What is Situational Leadership


Leaders need to adapt they management style to fit the performance readiness of their teams.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created the concept of situational leadership in the field of organisational behaviour.

They said that “readiness” not only varies by person, but also by task. People have different levels of ability and motivation for different tasks. Leaders can choose from directing, coaching, supporting and delegating depending on the situation and team member:

Situational_leadership

Directing

This style is recommended for team members that require a lot of specific guidance to complete the task. The leader could say: “Gerard this is what I would like you to do, here you have a step by step approach and here is when I need it done.” It’s primarily a command and control approach, one way conversation with little or no input from the team member.

Coaching

This is style is for team members who need guidance to complete the task, but there is a two-way conversation, the team member gives input. Coaching is for people who want and need to learn. The leader could say: “Gerard this is what I would like you to do, here you have a step by step approach and here is when I need it done. What do you think?”. Although the leader still set the approach, the team member is invited to give input and ultimately workout any change in the delivery plan if the leader and the team member think it will benefit the project.

Supporting

This style is for team members that have the skills to complete the task but may lack confidence to do it on their own. The leader could say: “Gerard, here is the task I need you to do and here is when I need this done. How do you think it should be done?, let’s talk about it, how can I help you on this one?. The leader knows the team member can achieve the task but s/he needs support to remove any impediment.

Delegating

This style es for team members who are motivated, have the ability to complete the task and have confidence. They know what to do, how to do it and can do it on their own. The leader could say: “Gerard, here is the task I need you to do and here is when I need this done. If I can help just ask, if not you are on your own.” Although is highly recommended to schedule health checks, the leader is confident the team member will complete the task based on his/her track record.

One style is not better than the other, each style is appropriate to the situation. Effective leaders know who is on their team, who can be left alone and who needs more direction.

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 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.

Digital Project Management and the 5Ds


The 5Ds in project management is a phase breakdown of large milestones that every project team needs to complete. This model gives a full vision of the tasks and deliverables for each phase.

This process is thought with Agile / Scrum Project/product methodologies in mind.

We call these phases the 5Ds:

Digital project management 5ds

Discovery: validates the business reason to kick-off the project, the benefits can be to revenue growth, cost reduction or risk management. Depending of the benefits these can also be short, medium term or strategic.

  • Define business value
  • Target market
  • Competitive analysis
  • Deliverable: Business Case

Definition: once the management team validates the importance of the project, a clear functional definition is required in order to specify the right set of user, features and business requirements.

  • Define personas
  • User stories
  • Technical dependencies
  • Information Architecture
  • Core functionality
  • Deliverable: User Stories and Product Technical Requirements Document 

Design: gives not only the look and feel to the solution but also aligns user and business requirements with the user experience. Why this is important?, imagine a disruptive user experience, this will affect the engagement and traffic to the Live solution and this at the end will put off advertisers, can you see the picture?.

  • Paper prototypes / sketches
  • Wireframes
  • Usability evaluation
  • Visual design explorations
  • Visual design approval
  • Deliverable: User Interface (UI) Designs

Development: the development, QA and product/user team start working every day, moving stories from backlog to the sprint and working together from technical analysis, development, quality assurance and user validation, this is an iterative process and is the core of the Agile methodology.

  • Architecture design
  • Daily scrum
  • Code iteration cycles
  • Usability evaluation
  • Release management
  • Unit testing
  • Code refactoring
  • Deliverable: Working solution and source code

Deliver: when the final user validates the solution, technical team performs performance testing and release plan, the full working solution is ready to be deployed to Live.

  • Case testings
  • Test reports
  • Build releases
  • Deliverable: Shippable release 

Remember that the project doesn’t finish when is released, the market will give important product feedback and is the job of the Agile product team to constantly improve the product by always aligning user experience and business objectives.

Business Tips From 37signals


Jason Fried is the Co-Founder and President of 37signals, a Chicago company committed to building the best web-based tools possible with the least number of features necessary.

37signals manifesto, as they say “It’s a collection of 37 nuggets of online philosophy and design wisdom. It’s a great introduction to the 37signals’ school of thought and a fun, quick read to boot.”

The book I read first was get it real and you can read it online and I strongly recommend it. This book really goes to the point and touches plenty of decisions that a business must face, even if it’s a large corporation or a small web factory.

My top posts are:

  1. build less
  2. fix time and budget, flex on scope
  3. lower your cost of change
  4. ignore details early on
  5. start with no
  6. hidden costs (new feature process)
  7. from idea to implementation (web app)
  8. epicenter design
  9. Hollywood launch
  10. promote through education

And if you really like this approach, you have to see this video from Jason, where he explains the following:

  1. Venture capitalists rents you time
  2. By pricing you will get great feedback
  3. Innovations come and go, stay focus on usefulness
  4. Focus on what won’t change, things that will pay off today and tomorrow
  5. DIY you have to do it yourself in order to hire or ask someone else to do it
  6. Apologise properly
  7. Nail the basics, that’s the real stuff
  8. Less is more, but make the few things you do really well