How to manage an unplanned virtual team

 

The advantages and disadvantage of working remotely are well documented.  Some people love to work remotely, and some people really do not like it at all.  But in the current climate it’s a pointless debate – everyone has to do it.  So how can we overcome the challenges when it comes to building a virtual project team when thrust into this unplanned remote working environment?

Solutions to these challenges include:

  • Communication – Project Managers should lead by example by providing regular updates to the team and holding one-to-one meetings using technology that supports video conferencing. Project team members are more likely to follow the good example set by their Project Manager.

 

  • Trust – Trust may already exist in an unplanned virtual project team as the project team will have already had time to work together face-to-face.  But distance can cause trust to diminish fast, so it is imperative that Project Managers take the necessary steps to maintain trust among the team. Holding daily virtual team meetings where each project team member have an opportunity to provide an update to their team on their progress can help maintain trust.  Project Managers should look for opportunities to showcase project team member’s work and give public feedback on a job well done.

 

  • Using an on-line team task tracker where all team members can record their progress and review their colleague’s progress.  This keeps progress visible and keeps people motivated.

 

  • Combat isolation – nurture a strong one-to-one relationship between the Project Manager and project team member, with frequent short video conference calls.  These can help reduce feelings of isolation. Giving project team members tasks to work on together can also foster a feeling of being part of a project team.

 

  • Training is a great way to bring project teams together and maintain team spirit while they work apart. Aspira offer a range of 2-hour online instructor led industry certified training courses which provide a welcome variety to people working from home. https://aspira.ie/project-management-courses/

 

Adapting to an unplanned switch from a co-located project team to a virtual project team will require effort in order for the team to adapt. Technology, such as Microsoft Teams, facilitate a smoother and quicker transition, but Project Managers will need to be patient with their teams and themselves.  Show kindness to your colleagues and help each other stay on track.

Author:  Gillian Whelan, Senior Consultant, Aspira

Cabin Fever? Inject some productive distraction into your day.

Cabin Fever? Inject some productive distraction into your day.

 

Pre Covid-19, my mother who is the same age as the Queen, punctuated her days with early morning mass, swimming at noon and her tri-weekly game of bridge. This added structure to her day, physical activity and social interaction.

Now all that is gone. So, what can she do to inject productive distraction into her day?

She has decided, due to this temporary ‘inconvenience’ as she calls it, that she is going to take up knitting again and is starting with knitting cardigans for her great grandchildren.

If I ever need some inspiration, I look towards my mother; no excuses are allowed.

Now that a lot of us are working from home due to the ‘inconvenience’, how can we deal with the challenges of cabin fever and how can we re-imagine our ‘new normal’?  In addition to taking regular breaks and getting healthy exercise, another option is to inject productive distraction into our day.

One of the best ways we can generate productive distraction is by upskilling ourselves.  Maybe you have been putting off progressing in your own career path and maybe, just maybe, the ‘new normal’ presents you with an opportunity to acquire new skills and re-imagine how you can do better what you have always done.

Aspira Training has also been re-imagining how we do better what we have always done. And so we have taken our Project Management, Agile, Scrum and Business Analyst training course and adapted them to the virtual classroom.

The training is delivered ‘virtually live’ in blocks of two hours, by qualified international trainers, using industry leading collaborative software. There is engaging and interactive assignments to tackle, before, during and after each session.

The training will prepare you to sit the formal certification exams, enabling you to become a formally certified Project Manager, Scrum Master, Agile Practitioner or Business Analyst, and you will have seized this ‘inconvenience’ and realised your ambitions in this ‘new normal’.

Email training@aspira.ie to find out more and start injecting productive distraction into your day.

 

Pre-Isolate your teams – a proactive approach to COVID-19

Image result for Pre-Isolate your teams – a proactive approach to COVID-19

 

Pre-Isolate your teams – a proactive approach to COVID-19

As good Project Managers, we’re always being asked to predict and plan for risks. All of you reading this will have been inundated with emails on your contingency planning for the Corona Virus. One issue we’ve seen is that the focus seems mainly be to make plans for what happens in the case of an outbreak in an office location.

We feel that instead it’s time we got out ahead of these risks. With this in mind, we’re looking at each team we have in a location and reviewing what would happen if there was an outbreak. Inevitably, we would have to quickly execute a plan to have the full staff move to work from home. This could be very disruptive to day to day activities and have unpredictable results. While half-day dummy runs will help, the impact of teams working for a number of weeks is still difficult to predict.

So, to get ahead of the risk we have decided that we would ask a portion of the staff in each department to move to working remotely immediately. With this approach, were there to be an outbreak in the office those already working remotely would not be affected by that outbreak. This would allow us continuity of service while contributing to the community effort to slow down the spread of the virus.

Author:  Colum Horgan, CTO, Aspira

 

Guest blog: Developing an Organisation’s Training Strategy

In any business, the need for a robust company-wide training strategy is an integral part of improving the knowledge and skills of all employees.

In the knowledge economy, the skills and experience of our employees are central to our organizational success. Focused training programmes are key to employees’ development.  By developing a training process that is targeted at meeting the needs of both the individual and of the business, we ensure that standards are maintained and targeted growth is achieved.

Establishing a clear vision of where your company wants to be is a pre-requisite step in order to then identify the training needs and implement a strategy to meet those needs and achieve those longer-term goals.  Well thought-out training programmes will ensure that individual skills are continually improved in areas that align with the company’s strategy. Investment in training increases the employee’s value and productivity and will also be a major contributor to employee motivation, career development and professional satisfaction.

Periodic management reviews should include a Training review, where specific KPIs are monitored to ensure that relevant training is identified, being made available to staff, and actions taken when required.  Staff who understand the on-the-job behaviours and have the knowledge base to succeed are far more motivated and more likely to remain loyal.  This drives greater productivity, efficiency and shorter-ramp-up time for new hires.

Like any educational initiative, training is a long-term investment, and the benefits are sometimes not immediately obvious.  Change will seldom occur overnight, so it’s important that you take time to build and develop a robust flexible training process that can be modified to meet the future needs of the company.

In Hovione, a key aspect of our future growth, encapsulated in our “Strategic Plan FY2020 to FY2024” is our continued investment in Project Management.  PMI Statistics show that while 98% of organizations believe Project Management is crucial to their business success, not everybody invests in a programme to improve the PM capability of their staff.  Not surprisingly, only 34% of low performing organizations make an ongoing investment in PM training.  Conversely, 82% of High Performing organizations make that investment.

Hovione has developed a very positive partnership with Aspira training services, who have put a tailored program in place that allows our staff to gain internationally certified training but also uses case studies and examples directly from our experience.

Aspira helps Hovione by bringing international best practice coupled with local insights – it’s a powerful combination.

Author:  Donnacha Ryan, Training Co-ordinator, Hovione.

Aspira offer a range of training options, which can be found here. If you would like more information on any of our capabilities, get in touch with us at info@aspira.ie

The Importance of Upskilling

 

The Importance of Upskilling

Learning new skills is critical in today’s knowledge and project economy. To ensure your high performing teams consistently deliver on their objectives and realize benefit for your organization, you need to continually invest in their skills.

In today’s rapidly changing world with constant introduction of new technologies and innovative ways of doing things, the option of whether to upskill or not no longer exists. It is imperative for business growth. The competitive edge of your business will be defined by the ability and competence of your team. Many will wonder “what is my return on investment?” after investing time and money into employees’ skills. It comes down to showing value in them, which will lead to considerable generation of:

  1. An engaged workforce.

This is really crucial in any organization as it has a significant impact on how effective and productive your workforce is. Worker engagement is an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals and will be seen daily in both their work ethic and your organization’s overall performance.

  1. Higher Retention & Lower Absenteeism.

When you upskill your team, it will be reciprocated in terms of their loyalty and service to your organization. Empowering and training your team will lead to workplace happiness and thereby increase retention and lower absenteeism.

  1. Happy Customers.

This will ultimately lead to happy customers. The enthusiasm of your workforce will reach your customer base, who will then spread the word and your business will increase.

  1. Increase in your bottom line.

The biggest benefit will be in the overall financial performance of your organization. Sales will soar, productivity will increase and your reputation in the marketplace will grow.

So you see, upskilling your workforce has many positive outcomes. If you haven’t put a training plan together yet for your team, please call Aspira who will help you to put a developmental plan in place.

 

Article by Norma Lynch, Head of Training at Aspira. For more information on how Aspira can help you with all your upskilling needs, contact us on info@aspira.ie or call +353 21 235 2550.

 

 

Four things to never say on a conference call

 

In a globally-connected environment, one of the ways in which we often communicate is via conference call. While there are many advantages to this technology, it can also be the setting for what some might see as less-than-ideal phone etiquette.

With that in mind, here are four things to never say when you’re on such a call – whether with colleagues or customers!

  • I was on mute – can you repeat that”

This usually happens when you are asked a question but you haven’t been paying full attention.  Being on mute means others cannot hear you – but you can still hear them!  Saying this is an admission you were ‘multi-tasking’ and not paying attention.

  • “I know you cannot see this diagram and this spreadsheet, so I will describe them…”

If you need to discuss a spreadsheet or presentation over an audio conference, make sure you share the said file with participants in advance of the call, by email, if need be. Aspira can also advise you on conference call software that will allow real-time screen and file sharing so you can work together more efficiently.

  • “I need to move the next call to 3am on your local public holiday”.

Be sensitive to the location and timezone of your participants – try to restrict calls to a time that is reasonable and be aware of local public holidays.

  • “I’ll just put you on hold as I’ve another call coming in”

Remember  – when you put people on hold they will hear pips, or tones, or even music.  Don’t subject the rest of the conference call attendees to these unwanted noises while you take another call.  If the incoming call is important, drop off the conference bridge and then join back in later.

 Aspira has delivered Consulting and Technology solutions into 24 countries – we know what it’s like to conference!  Talk to us if you have technology project needs at www.aspira.ie.

Bringing sexy back to Project Management

 

I was recently lined up to do a live radio interview on a national broadcaster business show. As he was introducing my interview segment, the show host said, “And next we’ll talk to Pat Lucey, the man who’ll explain what makes Project Management sexy”.

And for the next couple of minutes as the ad-break ran, my mind was in a whirl.  Is Project Management a sexy career?  If so why?  What can I talk about…

Thankfully, when the interview started the discussion went down other avenues, as I talked about Aspira’s consulting and technology business; how we help organisations deliver their technology projects so that they can reap the benefits of digital transformation, and have confidence that their Aspira colleagues will ensure their projects get delivered.

Afterwards I reflected… what is the sexiest career?  I have to admit that for me the answer is to be an astronaut!  Since I was a small kid, I fantasised about that career and when Norah Patten – Ireland’s prospective first astronaut – spoke at the Ireland Project Management Conference in 2018, I was a total fan-boy.

So, could Project Management compete on the sexiness scale of careers.  Over to my Google search page to seek the definition of sexiness.  Once I got past some inappropriate options, I found a nice definition – to be sexy something must be exciting, appealing and attractive.  So let’s apply the test:

What could be more exciting than turning ideas into reality?  It is the Project Manager that takes a notion, a vision, a dream, and finds a way to make that dream come true.  Overcoming obstacles, thwarting opponents, and delivering the treasure at the end – the Project Manager is a modern day Prince/Princess Charming.  10/10 for excitement.

Is Project Management an appealing career?  One measure is just how much in demand are Project Managers today.  Aspira provide Project Management consultants to our clients internationally and we can say without fear of contradiction that the market is crying out for good Project Managers.  In some market regions, the demand is 7:1 – in other words for every Project Manager there are seven roles vying for his/her attention.  10/10 for appealing.

Are Project Managers attractive?  In order to be a Project Manager you must be an optimist – you must see the power of the possible, and you must have deep faith in the character of people.  These are really positive and attractive qualities in any individual.  Throw in the fact that all Project Managers are really handsome and good looking people, and you have to award 10/10 for attractiveness.

So there we have it.  After a deeply scientific analysis, I have proven that Project Management is indeed a very sexy career choice.  In fact I bet there are some astronauts who are now looking to switch to join us PM types…

Article by Pat Lucey, CEO of Aspira. For more information on how Aspira can help you with all your project management needs or to find out more about a career in project management, contact info@aspira.ie.

How Santa demonstrates the need for Effective Change Control

How Santa demonstrates the need for Effective Change Control

Most parents know the feeling. Your darling child has decided what they want from Santa. In many cases, they want the latest almost-impossible-to-get toy (I still have the scars from Buzz Lightyear supply unavailability!).

But Santa’s elves are magical and so they eventually source/steal/build the required gift, and all is ready for Christmas. Until your beloved child announces at the last minute that they’ve changed their mind and now want something completely different – but equally elusive – from Santa. And now disaster beckons…

Welcome to the world of the Project Manager where you have just been hit by ineffective change control!

So, here’s how Project Managers prevent this from happening – three simple steps to Change Control your Santa list.

  1. Set a date to approve the content/scope/list

Requirements will change as more information is consumed so we have to agree a milestone where the list is signed off. The natural milestone here is when the letter to Santa is posted. Because of the volume of requests, it is advisable to get that letter in early.

  1. Agree a process to accept changes to the list

Let your child know that due to global supply chain issues and new regulatory restrictions covering elf work practices, it may be desirable to make some amendments to the Santa list.

These amendments can be sent by email, from the parent’s email account.  This gives some flexibility for change as Santa operates an Agile process.  However, Santa may not be able to accommodate all requests as he is only able to grant your child a late request if another child has changed their mind in the ‘opposite’ direction. So, no guarantees.

  1. Explain that Santa knows best.

Sometimes Santa may decide to give a child a ‘free upgrade’.  So instead of bringing the present the child asked for, he’ll bring an even better present. What a great surprise!

And because Santa knows each child so well, he’ll know exactly what kind of surprise they deserve.

So, this Christmas, put the Change Control process in place and enjoy the sweet scent of satisfied stakeholders upon delivery on Christmas morning.

Article by Pat Lucey, Aspira CEO.

 The team at Aspira would like to wish all our clients, partners and friends a merry Christmas and we look forward to working with you in 2020. For more information on how we can work together, email info@aspira.ie

21st century challenges for insurance companies in Ireland

 

The digital era presents a number of challenges for insurance companies, not least in IT and data management. This blog explores some of the most pertinent IT challenges facing Irish insurance companies.

Operational Resilience

No company can totally guarantee the security of its IT systems. We cannot assume that insurers are immune to the service disruptions that have beset other industries. Both conduct and prudential regulators are sniffing around operational resilience. We will need better IT, more sophisticated governance of incidents when they occur, and multiple ways of keeping in touch with customers.

Public challenges to insurers’ use of data

Data systems salesmen routinely exaggerate the benefits of big data, particularly in industries they don’t really understand. In contrast, our regulators understate the benefits and overstate the risks. There is of course a trade-off between improved products and services and access to customers’ data. It is all too easy to expect the benefits of big data – tailored services, quick delivery, greater choice – while objecting to the data processing that makes all this possible. Insurers need to think for themselves about the ethical standards that should be expected in the industry, and then explain the consequences to regulators and customers alike.

Squeezing the middle of the value chain

The trend of obtaining services from a Managing General Agent when seeking Guaranteed Issue insurance and platforms in savings, both point in the same direction. Market participants are looking for capital light approaches to insurance. Taken to its logical end, this trend leads to a wide variety of intermediaries with direct access to customers and a much smaller number of very large international capital providers, closer in nature to reinsurers. There is little room for the traditional carrier in this model. It also definitively breaks the link between consumer protection and prudential regulation.

Dominance of large data providers

Uber has not destroyed taxis, and Airbnb has not destroyed hotels. Instead they have exposed huge levels of demand, which was not previously met. There is great potential for digitalisation to tap currently unmet needs for protection as well as to provide access to policyholders.

But who will do this? Large American data providers are unlikely to want to become insurers, if only because the returns, in such a highly regulated industry, are not attractive to them. But they can extract returns by controlling distribution from just outside the regulatory perimeter. They will also be able to offer other services linked to insurance in a way that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) makes very difficult for insurers to do. By the time regulators notice what is happening, they could be in a very strong position indeed.

The disappearing retail customer

Digitisation allows customers to fragment their insurance cover and choose only the bits they are really interested in. For instance, instead of comprehensive motor cover you have a pay as you drive approach (until the arrival of driverless cars ushers out personal motor insurance all together). Instead of contents insurance, customers can protect only those items they really care about or would find difficult to replace. The trends point to a world where personal insurance is a relatively low value item, increasingly replaced by a broader offering of catastrophe insurance.

Over-regulation

Last but not least, and returning to Brexit, the UK is in competition with other jurisdictions, to provide a good location in which to do insurance. Beyond a certain point, higher standards do not attract business. If conduct regulation gets in the way of easy contact with customers, they will move outside the regulatory boundaries. If prudential regulation demands too much capital, risks will be placed overseas.

Article written by Stephen Hegarty, National Sales Manager at Aspira. To find out more about how Aspira works with insurance companies, contact info@aspira.ie.

 

Getting the Fundamentals of Project Management Right

“How do I get the fundamentals of project management right?” is an interesting question clients often pose. In our experience, to get the fundamentals right, businesses need to address three things – people, processes and technology.

 People 

All project stakeholders need to have an understanding of what the fundamentals of project management are, and specifically the role and responsibilities they each have in delivering projects. A project manager will need an in-depth technical knowledge of the 10 PMBOK knowledge areas, Integration, Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Resource, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholder Management, whilst also having strong leadership skills, and a good knowledge of, and expertise in the industry and organisation of the performing project. Training, formal classroom based, and on-going on the job training, is required to address the need for technical project management skills.

A project sponsor or steering group member will need to make sure that only the right projects – those most closely aligned with strategic objectives – get the green light to proceed. They need to ensure that the benefits a project is expected to deliver are understood by the project manager and team from the start, and drive the project manager and team onwards always in the pursuit of harvesting as many benefits as possible. They also play a key role in governing a project, with primary focus on the four corner stones of all projects; Scope, Schedule, Cost and Quality. Perhaps most importantly for a project manager and project team, the sponsor must also offer, and be available to support, the project team when required.

The project team are responsible for the duties assigned to them by the project manager, for following the agreed upon project management processes, for producing quality deliverables within the constraints of the project, and for identifying risks and opportunities to improve project management processes.

Aspira offer industry recognised and accredited project management training to project managers, project team members and sponsors.

Processes

Processes for delivering projects, from concept through to delivery need to be defined, documented, understood and agreed upon by all key project stakeholders. Top-down management agreement and support of these processes is vital to ensure the successful embedding of any process. Once the end-to-end project delivery processes have been defined and agreed, a strong governance framework is required to ensure the processes are consistently being followed by project stakeholders. Often businesses struggle to identify what the right end-to-end project delivery processes and supporting governance framework is for them. The consulting team in Aspira can help in this regard. We work with clients to identify end-to-end project delivery processes and supporting governance frameworks that make sense for their business, and assist in the roll out of these processes.

Technology 

Technology is often the first thing that a business will look at as a solution to getting the fundamentals of project management right, and although technology advances have seen incredibly smart portfolio, program and project management tools enter the market, technology will only be fully effective and embraced in a business when the people and process gaps above have been addressed first. Technology advances have resulted in the introduction of tools that can now make decision making, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing projects much easier. With so many companies offering cutting edge technology to streamline and improve how projects are delivered, it can be challenging for a business to know what is the best fit for them. Aspira has worked with many clients to help them identify the technology solution that best suits their needs. We capture clients requirements, identify suitable technology and vendors, evaluate and provide recommendations on the technology solutions that best suit our customer’s needs.

Article by Gillian Whelan, Project Manager at Aspira. To find out more about how Aspira can improve your team’s project management, contact info@aspira.ie

Part 2 – Common issues project teams face – and how to overcome them

In the second of our two-part series, we look at some other challenges facing project managers and how best to manage conflict and change. By confronting these issues – and therefore improving project outcomes – you can boost your own performance, and benefit other team members in enhancing their own career development.

  • Project managers have to see beyond daily priorities, business as usual or personal glory. They need to deliver positive change for the entire organization that they are working for and consider how all parts of the project fit together. They also need to understand that project team members may have their own day jobs. For a project team, this means being able to think beyond your own area, about how you fit into the wider change programme or project and how you impact the end client’s or key stakeholders experience. This is about business sustainability and long-term success. Everyone is busy, but just being busy is not enough. Long-term project success requires long-term thinking.
  • Change is constant and unless carefully managed, it can be detrimental to teamwork and results. Change starts and ends with communication. Whenever you think you’ve communicated enough, you need to communicate some more – and it needs to be interactive: listen, talk and involve. Be aware of the change curve, or the four predictable stages of change: denial/resistance, emotional, hopeful, commitment. Each stage is needed, but how long someone stays at each stage can be managed and kept to a minimum.
  • Silo working is a reality for many project teams. Team members may sit side by side but not really work together. A great project team can be like the three musketeers – all for one and one for all. So if you are in a team, you may as well really be in it. Working together in earnest is about making the most of the fact that you are a team. Honour your time and efforts by seeing yourself as a full-time member of the team, not just an individual contributor. Imagine how great it would feel to be part of a team where everyone is thinking of the team and not just themselves – make that project a success by working together.
  • Conflict or a difference of opinion can be healthy and, if carefully managed, can trigger useful debates. It can make people think differently, expanding knowledge and insight; innovation can happen and results flourish. Different opinions are not a bad thing. It’s how we handle the conflict that makes a difference. Conflict should be seen as an opportunity, and a sign that people genuinely care about the outcome of the project.
  • A project team has a brand, an image and a reputation created by the actions and behaviours of the team members. A large part of the perception is driven by how well the team delivers on expectations and promises made. As a project team, you need to make sure that everyone understands and takes responsibility for their roles in creating the perception of the team. This includes both what is delivered on the project and how it is delivered. The brand should also reflect personal job satisfaction and a sense of mutual achievement in delivering a successful outcome.

 

Article: Russell Moore, Head of Resourcing  For further information please contact russell.moore@aspira.ie

 

Common issues project teams face – and how to overcome them

The very definition of a project manager’s role means that human resource challenges are often underestimated, in the hope that they will just disappear – which they rarely do. It is sensible to be proactive instead, and address any issues head-on. In this way, it’s much easier to create a successful project team, that will enable the PM to deliver their objectives efficiently. In a two-part blog series, we will list some of the most common problems that project teams face, starting with trust and teamwork.

  • Trust is crucial to teamwork, and it starts with people knowing each other both personally and professionally. Every good team has a diverse mix of skills and personalities, and team members need to be well acquainted, particularly in projects where tensions will run high at some point. It’s crucial that team members understand each other, otherwise, they won’t want to engage because they haven’t made that human connection and established mutual trust with other.
  • Knowledge is not power – unless it’s shared. Project team members all bring a unique set of skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom to the table. Effective project teams fearlessly share regularly and generously for the benefit of everyone and for the benefit of the project’s success. This makes the capability of the whole team grow and gives the team more power.
  • Team engagement is crucial to business success. If engaged, team members on a given project will be interested in what they do, committed to the project mission and willing to go the extra mile. They are there in body as well as mentally and emotionally. The key to engagement is involvement – by involving others you make it impossible to stay detached.
  • Without transparency, trust will suffer – both within the project team and with all other key stakeholders. Transparency is considered normal in project management, particularly on Agile projects and expectations are growing. It starts at the top: the more senior you are, the more responsibility you have to be a role model, and ensure that your own actions and objectives are transparent. There is no room for hidden agendas in the modern workplace. Employees will follow the leader’s behaviours, good or bad. When this is done well it can have a positive cascade effect when companies undertake new projects. The PM is a component of this overall leadership model.
  • To walk in the same direction, a team needs to know where it is going or what it is contributing to (vision) and why (purpose). Spend time on this with your team. This clarity provides a framework and ‘reason to be’ that can rally any given project team to work together. Keep in mind that visions need to be compelling and purposes meaningful. People respond to the importance of both. If you want to create a great project team, pay particular attention to behaviours. How we behave has an impact on others and affects how they behave. It’s when we change our behaviours that we can achieve transformational change.

 

Article by Russell Moore, Head of Resourcing at Aspira. To find out more about how Aspira can help your team achieve its potential, contact Russell.moore@aspira.ie