A lot of projects fail. If business requirements aren’t clear or gathered effectively, or if the scope of the project is inaccurate, failure happens. But this past weekend, at New England GiveCamp (a Microsoft-sponsored volunteer weekend held at New England Research & Development Center — or NERD), it was refreshing to see some IT project success stories.
So, does it take a NERD to bring business and IT together effectively? Nonprofits without the time, budget or technical expertise necessary for application development projects or website overhauls rendezvoused with tech volunteers assigned to their projects, on a mission to make some big changes in a short amount of time.
It was the ultimate interface between IT and the business — and, as such, not without its challenges. In a lot of cases, those on both sides of the table initially struggled with the requirements portion of the IT projects. The business side was trying to describe what it wanted or needed, or even what was possible. The technical side was trying to translate these business requirements into something that makes sense and is totally workable in a 48-hour time frame.
Yes, some of the goals for IT project success were lofty — from brand-new website designs to customized desktop applications — but, amazingly, all were practically finished (I say practically because there were a few projects that still needed some fine-tuning or visual tweaks) by the end of the weekend.
How can this be?, I thought. It takes other companies, large and small, weeks, months, sometimes years to get an IT project completed. How can you get something up and running in just a few days?
The budget was limited (in most cases, nonexistent), the timeline was tight and there was a technical language barrier. However, there were no political barriers, approval processes, instances of organizational pushback or creative constraints. There were also a number of Scrum masters on hand — “an invaluable asset,” according to one volunteer, because they helped the groups set and follow tasks.
Interestingly, when all was said and done, there weren’t two sides of the table anymore. Working closely toward a common goal brought together each group, tech savvy or otherwise, and provided an excellent roadmap for IT project success.
It’s OK to fail when taking an agile approach to a business service or software development project, but if you fail, fail fast.
As one expert explained to me, if you don’t fail, you don’t really uncover the true nature of the problem trying to be resolved, or what works and doesn’t work.
“’Success is counted sweetest. By those who ne’er succeed,’ to quote Emily Dickinson,” said Ross Pettit, client principal at Chicago-based ThoughtWorks Inc. “You don’t want to be Wile E.Coyote, but you want to be in a situation in which you try and fail, because the more often you do that, the more you learn about the problem in front of you.”
He has seen too many agile projects fall apart because IT is afraid to fail. What ends up happening is failure on a larger scale; the project never crosses the finish line.
The iterative nature of the agile model allows for failures. Many agile projects are chunked out in weeks, so when something doesn’t work one week, you pick up the pieces, and apply what you learned to the next phase of the project.
Having project facilitators is critical to picking up the pieces quickly. This could be the CEO, the CIO, or a head of a department. Facilitators are the ones that the project team can turn to and say, “Here’s what we need access to, here’s the person we need to talk to, here’s the people we need to work on this problem.” “This allows stakeholders to make the resources available for what need to be done, immediately,” he said.
And if you are a stakeholder, don’t assume that you know what agile means. An agile model involves terms like velocity and iterations. A common word used by Pettit is story or an epic story to describe an agile project. All of these are common terms, but in the agile word they have a different meaning.
An epic story is the ultimate solution you want to achieve. So each release phase of the project tells part of the epic story, and is repeatedly compared with the theme of that story to make sure the project sticks to an agreed-upon plot.
“Just remember that very familiar terms are used in agile, so don’t understand them too quickly,” he said.
And don’t fall into the trap of viewing an agile model as one prescriptive approach that needs to be followed as if law. An agile approach is a living and breathing project that changes, otherwise it wouldn’t be called agile, points out Elena Mitelman, principal with agile consulting firm SmartEdge LLC.
She offers this other takeaway:
If employee retention strategies haven’t been a priority for you as of late, now may be a good time to refresh your staff priorities, because IT talent is in high demand.
According to the June Dice report, 71% of technology recruiters and hiring managers expect to add more staff in the second half of the year than they did in the first half. And salaries for new hires are on the rise in the battle for talented IT, with 30% of respondents paying more for new hires, as opposed to 9% six months ago.
With a promising job market on the horizon, there are more employees quitting their jobs than there are getting laid off. The recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey showed that in April, almost 2 million unsatisfied employees quit their jobs, up 12% from January — while layoffs went down to about 1.75 million.
After a 15-month stretch of holding on to what you have, the slight post-recession upturn has given workers the confidence they need to walk away from unsatisfactory jobs. And it’s not only about making more money. Employees who feel underappreciated, overworked or disengaged will also start packing up their desks — especially the most talented ones, who know they deserve more.
A recent survey published in the May edition of the Harvard Business Review showed that 12% of the top talent (employees dubbed as having “high potential”) in the 100 organizations studied were actively looking for new jobs.
So what kind of employee retention strategies do you already have in place, or what can you establish to hold onto the talent you have? Try to create a working environment that employees like being part of. Providing a great workplace that offers flexible work hours, better work/life balance and the opportunity to be creative and innovative could trump the more-money card a competing employer might offer.
“Social [media] is like sex — fun to read about, fun to look at, but to really understand it, you have to do it.”
How’s that for an attention getter? That’s how Nigel Fenwick, principal analyst at Forrester Research, ended his session on social media for the CIO at last week’s Forrester IT Forum, with a quote from Forrester CEO George Colony.
But too many CIOs and decision makers are social media virgins: When Fenwick polled the audience of CIOs, few session attendees raised their hands to indicate they actively tweet or blog. Even fewer had a social media policy in place at their organizations.
The CIO role is changing — there’s no doubt about that — but the question remains: What does the new CIO role comprise? During her keynote presentation at the Forrester IT Forum in Las Vegas this week, Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, said the new CIO role is changing dramatically.
In its last CIO search, Xerox wasn’t looking for the highest-ranking IT person: Burns was looking for someone who was ready for real business.
“Is this safe?” seemed to be the first question out of everyone’s mouth when a colleague of mine was handing out USB memory sticks at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.
The tiny memory sticks did not contain malicious material — only tips and information on health IT — but practically everyone had a story to tell of how they had been burned in the past by the innocuous-looking swag.
It’s no surprise that many organizations are using Microsoft Excel. Evolving from more than just a simple spreadsheet application, Excel is used for everything from simple project management to business intelligence (BI). “I literally use [Excel] for everything,” said Ray Bhatia, vice president of operations at San Francisco-based search engine marketing firm Demand Local Inc.
Maybe this is obvious to others, but it wasn’t to me when I was talking to a systems integrator about its new cloud computing disaster recovery service.
Although cloud computing is not exactly being embraced by all for disaster recovery, due to incomplete SLAs — and the possibility of the cloud provider actually causing a disruption — there is a flip side.
The Square credit card swiper and mobile application could help small to midsized companies seal the deal for sales made while on the go. But it’s up to IT managers and CIOs to balance the ease-of-use business benefits with any security concerns.
Companies that do not have a mobile payment solution will be attracted to this appealing offer. Using an iPhone, iPad or even an Android device, credit cards can be swiped and signed off on anytime, anywhere. But there is always a tradeoff, right?
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) market share has gone down again. The once-king of Web browsers now accounts for less than 60% of the market, and users are opting for multiple browsers and devices (such as the iPad) in their personal and corporate lives. So is standardizing on one corporate browser limiting users — and your business?