Category: Information Management
The Key To Influencing
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A PMI-certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Arbie has strong experience in successfully delivering a variety of IT projects. He is adept in using various Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) methodologies, including Waterfall and Agile. He is an action-oriented and results-focused individual who particularly thrives in fast paced and dynamic environments. An avid learner, he believes that in these fast and dynamic times, one must truly understand how to learn, unlearn, and relearn consistently.

John Maxwell, one of the foremost Leadership gurus of our time, said that “the true measure of leadership is INFLUENCE; nothing more, nothing less.” While that might sound like an over-simplified definition of leadership, we can all agree that one of its greatest characteristics is how well a leader can influence other people into achieving a common goal. And most of the time, that is how we’ll measure a leader’s success or failure.

Influence is not manipulation
Let’s define what influence is by first defining what it is not. Influence is not manipulation. That must be crystal clear for us. Influence and manipulation is also not to be considered as two sides of the same coin, but rather two different ends of a spectrum. They are, and should be, on opposite ends.

Influence is different from persuasion
Influence must also be distinguished from persuasion. While these two terms can and is used interchangeably, there are certain situations that require a better understanding of these two. Persuasion is presenting a case in such a way as to sway the opinion of others, make people believe certain information, or motivate a decision. It can be used to spur someone to action or to make a decision without actually earning their sincere buy-in .

Influence is…
So, what is influence? Mr. Webster would put it as, “the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen .” With influence, dedicating time to win someone’s heart or earn mindshare is a prerequisite to the process of inspiring them to take action or make a particular decision. Influence is having a vision of the optimum outcome for a situation or organization and then, without using force or coercion, motivating people to work together toward making the vision a reality . Going back to its role in leadership, that is what good leadership is really about: creating change (towards a common goal) without directly forcing (not a command that must be obeyed) it to happen. Or to over-simplify the difference between Managers and Leaders: “Managers can command, Leaders can only influence.”

This is where we, as Consultants, come in. We work, and do our role, best if we are able to influence our clients for the good of their organization. Even if we like to, we are very rarely given the opportunity to issue a command. Thus, influence is our greatest and most valuable asset.

The key to influencing
A key is something that is only useful when in your possession—obviously. It is most useful when you decide to use it to open doors. And your decision to use it is entirely in your control. In studying what (for me) is the key to influencing, I used three important criteria:
1. It must be personally possessed. It can be gained.
2. It creates true and lasting impact, not superficial.
3. It is completely under your direct control. It is not subject to external powers, but is entirely yours.

Trust is what first comes to mind when we think of a key to influencing. Trust between the two parties—mostly by the “influencee” to the influencer. I have no doubt that influencing will not be successful without the trust factor. A certain and comfortable level of trust must be present for someone to be influenced. However, trust is not in the influencer’s control. Trust is earned, not given. Meaning, it is an external factor to the influencer and thus not completely under his or her direct control. Isn’t that always the case? We can’t force somebody to trust us—and when you force someone, does that still count as influencing?

From these criteria, I’ll present to you a thesis that personal integrity is the key to influencing. Take a pause at this point and let that sink in. Integrity is the key to influencing. Think about the people who greatly influenced you, about the leaders that shaped your mindset and character, you stuck with what they influenced you with—may it be ideas, practices, morality, technologies, etc.—because you respected their personal integrity. How quick do followers run away from a leader, when that leader did something immoral? Or acted entirely differently from what they preached? You probably did the same thing.

Action over words
“Who you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. What you do speak louder than what you say; even if semantics-wise what was communicated really made a lot of sense. Can we still influence even when we lacked integrity? Maybe. You might even fake it and still create a very strong influence. But that type of influence is on shaky foundation. Just one peek at the core that lacks integrity, then the influence is gone—along with that person.

Personal responsibility
If trust is what enables influencing, then integrity is the main root that keeps it stable and alive. Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. This is what our clients greatly need from us: the honesty to tell them the good and the bad, without sugar-coating it; the principle that we really do have the client’s best in mind—sometimes even at our loss. Our integrity is something that is entirely in our control, which can only be cultivated by us alone.

Lasting impact
Integrity enables you to take a hit, to be on the disadvantaged end for now, because you know that you are in it for the long term. You want to work and collaborate with a client for years to come, not just a one-off. This is also what a well-meaning client would truly want, somebody they can partner with to produce something better than the sum of the parts. It’s only when you have the integrity will that long-term partnership happens, because no one wants to work with somebody they cannot always trust.

From a client’s perspective
Put yourself in the shoes of a client, or even just your shoes, and think about what you really hope and like to happen during conversations. You’d probably answer that you want the one you’re in conversation with to try to understand you first before recommending anything—that they would listen to understand, not just prepare a reply. It would probably tick you off if they instantly bombard you with suggestions about what you should do or should’ve done before really understanding where you’re coming from. Wait, what does this have to do with integrity?

If integrity is present, then the “seek first to understand, and then be understood” act is a natural response. Because you really want to put the client’s best in mind, you dig deep first into understanding them and not just preparing a response. While this certain act is a good start towards building a solid relational foundation, this instantaneously also creates a win-win scenario for both the client and you. The client will have the peace of mind and confidence caused by understanding that you don’t have a preconceived solution in mind, but rather a better understanding of his problem or what he wants to happen and a catered solution to that—not the other way around. You, on the other hand, will have a better understanding of what is expected of you—your success measure just got suddenly clearer. Don’t you think trust is more easily gained in this situation? Did your influence to the client just increased?

This paradigm could be as simple as: Integrity -> Trust -> Influence.
Because of your integrity, it is easier to trust you, and because of that you increased your influence.

Integrity is the key to influencing. Integrity is fully in your control, other people’s trust is not. It might not be the catalyst or the quickest way to make other people change their minds, but without it, one’s influence is only superficial.



The importance of Stakeholder engagement

 

Pablo Arias

Pablo is a seasoned professional who is focused on delivering high quality outcomes for his clients. His strength is his ability to quickly develop relationships with stakeholders at all levels to find a way through complex issues. Highly qualified with an MBA and over 14 years’ experience in consulting and project management, Pablo has helped his clients in numerous industries including Education, Health, Defence, Telecomms and Finance achieve their business and project objectives. When he is not immersed in solving his client’s most pressing challenges, Pablo enjoys spending time with his children and cooking a variety of delicious cakes and desserts which makes him valued team member for morning tea. He also doesn’t mind a long drive along the coast every now and again.

Recently, I completed two successful projects which involved delivering new technology to the Classroom – but were they really ‘successful’? The business case was approved, the budget and plan agreed with the sponsors, vendors and resources were engaged and there was enthusiasm from the project team about the innovation that would be delivered to students and staff as a result of this new technology.

As the project progressed through design, procurement and implementation, some key business decisions were required from key stakeholders. Fortnightly meetings were held with the steering committee to present project status, issues, risks and to gain input for the key business decisions. What quickly became evident to our project team was a gap in stakeholder engagement and management. What we really needed was a Change Manager – someone who could articulate the project requirements and business benefits and communicate these with the stakeholders to gain their buy-in.

Fortunately, the project was finally able to secure two additional resources to assist with these important change management activities but they were only engaged towards during the end of the delivery phase of the project. As a result, this meant the business deployment activities were delivered in a less effective manner. For example, although training was planned and organised, attendance and participation was poor due to a lack of awareness of the project and its purpose, objectives and benefits.

Similarly, finding willing participants for the trial period proved to be difficult and resulted in some classrooms with new technology that nobody used.

So back to my original question – would you consider these projects to be successful?

Ultimately – the answer has to be no. The expected business benefits of such technology could not be realised if no-one is using the technology.

So what are the lessons learnt from these project examples? Here are my key take-aways;

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of change management requirements in any technology project. Secure a Change Manager and ensure they are part of the entire project journey.
  2. Stakeholder communication and engagement is absolutely critical to the success of a project. This requires regular communication with all stakeholder groups throughout the entire project duration in order to take them on the journey as well. They need to become the ‘owners’ of the business benefits.
  3. Identify some willing project ‘champions’ from the business – these are stakeholders who act as ambassadors for the projects, who are willing to trial the technology and greatly assist in raising awareness amongst their peers.
  4. Regularly publish and promote project communications to provide broader stakeholder groups with key messages about the project, its goals and benefits – another key method to raise awareness.
  5. Finally, it is critical to understand the ‘impact’ of technology on current business processes and workflows. Develop strategies to assist business users to embrace the technology including training, help-guides and on-site support.

So can a Project Manager also undertake the role of Change Manager in such projects? Given the right experience and size of the project, I don’t see why not.

I would definitely be keen to hear from other Project Managers and Change Managers who have encountered similar experiences and hear how you managed stakeholder engagement.



Trust me! I’m a BA
Alex Knipping

Alex Knipping has been delivering business solutions for over 20 years. Armed with a multitude of professional certifications, Alex is a life long learner, with a particular interest in effectiveness and business outcomes. He enjoys passing on these learnings to others, watching him impart knowledge on his peers or in training courses he is running for IMA is an inspiration.

Everyone knows that life gets very difficult when you are not trusted; we’d all like to be trusted at work, and we’d like to work with people we can trust.  So, how trusted are you?  Was your answer ‘Yes, I’m trusted’?  Good answer, but I’d like you to take into account that trust isn’t an all or nothing proposition.  You may be trusted a lot or a little.  How trusted are you on a scale of one to ten?  To calibrate that measure, ten is the most that someone can be trusted.  So what is the most that someone can be trusted?

Perhaps trust is like a bank account balance, with no upper limit.  Regardless of how much you have, you can always earn some more.  That prompts the question, how do you earn more trust.  According to the BABOK, trust is built by demonstrating that you are concerned about the stakeholder’s interests.  Managers and project management will tell us that we build our trust by delivering on our commitments; usually, that is a document with business sign-off by the deadline.  Hence nervousness at signoff time, will their signoff come by the deadline.  If it does you will build your reputation with management…..

My perspective is that if you want to build trust with the business stakeholders, you need to disclose to them what they need to know.  Could you imagine saying at a signoff meeting: “I’m a bit concerned you might not agree to this requirement on page 76”?  It might not do much good for the trust the project manager has in you, but the stakeholder will appreciate it.  It really demonstrates that you have the stakeholder’s interest in mind; after all, you are bringing to their attention something that they need to be aware of, and perhaps act on.  Next time they will trust that what you put in-front of them is worthy of their signature, they might not even review it.  Now that is a demonstration of trust.  It appears then, that there is a trade-off between being trusted by management and trusted by the stakeholders.  Does the business analyst need to balance between those two?

We build trust with the PM when we attain signoff by the due date.  The way to achieve that and have the stakeholders interest at heart is to ensure all concerns have been dealt with or accepted in advance of the sign-off deadline.  I recommend that if you think there is an issue on page 76, point it out to the stakeholder.  But, do everything you can to ensure there are no new issues discovered on that page or any other.  I’m not suggesting that you delete the contentious paragraphs – that is not how reputations are built.  Instead, ensure that all issues are discovered and accepted or resolved well before the sign-off meeting.  Keep a list of issues that different stakeholders may disagree with.  When you meet with them, ensure that the issues most likely to prevent their acceptance of the document are discussed.  If they can’t accept the proposed outcome, there is still time to resolve it.  If the project can’t resolve the problem, the stakeholder may be able to use non-project resources or their influence to overcome the problem – including with the PM or sponsors if tradeoffs are required. At the very least, if the problem can not be avoided, the stakeholder can prepare for its acceptance. By having good communications with stakeholders, all critical issues may be resolved before the signoff.

It takes discipline to raise and work through the issues instead of talking about niceties.  But if you’re passionate about getting the right outcome for the business, and of making the project as effective and efficient as you can, then the buzz that occurs when you absolutely know that the stakeholder accepts the deliverable with full knowledge of its contents is worth the discomfort of sticking to and raising the unpleasant issues.  After all, isn’t that why you are a professional business analyst?  Would doing any less be doing the right thing by either the project manager or the stakeholder?

What do you do if the project manager doesn’t want the issues raised?  If the preferred tactic is to put pressure onto the stakeholder at sign-off time to accept a sub-standard solution so that the project progresses without delays.  Well that is a dilemma.  I can raise risks for each unaddressed issue, but how can I be honest and conceal important issues from the stakeholder.  Who wants to work for a project manager like that?  It is not in the interest of the business and it is not how project managers are supposed to realize the business benefits of the project.  Luckily, those PMs don’t really want me working for them either and I’m free to work with good project managers.

I’d like to hear about how you build trust with your stakeholders?



Project Documentation – Striking a balance
Aneesh web pic for blog

Aneesh started his career in 2007 as a Business Analyst and joined IMA in 2013. He brings tremendous energy, focus and initiative to his job as a Business Analyst. When not solving client’s problems, he spends his time driving around the suburbs occasionally taking out his camera for a snap or two .

Documentation has always been a part of formal project management practices. There are many layers of documentation that get created. The three types that are normally done are:

(a) what is to be built
(b) how is it to be built and
(c) how the project is to be managed.

But often, documentation ends up being a task that is to be completed before ‘actual’ project execution begins.

Many IT projects involve multiple stakeholders and draw upon diverse skill sets of many project team members. The team may include project managers, technical and business architects, business analysts, developers, testers and change managers. The project is often governed by committees whose members may be involved in many projects.

Team Members

The members of the team then interact as required with the client who itself might have a hierarchical set up for approvals for requirements, testing and deployment. The role of each member of the project team and the client varies at each stage of the development life cycle and the stakeholders must make necessary adjustments as their roles changes.

Project Management Office

PMOs usually ensure that projects are well managed by implementing project management standards and procedures and often mandate various project management documentation in the belief that all well managed projects need them. The detailed documentation of the schedule of activities and expected outcomes/deliverables with timelines provide immense value from a management perspective. Mandated documents and their structures enable anyone familiar with them to quickly find information relevant to them on any of their projects. It provides an easy frame of reference for any project team member to assess his own role in light of a plan and prepare for the road ahead. Such documentation is especially relevant in projects requiring services of specialised consultants who are called upon in the project at appropriate stages and their roles could be limited to that particular stage. The project and programme management is also clear on the artefacts that are to be expected at any point in the project life cycle which results in efficient deployment and utilisation of project resources.

Other

However, there are cases where projects with comparatively smaller budgets generate these documents for the main reason of complying with the PMO and in the process spending scarce time and budget in documentation. There have been instances where it consumes a significant percent of the project duration and cost. It may also delay the project implementation in some cases.

So the moot point here is what level of project related documentation is optimal. The most logical answer seems to be “It depends”. The value of such documentation needs to outweigh its cost.

Agile?

At this point I am sure that many of you will think of Agile methodology as a possible alternative because of the preference given to deliverables over documentation. However not all business domains and industries have adopted agile as a preferred model and agile does not suit many projects and businesses.

Consider Parameters

Various parameters of a project like complexity of implementation, budget, duration, headcount etc. could be considered as inputs to derive a subset of the exhaustive list of project related artefacts. This sounds sensible as there seems to be no point in developing a whole gamut of project management documents to develop a website with just a handful of pages whereas it might make perfect sense to have all of the artefacts in a project aimed at developing an online student enrolment system for a big university.

In case of significant overlap of information in multiple documents it would be a good measure to amalgamate one or more of the documents into a single document. If there are various small projects which are executed under an umbrella programme, it might be possible to have documentation at the programme level. This will reduce the number of documents considerably. Projects in an organization could be categorized based on some of the parameters mentioned above and the artefact requirements could be defined for these categories.

To conclude, it is important to strike a balance on the level of documentation is required. For each project, what is appropriate might be different. Each document that is prepared must have a clear answer to the question ‘what is the value it adds’. This paper is only a flagging of the issue and suggesting some directions for change in broad brush strokes. Greater analysis of project management practices and methodologies is required in this area.

 

What I wish my current PM self could tell me as I started out

If you go searching, you will find numerous blogs and web pages devoted to the art of hindsight specialising in “What I wish I could tell my past self” on matters of life, health, love, finance, pyramid schemes, tequila shots….. or almost any topic you want. Some are humorous, some serious, whilst other’s give a sad and strangely overly informative insight into misspent youth and tragic choices. But placing the entertainment and voyeurism to one side, a few truisms find a way to shine through.

  • Time is the most valuable thing you have
  • Make room for failure
  • You can’t do it all alone so stop trying
  • Don’t let the little things get to you

As a project management professional, with ‘enough’ project years to at least argue my credibility to blog on this topic, I believe I have earned the right to indulge in a little hindsight. I also believe that projects by the nature of their personal interactions and communication demands, can and should leverage off any valuable insight into human behaviour that is presented. Therefore what can the four truisms above give to the project world? Or more specifically, what advice for new PM’s can be gained from them?

Time is the most valuable thing you have

As a new PM you are taught that time is one of the ‘triple triangle constraints’ along with scope and budget. What is also often true of new PM’s is that rightly or wrongly you normally have little authority or desire to manipulate the budget or scope, and therefore you will focus your energies on stoutly defending their integrity for most of the project duration. However, one of the underutilised toolsets available to the PM that allows you to directly influence the outcome of the project is the scheduling of the internal tasks. So the message is this.

Embrace the things you have control over (time) and shift some, but not all of your maniacal focus away from those that you do not (budget/scope). Learn you schedule, love your schedule. Learn your critical path and learn any alternatives or contingencies it allows you. Embrace the ability to proactively and reactively adjust it as required. It has secrets to reveal to you if you ask it for help.

Make room for failure

As a new PM you probably fear the prospect of not being able to deliver full scope, on time and on budget as originally agreed, but yet you are still new enough to the game to feel invincible and fully expect to hit all three if you just try hard enough. Sorry to tell you this, but the project world is a complex and dynamic place and you need to re-adjust your rigid view of success and failure.

A university professor of mine taught me to understand the project context of the following statement. “Failure is not falling down. It is refusing to get back up”. So the message is this.

A project is a journey of many parts, and some of those parts will ‘fail’ against the original base line for a multitude of reasons. It is more important how you respond to those difficulties or opportunities and drive the project forward to deliver the end goal than the fact that something ‘failed’. If you ultimately achieve the objective of the project then any events along the way are just part of the journey that you learn from, they are not failures. Live and learn.

You can’t do it all alone so stop trying

As a new PM you are probably still working with projects that mostly cover your field of ‘technical’ expertise, and possibly have resources on the project that you could outperform if you were doing their role. Stop. That is no reason to do the work yourself. It may deliver a more complete or polished result for this project, but it will not help your next one or the ones that follow. As the projects get bigger and more complex, you will be stretched beyond your capabilities to assist at the task level. If you want to be a better PM then focus on the PM role and let the ‘technical’ tasks go. So the message is this.

There are subject matter experts or specialists assigned to this project for a reason. It is their job to deliver the projects sub components. Let them. By all means inspire them, lead them, drive them forward, but do not do the work for them if you do not have to.

Don’t let the little things get to you

As a new PM you can become overwhelmed with the volume of the information flowing and individual events occurring on the project. If you go looking you can find a crisis in anything, and if you stand still long enough any number of crisis will find you. It is the nature of the PM role and you need to give it the respect it is due. However picture this scenario. You are in a forest and you are covered in honey. Sure there are ants bothering you and there are a lot of them, but you tell me if you think the bear eyeing you off as lunch deserves your undivided attention or not.

So the message is this.

Focus on the things that need your attention. It really comes down to accepting that there are only so many minutes in a day, and you have to use them for the best overall value of the project. Learn to know what level of event is worth what % of your effort, and don’t stress the small stuff. There is enough big stuff out there that is worthy of your input.

In conclusion

Whether you are new to the world of projects, or a voyeur on the outside looking in, or like me you are indulgently reflecting on the naive energies of past conquests and possibly some less glamorous results, I hope you can take away some value from the insights of.

  • Learn your schedule
  • Projects are a journey of many parts
  • Let go of the ‘technical’ tasks
  • Focus on the things that need your attention

 



5 tips to manage your time effectively
Martin is an industry veteran, who's career started way back in 1989 working his way through the ranks to now be a Senior Business Analyst for IMA. A quiet achiever, his understated manner doesn't hide his undoubted ability in both business and process analysis. When not exciting our clients you'll find him in in the outer shouting for his beloved Hawks, head down in his garden or working with his other passion, the Hope City mission

Martin is an industry veteran, who’s career started way back in 1989 working his way through the ranks to now be a Senior Business Analyst for IMA. A quiet achiever, his understated manner doesn’t hide his undoubted ability in both business and process analysis. When not exciting our clients you’ll find him in in the outer shouting for his beloved Hawks, head down in his garden or working with his other passion, the Hope City mission

Time – in my opinion, the most precious of all resources.  Every person on the planet is blessed with resources (finance, assets, education, creature comforts) and talents (natural ability, skill, flair, capacity) that seem to be distributed disproportionately in many cases.  Sometimes we inherit riches and assets, sometimes we work hard to acquire them, and often nature bestows various blessings upon souls in a random manner.  The only resource distributed evenly amongst every person on the planet ……. is time.  Every person in the world has 24 hours in a day. No matter how happy, smart, popular, or talented we may be.  Everyone has 1440 minutes in a day.  No more.  No less. What we do with those minutes makes the difference.

We have all wished at some point that there was a way to get more time in a day?  It sometimes seems that we spend so much time rushing from place to place or task to task that we don’t feel as though we actually accomplish very much; certainly nowhere near as much as we would like to.

I have good news!  It is possible to ‘make’ more time by applying some basic time management techniques.  Time management is an important tool to ensure that all necessary activities are accomplished within their allotted time period. We can do simple things like use a calendar, or keep a day planner to schedule specific activities for specific times.  It is also important to determine where time is being lost, and an established routine is the most important tip for managing time effectively.

There are only three things that we spend time on: thoughts, conversations and actions.  Irrespective of the type of business environment we find ourselves in, our time at work will be consumed with these three items.  Frequently, we will be interrupted or pulled in different directions.  Whilst we will never eliminate interruptions, we can determine how much time we spend on them, and how much time we will spend on the thoughts, conversations and actions that will lead us to success.

Whilst the following keys are not all easy things to do, the time invested in learning how to implement them will be well worthwhile; increasing both our accomplishments and sense of well-being.  Here we go ….. 

 1. Realise that we cannot do it all:

 Many of us find ourselves stretched too thin because we have bought the lie that everyone can (and should) do it all.  We should all work full-time, spend quality time with our children, spouses and pets, spend time with our friends, undertake volunteer and community work, ensure we stay fit and healthy, and spend time relaxing and rejuvenating ourselves.This kind of balancing act is best left to the jugglers at Silver’s Circus.  The only thing that truly matters is that we are healthy and happy with how we are spending our time.  We need to decide what roles and activities are important to us, live our lives accordingly, and remember that it is highly likely that 20 percent of our thoughts, conversations and activities will produce 80 percent of our results.

2. Prioritise:

The other part of the lie we’ve bought – that we all can and should do it all – is that everything is equally important.  It’s not.  We should take the first 10 minutes of every day to plan our day, and we shouldn’t start our day until the time plan is complete.  The most important time of our day is the time we schedule to schedule our time.  We must then resist the urge to rush from task to task throughout the day, and instead, calmly review the list of what we have to do that day and pick out the things that are ‘must do’ for that day (trying to keep these ‘must-dos’ to three or less for starters).  Then focus on completing those things; develop the discipline to keep necessary appointments.  At the end of the day, we will have a feeling of accomplishment, no matter what else went awry or distracted us.

Another useful habit is to take a couple of minutes before each meeting or task to decide what outcome we would like to achieve.  This can help us know what success might look like before we start.  Then, take a couple more minutes after each meeting or task to determine whether the desired outcome was achieved.  If not, what was missing?  What can we do differently to ensure our next meeting or task produces the desired outcome?
Finally, a helpful rule-of-thumb can be planning to spend at least 50 percent of our time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of our results.
 

3. Learn to say “Yes” and “No”:

 
The inability to say “no” can be the cause of an incredible amount of misunderstanding and frustration.  Instead of saying “no,” we often say “maybe” or “I might be able to do that” or “I’ll see”, creating the expectation for the requestor that we will do whatever it is being asked of us, and the pressure on ourselves to do it.  Then, when we don’t do it, the person we said “maybe” to instead of “no” is disappointed, annoyed, or hurt.
Let’s make it a general rule not to say “maybe” at all when we are asked to commit to something, but instead learn to make quick decisions and say “yes” or “no” instead.  Then we need to avoid elaborating or giving extensive reasons for our decisions.  A simple “No, I can’t do that” is enough.  The person we are speaking to will appreciate our honesty and our disinclination to waste their time.  And we will be without the pressure to fit in yet another activity or event that we weren’t that interested in anyhow.
 

4. ‘Un-connect’:

 
Another modern myth that we need to disregard if we want to redeem more time, is the crazy notion that we all have to be reachable and ‘connected’ all the time.  We don’t, and in fact, there are times when it’s important or useful to be unreachable to everyone or everything except the person or the task immediately in front of us.
For instance, one of our children may be telling us one evening about a traumatic thing that happened to him or her at school that day, and we are on the laptop responding to a client’s email.  We need to be attending to, and communicating with the person right in front of us, not the one calling us, or sending us email.
So, we need to recognise this and ‘unplug’ ourselves when appropriate; make ourselves the manager of our technology rather than being managed by it.  Don’t read every piece of email as soon as it arrives in the inbox, for example, or feel that we have to personally answer every phone call.  Incoming texts or tweets shouldn’t interrupt us when we are working.  Specific times of the day should be set aside to read, listen and respond to emails and messages.

5. Take time off:

Many people in the business world in particular fall into the ‘seven day trap’.  We can feel that the more time we pour into our work, the more successful we will be in our given role.  Before we know it, we can be working seven days a week and wondering why we feel so frazzled all the time!

And in doing this, are we actually more successful or productive?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  In reality, our success depends much more on what we do and how we do it, rather than how much time we spend doing it; the old chestnut – quality versus quantity.

So let’s plan time off in our schedules.  When we take time off, whether it be just an afternoon or weekend, or a week, we are able to relax and reflect, returning to our workplaces refreshed and more productive, able to accomplish so much more in the time that we have available

No, we won’t magically generate more time in our day when we put these time management techniques into action, but we will be able to manage the time we have more effectively.  In terms of what we achieve and how we feel, that can make all the difference.

 


 

Tips with working with off-site and off-shore teams
Archana is a Project/Programme Management consultant at IMA. She is an established, dedicated PMP and SCRUM Master certified Project/Programme Manager with a demonstrable track record spanning over 14 years in the IT industry. She holds a Masters in Mathematics with Management Studies from the UK. During her spare time Archana enjoys cooking, travelling, running and reading.

Archana is a Project/Programme Management consultant at IMA. She is an established, dedicated PMP and SCRUM Master certified Project/Programme Manager with a demonstrable track record spanning over 14 years in the IT industry. She holds a Masters in Mathematics with Management Studies from the UK. During her spare time Archana enjoys cooking, travelling, running and reading.

Managing and working with any team has its challenges…  Now, take away the proximity and face to face aspect from this equation, and it can get a whole lot harder right?  Yet this is the reality of today’s working environment.

Whatever the reason,  competition, economics or maybe even the need for a readily available talent pool , more and more companies either have to or choose to work with off-site and off-shore teams.

Working with an off-site or off-shore team has its own challenges.  Differences in culture, work ethics and expectations, language, time difference, religious or public holidays and work experiences to name just a few.   These complexities create a minefield of challenges to be negotiated by project/programme managers.  Effective tools to assist with this task are difficult to come by, which is why I have put together the list of tips below that I hope will make this process a little easier, and of course productive.

Awareness of differences within the team

Many years ago HSBC ran a couple of amazing advertising campaigns, “Points of view” and “World’s Local Bank”.  These advertising campaigns show just how easy it can be to misinterpret or misunderstand just about anything.

HSBC advertising campaign – “World’s Local Bank”

 

As an example, in the advertisment, we can see two distinct gestures that were brought up that may seem normal to one culture but not to another. One of them is the trusting of the palm and the other is putting your bare feet on a table.  The trusting of the palm with fingers pointing outwards is commonly seen as a gesture to symbolise a stop sign. However, in Greece, this gesture is highly offensive and pretty much equivalent to giving someone “the bird”.  Similarly, showing the soles of your feet is an utterly rude gesture in Thailand, however not quite so in the rest of the world.

So what exactly do I mean being aware of differences?  On the offset you would imagine that this means just cultural differences but as shown in the HSBC adverts, this is not always the case.  I have had many experiences over the years with off-site or off-shore teams I have worked with where I have been presented with an array differences.  By differences I am referring to all and every kind – cultural, languages, preferences, likes/dislikes, flexible working hours, full-timers, part-timers, life experiences, work experiences – the list goes on and on.

Understanding the differences between all team members is important to maintain good relationships within this globalised world and will take you far in terms of productivity, and visibility into where the project stands (working with off-site and off-shore teams, as with in-house teams, to ensure success we also need to be constantly mindful of the individual personalities within the whole team).  This in turn can then assist with figuring out how best to work with the team individuals and the team as a whole moving forward.

Setting clear expectations

Ascertaining objectives, requirements and roles/responsibilities can be the corner stone of an effective beginning to a project.  A great place to start with setting all project expectations from the off-site or off-shore teams would be in a kick-off meeting involving everyone, perhaps incorporating teleconferencing system.  In my experience, being able to visually see who you are working with is one of the most powerful aids to success down the track.

Every detail required for project success should be explicitly stated and documented in the first instance.  Extensive and detailed design documentation should be prepared for the off-site or off-shore teams as unclear expectations often leads to undesirable outputs.  In addition, ensuring we ask for input from all team members with items that relate to their work at all times ensures that there is full understanding, and buy-in from them constantly.  Finally briefing back with the team to ensure expectations are understood and confirmed will avoid confusion and ensure all team members are on the same page.

Defining hierarchy

What are the project objectives?  What is everyone doing?  Who are individuals working with? Who are the team reporting to?   What are the acceptance criteria that will determine project success?  These are a few of the important questions that need to be addressed right from the start.  They can be answered in an array of documentation but they also need to be addressed more personally, no-one can always assume that all project documentation is even read!

In addition, all off-site or off-shore team members must be made clearly aware of their roles and responsibilities in the project right from the start.  A useful way to ensure delivery and maintain a grip of what is going on may be to assign an on-site team member to lead the team.  With your assistance you will both be able to monitor the activities and requirements of the off-site or off-shore team on a daily basis.

Minimise any misunderstandings

Working with any off-site or off-shore team, equates to a complete lack of interpersonal experiences and this can impact perceptions, how the requirements are being understood and how the team works together.  It is vital that all project concepts are fully understood through the provision of concise documentation, and providing an environment where questions can be asked at any time by anyone.  It is important for the off-site or off-shore teams to understand the requirements, project direction and status at all times.   Useful tools for this (and covered in the next point in more detail) could be to conduct meetings with the use of teleconferencing facilities and sharing desktops to allow a good visual grasp when walking through concepts, requirements and such like.

Communication

Good communication in project teams is the key to everything!  A common misconception is that everyone in the project needs to know absolutely everything; this is not the case and may only add to confusion however this is also down to the individual’s role and their needs.  So in this scenario, the concept of a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix could work wonders, this keeps track of all stakeholders (everyone in the team) and analyses who needs to be aware of what (or who wants to be aware of what), how they contribute and basically tracks communication throughout the project.

As communication is so important, the use of tools to assist with this (but not limited to) is shown below:

 

  • Desktop sharing (TeamViewer, WebEx, LogMeIn etc)– this is a fantastic way to show off-site or off-shore team members exactly what you mean by observing the information real time and as the team discuss/work on it.
  • Teleconferencing (WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting etc) – as mentioned previously, this is a great way to see and interact with the team, very different to being in person but a solid compromise.
  • Document repositories (Sharepoint, Basecamp, Dropbox etc) – it is critical that this is defined upfront; this will allow everyone to have access to necessary up-to-date documentation.
  • Issue tracking systems (JIRA, TFS etc) – provides the ability to log tasks, issues, stories etc and can be shared with the off-site or off-shore team and the local team to create one big picture for everyone.
  • Electronic boards (Kanban boards, JIRA etc) – the use of these tools provides complete visibility into what any team member is doing at any time regardless of their location.

 

Status updates/checking

The need for frequent status reporting is imperative with the off-site or off-shore team, this can form part of the issue tracking system where updates and current snapshots can be accessed and viewed seamlessly in addition to other ways of obtaining the status.  I would also include the use of 360 feedback reviews throughout the project, and regular retrospectives.  What we are trying to understand is both the project status and the team status and vibe.  In addition, as the team is off-site or off-shore, it is a great way to monitor morale, pick up any issues early on and have greater visibility into all the positives.

To summarise, working with an off-site or off-shore team needn’t be mission impossible, following the guide that has been presented can make the experience very positive, productive and enjoyable!  Most importantly, following these steps could very well make the distinction between project success and project failure; I for one know where I would want my projects to sit…

Information Management Insight – What do you know?

I’m not sure about you, but I can be terribly impulsive sometimes. 

John is the BI/DW Lead at IMA. He has over 12 years’ experience working in Information Management and Business Intelligence. John’s work has spanned across multiple industries including Telecommunications, Automotive, Retail, Service, Government, Education, Health Care & Information Technology. He has a Bachelor of Computer Science and Technology. During his spare time John enjoys reading, spending time with friends, bushwalking with his lovely wife, and of course feeding his Xbox addiction.

John is the BI/DW Lead at IMA. He has over 12 years’ experience working in Information Management and Business Intelligence. John’s work has spanned across multiple industries including Telecommunications, Automotive, Retail, Service, Government, Education, Health Care & Information Technology. He has a Bachelor of Computer Science and Technology. During his spare time John enjoys reading, spending time with friends, bushwalking with his lovely wife, and of course feeding his Xbox addiction.

John is the BI/DW Lead at IMA. He has over 12 years’ experience working in Information Management and Business Intelligence. John’s work has spanned across multiple industries including Telecommunications, Automotive, Retail, Service, Government, Education, Health Care & Information Technology. He has a Bachelor of Computer Science and Technology. During his spare time John enjoys reading, spending time with friends, bushwalking with his lovely wife, and of course feeding his Xbox addiction.

Often in my personal life I jump to conclusions, rush to judgement or make assumptions before understanding the full picture (or so I’ve been told). 

Whilst in day to day small things, it might not seem like such a big deal (and probably isn’t), the situation changes quite quickly as decisions become more important and have greater consequences. 

Decisions we make in business today often fall into this area. With the high rates of volatility and change and without the luxury of time, we can make assumptions, jump to conclusions and rush to judgement easier than ever. 

Looking at the decision making process holistically, it can be roughly broken down into 3 stages.

  • Understanding:  Gathering information and analysis
  • Judgement: Critical thinking / decision making
  • Execution: Carrying out actions as a result

So rushing to judgement means skipping quickly through the understanding stage and not gathering all the information that goes with it. By skipping through understanding, we miss out on information to feed our judgement and use assumptions instead. The greatest economic and business disasters stem from decisions made on bad assumptions. 

In any thorough understanding phase we weigh up some of the following about any given situation or thing:

  • What do I feel (fear, desire)?
  • What do I think?
  • What do I believe?
  • What do I know?

Whilst the psychology of human decision making is a fascinating area, overall Information Management is about addressing the last question. 

So what do I know? One definition for knowledge is attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato who defined it as “justified true belief”. So for us to know something, we must believe it to be true, but also have evidence to show that it is. So everything we know must have evidence, otherwise it remains a belief. In effect, evidence is any information that determines the truth of a belief / assertion.

Gathering evidence can be a complicated process. It involves collecting, integrating, auditing, cleaning, validating, storing, formatting, accessing, analysing, and understanding large amounts of information from different sources which may or may not appear to have anything in common.

Once the information is put through this process, it is able to be investigated. This can include analysis of measures trending over time, contexts, and relationships between seemingly separate pieces of information at any historic point in time. It can also be used to form the basis of predicting what could happen next and what if scenario’s. For this information to truly be effective it needs cover all levels of detail, from specific transactions to the department or companywide summaries. With the rate of change occurring so fast yesterday’s information may not be enough to make a good decision today so all of these things need to be continuously updated. This becomes a never ending cycle. On top of all of this the final challenge is how are all these things done and presented in such a way that the decision makers can understand quickly.

Gathering evidence is a complex process and with decisions having to be made all the time, this also needs to be continuous. It is exactly the challenges Information Management is designed to address. Through methodologies, processes, behaviours and solutions, information from many sources can be utilised to build evidence quickly and present it simply.

So Information Management is a core part of making better quality decisions that are based off evidence rather than assumptions. With the amount of information worldwide doubling every 2 years, business decision makers are operating in a continuously changing and complex environment. The need to respond with agility to this environment has now become a basic requirement to remaining competitive.

Next Article

Now that we’ve covered the “why” of Information Management, we’ll look deeper into the “what”. With the next article on the fundamentals and concepts of Information Management based on how the human mind categorises content.