projects across more borders, timezones and cultures. Indeed in my view today’s project manager must understand intimately such roles and how they interlock. They must also study and undertake certifications such as the CBAP and indeed testing certifications to ensure that the project does not fail during those vital early stages due to a more mature approach to requirements and test management.

This Article was created by: Jerry Giltenane, Professional Services Director at Aspira.

Are your project management practices questionable?

Are there key KPIs your business’s projects are just not meeting, time and time again? Are high priority projects regularly missing deadlines? Perhaps your projects are meeting most of their timelines but the project management practices are questionable, with little to no structure and a huge dependency on the skill and talent of the individual project manager?Aspira’s Project Capability Assessment is the perfect solution to enabling a substantial supportive structure around your project management processes, by identifying the strengths and transforming any shortcomings.

Project Management training and certification crafts individuals into excellent project managers. However it is possible and probable that the organisation’s project management framework does not align completely to the PMPTM or PMITM methodology. That being said, an organisation needs to have a mature and supportive project management framework in operation to create the ideal conditions for a PM to operate within – this is the scaffolding that supports the mason while they work. Maturity alone is not sufficient – countless organisations have mature but constraining processes which restrain operational effectiveness – year after year of working within a stagnant status quo.

This is why Aspira’s Project Capability Assessment service has proved extremely popular and effective. Aspira’s experienced project management experts conduct an assessment that will establish an independent and objective capability baseline revealing the true potential and opportunities that your PM framework provide for improvement, as well as cementing in the strengths that currently exist. True insight into your organisation comes from those who know it best; your key resources participate fully in our assessment process, maximising business buy-in to achieve ultimate success.

The Project Capability Assessment delivers a full detailed review of your current framework, methodology, skills and capability and outputs a set of clear achievable recommendations – short term quick wins as well as medium and long term mandates. Whether you are taking the first steps towards implementing a set of lean, standardized Project Management practices or already have mature, detailed processes in place – possibly operating your own Project Management Office –  it is essential to realistically assess the processes by which you select and deliver projects and then to compare this with best practice, highlighting where improvements need to be made.

Customers across Ireland trust Aspira to deliver operational effectiveness and achieve tangible, measurable improvement. Contact Aspira today to discuss benefits a Project Capability Assessment can deliver to you.

Opportunity Knocks

If you could have a qualification with the power to open doors for you into multiple industries as diverse as IT to Engineering to Big Pharma and more, in any country across the world where you wish to work, would you let that opportunity pass you by? Neither would we.

Not everyone is cut out to be a Project Manager. It takes a certain level of determination, grit and sheer force of will to oversee and guide a long and complex set of interdependent tasks to completion inside an allocated budget. This is what makes it so fulfilling as a career. Great Project Managers are detail-oriented, have excellent organisational and perceptive, pragmatic planning skills.

For driven individuals wanting to embark on Project Management as a career, the time is definitely now. Project Management job opportunities are plentiful and the supply never seems to meet the demand. That’s why it’s such a bankable and dependable career choice.

However, it is absolutely essential to have a professional – and industry recognisable – credential to your name to be a successful Project Manager. What differentiates Aspira from all the rest is simply this: our training is more than a credential – it is effective, insightful and will give you actual techniques and templates to work with in your project management career. That’s why Aspira’s Project Management training is an indispensable device in the toolbox of any successful Project Manager.

Our industry experts have crafted a diverse set of Project Management course options which cater specifically to the differing needs of those in search of powerful incisive training. Whether you are looking for an introduction to Project Management essentials or become a recognised Project Management Professional (PMPTM) certified by the PMITM, or are looking to train your staff to be the best Agile Scrummasters on the market, Aspira has precisely what you need in our range of project management training options.

All of our courses use the latest edition (5th Edition – March 2013) PMBOK Guide® as the core reference. By the end of our courses our trainees leave with a detailed understanding of Project Management terms, concepts and methodologies. Trainees are presented with real world project challenges providing opportunities to exercise their knowledge and skill before completing the course. Aspira Project Management training results in competent and confident Project Managers armed with all the skills and abilities required to effectively and methodically manage any project.

To talk to us today about the Project Management course that best suits your needs contact us today.

The Rise of Contingent Workforce

Companies are slowly but surely moving to the contingent workforce model – a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis. It is necessary for companies in today’s highly competitive environment to ensure that operating costs are as low as possible in order to maintain profitability. The contingent worker model offers great benefits as staff can dip in and out of the company as needed; whether it is an IT consultant, a business analyst, a project manager, a scheduling expert or other IT resource that is only needed on a temporary basis, bringing in a contingent worker to fill a gap reduces redundancy in the resource model. No company wants to pay to retain good staff if there is no work for them at that time. In this way you know you have the right resources available at the right time and leaving the company when their tasks have been completed.

Aspira is a solutions driven company and a leading supplier of experienced, skilled and intelligent IT and Project Management resources. We take a 360° view of all your needs and requirements to ensure that we offer the right candidates to you. Company culture, business process and the nuances of technical and business skills combined in the right individual are what make a successful contract resource. Our rigorous standards for selecting candidates will ensure a great match every time.

Aspira can provide our clients with the highest calibre:

• Programme and Project Managers
• PMO Specialists
• Business and Systems Analysts
• Project Risk Analysts
• Solution and Technical Architects (Software, Middleware and Infrastructure)
• Infrastructure & Networking Specialists
• Database Specialists
• Middleware and Application Developers covering multiple technologies
• ….and many other profiles.

Aspira does more than simply offer individual resources. Our aim is to offer maximum value to our clients by building long standing and mutually beneficial relationships. In this way we can assist our clients in the most effective way by offering our wealth of experience and counsel when selecting candidates that are not only more than able to do the job but who can offer added value in many diverse areas of the project lifecycle. We want our candidates to be able to effectively communicate with all of the different audiences and stakeholders in your business and, while they are specialists in their field, we hope they add extra value on top with additional skills and experience which you can avail of.

Our comprehensive approach ensures that we help you define who you need (if necessary), what technical skills the required individuals must have as well as what soft skills are fundamental to guaranteeing their overall success. We work with our clients to keep track of the performance of our contract resources ensuring you get the best for your investment.

Click here and talk to us today to discuss your resource needs and let us empower you to find the perfect match for your project.

IT Estate by Design

The reality of business means that companies often either begin with less-than-optimal solution and system architectures as they face financial pressures, inherit end-of-life or entirely customised systems through business acquisitions and mergers, or, as often happens, the goals and business model changes as the company grows and the architecture that once enabled is now constraining.

Greenfield sites (such as start-ups and young enterprises) can save considerable time, effort and cost over the long run by investing in Aspira’s Systems Architecture Design Service and implementing the right architecture from the ground up. Brownfield sites (such as businesses with an architectural estate already built) can also benefit by availing of Aspira’s Systems Architecture Design Service when the time comes to implement new or upgrade existing systems, or to plan a parallel architecture and data migration.

“Delivering advanced architectural excellence requires a team of highly experienced and knowledgeable professionals.”

Tangible benefits include a reduction in hardware redundancy, the retirement of appropriate hardware, identification of opportunities to move to cloud or virtual hosting as well as selection of the best fit COTS applications or PAAS (Platform as a service) solutions – all leading to a tighter and more streamlined IT stack.

When it comes to application architecture, the business architecture and the data architecture of an enterprise must be factored in before the application architecture can be successfully completed. Aspira works with clients to develop a target application architecture that realises the business architecture and the architecture vision.

During Aspira’s System Architecture Design Service, we can:
• Develop baseline business, data and application architecture descriptions
• Perform gap analysis
• Define Roadmap components
• Review Application Interoperability
• Apply your or create new Application Principles
• Create or apply your System Governance Model
• Confirm readiness and risk for business transformation
• Formulate Implementation and Migration Strategy
• Identify the Transition Architecture (if required)
• Guide you on Service Level Agreements
• Update your Architecture Vision/Roadmap

Aspira understands that companies today need system architecture that has a low cost of ownership, a fast return on investment, is flexible, modular and with a focus on configuration and not customization (to keep costs down). Not only this but the systems themselves must do more than meet current needs – it must be scaled for growth, performance, changing business requirements and meet company KPIs.

Delivering advanced architectural excellence requires a team of highly experienced and knowledgeable professionals. Aspira’s team of architects have experience across a diverse range of industry sectors including healthcare, human resources, insurance and telecoms. Your entire stack can be optimally designed and delivered using Microsoft and other technologies, depending on your needs.

Whether you have your development teams in-house or outsourced, whether your stack is in your own data centre or you are using SAAS or simply are starting out from scratch, click here and talk to us today about how we can transform or create your IT estate.]

Lean in and become a ScrumMaster

Most software development teams are either agile or leaning towards agile. Scrum has revolutionised IT and has trended significantly in recent years and qualified ScrumMasters are the new software development accessory.

In today’s highly competitive environment there are increasing demands for rapid release of software iterations with a focus on quality at affordable costs. By embracing the Scrum Agile methodology and mastering the skills of the ScrumMaster you will see both the passion of scrum teams and their increased productivity unleashed within your organisation.

The ScrumMaster is relentlessly focused on leading the development team to success and ensuring their path to delivery of their goals is clear.

Aspira’s world class training will take you to the heart of what being not just a good, but a great ScrumMaster really means. So lean in to our two day ScrumMaster training course and you will learn to:

• Understand the principles of Agile and how to implement the Scrum Agile Method

• Learn how to estimate and create a realistic plan so that project commitments will be      delivered

• Increase your team’s productivity, and balance their workload

• Build up your capability to deliver early prototypes and projects

• Learn how to manage change when implementing Scrum in your organization

Aspira are approved education providers by the Project Management Institute, the International Institute of Business Analysis and Scrum Alliance. This means our Training has been audited by the PMI® and the IIBA® and meets their strict quality requirements. Click here to talk about your Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification.

Professional ScrumMaster courses – Earlybird price is €750 and includes exam fee

• Cork on 13th & 14th September 2016
• Dublin on 25th & 26th October 2016

Building a Solid Foundation for your New SharePoint Farm

Building a Solid Foundation for your New SharePoint Farm
SharePoint can be a powerful tool for any business. With on premises, Office 365 and hybrid options available, now is a great time to look into implementing this in your organisation. However, if you don’t start off on the right foot you can wind up in the all too common position of spending time and money on a system that your employees fail to see the value in. Here are 5 points to help avoid this:

Take the Time to Plan
The root cause of any failed or underwhelming SharePoint implementation generally stems from one place; a failure to take the necessary time to plan. This mistake is usually a result of budget limitations and time constraints. The focus is too often on getting SharePoint implemented as quickly and cheaply as possible. However, this approach will usually result in poor user adoption. This point is crucial as it greatly reduces the complexity of the following steps.

Don’t Deploy and Walk Away
With how easy a basic SharePoint install is now, there can be a temptation to take the out of the box setup and leave it at that. This is never a good idea. The business needs will change over time and require SharePoint to change with it. Even with a small, well planned solution, SharePoint will still require care and attention when given to the end user to ensure they can get the best of the features provided.

Start Small
SharePoint can be an extremely useful tool in many different ways. It can be used to help collaboration between team members, provide workflows for common tasks and processes, manage and control content and provide powerful Business Intelligence and Project Management tools. All of this can be customised to suit exactly what a business needs. However, all of these advantages can quickly cause headaches when not properly managed. Your focus in the beginning should be a solution that is small, simple and allows team members to see the benefit or the system. Don’t try to throw everything and the kitchen sink at them right away, expand after team members have a basic understanding and feel comfortable with it.

Training
Poor training for a new system results in poor user adoption for that system. That is a fact. If the first experience a user has is one of confusion and there’s no clear reference to reduce this confusion, they will resent the system. They may be able to use the system, but not to its full potential. There are three main points to prevent this:
1. Organise small training sessions of no more than 15 people per session. Keep the sessions under two hours.
2. Create short videos for the main features of the site and share these with users.
3. Provide a digital manual and share this with the users.
This may seem like overkill but it allows users a choice of how they learn about the system, letting them choose the one they prefer and ultimately being more willing to accept the system.

SharePoint Team Leads
Having an enthusiastic member in each team to act as a power user in your SharePoint solution is a useful way to ensure your transition to SharePoint runs smoothly. Giving these users one to one training and having them act almost as administrators for the system will prevent frequent repeated questions to the IT department as well provide a certain amount of visibility into the system. With these users included in the process people will be more understanding if you run into issues implementing the system. Without this your users can quickly change from supportive to disinterested in the solution.
SharePoint is the ultimate example of getting back what you put in. Rushed setups will leave users with a negative image that you will struggle to recover from. But, through clear planning, a willingness to listen to your users and communicate with them effectively you can provide a very effective tool for your organisation.

For more information on SharePoint solutions and other services Aspira provide, you can contact a member on the team on: info@aspira.ie

Project Management and the Self Destructing Project Update!

Social media is everywhere.

Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 31% or 2.3 billion people actively use social media to communicate, to share and to build a sense of community. In a parallel universe, some of the key drivers of Project Management are to communicate, to inform and to develop high performing teams. Given how popular and powerful social media has become, what will this mean for the way we manage projects?

Communication is considered to be the lifeblood of Project Management. The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be. Any tool that will help internal communication has to be seriously considered; particularly in today’s workplace where virtual project teams, spread all over the globe, are very common.

Some organisations already have begun to use enterprise-grade social media, although these business-focussed tools tend to be a little different to the tools that flourish in the wild. For example, Yammer is deployed as a business-focussed alternative to Facebook; various Instant Messaging tools such as Skype for Business take the place of WhatsApp and enterprise tools such as SocialCast are found in organisations as a replacement for microblogging tools such as Twitter.

The value of these social-media inspired tools is well known and this article does not intend to review those benefits in detail. Instead, I will reflect briefly on some key traits that will drive adoption of such tools within businesses and within project teams and I will highlight the important lessons we need to learn if we are to leverage the power of these tools to the potential.

Up until the 1980’s, staff sent and received their internal communications via paper using internal post – the Mail Room was the nerve centre of an organization. Then Email came in, and quickly became the dominant business communication channel. People of my generation started to use web-based email clients such as Hotmail back in the 90’s before they ever started work. Once those people entered the workforce, they were very comfortable with email, knew how to use it and indeed they expected it to be the primary communication choice in large organisations (apart from actual face to face communication – but that is a story for a different day!). The etiquette and rules of engagement when using email were understood by new employees before they even entered the workforce.

Fast forward to today’s new entrants into the workforce. These Millenials consider email to be from a bygone age. They are much more comfortable using more social media related tools. These are the people who will be managing large projects in five years time – and these people will expect to use the equivalent of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram to communicate their thoughts and messages to the project team. Moreover, the project managers of tomorrow and will be using tools such ooVoo (Group video chat), Vine (6 second video loops) and anonymous confessional apps such as Whisper, and SnapChat – the self-destructing message intended for short-lived communications.

The important lesson for us incumbents in the world of Project Management is not to learn the latest hot tools that new entrants are using in their personal lives, but to understand that when these people start working in project teams, they will not only be comfortable with social media tools – they will expect and demand that those tools are used. They will view emails to be as old fashioned and cumbersome as we now think of ink and quills and blotting paper. They will treat cumbersome corporate collaboration tools as being a pale imitations of the tools they normally use.

Organisations must understand this change is coming and must design and integrate better enterprise-level social media tools which mimic the ease-of-use and the user experience of the tools used every day by the new generation. Some key traits that have been proven to influence enterprise social media tools are ease of adoption, performance expectancy, social influence and team trust. These elements must be designed into the new set of enterprise social media tools if they are to gain traction. Additionally, effort must be spent to ensure that business social media tools reflect the reality of how social media is used out in the real world.

It may not be long now before Vine-like video loops are used in getting project updates from virtual teams; we may see use of confessional anonymous platforms to reports project issues and how long before we see self-destructing messages are utilised to deliver sensitive news – a great solution to the “don’t shoot the messenger” problem in organizations. It cannot be long until you are live micro-blogging a big deployment in your organisation because that is the way team members expect to receive updates on events in general. If adopting these new social media technologies helps people to be more comfortable in communicating openly within project teams, this will be a huge plus for an organization and it will lead to more successful projects.

For more information on the integration of social media into project management practise please refer to the recently published Strategic Integration of Social Media into Project Management Practice or drop me a line at jerry.giltenane@Aspira.ie

The Secret (?) Life of a Business Analyst

Back when I worked in a telecoms company, there were various well defined roles – system engineers, software developers, testers, support engineers and project managers. We never used the term ‘Business Analyst’. Later, when working for Aspira and dealing with lots of different industries, it was a role that I heard mentioned a lot, although I noticed that different organisations seemed to define the role differently.

Some organisations seemed to consider a Business Analyst to be a System Tester – someone who would be familiar with system requirements and carry out detailed testing against those requirements. More often, organisations suggested the main responsibility of the Business Analyst (or BA) was to define and document the requirements and then hand them over to the system developers. A few organisations used the BA role exclusively to carry out Business Process Analysis, identifying the “as is” process and defining the “to be” process as part of managing change projects. Some organisations seemed confused about BAs versus Project Managers often using the same people to fill both roles. In order to figure out how to join this secretive Business Analyst club, we first need to understand how to define the role.

At its simplest, the Business Analyst role is to elicit and define requirements, whether that solution is a technical system or a business process. This means pulling people together to figure out what the desired solution needs to do, so the ability to run workshops and organize people is important – a trait the BA shares with Project Managers. Once the BA has completed the requirements definition it proves really useful to have the BA then review the Testing Strategy. This ensures that the Test Cases will give the solution a comprehensive verification and validation prior to the solution ‘going live’.

So it’s easy to see why different organisations emphasise different aspects of the Business Analyst Role – it is a very wide ranging role. What I find interesting is that it is a role that has historically been under-resourced. When Aspira are asked to take over a troubled project and recover it, one common theme we see is that the project’s requirements have not been clearly defined. No project can ever deliver against requirements if nobody knows what those requirements are. I know that sounds obvious, but I bet you can think of some projects you’ve worked on (or are working on!) where there was no proper set of requirements.

What do I mean by “proper” requirements? There are seven criteria that need to be met before I am happy with a set of requirements:

“Some organisations seemed confused about BAs versus Project Managers often using the same people to fill both roles.”

The Secret Seven

Comprehensive: Requirements must be detailed. If you were building a house, would you agree on a specification that just states “a bungalow”? No – you would want to specify the size, the aspect, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the build quality, etc. etc.

Complete: Requirements must be all-encompassing, covering all aspects of the solution. This means including both the functional requirements (e.g. the use-cases) and the non-functional requirements (e.g. the level of performance required, the level of data security required).

Coherent: The Requirements must be understandable and make sense. Some people go on an ego-trip when defining requirements and use loads of technical jargon that may not be understood. It is important that the people who will be using the requirements to design and build a solution can understand those requirements.

Testable: A good requirement has to be testable, otherwise it shouldn’t qualify as a requirement. We have to be precise enough in our terminology that when a tester goes to write a test case, there should be no ambiguity. The system either does or does not meet the requirement – there is no ‘in between’, and this should make our tester very happy! Ambiguity exists when a requirement can be interpreted to mean different things. Multi-Billion dollar international space exploration projects have failed because of people specifying distance in numbers but no units. The French team assumed it meant metres, the USA team assumed feet. When I moved to Cork and asked if it was possible for an engineer to deliver a piece of functionality, I was told “I will, yeah”, so that was great… I thought. I have since learned that “I will, yeah” is Cork ‘slang’ for “No”. So be careful to define your requirements clearly and with zero ambiguity so that they can be tested.

Realistic: While I may yearn for world peace and to end world hunger, it is unlikely that my next project will achieve such lofty targets, so it would make no sense to state them as requirements of the project. Any requirements specified must be realistic achievable, not a fantasy wish-list.

Achievable: Part of the Project Manager’s job is to balance the project constraints of scope, cost, time and quality. The Business Analyst role is to define the scope into a set of detailed requirements. But that should not be done in a vacuum – the BA must check what the expectation is for the project schedule and budget, and aim to define a set of requirements that can be delivered in line with those constraints.

Non-conflicting: It’s easy to spot conflicting requirements for a small project – if you are told to meet “a tall, small, dark stranger” you will immediately seek clarification on whether the stranger is tall or small. But if you have a list of hundreds of requirements, or if you are passing on those requirements to a bunch of different people to implement, it is quite possible nobody will spot the conflict and will build a solution that doesn’t work. So it is up to the Business Analyst to ensure that the requirements are all in alignment and do not contradict each other.

“A good requirement has to be testable, otherwise it shouldn’t qualify as a requirement.”

Internationally Recognised Standard

Over the past few years, the role of the Business Analyst has become much better defined and standardised. An international body, called the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) has defined the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®). This is analogous to the PMI®s PMBOK® for Project Managers – a collection of best practices that have evolved over time. The IIBA® have established a set of certifications for Business Analysts, which require the candidate BA to have completed 3 days of approved training, have a certain number of years’ experience, and pass a multiple choice exam. Once this is complete, the candidate becomes a Certified Business Analyst, internationally recognised.

There are fewer certified BAs than there are PMs at the moment, but the rate of growth for BAs is far higher as the industry recognition of the value of qualified Business Analysts has grown considerably.

Aspira has invested heavily in building a range of Business Analysis services, from consultancy to help our clients create better requirements, to provision of BAs, to provision of the 3-day certified BA training courses, we offer wide range of BA services.

For technical Project Managers, we have found that attending the 3-day BA course is very useful. It provides the PM with a far deeper appreciation of the BA role and how to elicit requirements, and even if the PM is not interested in becoming a certified BA, the training will deliver 24 PDUs to help the PM retain his/her PMP®  certification.

If you are interested in talking to us on how to de-mystify the BA role, or for advice on the most suitable BA training, please contact us at info@aspira.ie

Mission Complete!

 

The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

The Challenges of Managing Global Projects

Global projects are an increasing reality for those working in a Multinational environment. It is commonplace to work with people in far-flung corners of the world, across different time-zones, united by the goal to deliver the project on time. There are lots of advantages to global teams, eliminating the need for shift-work, giving access to niche expertise, and facilitating lower project cost through use of a blend of near-shore and far-shore locations.

It’s not all plain sailing once the global project kicks off. Everyday tasks are more challenging, trying to get everybody across different locations to reach consensus can be like herding cats – a challenging pursuit. A few months into the project and the initial positive outlook can be a distant memory, with cultural differences and mixed messages causing distrust and negativity within the team.

We at Aspira have the capability and experience to cope with these challenges and set up a global project team to be successful. Our experience of working on international projects with a team spread all over the globe helps us to assist and manoeuvre around obstacles in a proactive manner – we have learned how to gather up those cats.

“Building up trust between team members requires that you demonstrate consistency between what you say and what you do.”

Managing the Global Team

Trust is an important element for any high performing team. It takes time to build up, but can be easily lost. Poor communication and mixed signals can cause some parts of the project team to feel superfluous to requirements and exposed. Then defensive behaviours set in and the circle of trust gets broken. It’s downhill all the way after that.

As with some many things in life, the key to successful management of global projects is to have strong channels of communication. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Building up trust between team members requires that you demonstrate consistency between what you say and what you do. That means communicating clearly and then living up to what you’ve said.

It also helps to be mindful towards the others working on your dispersed team – be aware of the different time zones in which the individuals operate. It will not always be possible to get that perfect time slot that suits everyone, but having consideration for the team is important so that the same people are not expected to climb out of bed to join conference calls each week – the pain should be shared. There are various online tools which are available to help you to quickly work out timings for cross-time zone meetings.

Our experience is that global teams will appreciate you simply asking the team at the start of a project what their time zone is and explaining you will do your best to ensure that any online conferences or calls with take this into consideration. You explain that there may be the odd occasion where calls need to occur at an inconvenient time for someone, somewhere. Variation in the times is key as everyone will feel like their individual time zone is being taken into consideration.

“We are all guilty of pinging off emails and forget sometimes that we have a phone.”

Religious and National Holidays

Not as easy it sounds. If you are a global manager, understanding your team’s background is crucial. Being aware of local custom and events is definitely an important part of successfully managing a global team. National holidays can easily be picked up off the internet, it is always a good idea to put these into any project calendar, and then ask the individuals to check the project calendar to ensure these are correct. As religion is always a personal subject, a private email or message is recommended to ensure inclusion without prejudice. We use www.timeanddate.com which has both time zones and holiday information collated in one place for easy access.

Collaborate Effectively

Checking in with team members and occasionally using the phone is a great way to encourage collaboration. We are all guilty of pinging off emails and forget sometimes that we have a phone. If you have a long list of questions, firing off emails might seem like a good idea, however we suggest that the occasional call , and sometimes a little bit of chit-chat goes a long way to getting the best out of the team. Speaking on the phone can often help to convey a complex message which might otherwise be misconstrued over email. It is good practice to encourage team members to do the same. Remote working can sometimes feel a little like you are disconnected with head office or others in the team so this small gesture can go a really long way.

Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Unless something absolutely impacts results, it’s important to try not to get too worried about people’s individual approaches to their work, or their unique work style. Everyone communicates differently and each person has their own style. There are many different ways to get the job done; one way isn’t always the only way and some of these variations might be because of cultural differences. At the end of the day, the project is about getting the right results, it’s about achieving goals.

How to Estimate a Job for a Customer

The three-point estimation technique is simple yet can be very powerful when planning a project for a client. Aspira CEO, Pat Lucey, was asked by popular business planning website, thinkbusiness.ie to contribute a piece on estimating a project for a client.

Planning and estimating a project

When it comes to planning and evaluating a project, the three-point technique is much more efficient than wild guesswork. When planning a project, the estimation phase should happen early on, when there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty is high.
A three-point estimate can give a good indication of the cost, duration, and effort that will be required, without tying anyone down to the last cent. For example, if I’m thinking of implementing a new CRM system, and come up with an early estimate that says it will cost somewhere between €20,000 and €50,000 – that may well be all the information I need if my budget is only €5,000. There is no reason to get the exact figure because I know I can’t afford to do the project.

“It is useful when estimating to get a few people involved, precisely so they will remember all the different aspects of the project and help build out a comprehensive estimate.”

How long is a piece of string?

When it comes to planning and evaluating a project, the three-point technique is much more efficient than wild guesswork. When planning a project, the estimation phase should happen early on, when there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty is high.

A three-point estimate can give a good indication of the cost, duration, and effort that will be required, without tying anyone down to the last cent. For example, if I’m thinking of implementing a new CRM system, and come up with an early estimate that says it will cost somewhere between €20,000 and €50,000 – that may well be all the information I need if my budget is only €5,000. There is no reason to get the exact figure because I know I can’t afford to do the project.

Don’t forget all the elements of the job

Other things to note when estimating is that there is a tendency to forget ancillary activities. For example, it is very common for software developers to include the technical tasks, like defining the system requirements and the architecture and writing the software. They may even remember to include an estimate for the testing. But they will often forget to include the effort to deploy and support the system, to create any documentation required by the system users, to deliver training to those users, and the time needed to project manage the whole thing.

It is useful when estimating to get a few people involved, precisely so they will remember all the different aspects of the project and help build out a comprehensive estimate.

The final step is to effectively communicate your three-point estimate. Some clients will just want to see a single number, but it is more useful to walk a customer through the three-point estimate. It will help them appreciate that there are uncertainties and that perhaps they can make some decisions (or set constraints) that will contribute to reducing the effort and cost of the project. This allows the client to see a range of possible outcomes and lets them see the most uncertain – and therefore the riskiest – parts of the project.

The ‘three-point’ is a simple technique but one of the most powerful and efficient you can use. Try it out for yourself and watch the success rate of your projects soar. Article by Pat Lucey, CEO.
Original article available at thinkbusiness.ie.

Kick-Starting a Project | Pat Lucey, CEO and Founder of Aspira

Getting started on a project is tough. Usually people are still busy focusing on other projects that are being delivered, or supporting projects that have just been delivered. For a new project there can be lots of uncertainty and people will tend to procrastinate in the hope that the uncertainty will resolve itself. It won’t.

The challenge is a by-product of the 80/20 rule, which is that 20% of the work takes 80% of the time. For projects, that 80% of the time can be taken up by delays in getting started and delays in getting finished. Of course, it is precisely at this early stage that you need the experts involved – the people who have the battle scars and are best placed to put a realistic set of estimates and a realistic plan together. But because those people are like Hen’s Tech (i.e. extremely rare) there can be pressure on the Project Manager to just get going and use whoever is available to build the plan. Are that approach generally means you are storing up trouble for later in the project. In Aspira, we developed the Project Kick-Start service as a way to accelerate through the ‘getting started’ phase.

Novel Project Tools

We found that by combining a streamlined process with novel use of project management tools, we are able to generate 3 months of progress on a project within 2 weeks duration. Aspira has achieved that degree of acceleration consistently, across different industries and across projects of different size.

The process centers around approx. 2 days of direct engagement with stakeholders. There will be a couple of hours with the project sponsor, a day with the project manager and then a day-long workshop which requires the project team (or relevant stakeholders if the team has not yet been formed). The workshop is focused on building out the project Work Breakdown Structure, with the goal being to define the breadth of the project. This is a hugely important activity as it forces the team to consider all aspects of the project. It often unearths elements of work that people didn’t realise would be required. In parallel with doing that, our consultants leverage the existing project team dynamics to identify a comprehensive set of dependencies, risks, assumptions, constraints and action items to populate the project logs.

One point to note here is the importance of having the right people and right degree of management commitment in the workshop. You cannot just pluck random people from the canteen and send them in. It has to be the right people, with the expertise to answer detailed questions and the influence to make decisions. The biggest commitment for an organization in running the Kick-Start process is that they will commit to freeing up the right people for that 1-day workshop, and that might be a challenge for organisations as certain people can be in demand across multiple projects.

Once we have identified all the work packages we investigate different ways of structuring the project to make it easier to manage – for example by group related work under the same work unit, and therefore minimizing delays and dependencies.

The next step is to use that data to automatically populate our estimation worksheet. This is a tool that uses the expertise of the team to come up with effort estimates for the work to be done, even when there is a high degree of uncertainty involved.

Finding Problems, Not Solutions

We finish up the 1 day workshop by carrying out a risk pre-mortem session. This is a technique where we use people’s creativity not to find solutions, but to find problems (I bet you don’t get asked for that very often!). In other words we get people thinking about what might go wrong. We find taking this approach will lead to a different type of risk getting identified early – the type of risk that people may voice in the canteen but not raise as part of a formal risk identification meeting.

At this point, the participants go home having emptied their brains. Our job is then to take all that data – the work packages, the estimates, the dependencies, the risks, and use them to create a high level schedule (MS Gantt chart) for the project, plus create a RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies). There will be some to and fro with the project manager to get this right, and for smaller projects it might take 5 days rather than 2 weeks, but usually within two weeks we have a project charter, WBS, High Level Schedule and detailed RAID log. This gives the project great momentum, and puts the PM in a position where he/she can push the team to maintain that momentum.

Aspira then provide options to our clients. Sometimes we just stop after the Kick Start and the client PM just takes over. Other times, we provide an enterprise project planning service, where we take the high level schedule further and work alongside the PM to build out a detailed schedule, including resourcing, etc.

One of our clients likes to use the Project Kick-Start approach as a way to evaluate different project options. Rather than just kick off a project, they have us work with their team to complete a Kick start for 2 or 3 different approaches to implementing that project, and then they have lots of data to help them decide which approach is likely to be faster/cheaper/less risky.

Applies across Industry Segments

Hopefully this gives you an idea of how it all works. We have used it for projects in a host of different areas – Medical Devices, Software Development, Natural Resources, Construction, IT, Manufacturing, Financial Services, and we have found that it consistently delivers. I can never predict exactly how any one individual session will go – sometime we have projects that we expect to be straightforward but during the workshop a question is asked which turns everything on its head. Other times there are projects which seem to be full of unknowns, but just getting the right people in the room can bring clarity and structure.

There is an apt saying “A good start is half the battle”. By using Aspira’s Project Kick-Start service, you can make use of a proven technique to get a great start on your project. If you’d like a specific discussion about how this might apply to your project, please contact us at info@aspira.ie – our door is always open to you.