How to know you’re doomed! (Not just for the nerds.)

Computerworld published a list: “11 signs your IT project is doomed”. Linked here. Interestingly, all 11 apply to normal-world projects as well. I may be biased because I have had my fair share of IT projects. My experience has been that most of them fail because of “Red Flag #4: Users have had little/no early involvement”. Around my parts, our IT department tries to solve problems we don’t have with solutions we don’t need. Lately I have spent hours in meetings sorting out the misdirection and miscommunication months after implementation has gone awry! In a parallel world, I have also been in a lot of meetings with Customers and Sales folks sorting out project details. My exact words in many of these meetings, “Guys, we cannot deliver it in the time-frame you are asking. Why did you sell that without asking me first, I need another 2 months before we even started.”

How many of these sound familiar to you Project Managers? Has your project…

  • Started without Sr. Management approval?
  • Started without a detailed project plan
  • Had Project Meetings scheduled without the key players involved (ignoring scheduling conflicts)
  • Had End Users not involved in project definition
  • Used minimum specifications as the project requirements
  • Tested as an afterthought
  • Never put a recovery (risk) plan is in place
  • Taken expert input and simplified/tweaked without understanding outcome
  • Committed to a Go-live/deliverable date that is on is on a holiday / vacation day / unrealistic time-frame

If you can say that one or more of these look familiar, there is a good chance that your project is going to struggle if it hasn’t already. But why?

I really want to answer ‘why’ with a simplified summary… but I don’t think that I can. Project Management has been the most difficult and yet most rewarding task that I have ever faced in my career. There is an incredible amount of complexity involve in any given project, with thousands of unknowns and an infinite number of outcomes. There is not one solution, there is no single answer. Project Management (IT or otherwise) is as complex as it is fluid. As a result there is no simple summary of what to do right.

That said; there are solutions and there are proven ways to work through the complex problems. There are best practices that each of us can apply to our field, there are take-aways and lessons learned. In my world, we have Lean/Six-Sigma. It’s not the end-all-be-all solution, but it could address many of the ‘red flags’ that the Computerworld article lists out. The five steps below are the standard steps which address many of the above issues:


Following a rigid process blindly is a waste of time, but following a broad and robust process intelligently can save time, money and headache. What do you think of these ‘red-flags’? Do they sound familiar? How have you addressed or avoided them in your experience?



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Homemade Project Mangement

Checking the potato progress

The broad audience of the Internet has promoted a lot of innovation over the past decade. We can buy classic cars from, old road signs from Ebay, textbooks from Amazon, and handmade handbags from Etsy. You can apply for a Mortgage, check your 401-k, and even email your personal bank about that pesky overdraft fee again. Most agree, the Internet is a blank canvas of sorts; if you can find an interested audience in your innovation, you can make a business out of it.

Interestingly, most of the successful internet businesses started with traditional (Project Management) roots. You have an idea for an audience. You create a business plan. You get financial backing through a bank or private investors. You go live and start selling stuff. Eventually you make a profit and a sustainable business or go under trying. In many aspects, it’s the American way.

Today, the Internet has a new way to get things done called Crowd-sourcing. Which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”. This concept of getting a lot of people together in large masses to crank out product is not really new. If you remember the history of the Automobile with Henry Ford and the assembly line, you’ll know where I going with this. Ford of course had to pay his workers, since his employees spent a significant time doing tasks they we’re told to do (the implication here is that they probably didn’t want to do it for free).

With crowdsourcing, contributors can spend as much or as little time as they feel compelled to do working on a project. They can contribute up to their level of passion, essentially working for free fueled by emotion and drive rather than money and sustenance. Thousands of passionate people working on 10 minute microtasks can total up to thousands or tens-of-thousands of project hours. Ask breakthroughs and goals are made, passion can be reignited bringing more productivity to the project.

Reading the WSJ’s “Kickstarter’s Social Backlash” article (source below) really made me think about this concept long-term. Kickstarter is a sub-genera of crowdsourcing called crowdfunding (a lot of small contributions can add up to large sums of money). Crowdsourcing gives the promoter a way to fund projects with as little or as much structure as the general public sees fit. There is no obligation to the contributor (they’re not legal shareholders since projects don’t even need a corporate entity to sponsor them) so they’re not really on the hook for much. Movies, books, and gadgets have all had huge success funding projects through this means, but most have been able to deliver on their promises.

I know,  it’s a long way to go for a question: Crowdsourcing seems to work well because it is fueled by passion. When you take out the project planning and add in real money, is passion enough to keep crowdfunding on track and going?

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Got Maps?

I know, I know… Many of us in the Business world are sick of talking about, thinking about, and reviewing how good Apple is doing. My CEO says we need to be more like Apple, be the market leaders, innovators… like Steve Jobs. So it is to my pleasant surprise, when an opportunity comes up to talk about Apple’s mistakes, I don’t mind going into detail.

When the first iPhone premiered, it was not Apple’s strategy to make a GPS, nor an infinitely vast search engine. No, their goal was simple; make a phone that worked, was easy and intuitive to use, and make it look amazing. On every account Apple achieved what they set out to accomplish  When they opened the app store, they revolutionized mobile computing. They changed the way software companies could make money on mobile. Instead of tiny banner adds at the bottom of your mobile web browser, you could buy an app that was worth the dollar. One software publisher was there first, Google. Google brought directions and navigation to Apple’s iPhone. Apple liked it, so it was installed by default. It was simple, easy to use, and it worked wonderfully.

At some point in the last few years, Apple has started to control the App space more stringently. They’ve frequently cited security or legal reasons as to why they would deny a software publisher’s right to sell on the online mobile store. Strangely, with the release of the latest phone (iPhone 5) and the newest operating system (iOS 6) they denied Google the ability to publish the Google Maps App (which was free to download and install), and instead released their own version of the Maps App which was installed by default.

In an uncharacteristic move by Apple. The Apple Maps App was downright awful.  It was unpolished,  difficult to use, often sporting inaccurate or inefficient directions to your destination. If you were so lucky to use it on the new iPhone 5, you have turn-by-turn navigation with a friendly voice who would sometimes get you lost. In fact, the navigation of the new app  was so bad that caused a few incidents, even causing Australia to issue a Public Service Announcement to not obey Apple Maps directions as they could be dangerous.

This week, Apple effectively conceded defeat and allowed Google to once again publish Google Maps to the App Store. Within days, Google Maps became the most downloaded App in App Store history. Indicating both that Apple’s Map application was rubbish and that Google’s Map App did not represent a major threat to Apple’s primary business strategy.

So here’s the key question, if Google and Apple are direct competitors, why would they let Google bring their Map App back? If they’re not directly competing against each other, why ever remove Google Maps in the first place? It is possible that Apple thought they could push Google out, and gain market share. Instead, they upset a huge core of their customers who are now delighted that Apple brought back the real Maps App.

You made need a rope before jumping off the Fiscal Cliff

The economy is still not doing that well, the Fiscal Cliff is looming, and large companies still continue to pinch their pennies. So why are many publicly traded companies ready and willing to give their extra cash away? Good question…

In the recent weeks, in the light of the looming Fiscal Cliff where many believe Congress will not be able to reach a resolution and the dividend tax rate will jump (among other things), people are starting to get a bit greedy…or cautious, or weird…and some publicly traded companies are declaring large special dividends to their shareholders, which in some cases also means the CEO pads his pocket too along with all other employee-owners.

The most recent case in the 68 cases known so far is that of Costco. The big-discount, warehouse style retailer just recently announced $3 Billion in Special Dividends to be paid in December bringing the payout to $7/share versus the regular dividend rate of just $1.10/share. This will of course make for many happy shareholders as it will prevent them from paying a higher tax on their dividend returns should the tax rate increase next year. It will also have the effect of reducing Costco’s $5 Billion in cash before any fiscal uncertainty of next year. Experts suspect the likes of Bed Bath & Beyond, Staples, and Williams Sonoma to soon join the ranks (WSJ).

We are also likely to see companies move up their dividend distribution date from 2013 to 2012 to ensure payout to shareholders with the current discounted tax rate instead of risking uncertainty of next year. Wal-Mart is a big proponent of this strategy, and we are sure to see similar stories before the end of the year.

In addition, some market analysts are calling for a bullish market no matter what the outcome of the Fiscal Cliff is. Since Government spending will no-doubt decrease, the bond rates remain flat; the only chance of a strong return on investment is to go with stock. This is playing right into the hands of many mature companies looking to excel in the near-term.

Again, looking at Costco; they borrowed $2 of the $3 Billion used to pay the special dividend, but they also have plans to expand their stores and distribution centers. They are looking to expand business, not decrease it despite taking on some additional debt and decreasing their credit rating from A+ to AA-. The outcome looks the same for other large retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. As investment options narrow, new business strategy takes hold. (Barrons)

As we near next year and the uncertainty of our fiscal policies seem no better defined, these trends will continue for companies that are cash heavy with stable growth. We will continue to see special dividends distributed to aid those favored with stock options, distribution dates moved forward, and stocks preferred over many other short-term investments. Only time will tell how they all fair. (Yahoo)

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