Tag Archives: Project management

Project Management – Successful implementation.

No two projects are the same. But all successful projects share a similar set of processes and procedures, or methodology, for keeping on track and on budget. Here are eight elements of a successful project.

1. Scope and deadlines are defined up front.

“During complex projects, it’s easy for team members to miss seeing the forest through the trees,” says Catherine Roy, senior manager, PMO, HOSTING, a managed cloud services provider. “Before kicking off any project, make sure that the client, stakeholders and team members know the exact scope [and] that they aware of all critical dates.”

2. Project lead and sponsor are established on Day 1.

“Have the client clearly identify the project lead (day in and out point of contact) and project sponsor at the initial implementation meeting,” says Ellen Craig, vice president, consulting services group, Unanet, a provider of project and resource management software. “By identifying these roles, the client understands who will be responsible for day in and out activities and who owns the engagement. Also, if the sponsor leaves, the client must identify a new sponsor.”

3. Team members have the right skill sets and work well together.

“One key to delivering a successful project is identifying a project team that meshes well with that of the client, both professionally and personally,” says Thalia Ortiz, director, project management for Omnigon, a digital consulting firm. “Given the time spent together, both in person and remotely, it is critical these teams not only collaborate well but enjoy working together, which is especially key in crunch times,” she says. “In post-project client feedback surveys, our clients often tell us how much they enjoy working and spending time with us.”

“On more complex implementations or engagements, I’ll specifically request certain resources whose skills and expertise I have leveraged on past projects,” says Roy. “I also tap resources I know I can count on to deliver results within the project scope when the going gets tough.”

4. The project schedule is realistic.

“Mistakes are often made when you or your team are tired and overworked; [so] be realistic about [the] schedule,” says Roy. “It’s also important to let clients and stakeholders know in advance when a project will require additional budget or resources in order to meet their completion date,” she says. “On many occasions, executives set completion dates without realizing the overall impact on resources. I’ve often had to push back (oh so nicely) at the beginning of the project and manage their expectations.”

5. Has a (software) system for keeping everything and everyone on track.

“Research has shown that project management software substantially increases the likelihood that projects are completed on time and on budget,” says Rachel Burger, project management software expert, Capterra, which helps companies find the right software. “For example, Capterra found that project management software significantly improves final product quality, the number of products on budget and the number of projects completed on time. There is even industry-specific project management software, like construction management software,” she notes.

The key is to “use tools [software] that make administration and reporting simple,” says Scott Bales, senior director of customer success at Replicon, a provider of timesheet software. A good project management system should be “easy to run [and provide] real-time reports. Setting up projects and tasks should be easy and obvious by pointing and clicking.”

In addition, a good project management software solution should “have built-in intelligence that anticipates what you need to get the work done” and allow you to “see team productivity, compare actual costs versus original budget, quickly understand overall status, and process and approve expenses immediately,” he says. “And as you proceed with new projects, historical data is readily available to help you make more accurate forecasts.”

6. Project details, team members and clients are kept up to date.

“It’s a fallacy to think that project planning happens only at the start of the project. In reality a project is a dynamic, living thing that is constantly changing,” explains Liz Pearce, CEO, LiquidPlanner, a provider of project management software. “Agile project managers do iterative planning and daily stand-ups with their team to keep team communication strong while also staying on top of issues, roadblocks, changes or risks that might send the project off track.”

“A project manager needs to ensure that there is transparency within the team and [with] stakeholders throughout the duration of the project,” adds Jose D. Canelos, project manager, program management, Centric Digital, which helps businesses with user experience and operational processes. “A common issue in projects is [team] members not receiving all the details. By ensuring transparency,” that is, by making sure all team members are kept up to date, not only do you build “trust within the team, which helps projects more than people think, but in the event of an issue, everyone can take action to ensure the project continues down the successful track.”

“Maintaining positive, frequent communication with clients is [also] paramount to a project’s success,” says Ortiz. “At the onset of every project, one of the first points discussed is preferred mode and frequency of communication. “Some clients prefer daily status calls; other prefer weekly. Some prefer dashboard reports; others prefer portfolio. We are completely adaptable and flexible to their needs,” she says. In addition, “our client management team has regularly scheduled conversations with their counterparts to get a sense of overall relationship health and to ensure all expectations are being met, and in most cases, exceeded. We [also] hold recurring ‘State of the State’ presentations with clients to ensure they are abreast of overall industry trends and as they relate to the current engagement.”

7. Team members are empowered to make decisions.

“A primary project manager is required for direction and accountability, but the roles of decision maker, organizer and communicator need to be embodied by every team member,” says Ray Grainger, CEO, Mavenlink, a provider of project management software. “To be effective, empower each member of the team to make strategic decisions. This allows the project as a whole to be more nimble, and to make many necessary pivots that will ensure the overall success.”

8. Problems are faced and fixed head-on (not shoved under the carpet or ignored).

“As with life in general, project management can be messy,” says Roy. “While it’s true that some days you want to stick your head in the sand and pretend that last meeting – the one where the client changed the project scope after 6 months of work – never took place, it’s best to deal with issues ASAP,” she states. “Some issues may require the project manager to use their influence in order to solve a problem or get a decision made. In most cases, action taken sooner is better for the overall success of the project.”

“When projects go off the rails, the first step is to accept responsibility and forget about blame,” says Jeremy Sewell, principal collaborator at Firefield, which offers software consulting, design and development services. “You can go back and evaluate what went wrong later.” The important thing is to “get a clear picture of where you are versus where you need to be and identify what decisions need to be made and by whom to get there.

Project Management – Best methodologies for IT Projects

Types of Project Management Methodologies

There are several project management methodologies available, some of which are generic and can be used for a wide variety of projects, while there are others that focus a particular area. Let’s have a look at the key PM methodologies.

1. PRINCE2

PRINCE2 is an acronym for Projects IN Controlled Environments) and is a process-based methodology that was originally developed for use by the UK Government but is now widely used across all industries and sectors in the UK and around the world. This methodology is based around having distinct manageable project stages with approvals required between stages and planning based on the delivery of defined products. It’s a flexible methodology that can fit many different types and sizes of projects which is why it is so widely used. Although PRINCE2 is commonly adopted for IT projects, it doesn’t work well with development projects which tend to be more effective with Waterfall, Agile or Scrum.

2. Waterfall

Waterfall is a linear project management methodology that is typically used in the development of software programs and applications. A plan of action is developed, which is executed in a specific manner. Generally speaking, a project that is managed using the waterfall approach, comprises of eight process phases, including conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation and maintenance. Each process flows downwards into the next process which is where the methodology gets its name. The Waterfall project management approach provides you more control, but it is highly inflexible.

3. Agile

Agile is a popular alternative project management methodology that enables project teams to react unpredictably to sudden changes or unknowns during project scoping or delivery. This is especially beneficial when working on software development projects that typically involve lots of iterative activities. The structure is similar to Waterfall although each process stage in Agile is referred to as a Sprint and like Waterfall, follows a sequential sequence from one process (Sprint) to the next. Agile isn’t typically adopted for IT infrastructure projects although it is becoming more popular for these types of projects. It lends itself better for software and web development and remains to be one of the most popular methodologies in this arena.

4. Six Sigma

Six Sigma, which has been around since 1986, isn’t recommended for use with IT projects as it’s a methodology designed to provide techniques and tools to support process definition and improvement. Six Sigma lends itself well to business process and change projects and is focused on the quality of the output as opposed to providing a structured set of phases or stages, as is found in Waterfall, Agile and PRINCE2. The methodology follows a defined set of steps that each have targets attributed to ensure that the quality of the outcome reaches the desired level. Like PRINCE2, Six Sigma can be used across many different sectors and industries although it is especially well adopted in the manufacturing industry.

5. Scrum

Scrum is iterative in nature and was actually developed based on the Agile methodology. It involves formation of small focus groups that work independently and report to the Scrum manager who evaluates the progress and reprioritise any backlogged tasks. The Scrum methodology builds a project environment based around collaboration, innovation, self management and flexibility. Organisations that adopt a Scrum approach typically have a ‘business side’ and a ‘technical side’ to the project meaning greater levels of involvement and ultimately a better, more tuned product. Scrum isn’t recommended for IT infrastructure projects but works extremely well for software and web development projects.

Project Management

In Scrum, a project starts when an individual – the client – or a group of people – stakeholders – realise that end users have certain requirements which can be fulfilled by developing a project that can best satisfy their needs.

The objective is to deliver a product which has been designed and developed exactly as per the vision seen by the client – What an ideal product should actually contain, or consist of.

The primary reason for developing a project is to earn out of it, therefore it is necessary to reduce operational overheads and keep other expenses in check. One of the best ways of developing a successful project is to develop it as per the client’s needs and to keep to delivering product features on a consistent basis. Moreover, the client is invited to remain closely attached with the development process and confirm the features developed by the team. As a result, the client remains satisfied with how the project is proceeding and offers valuable suggestions from the end user’s perspective.

This can further add on to what the project proposes to deliver in terms of its business value. At the same time, care should be taken to develop those features which have a certain market value or business worth. When useful product features having high business values are developed, tested, corrected, and delivered to the client at regular intervals, the project automatically acquires a certain business worth. Scrum proposes to do this in the best possible manner.

Every project needs a vision to steer itself in a proper direction. A properly envisioned project provides a definitive path that can best fulfil the project’s objectives or goals. If a project lacks a clear vision, it will deliver a product that is not as per what the client has envisioned at the project’s onset. This can seriously hamper the product’s potential to earn when it is launched in the market.

In Scrum, a project can successfully deliver a profit-making product only when the project vision is clearly seen, and its goal are precisely defined and followed by the entire team. A vision, and its goal are separate entities, and it is important to know how they differ.

What is a “vision” in Scrum?

Visions are basically a reflection of the thought process and are abstract in nature. Visions are different from dreams, in the fact that they are not based upon fantasies and whims of an individual’s inherent desires. A vision can be best understood as an aspirational description explaining what an individual, or an organisation plans to accomplish or achieve in the near or long term future. A vision serves as a guide for choosing the current as well as future course of actions.

In Scrum, the project starts when a client feels it is possible to develop a project that can fulfil certain end user requirements. Most often, the client is a market-oriented person, and has a clear understanding about what users need in the form of a working product. The client “visions” the project in his or her mind, and later conveys that vision to the product owner – a person appointed to represent client’s interests, and support his or her vision by developing a product release that closely resembles the working product “seen” by the client. Therefore, the vision fundamentally defines the process used to design and develop the product.
How should a vision exist in Scrum?

Project development and its success are affected by several factors. It is, therefore, important to have a vision that can sustain throughout the tenure of the project. So what is it that can sustain the vision on a continued basis?

Keep the vision “visible”. Ensure that the team “sees” and understand the project vision at all times.

Review the vision at regular intervals. What was envisioned much earlier on – is it practical and viable now?

Can the vision change itself, or adapt to changing market conditions and end user requirements? Does the project vision have enough scope to change itself?

What are goals in Scrum framework?

In simple terms, a goal can be understood as an observable and measurable outcome, or result, of one or more objectives required to be achieved within a certain timeframe. Goals are what the vision targets. The vision focuses upon accomplishing something and the “something” aspect actually defines the goal.

Goals are what Scrum proposes to achieve. The framework defines the project goal in the form of a master list containing all features required to develop the product in entirety – the product backlog. The backlog fundamentally reflects the product vision, and functions as a backbone for the entire project development process. As per the Scrum process, product backlog items having high business values are selected for development from the product backlog, and fully functional, shippable product features are delivered to the client through product incremental cycles known as sprints. So, it is the project gaol that eventually delivers the product.

Principles characterising goals in Scrum

It is important to have clear goals if product features are to be effectively developed. Ideally, what should goals be like in Scrum? What characteristics should they have to ensure that the final product developed by the team satisfies the business objectives of the project? It is worth knowing what can make goals more effective and meaningful – SMART:

S = Sustainable
Is it possible to sustain the goal and follow it? If necessary, can the goal be broken down or changed so it can be easily developed?

M = Measurable

Is it possible to measure the goal, or count how much of it is developed using a tracking process or check-in system?

A = Attainable

Is it possible to attain the goal? Can the team develop the product features effectively without any bugs?

R = Realistic

Can the goal be realistically achieved? Is it humanly possible?

Team Building and Leadership

Let’s face it, being a leader is not an easy task. You have to balance maintaining work relationships with meeting deadlines, and walk a difficult boundary line between friendship and authority with your team. We’ve collected a list of seven character traits that we think every truly great team leader needs.

1. Decision Making Prowess

A good team leader is able to make tough decisions, even if it means she’ll be putting more work on herself or the team. This means always having an accurate assessment of the situation, all possible outcomes, and which choice will be the best for the company, the team, and the client.

Your team should be able to recognize that you made your decision while taking everything into account. Sometimes, that might mean that the chosen path goes against what they were hoping for because of the overall benefit. Your decision should be made in such a way that there is no question that it was the best choice for all parties involved.

2. Good Great Communication Skills

Without communication, a leader is nothing more than a figurehead. In addition to being able to communicate with the team about his decisions, a good leader is able to discuss any sensitive issues with the team without the situation becoming awkward or demanding.

Leaders need to be masters of both written and vocal communication, and know when each method is appropriate. A team-wide memo to ask how everyone is doing today isn’t appropriate, nor is a text message to update the team on a complete change in project scope. Switch those two around and we might be getting closer.

3. Honesty and Openness

If a team member has an issue with a decision that was made, he should feel welcomed when bringing his concerns to the team leader’s attention.The project manager needs to be able to back up the decision with facts and as much decision-making discussion as is called for.

Not every decision needs to be aired in the open with all of its contributing factors. And that’s just fine. But when there is available information that can help your team understand and come to terms with a situation, it pays to keep them informed.

4. Positive Outlook and Attitude

As any sports coach knows, having a positive attitude can completely change the game. Similarly, the attitude of a project team leader can have a huge impact on the team.

If you receive an update from the client that puts you in a bad mood, expect your team to pick up on it even if you don’t verbalize the situation. And surely if you do, you can reasonably expect productivity on this project to suffer since your attitude will be reflected in your team’s outlook as well.

5. Confidence

A great team leader will be able to make tough decisions and communicate effectively with the team, even if things aren’t completely rosy. When the team sees a confident leader, they won’t question the project direction. On the other hand, a team leader that second-guesses himself will eventually foster a team atmosphere of doubt as well.

6. Inspiring and Leading by Example

In addition to confidence, a team leader should be able to inspire her team to achieve a higher goal than they might have thought possible. If the project manager has lofty expectations but also sets an example that these goals can be reached, the team will see that example and strive to emulate it. However, a team leader that doesn’t set an example will see her team disregard suggestions and expectations because there is no one to show that it can be done.

If you expect your team to show up on time, don’t stride through the door five (or thirty) minutes late. You can always try to justify why your actions don’t mirror your expectations of the team (I was busy with a client!), but by setting an example that is not in line with your expectations of the team, you’re setting yourself up to be ignored.

7. Delegating Effectively

The final piece of the leadership matrix is the ability to delegate. This works in conjunction with the other 6 traits we listed here.The leader must make the decision to delegate the work and then communicate that decision to the team members. This inspires the team members, as well as shows honesty and confidence in their work, and that the team leader is optimistic that they will achieve the level of work quality that is necessary to succeed with the delegated tasks.

How many of these leadership qualities do you possess? Have you tried to consciously work on them at all as you’ve become a more experienced team leader? Start working on at least one of these every week, and you and your team will notice improvements immediately.

Communicating with your boss!

HOW TO COMMUNICATE BAD NEWS TO YOUR BOSS – SIX TIPS

I don’t have to tell you that not everything at work is always smooth sailing. Sometime things are delayed, mistakes are made, wrong numbers are published. It may be your fault, it may be a bad circumstance, or a combination of both. What do you say when your boss wants a progress report and things are not going so well?

Well, not all is lost. Just because something negative happened or is happening with your work or your project doesn’t mean you cannot salvage the situation with some good communication with your boss. Here are six tips of how you can communicate bad news to your boss to minimize its impact and bounce back quickly.

Prepare for your meeting – spend some time to do some introspection and analyse what led to this bad news. Be prepared with answers to the following questions – What happened? What went wrong and what have you learned? What do you plan to do going forward to fix the issue? What help do you need from your boss? Your boss may not ask these questions but you may want to guide the conversation this way in the meeting.

Don’t lie – During the meeting, don’t even think of lying and saying everything is fine. Your boss will find out eventually. The worse thing you can do is keep your boss in the dark. If she hears the bad news from her boss asking questions about what went wrong, you have just blindsided your boss making her look bad and digging yourself into a bigger hole.

Stick to the facts, be diplomatic and accountable – communicate to your boss what happened factually and try your best not to point fingers at anyone. The moment you start pointing fingers, you will look more guilty. Instead focus on stating what happened and what you think went wrong. If you think you are partially responsible, come clean and state that. By you stating you know what errors you made, you minimize the work for your boss and shows that you are already learning.

Don’t blame it all on yourself either – It also doesn’t help to say it’s all your fault. Most bad news are affected by a bad judgment call, circumstance, or lack of information. Be fair to yourself and others.

Listen, Listen, Listen – Once you have communicated the bad news, pause to listen and make sure you answer all questions or concerns. She will ask questions so she feels like she can communicate what happened to her boss effectively if needed.

Don’t dump the problem on your boss. Discuss how you will solve it moving forward-Even though she asked for progress, every boss that hears bad news also wants to know how you plan to fix it going forward. So once you are done answering her questions about what happened and what went wrong, don’t end the meeting there. Come prepared with a plan of how to move forward and what help you need from her to turn things around. This way the meeting will end on a positive note and you are part of the solution to the problem at hand.

This kind of conversation is always nerve-racking, but remember no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. The key is catching that mistake early, proactively communicate the bad news, be accountable and most importantly focus the conversation on how to turn things around going forward. Good luck at your job!

Team Building

The following are eight quick tips to motivate your team:

1. Everyone Has Motivation

Your employees are motivated on some level. It is your job to find the level of their motivation and move your employees to the next level.

2. Listen to WIIFM

I wake up every morning listening to a very important radio station, WIIFM. I hope you do too. WIIFM stands for What’s In It For Me? To truly be a motivator, you must always be in tune to your employees’ WIIFM. Find out why it is beneficial for your employees to do a task, etc. Once you find out the employees’ motives, you find out how to motivate them.

3. It’s about Pain or Pleasure

Motivate your employees toward pleasure or away from pain. You motivate toward the pleasure by providing recognition, incentives, and rewards for doing a good job. You motivate away from the pain of a corrective action, losing a position, or doing a poor job. The key to this motivation is to be consistent with all your employees at all times.

4. Give Me a Reason
Do it because I said so! Well, with our educated workforce these days, that doesn’t work anymore. Employees like to know why tasks are being requested of them so that they can feel involved and that the task has worth. Let your employees know why doing the task is important to you, the organization, and for them.

5. Let Me Understand You

Take time to show sincere interest in your employees as people. Understand what your employees are passionate about in their lives. What are their special passions? What are their personal needs? What brings them joy or pain? What are their short-range and long-range goals? Once you understand the answers to these questions, you can move them to a new level of motivation, because you cared enough to ask the questions and show interest in their success. Once you understand your employee’s needs and goals, they will take more interest in understanding and achieving your goals.

6. Make Me Proud

Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Give your employees the opportunity to be proud of their work. Reward team members publicly for a job well done. Give them an opportunity in a team meeting to explain how they accomplished the job. Have your organization’s Director, President, Vice President, etc., give recognition to these employees by personally sending a note, recognizing them in an organizational or team meeting, or creating a “Hall or Wall of Fame” recognition for employees that really have gone beyond the call of duty.

7. Expect the Best

Expect the best and your employees will rise to that level. How do you do this? You do it with the words you use. Are you expressing positive expectations, or are you using words (kind of, sort of, we’ll try, we have to, we haven’t done that before, and that will never work) that communicate negative expectations? What does your body language say about you? Does it say, “I’m ready to take on any challenge, and I expect you can also;” or does your body language say “Please don’t give me another problem. I can’t handle it.”
Do our recognitions and rewards move our employees to do their best? Do we consistently communicate our standards and expectations for the best? Do we coach our team to always do better?

8. Walk the Talk

Our employees model our behavior. If we are confident about a major change in the organization, our employees will follow our behavior. If we come in late and leave early, guess what will happen? Remember, even when you don’t think someone is watching…they are always watching. Set the example for others to follow.

Apply these eight simple rules of motivation and you, too, will have the skills to motivate your team to be inspired, innovative, self-directed, and highly productive employees.

Why you don’t need Certifications to succeed in Project Management

Why you don’t need Certifications to succeed in Project Management

Year after year, I am told by colleagues, articles, pop up adverts and project management certification providers that I need to get PRINCE2, PMP, AMP etc etc. Frankly, I was too busy listening to my MP3 collection to take notice. In going from a £27K salary to a £200K package in 7 years within project management, I have no PRINCE2 or whatever project management certification is in vogue. How can that be? How am I earning multiples of what other project management professionals earn by being less certified than them?

First of all, why do people get certified? For any of these three reasons:

Companies and the jobs they advertise tell you that you need them in order to apply for certain roles
People feel they will learn something useful from it and become more effective
Because people need the validation of a ‘certification’
Now, #1 and #2 are based reasonable assumptions but a little later I am going to tell you how to deal with them but let’s discuss point #3 first because it’s a dangerous one.

Consider this.

Do you actually think a 2 to 5 day course followed by a test to get a certification is going to transform you into a Project god?

Will it boost your ability to do the job better?

Heck no!

If the Jones’ are doing it, so should I

What is happening is something called an ‘Availability Cascade’ which I will let Wikipedia define as:

‘A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse i.e. “repeat something long enough and it will become true”.

Let’s look at some famous examples of availability cascade.

Ever heard of the American Dream (to ‘make it’ in America)? Have you ever suggested Cereal is the perfect breakfast food? Have you ever paid three month’s salary to buy a wedding ring?

Well, the ‘American Dream’ was a marketing campaign by Finance giant’s Fannie Mae, the most successful marketing campaign in history because it created a trillion dollar mortgage industry. An industry that went on to fuel the 2008 subprime crisis (I’m simplifying) and further the income inequality gap.

Breakfast Cereal was a residual marketing campaign by Kellogg to sell their product, which nutritionists now are telling us, is absolutely horrible for our health!

Three months’ salary to buy a diamond ring is a marketing campaign by DeBeers the Diamond maker, nothing wrong with their blood diamond or price fixing history.

As with most consumerism campaigns these were ideas and products created and popularised to sell things to people who didn’t need them.

Let’s look at the history of PRINCE2

In the early 90’s a few UK government departments (you know, the sort that invent bureaucracy) decided to spend money formalising project management by creating a framework.

There are lots of pros and cons of doing such a thing but always a questionable endeavour when it was done with the taxpayer’s money.

The framework, which to be fair was not half bad was then rolled out to other departments and some project managers lived by it and others just carried on doing whatever they always did before to get things done. Most PM’s fell somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

Now, since a sizeable proportion of the Project Management community are Contract staff i.e. they mosey off in to the sunset from project to project, company to company. Many would take this new buzzword laden framework to the Private sector and lord knows how much HR in any sector love them buzz words.

Some project managers, the overzealous kind, began to demand this certification in their new hires and slowly over many years, many projects, and many personalities an availability cascade was created and now it’s almost a given, when you see any ‘Project Management’ job, you will see a requirement for PRINCE2, PMP, AMP, BLAH etc.

Not because having it has value, but because having it is part of ‘the game’.

The Player vs The Game

Only the most zealous project managers insist upon the entirety of PRINCE2 to be used and the moment you start to fit your project in to the bounds of a framework that was developed for a specific purpose (Government projects) then you are ALREADY mismanaging the project.

However, PM’s on the whole, certainly the good ones are a solid common sense driven bunch and in my decade+ of working on projects, I have not worked on one project which closely resembled those methodologies.Reality, pragmatism, politics, personalities and budgets cause us to diverge.

Now, I did say PRINCE2 is not half bad.

I was taught PRINCE2 by an early mentor who did the course but didn’t insist his hires have it, instead he would spend an hour walking new team members through the most salient and usable parts of it in the context of the project we were delivering at the time.

This is how these frameworks should be utilised because frankly everything you need from them can be looked up on the fly. I am happy to compensate the creators of these frameworks as I already have by purchasing their books and using them as reference points as and when I feel a Project I am working can benefit.

We simply don’t need exams and tests which just test our ability to regurgitate the concepts. I’m not denigrating the ideas and concepts from PMP, MSP, PRINCE2 etc. They are good solid ideas. We can learn from ideas and introduce concepts. I have worked on tiny micro projects and £1Bn+ Transformation programmes and everything in between in my career and not ONCE have I seen the complete usage of any one particular methodology. Because they are ideas, they are academic. Academics will only ever help you to a small degree in a real world situation.

Application is everything.

Focusing on career brilliance will give you great CV bullet points, but focusing on CV bullet points will give you career mediocrity

Certifications are like gaffer tape for fixing that IKEA wardrobe you put together poorly, certifications are like the Instamatic tummy tuck 3000 for those who need to get trimmer and so on, they pander to your ‘I feel good because I am doing something I think is right’ psychology but the reality is they won’t affect you in a meaningful way. You’ll feel good because ‘you got it out of the way’, but you will soon realise that it hasn’t actually made a difference and that’s when that heart breaking feeling will settle in.

But still, why the hate? ‘I mean FFS its 3 days out of your whole career’ is what colleagues would say to me?! ‘Just shut up, do it and play the damn game.’

Well, I’m not going to. Stop playing other people’s games, play your own games.

Spend your life bending to the world’s generic ideas or create value for the world so it bends to your brilliance.

3 days for the sake of a bullet point on your CV might not be much to some but to me, it’s a great deal

3 days is what I spent learning how to automate PowerPoint (with a good level of VBA in place already), this is a skill that I used to negotiate my rate by an extra £50 a day (£12K extra a year) on one contract.

3 days is what I once spent researching 5 Managing Directors before I got in touch to offer them my services at solving specific problems they were having, one of those materialised in to a £140k contract.

I can go on but you get the point.

A focused 2 to 5 days can have an incredible impact on your career, but you need to get to the heart of what is essential.

The absolute best way is to get mentors and ask them the right questions but that’s a whole series of articles!

So how do I deal with the incessant need for Certifications when going for new jobs?

Now, as I promised I am going tell you how I deal with the objections of companies and managers who insist you have these certifications. Here’s my exact phrasing in an interview.

‘I am highly experienced at using the concepts of PRINCE2/PMP/AMP(whatever) when delivering projects, but my experience over the years from speaking to colleagues with the certifications led me to believe that gaining the actual certification itself didn’t add any extra value in my ability to deliver projects, but again I refer to the handbook as and when’

For me, this has ALWAYS been met with a nod of agreement.

Just in case it ever doesn’t get an agreeable response that’s actually a great thing because you’ve just identified the overzealous manager that you DO NOT want to work for so run away and don’t look back.

by Sohail Anwar

Starting a new business!

People ask me all the time what is the one piece of advice I have for starting a business. My answer is that there is no one answer to that question as there are many things that make a business successful.

Looking back on my career, here are five that I have found to be the most valuable and have helped me gain the most traction.

Do Your Homework

One thing I stress everywhere I go is the absolute necessity to understand your market. That means studying your competitors, the condition of your market, where the market is going, the average lifetime value of your product, EVERYTHING.

The ironic thing is, the moment you think you know everything you realize how much there still is to learn. The greatest entrepreneurs are those who continue learning no matter how great a level of success they have achieved.

This concept I call “doing your homework”, and it is something that has helped me to adapt when FUBU was hitting the valley of its seven year cycle. It was from this studying and doing my homework that gave me the foresight to make the move into acquiring other brands like Willie Esco and Coogi so we could keep the wheel turning and maintain our revenue stream.

Stay Singular in Your Focus

Regardless of what your particular niche may be, you need to stay singular in your focus. You need to understand that just because you are successful in one market does not be you will be successful in another.

I learned that in a rather abrupt lesson from Phil Knight when I called him up one day asking him if he was getting into the hip-hop market. He very clearly stated to me that the sports market was his focus and that he had just hit the tip of the iceberg… then he hung up on me.

That is the kind of focus you need to have and why Nike has achieved such a high level of success.

Your Competition Is There and You Don’t Even Know It

One piece of advice I give to entrepreneurs all the time is that someone else is always working to take their place. They also need to know that however hot their brand may be at a given time, there will always be a new brand to come in from a different angle to take their place. I think this is very important as it keeps an entrepreneur on his or her toes. It sure keeps me on my toes!

Understanding Your Distribution Model

I always say distribution is key. No matter what you create, if you have no eyeballs on it and nobody is purchasing it, what do you have?

You need to know your lane, whatever that lane may be, and take advantage of the full level of distribution within that niche.

You need to be narrow and deep, never wide and shallow. Find your customer base and get respect from them. If they believe in you, they will continue to buy from you. If you try to be everything to everyone you will spread yourself too thin and you will have no loyal customer base.

Your Weakness Is Your Greatest our Strength In Disguise

Lastly, and most importantly, I have been telling entrepreneurs for a very long time that their greatest strengths lie in not what they have but what they don’t have. It is all a matter of perception as what you may think is your biggest weakness can actually be the spark to the fire that fuels your success.

Why the Best Leaders Have Conviction.

Why the Best Leaders Have Conviction

Conviction in a leader is an incredibly valuable yet increasingly rare trait. It’s in short supply because our brains are wired to overreact to uncertainty with fear. As uncertainty increases, the brain shifts control over to the limbic system, the place where emotions, such as anxiety and panic, are generated.

This brain quirk worked well eons ago, when cavemen entered an unfamiliar area and didn’t know who or what might be lurking behind the bushes. Overwhelming caution and fear ensured survival, but that’s not the case today. This mechanism, which hasn’t evolved, is a hindrance in the world of business, where uncertainty rules and important decisions must be made every day with minimal information.

Craving Certainty

We crave certainty. Our brains are so geared up for certainty that our subconscious can monitor and store over two million data points, which the brain uses to predict the future. And that isn’t just a neat little side trick—it’s the primary purpose of the neocortex, which is 76% of the brain’s total mass.

Our brains reward us for certainty. If our nomadic ancestors were anxious about where their next meal was coming from, finding it would result in increased dopamine levels in their brains in addition to a full stomach. You get the same rush from listening to music that has a predictable repeating pattern or from completing a puzzle. Predictable activities satisfy our craving for certainty.

Great Leadership Requires Conviction

In business, things change so quickly that there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year. And uncertainty takes up a lot of people’s mental energy and makes them less effective at their jobs.

The brain perceives uncertainty as a threat, which sparks the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that disrupts memory, depresses the immune system, and increases the risk of high blood pressure and depression. These are things no leader wants her team to endure.

Leaders with conviction create an environment of certainty for everyone. When a leader is absolutely convinced that he’s chosen the best course of action, everyone who follows him unconsciously absorbs this belief and the accompanying emotional state. Mirror neurons are responsible for this involuntary response. They mirror the emotional states of other people—especially those we look to for guidance. This ensures that leaders with conviction put us at ease.

Leaders with conviction show us that the future is certain and that we’re all headed in the right direction. Their certainty is neurologically shared by everyone. When leaders have conviction, people’s brains can relax, so to speak, letting them concentrate on what needs to be done. When people feel more secure in the future, they’re happier and produce higher quality work.

A leader who can demonstrate conviction will be more successful, and so will everyone she works with. Amplifying your sense of conviction is easier than you think. The following traits of leaders with great conviction will show you the way.

They’re strong (not harsh). Strength is an important quality in a leader with conviction. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead. People need courage in their leader. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show strength themselves when their leader does the same.

A lot of leaders mistake domineering, controlling, and otherwise harsh behavior for strength. They think that taking control and pushing people around will somehow inspire a loyal following. Strength isn’t something you can force on people; it’s something you earn by demonstrating it time and again in the face of adversity. Only then will people trust that they should follow you.

They know when to trust their gut. Our ancestors relied on their intuition—their gut instinct—for survival. Since most of us don’t face life-or-death decisions every day, we have to learn how to use this instinct to our benefit. Often we make the mistake of talking ourselves out of listening to our gut instinct, or we go too far in the other direction and impulsively dive into a situation, mistaking our assumptions for instincts. Leaders with conviction recognize and embrace the power of their gut instincts, and they rely on some tried-and-true strategies to do so successfully:

They recognize their own filters. They’re able to identify when they’re being overly influenced by their assumptions and emotions or by another person’s opinion. Their ability to filter out the feelings that aren’t coming from their intuition helps them focus on what is.

They give their intuition some space. Gut instincts can’t be forced. Our intuition works best when we’re not pressuring it to come up with a solution. Albert Einstein said he had his best ideas while sailing, and when Steve Jobs was faced with a tough problem, he’d head out for a walk.

They build a track record. Leaders with conviction take the time to practice their intuition. They start by listening to their gut on small things and seeing how it goes so that they’ll know whether they can trust it when something big comes around.

They’re relentlessly positive. Leaders with conviction see a brighter future with crystal clarity, and they have the energy and enthusiasm to ensure that everyone else can see it too. Their belief in the good is contagious. While this might look natural, leaders with conviction know how to turn on the positivity when the going gets tough. Positive thoughts quiet fear and irrational thinking by focusing the brain’s attention on something that is completely stress free. When things are going well and your mood is good, this is relatively easy; when you’re stressing over a tough decision and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. Leaders with conviction hone this skill.

They’re confident (not cocky). We gravitate to confident leaders because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things in store. The trick, as a leader, is to make certain your confidence doesn’t slip into arrogance and cockiness. Confidence is about passion and belief in your ability to make things happen, but when your confidence loses touch with reality, you begin to think that you can do things you can’t and have done things you haven’t. Suddenly it’s all about you. This arrogance makes you lose credibility.

Confident leaders are still humble. They don’t allow their accomplishments and position of authority to make them feel that they’re better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they don’t ask their followers to do anything they aren’t willing to do themselves.

They embrace that which they can’t control. We all like to be in control. After all, people who feel like they’re at the mercy of their surroundings never get anywhere in life. But this desire for control can backfire when you see everything that you can’t control or don’t know as a personal failure. Leaders with conviction aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s out of their control. Their conviction comes from an unwavering belief in their ability to control those things that they can. They don’t paint a situation as better or worse than it actually is, and they analyze the facts for what they are. They know that the only thing they really control is the process through which they reach their decisions. That’s the only rational way to handle the unknown and the best way to keep your head on level ground.

They’re role models (not preachers). Leaders with conviction inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders say that something is important to them, but leaders with conviction walk their talk every day. Harping about the behavior you want to see in people all day long has a tiny fraction of the impact you achieve by demonstrating that behavior yourself.

They’re emotionally intelligent. The limbic system (where emotions are generated in the brain) responds to uncertainty with a knee-jerk fear reaction, and fear inhibits good decision making. Leaders with conviction are wary of this fear and spot it as soon as it begins to surface. In this way, they can contain it before it gets out of control. Once they are aware of the fear, they label all the irrational thoughts that try to intensify it as irrational fears­—not reality­—and the fear subsides. Then they can focus more accurately and rationally on the information they have to go on. Throughout the process, they remind themselves that a primitive part of their brain is trying to take over and that the logical part needs to be the one in charge. In other words, they tell their limbic system to settle down and be quiet until a hungry tiger shows up.

They don’t ask, “What if?” “What if?” questions throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, and there’s no place for them in your thinking once you have good contingency plans in place. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Leaders with conviction know that asking “what if?” will only take them to a place they don’t want, or need, to go to.

They’re willing to take a bullet for their people. Leaders with conviction will do anything for their teams, and they have their people’s backs, no matter what. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here,” and they earn people’s trust by backing them up. Leaders with conviction make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that an environment where people are afraid to speak up, offer insights, and ask good questions is destined for failure.

Bringing It All Together

Conviction assures people that their work matters. They know that if they focus all their energy and attention in a determined direction, it will yield results. This belief does more than put people at ease—it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of success.

Project Management

Verify, Validate, Trace & Test
Successful Test Management for Systems Engineers

Designing a reliable test strategy requires broad, strategic thinking. The goal of verification is to ensure you release a best-quality system that meets customer expectations as documented in your early design concept and requirements gathering phases. To maximize the value of your test process, test your product objectives early.

Design a Repeatable, Reliable Test

1. Provide mechanisms to trace tests to product objectives and their associated costs, risks and priorities.

2. Engage all stakeholders (customers, developers, testers, requirements engineers and product managers).

3. Allow large enterprises to coordinate, track and manage many software testing projects and teams across multiple locations.

4. Make it easy to create, view and report linkage between requirements, test cases, test data, test scripts, test results and defects.

5. Ensure your process passes test and requirement data between specialized test tools and requirements repositories in an automated fashion.

6. Support analytics on testing progress and status through dashboards, reports and custom queries—all the data you need for thorough analysis.

Know the Key Elements of a Successful Test Strategy

Prioritize Test Cases for Efficiency and Quality

Prioritize tests by relevancy. Without proper planning, testing can be one of the most expensive phases of the development lifecycle. To determine test case relevancy, trace test efforts to the documented primary objectives of the product or system and prioritize test plans from there. Managing all levels of test cases and maintaining their traceability to objectives and requirements ensures relevancy and prevents costly tests of functionality that may be lower priority or even changed or deprecated from the product.

While many teams may be tempted to cut corners to save time or money, it is important to balance these perceived cost savings and product quality. In the end, if the product doesn’t meet the original objectives, money, time and effort will be lost, not saved.

Realize Value from Your Testing Strategy

The reporting and analysis of your test results must go deep enough to realize the value of your test strategy. You need testing to confirm that you’ve met the objectives of your requirements, and you also need each testing phase to reveal new learnings. New requirements should be captured as part of results analysis, and these should be incorporated into the next phase of product development.

You will realize value from testing by incorporating the results of the test strategy into the product strategy.

Testing is the mechanism that proves whether the product strategy is effective.

Test Early and Frequently to Improve Iterations

Testing in some form at every stage of the development life cycle is worth the effort because it pays off. Although it might be time consuming to coordinate stakeholders, getting the right feedback at the right moment increases your chances for delivering a high-quality product or system on time.

In the early stages of development, performing customer exploratory testing is the most cost-effective way to make sure your product strategy is on the mark. Moreover, fostering collaboration between developers and the customer early on (an Agile best practice) allows for instant feedback and gives development teams the clarity they need to iterate and innovate.

At the end of the development life cycle, conduct system-integration tests to ensure components work harmoniously. Unit tests are beneficial to test various inputs and outputs, performance characteristics and boundary limits, whether you’re building a hardware– or software–based system.

For systems engineers, being able to trace relationships between data types is fundamental.

The problem: Multiple levels of requirements, specifications, and verification artifacts all have their own sets of stakeholders who are architecting, performing engineering analysis, designing, testing or offering feedback and ideas.

The solution: Traceability in Jama simplifies two complicated situations: traceability of data to data, and the people and processes connected to that data.

The result: You can analyze the who, what, where and why of each change and ensure that essential info doesn’t get missed. Here’s how:

1. Connect test cases from problem statements to your requirements and design. If you can’t do this, you can’t be sure you haven’t overlooked something critical. Anything you miss at any stage can, and usually will, result in revisions that cost you time and money.

2. Connect system requirements to business/stakeholder requirements. Same as above: Miss this connection and you’ll risk incurring unplanned expenses that can ultimately affect the launch date, stakeholders’ confidence and the bottom line—all three if the changes affect hardware.

3. Improve decomposition. To make sure that components and sub-components all come together to make a useful, functional system, you need to relate the lower-level requirements to the higher-level requirements. Make a mistake here, and you’ll likely deal with delays as you scramble to put the pieces back together and make late-stage changes.

Add it Up:
Systems Engineering + Successful Test
Management = Fewer Errors, Finer Systems and Faster Launches

Companies can get to market faster when people and data stay in sync on product development activities and deliverables. Jama’s intuitive, virtualized review and approval technology shortens the time from ideation to value creation.