Sunday, 28 October 2012

Objectives: are you using them to your advantage?

If you’ve had anything to do with objectives, the mere mention of the word makes you groan. They are hard to define if done properly, but despite them being around for ages, (started in the 1940s and given more credence by Robert Mager, educationalist, in the 1960s) they are still being misused.

It doesn’t help that so many terms have been used with the same precept such as:
  • Learning objectives
  • Outcomes
  • Enabling objectives
  • Terminal objectives
  • Educational objectives
  • Performance objectives
  • Instructional objectives
  • Competencies
An objective is a precise definition of a result that is wanted, in terms that will allow the result to be measured. (Glossary, Managing Interactive Media, 4th edition). The key thing is that they are defined with a measurable outcome. The test is built into the definition - a bit like Agile scrums. So, if the measure is missing, it isn’t an objective. It might be a goal or a general aim which are more nebulous or woolly, but it isn’t an objective.

How can you use them to your advantage? Well, if your clients - especially at the beginning of a project - are having difficulty in defining what they want to achieve with their interactive sites, and if any of them understands or has had to use objectives it might be the spur you need to get them to be more precise. If they can give you measurable objectives in business terms of what they are trying to achieve, it makes your job so much easier. Remember, we have tried to influence you to work in measurable ways so that you can prove that you have achieved what the client wanted. We have placed the burden of defining objectives or the equivalent on you. But if your client can define the measures - for example "increase traffic to our site by 30%" or "increase sales on our online site by x%" or "decrease the complaints about poor usability of our site by x%" - you can see how these concentrate your focus and efforts.

Note the construction of the objective-style sentence. We will do this (use a tangible verb in the first part of the sentence) by doing this (stating a provable/measurable outcome in the second part of the sentence).

There you are: sorted. It’s not as problematic as many make out. You can do it and so can your clients. Once you understand the tricks, objectives can work for you. You don’t have to call them objectives; which may be why there are a lot of alternative terms around as in the list. This blog just covers the basics. If you are motivated to learn more about objectives there’s a good summary from an educational stance at The University of Ohio.

Then you just have to consider how to apply them to your situation. Good luck.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Thoughts on the RACI Matrix project management technique

The RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix is accepted as a best practice tool for management especially in projects. Establishing the matrix is a process at the beginning of a project for the Project Manager. It identifies the people involved with project over different stages, their level of involvement and decision-making.

By using a RACI matrix, as we’ve seen in past blogs, the project manager identifies who, how and how often he/she needs to communicate with the key people who have the power to influence the project. But through its creation, the project manager locks down the people who control the various development stages of the project by defining them and getting them to agree to their responsibility/accountability. This makes the PM’s role clearer. We all recognise terror striking when the person you’ve been dealing with says, ‘I just have to show this to X’. This is what RACI tries to avoid. You deal with the key person at the right times to help smooth decisions in the project.

Sounds convincing, and it has been. That’s why it’s a best practice tool. However, as with all tools, it depends how it is used. Some have found it hard to establish roles and responsibilities when they have not been clearly defined in an organisation prior to the PM asking. The ‘golden’ rule is that there must only be one person accountable for each stage otherwise you can’t get sign-off efficiently. (See Management Study Guide for a list of rules for use, and, David Morris’ blog (6th April 2009) for several more rules and his use of the tool under Agile development processes).

To help when there seems to be too many people without clear responsibilities, some have included ‘S’ for ‘support’ as a role and turned RACI into RASCI. This is explained in IT Toolbox.

We all need to try and streamline our processes to be more efficient and Simplicity recently posted an article from The European Business Review on improving a company’s performance by simplifying organisational structures.

This advocates ‘getting radical’ with RACI matricies so that they are only used at key points, not for everything. We certainly understand the over-complex organisation, the over-involvement of some people in decision-making, the problems a large organisation has making fast decisions and this call here for radicalism in this context. But we’d argue that iMedia projects are serving to move these organisations forward and should be considered key projects since any indecision over any stage of development increases time and cost factors for the organisation. We should point out that RACI in this article is interpreted as Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Involved – yet another variation. It isn’t explained here though.

Do you treat large, medium and small clients differently? If so, in what ways?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Scoping interactive projects – any progress?

It occurred to us that a lot of progress should have been made in scoping practices for interactive projects because, as we all now accept, the initial stages of defining a project make or break it. We have always given away detailed questionnaires for the scoping stage in our courses and books, and advocated that people tailor them to suit their needs/company practices. But our implication was that you had to have one!

We have been disappointed in our present search for on-the-ball scoping questionnaire templates for interactive media projects. We assume that you are all using something to define the projects that you take on, so where are these? It may well be that they are considered so valuable and business sensitive that they remain shrouded in mystery. Actually ‘econsultancy’ has a template for assessing social media needs (among other templates with a marketing perspective) but you’ll have to pay £250 for it. See

It seems that despite being a few years old now, our scoping questionnaire remains a good basis for defining projects. But, we have found some extra recent advice for you. Derryn Cotezee outlines 10 key questions for web projects. He covers essentials like users, time, turnaround, competitors, likes, features and so on. See

Elizabeth Sosnow finds 11½ questions needed for defining the scope of a social media project. This covers things like: what’s driving the client to do this, who will they wish to reach, timing, integration with other marketing strategies, content, and audience behaviour among others.

Louie Conceicao uses a delightful set of images to show the course of a project and how it doesn’t meet what the client wanted because of all the mis-interpretations over the scope. His title says it all. Project Scope Documents Help Manage Client Expectations.

Well, anyone out there prepared to share their scoping templates? We all need them.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Staff or non-staff: that is the question

The balance between staff and freelancers keeps bubbling to the surface. Many moons ago we discussed freelance culture and the IR35 rules that related to people working as if they were employees of an organisation but through their own service company. MPs on the UK public accounts committee have recently complained about how many people in public service are paid through service companies but this good analysis on the BBC web site points out that it's usually the contracting company who benefit rather than the contractor. And it doesn't even go into the extra accounting costs of running a company!

The question of whether using freelancers is inherently good for business is an interesting one and brings us to another use of our term iProfessional ... as follows ...
The IPro Index is a landmark research study conducted by Monash University and sponsored by Entity Solutions about the contract workforce in Australia.
In this case the I stands for Independent rather than Interactive and the basic message is For instant productivity, engage a white collar contractor, as Entity explain on their blog. The study is wider than information technology but is definitely worth a read. You'll have to register for an email link.

Just what constitutes a 'freelancer' can be unusual as well. The most unusual I've come across is to break a software task into components that are run as competitions: code crowd-sourcing. This is the basis of Topcoder and there are currently over 430 thousand members of the community working on projects for people like DARPA, NASA and Intel.

So now not only can your processing and storage be in the cloud ... your workers can be as well!