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.

What is Digital Disruption and How Companies can Embrace it?


Today the only source of competitive advantage and value delivering comes from seeing what customers need and delivering it.

Digital disruptors are changing complete industries, delivering value at a lower costs, with faster development times and with greater impact on customer experience.

Digital disruption

Digital disruption is simply a mindset that leads to a way of behaving; a mindset that bypasses traditional off-line obstacles, eliminating the gaps and boundaries that prevent people and companies from giving customers what they need in the moment that they want it.

Digital disruptors are obsessed with measuring results and rapid innovation cycles in which failure and mistakes are viewed as feedback.

Always evaluate your customer, benefits, business and product

  1. Customer: isolate the core target customers and make some smart guesses about what makes them tick. Ask yourself what your target customer really needs
  2. Benefits: what is the next thing that customer needs?, express the need in terms of what the customer will get out of the deal if you succeed.
  3. Business: what will we get out of it if we innovate?
  4. Product: the art of harmonising Customer, Benefits, Business and Product into a single approach

In other words, you need to focus on creating innovations that are most likely to give the consumers you want to reach the benefits they really desire while achieving strategic outcomes that are meaningful to the organisation.

How to deal with digital disruption inside a large company?

  • Create small innovation teams
  • Identify silos and break down the boundaries between them
  • Get senior executives to commit their support
  • Insist on short development time frames

Digital disruptors constantly seek for the adjacent possible:

  • Asking a simple question “what is the next thing my customer needs?
  • Iterating so quickly from one adjacent to the next
  • Giving the customer the next logical thing, or things

Digital disruptors keep the scope of their innovations small. Rather than creating a five-year innovation plan, digital disruptors proceed from adjacent possibility to adjacent possibility, occasionally failing, but failing so quickly and so cheaply that recovery can be nearly immediate.

Read more: James McQuivey. “Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation“. Amazon Publishing.

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

Program Management Governance in Few Words


The first thing the program must do is establish program governance by planning how it will monitor and control the constituent projects.

Program Governance

Effective governance ensures strategic alignment, the realisation of promised service and benefits, stakeholders are communicated with and kept aware of progress and issues; appropriate tools and processes are used in the program; decisions are made rationally and with justification; and the responsibilities and accountabilities are clearly defined and applied. All of this is done within the policies and standards of the partner organisations and is measured to ensure compliance. Program Governance is intended to provide:

  1. A framework for efficient and effective decision-making
  2. Consistent delivery management with a focus on achieving program goals
  3. An appropriate mechanism to address risks and stakeholder requirements

Governance is about structured decision-making on investments in projects as has been summarised as the four areas:

  1. Are we doing the right projects?
  2. Are we doing them the right way?
  3. Are we getting them done well?
  4. Are we getting the benefits?

What criteria to use to select the right programs?

There are 5 selection criteria for organisations to evaluate what programs to start, being the strategic fit and benefits analysis the most important ones.

  1. Strategic fit: how well the program fits with the business strategy of the organisation
  2. Benefits analysis: what the benefits to the business are and how they will be achieved
  3. Budget: the preliminary budget estimate for the program
  4. Resources: the human and other resources required for the program and their availability
  5. Risks: analysis of the potential risks to the program

What are the Responsibilities of a Program Manager?


We know that programs are longer-term collections of related projects and other activities that will be managed in a coordinated way.

Program manegement

A Program manager goal is not about managing the details of each individual project, but rather about managing the big picture, in order to achieve the strategic objectives and realise the benefits for which the program is designed.

What are the Program Manager tasks:

Program Manager is responsible for leading and managing the program from its initial set up, through the delivery of new capabilities and realisation of benefits to program closure. The program manager has primary responsibility for successful delivery of the new capabilities and establishing program governance.

  1. Managing the inter-dependencies between the individual projects in the program
  2. Prioritising issues that arise from different projects
  3. Making sure the strategic goals and objectives of the organisation for which the projects are being executed
  4. Realisation of benefits from the program
  5. Management of stakeholders
  6. Management of program risks
  7. Oversee the projects in the program and provide high level guidance to the project managers

Management Skills of a Program Manager:

  1. Change: not only expect change but actively encourage it in order to maximise the strategic benefits of the program
  2. Leadership Style: focus on managing relationships, conflict resolution and the political aspects of stakeholder management
  3. Management skills: need to provide overall vision and leadership
  4. People Management: manage the project managers
  5. Planning: responsible for performing high level planning and providing guidance to project managers for their detailed project planning
  6. Success: measured in terms of return on investment (ROI), benefit realisation and new operational capabilities delivered by the program

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.