Recession? 10 Tips to Manage Your Recession Hit Staff

Recession has put companies in a fix to cut on every possible things like resources, pay and expenditure etc. Recession has hit hard on the economy and companies are feeling the wrath so does their managers. Its evident that this recession is not going to leave soon, so what are the best managerial tips to manage your staff efficiently despite extraordinary marketplace pressures and decreased morale.

Managers have the responsibility to lead from the front and even take recession in a positive feeling (which is hard i know). Positivity must reflect in whatever you do as the team is looking towards you and want guidance all the time as usual.

What if you are supposed to deliver bad news to your staff, how you will deliver the news? how you will analyze things before you ask someone to meeting room? or how you will make others comfortable & productive who have survived the layoff decision?

All the above questions comes in mind but if you think wisely and analyze properly using your skills you would be following few things which i am going to mention below:

  1. Be objective and fair and gather facts : Before you make any critical decisions — such as whether to shutter a project or cut 10 per cent of your IT staff — evaluate all the options as if you were analysing a software package, so that you can make a cogent case for your plan. Your decision should reflect facts, prioritization & plan not your feelings.
  2. Talk to your staff quite often and in person : It is very important and shouldn’t be ignored. You must talk to your people often about what’s going on with the company, impending consequences, and what’s positive in the company’s future. Be as transparent as possible. Don’t tell white lies. Don’t surprise everyone with bad news if you’ve known about it for weeks. Don’t send out an email when you could organize a web conference or a group meeting. All of these things erode trust and make managers seem like impersonal clods, which makes for an unhappy workforce.
  3. Allow your staff to help make the tough decisions : If you are transparent enough and you allow your employees to help in making tough decisions then it is quite easier because its a unanimous decision and everyone is aware of it. This may include pay cuts, expenditure cuts etc. Keep in mind that nobody wants to loose their job and they may be willing for some marginal cuts if it saves company and their job.
  4. Sit on the Same Boat : Did you cut yourself out of the salary reduction plan? Its been observed that managers don’t put their own names in cuts and keep on enjoying the same perks but device a formula for others. It will be more trustworthy if you can show that even you have taken painful cuts and you are sitting on the same boat with them.
  5. Figure out other options first before planning cuts : If there’s any possible way you can save money without affecting your staff, look at those options first. Evaluate vendors: are you getting the best deal? Maybe it’s worth hiring an operational consultant to ensure you can get better contracts. Are you operating in a “green” fashion in terms of power management on your computer and networking equipment, minimizing use of lights and heat, reducing paper usage through double-sided printing, and so on? Again, ask your staff for ideas. These days, they might care less about free soda and coffee.
  6. Stay Cheerful : Think happy Be energetic! If the cheerleader style is your normal way of living, Take your staff out for a beer on Friday afternoon. Hire a comedian for an hour’s worth of fun. Give a pumped-up talk over a brown bag lunch. Because the power of positive thinking is huge. But if you’re not the first to laugh at jokes, and you’re cranky before having three cups of coffee, don’t act out of character.
  7. Don’t give up on professional development : Don’t ignore the employees who have been saved. Those left behind after layoffs are mind-boggled about their own future, not to mention the extra workload they will undoubtedly have to handle. Give them the benefit of your time through one-on-one meetings to discuss their issues, concerns and career goals. Provide talented employees the opportunity to job shadow, cross-train or even simply sit in on meetings with other groups to expose them to different career paths.
  8. Layoffs if extremely necessary: In case layoffs is the only option left in front of you, you owe it to your staff to spend the maximum effort possible in doing them accurately (this means you’ve done a thorough analysis of options), sensitively, and with full disclosure about how and why the cuts were made. Executives must communicate the message properly otherwise you are creating a negative impact and distrust. Give all the benefits and don’t cheat or cut on that otherwise people staying at the company have a sense that, wow this is unfair, they may not stay loyal to you.
  9. Keep up the fight for business alignment and ROI : In this economic recession climate, its better to stay true to the core IT goals of delivering business value and maximize efficiencies. The more you can show you are being responsible and strategic to your staff and higher-ups, the better for everyone. Plan for ROI and think about generating revenue more often.
  10. Look up to the Future : Everyone is stuck in the present right now: survival. For a change, spend a few hours each week thinking about, and talking about, your company and department’s future. What can you do that will deliver unique value to customers (internal and external) when the economy begins to recover? What can you do now that will help the business survive until then? This can be a positive and healthy way to deal with the stress of the moment.

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How To Administer Risk Associated With Web Applications

Corporate around the world are working on innovative ideas and building web based applications as they provide flexibility, low maintainability cost, rich functionality and adds up the benefits of its own. Companies offering services are also major player and they will stay in the market for very long time (as per survey).
Software as a service (SaaS), in particular, is playing out pretty well in today’s economy, according to IDC, which predicts the sector will see a 36 to 40 per cent growth in 2009.

Yet many organizations, especially at the enterprise level, worry about offloading corporate data to a third-party vendor. Will security risks increase? What happens when reliability begins to suffer? How can they access critical data/systems during an outage? These are valid questions, but many experts actually think that your data is safest with a credible third-party whose business in effect is (or should be) managing the security and reliability of data across many customers. After all, if a vendor screws up, it will lose revenue, customers and market share in a heartbeat.

Still, due diligence is imperative for any SaaS implementation. Here are 10 risk administering factors to consider when offering web-based software to your employees.

1: Identify a low-penalty area of the business to serve as your first SaaS project

The first time you enter an arrangement with a vendor to host software and data for you, avoid outsourcing a highly visible area of your business. If HR is not strategic to profits that might be one place to start. Save the high-stakes CRM project for later, when you have learned a few best practices.

2: Assess your risk

Before you can come up with metrics and other requirements for vendors, you need to determine exactly which business and IT priorities of the data/system you want to outsource and what will be the fallout of any sort of breach or data loss. How do your internal requirements for encryption, network security, privacy, disaster recovery, auditing and monitoring align with the services provided by the vendors under consideration?

3: Choose vendors carefully

I would recommend you to select vendors with a long track record of providing web-based software and services. You may have to pay more for established vendors, but doing so will likely lower your risk. Let someone else do the thinking (and risk) ahead of you.

4: Do a deep dive on your SaaS vendor’s security infrastructure and approach

It’s not out of the question to request a third-party audit of the company’s security systems and policies. What security certifications does it hold? Is the company compliant with any relevant industry regulations, such as PCI DSS for credit card transactions? Following is a checklist you can use:

  • How and where data encryption is used (for instance, on backups as well?)
  • The quality of the network defenses in the data center
  • How authentication and secure connections are handled
  • The use of data loss protection (DLP) technology
  • The question of multi-tenancy, since you’ll be sharing computing resources with other customers

5: Ask how your vendor handles disaster recovery

What protections will you have from your vendor in case of an outage due to system failure or natural disaster? Will you have offline access to the data? You can, for instance, ask your vendor if there’s a way to periodically store data into an on-premise system just for that purpose.

6: Get it in writing

Involve business and IT colleagues, client references of the vendor, your legal department, and whomever else might be helpful to ensure that you have an airtight contract. The document should cover not only financial terms but included services, performance metrics, and reliability and security provisions. How much uptime do you need and what does the vendor agree to do if they miss it? This could come in the form of fees, credits or other creative paybacks.

7: Get chummy with your vendors

It goes without saying that you want a collegial not an adversarial relationship with your SaaS vendor. After all, they’re there to help your business grow and be more flexible, so think of them as a strategic business partner. Meet frequently to go over the metrics and to discuss how to improve experiences for your employees and external customers that may interface with the system. Now that you have freed up time of internal IT staff members who used to work on implementations and maintenance, dedicate at least one individual to managing this critical relationship.

8: Look out for new monitoring tools

Many businesses, as they grow in size, install system monitoring tools that keep an ever-present eye on networks, PCs and applications for any abnormalities such as viruses, inappropriate access or performance lags. Increasingly, such tools will include scanners that can also test web applications for vulnerabilities.

9: Consider the help of a security consultant

Unless security is an area of expertise in your group, an outside consultant can help make sure that you are asking all the right questions and not overlooking any important technical details. Information security consultant suggests asking questions such as whether your vendor can support your e-discovery requirements and how authentication is handled.

10: Devise a PR and response strategy

Regardless of how vigilant you are in selecting and managing vendors, there is always the chance that a security breach or data loss will happen anyway. Rest assured: the media and angry customers will be coming to you, not your vendors. Put together a plan stating which employers will be on your response team and what actions should occur in what order. Make sure you have a capable media relations expert on hand to help work responsibly and cordially with media inquiries. Withholding information should be avoided as more transparency means happy customers and stakes holders.

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Tips for Successful Project Effort Estimation

Project Time estimation is most important factor in projects lifeline. There are three types of estimation required for a project:

  • Effort Required
  • Project Duration
  • Project Cost

Effort estimation should be done first and that will help you determine the duration and thus cost. Following are few efforts estimation tips which can save lot of time for you. These tips are rather a process which if followed properly will give desirable results.

  1. How accurate estimation is needed? Typically, the more accurate the estimate, the more detail is needed, and the more time that is needed. If you are asked for a rough order of magnitude (ROM) estimate (-25% – +75%), you might be able to complete the work quickly, at a high-level, and with a minimum amount of detail. On the other hand, if you must provide an accurate estimate within 10 per cent, you might need to spend quite a bit more time and understand the work at a low level of detail.
  2. Estimate each activity and then calculate the entire project : There are many techniques you can use to estimate effort including task decomposition (Work Breakdown Structure), expert opinion, analogy, Pert, etc.
  3. Add Specialist Resource Hours : Make sure you include hours for part-time and speciality resources. For instance, this could include freelance people, training specialists, procurement, legal, administrative, etc.
  4. Consider Rework (Optional) : In a perfect world, all project deliverables would be correct the first time. On real projects, that usually is not the case. Work plans that do not consider rework can easily end up underestimating the total effort involved with completing deliverables.
  5. Don’t forget to Add Project Management Time : This is the effort required to successfully and proactively manage a project. In general, add 15 per cent of the effort hours for project management. For instance, if a project estimate is 12,000 hours (seven – eight people), a full-time project manager (1,800 hours) is needed. If the project estimate is 1,000 hours, the project management time would be 150 hours.
  6. Add Contingency Hours : Contingency is used to reflect the uncertainty or risk associated with the estimate. If you’re asked to estimate work that is not well defined, you may add 50 per cent, 75 per cent, or more to reflect the uncertainty. If you have done this project many times before, perhaps your contingency would be very small – perhaps 5 per cent.
  7. Calculate the total effort by adding up all the detailed work components.
  8. Review and Adjust As Necessary : Sometimes when you add up all the components, the estimate seems obviously high or low. If your estimate doesn’t look right, go back and make adjustments to your estimating assumptions to better reflect reality. I call this being able to take some initial push back from your manager and sponsor. If your sponsor thinks the estimate is too high, and you don’t feel comfortable to defend it, you have more work to do on the estimate. Make sure it seems reasonable to you and that you are prepared to defend it.
  9. All Assumptions Must Be Well Documented : You will never know all the details of a project for certain. Therefore, it is important to document all the assumptions you are making along with the estimate.

This type of disciplined approach to estimating will help you to create as accurate an estimate as possible given the time and resources available to you.

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Quality Process and Management of web applications

Quality itself has been defined as fundamentally relational:  ‘Quality is the ongoing process of building and sustaining relationships by assessing, anticipating, and fulfilling stated and implied needs.

“Quality is the extent to which products, services, processes, and relationships are free from defects, constraints, and items which do not add value for customers.”

You cannot improve what you cannot measure.


In the world of IT and other industry they are facing a challenging problem of staying within budget,market demand,customer satisfaction and finally Increasing quality.It might appear that you have to sacrifice one goal to achieve another.

Measure your products or services in this manner.

* Lower Defects
* Reduce product variability
* Increase first-pass rates
* Improve customer satisfaction
* Improve manufacturing yield
* Reduce scrap, waste, or give-away
* how you develop and produce or provide your products or services

To Improve the quality of a product or service an organization should have a Quality Management Process.

What is a Quality Management Process?

A Quality Management Process is a set of procedures that are followed to ensure that the deliverable produced by a team are “fit for purpose”. The start of the Quality Management Process involves setting quality targets, which are agreed with the customer. A “Quality Assurance Process” and “Quality Control Process” are then undertaken, to measure and report the actual quality of deliverable. As part of the Quality Management Process, any quality issues are identified and resolved quickly.

Quality Management Process will help you to:

* Set Quality Targets to be met by your team
* Define how those quality targets will be measured
* Take the actions needed to measure quality
* Identify quality issues and improvements
* Report on the overall level of quality achieved

A process flow chart for fulfill the customer satisfaction and their teams roles and responsibility to deliver defect free  product to the customers.

The quality management (QM) is supported lastingly, because the quality manager is already optimally supported even in a very stage. QM is able to identify promptly weakness factors up front and could implement a comprehensive quality approach increasing quality of product and process of software projects. This avoids errors, reduces resources needed and improves the quality at the same time. The numerous features relieve the quality manager in analyzing, planning, as well as in field of controlling while giving more time for core tasks.

Interviewing techniques to gather project requirements

There are many ways to gather requirements. Interviewing — where you talk to the people who will define the new solution to determine what they need — is probably the default technique for most projects.

Interviewing can be an easy process if the person you’re talking to is organised and logical in their thought process. Since that’s not always the case, however, you have to employ good interviewing techniques in order to start and guide the interview.

There are a number of formal interviewing techniques that will make the requirements gathering process go more smoothly. Here they are.

Start off with general questions.

Typically, you don’t start the discussion by asking narrow, targeted questions. You’ll want to start more high-level and general questions. These questions should be open-ended, in that they require the interviewee to explain or describe something and can’t be answered with a "yes" or a "no". Your goal is to gather as much information as possible with the fewest number of questions.

Ask probing questions.

After you ask general, open-ended questions, you should then start to probe for details. Probing questions are probably the most valuable type of questions, since they tend to result in the detailed requirement statements you’re looking for.

Be persistent.

If you experience any difficulty understanding the interviewee’s point, ask follow-up questions. You can also ask for examples that will illustrate the points the interviewee is making.

Ask direction questions when you need additional information.

Direction questions start to take the discussion in a certain direction. They’re used to provide context and background. For example, "Why is that important to you?" or "Why do you care about that?" are questions that can provide direction.

Ask indirect questions to gain better understanding. Indirect questions are used to follow up on specific points that were raised previously. These questions are used to gain more clarity so that you can ask better questions next. For example, "Is that important because of …" or "You said everything needs to be secure because …"

Ask questions that validate your understanding.

A good interviewing technique is to restate what you just heard back to the interviewee to validate that you understood him/her correctly. For example, after hearing an answer, you could say "If I understand you correctly …"

Paraphrase.

This is similar to the prior technique except that you would take a large amount of information from the receiver and simplify it in your own words. For instance, after hearing the interviewee give a five-minute answer on how a process works today, you could paraphrase the basic points of what he/she said in a quick bulleted list of process steps. For example "So, in other words, the process you use today is basically 1,2,3,4 …"

Ask for examples.

In many (or most) cases of gathering requirements, the interviewer is not totally familiar with all of the information provided by the interviewee. Therefore, one effective way to gain more understanding is to ask for examples. This can also be utilised when the interviewee provides feedback that does not sound totally valid or totally believable. Asking the interviewee for an example helps lend a concrete and specific instance that may help make the requirements clearer. For example, "Can you give me an example of how that affects you?" can help make a statement more clear.

Keep the discussion back on track.

Sometimes the interviewee starts to talk about things that are outside the scope of the specific information you’re trying to gather. This is sometimes caused by a misunderstanding of the question you asked. Other times it’s caused by a lack of focus or a desire to talk about things that are of more interest to the interviewee. When the discussion gets off track, the interviewer must get back on track. An example of this technique would be "That’s a good point. However, can you describe how that relates to (…restate your original question…)?"

Try to stimulate ideas.

Sometimes the interviewee gives the obvious answers but isn’t thinking about other areas that may not be as obvious. The interviewer should try to get the interviewee to stretch a little and think about things that are not quite as obvious. For instance, you can ask "Can you think of a couple options for this situation?" or "Are there other ways to solve this?"

The 10 most dangerous species of IT team leader

After yet more research into the various species that inhabit this working world of ours, I return with a new set of taxonomic classifications. This time, we concern ourselves with the team leader, in all his or her many guises.

As ever, there are many competent and sociable team leaders in IT departments; but they don’t make for great storytelling. Picking the worst and most dangerous types can help us recognise the signs and maybe even glean a little entertainment from them.

1: Dux Timeris

Fearful Leader

This team leader was persuaded to take the leadership job for two reasons: First, the powers that be decided that there should be a team leader so they could devolve some of their duties to someone who can’t answer back. They picked the least confident team member and tailored the promotion process to ensure that the correct candidate was appointed.

Second, this person was the last to get through the door when the call for volunteers went out. He may have been trampled underfoot in the rush and was slightly concussed when the job offer was made.

Now that this new leader is hooked, he’s too timid to ask to be re-graded and spends a lot of his free time worrying about the job. This is completely unfair, as this type is usually a good person trying to do a good job.

Favourite saying: "Can somebody help me please? Anybody?"

2: Dux Fulvus Nasus

I will leave you to translate the Latin for yourself

This leader does not think for himself but hangs on every word passed down to him from on high. If the boss told him that the sun was inhabited by pixies he would send Christmas cards to them.

He cannot believe what he is hearing when somebody on the team disagrees with a management decision; more worryingly, every critical word uttered within his earshot is reported back directly. Once aware of this, a team can make good use of it for propaganda purposes.

Consider the day of the Christmas party, for instance, when our help desk team was told that it was not permitted to attend. We weren’t expecting any calls, as virtually the whole company was at the bash. We decided, within the hearing of the Dux FN, that we would wait for the party to start and then go home. An hour later, our invite to the party had arrived, with an instruction to switch the phones over to voicemail.

Favourite saying: "I was talking to the boss this morning. Wonderful man!"

3: Dux Magnifica

The Paragon of all the Virtues

This person is under the misapprehension that he has arrived, that he or she is "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Yes, this jerk is full of himself. You would think he had just been appointed World President instead of a glorified tea boy. He took to wearing a pin-striped suit on appointment to the position.

He refers to the senior directors of the company as his colleagues or "fellow members of the management team." He is not a tattle-tale. The views of those under him are far too inconsequential to be listened to, much less acted upon.

Favourite saying: "Follow me lads; I know what I am doing!"

4: Dux Trogloditica

Cave Man

This leader is a technical expert who lives, eats, and breathes computers. He leaves the office at the end of the day and goes home to a techno cave where he spends his off-duty hours making his stock of computers, one that NASA would be proud to own, do things that they were never deigned to do.

When he is not thus engaged, he attends conventions dressed as his favourite character from a variety of science fiction films. D Trog is the first person to talk to about a technical problem and the last person to ask about any leadership or personal hygiene issue.

Favourite saying: "I think you’ll find that James T. Kirk never said, ‘Beam me up Scotty.’ The nearest he got was, ‘Scotty beam me up!’"

5: Dux Dictatorialis

The Dictator

You can say what you like about Dux Dictatorialis, but under him all the calls were logged on time. He (and it usually is a he) is an obnoxious person who can’t understand that people have a life outside of work and wants the world to know that HE is in charge. People who disagree with him usually disappear and are never seen again, although a trip to the media library or any other dark and dusty storage facility may give a clue as to their fate.

The worst thing about any dictatorship is that the weaker members of the team find themselves siding with the bully and become bullies themselves. Fortunately, this species is becoming rare in the wild, as there are many predators and few allies.

Favourite saying: "Come on, get with the program!"

6: Dux Nihilistica

Leader of Nothing and Nobody

D Nihilistica is an unhappy and lonely leader. He was made team leader, but the snag is that his team consists of just one person: himself. He has been doing the same job for a number of years and generally speaking, he does a pretty good job. A year ago, he was surfing a recruitment Web site and was spotted by his boss. They don’t want to lose him, as they would have great trouble in replacing him, especially at the paltry salary they currently offer.

Luckily, they persuaded him to stay by awarding him an upgrade in his status, a move that cost nothing.

Favourite saying: He doesn’t have one; there’s nobody to talk to.

7: Dux Amicus Bonissimus

The Best Mate

The Best Mate wants to please everybody all the time. Nobody ever explained the impossibility of this, so he continues trying, even though experience should tell him that he’s on a hiding to nothing. These leaders are known to go home at night wondering why everybody hates them. This is not true. We don’t hate them, we worry about them. In the futile commotion of trying to be all things to all people, they are in dire peril of going quietly mad.

Promotion is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. When you are pleasing the bosses, you will upset the team. Stick up for the team and the bosses will blame you for not communicating their message properly.

Favourite saying: "Why does everybody hate me?"

8: Dux Reluctantis

The Reluctant Leader

The team had functioned well for a number of years, but there was a review and the question was asked, "Who is the team leader?" The answer was not what the big boss wanted to hear.

"You must have a team leader on every team." End of discussion.

People were invited to apply for the post, but nobody was keen. It was clear that the team dynamic was at risk and nobody wanted to rock the boat. Eventually, a person was picked, interviewed, and appointed. Even when the inevitable interview question was asked: "Why do you want this job?" the answer, "I don’t really want it," was not enough to put them off.

Sometimes, a D. Reluctantis is appointed because HR feels he needs a challenge to reveal his full potential.

Favourite saying: "If that’s okay with you…"

9: Dux Minoris

The Lesser Leader

This team leader is perfectly illustrated by Simon Travaglia’s Pimply Faced Youth (PFY) in his celebrated BOFH series of comic IT spoofs.

He is keen but has been led astray by a scheming and manipulative section manager. He is drawn into the various scams and schemes to do down the bean counters and is not above using the Argon-based fire systems to discretely dispose of those who stand in the way.

In reality, this character is easily diverted from his true path and finds himself in a tight corner when the schemes inevitably go wrong. He is great fun to work for, but you should always make sure that you take the key to the server room door with you if you enter alone.

Favourite saying: "Illegitimi non carborundum…" and he has the T-shirt to prove it.

10. Dux Severus

The Serious Team Leader

When some members of the team get promoted it goes to their heads.

Gone is the sociable, easy-going friend you worked with and out comes the martinet. The person who used to take 30-minute bathroom breaks suddenly starts to time your breaks and make scathing comments when you take more than four minutes. Having an upset stomach is no excuse because he knows that the loo break is often used as an unofficial break and an opportunity to catch up on office gossip with help desk colleagues.

Favourite saying: "We run a tight ship here."

This typifies the arrogance of the breed. Adopting the "Royal We" is always a sign that things are going to the bad.

Four tips for using metrics on your project

Identifying, gathering, and leveraging the right mix of metrics is a way to gain better control of your large project. The value can be quantified in a number of areas including:

1. Improved performance of the overall project fulfillment and delivery process
2. Improved estimating for future projects
3. Validation of duration, cost, effort and quality objectives for the project
4. Identification and communication of best practices
5. Improved client satisfaction

In general, metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for understanding how you are doing and the things that can be done better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on anecdotal evidence, perceptions, and guesses. Collect metrics, even if they are imperfect and imprecise. They still provide a better foundation than recollections, perceptions and guesses.

Collect the metrics you’ll use

You don’t want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them. Of course, you need to collect any metrics that are mandatory for your organisation. In addition, you should collect any other metrics that are needed by your particular project. However, if you don’t have a purpose for the metrics, or if your project isn’t long enough that you can really leverage the information, these customised project specific metrics are not worth collecting for your project.

Make sure the value of collecting a metric is worth the cost

Just as there is some cost associated with most project management activities, there’s a cost to collecting and managing a metrics process. Some metrics are interesting, but don’t provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement. Some metrics are just prohibitively expensive to collect. The cost to collect each metric must be balanced against the potential benefit that will be gained. Start by gathering metrics that your organisation requires. Then add metrics that have the lowest cost and effort to collect and can provide the highest potential benefit.

Make sure your metrics tell a complete story

The problem with many metrics is that they’re reported in a way that doesn’t tell a complete story. The project manager and project team may know what a given metric is telling them, but other people accessing the information may not.

One way to help is to always report the metric along with the target. For instance, if you report your current expenditures to date, also include your expected expenditures at this point in the project. If you report that your project has spent $100,000 so far and your total budget is $150,000, the reader still doesn’t have the context to know whether this is a good or bad situation. Sure you’re under budget, but the work is not complete either. The better way to report this information is to state that you have spent $100,000 to date and that according to your estimate you should have spent $110,000 at this point in the project. If the trend continued, you estimate the final cost of the project to be $135,000 versus your budget of $150,000. If you report the metrics with this context, your readers can understand what the numbers are saying.

Train your team in the purpose and value of metrics

The general definition of "metrics" is not always obvious. The project manager may be trying to create a metrics program for a large project, while the project team doesn’t make the connection between gathering metrics and the business value received. This disconnect may affect the client as well. The project manager should take the time to explain why metrics are needed and how the information collected will help drive improvements. Likewise, the team should understand how to look for metrics that will provide an indication as to the state of a process or a deliverable. Educating the team and the client will help the project manager obtain better metrics with less work effort and less pushback.

7 techniques for managing your technical staff

In my post Four things you should know about your technical staff , I talked about some of the general characteristics of an IT project team. For example:

1. They tend to be introverts
2. They tend to think more logically than emotionally
3. They tend to be problem solvers
4. They tend to be technically creative

Knowing some of the characteristics of your technical staff allows you to better understand how to manage them effectively. Applying some or all of the following techniques will help you create a more conducive work environment where people can excel.

Give them the tools that need to do their jobs.

Establish an environment where people feel they have what they need in order to do their jobs. This includes having appropriate hardware and software. It doesn’t necessarily need to be state of the art, but it should be of acceptable quality. Because they’re in the IT field, IT people get frustrated when they don’t have the right hardware and software to do their jobs effectively.

Make sure they have the right skills and provide opportunities to learn.

IT people love to learn new things. Managers should make sure their people have the skills needed to do their jobs and that they receive opportunities to grow into new technical areas. This doesn’t have to be third-party training classes. It can include computer-based training, seminars, webinars, books, magazines, etc. Also, once someone has mastered a certain skill and they start to become bored, look for ways they can cross-train and learn new areas of the group.

Create a viable work environment.

Technical people like to understand the work processes in the group, and then they like to be creative in working within that structure. So, set the high-level rules, but don’t micromanage the details.

Give people as much information as they need to do their jobs.

Managers should strive to be proactive communicators. Remember, many IT people are introverts who like to process information internally. They may or may not come up to you and ask you what’s going on all of the time. Managers should make sure that they communicate as much as they can about what’s going on in the company, their organisation, and their group.

Shield the team from office politics

Don’t let your team get bogged down in the organisation muck. This means removing organisational roadblocks and shielding the team from organisational politics. IT people will tend to get cynical fast if they feel like a political environment is affecting their work or in decisions that affect them.

Make sure each person remembers he’s part of a team.

Even though IT people tend to be introverts, it doesn’t mean they prefer to work alone. IT staff may prefer to work independently, but they also like being a part of the team. Managers should nurture this need. For instance, they should have regular team meetings. Managers should also make sure they have opportunities to do fun stuff as a group – even if it’s just going to lunch together once in a while.

Be there when needed and respond to problems and concerns.

Not all problems can be fixed, but many times the simple act of listening and trying is enough. People will give you credit for trying, even if the ultimate resolution to a problem isn’t available.

You might note that many of these management techniques are not unique to technical staff in general or IT staff in particular, but they’re particularly applicable to the IT staff.

Hire a diverse project team without compromising on the best candidates

To many people, the focus on diversity is synonymous with the hiring of inferior quality for the sake of meeting quotas. But companies have found that there is long-term business value associated with a diverse workforce. Why is diversity awareness needed to begin with? Let’s assume your project team has an opening. You want to hire the best candidate available, right? In many cases there is a clear "best" candidate based on experience and skill level. However, if there are many such people to choose from, the hiring manager may rate a candidate’s qualifications using his own background as a measuring stick. After all, if a project manager has a certain background and ended up in the position he is in today, wouldn’t it make sense to him to look for those same traits in another person? Wouldn’t he tend to pick a person that physically looks like him as well?

Project managers also want to make sure they hire someone that will get along with the rest of the team. Again, if there are multiple candidates with close qualifications, the project team may choose a candidate who is "more like themselves".

If teams are left on their own, these two sets of natural biases tend to result in a like group of people hiring a similar candidate. In some organisations and on some projects, this results in a bias against workers of the opposite sex. In other businesses, there’s a bias based on culture and race.

Companies, especially large ones, have tried to formalise and standardise the recruiting and hiring process in a way that allows each candidate to be judged based on the same set of criteria. The goal of a standardised process is usually not to hire diverse workers. The goal is to remove as many of the subconscious biases as possible and to ensure that the most qualified candidate is hired.

Diversity awareness lets you:

1. Make better decisions. People from the same types of backgrounds can have a tendency to think alike and this can affect the decisions that people make. Project managers need a diverse set of opinions to make the best technical decisions, to communicate more effectively with all of your clients, and to design and build the most creative solutions.
2. Hire better people. Ultimately there is value in being able to hire the best person, regardless of the person’s background. In many cases, organisations that do not value diversity end up not hiring a group of people that all look and act the same. They will tell you that they are always hiring the "best". But is it really true that the best people all look and act the same as each other?
3. Running better projects. You have to be experienced managing diverse people to excel in today’s global marketplace. Can your project team really develop software that is used around the world, for instance, with an entire team that all comes from the same background? Can a project manager manage a worldwide distributed team if he has never managed people that are different from him? Can you service your diverse customer community effectively without a diverse project team?

The bottom line is that there is value in having a diverse workforce and a diverse project team. If this was an artificial feel-good idea, it would not be so important to so many companies. However, companies have found that valuing diversity results in hiring better people and provides real business benefit.

10 ways to effectively estimate and control project costs

Building a better bottom line is just as important for an IT department as it is for the whole organisation at the enterprise level.

Implementing sound financial management within an IT framework is broader than simply being more efficient. Many factors are involved: an understanding of the main drivers of IT costs, aligning IT spending plans with overall business strategy, using financial resources efficiently, viewing IT expenditures as investments and having procedures to track their performance, and implementing sound processes for making IT investment decisions.

Estimating what a project will cost is only half the battle; controlling those costs during the project and after delivery is equally critical. In this article, we examine some methods to predict and manage costs, part of a sound basis for overall IT financial management.

1: Control baseline costs

Nondiscretionary money spent maintaining established IT systems is referred to as baseline costs. These are the "grin and bear it" costs, those required just to keep things going. Baseline costs constitute around 70 percent of all IT spending for the average organisation, so this is a good place to start. These costs tend to creep over time due to the addition of new systems, meaning there’s less money available for discretionary project work. Worse yet, this creep gives the appearance that IT costs are rising while the value derived from IT investments stays the same or actually goes down.

Fortunately, baseline costs can be easily controlled. Renegotiate vendor contracts, reexamine service levels, manage assets effectively, consolidate servers, sunset older applications, maintain a solid enterprise architecture, and practice good project and resource management. By so doing you can lower the percentage of the IT budget allocated to baseline costs and keep them in line, avoiding problems with opportunity costs. Think of IT projects as an investment portfolio; the idea is to maximise value and appreciation. Baseline costs are food, clothing, and shelter; we have to spend the money but it doesn’t have to overwhelm the budget.

2: Acknowledge hidden IT spending impacts

Gartner estimates more than 10 percent of corporate technology spending occurs in business units, beyond the control of IT. Several factors contribute to increasing hidden IT spending:

– Flat organisational models more difficult to rein in and control

– Virtual enterprise structures ostensibly set up as nimble, agile organisational constructs but without regard for policy and procedure

– Changing organisational authority where business unit managers are given (or take) responsibility for decentralised technology spending

– Selective IT outsourcing, in which a business unit will independently decide it doesn’t need to participate in overall enterprise architecture to fulfill its departmental mission

The impact of all this hidden technology spending can be profound and prevents IT from being able to control project costs. Architectural pollution from rogue projects can delay change, resulting in cost overruns and lost opportunities. Business unit-sponsored systems eventually become the responsibility of IT, increasing the cost of support and maintenance (there are those baseline costs again). Cultural biases in business units may conflict with overall strategic goals, increasing costs and resulting in the destabilisation of information and knowledge. This is just as important for small companies as well as large; fundamental business decision-making is driven by solid information, and if we don’t have it we can’t do it.

3: Understand long-term application costs

As a general rule, ongoing application costs are about 40 percent to 60 percent of the original development cost for each year in an application’s life cycle. Sound like a lot? These are the costs associated with application support, maintenance, operations, software licenses, infrastructure, and allocated help desk and operational staff. Controlling these ongoing costs is critical; as a component of baseline costs, they’re necessary evils. Collect and maintain information about all new development work underway throughout the entire enterprise and actively participate in all projects as a value-added business partner. Communicate effectively and relentlessly; report to senior management anticipated costs both at the start of projects and at appropriate intervals thereafter. Don’t forget to maintain a historical record of all costs.

4: Understand IT cost estimation truths

How good an estimator of project costs are you? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but no matter how good you think you are, you’re not that good. None of us are; your crystal ball is just as cloudy as anyone else’s. This is the single biggest reason IT projects have such a high failure rate. Remember: the cost of IT initiatives will typically exceed original estimates by an average of 100 percent.

Institutional knowledge is lacking as to the result of major initiatives, the advice and counsel of IT is routinely omitted or ignored, and business process change relies too heavily on IT ownership of those business processes. How often have you been called upon to estimate, if not virtually guarantee, a project cost before the scope has been fully defined?

As an IT professional, whatever your role on a project, you must provide business managers with parameters for setting funding expectations and force those business managers to explain why their assumptions are valid. If you’re an IT manager, track all major development efforts throughout the enterprise and regardless of your role, participate in the creation of a knowledge base of maintenance and support costs to drive future verifiable and credible estimation. Don’t underestimate the future costs of maintenance and support and whatever you do, don’t make the classic cardinal error: do not, under any circumstances, pad budgets in anticipation of an underestimation. Keep track of project costs as the project unfolds and communicate, immediately and vociferously, the instant you detect even the potential for an overrun.

5: Leverage current system investments

Applications, purchased software, networks, infrastructure, and any IT investment should all be regularly reviewed, at least on an annual basis, to ensure maximum value is being extracted and that original ROI goals are being met. Start with the original requirements and review them to ensure return on investment goals were delivered. Examine changes in the business and review new requests to determine whether they fit with the existing systems. Consider business reengineering. Review embedded processes to determine whether they’re consistent with new organisational models and make changes where necessary. Review vendor and product features, making sure they still fit within the organisation. Enterprise architecture is organic; it’s not once and done. It changes over time. Keeping up with those changes allows for adjustments either at the periphery or by making modifications to existing components. This is an effective way to control overall costs.

6: Implement short-term cost cutting measures

Often we can control costs by putting in place tactical solutions. Short-term thinking can also be an effective tool in project cost estimation, in that it focuses us on the details. Getting from New York to Tokyo involves a fairly long flight, but we can’t forget that we still have to figure out how we’re going to get to the airport to begin with.

Try to postpone capital purchases as long as possible. This may not only provide time to negotiate better costs, but an idea for a less expensive solution may present itself after the project has begun. Always control project scope. Come to agreement as quickly as possible with business unit customers and sponsors as to the overall project scope and put that in writing. Have an effective change management process for the inevitable "just one more thing" discussions, which will limit or postpone until after project delivery the single biggest reason for cost overruns.

Try to control human resource spending. There are only two reasons to use external consultants — to fill a knowledge gap (we don’t know how to do something) and to fill a resource gap (we have too few to complete the project on time). Negotiate the best possible rates and where possible, use fixed-price agreements rather than T&M (time and materials).

7: Implement long-term cost cutting measures

Be tactical, but don’t forget to be strategic at the same time. Make sure there’s an enterprise architecture; it’s hard to put the puzzle together when you have no picture on the front of the box to go by. Eliminate duplicate processes and systems, eliminating unnecessary costs in the process. Reprioritise and rejustify all IT projects on a regular basis. Just because something made sense in January doesn’t mean it still does in August, so why waste the budget? And outsource selectively. These are the costs that typically are the most controllable yet too often lead to the highest cost overruns.

8: Implement pricing and chargeback mechanisms

I once worked for a CIO at a Fortune 500 company who decided an internal chargeback process was needed to make business units more accountable for technology costs. He successfully implemented the new approach and was credited with saving the corporation many millions of dollars. He was also fired, because this approach is the one most fraught with political peril.

Absent a chargeback mechanism, business units tend to look upon IT as a giant free toystore. Put one in place and those same business units feel free to go to the outside to get more competitive technology pricing, and IT loses control and becomes marginalised.

If your company is going to consider this, there are ways to achieve both goals: making the business units accountable and maintaining central technology architectural control. Internal IT must be competitive with external service providers. Periodic benchmarking exercises are key. Don’t underestimate the substantial resources needed to effectively administer chargeback mechanisms to ensure that business units have all the information they need and no one feels at a disadvantage. IT must have a clear understanding of all costs and manage the demand appropriately. Use client satisfaction surveys and service level agreements (a good idea no matter what the circumstances) and always show a balance between costs and benefits.

9: Use governance to drive IT investment decisions

Too many organisations fly blind, with little synergy between IT and the business. In most organisations, IT is a discretionary expense center; there’s a fundamental framework (baseline costs again) but most, if not all, of what’s required beyond that isn’t necessarily mission critical.

Enlightened organisations understand that IT is a value-added strategic business partner, and a successful collaboration between IT and the business drives significantly increased stakeholder value. Establish, or if one exists become a participant of, a strategy council to examine enterprise-level issues of strategy, politics, priorities, and funding. Set up a business council to define priorities, oversee projects, and measure (and communicate) project success across business units. This group must, of course, have the courage to cancel projects when that becomes necessary; not everything that starts must finish. Put together a technical council to develop guidelines and principles for technology standards and practices. These are three very different organisational constructs, and while there may be some overlap in terms of participation, the mission of each is mutually exclusive.

10: Quantify the value/benefit proposition for IT investments

Why do we do what we do? That’s not an existential or rhetorical question. IT exists to provide value, to participate in the achievement of organisational strategic goals. How can we prove we’ve done so? Just because we’ve built a thing, that doesn’t mean much. Does the thing work? Does the thing provide value? Is that value measurable and consistent with the corporate mission?

Some quantifiable benefits of IT work can be improved operating efficiencies, enhanced personal productivity, enhanced decision quality, and/or enabling or supporting organisational strategic initiatives. What’s most critical is to ensure the credibility of any measurements used to justify IT investments and provide after-the-fact valuations. You may be working on a project that will reduce a process from five person-days’ worth of work to two. Does that mean three people are going to be fired, with the resulting compensation cost saving attributable to your project? Probably not. Those folks will most likely be reassigned, so don’t take credit for expense reductions that aren’t going to happen.