Version control in higher education

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Today I came across a blog post (https://medium.com/education-today/78dc8e3f66f) which talked about how version control is completely ignored computer science curriculum. Version control is something very software engineer is using daily on his work. We at BootStrapToday (http://bootstraptoday.com) tried to introduce version control in graduate and postgraduate levels in India. Our thought was if Students know/learn practical tools like Version Control during the degree course, they will improve their chances of getting good job. Unfortunately response from Colleges was Zero. After trying for 1 year we stopped this initiative.

How Decision-making in Project Management Can be Made Easy

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All of us come across several situations in our day-to-day lives where we need to make decisions. Most of the time, we don’t even realize that we are actually making a decision. It is so because these decisions are simple to make, without involving any dire consequences. Decision-making here happens so effortlessly that it does not even stir our conscious minds. (Ok, I agree that there are a few people who would find it very difficult to make decisions even for simple things such as which necktie to wear, or which steak to order! But that’s a very small number of people.)

But when the decision-making involves larger stakes, such as a project’s success or failure, then how do you ensure that you make the right decisions?

Decision-making in a project team largely depends on the following five factors:

  1. Uncertainty in stakeholders’ business landscape
  2. Stakeholders’ business complexity
  3. Available alternative solutions
  4. Working relationship of the team including the stakeholders
  5. Organizational dynamics

Any of these factors can create possibilities where a wrong decision could lead to serious consequences. The best way to make decisions under such complex circumstances is to follow a constructive process. A constructive process means to enable the project manager and the team to be able to follow a certain course of action that eventually leads to taking decisions that are in favor of the project.

A very important part of a constructive process would be:

  1. Empowerment policy
  2. Escalation process
  3. Training

The organizations must have strong policies that clearly ‘empowers’ a project manager under certain circumstances, whereas permits him/her to use an escalation under some other situations.

Every trivial decision-making cannot be escalated, else the senior management will be uselessly spending time on day-to-day operational activities and this would not be good for the organization’s long-term business goals. There should be a culture of trust which percolates till the team level through policies that clearly outline the decision-making powers of project managers.

At the same time, empowerment should be conditional. And the conditions should be triggered based on whether or not a team member or the project manager is capable of taking decisions. Sometimes, a project manager may lack experience either in a particular technology or the business domain. Under these situations, either the organization has to make sure that appropriate training is provided, or the critical decisions be verified by the senior management till the time they are confident that the project manager is capable to deal with the project.

Empowerment and escalation processes can also conditionally change depending upon the complexity and criticality of a project. For example, if a project is dealing with implementing a SaaS solution for a bank, dealing with highly sensitive data, then the organization’s process of empowerment and escalation may be changed and be monitored strictly.

Similarly, the project manager can also use these methods to nurture his team members into leadership roles within the project.

As an effective project manager, you should understand your project and then understand the process of empowerment and escalation vis-à-vis the project’s complexity. This will help you to avoid taking the wrong decisions and coming under the hammer! But if you are familiar and comfortable with the organization’s policies, know a project very well, and still if you are confronted with a puzzling situation, then just use a thumb rule – when in doubt just collaborate and reach the boss for advice.

What is your take on this?

(Photo credit: http://www.life123.com)

 

Infographic: SaaS Capabilities Meet Expectations

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TechRepublic’s informal online survey in February reveals that an overwhelming 91% of companies (n=105) implementing SaaS solutions are mighty pleased with their outcomes.

This survey also reveals that cloud computing will continue to grow at a healthy pace, and Gartner’s prediction supports the healthy growth of cloud. It says that by 2015, worldwide SaaS revenue is expected to reach $22.1 billion dollars.

The survey points out that mobile access is one of the reasons for companies to move to cloud. Microsoft Windows mobile operating system stands out as the ‘most wanted’ from the SaaS vendors, as this infographic shows.

Interestingly, the respondents of TechRepublic’s survey also pointed out several characteristics that they wanted in a SaaS provider, and ‘performance’ topped that list. To get the holistic picture of SaaS, it is also important to note here that the benefits of SaaS (as suggested by Forrester analyst Stephen Mann) are mostly universal.

by BootStrapToday

How SaaS-based Project Management Improves Productivity

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Often productivity is confused with work. While one may be working but still he/she may not be productive enough. One of the challenges of project management is to measure the right level of productivity – whether the developers are over-burdened or under-utilized. Productivity should not be the cause of wrong project scheduling and thereby be the reason for customer’s unhappiness.

In simple terms, productivity can be defined as spending your time on working towards your goals. If you are working and that is helping you progress towards project completion, then you can be called productive.

So, for example, a ticket is generated in your project, and is assigned to a developer. But a similar ticket already exists but assigned to another developer. Don’t you think one of the developers working on this new ticket will just be non-productive?

SaaS-based project management tools help resolve such issues through automation and reduction in duplicating efforts, thus improving productivity. There are a few more ways to improve productivity:

Automation: Many of the important tasks such as bug tracking and ticket management are automated so that the developers and project managers do not waste time in duplicating efforts. Automated timesheets, an integrated feature in SaaS-based project management tools, help in monitoring the total time spent by your team no matter where they choose to work from.

Reduced OpEx and CapEx: Since the SaaS-based project management tool is in the cloud, it reduces the burden of the upfront cost of buying software and hardware, and upgrades and maintenance too. As a result, the IT staff is relieved of mundane tasks and more productive man-hours are released in the hands of developers. Apart from this, being in SaaS mode, it provides quick setup, and allows accessibility from anywhere and anytime.

Improved Time Management and Scheduling: Another way in which the productivity gets improved is through integrated features which automatically update a project’s progress in terms of project schedule estimation and total available developer time.

For example, in BootStrapToday, ‘Filter Delayed/Overdue Tickets’ tells a project manager which tickets are overdue and which have taken more than the estimated time. So, sometimes when you need to forecast a deliverable date for any requirement change (and/or scope increase) you can refer to the similar tickets done in the past, and provide an educated estimate.

Another example is the Gantt Chart View. With this a project manager can monitor the progress of the projects. Tickets are grouped by users and displayed in the Gantt Chart View. Tickets assigned to a user in other projects are also displayed in a separate row. This helps to quickly find out more free time for the user across projects.

Encourage Collaboration: With many critical processes getting automated in the SaaS-based project management tool, developers have immediate access to real-time data. Collaboration under these circumstances becomes smoother. In BootStrapToday, features such as Fileshare, Project Wiki, and Email Integration, support collaborative approach to project management.

Don’t you think SaaS-based project management tools are a great way to manage your projects?

(Photo credit: www.theiqps.org)

Nurturing a Varied Project Management Team

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Corporate work culture has come a long way today. Thanks to the technological advancement (read Cloud Computing) and availability of software tools to manage almost any domain.

SaaS-based project management tools are also available that have helped improve project management performance. But not without posing a few sets of fresh challenges, such as managing geographically distributed teams, and teams with varied options to choose their work locations even if they are geographically collocated . Yes, I mean to include “Work from Home” (WFH), or telecommuting, here.

Forget about Marissa Mayer’s recently banned policy of WFH citing reasons that distance kills productivity. While this could be true under certain circumstances (or for specific organizations, like Yahoo!, that has to be turned around due to the productivity loss that its bureaucratic environment in the past has led to), distributed team culture (including WFH) is here to stay – unlike what Merissa Mayer propagates through her blanket ban on WFH policy. And this is something that has drawn enough flak too!

So, if you cannot do away with distributed teams, you are bound to face a varied team, and your project success will largely depend on how the team is nurtured to perform collaboratively.

The first and foremost factor for any project to succeed is its team culture – how the team comes together and builds a working relationship. The team is bound to have a few “difficult” people who may be uncooperative; or, there might be two egoists who may refuse to see the larger picture, and ignite at the slightest of provocation. If sparks ignite at the very beginning itself, then it will not build a good working relationship among the team members, and you can be rest assured that the project will get delayed.

These are all personality clashes that can happen in any project team. Human personality and behavior cannot be controlled. So it is futile if, as a project manager, you try to regulate the personality differences.

In such a situation, a project manager has to do the fire-fighting and foster a culture that strengthens each team members’ skills and position in the team. You have to be a true leader. You could facilitate team discussions, develop a framework for making decision-making easier during a group setting, spend time individually (if collocated) with the team members to build a rapport of trust. Else, you could collaborate and connect using collaboration features which may be included in your SaaS-based project management tool.

The bottom line? At the end of the day, it’s all about people management and leadership – how well you are able to foster a maturity for teamwork, retain the best talents regardless of their personality clashes, and lead the whole team in order to achieve project goals. After all, Colin Powell has also said:

“Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.” 

(Image source: www.Office.com)

 

Defeating Brook’s Law

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The Brook’s Law is very famous among the software developers and project managers, and has stood the test of time. It says:

 “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

That’s fine, but don’t you think that there must be a way to work around this law? After all, by adding more man-hours we are increasing the “available developer productivity” to the project! If I’m managing a project, I will go that extra mile and deploy only those developers who have experience in the technology that the project is working on.

But then this doesn’t really happen and many write-ups talk about how flouting Brook’s Law has backfired. Read one interesting case study regarding this – Changing Counterproductive Behaviors in Real Acquisitions.

It brings me to think that if Brook’s Law has proven itself correct many times, then there must be few substantial reasons for it to be so, and eventually, for the increased man-hours to not be able to deliver.

The case study mentioned above, says that following are the reasons why Brook’s Law doesn’t get defeated:

1. Geometrically increasing communication overhead that

  • Reduces development productivity, and
  • Reduces the time available for each individual to do development

2. A reduction in experienced personnel available for development (by using them for training of new personnel)

The key to understand, therefore, is to outsmart the above obstacles in order to defeat the Brook’s Law.

The communication overhead can be reduced if the right project management collaboration tool is used. For example, with BootStrapToday we offer collaborative features such as automation of recording similar tickets. It reduces the redundant communication that would otherwise be required for coordinating the knowledge sharing. BootStrapToday also intelligently identifies and assigns similar tickets and saves you a lot of time that gets translated into dollars for your stakeholders!

BootStrapToday has version control integration. It supports Git/SVN. In addition, BootStrapToday allows the team to share files through Fileshare.

Once the redundant stuff is automated, the time required for training new personnel will grossly reduce. So, what is your take? Do you think the Brook’s Law can be defeated now?

(Photo credit: www.Office.com)

3 Lessons from Project Failure

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Any project that you plan to execute will have many elements to be controlled – budget, time, quality, people, stakeholders, requirements, scope-creep, and even a few “first-time” challenges such as implementing a BYOD work culture. No wonder the project managers are bound to make mistakes in their projects, leading to its failure. And that’s probably why the rate of project failure is still very high.

Such a mire of elements can create a push and pull effect and develop problems in software development at various stages. These problems will naturally be the cause of project failures. Although as an astute project manager you can still deal with a failing project, but then sometimes project failure may just be inevitable. Instead of playing the blame game, it will help if you pick out key lessons from a project failure. So, what can we learn from project failures?

Lesson 1: Understand your stakeholders’ concerns

On Monday last week, I posted a piece, How to Deal With Politics in Project Management. Here I have highlighted that not understanding your stakeholders’ concerns properly, may lead you to think that the politics is acting against the successful delivery of your project.

While the politics per se might be present, it may help if you take some time to understand the root cause of the politics or the obstacles, so to speak. You will see that it helps a lot.

Lesson 2: Communicate often

To get anything done, proper communication is the key. Take any example of any project failure and you will surely find during the post mortem, that somewhere there was a lack of proper, clear and timely communication. Remember the Titanic disaster of 1912?

But it is not about just communicating often. The communication has to be precise, concise and informative, without wasting anyone’s time, and at the same time keeping everyone concerned with the project on the same page.

Lesson 3: Document project failure

It is quite possible that the type of project that you are working at present already has a precursor. It is good to refer to the documents of similar projects and understand beforehand the reasons of its failure (or success). This will ensure that you incorporate contingency risk planning in your project plan.

So, it’s a good lesson to know that even if your project failed, it should be documented so that in future it can act as a point of reference.

On the positive side, you see, it depends a lot on what you mean by a project failure. A project that saw the doom and never got shipped at all is a failure. On the other extreme, a project can be classified as “failed” even if it did deliver but not the exact business value that the stakeholders wanted. (After all, an unhappy customer is a mark of failure!).

But no matter which way you look at it, it will still have many reasons to analyze that are worthy of documenting. A good project documenting policy will serve as the Holy Grail to ensure a lower failure rate in your company.

Thank you for spending time here!

How to Deal with Politics in Project Management

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Whenever there are people working together, frictions are bound to occur. These frictions can cause different types of working relationships to evolve among team members. Sometimes these working relationships give rise to a wonderful work culture, but most of the times, it breeds politics.

A big part of the frictions arising among team members can be attributed to the external factors such as overall organizational strategy (which depends largely on market conditions) and organization policies.

On the other hand, while personal dynamics are responsible to a great extent to form a working culture in a team, there are internal factors also, such as team diversity and its structure, that mould a team’s working culture.

The overall politics in a team is therefore, a function of – organizational strategy, organizational policies, team diversity, team structure, and personal dynamics. The organizational and team politics usually stay on for years and is difficult to do away with, unless the top leadership changes it radically.

A project manager too will have to deal with politics apart from other factors and ensure that he can still deliver projects successfully. So, how do you deal with politics?

Acknowledge and accept organizational politics:

If politics is inevitable, then wouldn’t it be rather that you acknowledge its existence and accept it? I’d say, you should even be appreciative of certain politics, as politics does not necessarily manifest itself with a negative connotation. If you acknowledge politics, then probably it will be easier for you to deal with it and chalk out steps that are required to ensure successful project delivery.

Develop a political sensibility:

If you have recognized and appreciated politics in your team, then you will easily develop a political sensibility. A political sensibility means using diplomacies that can utilize the powers to the advantage of your project. It could either mean building rapport with the stakeholders who may be fearing the uncertain outcomes post project implementation. For example, it may be disturbing for some procurement managers, who think that after the implementation of ERP application, their jobs may be at stake; or that their positions may become dispensable; or that it may disturb the balance of power.

But they may be wrong altogether. It’s just that they are going through the “what’s in it for me” syndrome, and that’s very natural. So, as an essence of your political sensibility, unless you address this syndrome, it’s quite unlikely that you will get the required support.

Another essence of your political sensibility is to develop good business rapport with those people who will directly help in achieving your project goals. You should avoid building rapport based on the personality type that you would gel with. This is fine when you are selecting friends in your social world, but not appropriate for your work.

Develop a flair for conflict management:

Finally, develop a talent for addressing conflicts. It is very dangerous to ignore conflicts or try to suppress them. It may annoy your team members and allow the differences to aggravate. It may blow up someday and this could be far more damaging for the project.

But, you will know what works and what does not, only through experience; or by conscious effort of cultivating a knack for it – either by reading or by taking advice from your peers.

Thank you for reading this article. If you’ve come this far, then you must have found this piece worth something. Do share it within your circle if you found it helpful!

 

(Disclaimer: The image is only for the purpose of illustration. It is not meant for damaging reputation of any group whatsoever).

(Photo credit: www.Office.com)

 

How to Fix Project Management Headaches in One Quick Way

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While looking for the top project management headaches, I came across a very interesting article - 3 Project Management Headaches and How to Fix Them by Dr. Andrew Makar. This article captures the top three project management headaches, and also suggests solutions to overcome them.

The best part about Dr. Makar’s piece is that his solutions match the feature offerings of our platform – BootStrapToday. It is encouraging to know that if you adopt BootStrapToday, you get one quick way to fix all of those headaches.

Here are the top three project management headaches, the proposed solutions (pulled out directly from Dr. Makar’s blog), and how BootStrapToday aligns with those solutions:

Headache #1.  Updating the project schedule

“Updating the project schedule is an administrative burden that becomes a “time suck” from value-add activities like working on the actual project deliverables!

Solution: A better method is to use a collaboration and work management solution where team members work the tasks and complete the work.” 

BootStrapToday: BootStrapToday provides a collaborative work management solution via features such as Fileshare, Wall, Project Wiki, and Email Integration. A project manager does not update a project schedule and gets the complete status of the projects on the Dashboard through the inbuilt automation and intelligence in BootStrapToday. The project manager can track project progress, milestones, team progress, and recent updates in a single view.

Additionally, a project manager now has Gantt Chart View support, which helps in monitoring the progress of the projects. Tickets are grouped by users and displayed in the Gantt Chart View. Tickets assigned to a user in other projects are also displayed in a separate row. This helps to quickly find out more free time for the user across projects.

Headache #2.  Establishing accurate duration estimates

“A project schedule is simply a forecast model of future activities required to deliver a project.  Unless you’re channeling the spirit of Nostradamus and can foresee the future, task estimates will always be an educated estimate.  Yet our stakeholders hold us accountable despite the lack of Second Sight.

Solution: Use a ranged two-point estimation set and monitor progress. The two-point estimation technique provides a comfortable range that any team member can realistically estimate. Ranged estimates provide the flexibility to be wrong but also provide enough wiggle room to deliver close to the promise date.”  

BootStrapToday: BootStrapToday’s Filter Delayed/Overdue Tickets feature makes it feasible to implement the solution proposed by Dr. Makar.

Filter Delayed/Overdue Tickets allows you to know which tickets are overdue and which have taken more than the estimated time. So, sometimes when you need to forecast a deliverable date for any requirement change (and/or scope increase) you can refer to the similar tickets done in the past, and provide an educated estimate. You can make it a two point-estimate by getting input from your developers also, who will also refer to the same project data.

Top up your two-point estimate with your Gantt Chart analysis to tighten any loose ends. With the Gantt Chart View, figure out the available developer resources and then arrives at the final estimate to be provided to the stakeholders.

Headache #3 Managing the Email Overwhelm

“In my work email account, I have 183 unread messages.  My personal email account has over 4000 unread messages with all the newsletters, LinkedIn updates and long lost uncles seeking to bequeath their fortune to me. If you need me to do something on a project, don’t email me.  

Solution: Use email to communicate facts and meeting notices rather than discussions, file transfers and work requests.  Get out of the Inbox and create a task for your team member to follow up using a collaborative work management solution.” 

BootStrapToday: Our Wall feature allows you to carry out project specific discussions, without barraging any of your team member’s Inbox. Email Integration allows you to communicate with the team members about only new ticket announcements, ticket updates, and/or add comments to existing tickets. Furthermore, Fileshare allows you to share files with your project team members and upload your release zip for your customers to download. There is no need for FTP here, and no need for sending file attachments over the emails.

Do you think there are other project management headaches that are more severe? Please drop us a note in the comments section. We will see if BootStrapToday is able to fix it or not. If not, then we will include it in our future feature updates list.

(Photo credit: http://www.Office.com)

3 Disruptive Impacts on Project Management by 3 Disruptive Forces

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The invasion of social media network and penetration of smart phones and other sophisticated mobile devices have created a behavioral shift in our social dynamics, which we all are aware of. These two disruptive concepts are powerful enough in their own capacity. They are now getting further support from the third disruptive force – the Cloud Computing, which is gradually paving way for them to enter the work places also. These three disruptive forces are together bringing the change in the way we work.

In the light of the above facts, you have to view project management too in a different light – you have to gear up for Project Management 2.0. In fact, these three forces play endogenously with each other and present a multiplier effect to actually give a 3×3 grid of multiple effects on project management.

In the wake of these changes, in this piece I will highlight a few impacts that the project managers of yesteryears will face.

Impact #1 – Managing virtual teams:

The need for getting the best resources on board a team has boosted the culture of distributed teams. To a great extent this has been successful, thanks to the availability of collaborative platforms and the ease with which people collaborate and communicate due to the social media culture. Moreover, a few researches prove that the secret to productive team collaboration is individuality. Under these circumstances, you will not be able to avoid virtual project management.

And what is virtual project management without a smart SaaS-based project management platform? The robustness of cloud computing has made this feasible. We take pride in showcasing our platform – BootStrapToday – for this purpose. BootStrapToday helps you achieve project management success with virtual teams.

Impact #2 – Managing projects under BYOD:

People’s love for their own smart mobile devices, and a growing habit of choosing their own devices to work with enterprise applications and access data, has forced corporates to rethink on their policies about allowing their employees to use their own devices to connect to the corporate networks. BYOD is a formal program in many corporates today. So, the second important impact that project management will face is to do project management under a BYOD program.

Impact #3 – Managing a project team with varied cultural backgrounds:

The need to get the best talents does not restrict corporates to any particular geographical region. Also, the SaaS-based solutions make distributed team management a reality. When you reach out to different working zones, you will also face the challenge of managing different working cultures in your single project team. This is another very big impact that the project managers of Project Management 2.0 era will face.

What do you think?

(Photo credit: http://www.idevnews.com/stories/5402/Survey-Surge-in-Virtual-Desktops-Triggers-Quest-for-Workplace-Management)