Monday, December 1, 2014

Beware of Project Scope Creep

Scope creep in project management refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. The addition of, or changes to, a project's requirements and features can occur when the goals of a project are not clearly defined, documented, or controlled. Project managers have been plagued by scope creep since the beginning of project management. However, managing scope creep is achievable. 
How Does Scope Creep Happen?
Even when there’s a clearly defined project scope, you still have to beware of scope creep. This generally tends to occur when new features are added to product designs that have already been approved, without providing equivalent increases in budget, time and/or resources. The main causes of scope creep are:

  • Poor Requirements Analysis: Clients don’t always know what they want and can only provide a vague idea. Therefore, their needs are not fully expressed or well defined.
  • Not Involving the Users Early Enough: Thinking you know what the users want or need is a serious mistake. It is important to involve users in the requirements, analysis and design phases.
  • Underestimating the Complexity of the Project: Many projects run into problems because they are new in an industry and have never been done before. In those cases, project managers and participants don't fully know what to expect, or who to look to for additional guidance.
  • Lack of Change Control: While you can expect there to be a degree of scope creep in most projects, it is important to have a process to manage these changes.
  • Perceived Additional Value: This refers to exceeding the scope of a project in the belief that value is being added. However without proper analysis of the change request, there is no guarantee that the change will increase value or customer satisfaction.

How to Control Scope Creep
Managing scope creep in project management is a challenging job that needs to be addressed at the beginning, and throughout, each project's life cycle. Here are some basic guidelines to set for yourself to successfully control the scope of your project:
  • Understand the priorities of the project sponsors: Make a list that you can refer to throughout the project. Items should include budget, deadline, feature delivery and customer satisfaction. You’ll use this list to justify your scheduling decisions or to support your need to defer additional requests once the project has commenced.
  • Define your deliverables: Deliverables should include general descriptions of functionality to be included within the project. Make sure you have them approved by the project sponsors.
  • Break the project down into milestones: Complete a thorough project schedule and make sure you identify the critical paths within the timeline. Be sure to leave a little room in the project schedule for change requests or an error. If your schedule is tight, reevaluate your deliverables to see if any can be deferred until after the team completes the primary project requirements. Seek schedule approval by the project sponsor, then notify all key project participants.
  • Expect that there will be scope creep: Implement a change process early and inform the project sponsor and participants of your processes. A basic change control process must include a means to identify the affect on the project timeline, budget and resources. In addition, it must require an approval for the changes to be implemented and a recognition of any impact.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...

David Schuchman

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Conference Call Etiquette

A conference call is when one or more of the parties are in different locations and situations. We have all been on a conference call where people show up late, become a distraction by forgetting to put their phone on mute, or have sidebar conversations (we hear) with others not on the call.

Here are a few guidelines you should strive to follow when attending a conference call.
Set the Ground Rules
If you are the one that initiated the conference call, let the others on the call know some of the basic ground rules pertaining to etiquette. Ahead of the call, provide the meeting start time, duration and agenda. You can also identify what will not be discussed on the call.

Keep Track of the Conference Call Start Time
Make sure you know when your conference call begins, and be sure to keep the conference call number and pin handy so you are not scrambling to find it at the last minute. Your meeting reminder should not come from a call or email from someone who is waiting for you to join the call.

Never Put Your Phone on Hold
If your hold feature plays background music it will play into the conference call and make it very difficult for the other participants to continue the meeting in your absence.

Mute Your Phone When You are not Speaking
Mute your phone to avoid distracting sounds, conversations, or noises that are not applicable to the conference call. Muting your phone will help you avoid embarrassing sighs, munching noises from eating your lunch, sidebar conversations, or other background noise.

Be Prepared
Like with all meetings, you should do some prep work or write down questions that you would like to address on the conference call. Like any meeting, you want the conference call to be productive and not spawn other calls/meetings because of lack of preparation.

Pay Attention
When you call in to a conference call there are other distractions in front of you: emails in your inbox, coworkers asking questions, work piling up on your desk, etc. If someone asks you a question on the call and you do not realize they are talking to you until the end of their question, it will be obvious that you were not paying attention. Don’t be the person who always has to ask others to repeat their question.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not Everyone Wants More Responsibility

As a manager, one of your most important obligations is to make your staff feel truly valued and letting them know that your company, department and you would be worse off without them. In many cases, you recognize the successes of your top performers by giving them more responsibility. However, you must consider that not everyone may want more responsibility.

The Peter Principal
The Peter Principle is named after Laurence J. Peter who co-authored the humorous book, "The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong." One of the theories discussed in the book is that management stops promoting employees once they can no longer perform effectively. In some cases, employees have determined their own level of where they perform effectively. Hence, they are hesitant to accept more responsibilities or a promotion when they have reached that point.

They are Happy With Their Current Responsibilities
Hopefully, your staff are good at what they do. In some cases, they are very happy doing the job they have already attained. When that happens, they simply may not want new responsibilities or a different job within the organization.

It will Cost Other Opportunities
Some staff will consider the added responsibility a "dead end", that it will hurt their professional reputation, or that it will cost them other career opportunities. Most people want their next position to allow them to grow their skills and experiences, and to be applicable to their career path. They may turn down responsibilities that contradict their professional vision.

They Recall Their Work History
Some staff have previously been rewarded with new responsibilities. They recalled what their initial and long term performance was when they received it and felt they did not adjust well. They experienced difficulties with the added work, new client interactions, new time demands, etc. Some people do not want new additional responsibilities because they expect it will cause them to become overloaded or unproductive again.

No Offer of a Salary Increase
Some people hesitate to accept new responsibilities when the amount of new work and time demands are not accompanied by added salary. It's not to say that all added responsibilities deserve added salary. You need to reflect on this perception when giving more responsibility.

What are You to Do?
  1. Be sure to give your good performers praise.
  2. Offer new responsibilities to staff. But, do not force it upon them. Let them know why you are making the offer, and discuss how the new responsibilities will benefit their career path in addition to your organization. If they express concerns, assure them that you will be supportive during their transition. In the end, let them make the final decision.
  3. Compensate fairly. If the new responsibilities are worth more to the organization, then it may be justified to align that employee's compensation with the new work opportunity.
  4. Consider that if you team is consistently working at their most productive capacity, it may be time to add staff to your team. You may need to document the team's productivity vs. the work demands in order to make the case to your management.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Monday, September 1, 2014

Good Interview Practices: The Hiring Manager's Perspective

As a hiring manager, you may underestimate the value of a well-planned interview and interview process. It makes good sense to go the extra mile to ensure that the process is thorough so that the final result is rewarding for you and the organization. Not taking this process seriously can mean a poor employee selection, which will also cause your management to look poorly upon you and your decision.
Do Your Homework
If the position is a new one, make sure that all stakeholders agree as to how the position will fit within the company's priorities. Revisit the job description and review how each credential, skill or personal quality fits into your company's operating priorities.

If the position fills a vacancy, you need to consider why the prior employee left the position. Did the prior employee have difficulty with the role, team or organization? If so, identify and take corrective measures before you select candidates to interview.

When you are sure about what you want, you are more likely to identify professionals who fit the bill.

Evaluate All Candidates Based On Similar Criteria
Before starting your interview process, determine which skills and priorities are most important for success. Next, create a list of assessment benchmarks for each. Then, evaluate all candidates based on your check-list. When all candidates are asked to meet similar criteria, you can trust your result when one emerges as the candidate of choice.

This approach is helpful when you are reviewing two equally qualified candidates. You can use your checklist and the priorities you have set to objectively determine which candidate is the better fit for the role you want to fill.

You will also find the written checklist helpful when you discuss and defend your final candidate selection to your department/organization's management. When having that discussion with your management, refer to the checklist document.

Ask Direct and Relevant Questions
Your job is to get to know each candidate as well as you can. Chances are the candidates will prepare well. They will have searched the web, read your literature and have a working familiarity with your operations. Use your questions to figure out which candidates are responding with stock answers and which are thinking critically about the challenges you face.

Successful candidates will reveal themselves because of their command of the issues, their constructive suggestions, their humor, and the ease with which they communicate. You will discern a level of honesty, clarity and hopefulness in their responses. You will want to ask more, talk more and engage them more fully in the process.

Less qualified candidates will avoid difficult questions, may refrain from frequent eye contact, and communicate their uneasiness both through their responses and their body-language. Such candidates may even jump into a salary or benefits discussion before you have had the opportunity to assess their abilities and credentials fully.

Filter Out Poor Candidates Quickly
If a candidate commits a significant interview mistake or discloses that s/he lacks key credentials for the job, have a way to politely and firmly terminate the interview. This will eliminate the annoying situation where you have come to judgment on a candidate and are forced to spend time on a full interview. 

Sell Your Organization
Candidates come to an interview to pitch their skills and their willingness to work with your organization. You should do the same when you meet well qualified candidates. Come up with a list of departmental and company attributes worth mentioning: organizational culture, profitability, performance within the industry, etc. You want the promising candidates to continue to consider working for your company after the interview.

Making a good hire depends, in part, on having a positive interview experience with your preferred candidates. The more you have thought about the interview and interview process, the better your chances are of making an outstanding hiring decision.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Friday, August 1, 2014

Do You Need to Backup Your Cloud-Stored Data?

Do You Need to Backup Your Cloud-Stored Data? by David Schuchman
Some organizations assume that because their enterprise data is already stored in "the cloud" that they do not need a separate backup solution for that data. That assumption is wrong. Cloud based solutions for data and application storage require the same diligence for backing up data as for locally stored data and applications. Plus, there are other situations you need to protect against that you may not have considered.

Backing up data is vital for businesses. Lost information can cause a major crisis or worse, lead to business failure. Individuals who don't backup computer data run the same risk. You need to treat your solution for data backup completely separate from your cloud-based solution for data and applications storage. Your cloud-based data and applications must be viewed simply as the virtual equivalent of having the data and applications hosted in your own facility. Therefore if you would have a data backup solution for your in-house facility, you must do so for your cloud based solutions.

Reasons for backing up your enterprise data are:

Point-In-Time Recovery
You may have business or regulatory needs to recover data from a specific point in time, such as the end of the year close. This could be for audit, tax or meet other requirements. Some databases have this feature built in, while others do not. If your cloud applications or databases do not support a point-in-time recovery, then you need to ensure your backup solution satisfies that requirement.

Accidental Deletion
Most applications allow the users to delete data. Users typically can delete network files they no longer need. When you need to recover lost data, the only means to do that may be via your backup solution.

Protect Against Virus or Corrupt Data
While it is likely that your cloud based service provider has virus protection within their operation, it may not be in force on your instance of the application or data storage. In that case should your data become corrupt, you will need to recover the data from your backup solution.

Reasons to backup your enterprise data stored in the cloud:

Don't assume the cloud provider is backing up your data
The cloud provider will agree to do whatever is in your contract. They may have their own virus scanning, backup and recovery procedures for their operations. However, that may not be applicable to you or may not meet your specific needs or timing.

Your Cloud Provider Goes Out of Business
If your cloud based data and applications storage provide goes out of business, you lost your data. You may be able to quickly contract with another vendor to host your applications and install the software. If your only copy of the current data is with the vendor that is out of business, you have likely lost that data forever. Even if you could sue the vendor to recover the data and/or damages, it will take much too long for your needed recovery.

Your choice for a data backup solution and provider will be made based on your data recovery needs. You primary consideration must be that your data backup solution provider be different than your production application and data provider. That's because of my final point above. If you have one provider and that organization goes out of business, you lost your data even though its backed up.

David Schuchman

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Use Blogging to Achieve Your Professional Goals

David Schuchman
This post is the first to start my 2nd year of blogging. As I look at the performance of TechTopics4U over the past year, I am impressed by how my following has grown, both organically and with my own self-promotion. For example, this site no longer has any zero-view days.

Here are my observations as to why you should use active blogging for achieving your professional goals:

Establish Yourself as an Expert in Your Field
As you write more posts and share more of your expertise, your blog site will change from "just another blog" into a strong demonstration of your knowledge in a field. When somebody visits your site and sees the insights you have shared on a subject, along with the comments of people who respect and seek that insight, it will be clear that you are genuinely an expert in the field. Being an expert is a good thing. You may get consideration for new business, career advancement, or consulting opportunities.

You Will Become a Better Communicator
Just the discipline of sitting down and writing will improve your writing and communication skills. The more you blog, the more you write. Therefore, you will become a more effective communicator of your ideas.

Take Control of Your Online Identity
Whether you are a person or business, there is probably a lot of information about you online. When somebody searches for you or your company online, you want to make sure that they get an accurate and complete picture of who you are and what you are passionate about. A blog is a great way for you to control your online identity and make sure that the top search engine results make the right first impression.

Build Your Professional Network
Starting a blog is a great way to expand your professional network. A blog is a good platform for reaching out to others, who in turn will look to contact you. Interesting and relevant blog posts attract readers who will then comment on your site, and can send you personal messages through your "contact us" widget or page. Some of your readers will ask for help, while others will look to help you.

Improve Your Visibility and SEO
People search for and discover information online more than ever. Search engines want to deliver results that are helpful and relevant to their users. When you write a series of in-depth and valuable posts around a topic, search engines such as Google takes notice. Each blog post that you publish is another opportunity to get traffic from search results. In addition, the comments you receive on your blog posts implies that your blog postings are relevant, which will also improve the SEO visibility of you and your blog site.

David Schuchman

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Acknowledge Employees Who Perform Well

When your employees perform well and further the mission of your organization, you should acknowledge them. Their performance improves the bottom line, and as their manager, makes you look good. Acknowledgment gives employees incentive to continue to meet this high standard. Recognition does not only need to be by paying them more money. While a bonus check would be nice, employees will appreciate a more simple acknowledgment of their good job performance.
Place more responsibility on the employee
The new responsibility will be seen as an exciting challenge by the employee. Delegate duties that include work that you as the supervisor normally would perform. Above all, your employee may find this as another way to impress you with continued good performance.

Let the employee in on plans for the company
By giving information about the company that you have no obligation to give, you show the employee that you value and trust him/her as both a person and an employee. The employee may make career direction decisions within the organization based on the information you provide about the company.

Inform your management via email, and "cc" the employee 
This type of recognition really pays off. Not only will the employee know that you appreciate such good efforts, but the managers who read the acknowledgments will know that you appreciate the employee’s job performance as well, and likely give their own acknowledgment to the employee.

Give positive feedback
Have a private meeting with the employee in your office to give an evaluation of the performance. When the employee finds that you want to acknowledge good performance rather than criticize poor performance, the employee will likely leave your office with a smile and renewed energy for continuing to perform well.

David Schuchman

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why You Need a Succession Plan

An organization uses succession planning to ensure that it recruits superior employees, develops their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepares them for advancement. You need to develop a succession plan to ensure that your employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role as the organization evolves.
As your organization expands, loses key employees and provides promotional opportunities, your succession plan guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill new roles. Through your succession planning process, you will retain superior employees because they appreciate the time, attention, and development that you are investing in them. To effectively do succession planning in your organization, you must identify the organization’s long term goals. In addition, successful succession planning builds bench strength to protect your organization against the challenges associated with these 3 occurrences:

Organizational Growth & Reorganization
Organizational growth has the potential to provide a company with a variety of benefits, including greater efficiencies from economies of scale, increased marketplace visibility, a greater ability to withstand market fluctuations, greater profits, and increased prestige for employees. While it spurs job creation, organizational growth also has challenges. A company may outgrow the skills or abilities of its leaders and employees. All those involved may quickly become stressed out trying to keep up with the demands of expansion. Without proper succession planning, the expansion may become ineffective and stall.

Loss of a Key Employee
Every corporation has key leaders or employees that make substantial contributions to the operation, profitability, and success of the business. Any individual who has critical intellectual information, sales relationships, product knowledge, and/or industry contacts that may adversely affect profits in the event of their absence, may be considered key. A succession plan will ensure that an organization can tolerate the short term and permanent loss of a key employee.

Easily Replace a Poor Performer
A poorly performing employee can negatively affect team and organizational performance. Sometimes, they can undermine their coworkers' efforts through their incompetence or uncivil behavior. When attempts to correct their behavior or improve their performance fails, it may become necessary to terminate that employee. A robust succession plan will ensure that an organization will have cultivated other employees to fill the void caused by a staff termination. In addition, it will allow you to plan ahead to replace that employee with a new recruit in a timely fashion.

David Schuchman

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Technology Training from a Manager's Perspective

Every manager who plays a role in researching, selecting or implementing enterprise technology needs to have a firm grasp on emerging technologies. In addition, managers serve the larger business purpose to ensure that technology is being used to the company's best strategic advantage. A program of continual information technology training is crucial to the success of any IT team.

Technology is constantly evolving, and it seems that there is a new product and service released almost daily that is meant to simplify doing business. This can be overwhelming if you do not stay current on the high-level trends of technology and their corresponding impact on business. As a manager, you must take it upon yourself to become proactive by keeping abreast of emerging trends. You need to understand them not only from a technical standpoint, but evaluating them from a higher-level, strategic standpoint. This type of knowledge will help you make conscious and informed decisions on what aspects of new technologies will affect your organization over the next few years.

IT employees have to continually engage in professional development to keep pace with new technologies and applications. They often become technology innovators within the organization, and can serve as internal advocates and trainers. Hence, the trained IT employees can bring the other employees up to speed as end-users of technology.

Employers who invest in employee professional development also tend to reap rewards when it comes to employee retention and job satisfaction. Organizations that encourage their employees to attend training are viewed as being caring and supportive. In such an environment, employees are more likely to stay for the long haul and to have positive attitudes toward their jobs and their companies.

David Schuchman

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What to Look For When Hiring a New Employee

Hiring the best people is more critical than ever. In a tight job market, you are able to be more selective about who you hire. However, the cost of finding, interviewing, engaging and training new employees is high. With so many qualified candidates, here are six things that you should look for when you review and interview job applicants.
Professional Competency
Does the candidate have the necessary skills, experiences and education to successfully complete the tasks to perform well? Look for evidence in a person’s past that shows that they can. This doesn't mean that each candidate needs to have done this particular job with this particular title before. Instead, it means the candidate needs to have a track record of success in the skills that the position requires.

Can this candidate get along with colleagues, and with existing and potential clients and business partners? An additional critical consideration is the person’s willingness and ability to get along well with you (his or her boss). If the new employee can’t get along well with others, there will be problems.

Satisfaction with the Organization
You want to hire a candidate who will stick around for a long time. You will  also want to hire a person who will be happy with the job. An unhappy employee tends to be less productive, become a drain on other employees' morale, and may quickly leave your organization.

Fit with Company Culture
Does the candidate seem like they will easily embrace the culture, or does it seem like they will struggle to fit in? Every business has a culture or a way that people behave and interact with each other. Culture is based on certain values, expectations, policies and procedures that influence the behavior of a leader and employees. Workers who don’t reflect a company’s culture tend to be disruptive and difficult.

Does the candidate have values that align with your organization? Are they honest; do they tell the truth and keep promises? Are they a team player? It's not enough to just show up at work every day and do the minimum required. Look for candidates who care about getting things done, and to do those things well.

Enthusiasm for the Job
Is this just one job of many the candidate is applying to? Or, does the candidate have a special interest in this one? You would rather hire someone who will be excited to come to work than someone who sees it as "just a job."

David Schuchman

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Are Your Passwords Safe?

With the growth of social media websites, and more businesses letting you do transactions via the Internet and mobile devices, you have a growing number of online logon ID's and passwords that you must remember. Every time you sign up at a new website, you face the challenge of what to enter as your password. Here are some password dangers you need to avoid, and steps you can take to mitigate them:
Picking Bad Passwords
Selecting a simple or common password that is easily remembered by you (e.g. “password”, “123456”, “qwerty”) is also easily guessed by hackers.

A best practice is to create “strong” passwords that are difficult to guess. Strong passwords have all of these qualities:
Length of 8 or more characters
Includes a mix of upper and lower case letters
Includes numbers
Includes special characters (e.g. !, @, #, %, etc.)

Not Locking Your Mobile Devices
With new mobile devices, the default setting is to not have an unlock code to access the device.   If you lose your phone and don’t have an unlock code, and you don’t have a way to remotely wipe it, the finder has free reign to go through your emails, contacts, apps and other personal information you store on, or access via, your device.

As soon as you set up your new mobile device or phone, create an unlock code or password.

Reusing Passwords Across Multiple Sites
You run the risk that if one of the website sites you use gets hacked and the website doesn’t store passwords in encrypted format, hackers will use automated programs to scan 1000’s of websites trying to see if your username and password works on one of them.

To mitigate this issue, use a number of different logon ID and password combinations. This is especially true for “like” accounts. If you have multiple bank or credit card accounts from different banks, use a different logon ID and password for each. That way if a hacker does learn the access for one, the hacker does not have the access to the others.

Sharing Your Passwords
When you share your password, you share your identity and possibly your personal and financial information. If you share your password with someone that uses that information to commit a crime, you will likely become a suspect in that crime.

Do not share your logon ID and password with others.

Not Changing Your Passwords
Having old passwords means that someone who previously had access to your accounts, still has access to your accounts.

Change your passwords several times each year. It could be as simple as changing one character. In addition, do not reuse prior passwords within the same logon ID.

Writing Your Passwords Down
If you write your passwords down on a piece of paper, remember that it’s just a piece of paper. You run the risk that you may lose it, it may not be with you when you need to login on, or someone may simply take that piece of paper and gain access to your accounts.

Do not write down your passwords on a piece of paper.

There other high-tech ways to secure passwords and account access, such as password storage programs, biometric readers and smart cards. Some are costly or require the host system to accommodate them. We'll investigate those in a future post.

David Schuchman

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Overcome Systems Integration Challenges

Difficulties with the integration of systems is a challenging obstacle organizations face when planning growth. Sometimes systems you need to integrate reside on different operating systems, use different database solutions and computer languages, and may be legacy systems that a vendor no longer supports. So how can you ensure a successful systems integration project?

Agree on business needs
Integrating different systems almost always involves addressing the needs of multiple departments. It’s crucial to build consensus among all departments as to what are the core business needs, and identify the priorities of those needs. Without clarity around the requirements and priorities, the solution can become a messy process that leads to project overrun.

Analyze and review all technical requirements
Identify the installation and integration requirements each system has to run smoothly and properly. This will include operating environment, input data and format, output data and format, reporting, error handling, and operator intervention. In addition to identifying each specific requirement, identify the differences of those between the integrating systems. Where you identify differences, create a specific plan making each point compatible and reliable.

Document everything
Embrace detail. Information that does not seem important at the beginning may prove critical further down the line. You will need to refer back to the documentation as issues and new requirements arise.

Access skills needed to perform the integration
Take stock of the skills, backgrounds and timely availability of the in-house resources already accessible to you. Then, determine the skills and availability that you need to complete your project. If there are gaps between those two reviews, consider bringing in new hire staff, external contractors or technicians from the product vendor. In addition, plan time to train or hire staff that will provide needed post implementation operational support.

Expect the unexpected
As the systems integration project progresses, people may uncover new needs or unplanned issues. Review each new need and issue against the agreed business needs and priorities before changing the project scope. Update the documentation when you agree on a scope change. Plan to separately perform the deferred new needs to post implementation.

Agreeing in advance to the goals and priorities for any systems integration project, along with proper planning, are the keys to its successful implementation and acceptance.

David Schuchman