Friday, 30 August 2013

Your projects and the client's business case

It is still proving difficult to get a precise understanding of how interactive companies are working with their clients to help achieve their companies' business priorities. The clients' business priorities drive their budgets which influence the range and type of projects they undertake. As business priorities shift, the type of projects you’ll get involved with will shift too. Have you noticed any changes over the last 18 months? If so, does the shift reflect changes in your clients' priorities?

You may be able to define things better if you are aware of how general business priorities are changing. Gartner research at the beginning of the year predicted 10 top business priorities and 10 top technology priorities. See Gartner Newsroom January 2013.

Steve Ranger at ZDNET (13th August 2013) notes that business intelligence and legacy modernisation have moved to the top technology places from 2012, while the top business priorities are delivering operational results, improving IT applications and infrastructure and reducing enterprise costs.

Of course, there may well be differences in the type of priorities across the size of companies and the sector they are in. This is borne out best by the explosion of social media projects, when defining clear benefits in business terms for social media involvement is not generally accepted as understood. You may get some help here from Elizabeth Hair's blog (14th August 2013), The Key to Social Media Measurement, where she defines different tools available across some social media sites and their main attractions. It might be just as well to realise that if any of your clients include people from marketing departments, they will be much more on your side if they know they will get business analytics from the project that will make their lives easier.

So, just how are you demonstrating that your project will meet some key business needs? What promises are you making and are you keeping them?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The importance of being email

We're told (by Gartner Group) that 80-90% of an organisation's intellectual property is stored in or sent by email. That's an extraordinary amount. While an increasing amount of communication is using social networks email remains an important channel for a company, especially when you remember that email includes attachments. Might you need to produce them in a legal dispute, or if you want to sell your company? The longevity of email is notable as well, being just about the first mechanism for communication over the internet.

Do you archive your emails? And what does archiving mean in this context. I'm always reminded of the mysterious library in The Name of the Rose, where only the librarian knows how to find anything and the internal structure is kept deliberately obscure. Randy Murray's blog notes that organisation is just as important as preservation when it comes to archiving. (We might note that disorganisation can be a way of deliberately hiding something, such as a book placed on the 'wrong' shelf in a shop for later retrieval.)

Use of the Cloud quickly comes up in discussions about archiving. This isn't just for emails of course, but with tens of thousands of emails being received across some organisations archiving of emails isn't simply a matter of backing up a hard drive. Rackspace make a cogent case for Cloud archiving in their blog, and you might say "they would wouldn't they?". However, there are some useful thoughts in a video on the Computing web site. It's over ten minutes long but worth sticking with. One good point I noted is that while you might wonder how secure your data can be in the Cloud, have you thought through how secure it is on your premises?

Now go and check that back door.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Remote team working

The use of technology has led the way for people to communicate and work remotely. It has led to a shift in management skills because there are differences in managing people on site and managing people at a distance. The difference has not always been recognised, however ... to a company's detriment.

To manage remote teams – also called virtual, global and distributed teams – you need to recognise the changes. Team members can suffer from a sense of isolation, they can lack trust, their productivity can suffer; and if any members are the type that benefit from being given frequent direction, they can feel lost. Add to this any cross-cultural issues such as misunderstanding of spoken and visual cues (direct and indirect), difference in approach to people and their status, difference in approach to processes employed, and wrongly aligned expectations, and you can see that many issues can have an impact on a project where remote teams are involved.

It's not all bad news, though. Many team members enjoy the freedom they get from working remotely. They are happy to use the latest technology to communicate. They are used to cross-cultural issues and are tuned in enough to recognise possible miscommunication and check the right message has been understood. Yes, there are more opportunities for the individual pieces of a project that each remote member produces to misfit. But, the key lies in someone's ability to diagnose what is wrong and why it is wrong; and this means identifying miscommunication and why it occurred in the team with the implementing of solutions to counter it happening again. Our way is not the only way of doing things, so, if the result is fine and robust even though it appears that the process of getting there was different from expected, do we question it or learn from it?

Hilary Barr, writing for Insights, Getting the most out of a virtual team (24.7.13) gives some useful hints and tips on what to do to make your management of remote teams more effective.

Kevan Hall, writing for bdaily, Team Spirit in a Virtual World, (19.7.13) addresses the need for team spirit even in remote teams and gives suggestions of how to achieve this.

And, how is cloud working figuring in all this? Well, apparently it suits team workers because it offers improved collaboration, according to Onestopclick, Content Sharing in the Cloud Liberates Team Workers (2.8.13). It seems that many businesses still have issues with the cloud and what it can offer them, but, collaborative working outside a company firewall offers the main incentive so far.

As you know, I love cross-cultural issues. There are a couple of interesting articles on just this and what it means to international business at Expatknowhow in Intercultural Skills part 1 and 2 (9.7.13 and 23.7.13). Here the question is posed on whether your company actively screens candidates for cross-cultural skills when a lot of businesses say they value them. Interesting articles with some surprising stats about this topic and business in the UK.

These articles owe a lot to the British Council Report, March 2013, Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace. This is a report worth reading especially if your company works remotely and interactively through teams.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

‘Milestones’ are these still relevant in your projects?

The concept of milestones in projects was used to demonstrate defined progress in a project to a client so that they would make a payment linked to that progress. It was all about cash flow for a company. Now, the problem seems to be that milestones are linked to the decaying waterfall approach to software development, which is being replaced by agile methodologies. This is in response to the drive for faster development where uncertain business needs dominate.

Agile works with iterative spurts of work called sprints. So are sprints the new milestones?

If you'd like a quick refresher on the difference between the two approaches see our previous blogs and Is agile so different? (8.7.13).

Because there are many sprints in agile working where clients are kept involved defining whether the sprint has moved closer to what they want, it isn't feasible to marry phased payments to sprints. As there were fewer milestones over a longer period it was easier to link them to phased payments. How do you get paid for your work becomes the crucial question? If your clients agree to working in an agile development process, they may be quite happy to work on a time and materials contract. That means you do the work, keep a record of the hours, the people used, their respective rates and bill the client regularly, maybe even monthly. Exactly how companies get paid for their work – time and materials or fixed price contracts - still seems to be a well kept secret in iMedia.

There are other factors to take into account about milestones or their equivalents. Is isn't just that milestones are linked to waterfall methods of project management but that many of these types of projects have not produced a product that satisfies the client. The business needs may have changed over the course of the project without the project being re-aligned. However, it is true that many clients are comfortable with the concept of milestones and expect them in your spec. Are you finding conflicting expectations? Do your clients want agile approaches but with defined milestones? How are you managing in the transition process?

Perhaps the answer might lie in a mind-shift. Recently there has been criticism that milestones have not been linked to a business outcome and that this is why there is a dichotomy between development progress in terms of milestones achieved and outcomes for tangible business needs. See as an example David Walton, Businessworks (13.7.13) Focus on the outcome in change management. Many iMedia projects are in effect change management projects because they change the way a business operates in some ways.

So the middle ground for whichever way your company works – and some companies use both waterfall and agile approaches depending on the project's needs – might be lining up so-called milestones with attaining a defined business need.

It seems that agile is gaining credibility in other fields now, not just software development. Meaghan Fitzgerald uses the terms agile and milestone without hesitating, linking them to marketing needs in social media. For marketing needs read business needs and she has a lot in common with what David Walton was saying. See Creating Stories for Social Media Activity in an Agile Marketing Environment, 20.7.13, 'The Top Floor Flat'.

Lots of grounds for thought?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Client Relationship Management and iMedia in 2013

It was problematic to research this topic for today's blog. There seems to be a lot of confusion about customer relationship management (CRM) and client relationship management – that's without adding in interactive media.

So, to make sure we're starting from common ground, we're defining the client as the people who are paying you and the customer as the people who will be using your application. It seems that this differentiation is fundamental for our working environment when it might not be for others. Traditionally the Account Manager (in an agency environment) and the project manager (in the software development environment) have been the key people to interact with the clients and they have had to develop strategies to balance the needs of the clients against the development company's needs. This job has often been split in interactive companies between the initial contact with the client – often managers/directors – and then the nominal head of the development team as the project moves to definition and production. These roles can have many titles, of course.

But, what is clear is that clients need handling and that the people relating to them need the skills to do this. And it isn't easy! Any hints and tips should be gratefully received because this is a hard job and most needed once problems arise. Handling client expectations appears very often in job descriptions. What this means in practice is that clients' expectations are managed from the beginning whilst trust in your company is being developed. Then, as the project develops, continued relationship management practices are employed. We've found three different perspective on managing clients for you covering a variety of sector development in small businesses, agencies, and for freelance developers.

Small Business Canada has a refreshingly no-nonsense approach to this in its article, Your client is livid! 5 lessons for Client Relationship Management. They realise that communication is the key. They recommend:
  • talking to the client because non-verbal communication like email/texts does not allow the full gamut of interpretation
  • keeping the client informed of all progress – good and bad
  • offering solutions – if things are wrong how will they be put right, how long will it take and the cost implications if any.
  • don't over-promise. When your company falls short of its promises, the trust disappears and so will the client.
  • add value. Suggest ways that may help the client achieve extra from their applications.
Joseph Liu, in Rethinking the client-agency relationship (17th July 2013), is also candid about his experience with the creative agency approach to development.
I've found that you can be clear about what you want without mandating how it has to be done. That you can disagree without being disagreeable. That you can be clear about your expectations while also being collaborative so that when things do get bumpy, the relationship is strong enough to handle 100 per cent candour in both directions.
For freelancers handling clients, you might prefer to look at How to manage difficult clients, at

They cover the thorny issue of firing clients as well as six tips on more positive ways of managing the relationship.
Well, it's a large topic that should stand alone without being confused constantly with CRM. Its importance for your business speaks for itself!