Tag Archives: Project

Do You Continue a Difficult Partnership? Five Alternatives

Situation: A company has a key relationship with a major corporation. They recently completed work in Phase I of a multi-phase project which was fraught with difficulties. Now they are evaluating whether and how to proceed with Phase II. Do you continue a difficult partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What made Phase I difficult?
    • Initial work was done to original specs and on time. The partner then asked for additional work and a change to the original specs, but would not agree to pay for these changes. As a result, the company lost money on Phase I.
  • What alternatives exist?
    • In brief, you must fundamentally change the terms of engagement. You can convert everything to time and materials, so that when the partner makes changes or asks you to make changes, they pay as they go.
    • A second alternative is to reconstruct the project as a waterfall project with a fixed price up front. You agree to X iterations, at Y cost per iteration. Each iteration has a deadline and the work completed as of each deadline constitutes the final work on that iteration. You charge for additional iterations if the partner wants additional work after the final negotiated iteration.
    • A third alternative is to set a price that is 2x your estimated price, recognizing that there may be a need to change specifications during development. You will provide documentation of your time and effort. If at the agreed end of the project you have not used all of the funds budgeted, you refund the difference to the partner.
  • Adjust how you communicate with the partner as you renegotiate. Do not assume that silence constitutes agreement. Provide written documentation of your understanding at the close of each negotiation and invite them to correct any misunderstandings. Require that both sides sign this documentation to confirm agreement. Do not proceed until there is clear mutual understanding on all key points.
  • Purchase and use software to track any changes to requirements during the project. This will enable you to document both the changes requested and their waterfall effect on other portions of the project.

How Can Private Business Help Retool the Workforce? Three Methods

Interview with Anju Bajaj, CEO, Zuna Infotech, Inc.

Situation: The US economy is slowly trying to get back on its feet, but many potential obstacles remain. In the mid-west, there is good talent with deep enterprise-level IT experience, and lots of new young talent looking for positions. How can private business help to retool the workforce and boost employment?

Advice from Anju Bajaj:

  • Working in IT services to provide end-to-end technology solutions, we have found highly skilled talent in the American Midwest. In recent years, many seasoned IT professionals have lost their jobs as Midwestern companies downsized. These individuals have deep enterprise level IT skills, but may not be up to speed with the latest technologies. There are also many brilliant young people available who have good web-based technology skills, but no experience in legacy systems or the working of complex enterprises. Our focus is on cross-training both groups as they collaborate to build IT solutions for our customers.
  • We have found that by organizing these two groups into small teams, guided by a lead who knows both web-based and legacy systems, we can leverage their individual strengths to cross-train each other. It turns out that both sets of workers are smart, capable and, in live project settings, collaborate and acquire technical skills and domain knowledge relatively quickly.
  • The bigger and more subtle challenge is teaching younger workers about business processes. Each process must fit the workflow so that a process change in one area doesn’t produce difficulties in other areas. For this, you need to have people with deep expertise in functional and domain disciplines as well as technical experts. By teaming talent, we can produce functional experts who understand all areas. We have found that in three to six months of working together, about 25% of team members reach almost guru status; while the remaining 75% have become quite skilled.
  • Like most leading service providers, we at Zuna Infotech also build capability through our Centers of Excellence.  We focus on developing practices within different industry verticals. With this comes knowledge and structure which we can then pass on through train-the-trainer programs.
  • We have been inspired by the desire to help keep US workers working while retooling their skills. The results that we’ve found to date have been very encouraging. We hope that this can provide a model for other companies.

You can contact Anju Bajaj at anju@zunainfotech.com;

Key Words: Workforce, Retool, Talent, Legacy, Web, Cross-train, Project, Business Process, Workflow, Functional, Domain, Technical, Agile

How Do You Help Managers Think Bigger? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is transitioning from a time and materials to a fixed price bid model. Estimators and project leads find this transition difficult. We need them to think like business managers. How do you help managers to see and think in terms of the big picture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, set up a framework that repositions projects in a business framework.
    • All projects are business go/no decisions with expenses, minimum profitability targets, and incentives provided for beating initial projections.
    • This will help generate more consistency in bids and final gross margins per project.
  • Next, teach managers and employees industry and company standards within your new model.
    • Do post-mortems on all projects. Did we make or lose money versus initial estimate? How much? How did we perform against estimated time and expense? Were client expectations met? Were they exceeded? What was good or bad about the project? Were there errors in the original estimates? Where could we have saved cost?
    • Use this information to improve your estimating process over time.
  • You have a long history of T&M projects. Categorize these by project type. Look at the hours required to complete the projects – both engineering and management time – as well as other costs. Establish range and averages within each category.
    • Look for key variables among the project categories: scope of project, learning curves, efficiency of team members.
    • Work through known costs and outcomes on past projects as examples to teach the process.
    • For new projects, calculate best, medium and worst case hours and costs. Bid based on your worst case as you develop your learning curve.
    • Make sure to include a project management fee on top of your T&M estimates. Eventually you want to develop an overhead percentage to cover project management.
  • Team your estimator with the project lead both for project input, and performance against the bid.
    • Evaluate and compensate both based on project outcome.
    • The critical measure will be gross margin generated versus gross margin estimated on the project.

Key Words: Leadership, Project, Time and Materials, Fixed Price, Bid, Framework, Consistency, Standards, Variables, Estimator, Lead, Incentive

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 1

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • Broadly, the most important challenge is that of team “presence” – the feeling of people collaborating and working together. As social beings, we are used to establishing trust and mutuality face-to-face. Trust and mutuality are more challenging when we are limited to audible communications.
  • Working at a distance becomes a challenge when different members of a team are on the same stage of a workflow issue and there may or may not be shared understanding of technical requirements or timelines.
    • Team members need to understand requirements to a “T” – across functions, technical requirements, and needed skills.
    • Consider the challenge of keeping team members in synch when project requirements are continually shifting, as frequently happens when new technical breakthroughs are involved and there is no preplanned predictability to the project. This challenge is exacerbated when the team is designing at light speed.
    • The agile design model focuses on people and talent over process and dictates a continuous ongoing meeting. In a distributed setting, the whole team is never stronger than the most remote and linked-up member.
    • These are the challenges that we seek to address at Sococo through our Team Space application.
  • Let’s look at an example of resolving a conflict based on miscommunication of information.
    • In this case, a young employee was tasked with drafting an email campaign around a product. Other team members were time zones away and on their own schedules. The night before campaign launch a misunderstanding developed around one of the core features of the product.
    • Because of the Always-On nature of Team Space, all of the team members working on the project were right there and on call to ensure a smooth product launch. When the problem arose, they were able to have a quick online meeting to share spreadsheets and analysis, understand the issue and resolve the misunderstanding on the fly.  The campaign launched the following morning.
    • When people are in the space, you know they’re part of the team and they’re at work, ready to solve problems. They haven’t given up. Having to bring someone back into a conversation (to resolve a problem) takes more time, effort, and energy and is draining for a distributed team.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 2

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • A second example of a critical challenge occurs in crisis mode – for example when a major system is down and service is impaired.
    • You need the right people with the right information talking real time. Those without complete information are at a loss. If they respond from emotion rather than fact, it hinders crisis resolution.
    • Having an avatar in Team Space yields a positive emotional response, primarily in that you then interact with other avatars instead of just names on a list. It gives you an increased feeling of presence.
    • This emotional investment positively correlates to increased trust, as you feel more connected to your peers.
    • You want an environment in which you can bring distributed people together on the fly, provide them with complete information, raise and candidly discuss issues and alternatives, and come up with a solution with all parties involved, all while reducing the emotionality of the situation.
    • Emotionality of tense situations is reduced because of the trust built amongst team members through our unique spatial UI.
  • Third, organizations beyond a certain size tend to form silos by function. This can help to build strong functional organizations, but has drawbacks when different functions have conflicting priorities.
    • In a distributed organization, a visual layout becomes important. You want to be able to include and intertwine all functions in a visual space, and provide access between and across functions.
    • This entails a philosophical shift to an open culture where teams don’t feel defensive or protective. It is facilitated by a visual space where it is easy to bring in the right expertise to resolve issues based on information.
    • Likewise, the underlying open structure of Team Space and its ability to promote quick conversations as well as hefty meetings helps solidify trust in a distributed group.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 3

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • A fourth question which arises with distributed organizations is whether you have to have different processes to manage a distributed organization.
    • We don’t think so. Each company has developed their own set of process to address the challenges of distributed personnel. Rather, we focus on communication tools that adapt to clients’ existing processes by humanizing communication – enabling people to easily find each other and share information.
  • Fifth, some of the most challenging environments occur in organizations which span extreme time zone differences. How is this addressed?
    • You want an audio and visual system that lets you know who is available at a given point in time or could be made available easily. This facilitates bringing the right expertise into a conversation.
    • When different parts of the team are widely separated by time zone, it is important to create a more social and effective environment during the times when all team members are available. We believe that Team Space helps to create this environment.
    • In one company, Indian team members stay at the office until 7:00pm – thereby avoiding the worst traffic – and can be available online at home after dinner. This increases the time that they can interact with their American counterparts.
    • It is also important to be able to record meetings and presentations so that members who are absent can play back the meeting to stay up to date.
    • Our experience is that visual presentation is superior for communicating visual information, and we accommodate this.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What are the Best Ways to Manage Cash Flow in a Recovery? Six Suggestions

Situation: As business improves the Company needs to manage cash flow to support growth. How are you managing your cash flow in the recovery?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a common challenge following a down period. You’ve reduced personnel and used up cash reserves to survive. As demand resumes, you may need to add resources as you increase production. It’s important not to let accounts payable get ahead of your receivables.
  • Ask customers for deposits on orders – giving you up-front cash. Give priority to those who do.
  • Redesign the work flow:
    • Add independent contractors on a project basis.
    • This requires good cost estimates and well-defined deliverables.
  • Work with your bank and Line of Credit:
    • An LOC should cover 1-3 months of operation.
    • Ask for a lot, and shop different banks for favorable lines and rates.
    • An LOC is a short-term obligation whereas debt may be long term. Watch your debt covenants for restrictions on obligations to assure that you stay in compliance.
    • LOCs are frequently Prime plus 1-2%
  • If you have a broker, see what rates they will offer on a business credit line to keep your brokerage business.
  • The best alternative is to plan ahead and develop a strong relationship with your banker – including a reliable credit history – so that when need arises, the banker will help you based on your past performance and the confidence that they have developed in you and your operation.

Key Words: Cash Flow, Recovery, Growth, Deposits, Contractors, Project, Estimates, Deliverables, Line of Credit, Bank, Covenants, Credit History