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The store of the future….Shoppers Drug Mart?

Just saw this article on slate today.  The new Walgreens is getting some great press and looks a lot like the new Shoppers.  Way to go Shoppers on showing our American friends a new way!

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/04/03/walgreens_flagship_store_chinatown_branch_of_drugstore_chain_is_the_future.html

The 1 thing you can do to guarantee better project delivery

Multitasked to oblivion

Here’s a common scenario:

Company X is having a significant issue in getting a project moving with multiple delivery groups (Vendors, Consultants, Contractors and Company X staff).  Things are moving incredibly slowly as getting people on the same page is a  frustrating effort.  Resources are split among many projects.

Which makes it look very efficient:

  • Bob is 50% on Project A, 20% Project B, 30% Project C.
  • Bob is fully Utilized!
  • The projects have just the amount of Bob everyone needs!
  • SUPERFANTASTIC!
  • But it’s not just Bob that’s working 3 jobs, Mae is on Project A, C and D!

And this is the crux of the problem.  To make our HR, budget and utilization numbers efficient we’ve destroyed the ability of team members to effectively and naturally work together.  They have been Multitasked to oblivion.  Scheduling Bob, Mae and the rest of the team is a full time job.  Even then, somebody misses the workshop due to a more important meeting on another project.  By the time they get the information, either they have utilized many other team members time to catch up, or, the info is lost.   Add to that, the infighting among different projects jockeying for Bobs time due to overlapping critical deliverable dates and we’ve added 3-4 resources just to deal with all the overhead and inefficiencies.  PMs compensate by adding more Bobs and Maes to the project because 50% of 1 is really 30%.  We’ve reduced the effectiveness of everybody involved and increased the complexity with more people to manage. Companies ask why they have so many resources on a project?….That’s why!

The complex projects that succeed have everyone in close proximity,  where the magic of human communication doesn’t get lost in the inefficiency of meeting planning, broken telephone and scheduling.   Ensuring the effective communication with all parties at the same table, focused on one end goal is the greatest gift of agile management.

If organizations just did this 1 thing..give projects dedicated and focused team members, they would reap the majority of the benefits in moving to agile.  The utilization numbers may not be as great to the bean counters, but, the fact your project was delivered on time and you didn’t increase an entire teams project burn rate will more than make up for it.  At Greenlight, we ensure our consultants and teams are single minded and focused on the project at hand.  Being Swiss Army Knives and fully utilized in many different capacities on a single project makes the bean counters happy too 🙂

 

Pitfalls in Agile Project Management

To Agile or not to Agile

To Agile or not to Agile

Let me start by saying I love agile project management and I’m a big advocate of the methodology. But, like with all great methodologies, it’s never a good idea to get married to it. Whether that’s process, technique or methodology, you have to do what works for the project in the environment that you’re in. All projects are not created equal and context matters.

Adopting an agile methodology where requirements, scope and functionality change on a daily basis is a great way for a software development shop to get software releases and new enhancements out on a regular basis. However, for larger organizations where scope, budget and timelines are a key component and are normally a prerequisite to having a project approved, an agile methodology may appear to add risk.

Greenlight Christmas Party 2012

 

 We’re a little more than over due for Christmas blogs from years so we’ll just start with the most recent and call the others “a good time was had by all”.  It was your typical early December evening – pouring rain and city-wide traffic congestion could not prevent the employees and consultants of Greenlight Consulting from attending the annual company-sponsored holiday party. It was held for the second year in a row at BLU Restaurant – a charming restaurant at the edge of Toronto’s hub of culture and style in Yorkville. With ample parking, easy accessibility by transit and an ambiance that bids you welcome from the moment you walk in, this was an easy choice for a closed party of 60 people. The night, back dropped with the smooth musical melodies compliments of John Campbell, commenced with mouth-watering appetizers and signature drinks – followed by a 5 course, authentic Italian meal over several hours. Business may have been a starter topic around the dinner tables but this evening was more about reconnecting with fellow co-workers and celebrating a job well done.

Here’s to another successful year to Greenlight.

Managing uncertainty in a complex project

Imagine being able to put a percentage confidence beside each item in your project plan and having management understand that you aren’t padding your plan but, providing insight.   As the project moves along, those percentages get closer to 100% and the plan becomes more concrete.  The truth in a plan!  I don’t think many of your bosses are ready for that level of overt uncertainty in their project plans yet.

Until then, it is important as project managers to test our assumptions.  How long does an interface really take to build? Is the performance of the application in line with expectations?  Did the business really mean they wanted all that information on one screen.   Many times PMs plow through these questions and hope for the best.  Which can leave us on Hope Island and saddled with some very last minute delays.  Here’s are few ways to ensure you test and validate assumptions throughout the project:

1) Create wire frames and walk troughs of the UI to ensure the requirements and flow make sense before starting the build.  Actual walk troughs and “day in the life” workshops are also valuable.

2) When there are many small pieces of work such as multiple interfaces, get those that have no prerequisites completed early in the cycle to ensure you’ve estimated the timing and work effort correctly.

3) Get the whole team involved.  When given a quote or a statement see if you can turn it into a provable assertion and then get your team member to help prove it.  This also ensures that you build consistency across the team and look for facts over guestimates or biases.

4)  If you have a seasoned team and the work is fairly repetitive  History is one of the best tools to get actual facts for your assertions.  Be careful to ensure that the historical context you are using is close to the one at hand.

5) Don’t wait until User Acceptance Testing(UAT) to hear from the end user or business.  I have been in many scenario’s where a project has plowed through most business objections only to find karma get them in UAT.  The ultimate constant validation of assumptions is to have the end users (as many, and as varied as you can) be part of the process all the way through.

Building your company culture…continued

Building a company culture doesn’t have to be painful. In part 1 of this topic we discussed how creating a culture of discipline and developing core values provides a strong foundation for the behavioural characteristics you want to see in your workforce. Remember to keep asking yourself, do your employees know how the values describe the founders, the company you want to be, and the relationships you want to have with your clients?

Now that you have thought about how to develop a shared code of conduct in your workforce and live true to your core values you can focus on engaging your employees through communication and relationships.

3. Communicate. There is no such thing as over communicating when the right message is being communicated. Employees need to know the company is invested in them, so remind them…..constantly. Build a communication plan with multiple timelines and tools to communicate to your employees regularly; linking it to the culture you want to have. Get them involved in the business, share the goals and milestones, the successes and failures.

4. Connect. Last but definitely not the least, have fun! Figure out what people want, take suggestions so you’re not adding foosball tables in the lounge if most of your employees work off site. Find ways to get employees to connect with each other in a casual setting, people need to make connections it’s a basic human trait, you need more than an annual holiday party. It is also key to change up and create new programs so that things don’t become stale and perks don’t become entitlements.

Remember Culture is unique to each organization, steer away from cutting and pasting what other companies do and focus on your specific company and what you can incorporate into new and existing activities.

Does building Company Culture have to be painful?

Whether you’re a start-up or a midsize firm or even a giant, you need to be proactive in implementing a company culture based on what you want your employees to value. Every company/firm has a culture; cultures not based on values might not be the culture you want.

Start by asking the honest question, how do we build a company culture that will keep our top performers engaged, excited and driven and push our low performers out the door?

First understand that although it’s a big piece of the puzzle, culture is not just all the touchy feely fun stuff. There needs to be a partnership built between managers, employees and HR. As business leaders you need to think of culture like any other key success driver in your business, and like many drivers there are components, that when put together, formulate a strong structure for success.

So how do you break down culture into a structured and systematic piece of the success pie?

To make your culture a driver to your company’s success you need to:
– Create a culture of discipline
– Live your core values
– Communicate with your employees while reinforcing the company culture
– Encourage personal connections

Part 1 of the Culture Post will focus on the first 2 elements of the success pie, creating a culture of discipline and staying true to your core values.

  1. Create a culture of discipline. This starts with your standard policies, processes and performance expectations…..huh? Your strong performers, the ones you want to keep, are the ones that will respect and promote company policies and performance standards, the low performers, the ones you don’t want, will stick out like a sore thumb and be weeded out (voluntarily or involuntarily). Setting the right tone is crucial to the behaviours you will get in return. Think about how lax or how rigid your policies need to be as they will define a type of culture. For example, if employees can work from home, can they decide to work from home when they want or need prior approval.
  2. Live your core values. Every company has a set of core values, what is unique and different, is how you live those values on a consistent basis in order to convert them into behavioural characteristics you want in your company. If your employees value a client experience then they will provide clients with a high level of customer service. If your employees value integrity then they will demonstrate an open and honest communication style. Do you know what values you want driving your employees behaviour? Not sure about that? Hold focus groups to identify the core values. Then develop workshops and activities around your company values to create a sense of shared commitment and understanding.

Next week we will cover Part 2, communication and engaging with your workforce on a personal level.

The Problem Bricks and Mortar Retailers have to solve….Soon

A Way to Power Through Project Roadblocks

You’re finally at the point where the project is moving forward, there is light at the end of the tunnel, the team is working at their peak, the project is a well-oiled machine and then it happens.  Your lead BA comes to you with that look…

Ya…THAT LOOK.    A seemingly minor issue has uncovered a major project Gap.  It’s going to take days if not weeks to sort out, price, get buy in and move forward.

We’ve seen this many times on the work we do, and it usually goes 1 of 3 ways:

1)      You go through all the upheaval, find out it’s going to be prohibitively expensive to change and the business agrees to move forward without it… for now.

2)      It is show stopping  and you really do have to make the change

3)      Through the chaos, a hack / work around  / minor adjustment gives you 80% of what you need and that is what you move forward with

In our experience we’d say option 1 and 3 make up 80% of the outcomes.   The project is thrown in disarray only to end up fairly close to where you were heading anyway, but now, a few weeks late.

A lesson from CPU design has helped us in the past.

The concept is called branch prediction.  When a computer program is executing an “if … else “ statement, the computer has to wait until the answer is computed before moving forward.  This  significantly slows down the processing.  For those of you that are non-technical, it usually goes a little something like this

{If answer = a do something

Otherwise do something else}

Instead of waiting for the answer, what computers do is predict the outcome and continue processing.  If it predicted correctly, then no time was wasted.  If it predicted incorrectly, it would be no worse off than waiting.

You see where I am going here.  In the situation with the project above, pushing forward with your best educated guess will yield better results more often than not.  Losing momentum not only costs time and $ but, impacts team morale and synergy.  If you make your team aware of what you are doing, and they are mostly bought into your choice of outcome, you can manage any deviations or rework the team has to do in case you predicted wrong.  There’s nothing like facing your development team and telling them to throw away the last few weeks of work  … How have you guys handled that in your projects?

How a Swiss Army Knife can help you get your projects delivered on time.

What most project managers won’t admit to, is that there is too much unknown at the start of a major project to ensure the resources they have and the roles they need to fill cover all the eventualities.

To help ensure success you’re better off holding on to business and technology experts and ensuring you put 1-3 people, who we like to call Swiss Army Knives, into key positions.  These folks are easily adaptable, quick to gain the trust of the team and have the intelligence to handle and learn new situations quickly.   The goal is to utilize these people to firefight and be responsible for the critical path items that are known and those that will arise.

Why use Swiss Army Knives?:

1)  Need fewer people!  Instead of planning to have all your needs met using different individuals, you can have folks that transition easily to front burner issues and critical sub projects.

2) When you need to move a Swiss Army Knife to a pressing issue/area, their old position is usually well planned out and has been put back on solid ground. You can then put in an easier to find junior individual to execute to the SAKs plan.

3) You don’t have to be a psychic anymore.  You can focus on the pressing issues at hand while knowing you’ve stacked your team to be future proof.

4) You don’t have to do everything anymore.  Once your swiss army knives are seasoned, you have trusted folks that can take real issues off your plate.

5) An idea proven in industry.  Many large corporations including GE use rotational assignments to groom their top talent.  You can use a micro version of this approach to inject some adrenaline into your project.

6) Your business team and stakeholders will love you.  Swiss Army Knives tend to be those individuals who have a knack for quickly understanding the business goals and ensuring they are met while navigating tough technical decisions and trade-offs