freeRangeFree Range Project Managers

I recently wrote an article about the rise of the “battery project manager”. I thought it was time that I presented the alternative view. These I am calling the “free range project manager”.

These project managers tend to have a focus on the people involved in a project and less on the process of project management. Whilst they appreciate the need for process they see them more as “guidelines” and not “rules”.

It’s all about content

They are more inclined to talk to people in the flesh as opposed to getting the headset on and having a conference call. They understand the importance of non-verbal communication and have empathy to team members.

To them a project is not an academic exercise; it has real content where the business is a real customer. Their goal is to “delight” the customer and exceed their expectations. They work the hours they need to in order to get things done and not just the hors they have to.

They are risk takers, but not risk at any cost, they assess the risk and make an informed decision. If it goes against them they put their hands up and admit any mistakes. They stand behind their team and help then wherever they can.

They adjust to the requirements of the organisation they work in but never compromise their beliefs. Where possible they help those with less experience than themselves and like to pass their experiences on.

Every department should have a few of these project managers.

battery project managersBattery Project Managers

As an independent Project/Programme Management consultant who works with some of the largest corporates in the world I get to see the current acceptable practices in operation. An alarming trend I have spotted for some time is the rise of the “Battery Project Manager”.

The Battery project Managers sit in clusters with other Battery Project Mangers and manage their project from afar as an academic exercise. There I no interaction with the business and no understanding of what the actual project is trying to achieve.

Its all about the process

They follow process without regard to what it is they are doing. They use so called “enterprise tools” to report up and enact the latest edict without challenge.

 Issues and risks go into logs and are tracked mechanically and updated when requested. Status reports are completed on time as dictated by the PMO (The Programme Management Office).

There is no real distinction between a PMO analysts and a Battery Project Manager, in its worst manifestation Project Managers are subordinate to the analyst.

As you can tell from the article I am not overly impressed with what I see with this trend. Project management is a people game and requires interactions with others to be successful.

Its people that make projects a success not the process. Anyone can blindly follow a process but the real magic happens when you start questioning why things are done in a certain way.

Project Failures?

I am convinced that this trend is the reason why we see examples in the news of “glitches” with Bank systems or mobile phone systems not been available for hours. People who bear the scars of projects over the years know where the pitfalls are and where to look for likely problems.

If you haven’t been at the coalface it’s difficult to see what may happen.

I personally believe that the Project Management profession is at a crossroads between the entrepreneurial (free range) Project Managers and the Battery Project Managers.

I know if it was my business what I would want is to have project managers who focused on the content and not the process.

 

Sony T13 laptop

Sony T13 laptop

I  am a Switcher

Over the years there has been a great deal written about “switchers“. These are people wh have used PC’s for years who decide to move over to  Apple. I was one of these for the last few years. It was probably about the time of  Windows Vista that I decided to change. I had stuck to Apple though the early days of Windows 7 and watched with interest what was happening with Windows 8.

As you will have read from me earlier article (here) I started playing around with Windows 8 (on the Mac using Parallel’s) and liked what I found. It seemed very stable and once you got use to the Metro interface it becomes very slick. It was around this time that I realised I need to update my MacBook.

 Switcher to Apple

I purchased the MacBook back in 2007 and it has been a really effective tool and served me well. However I was getting to the point where certain applications could not be installed on it due to the chip used. This was really a pain and got me thinking that this wasn’t the first time I had been “let down” by the hardware used by Apple. The same thing happened with my old G5 desktop. I wont get too much into what I think about the Apple eco-system and how they treat their consumers, thats for another article, another day.

Anyway back to the thrust of this article. I decided to look around and initially did the Mac Versus PC comparison.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the latest MacBooks and the Air models to me seem to be designed for the “trendy” user.

A Switcher and Proud

I then looked into the idea of a touch screen Windows 8 machine. Looking at the market I went and tried some and have to say I loved the way they worked. It somehow feels natural to go between the keyboard and the screen and having major controls on the left and right of the screen works really well.

Whilst there has been a lot of criticism around the Metro interface I have to admit I like it. It is very straightforward and easy to use and very slick. I have now had my new laptop (Sony VAIO T13 Silver) for around a month and I have to say I am delighted by its performance and feel provided by Windows 8.

Another key observation to make here is if you can try the new Office 2013 as well, this is a real improvement on the old Office versions and it just feels that this is the best version yet. The interface is slick and very pleasing and the way the cursor moves and looks is very different.

Apple really needs to think about what it does next as Microsoft seems to have got it right with the latest version of Windows. If the hardware manufacturers get their act together there could be some really good hardware on offer over the next few years.

So there you go I am a switcher and proud of it – but not in the way you would expect!!

 

Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoWindows 8 – Worth the wait.

I have spent the last few days playing about with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system and I have to say my initial thoughts are this is really good. Looking at early reports and release candidates of windows 8 there was a lot of reaction to the new Metro interface and the fact that it looked a bit clunky. Well imagine  my surprise that even after a couple of hours I found it to be intuitive and easy to use.

The whole idea of windows 8 is to have everything you need at your finger tips and to tailor it to the way you work.

The new look and feel of the various wrappers to applications is far smoother than previous incarnations and is very pleasing to the eye. You will notice the lack of a start button but that is early remedied by bringing down various add-ons that are available. The one I have tended to use is classic shell which can be found here.

Windows 8 Tips – Corners

As this is very early days with using windows 8 I thought I would let you have a some tips that I have discovered that are really useful. The first one is to remember how important the corners of the screen are for you now. As the devices I have used so far are traditional laptops and desktops they do not have the “touch features” that will arrive with other devices. However dragging your mouse into the corners of the screen brings up side panels that you can then use.

Windows 8 Tips – Right Click on Start Screen

This is a really powerful tip. If you right click when you are on the start screen and select all apps it basically gives you access to all the settings for your machine. Here you can access the command line as well as others. If you select an item on the screen and right click on that you are then given even more options including being able to run things as administrator.

Windows 8 – Being able to go back to clean machine.

One tip I have found really usefull is the ability to take an image of your machine that you can use to take your machine back to its original state in case you have a major issue. This can be acheived by:

Go to the start screen and right click. Once you have done this select All apps, this will bring up the various options you have on your machine. Have a look and find Command Prompt, right click on that and select run as administrator. When you are in the prompt then enter the following

mkdir C:\RefreshImage
recimg -CreateImage C:\RefreshImage

This will take some time to create the image but it will be worth it as you now have an image to revert back to if you run into problems with your machine and need to take it back to it’s original settings.

Well finally so far so good. I intend playing around more over the next few weeks and will update more as I learn more.

 

Time to Change Systems

With the issues over the last few days affecting RBS you have to ask the question is it time to replace these old archaic systems that have been patched over the years and the de-risk the business.

What these banks have done is apply sticking plaster to a gaping wound. The original systems were never designed for the 24/7 365 model. What these people should have done is invested when times were good and position themselves for the 21st-century.

We probably at the point now where the replacement of these systems is inevitable or even will be mandated by government.

As an independent IT consultant I welcome the challenge should these be presented to us. We certainly have the expertise within the UK to undertake such an endeavour.

If the investment is too big for one bank then why don’t the banks get together and specify and build a standard banking system. Adopting a standard system would enable certain controls and reporting to be mandated and if this is done in concert with the government regulation could be built into the system is as well as the controls.

We really can’t afford to put off these issues to the future. Every time a bank tries to upgrade standard software that comprise part of the batch system the risk of it going wrong increases.

As these systems get older and older the intellectual property of the bank is diminishing as people retire, get outsourced and leave. There has to be a point at which this must be done to such critical systems. We are trying to run 21st-century finance systems with late 20th century technology.

IT keyboardTechnology Glitch

A massive “Computer Glitch” at RBS group has caused incredible disruption to customers and has taken a long time to fix. Is this as a result of lack of investment in technology and the desire to constantly drive costs from running IT?

I understand that RBS/NatWest had just finished a massive restructuring and outsourcing of its technical teams so it is definitely an area to look at for fault.

As someone who works in the IT field I have seem first hand how business has expected IT year after year to reduce its costs. If it were a function that what not so important to businesses then I could understand it but IT is now THE fundamental tool that runs the business and banks more so. As a result of this constant race to the bottom more and more of the intellectual property of the business has been sold off.

I am a strong believer in Strategic outsourcing however you should only ever outsource “commodity skills”.  For example installing and supporting desktops is something that lends its self to an outsourced model. However is you need to have an understanding of the technology AND how the business uses that technology then it is not really something you should outsource, as that is the intellectual property of the business.

From reading the press it appears that this fundamental rule has not been followed with the RBS issue and a technology that was outsourced needed a thorough understanding of how it all worked together and not just the technology skill.

One question I would like someone to ask the executives of RBS is how much this will costs and how does this compare with the savings that were made.

As well as the news about RBS I heard on Radio 4 from Wilbur Ross, the US billionaire who has worked with Virgin Money on buying the Northern Rock business and he stated that the big banks in the UK have invested so little in technology that none of them are really prepared for the demands of the 21st Century.

Putting the two news items together you have to ask yourself where is the next Technology issue with the banks coming from? Who will be next?

UPDATE 28/6/2012 – Following on from my article yesterday Martin Taylor, the former chief executive of Barclays, stated that “There’s not much to a bank except its licence, computer systems and reputation” . So based on that its all pretty damaging for RBS.

 

Voice recognition

Voice Recognition

Over the last few years alternative ways to access computers have been sought. One of the most compelling has to be voice recognition. I have tried several versions of voice recognition software and have never really found it that accurate for daily use.

However is this all about change. What with Apple’s Siri and Dragon express I believe that voice recognition has now come of age.

I have used  previous versions of Dragon over the years and always found it very tedious to install and then train. This time however I downloaded Dragon Express, installed it, followed the wizard and then within 6 or 7 panels it was trained and ready to go.

In fact I’m now dictating this straight into Dragon and the accuracy is very good indeed. Not only is the accuracy good but I am dictating this where the television is quite loud and it seems to be working fine. With this in mind I really do believe that we are now entering a new age where the traditional keyboard and mouse will be replaced by touch and voice.

In the Windows arena the interface also changing with the development of a PC version of X boxes Kinect. Not only does this offer voice recognition it also offers gesture control.

So in conclusion the next few months and years are going to be very interesting as the new means of interaction gather pace with different types of form factor. I firmly believe that voice recognition will play a major role in this.

This article was created  using voice recognition from Dragon Express.

post-pc era

Post-PC era

I am fascinated to see the coverage in the press over the last few days raving about windows 8 and how this is a move to the post pc-era.

As someone who was working and delivering large technology programmes in the pre-pc era I have to ask myself if the pc has had its day.

My initial response is it may well be the post pc-era in terms of consumer devices and the use of technology in the home but in terms of the corporate world I really doubt it. How many people out there are still using XP service pack 2 (my current client has only recently moved to SP3!)?

What really is happening is the computer power that was once the domain of the PC can now put delivered in any form factor imaginable, tablet, smartphone, small screen devices what ever the human mind can dream up.

I think the term that should be used is not the post-pc era but the era of “ubiquitous computing”.

The fact that these new devices and form factors are providing opportunities to deliver new and exciting business solutions needs to be embraced and we should push to use them wherever possible.

In previous articles on this site I have said that IT needs to move away from and cant do attitude to a can do attitude. Well thinking differently can help in that re-alignment.

As the computer pervades more into day to day life there will be the demand to have the same in peoples professional life, how many are already asked about ipads!

I have always been someone who has looked forward in technology terms and I find what is happening now as one of the most exciting times to be around. The early promise of computing is now becoming a reality.

Crystal Ball2012 Predictions

So its that time of year when I start thinking about what is going to be the next big thing in the coming year in terms of corporate IT and technology generally.

Cloud Computing

As in my 2011 predictions article cloud computing will continue to be a major theme within IT. Cloud computing will go through a maturity stage in the coming year and the definition will become widely accepted as –

requires systems that run on a simplified data center architecture, operated largely by automated policies, not human hands. The architecture allows end users to self-provision their own servers, and has a billing mechanism that allows the supplier to charge only for the resource used, not the lifetime software license cost”.

Not just adding the word cloud to existing offerings as several of the large vendors have tried to do (termed as cloud-washing).

I believe that this concept will also move toward cloud based applications which does enable SME’s to use enterprise class applications at a fraction of the cost.

The major challenge for the big enterprise vendors is how they set up the billing for these kind of services and they will need to change the mind-set from the existing Processor based and other costing models.

Enterprise Apps

Again this was an area I touched on last year and this hasn’t moved as quickly as I thought it would, however there are signs of this market picking up.  The site www.getapp.com currently has over 4,580 apps available for download in many areas of business.

This area needs to become more mature before it becomes mainstream but the signs are there that this is happening and the trajectory is in the right direction.

Social Media/Collaboration

The one area that I see massive movement next year is the area of Social Media and collaboration. In the past collaboration would have been treated separately but until the drive of social media the collaboration would have been 1-to-1.

With social media the collaboration becomes many-2-many or any other combination you can think off.

It seems strange that this hasn’t happened sooner as a corporation has to be the best example of a social network in existence.

The tools are now there and a good example is www.yammer.com. This has aspects of Twitter and Facebook and is integrated into corporate infrastructures for security purposes but is cloud based.

Theses tools lend themselves to be department; company; interest group; Project  or any other configuration that suite the problem/need you currently have and facilitate communication interaction and inclusion.

Transform from Can’t do to Can do

Probably my most radical prediction for the coming year is the transformation of the IT department from a mentality of cant do to a can do mentality.

Its interesting to see that all of the predictions I have may so far are all around things that are or facilitate self service to the end user not the central IT department.

The central department is viewed as a hindrance to the organisation by many and as a result is often bypassed.

IT management need to change the culture and start to get things done. One of the most annoying things that business users experience is the SLA. Service Level Agreement, these were initially put in place to encourage requests to be seen to within a timeframe that can be measured for performance, what has happened over time is the SLA has become how long it will take – not the original intention.

This transformation will not happen overnight it will take years. If we don’t start this movement now we may end up with all IT roles being shifted to the cloud!

Well that’s it for my 2012 predictions it looks like we have an interesting year ahead.

Email PhotoEmail Banned by Consulting Company

There was an interesting segment on the BBC breakfast show last week discussing the fact that the consulting company ATOS has decided to ban its staff from using internal emails by 2014.

Whilst I think this is a bit of an overreaction it does highlight the fact that the use of email has got completely out of control.

Being of a certain age and in the industry for too long than I care to remember I am amongst a small group of professionals, who project managed and implemented massive systems without the use of email.

We can still remember when collaborating meant everyone in a project sitting in the same room and speaking to each other.

Email Introduced.

When email came along it was a godsend to project teams and really helped in the communications process. It probably helped us become more efficient. We were the masters for the technology and used it and loved it.

However email has become abused over time and we have now become the slave to the emails. Because of this ATOS have made their decision.

Obviously we now live in a connected world and are using social media more and more this means there are a plethora of tools that we can now use to communicate, or the real topic of the moment, COLABORATE.

There are many Instant-messaging platforms that are now getting the acceptance in the corporate market and these are being rolled out and used.

Email or others – Collaboration is the key.

I feel there is a place for all these tools in the IT professionals tool box and they should be used appropriately. The decision from ATOS, in my opinion,  on banning mail is down to misuse of the technology not the technology itself.

With a little discipline in using the technologies the can be used to their full potential. I will follow up on with a separate article on how I manage email and communications to avoid the overload scenario.