Sep 01

What is PM?

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERADuring our professional business interactions, we are under constant attack: from complex business problems, from changing requirements, from tight milestone timelines and budget, and…from…ACRONYMS! Some professionals use acronyms with the genuine motives of being concise and not repeating the same lengthy verbiage many times. However, we must remain vigilant for those who use acronyms in an attempt to prove their intellectual superiority. Placing priority on proving intellectual superiority above having clarity of communication is the wrong priority. Project engagements are partnerships toward a common goal, not competitions to determine who is more clever.

This is the second in my series of posts to explore the meaning of some commonly used acronyms in the enterprise. If we can enter the meeting room with the same knowledge of acronyms as our peers, we can start to take away the perceived power that comes with proving oneself more clever than his peers. Let’s end these shenanigans once and for all.

The acronym we will discuss today is PM. I think this one is especially important to review because I’ve seen it used to describe three different things in the enterprise. Let’s get to it and review the three definitions:

Project Management – This is probably the most commonly used definition for PM. Project Management includes creating and updating project plans, tracking project progress against established milestones and objectives, project status communication, identifying and mitigating risks, facilitating the escalation path of contentious requirements, and managing the contributions of project team members. Project Management includes gathering estimates of effort from project members in different roles and calculating how all those efforts fit together to accomplish the overall objectives in the agreed upon timeline.

Product Management – This is the series of activities that helps a product evolve in a positive direction over time. It is strategic rather than tactical. Whereas project managers customize an established product to suit specific client needs, product managers focus on the actual baseline product. They incorporate client feedback, suggestions form project teams within their own organization, emerging technologies in their market segment, and internal innovations they think will be valuable to their clients’ specific needs based on past experiences. For example, during my client projects, we might configure a dashboard to include client-specific metrics. That is a project management and business analysis exercise. The fact that dashboards are available as a configurable object in the first place is the work of product management. Product Management creates the “things” that everyone else customizes.

Performance Management – Performance Management in a business sense is typically divided into two main categories: Sales and Service. Sales performance management focuses on business rules used for compensating people based on their ability to meet predetermined sales targets. Since sales people could be selling a matrix of different products or working in diverse geographic territories, sales performance management usually includes very complex calculations to determine the commission to be paid. Service performance management focuses on driving improvement for tasks that happen after the sale. These include activities like fielding calls about products or services that are not working as expected. Effective service performance management is structured using the following root cause analysis workflow, starting with the broadest and moving toward the finest:

  1. Strategic Business Objectives
  2. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
  3. Component Metrics
  4. Impacting (or “Related”) Metrics – This one is a parallel flow, not necessarily broader than behaviors and finer than component metrics.
  5. Front Line Behaviors
  6. Targeted coaching sessions that focus on the identified front line behaviors and explore behavior changing tools
  7. Analysis of performance improvement based on this targeted coaching

Performance Management can have a more technical definition as well. When describing technical systems, it refers to efforts to make database processes run faster, complex reports load faster on a web page, etc.

Let’s add “PM” to our arsenal so we are prepared to combat attempts to muddy the waters of engaging partnerships during our projects. So next time someone starts discussing “PM” during a meeting, rather than wondering what he means, you can now interject with, “to which PM are you referring?”since you now know three of them. Little by little, we will build an acronym dictionary that will help us avoid the game of figuring out who is more clever and move onto the real objective – creating massive value for our clients.

 

Aug 19

Giving Back to Your Organization

IMAG0324The organizations that care most about their employees go to great lengths to provide different levels of support and rewards to them. They do this in thanks for their service and to ensure that they are being rewarded for their best efforts by a pleasant environment and appreciation. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Promotions
  • Merit raises
  • Annual bonuses
  • Vacation
  • Management or Mentoring responsibility
  • Personal Time Off
  • A simple “Thank You” for a job well done
  • Recognition among peers
  • Leeway to work on innovative or challenging projects that are of particular interest to that employee

Not all companies devote this kind of attention to their employees, but they are inevitably more successful when they do. Employees do not shed all their feelings and personality because they are employees. They still internally react to good treatment in the same way as in other aspects of their lives, regardless of how vocal they are about this. Subconsciously though, employees produce better work when their work environment is pleasant and their skills and experience is appreciated.

Companies that recognize this idea take time to teach. This happens over a period of years whereby an employee is put into situations to best leverage his skills and to illuminate additional interests and opportunities for improvement. I’ve had countless moments like this in my current company that made me aware of skills and interests I didn’t even know I had, like Client Relationship Management, Onboarding, Gamification, Consulting and Coaching. It was the time my managers took to mentor me in these areas that ignited my desire to seek professional certifications and experience the joy of continuous learning in areas of focused passion for me.

These things can have a life changing impact on an employee. I’ve made major life changing decisions to leverage my previously hidden talents because I had the right managers to help me uncover them. Without those nurturing situations, I’d be watching twice as much TV and would have never started this blog to share all my experiences. This is why it becomes important for you start giving back to your organization. This doesn’t mean handing them cash. However, there are several ways that you can start giving back to your organization that leave it better off than when you arrived. With any luck, these efforts will also have favorable financial benefits for the organization just like promotions and bonuses do for the employee.

Methodology

Methodology is the first place to give back. What is “Methodology”? It is the series of steps or phases that you go through to deliver your product or service. It usually includes things like: sales, kickoff, requirements gathering, design, implementation, testing, deployment, a hand-off to the new users, and training. Companies develop their methodology over time, and they each do it a  bit differently. As an employee spends years implementing the methodology he has been given by the company, he gathers insights about client’s reactions. He inevitably has ideas about how it can be tweaked to better fit the client’s objectives. Take time to review the current methodology templates and submit ideas for improvement to the people who manage those documents. Cite real client examples about why these ideas would make projects run more smoothly and generate revenue for your organization. Some customers are more likely to expand their budget for additional projects if previous projects run very smoothly. It is not only the features a product provides that drive the desire for new projects, but also what the client experiences along the way. No one is in a better position to contribute to long term methodology enhancements than tenured employees who deliver it to clients daily.

Emerging Products and Services

Emerging products and and services is another place to give back. This can be done by establishing best practices for a new product you company is offering. I did this with Gamification by formally educating myself on the topic outside of work and then bringing those skills back to my job to start a center of excellence. Similarly, you can keep up to date with your market sector via Google Alerts. You can use these to innovate within your company by suggesting brand new value-added offerings.

Mentoring

Mentoring is a way to give back that helps other employees start adding value to the organization quicker. You take the skills you’ve learned in your years at the organization and pay them forward to help ensure the company’s ongoing success.

Coaching

Coaching peers or subordinates to help unveil perspectives they might not have considered. This is different from Mentoring, which is the act of teaching new skills or ideas to someone unfamiliar with them. Coaching is the act of removing blind spots so people can see things they missed because they were too close to the situation, not due to lack of knowledge or experience.

Referring New Employees

Referring new employees is another great idea. It helps your company, who has benefited so much from your services, to benefit again from other people who you trust to provide similar levels of service. This is of substantial financial benefit to your company who won’t need to pour as much money into candidate searches.

Not all organizations look out for employees in these ways. In fact, some of them can be totally ambivalent of employees needs, or downright mean-spirited. This is undeniable, and I hear stories from peers about it quite often.

However, for those of you who have grown and benefited from your organization as much as I have, the right thing to do is to give back. I hope I’ve laid out some great ideas on how to do so that cost you nothing but save your company a great deal. These things express your appreciation and it’s always nice to be nice to those who are nice to you.

Have a nice day! :)

 

Aug 10

Que es MOOC? (What is MOOC)?

IMAG0431Despite my constant battle to rid the world of rampant acronym abuse, I must devise an interim solution. People will continue to use acronyms without explaining their meaning as if they are common knowledge, so we must be prepared. We can fight back by getting up to speed on the most commonly used ones. We come across scores of acronyms daily, some of which are familiar based on our experience like YMCA, and some of which are just ways to make the speaker feel clever and the rest of us feel “not in the know”. Being clear and obvious produces more immediate results than being clever and ambiguous every time. Making people actionable through clarity, even if you are repeating things you think they should already know simply makes more sense than wasting time trying to prove intellectual superiority at the expense of actual results.

Understanding new acronyms can be like trying to read a foreign language. I humorously tried to prove this point with my Spanish subject line above. So I’m starting this series of posts that explain some commonly used acronyms I’ve come across recently. That way, we can all be “in the know” and never be victims of cleverness again. Today’s acronym is MOOC. I first saw this acronym used while I was attending a Gamification course offered through the Coursera online offering. After some research, I found out what this acronym stands for. It is:

Important!

Massive Open Online Course

Let’s explore each letter separately:

  • Massive – This means that enrollment is not restricted in the traditional way that maintains a certain student to teacher ratio. The object is to share the subject matter with an unlimited number of students. It is a strategy to make large numbers of people knowledgeable about timely information because those disciplines need trained practitioners. Gamification is a prime example of this. Although Massive Open Online Courses typically include teaching assistants and a way to contact the teacher with questions, of course they will not support the level of personal attention that a traditional classroom will. The other component of “Massive” is the potential for an international student base.
  • Open – Inherent in the unlimited nature of student count is the idea that there are usually few barriers to entry. These courses usually share what prerequisite knowledge would benefit the student, but do not put them through any testing process to prove this knowledge before being accepted into the program. “Open” can also refer to the fact that most of these courses are either free of charge or minimally priced.
  • Online – In its basic sense, this just means the course is available to students solely through an Internet connection. From there, it can deviate. The course can be delivered in real time through a Webinar or prerecorded with the expectation that the students will view them on their own time. Either way, this takes the place of live in-person classes.
  • Course – This means different things depending on the vendor. In my experience, there were a series of recorded weekly lectures we were expected to view followed by a quiz we took to test our knowledge and recall. In addition, there were 3 essay-type assignments that each built on the last in a logical progression of skills. There was also a final exam near the end of the course.  There were established targets for “passing” each of these tests, and in the end, despite the fact that many thousands of students took the course with me, only 5.8% passed. Another contributing factor to calling something a “course” can be the credibility of the provider. My course was delivered by the “Coursera” online technology, but was taught by Kevin Werbach, a professor at the Wharton school of Business in the University of Pennsylvania. By most rational definitions, my Massive Open Online Course was indeed a “course”.

Another difference between Massive Open Online Courses and traditional classroom-led courses is the amount of online collaboration available. We had online forums to collaborate about general questions, and specific things like potential typos in this week’s homework question. It is theoretically easier to get answers to one’s questions when one asks thousands of people simultaneously. The online component also allows “offline” questioning, rather than disrupting a teacher’s live lecture to ask a question. Of course, some people learn best in a live classroom setting, but a Massive Open Online Course can be a convenient way to share information for people who are too busy to learn it in person.

1 down, and thousands to go!

At least now when someone uses the term MOOC to sound clever, you no longer need to ask, “Que es MOOC?”

On the flip side, please remember to define MOOC to your audience if you are the speaker. It’s the polite thing to do. :)

Aug 02

Successful Onboarding Strategies

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout my career, I’ve worked in companies that use words I’d never heard before. This happened for 3 reasons:

  • They were words specific to that company.
  • They were emerging words in the market.
  • They just reflected my ongoing education – Something other people knew that I had yet to learn.

When I began my tenure at my current company, I came across the term “Onboarding”. I searched my mind for any recollection of this term but there was none to be found. I knew all about skateboarding, snowboarding, boarding passes, boarding schools, room and boarding, and yes, even hover-boarding, but what was this “Onboarding” of which everyone was speaking?

I finally realized that Onboarding was the process I was actually going through at the time. Soon thereafter, I realized it could and should be done better. It is the process of being “brought on-board” into a new company or group in a structured way, like people are brought onto a cruise ship. Its objective is to give new employees the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the position, just like ship Onboarding focuses on giving guests the knowledge needed to have a safe journey.

That defines WHAT Onboarding is, but the magic happens in HOW it is executed. As I became a tenured resource in my organization, I became passionate about doing Onboarding the right way. This is not to say that it was done badly in the past. I just think the quest to make new employees immediately billable causes Onboarding not to get the attention it deserves. It is a chronic condition existing in every company I’ve ever worked in. Employees do not have adequate time to teach new employees because they are too busy doing their jobs.

So what can we do to eradicate this chronic disease? In short, we need to structure Onboarding so it runs more automatically. I’ve worked recently with an extremely intelligent and talented colleague (hopefully he comments on this blog entry) on revamping our whole Onboarding package. We want to make the process easier and more impactful for new employees than it was for us. Here are my rules for successful Onboarding:

  • Have a standard hand-off process where the hiring manager makes the Onboarding team aware that there are new employees. This can be done through a SharePoint list so the communication is always in the same place and people do not need to remember whom to email.
  • Make sure as Onboarding administrators you have a welcome session for the new employees to get them acclimated to the wonderful program you’ve built for them. Just pointing someone to a set of documents without the personal touch is bad. If I haven’t made this clear in my last 45 posts, relationships is what it’s all about.
  • Make sure all the documentation is in 1 place. SharePoint works well for this. Asking employees to search many different systems for information can be confusing and frustrating for them. Better yet, give them just 1 Training Guide document that has links to every other piece of information. With this approach, it doesn’t matter if the other information is scattered, because the new employees only need to remember 1 place. It also makes the new employees more self-sufficient. The Training Guide tells them what to click on next, so they don’t need to depend on other people with limited time to share.
  • Have daily touch-points when the new employees can ask questions or get clarification on something that went wrong during an assigned exercise. This also makes the Onboarding program more interactive between the new employee and the Onboarding administrators. Interactive = fun!
  • Tailor the program to share role-specific information. Although some of the training may generally apply to all roles, someone in a project management role may need to learn how the company handles financial reconciliation whereas a business analyst may need to learn how to write a complex metric calculation.
  • Integrate with a Mentoring program that will continue after the weeks of Onboarding come to a close. New employees need a continuing person/people to help them with ongoing project challenges. I still leverage the mentor I had when I started at my organization 4 1/2 years ago.
  • In addition to the specifics of the solution being implemented, spend time on the methodology. Methodology is the sequence of steps one goes through to complete a project. It includes teaching new employees which roles take on which tasks, which tasks happen during which project phases and in which order, and when to use which documents. It can also include common areas of contention or opportunities for excellence, so new employees can prepare for these.
  • Mix up the communication media. For example, deliver some of the training in person, some via WebEx recordings, some via conference calls and some via documents to read. This helps break up the monotony. Although everything should be available in 1 location, the content itself should be varied and interesting.
  • Give new employees enough time to go through the Onboarding package properly, without being rushed onto real live projects. This can be a difficult discussion with upper management who is looking at the revenue generated by each employee, but it is necessary. Think of a 4-12 week Onboarding period as an investment. Yes, those are 4-12 weeks when the new employee is not bringing in revenue. However, it is also saving potentially a year or more of less than effective projects due to attempts to figure things out little by little. Waiting a few weeks to make someone billable is a no-brainer to me if the reward is profitable projects that bring huge value to our clients.
  • Have a way to evaluate how much the new employee has learned during Onboarding. We do this in 2 ways. The first is by using a 5 question quiz for each recording or exercise we provide. This helps them evaluate their understanding, gives their mentors a sense of areas of opportunity, and also helps us fine tune our Onboarding program to evolve its effectiveness over time. The 2nd way is a “mock project”. After the methodology and technical training concludes, we assemble people from the typical project team roles (Engagement Manager, Business Analyst, and Integration Engineer), and ask them to apply the skills they’ve learned on a practice project. We get them started with the initial Discovery documentation of course. They take it from there, treating us (The Onboarding Administrators) like the customer in this pretend scenario.
  • Listen to the feedback and incorporate it where appropriate. Feedback from the new employees is vital and valuable. We should collect it during the Onboarding process and also through surveys after the fact. The more perspectives, the better. It’s better to have more feedback to sort out than to have no feedback and wonder whether your program is effective.
  • Once the new employee has completed the Onboarding program, have them shadow an experienced resource for the first few projects, learning lessons (and sharing their own insights) along the way. They can be billable at half rate during this time. It helps them ease into the role without feeling unnecessary pressure.

These are the things that have worked for me. When a new hire comes aboard, there can be a tendency to expect them to be immediately valuable. We chose them based on specific skills and experience after all. The insight here is that no matter how smart or experienced someone is, they can’t possibly have mastered a brand new thing before they’ve ever seen it. Keep this in mind as you build your successful Onboarding strategies.

Don’t get stuck on the hover-board that never flies straight while trying to find your way to success.

Get on the stable cruise ship instead. All aboard!

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