simple processes

Simplify. But Never Oversimplify.

About Glenn Remoreras

Leader in Process and IT domain, strategist and experienced Business Relationship Manager. Brings over 15 years of experience in IT management. Possesses extensive expertise in business process and application management, technology services, organizational transformation and program management. Significant experience in large scale IT program direction and execution. Has numerous international experience, having led teams in Asia Pacific, Europe, Mexico and United States.

Tailoring Your Planning Process

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It is that time of the year when you typically conduct planning session with your teams. I just came from one that I facilitated a week ago. I would like to share the planning methodology that we used. This planning process that I am going to share with you is nothing new and nothing that I came up with. You can find a lot of planning methodologies out there, if you Google it.

It is important to understand the current situation and needs that your organization has in a particular point in time, and then use it to tailor your planning process.

It is important that your team understands the entire planning process—what it is that you are trying to accomplish and what are the expected deliverables. I usually allot an adequate portion of the planning meeting to explain the “tailored” planning methodology. At this particular instance, I started out by showing the team the atlas of the universe; then the solar system; and then a picture of our planet earth; then I showed the a picture that represents our company or the business enterprise that we belong to; and finally, a box with an arrow going upward. I told the team, “that box represents us.” I explained why.

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Mission and Vision

The box represents us—our mission and vision as an organization (see diagram below). Our mission defines our purpose— what is in and what is out. It represents, in the broadest sense, who we are. The vision is where we want to be as a group in a period of time in the future. The arrow from where we are now (point a) to where we want to be (point b) represent the shortest path to achieving our vision.

Our group had the opportunity to define our vision in our planning session last year, so that was something that we carried on and will carry on in the next couple more years. It is an input to this year’s planning process.

It is important to know where you are at the multi-year planning cycle to best tailor your team’s planning process for that particular year.

Last year, the first year of our planning cycle, we did the following:

  • Invited key stakeholders of the company to speak to us about the business strategy, their expectations and needs.
  • Gathered customer feedback from different forums and channels.
  • Analyzed operative and project results from previous years.
  • Conducted a team discussion around organizational concerns.
  • Identified and discussed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats as a team.
  • Established our vision for the next 4 years- articulated in a vision statement.
  • Define our objectives and goals for the first year.

All the things that we accomplished in our planning session last year were used as inputs. We also analyzed the relevancy of some of our foundational objectives.

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After reviewing the inputs from last year, the next thing that we did as a group was to do the “look back”. We talked about the operative and project successes from the past year. It was important to identify lessons learned and to convey key messages that align to the overall company direction and strategy. We had the team present those success stories by relating their experiences and journey. 

Balance Scorecard and Strategy Mapping

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To articulate our P&IT strategy we decided to use the time tested Balanced Scorecard approach and complemented it with Strategy Mapping. The Balance Scorecard, created by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, is one of the most popular and comprehensive tools for defining strategy and reporting performance in executing that strategy. This approach forces you to classify key measures and objectives used in your organization according to the four main perspectives— customer, financial, business process/ internal services, learning and growth. The key questions that we answered were:

  • Financial – To succeed financially, how should we appear to our stakeholders?
  • To achieve our vision, how should we appear to our customers?
  • To satisfy our stakeholders and customers, at what services must we excel and what projects must we deliver?
  • To achieve our vision how will we sustain our ability to change and improve?

The next complementary step is the mapping and analysis of the foundational objectives identified in the Balance Scorecard using Strategy Mapping techniques. By mapping how different objectives relate to one another, leaders can clearly see how to accomplish the stated objectives and how each one relates to the other. Many of those relationships go in a natural path from learning and growth to internal processes, to customer, finally to financial. To illustrate this concept, please refer to the diagram below. The blue boxes represent the identified foundational objectives classified in all four Balance Scorecard concepts. Then by relating those objectives based on causal linkage you form a story—your story, your strategy. In this strategy, the story goes:

You believe that by improving team culture, it is going to improve service delivery. And by improving service delivery, you believe that you will have more satisfied customers. And finally with improved service delivery and improved customer satisfaction you optimize IT cost. How those objectives flow and link represents your strategy.

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Objectives Setting

After we defined and agreed on a strategy and with it the foundational objectives, the next step is the most tedious and difficult step of the entire planning process. It is the actual definition of departmental, team, and individual objectives. When you get to the point when you start identifying what you need to do to accomplish the strategy, real work begins. The team needs to have a clear understanding of the strategy, the role of their department/team and their individual role in making it happen.Image

  • The first step is to break foundational objectives into departmental objectives. You can do this using a breakout session.
  • Teams within their departments identified next level objectives and initiatives that they are responsible for.
  • It is important to identify not only the initiatives/actions but also the measure and target by which the performance of the action will be measured.

In this process the common SMART method comes in handy. Your objectives have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Finally, you have your mission and vision; you have your strategy and a detailed game plan (objectives) on how to bring your goals to fruition. The next challenge is to make it happen. I believe that the planning process does not stop after the initial planning process, which to me is the annual planning meeting. It is an ongoing process throughout the year. I like to borrow a term PMI uses- “progressive elaboration”.  As you go through the year, you monitor and control the execution of the plan, as well as the changes to it. As you progress through the year, you will gain more information, priorities might change, and business requirements might change– you progressively elaborate your plan aligned to the business and IT strategy.

How Leadership is Personal

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I attended a manager’s training program this week that my company organized. To be honest, I thought I would not encounter many new things, as I have participated in similar programs in the past already. I was wrong. One of the modules centered on leadership. I learned about improving leadership skills and effectiveness by focusing on specific leadership aspects. What resonated to me personally were the personal, relational and inspirational aspects of leadership that I often overlook. It helped that one of our program facilitators who shared about leadership, a seasoned HR director leader himself, gave personal stories from his own experiences that allowed me to see leadership through those aspects and ponder my own realization.

Personal Leadership

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Leadership is personal”, our facilitator passionately said and repeated. He took his statement to heart when he shared a lot of personal accounts about himself in the office and at home (about family) to demonstrate the personal dimension of leadership. I thought it was brilliant and the only way to bring the message across with effectiveness. What I learned is that— leadership is personal. It starts and ends with people following you because you are credible and you gained their trust. I have worked with the same boss since 2004, when I was assigned to participate in a business integration project in Europe. It is kind of strange how I call my boss and how he calls me—“my friend”. Because of working together for so long, you gained that level of trust and relationship.  I see him as my personal leader and probably one of the reasons why I have been working in the same company for about 15 years now.  Personal Leadership is about developing and projecting your leadership capability; being real; and demonstrating dedication. He embodies that. Personal leadership is the best way to gain credibility, loyalty and trust. As a leader you gain trust by demonstrating concern and understanding.

Ralational and Inspirational Leadership

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

“Leadership is like a contact sport”, our HR Director facilitator asserted in one of our discussions. He gave a lot of references to professional and collegiate sports, as to how coaches, as leaders, motivate and inspire their players and teams to achieve the best. I learned that leadership aspiration is not always about winning that championship trophy at the end of a tournament. It is about the inspiration and the motivation to have given the best effort possible—to leave every sweat and blood on the court. Our instructor showed us a 10 year old video, where NBA coach Mo Cheeks, then coach of the Portland Trailblazer, gave Natalie Gilbert a little help singing the national anthem. There is an American awareness for great performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. But for sheer inspirational impact, it’s hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003. This is a story of leadership, an example of humility, compassion and humanity. A tale of how one man, who decided in a few seconds, to help a girl sing the national anthem and inspiring millions by doing so.

What Mo Cheeks did expressed sentiments in the kind of message about leadership sports like basketball conveys. I think leadership has less to do with authority, punishment, rewards, and more to do with credibility, trust, empathy and love. If you think about it, if you have a professional career spanning 15 years or more (like me), the leaders who have motivated and inspired you, are the ones who made the most personal connection with you.  There is vast untapped potential within organizations and communities to collectively perform at a level substantially greater when they have the right leadership. How can I consistently bring the best in my people? The answer is having an engaged team. How can you have an engaged team? Start with personal leadership.

BRMs Fuel Faster Innovation Cycles

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More and more companies rely on innovation as a central factor to successful business outcomes and the only reason to invest in its future. In today’s slow growth market, tougher global competition and commoditization, pursuing innovations more often is the only way to keep customers happy and their competitors at bay. One type of innovation that has been very instrumental to many businesses is through the use of technology – let’s call it technology innovation. 

Others might think that technology innovation means always having the latest and greatest systems available in the market, or having the fastest computers and networks. This is a myopic view of technology innovation. Most large companies have now implemented a digitized platform using well-established ERP software, like SAP and Oracle. Further developments of those ERP platforms are available to those who have them as foundation systems. If those companies are in the same industry, there is a big chance that they will pursue the same business processes and best practices in order to offer similar product and services to the same group of customers. How do companies then differentiate?

The reality is that, it is no longer true that simply having the right digitized platform is a determinant of sustained success. It is how you use technology to transform your business capabilities in a fast and agile manner that gives companies competitive advantage. Success on these technology innovation initiatives relies on a person who has both technology and business knowledge to navigate and orchestrate shaping and execution of innovative technology and business ideas. Those individuals that fuel the cycle of technology innovations in the enterprise now have a name – Business Relationship Managers (BRMs). Companies’ focus on innovation has given momentum to the growing emergence of the BRM role and discipline. According to BRMI, Business Relationship Management (what BRMs do) is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”

Innovation Cycle

Peter Lijnse, an IT management consultant, wrote the following in his blog entitled BRM is about innovation.

 “IT Service Management people are often good at stating, ‘We need to talk to the business.’ But very few understand the business they work for.”

This is so true. One essential competency of a BRM is business IQ and that’s assuming the BRM is already a technology expert. Many BRMs tend to come from a supply organization, and therefore, they have IT background, but it is not always the case.

Innovation is relevant only when it creates value to the customer, hence the importance of customer insights as input to the innovation process. Another common misconception about innovation is that it means new things – new platform, new functionally, etc. Not all the time. Innovation can be about new business value, not necessarily new things. Hence, it is the important for BRMs to understand the business to which they provide services. BRMs are key facilitators of technology innovation and they fuel faster innovation cycles and better business outcomes.

This article was first released as part of the BRM Update- a Monthly newsletter of BRM Institute to its members. Follow @BRMInstitute on Twitter.

The Art of Business Relationship Management: Shaping Business Demand for Your Services

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I am delighted to share this article I co-authored with Ibrahim Jackson about the Art of Business Relationship Management. This was published today in the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network Website.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

For many years, IT organizations responsible for deploying technology systems to enable enterprise processes have had one goal in mind – namely, to assure business-IT alignment. Today, however, as IT capabilities become more and more embedded in business capabilities, and given the pace of technological change and the pervasive nature of IT, alignment is no longer sufficient. The goal today, therefore, is “convergence”. This has given momentum to the growing emergence of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role, which, according to the Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI), is about “stimulating, surfacing and shaping business demand for a provider’s products and services, ensuring that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and communicated.”

Let’s examine Business Relationship Management from two perspectives: the functional and the organizational role. The BRM function provides the framework for how the IT organization interacts with peer business functions and departments. The BRM role is made up of an elite leader or group of technology managers that assume accountability for all technology solutions and services end-to-end – whether for a business area, brand, region, channel or division, depending on organizational design and technology capabilities. This role can be facilitated by an existing Chief Information Officer (CIO) in smaller, less complex organizations. For large enterprises, you may see multiple levels of BRM — BRM Lead, BRM Manager or BRM Analyst. Each role may vary in responsibility and all are accountable for the strategic alignment with the enterprise or organization.

BRMs, on a day-to-day basis, deal with technology, people and relationships. As such, Business Relationship Management is more an art than a science, expressing the “art” via application of knowledge, interpersonal skills and creativity. How a BRM best connects to his or her business partners varies, based on the BRM, their client, the business scenario, level of previous engagement and the rapport established with each relationship. Trust through confidence is the secret to success.

BRM Processes and Frameworks should be characterized by flexibility and a high variability of actions performed within the underlying processes. Within the BRM function, there is an inherent value to that variability. The nature of relationship management is fluid, dynamic, genuine and human.

Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk, Co-Founder of the BRM Institute, sums it up: “No one has ever defined a process framework that assures success in relationships. Think of marriage.”

You can read the full article by following this link: http://www.ssonetwork.com/business-partnering-customer-service/articles/the-art-of-business-relationship-management-shapin/

Business Relationship Management Process Context Diagram

Business Relationship Management Process Context Diagram

Improving collaboration – an effective Social Media integration point for businesses

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According to Forrester research, organizations will increase their spending on enterprise social collaboration software at a compound annual growth rate of 61% through 2016. Forrester estimates enterprise social software will become a $6.4 billion market in 2016. This is based on their assumption that a new generation of social enterprise apps is, and will be, delivering on business needs. If this is the trend today and more so in the near future, how do you the plan to integrate social media to your work streams?

There are many integration points and it all depends on the needs of the business. Those needs can be classified into two types: (1) mass engagements: involvement of wider audience with open-ended boundaries; and (2) internal and external collaboration: engagement of specific audience, with defined boundaries.

In this article, we will focus on improving collaboration as integration points.

Collaboration through social tools usually entails the implementation of a collaborative decision management solution that encourages change in the way businesses collaborate to facilitate innovations. Saying that, two critical factors emerge:

(1) change in culture, ie, the way employees in a company collaborate, and

(2) the need to select and adopt an effective, collaborative-type tool

Companies that use collaboration as an integration point to adopting social tools face the following challenges:

(a) How do we get beyond e-mail, traditional meetings, conference calling, etc, to these new social platforms that include an industrial-strength social network?

(b) How do we change the way we work?

(c) How do we integrate social tools in our enterprise work stream?

(d) How do we become more innovative as a company because of it?

The answer is not Facebook nor Twitter – not for this type of business need. There are, however, applications for these purposes available in the market. They are referred to as collaborative decision management applications that provide functionalities like wikis, blogs, project management, community building, idea creation, etc.

Implementing a social tool for collaboration is just the first step, or I should say, the easy step. To get employees to use it collectively enough to change the way they collaborate is the much bigger challenge. Adoption of social tools in the workplace setting requires more than compliance and a management mandate. It is about culture transformation from within and for all employees, from top to bottom.

So, what’s the point?

Today, if an employee has an idea, he or she goes to their boss to discuss it, or goes to the board to present it as a proposal, or sends an idea narrative by email. Consider the alternative of posting ideas as wikis, and letting everyone else read, comment and even change them.An effective approach is a grassroots adoption through structured learning experiences, involving adoption champions from different levels of the organization. The communication and implementation of the grassroots approach must be focused on the benefits to the users first, and promotion of the value creation for the company next.

It’s easier to convince employees to change the way they work if they understand that this will make their job easier.

SSON Social Media

Business Relationship Management Frameworks – BRM Organizational Pyramid and BRM Process Groups and Competencies

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I joined the professional group Business Relationship Management Institute in April this year. My friend, Vaughan Merlyn, is one of the Institute’s founders. Vaughan and I share a common interest. We are both active in the blogosphere and we write about IT, processes and technology management.  Last month, within the BRMI collaboration space, I shared the BRM Process and Competencies Framework which I created. I got a note from Vaughan today that he will use it in his upcoming BRM Professional training. The framework has been a hit since I posted it in the BRMI collaboration space. I received notes that private and public organizations are already using it in their workshops. I am delighted about this and I would like to share this framework with all the readers of this blog as well.

Business Relationship Management Defined

Before I share the framework, let me first give you a background about Business Relationship Management as a role and competency. According to BRMI:

“Business Relationship Management is both an organizational role and a competency–one that can be held by business and service provider professionals whether or not they are assigned to a Business Relationship Management role. The concept of Business Relationship Management (BRM) is related to and employs the techniques and disciplines of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that focuses on all aspects of interaction an organization has with its customer. However, while CRM most often refers to a company’s external customers, the BRM typically deals with a company’s internal customers or an internal provider’s products and/or services. The BRM is a crucial role that bridges a service provider and the business that depends upon that provider’s services. The most common BRM represents an Information Technology (IT) organization, but BRMs can also serve Human Resources, Finance, Legal, Facilities and other shared services functions.”

BRM Framework – Competencies and Processes

The BRM competencies published by the BRM Institute inspired me to work on a framework that lays out the processes that are important to the operative function of the BRM role. The purpose of this framework is to identify the processes performed by the BRM role while matching them with the needed competencies.

I started by identifying the processes that are performed by the BRM role in the organization. The process groups are: (1) Aligning (2) Consulting (3) Enabling (4) Servicing & (5) Evolving.

Next, I identified the sub-processes or activities in BRM that are associated with the core processes identified. I must say, since my background and experience has been in Information Technology, this framework is defined based on this field.

Please click the picture to better read texts in the diagram

Please click the picture to better read texts in the diagram

BRM Organizational Pyramid

I thought that the Process and Competencies Framework  was effective in laying out processes that are important to the operative function of the BRM role but did not clarify the overall context of the role from the perspective of the business. It only focuses on conveying the actions performed by the role and the needed competencies. So, I came up with the organizational pyramid.

The BRM Organizational Pyramid is the overview of the BRM Process-Competencies Framework. This framework will help:

  • To have a context diagram showing the foundational relationship of the BRM processes all the way to the business strategy. I chose the pyramid structure to convey the interconnectedness of the foundation activities with the over-arching business objective.
  • To highlight other support elements that help enable the BRM function. The previous framework mapped the processes with the competencies. I reckon that there are other support elements that are equally essential for the BRM in the performance of its role, such as: organization, knowledge base, methodologies, and tools/ systems.
  • To show the hierarchical relationship from top (strategy) to bottom (processes). Before you perform the BRM role you start with strategic partnership, by aligning the role with the business strategy. The next level shows the structure of the partnership in a form of a business service partnership agreement and corresponding key performance indicators.

BRM Organizational Pyramid

The aim of the pyramid is to clearly show the relationship of the five process groups to the Business Value Alignment (strategy), and then to the Business Service Partnership (structure) that defines the manner in which BRM is expected to be performed within set performance parameters. The support layer represents the enablers of the role– much of  these are what the BRM Institute provide to its members.

I hope you find both these frameworks useful in creating, developing and improving a BRM function in your organization. If you wish to access more materials and collaborate with other BRMs, the BRM Institute is the right professional group for you.

When Failure Is Or Not an Option

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In innovation, you aim to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. You could go right or could go wrong. Of course you do all preparations necessary to go right every time, but if you don’t, you take the lessons learned and be better next time.

Romeo Siquijor is a good friend and compatriot. He now heads Information Security in CEMEX in Mexico while I found my way to Houston after several stints in different countries. We both started as young IT managers in the Philippines. Our offices were adjacent. The thing I remember most was Romeo repeatedly telling his IT Operations team that “failure is not an option” — like it was their mantra. I did not disagree with him, but it was not the same message I would tell my team.

I headed the IT Business Processes group at that time. My department’s task was to enable and support IT solutions. For us, the mandate was to find new ways to do things, to innovate, and to test new tools with potential application to our business processes. Of course, I wanted my team to succeed but on the other hand, I did not want to have the fear of failure limit their quest for new things. I believe that sometimes the cost of finding innovation is failure – finding out what does not work on your way to finding out what does.

Failure is not an optionWhile working with our commercial department, we implemented a sales automation tool using handheld devices. Unfortunately, it did not fly when we piloted the project and we failed. We did not get the buy in because the tool was not user-friendly and robust. The sales managers simply did not use it. We explored another innovation we called mobile selling. Romeo helped design a simple technical architecture to run it. At the time, in 2003, text messaging or SMS was already big in the Philippines. It was a phenomenon and the use of it quickly became part of our culture. Our goal was to incorporate the use of texting to our sales process. We developed a tool that would allow our customers to request orders using SMS and they did just that. In just a few months, 60% of our sales orders were coming from our mobile channel. We were open to exploiting the best technology at that time by applying it to our sales process but we were not sure how our customers will react. We were willing to fail and so we took a risk and gave it our best shot.

When mobile selling was already operating, it became a mission critical application. The system was hosted by the IT infrastructure that my friend Romeo manages. In that perspective, I loved it when he told folks “failure is not an option.” I did not want any service interruptions to impact my mission critical applications. Romeo values productivity, availability and reliability. He wanted no failure and no surprises. He wanted things done yesterday, done better, faster and cheaper today.

My goal is to show you two different perspectives from two different functions in IT. “Failure is not an option” is a good mindset for day-to-day IT service delivery. Although, I would argue that this does not apply to areas whose mandate is to innovate. In innovation, you aim to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. You could go right or could go wrong. Of course you do all preparations necessary to go right every time, but if you don’t, you take the lessons learned and be better next time.

Because it's #throwbackthursday, I am adding this old photo where Romeo and I were presenting in our CEMEX Office in the Philippines. We invited our families for the weekend to visit our office and tour one of our cement plant.

Because it’s #throwbackthursday, I am adding an old photo from 2004. Romeo and I were presenting to family members of all IT employees. We invited them to visit our office, see our data center and tour one of our cement plants.

Why IT Should Use Agile Approach to Project Delivery

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Agile methodology is particularly advantageous if you are selling an idea or innovation or if you need a proof of concept, a pilot implementation and early wins before you get the approval for the complete project.

Are you used to doing large-scale IT projects that require enormous investment of time and money?  Normally, these projects are the ones that aim to deliver a “complete” business application package. IT managers start with the determination of project scope and feasibility, creation of a business case, blue printing, project planning, execution and delivery.  Depending on scope and scale, such a project (from start to finish) could take months to complete and require a lot of resources.

How do you manage such large-scale projects? Typically, IT managers resort to the traditional sequential method. In this method, you determine all the business requirements in the beginning, agree to sign off with the business and move on to a lengthy development cycle. This traditional approach is characterized by work wherein each stage occurs in linear order and lasts a longer period. What’s the risk of such a method? At the end of a project, a team might have built the business application package it agreed to build and deploy.  However, in the time it took to develop, test, fine-tune and deploy, business realities may have changed so dramatically that the product becomes irrelevant. In this case, the business has invested time and money to create a product that no one wants. Isn’t it possible to ensure that the end product is still relevant before it was actually finished? Isn’t it possible to divide the scale into smaller scope and deliver one product (smaller but value creating) at a time?

With the pressures of a limited budget and demand from internal customers for the immediate delivery of innovative solutions, one approach stands out– Agile Methodology. With Agile Methodology, you have a shorter delivery cycle and focus on delivering a “minimum value product”– the minimum scope that delivers the first set of products, functionality and value. You are not expected to deliver a complete solution with a host of value components. Agile development provides opportunities to assess the direction of an initiative throughout a defined roadmap. This is achieved through a smaller project cycle or iterations, at the end of which teams must present a minimum viable product.

Agile

The advantage of the Agile approach is the quicker visibility of results. This is particularly advantageous if you are selling an idea or innovation or if you need a proof of concept, a pilot implementation and early wins before you get the approval for the complete project. Also, you don’t have to request a huge amount of investment up front.  You create, deliver and sell one value creation at a time.  The challenge is to find the minimum scope that could deliver the first set of value and focus your efforts on delivering this first. Implement, test, evaluate and then move on to the next quick and responsive development cycle.

The industry sector that I work in has been badly hit by financial problems in the past couple of years. Obviously that affected IT funding especially on projects in a huge way, impacting our capabilities to deliver the same innovative outcomes from previous years. But the challenge for IT manager is managing the demand from the business partners who continue to request new IT solutions for their business. A lot of them obviously focuses now on innovation addressing how to win in this tough financial times, like profitability, process efficiency, and differentiation in customer experience.

It used to be easier to sell a huge multi-process, multi-business line and multi-year projects, for as long as you can prove the business value of your initiative– not anymore. What we do is sell an idea in a form a roadmap and focus on delivering the first minimum viable product– that’s when truly embraced agile methodology to project delivery.

Agile Methodology does not only apply to IT projects. It could apply to any other project with a large scope that potentially can be divided into small iterations of delivery. Some examples that I can think of are infrastructure projects and product development.

How People Really Use Crowdsourcing

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While on vacation, you don’t earn money… you spend them. Not my brother-in-law—he finds ways to earn a few bucks. He uses his smartphone and apps like Gigwalk. While in Las Vegas days before the New Year, he surveyed bars and restaurants in the city. He wasn’t bar-hopping or something, he was taking 360 degree pictures of restaurants’ interiors and sending them to Bing. It was a gig he acquired through Gigwalk. The rate for this micro-task is around $5 per picture. Think about this, if 50 of those photos he submitted were accepted, he earned $250. He also does work for big companies that like to employ a “mobile workforce” to check on prices and placement of their products in major supermarkets. He interviews shoppers to conduct designed surveys. The rate for this type of gig is about $10 to $ 20 each. Not bad, isn’t it? Pepsi is using crowdsourcing to promote their sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show. They have a contest where fans can submit their personal photos in the hopes that it will be featured in the introduction video. They are sending different instructions per day to fans for diverse types of pictures. I can’t wait to see the outcome of that in the Super Bowl halftime.

What is Crowdsourcing?

This is what crowdsourcing is about—collecting contributions from many individuals to achieve a goal—thus doing more with fewer resources possible. Just imagine if Bing would want to photograph interiors of full service restaurants in the United States and would be willing to employ full time workers to do so. How many workers and for how long? Bing has to consider that there are over 200,000 full service restaurants. Bing would need to contract hundreds of employees for many months to complete this and this would turn out to be a very expensive undertaking.

Crowd - Photo by James Cridland

When you think of a crowd, you think of an unruly bunch of people gathered in a disorganized way. Traditional crowd manipulation is the intentional use of techniques to engage, control, and influence the crowd in order to direct its behavior to accomplish something. Many businesses and politicians have successfully employed that technique in the past. Crowdsourcing differs from traditional crowd manipulation by taking the significance of geographical proximities away from the equation. Nowadays, you can organize individuals from different locations to do what you want using technology. The development of mobile technology in both the application side and for devices (Smartphone) is helping push crowdsourcing to be more commonplace.

Many of us use crowdsourcing without thinking about it. I bet you have used products that came out of crowdsourcing or have participated in crowdsourcing in some way without even realizing it. If you are using Wikipedia, then you are using one example of a service that is a product of the collaborative work of a crowd—or to use a better term, of volunteers.   Wikipedia has 24 million articles that were written collaboratively by volunteers around the world. Almost all of its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the site, and it has about 100,000 active volunteers that contribute in this process. This is a classic crowdsourcing success story. If you have ever rented an apartment and used comments from previous tenants online to help you decide which complex to take; if you have made a purchase in Amazon.com and read customer reviews to help you decide which product to buy; or if you have used comments on TripAdvisor.com to plan a vacation, then you have taken advantage of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing for Social Change

What can you do to contribute to changing the world? Of course, you can donate money to a good cause but beyond that, there are relatively new ways for individuals to shape social change through crowdsourcing. Prominent blogger Alexey Navalny’s site, RosPil.net, makes the most of crowdsourcing by using it as a mechanism to expose corruption in Russia. RosPil uses crowdsourcing to ask anonymous volunteers to report government anomalies in the form of tenders that are designed to generate kickbacks. From a recent HRB article, “Rospil claims, as of December 2011, to have prevented the granting of dubious contracts worth US$1.3 billion.

Married couple Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan set up the website iPaidaBribe.com in India as a unique initiative to fight corruption. They ask anonymous users to disclose the nature, amount, and recipients of bribes. The initiative provides statistics like heat maps and areas of government who have rampant corruption practices.

You don’t even need a specialized website to run crowdsourcing. Many of these initiatives happen in the internet seamlessly through netizens’ initiatives in Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media websites.

Smartphones are making crowdsourcing even more sophisticated. Smartphone use has been climbing steadily upward in the last couple of years. The simple capability of a smartphone to take a photo with location and time stamping is a major capability that is used to capture information easily. As the use of smartphones continue to increase, I foresee a proliferation in simple crowdsourcing initiatives – be it for business, social change or other purpose.

Photo courtesy of James Cridland.

Utilizing the Connection Power of Social Media for Your Business

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Social media allows you and your business to participate in an open dialogue with your target audience.

The use of social media channels for business can be much cheaper than the traditional approach. You can use existing platforms to minimize spending on tools, developers and consultants. Depending on the need you are addressing, you can utilize existing resources and teams. For example, for customer interaction, you can use your customer service team who already knows your products and services. They are trained in customer relationship management so they have an advantage in engaging customers. How big is the social network? The answer to this determines the potential you have in reaching your target audience.

Social Media Usage and User Stats

Last month, Facebook announced that it has reached the milestone of one billion monthly active members. Twitter has reached half a billion users last June 2012, according to the analyst group Semiocast. LinkedIn reported 175 million registered users last July 2012. YouTube streams 4 billion online videos each day. This is more than one for every other person on Earth and a 25% jump over eight months ago, according to Gartner research. WordPress, the leading blog platform, powers 56.4 million sites (including mine) worldwide and has over 367 million people view more than 2.5 billion pages each month.

All of these usage and user statistics make a strong indication of the massive connection power of social media. If you are a company whose vital need is to connect to your customers, you cannot discount social media as just an alternative channel of communication.

The key is to be in the world of social media, to be there right now and establish a presence— even if you think that social media is still considered a “future initiative” for your company.  Starting early through staged implementation may overcome a learning curve before adopting a company-wide social media strategy.

Selecting the right Social Media Platforms

When selecting which social media platform is right for your business, it is important to understand who your target audience is. You should aim your efforts towards the channels they use. Based on my experience, the most effective approach is to use a combination of two or more of the existing platforms that has a strong active user base. Social media platforms can serve various purposes.  The main thing is to find the right mix that takes advantage of the respective benefits that each one brings.

Benefits of Using Social Media Channel for Business

For example, you can make WordPress and/or YouTube as platforms to create and house your contents. Tap internal resources to develop articles, pictures, video and blogs about your business, products and services. Then you can deploy Facebook, (and/or) Twitter and/or LinkedIn as a means to push those contents to your target audience (push strategy). Facebook and Twitter work well for consumer brand companies while LinkedIn work better for a more targeted audience based on field and industry. LinkedIn and Facebook can serve as an effective platform to engage your audience (current or prospective customers, etc.) around the topics or ideas you want to talk about in a community type approach.

Social media allows you and your business to participate in an open dialogue with your target audience. It permits you to respond almost instantly to industry developments and have an effective push strategy for information you want to disseminate. The connections your business make with customers and other entities outside is vital. The use of social media can improve your business in a number of key areas: marketing, corporate communication, brand visibility, customer engagement, locating strategic commercial partners, recruitment, and business intelligence.

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