Our CEO Pat Lucey shares his perspective on remote working and facing the challenges ahead

 

I am lucky enough to have a job I really enjoy. As CEO of Aspira I get to meet with many different customers in a variety of sectors. I get to travel to different locations to work directly with colleagues. I get asked to speak at conventions and conferences all over the world.  And then Covid-19 happens and suddenly I’m doing none of those things.

I realise that I am one of the fortunate people who has not been struck down by the virus and who still has a job. I have good internet allowing me to work remotely and have commandeered the room formerly used as the kids’ playroom.  So in the greater scheme of things I am aware that my struggles with remote working are at the very minor end of the scale. I would categorize them under three headings:

People

My primary concern as CEO is the health and safety of our team.  Because most of our roles can be done remotely, we made the decision early on to test our remote working capability, to ensure everyone could connect and work remotely, and then to execute that plan proactively.  Because some of our clients provide essential services, we must also be ready to support those clients should they need on-site emergency work.  We quickly put in place practices and policies to prioritise the safety of our team and the people we deal with, and we are monitoring this on a daily basis.  We needed to setup regular communication with each employee to understand if they had any specific issues or concerns and to ensure we kept communication lines open.  My monthly email to all staff became a weekly email to reflect the fast-pace of change going on around us and let people know how the company is responding to that change.  We set up a weekly “pointless meeting” open to all staff at lunchtime on Fridays, with no agenda, and where no ‘work talk’ is allowed – the idea is to let people stay connected through regular informal chit-chat.

Business Continuity

The next step was to do some contingency planning – for each key role, we needed to line up a backup person and a backup to that backup, and get those people trained up in the event that anyone should become unavailable to work.  Our strategy has been that all our IT systems are based in the cloud, so that makes us very portable and not tied to our physical buildings.  We diverted our office phones and ensured everybody could access their business phone via their laptop.  We also had to look at our international operations and see how local authorities were responding to the pandemic, as each country is taking a subtly different approach.

Looking forward – surviving and sustaining 

We are lucky in that Aspira delivers services across a broad range of industry sectors.  Some of those have taken a big hit – for example our clients in the airline sector are obviously heavily impacted and that quickly feeds through to us.  Clients in the banking, food production and medical device sectors are under extreme pressure and if anything, demand has increased.  But overall we expect a significant hit on companies and economies over the next six months so we must be innovative in transforming our services and developing new services that will be of value to clients.

Through all this time the key thing is to communicate, communicate, communicate – to employees, to suppliers, to clients.  Lack of communication causes anxiety and fear – by communicating honestly and regularly, people will know where they stand and what they can expect.

Here’s to collectively standing together and embracing whatever positives may come from our ‘new normal’.

Author:  Pat Lucey, CEO, Aspira.

How to run a project team meeting online

 

More than ever within the unsettled and remote world we find ourselves living in today, face-to-face meetings are fast becoming the exception rather than the norm.

At Aspira, we have embraced “project team meetings” or “virtual meetings” as I’ll refer to them, as a means to maintain the status quo with our clients as well as with each other. As with everything in life, there are pros & cons to the methods of our interactions.

  • Virtual meetings offer the ability to invite more people; potentially happier people, since attending meetings remotely is usually more convenient than doing so in person; and there is no travel time, which breeds efficiency and helps the environment.
  • Of course, these virtual meetings also pose challenges: distracting noises; side-tracked participants who multitask or tune out; and technology glitches.

As such, meeting facilitators really need to be organised to overcome these challenges and keep people engaged. Here are some tips for overcoming these hurdles and keeping virtual meetings running smoothly based on my own learnings more recently…

  1. Early Login. Make it a habit to dial-in a few minutes early when facilitating the meeting, so you can be ready and welcome your colleagues as they arrive …it’s also professional in my opinion for the facilitator to be present before everyone else, as it would be for a face-to-face meeting…or maybe that’s just me!
  2. Ground Rules / Distractions. Participants should agree on the ground rules, especially if the group meets regularly. For example: Everyone must attend, be on time, stick to a timeline, read the agenda, stay on task. Remind participants to use their mute button, if necessary. Distractions can really ruin a call whether it’s a vibrating mobile phone or a kango hammer outside your window!
  3. The Invitees. It’s difficult to hold a virtual meeting with a very large number of participants, due sometimes to the capabilities of the technology and everyone’s ability to contribute to the conversation. If a participant has nothing to gain or contribute you should really consider why they are involved in the first place?
  4. Socialise. Don’t miss a chance to connect with your colleagues (before starting the meeting or at the end) now more than ever. We are all under stresses due to the current unprecedented situation that is COVID-19, so simply connecting on a personal level can do more than you might realise for some people. I find the pre-meeting chit-chat helps me stay connected and sharing our observations, funny stories or woes can also be very therapeutic!
  5. Face-time. I feel way more engaged when I can see you! Encourage participants to show their faces online (if only when speaking) and by association get them out of their PJ’s and into their casuals!
  6. Objective & Agenda. Always prepare a clear meeting objective and associated agenda. If appropriate, distribute the agenda and other materials to attendees in advance, and explain if/why they need to review them prior to meeting. Be as conscious about people’s time for virtual meetings as you would for face-to face meetings.
  7. Encourage Participation. Asking directly for input really helps team members feel engaged. Seek out those who may not be as vocal but avoid putting them on the spot.
  8. Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings. It is important that you give yourself sometime between meetings…a chance to catch breath, consider the outcomes and actions and to reset your mind for the next virtual meeting. Meeting burn-out is as probable for virtual meetings as it is for face-to-face meetings.
  9. Try to be engaging. This does not mean attempting a stand-up comedy routine, but simply try to make it interesting with lively interaction and even to be conscious of your tone…again, the use of your video will help here as suggested earlier.
  10. Check out action items are in progress. It’s vital in virtual meeting forums that we get clear and actionable outcomes for participants. Remind those who participated the main points of the meeting and the follow-up actions, owners and due dates agreed etc. Everyone needs to know that commitments are being tracked to completion.

The biggest challenge of virtual meetings is to keep people interested and engaged. The suggestions listed are not all encompassing…employ what works for your own team situation and dynamic and adapt as you proceed. Take feedback from your colleagues and make it everyone’s meeting. On look back, many of the suggestions outlined apply to traditional face-to-face meetings also, so the adoption of a virtual working world should not be so difficult, in theory!

Work smart, Stay safe.

Author:  Thomas McGrath, Senior Project Manager, Aspira

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.

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

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

 

4 Reasons to work for Aspira

 

1. You’ll never stop learning
At Aspira, training and development provision is one of our key services. We are renowned globally for excellence in Project Management and Business Analysis Training. We constantly reiterate the need for companies to train up their staff, develop new skillsets among their teams and empower their employees through learning. We are no exception to that rule. At Aspira, we have a company-wide focus on personal development and career enhancement through on site, internal and formal training programmes. All Aspira staff benefit from this approach.

2. Work with a connected community
You will benefit from the support of your colleagues – a team of experts across a range of areas such as Development, Cloud Deployment, Senior Project Management and Business Analysis. Our collaborative approach to work is further bolstered by the opportunity to work in multi-experienced teams to help deliver exceptional projects for our clients.

We have a very present management team who are always nearby to point you in the right direction and offer their advice and support. Aspira staff also have a hands-on approach to company wide matters, having their say in a number of broader business aspects. The only limits at Aspira are the ones you set for yourself!

3. Flexibility and rewards
Our diversity means that we work with a new way of thinking. Our teams enjoy flexible working to allow for personal circumstances and family. Working for Aspira also means flexibility in the clients you work with. We work with some of the best organisations in the country across both the private and public sector. The work is always exciting and never boring!

Our staff are also offered a number of other benefits such as pension, healthcare, training allowance, and paid holidays. Not to mention that our team is considered by many to be a family of sorts.

4. Diversity
Aspira is a diverse, international company. We have people from over 15 different nationalities building their careers with Aspira and we work with global leaders around the world. We offer opportunities to work globally and work on international assignments, so if you’re looking for a new challenge, Aspira might just be the place for you.

Want to work with us? See all current career opportunities on our website here https://aspira.ie/work-with-aspira/

Author:  Russell Moore, HR & Resourcing Manager, Aspira

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.

Professional ScrumMaster course 

Cork on 24th & 25th September 2019