10 Tips to Successfully Manage Outsource Projects


Companies can consider to outsource projects because of different reasons:

  • To reduce cost
  • To reduce time to market
  • To work on non-core or high value projects
  • To work on operational / repetitive projects
  • To work on non-volatile projects
People doing a puzzle
Tips on how to outsource projects

I have managed outsourced projects where we met the deadline but did not save the money we were supposed to save and also I have managed outsourced projects where we saved the money but did not deliver what the users required.

If you need to outsource a project team review the following 10 tips to successfully manage outsource projects:

  1. Qualify the vendor, does the vendor have domain knowledge (technical, design, user experience, data, etc)?, is it financially viable?, for how long has been in business?, can you speak with some of their past or current clients?, are there contractual agreements in place to keep control over the intellectual property you give it?.
  2. Train the outsourcing team, they need to know how the product works, from both internal and customers, they need to know what problems the customers want to solve and how the product solve these.
  3. Assign one of your best project manager as your internal project manager. This person will coordinate deliverables and handoff around the organisation.
  4. Plan for each project to take longer and cost more, especially at the beginning of an outsourcing relationship. Consider to increase time by 25% for the first project, you can always review forecast vs. actual and reconcile.
  5. Develop a trusting relationship with the project manager at the outsource company to help you understand the reality of what is happening in the project.
  6. Try to accommodate your team shifts to the outsourcer working hours, if due to timezone difference this is impossible, try to make out the most available hours for both teams, so that people can make time to talk to each other.
  7. Select outsource projects with non volatile requirements. If your requirements change frequently and you need to check and iterate the evolving product with the end-user, development across the world makes that much harder (not impossible, just harder).
  8. Document the requirements / product backlog (using a wiki as best option) and have this always accessible and visible for the team. If your native technical staff can’t “sometimes” read your mind about what you require, how can geographically distant and non native English speakers understand your requirements?
  9. Insist that the outsourcing company keep the same team for your project’s duration.
  10. Make sure you have ALL the tools, information systems and processes in place to support the outsourced teams. To start they will need access to the source code, database, platform applications, builds, assets etc.

These 10 tips will help you to successfully manage outsource projects and to deliver more value to your users and company.

5 Levels of Agile Planning


Within Agile, planning is done continuously. Planning is about working out what to do, and that must come before working out how long it will take.

In this post I would like to present a process that will allow team members to understand the whole sequence of planning from vision to user story.

5 Levels of Agile Planning

Level 1, Vision:

Every product needs a vision, a destination postcard that will guide the team towards the goal. The vision also helps to have a keen eye for opportunities, to focus on value (to the user and business) and return on investment (ROI). Every decision is taken with the product vision in mind. This ensures clarity for the development team and increases the chances of success.

Level 2, Roadmap:

This is a long-term product strategic roadmap (from 3 to 6 months max), this can also be explained by de-composing the vision into phases in a logical order. The roadmap will help to see how the product would evolve.

Note that it does not usually make sense to make a plan based on user stories that go further out than three months. Beyond this point, use a road map based on story themes.

Level 3, Plan Releases:

If the roadmap gives the phases, the release plan de-composes each phase into sprints. These sprints are conditioned by the roadmap; market conditions the status of the product. The product backlog consists on more than only features, for example: technical requirements, bugs, defects, spikes, non-functional requirements that should be taken into account.

Backlog refinement is very important, this must be granular and well understood by the whole team.

Level 4, Sprint Planning:

During the sprint planning the team plan and agrees the prioritised product backlog stories they are confident they can complete during the sprint and help them to achieve the sprint goal.

Here are 3 basic steps to create a plan:

  1. Understand priorities: Start with the team a conversation about the user stories the product owner would like to get in the next iteration to release.
  2. Size the work: 
When the stories are understood, help the team work out what needs to be done to deliver the stories.
  3. Agree on the plan: 
Wrap the meeting up by getting agreement on what can realistically be delivered.

Level 5, User Story:

If the team members want to deliver valuable software, they need to go the extra mile to understand both user and business benefits, and user stories help them do that. User stories underpin all the work an Agile team does, they are the basis of plans, development and testing.

The whole point of user stories is to ask questions to better understand what users need and to find ways of breaking requirements down. Break the tasks into smaller pieces so that everyone has a deliverable every day.

User stories are a simple technique that a team can use for understanding their customer through talking about what users need.

The main point is that Vision must drive decisions and User Stories are the means to achieve that vision.

How to Select the Right Digital Portfolio?


The digital portfolio management objective is to determine the optimal resource mix and schedule to best achieve the organisation’s operational and financial goals.

financial_reports

Selecting the Portfolio

  1. Establish the viability of projects based on their strategic alignment, return on investment and resource requirement
  1. Carry out risk assessment and build contingency into the portfolio by integrating contingency planning
  1. Do more with less by systematically reviewing project management processes and removing inefficiencies

One simple way of achieving a primary selection is to rate each project’s alignment to corporate strategy by assessing whether it is:

  1. strategic (contributes to corporate goals)
  2. efficiency (increase output or reduce costs)
  3. operational (to maintain services)

Some organisations use a ‘hurdle rate’ or minimum return on investment (ROI) rate to ensure that projects return a positive benefit.

The final assessment of each project or program could be carried out using the following types of evaluation criteria:

  1. Project Type: is it mandatory (to meet regulatory or operational continuity requirements) or discretionary (to meet business needs, increase efficiency or infrastructure)?
  2. Strategic Fit: is it critical, important, supportive (one or more strategic priorities), tenuous or has no link?
  3. Potential Benefit: the expected net present value of the business benefits (which is likely to be a range rather than an exact figure)
  4. Cost: the expected net present cost of the project (which is also likely to be a range rather than an exact figure)
  5. Non Quantifiable Benefits: any other benefits such as customer satisfaction or business simplification
  6. Resources: are the resources required to deliver the project fully available, partly available or not available?
  7. Delivery Risk: is it a high, medium or low risk and high, medium or low complexity?

The final step is to balance the portfolio by adding or removing projects in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the organisation with the human resources and finance available to it, a simple street light report can help:

  • Red (critical and urgent): immediate action needs to be taken on the recommendations or the project or program is likely to fail.
  • Amber (critical but not urgent): the program can move ahead but action on the recommendations should be addressed before key decisions are taken.
  • Green: the program is on target to succeed but may benefit from the uptake of recommendations.

To be successful an organisation needs to change and evolve in line with the environment and also to take advantage of new opportunities. This means the vision, mission and strategy will change and therefore the portfolio must change to reflect that by re-examining all existing programs, projects and operations and any new potential programs, projects or operations.

What is Business Portfolio Management?


Portfolio refers to the total set of programs, stand-alone projects and other change initiatives undertaken by an organisation.

Portfolio Management

The reason for creating a portfolio is to provide an overall business view and control over all these programs and projects at a high level in the organisation.

Portfolio management is aligned to the organisation’s budgetary and decision-making processes and is the link between the corporate and business strategy and the programs and projects that will deliver it. Portfolios have strategic corporate deliverables and are ongoing.

  • The overall corporate strategy is implemented through the business strategy, the portfolio is aligned with the business strategy.
  • The business strategy is then implemented through the programs and projects that make up the portfolio.

Portfolio management ensures that all projects and programs stay aligned with the business strategy and deliver business benefits.

By treating the totality of the organisation’s programs and projects as a single portfolio, they can be ranked on their alignment with corporate strategy and their potential business benefits.

The goal is to ensure that the portfolio delivers in line with the business strategy of the enterprise.

Portfolio Management key objectives:

  1. To maximise the value of the portfolio by achieving the best possible return on investment
  1. To align the portfolio with the organisational strategy
  1. To balance the portfolio by making the best possible use of the organization’s human and financial resources

What are the Responsibilities of a Project Manager?


As defined in What is a Project post; “the role of the project manager is to deliver the project on time, within budget and with the needs of the business fully met”.

Project Manager

8 Key Tasks of a Project Manager

  1. Clarify the Objectives: it is very important for the project success to have clear objectives, the project will be judge on how well these objectives are delivered
  2. Develop the Plan: this is a route that will help the team to achieve the project objective
  3. Manage and Motivate the Team: making sure all team members know what needs to be done, by whom and in what order; motivation plays an important part as the team spirit must be positive and focus on the task
  4. Manage the Risks: every project has risks, the longer the project the more risks. These can be related to resources, technology, changes in scope, competitive moves, etc.
  5. Deal with Problems: the faster a problem is managed the less riskier it becomes; the majority of problems have simple solutions but if the project manager takes time to detect these or act on it then problems can become major risks
  6. Measure Progress: the only way to know if progress is going as planned, is to know the difference between forecast and actuals; this can be done by measuring scope completion vs timeline, actual cost vs budgeted
  7. Communicate: one of the most important skills for any project manager is communication. The only way to tell whether a communication has worked is by what the recipients do as a result
  8. Steer the Project to Completion: is the responsibility of the project manager to guide the team members through the project completion and deliver the objectives stablished by the organisation

Management Skills of a Project Manager:

  1. Leadership style: they tend to focus on getting team focus on completing their allocated work
  2. Management style: they are team players who need to use their skills and knowledge to motivate the team
  3. People management: they usually have no direct authority over the team and need to use influencing skills
  4. How are they measured: by whether the project is completed on time, to budget and to scope

What is a Project?


A project can be described as a temporary organisation that will focus on the:

  1. creation of a group of business deliverables as defined by the project scope
  2. within an agreed time frame (usually of a year or less)
  3. within cost budget and quality parameters

A project is the implementation of a change, with a beginning, middle and an end. It will also have a finite time frame, it will be unique (every project is different in some way), people are involved and it will usually have finite resources.

project-management

There is a direct correlation between the size of a project and its risk of failure. The duration of a project should be preferably of no more than one year.

A project its justified by its business case and will deliver some form of new product, service, system or business process.

3 Characteristics of a Project:

  1. it must have a goal
  2. it must be initiated, as projects do not usually happen spontaneously
  3. it needs someone (project manager) to run it and steer it through to achievement of the goal

Every Project Should:

  1. have documented objectives (which have been agreed by management) and adequate resources allocated to carry out the project
  2. be managed by a project manager
  3. defined project life cycle and outline project plan
  4. any changes to project objectives or requirements (scope) should have been recognised and documented
  5. be reviewed by senior management on a periodic basis
  6. submit regular progress reports, with some measure of their planned and actual performance on budget and timescale

The role of the project manager is to deliver the project on time, within budget and with the needs of the business fully met.

In Agile, What to do if Team Velocity is not as you Planned?


If after three or four sprints you notice your velocity is not where you had hoped it would be, do not panic. This might happen, this is why you need to set expectations accordingly and told your client not to trust your initial plans. The good news is that by the time you know about it, you can adjust course as necessary.

Team velocity

Being flexible about scope is the preferred method for restoring balance.

The important thing is to have the conversation and give your client some options. Yes, this may make you uncomfortable, but you can’t hide this stuff. Bad news early is the agile way.

There is one strategy for ensuring that when you do have the “too much to do, not enough time” conversation:

If you can’t deliver a minimalist version of the application with the time and resources you have got, then the plan is clearly wrong and needs to change.

It works like this:

  1. take one or two really important features for your project (something core that goes from end to end through your entire architecture) and
  2. measure how long it takes to build a minimalistic version of those features

Then use that against your remaining relatively sized stories to see whether a minimalistic version of the application is even possible with the time and resources you have.

If your dates are looking good, right on, if your dates are looking bad, great, at least you know about it now.

When you need to change the plan conversation from, It is not based on wishful thinking. There is no need to get emotional, it is just the facts. It is better to know this now than later.

In Agile, How to Handle New Client Requirements?


When your customer discovers what they really want in their project, ask them how they would like to handle it. You can push out the release date or add more resources (which is like saying we are going to need more money), or you can drop some of the less important stories from the to-do list (preferred).

Managing change requests

Don’t get emotional when you have this conversation. It is not your call to make. You are simply communicating.

Your responsibility is to:

  1. make them aware of the impact of their decisions and
  2. give them the information they need to make an informed decision.

If your client really wants it all, create a nice-to-have list and tell them that if there is time at the end of the project, these are the first stories you will do.

But make it clear, the nice-to-haves are currently off the table and are not going to be part of the core plan.

How to move a slow project to Agile?


You are running a project that is not going well, progress is not as planned, confidence on meeting a deadline is low, what you are currently doing is not working and you need to get something out of the door fast.

You have read about agile and understand the benefits of this way of delivering, but you are already in the middle of the project and do not know how to transition your slow motion project into an agile one.

Project Management

How to transition a slow motion project into agile?

1) You need to make sure everyone is on the same page

  • Why you are there
  • What you are trying to accomplish
  • Who’s the customer
  • What big rocks you need to move
  • Who’s calling the shots

If there is any doubt about these, ask the tough questions and get some alignment.

2) You need to start delivering

If you have to ship something fast, throw out the current plan, and create a new one you can believe in. Just as if you are creating a new agile plan from scratch, create a to-do list, size things up, set some priorities and deliver the minimal amount of functionality to get something out the door.

If you need to show progress but have to work within the confines of your original plan, start delivering something of value every week.

Take one or two valuable features each week and just do them completely. Once you have shown you can deliver (and regained an element of trust), slowly rework the plan and define a release based on your now measured team velocity and how much work there is remaining.

Then simply keep delivering until you have something you can ship. Update the plan as you go, execute fiercely, and use the sense of urgency you have been giving to blow through anything standing in your way.

5 Delivery Principles for a Digital Team


Too many of digital projects do not work well, are delivered late, over budget or not fit to purpose. To increase the success rate of these projects, there is the need of a new approach.

1. Put users’ needs first

The products and services you deliver should be driven by the needs of your users, not what suits you as providers. This means you need to invest time and effort to regularly engage with users and the contexts in which they interact with what you produce.

2. Make decisions based on data

Simply stating a user’s needs is insufficient, you need to counsel these needs with sound qualitative and quantitative data, and use that data to make objective decisions about what to deliver and when. Data is not making choices easier, but it will help you to take better decisions.

3. Release iteratively and often

Stop doing ‘big’ releases, these tend to frustrate users and put at risk the organisation. Work Agile, start small with the minimum viable product, test it and release it as soon as possible on a timescale of days and weeks, rather than months or years. Repeat the process many times over, adding to your products and services based on feedback, tests and changes to technology.

4. Keep it simple and consistent

You will do the hard work not to over-think or over-complicate things. Whether a user is new or experienced, task-driven or browsing, they will able to get started quickly, flow through the process with ease and trust the integrity of the results. Keep always usability in mind.

5. Do the hard work behind the scenes

Great digital product or service doesn’t rest entirely on what  appears on-screen. Your work doesn’t stop when you send something live. Care about the running of products and services, from their discovery, development and throughout the time they are operational.

If you want to know what other organisations are doing, the U.S. Digital Services Playbook is a fantastic read.