Archive - August 2012

22.08 20120

Summer, Hot Dogs and Baseball…

Summer is almost over.  Long days, hot dogs, and baseball are fading into memories.  The subject of baseball makes me think about the search for excellence.   A baseball team is one of the best examples of how both individual and team excellence are required to achieve great results. On a baseball team, every individual must know his role very well and play his position to the best of his ability.   However, to win the game, every player must not only play their position with an attitude of excellence, but also synchronize his activities to those of the other players on the team.  This synchronization requires having a view into what is happening on the field.  Every play is an unknown.  Each time the ball is pitched, the team does not know where it will go.  The players have to watch the ball and the runners and know to which team member to send the ball at the right time.  Can you imagine if baseball players had to play blindfolded?  What would be the results with no view into where the ball is or what their teammates are doing? Too many times in our organizations, it would seem like we are playing baseball blindfolded.  We have a lot of really excellent individual contributors, but when it comes to trying to synchronize their activities, none of them can see where the ball is to hand it off to their teammates.  Current market conditions require even quicker plays than the past; the creative nature of our projects makes it even harder to know where the ball will go.  The handoffs between players are even more vital.  A clear view of the playing field can help us use our excellent individual contributors to the best of their abilities to achieve team results. As it stands, 50 to 70% of software projects fail.  Eighty percent of the issues related to project failure are attributed to poor communications and ambiguous requirements.  Proper requirement management ties back to effective communication with the customer and members of the team.  Team members, far removed from the customer, often times misinterpret the customer’s needs and have no view into what the other team members are doing relative to the requirements. Last week I attended the Agile 2012 conference, an exciting place for new ideas and business process improvements.  I got the opportunity to speak with leaders at the innovative company Tasktop.  Mik Kersten, CEO and Co-Founder, and Neelan Choksi, President and COO, gave me a briefing about their new product Tasktop Sync.  This product helps to remove the blindfolds from our team members to help them synchronize their activities and win as a team. The benefits of Tasktop Sync for an organization are tremendous.  This solution allows companies to tie together existing ALM infrastructure, reducing the costs related to the adoption of new technology.  From a user perspective, the technology gives the user all the information necessary to do his or her job with unified visibility and reporting for the entire development process from requirements to testing to source code.  Processes and touch points become clearly visible in one view and allow for the management of workflows. Tasktop Sync offers real time synchronization of less than 1-second average time per sync with standard servers.   The tool also provides automated and configurable conflict resolution for data.  Sync supports all artifact types, including tasks, work items, defects, requirements and tests.  No new repositories are created; all data is stored on existing systems. Tasktop Sync ensures that each stakeholder in a project has access to the data that they need within their tool of choice, across requirements management, Agile development and traditional quality management systems. This product helps IT organizations manage the growing number of diverse tools used to manage ALM. The tool acts as ALM middleware and dramatically reduces the need to create point-to-point integrations that are costly and almost impossible to maintain.  If requirements traceability, communication among team members and cost savings relative to tying together your numerous ALM systems are of concern to you, then Tasktop Sync can help you be at the top of your game when you put the ball into play to deliver new software projects.

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08.08 20120

In Search of Merlin

In the legend of King Arthur, Camelot is a symbol of ideal governance. Behind great leaders, such as King Arthur, usually there is a person who helps them along the way with their difficulties and troubles.  Merlin, a magician and prophet, was such a person for Arthur.  Executives often wish that they had the assistance of a wizard like Merlin, capable of magically transforming their organizations into a Camelot, a place of high ideals, excitement, purpose and culture; however, attempting to establish Camelot and locating a modern-day Merlin are very difficult tasks. What does Camelot look like for a modern organization?  In his book The Project Success Method, Clint Padgett offers some characteristics of successful companies.  A successful company is an organization that is more agile than its competition.  The organization can develop and launch new products, technologies, systems and strategic programs more quickly than its competitors.  The organization can open new facilities, complete mergers and acquisitions, develop marketing plans, and stage special events faster than the competition. According to Padgett, in order to establish an organization with such characteristics, companies need to develop the knowledge, skills, tools, and systems that are required to manage projects successfully.  The organization must be sharply focused on quality, time and cost.  The ability to execute projects more effectively, faster, and at a lower cost will allow the organization to be more responsive to customers and give an organization a distinct competitive advantage in a fast-moving global economy. Finding a person with great skill and cleverness running project organizations can be challenging.  All organizations want a person to offer wisdom… and a little magic does not hurt… when times get tough.  How do we know the right candidate to choose?  The right choice can mean we have a place where people come together to celebrate prosperity of wisdom, wealth and happiness, and the wrong choice can lead to tragic consequences for the organization.  When it is time to hire the person to run a very important project for our organization, we need to separate reality from myth. Myth 1: My candidate has taken a project management software course and has learned all that is necessary to serve as a project manager.  Superficial knowledge of project management software does not provide in-depth knowledge of project management processes.  As Padgett states in his book, a fine musical instrument does not make a great musician, but rather, it enhances the skills. Myth 2: My candidate has a project management degree and/or certification that means that the candidate has all the skills necessary to manage projects in my organization.  Applied knowledge is different than theoretical knowledge.  Padgett points out that degrees and certifications are great achievements, but do not insure that a candidate will properly apply the techniques that have been taught. Myth 3: My candidate has 10 years experience managing projects and will be capable of managing mission critical projects for my organization.  Padgett asserts that project managers tend to overvalue past project experience.  As Vince Lombardi expressed, experience is only a great teacher if you have been learning the right lessons. Myth 4: My candidate has technical expertise and will be a great lead for my technical project.  Project management is 90% communication.  The project manager must be the bridge between the organization’s strategic objectives and the tactical implementation of the technical team.  Highly technical project managers may become overly involved in technical wars about the appropriate technology to implement; they must be able to still see the forest in spite of all the trees. The ideal candidate is a good mixture of all of these characteristics.  Ideally, the person has some background that allows them to speak the technical language of the team, while not actually doing the technical work on the project.  Ideally, the person has experience managing projects of a similar size and complexity with a track record of success on these projects.  Ideally, the candidate has formal project management training in the form of a certification and/or degree in project management that gives them a background in best practices and the tools and techniques to use for project success.  Ideally, the candidate has some experience with a project management software tool that will allow them to quickly come up to speed in communicating with the team.  A good mix of all of these characteristics helps to create good project communication and establish processes that can create magic in your organization.

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