Project Success (increasing the likelihood)

This seems to be a perennial topic of discussion, fuelled by conflicts between objectives and budgets, especially in high-profile applications like Connecting for Health and London 2012.

On a day-to-day level the budgets are smaller but stakeholder ambitions often still outreach them. If you ask people what they want out of, for example, their next-generation web project you will usually get a list that exceeds what they can afford. The standard response is to put one’s head in the sand and hope that all will come out OK. But this is the stuff of project overruns and it will end in tears.

The practical solution is blindingly obvious: phase the project and prioritise the elements of value delivered. If you were building an aircraft you might stop short or delivering half of it on time and to budget. However, most IT projects can and should be delivered incrementally. The ”Agile” crowd argue that you would do this anyway as a matter of good practice. Regardless of your take on that most people would agree that delivering as much as 80% of the benefits in 20% of the total time and budget just has to make business sense.

To do this we can use a simple process. Tabulate key objectives (horizontal) against desired features (vertical) and score (1-5 scale) at each intersection the extent to which the feature will contribute to the objectives. Then do the sums to get a net value per feature and sort the list on value.

Now we can see whether we can identify the 20% of features with 80% of the value. We usually can. Then build a phased plan that delivers as much as possible within the budget constraint.

A work of warning: You want to be able to evaluate success several months down the line so make sure your objectives are SMART.

SMART Objectives at

.. I think they mean Time-bounded.

LinkedIn and XING (Network Application Connectivity)

Which online business network to choose – that’s the question. Obvious candidates are LinkedIn, Xing and ecademy, all of which have nice features. LinkedIn has many more of the people I want to connect with and has very low spam levels so it’s the one I naturally favour. I have thought for a while that it could do with IM and presence indicators like Skype but I can live with using the two in tandem – they don’t conflict.

Xing just announced an API – I know little about this yet but it’s a development I’d been watching for. The existence of an API (and therefore a partner network) on Sykpe is a very strong and useful feature. I have tested the assertion that one can easily interface applications to Skype – my only gripe is that the best documented way of doing this is not cross-platform. I did my first tests in VB to get a quick result but the way forward has to be the Java API.

Wouldn’t it be nice if LinkedIn added an API (cross-platform). This would then be one network checking all the boxes of low spam, strong community and having great integration possibilities. I hear they are also doing well business-wise which augurs well for longevity as well. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Scheduling Meetings

When working in virtual teams (those not physically co-located) it can be difficult to schedule meetings and teleconferences. The temptation is to try to use email and that can sometimes work. However, most of the time this is tortuous. We recently had one of those experiences and wound up excluding people who needed to be involved.

The problem is that, while the initiator is consolidating responses, people’s availability changes. Phoning around is an option but this is timeconsuming, especially for large meetings. We therefore wanted a process that could minimise the cycle:

  • Create a message about the meeting and give a range of possible timeslots;
  • Send to the group with a response form that allows them to select those times when they expect to be available;
  • Automatically present the summarised responses to all involved.

The advantage of this e-enabled process is that there is no separate consolidation step which reduces the cycle time. We’ve built a component for this and are testing it. The whole thing is designed to minimise keying for both initiator and participants.

Government IT – No change there then..

I see that the upcoming conference on Government IT has a good lineup. However, there’s no special price for SMEs who might want to contribute. SME vendors have the magic ingredients of expertise and commitment so badly needed in these important projects. However, the way this works is that SMEs can’t play. See David Craig’s great book “Plundering the Public Sector” for more insights into the way it is. Tranquilise yourself and get used to it.

Introducing Oneself

Went to a session of Jane Hendry’s revived Watford Ecademy last night. The Topic: “How to get more leads through better introductions” by Richard White.

Richard White is not alone in perceiving how poorly we introduce ourselves. He observes that, being typically unmemorable, it’s no wonder that referral rates can be poor. What’s memorable about Richard is that he’s doing something about it, as I saw at this high-speed mini version of his popular remedial workshop for networkers.

The technique works extremely well as we saw in an interactive session where people tested and refined their introduction technique. Not only was it fun but there was a real sense of progress in this important area. I would recommend it to anyone who invests time in networking and would like to get a better return on that investment.”

I’ve been to two of these sessions now. What struck me this time was that as you work with Richard’s formula and try it out on people with different backgrounds you can always find ways to improve. When I get it right I’ll blog the result.

Wider Use of Blogs – Organisation-wide

It may be worth clarifying some aspects of blogs as they can be used inside an organisation to support collaborative activities.

The good news:

You can use blogs for a lot more than “my diary”. e.g. Why not raise a blog of an event idea and then collect all sorts of ideas via feedback to your posts? Upload attachments showing the event plan as it is coming together.

The bad news:

As one adds this kind of 3rd party software it inevitably comes with its own ID management regime. This means that administrators have to maintain another set of IDs/passwords (maybe not so bad) and so do users (major pain).

The solution:

Apply a bit of surgery to the software to give the overall system unified ID. We can and should do this if we want these kind of technologies to have traction. One day there will be a system of universal ID that we can tap into. Meanwhile a quick hack should suffice.

But wait … maybe OpenID is ready for primetime? If so we could switch everything over to that. An ID provider could be run in-house if necessary to guarantee confidentiality.

Kicking the Access Habit

A lot of small organisations and projects reach for M$ Access when they need to manage a list of people or whatever. This is usually a fine quick and dirty response to get the job done. The simple grid data presentation is very convenient for simple tasks.

However, this may not be a good solution when the project involves other people.

The first problem is that people need increasingly to share their data with colleagues and to work with it from different locations. This suggests placing it at a central point. The second is that they do not want to install software where they work as it could be a temporary location such as a meeting venue. They prefer to be able to access through a web browser.

This topic is covered in a draft white paper.

Social Impact of the Web

I attended a session on this topic at the RSA this week. The star turn was George Osborne MP. It’s good that he has some great intentions in the area of government exploitation of technology. He made positive noises about Open Source and about the possibility of smaller companies getting a share of government business. My question is whether these intentions can be realised. (I recently read David Craig’s book “Plundering the Public Sector” which describes how things go on at present.)

The issue, I think, is that, despite all the good stuff about project management put out by the OGC and others, people do not factor in the value of commitment and passion which are behind small companies’ ability to deliver on time, to spec and within budget.

Anyway, I will be watching with interest what happens should George wind up in government. Maybe I’ll also write and ask about small companies.

The RSA have another in the series (full-day version) on 25th May.

Hello world!

Well, it was inevitable that I’d start a blog but on what topic? This seemed to be the ideal topic at the moment. We’ve done a few projects for professional associations and have learned a lot. We’ll blog our experiences here.