simple processes

Simplify. But Never Oversimplify.

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.

Time Management Lessons from Raising Twin Boys

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At the dinner table, my wife and I were talking about the piece she just published in her blog, The Red Sticks. She spoke about how she manages her time while raising our twin boys. You can read her whole post here — Dividing Time.

In summary, she mentions five important things to remember:

1. It is okay not to be able to do everything.
2. Prioritize.
3. Don’t forget me time.
4. Use your kid’s downtime to your advantage.
5. Enjoy your kids.

Although the post was written with parents — particularly Moms — in mind, these lessons can be applied to one’s personal and professional life. No wonder she is doing a great job with the boys and on top of this, she is still able to do her personal stuff (like writing).

We discussed how her tips in managing her time at home can apply in business and this is what we came up with:

  • It’s okay not to be able to do everything. This is true in business as well. You can’t possibly do everything. If you insist on trying, then most likely you will just get frustrated and miss more important tasks and goals.
  • Prioritize. This is about making the best use of your limited time and resources when demands are seemingly limitless. Your day only has a limited number of hours. This is the same for your week, your month, your year, etc. There is a maximum number of things that you can possibly do (with good quality) in a period of time— therefore, you need to prioritize.
  • Don’t forget me time. “Me time” at work is the time you dedicate to developing yourself. Identify areas of improvement in your skills and capabilities. Talk to your boss and your peers to get feedback and continue to improve yourself. Part of accountability is continuous self-improvement.  Not only do you look at what you’re already good at but also what else you can improve on.
  • Use your downtime to your advantage. Obviously, there are times at work when things are toxic — everything needs to be done right away and deadlines overlap. However, there are also down times. There are two ways you can make use of your office down times. First, you can schedule your vacation at this time and make sure you maximize the number of days you go on leave. The other way is is through extracurricular activities in  at work such as organizing a community outreach and writing in the newsletter.  If there are opportunities for you to use or exhibit your talents, then volunteer.
  • Enjoy your work. Look forward to it everyday and think of having fun. Try not to see work as work but as an opportunity to learn something or mentor someone. You will see how it will impact your productivity!

So who says managers can’t learn from Moms? This post is a perfect example.  After all, our Moms are probably our first “managers”.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.

The Brand-Choice Algorithm

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We were in the supermarket today and my wife asked me to get a bottle of laundry detergent. She did not specify the brand, so without “thinking”, I picked up the one that I usually buy— Woolite. This reminded me of a book I was just reading.

Why I Picked Woolite?

The other night, I read that “brand choice (is a) predominantly subconscious, memory-based process that follows a fixed algorithm.” The ideas in the book challenged me to rationalize my selection process a bit – something I usually don’t do. I recognized that my selection of Woolite was not really based on a conscious effort, i.e. getting more facts about the product, reading the specifications, thinking about our past experiences with the product and comparing it with other brands in the store. The truth is, Woolite simply came to mind as the preferred option and I chose it. Any conscious deliberation process which could have vetoed this choice came later.

Now that I think about it, there are two simple reasons why I chose Woolite over the others. First of all, the brand name itself – Woolite – suggests that the product is not harsh and is sensitive to clothes. These are features of a laundry detergent that I value. Secondly, the white packaging seems to elicit the same meaning. So I really wasn’t buying Woolite because of its specifications. I was buying it due to a perception I had from its name and packaging. It was a subconscious choice. A choice I have been making for a couple of years now!

Do You Know Why You Buy Apple Products?

Once, a friend of mine posted a question on Facebook – asking about the difference between an iPhone, iPod, iPad and the about-to-be-launched iPad Mini. One of his friends answered that it was the size – arguing that most of these products’ functions are very similar. In fact, most of the apps you use across different Apple devices are the same.

True isn’t it?

So why do so many of us own an arsenal of all those gadgets, if they really mostly do the same things? Think about the last time you bought an Apple product. Do you know why you selected this brand versus others in the market?

Branding with Brains

The book I mentioned earlier, entitled “Branding with Brains” by Tjaco Walvis, offers a good explanation. “You can rationalize with hindsight, but the fact is our brains make these decisions without really thinking about it,” wrote Walvis. “This is why successful brands appeal to customers on the basis of emotional association, images and experiences rather than just on the back of their product specification.” As one Harley-Davidson executive describes in this book’s convention-shattering case studies, “We don’t sell motorbikes. What we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through a small town and have people be afraid of him.”

Buy and read the book, you might just find yourself rationalizing your buying behavior just like me!

Photo courtesy of Cogs and Gears

Project Management Lessons from the Olympics Games

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I have always been fascinated about how developed countries excel in the Olympics. In the recently concluded summer games in London, 6 countries from G8 were in the top ten of the medal standings. Do countries’ economies have anything to do with how their athletes fair in games? Absolutely! How?

Allow me to use some project management concepts to explain.

Portfolio Management – Strategy in Sports and Funding

Obviously, developed countries have more resources, i.e. money, to invest in sports development and therefore, more and better sports programs translate to more chances of success. The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out close to $250 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing. That is a huge investment in a national sports program (and this excludes funding coming from corporate sponsorship for more popular teams). The portfolio managers — or I should say Olympic committee leaders — determine goals, value indicators and programs that can help fulfill its overall sports goal. The sports’ governing body is responsible for allocating the investment into programs that has the potential for more success. They monitor aggregate performance, track spending and measure value of results.

These are the types of decisions that sports leaders have to make as part of portfolio management.

  • How much is allocated for sports programs we already excel in so as to maintain success?
  • How much is allocated for developing sports with the best potential for future success?
  • How much is allocated for improving equipment and facilities?
  • How much is allocated for the athletes’ rewards program and development program in general?

Program Management – Managing Sports Programs

A program, according to PMI, is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way so as to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Let’s use the USA basketball program as an example. The objective of the program is to return USA to dominance in basketball. Previously, the USA team failed to win the 2002 FIBA World Championship and finished with bronze at the Athens Olympics. Jerry Colangelo was appointed as the director of the USA basketball program in 2005. He redefined the entire basketball program with the intention of coping with the increasing competition from other countries like Russia, Spain and Argentina. This current USA basketball program was projected to take 6-8 years with the objective of qualifying for the Olympics and winning Beijing and London. The USA basketball program has an even large scope and that is, to promote basketball globally.

The program manager, in this example,  Jerry Colangelo is responsible for developing the overall program plan and creating high level plans for a detailed execution at the component level. The component level items are the projects.

Project management – Preparation and Games Participation

Now let’s break down the USA basketball program into projects.

  1. Assemble the team and train (no longer ad-hoc collection of NBA stars)
  2. Participate in qualifying tournaments (players projected to participate in main events for continuity)
  3. Participate in the basketball tournament (with the objective of winning the gold medal)

As you can see, we dissected the basketball program into three main projects. A project, according to PMI, is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It has a defined beginning and end and therefore a defined scope and resources. Colangelo appointed Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as the USA basketball coach. Essentially making him the project leader of the components of the basketball program we listed above.

This example illustrates how portfolio management helps manage a collection of programs and projects to achieve a strategic objective. The main goal of portfolio management is to maximize the value of the portfolio by the careful management of its components—the constituent programs and projects. Countries with resources to invest in sports programs and with the leadership to guide the program through have the advantage over others.

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