Tag Archive: Management

IP or commodity skill?


IP or commodity skill?

One of the trends that started at the end of the 20th Century and gathered pace in the 21st is the move to outsource certain parts of IT in the business to low costs providers.

This seemed a great idea at first as you could reduce, or fix your costs, for the more commodity skills. These included the provisioning of machines and desktop support of operating systems.

This also took its place in running data centres where support for standard machines and OS’s was seen as an off the shelf skill.

As the pace to outsource gathered more and more tasks were deemed to be commodity skills and candidates to outsource. Resources with many years’ experience if the various tools and there usage in the organisation were let go and replaced by these type of deals.

This is where the problems started to arise. Many of the skills that were chosen appeared to be a commodity skill but management failed to realise that once you deviated from the standard usage of the product you were in fact moving into the realms of intellectual property.

Take for instance support for ERP systems like SAP or Oracle amongst others. These are deemed to be fairly standard applications that you can churn skills out of training camps in a standard manner and then get them supporting business.

However we all know this isn’t true it isn’t what they are using that is important it’s the how they are using it that really matters. Company A and B both may have inventory and financials but the chances are they use the same package in totally different ways and on top of that the chances are they have both modified the core system in different ways.

So the concept of being able to get resources at the turn of a tap becomes increasingly more difficult because they also need to have knowledge specific to the particular company they are working for.

One of the major trends currently in business is the concept of nurturing your talent and the fact that those business that develop their talent will be the winners in the future so decision makers need to be very certain that anything they consider for outsourcing in the future is a real “commodity skill” to avoid losing all their Intellectual property.

As we move more and more toward the future and the true knowledge economy of high skill; high paid employment the distinction between the two will be more important than ever.


Is the IT Department being left behind in the 21st Century?

I was sparked into writing this article this morning after hearing an expression I thought we had moved away from. I overheard a couple of Senior IT guys at my client talk about “end user computing”.

This is an expression I haven’t heard since the 90’s or even the early 2000’s but with all the changes with devices and technology over last 10-15 years is it still a relevant concept?

This got me thinking about IT departments and the 21st Century. Has the march of technology overtaken the ability for the IT department to react and deliver technology solutions? Has the advent of digital given the business the opportunity to cut the IT department out of the equation and if they have what does the IT department need to do to reclaim the “technological authority”?

In the 80’s and 90’s we implemented massive organisation and productivity changing systems that impacted an entire organisation (without email and mobile phones in a lot of cases). Many of these system still exist with organisations and are deemed “heritage” or “legacy”. These needed a massive cohort to implement and then to support and this formed the bases of the IT department.

Large frameworks for the “management” of these projects and systems were developed and a governance structure put around the, ITIL; Prince 2 are two of the most popular. This led to longer delivery times and an administrative burden.

In parallel to these changes going on in the consumer space new technology was being introduced. Smart Phones, Netbooks, Tablets, Smart TV’s to name but a few. The internet that had ballooned during the late 90’s, and crashed, suddenly became mainstream and, as I predicted in the late 90’s the 4th utility.

All the while whilst this was going on the IT departments continued to get bigger and apply more and more frameworks and overheads along with outsourcing, what it saw as commodity skills which, were in fact, intellectual property (this will be the subject of a future article). What this meant was that to even have an idea to change a small bit of technology cost you thousands before you started.

It also led to the rise of the “shadow IT department” where end user departments were hiring, developing and supporting their own solutions.

Then we entered the digital economy. The rise of smartphones; tablets; ubiquitous internet via mobile phones and WiFi caused a perfect Nexus. Everything had to be digital. Again the IT department tried to impose a lot of the legacy disciplines onto the business which was rejected and as a result a new part of the business was created and called “digital” which meant the Technology Skilled staff worked alongside the business people as one to deliver what the business wanted.

Now we are deep into the new world. We have IT people looking after “heritage” and “Lagacy” systems and the Digital teams looking after the social media and digital world. Where does this leave the traditional IT department? My answer is well behind the curve.

People existing in the old world need to upskill and understand where the world has moved on to. Certain ideas and understandings need to be challenged and refreshed.

In conclusion there is no such thing now as “end user computing” everything is.

Managers versus leaders

businessmen-152572_640Managers versus Leaders

One of the disturbing developments I have noticed in a career stretching over 30 years in length is the rise of the manager and the demise of the leader.

Back in the 90’s when everybody was talking about “the new economy” businesses removed layers within organisations and “empowered” people to get on with it and make decisions. This enabled businesses to make major productivity gains and with the advent of the Enterprise Resource Planning systems businesses became quicker and more efficient.

Being a project manager you role was to keep the team motived and drive the timelines whilst making it fun! We didn’t have mobile phones or emails it was down to energy and strength or personality and charisma that made things happen.

Then something happened. I don’t know what it was but suddenly there were managers everywhere. Process and people were managed. Countries were managed by their politicians there was more emphasis on measuring everything; KPI’s; Scorecards; targets all leading to people managing their processes and business in such a way as to meet the measures not what was good for the business.

I think this trend has led to the phenomenon where managers are being paid massive bonuses and have no risk associated with the remunerations. It has also led to a lot of the scandals we see in the banks and other organisations.

This trend has to stop. We need leaders to be back in the forefront of business and driving the growth that the economies need.

My gut feel is that the true leaders will make a resurgence in business. The tools available now in terms of social media and collaboration and the “sharing” economy means that the managers have nothing to hide behind anymore.
Hopefully this will lead to innovation and risk taking and not just managing what currently exists.

I for one believe that the leaders ate the most important management resources we need in the 21st century world of business.


My last time two articles had been about the different types of project managers that you find within organisations and the different focus they have on projects. The “battery pm’s” focus on the process around a project, the “free rangers” are more focused on the content of a project.

Both areas are key the success of a project but one will deliver a successful project, the other will produce a great set of governance documentation.

The content is the most important part of a project and in order to understand what is required to deliver the project you need to have an understanding of the content and the context. This is obtained by talking to your sponsors, peers and any others you identify that gave the business and business impact understanding.

The content is the most important part of a project and in order to understand what is required to deliver the project you need to have an understanding of the content and the context. This is obtained by talking to your sponsors, peers and any others you identify that gave the business and business impact understanding. If you don’t understand the content and the understanding you are really only undertaking an academic exercise.

A great technique for getting the business understanding is the use the “new boy “pretence and ask the “dumb question “ of those with the knowledge. Most people are willing to help you and bring you up to speed as they understand the greater good and what the project is trying to deliver.

I remember delivering a project on time and to budget that ended up delivering over £3 million above the benefits case, yet because I had not produced on time a couple of governance items the project was deemed a non-successful project from an IT department perspective but from the business/customer standpoint one of their most successful projects of the year.

In summary both process and content are important and should be given focus, but in order to deliver you should focus on the content first and then the process.

freeRangeFree Range Project Managers

I recently wrote an article about the rise of the “battery project manager”. I thought it was time that I presented the alternative view. These I am calling the “free range project manager”.

These project managers tend to have a focus on the people involved in a project and less on the process of project management. Whilst they appreciate the need for process they see them more as “guidelines” and not “rules”.

It’s all about content

They are more inclined to talk to people in the flesh as opposed to getting the headset on and having a conference call. They understand the importance of non-verbal communication and have empathy to team members.

To them a project is not an academic exercise; it has real content where the business is a real customer. Their goal is to “delight” the customer and exceed their expectations. They work the hours they need to in order to get things done and not just the hors they have to.

They are risk takers, but not risk at any cost, they assess the risk and make an informed decision. If it goes against them they put their hands up and admit any mistakes. They stand behind their team and help then wherever they can.

They adjust to the requirements of the organisation they work in but never compromise their beliefs. Where possible they help those with less experience than themselves and like to pass their experiences on.

Every department should have a few of these project managers.

battery project managersBattery Project Managers

As an independent Project/Programme Management consultant who works with some of the largest corporates in the world I get to see the current acceptable practices in operation. An alarming trend I have spotted for some time is the rise of the “Battery Project Manager”.

The Battery project Managers sit in clusters with other Battery Project Mangers and manage their project from afar as an academic exercise. There I no interaction with the business and no understanding of what the actual project is trying to achieve.

Its all about the process

They follow process without regard to what it is they are doing. They use so called “enterprise tools” to report up and enact the latest edict without challenge.

 Issues and risks go into logs and are tracked mechanically and updated when requested. Status reports are completed on time as dictated by the PMO (The Programme Management Office).

There is no real distinction between a PMO analysts and a Battery Project Manager, in its worst manifestation Project Managers are subordinate to the analyst.

As you can tell from the article I am not overly impressed with what I see with this trend. Project management is a people game and requires interactions with others to be successful.

Its people that make projects a success not the process. Anyone can blindly follow a process but the real magic happens when you start questioning why things are done in a certain way.

Project Failures?

I am convinced that this trend is the reason why we see examples in the news of “glitches” with Bank systems or mobile phone systems not been available for hours. People who bear the scars of projects over the years know where the pitfalls are and where to look for likely problems.

If you haven’t been at the coalface it’s difficult to see what may happen.

I personally believe that the Project Management profession is at a crossroads between the entrepreneurial (free range) Project Managers and the Battery Project Managers.

I know if it was my business what I would want is to have project managers who focused on the content and not the process.


Email PhotoEmail Banned by Consulting Company

There was an interesting segment on the BBC breakfast show last week discussing the fact that the consulting company ATOS has decided to ban its staff from using internal emails by 2014.

Whilst I think this is a bit of an overreaction it does highlight the fact that the use of email has got completely out of control.

Being of a certain age and in the industry for too long than I care to remember I am amongst a small group of professionals, who project managed and implemented massive systems without the use of email.

We can still remember when collaborating meant everyone in a project sitting in the same room and speaking to each other.

Email Introduced.

When email came along it was a godsend to project teams and really helped in the communications process. It probably helped us become more efficient. We were the masters for the technology and used it and loved it.

However email has become abused over time and we have now become the slave to the emails. Because of this ATOS have made their decision.

Obviously we now live in a connected world and are using social media more and more this means there are a plethora of tools that we can now use to communicate, or the real topic of the moment, COLABORATE.

There are many Instant-messaging platforms that are now getting the acceptance in the corporate market and these are being rolled out and used.

Email or others – Collaboration is the key.

I feel there is a place for all these tools in the IT professionals tool box and they should be used appropriately. The decision from ATOS, in my opinion,  on banning mail is down to misuse of the technology not the technology itself.

With a little discipline in using the technologies the can be used to their full potential. I will follow up on with a separate article on how I manage email and communications to avoid the overload scenario.

Using the riight words is so importantChoose Words Well

When you are a Manager imparting information on a project you need to be extremely careful on the words you use to make sure that you convey authority and knowledge of the situation.

How many times do you hear Managers use the words “hopefully”; “probably”; “I think” and other weak words and phrases to get over the status or issues.

Most recipients of this type of response will pick up on these words and start questioning the status and the manager’s credibility and knowledge of the subject.  If you say that “hopefully a date will be met”, are you actually saying we are in danger of missing that date?

As with nearly everything you do with Management you need to concentrate on the presentation of the content not just the content. If you don’t know the current status of an item it is better to say “I do not know the answer to A, but I will get it for you by y” than “I think it is B, but I am not sure – let me check”.

The first example shows that you will go and get the definitive answer where as the second is a guess and then a reconfirmation.

As with most things we do it is all down to preparation; preparation; preparation when getting ready to issue a communication.

Assertive Words

You should try and put yourself in the recipients shoes and see what type of questions they are likely to ask and make sure that you use the correct type of words that reinforce action and assertiveness.

Even if you are having a weekly meeting don’t turn up without doing any preparation, its when you wing it that you start using the vague terminology I outline above.

Early in my career I would never prepare before meetings and thought no problem I can make it up as I go. That when you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when asked a question you know full well you should have the answer at your finger tips.

I now prepare even for the briefest meeting to install the confidence in people that I am in control and know what I am doing. I avoid all the wishy-washy words mentioned above as well as others.

I also regularly prepare an update that I have in my back pocket for those times when you are cornered in the lift (the elevator pitch) or to and from your car.

Everything we do in Project and Programme management is related to people, people want us to do things, we need people to do things and so on, therefore we need to make sure that we present an image that we know what we are doing and are in total control of the situation.

The way we display that control and confidence to others is by using words so make sure we use them well.

As an exercise why not comment below with words you feel should be avoided when talking to stakeholders and others.

Here is your starter for 10 – should; might; possibly; hopefully,  could,

Team LaughingHumour – A Great Leadership Tool

When leading a project or programme I believe that one of the most valuable tools that the leader has is humour.

Humour can be used to foster team spirit, to relieve tension and for motivation. A lot of people can take themselves very seriously and this can have a detrimental effect on the team.

I am not saying don’t take what you are doing seriously, you should, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

Humour – The Carry On Moment

If you are at a particularly stressful stage in the life-cycle injecting what I can a “Carry-On Moment” can remove the stress and reinvigorate the team.

Meetings can be particularly tedious and an injection of humour can raise the spirits and refocus the participants.

It’s amazing how, in this connected and global world, humour crosses borders and cultures and has the same affect wherever you are. But be careful that you don’t make assumptions that things that are non-offensive where you come from are OK everywhere.

Humour – Careful How You Use It.

However you need to use the tool carefully. Don’t use it to belittle others or belittle the task at hand. Don’t use it to undermine others or other teams. Always use it in a positive and appropriate manner. Use it in an appropriate and none offensive manner.

In conclusion injecting a bit of humour can really brighten an endeavor and put a spring in people’s steps.

If you need a starter here is a joke that may help that was voted the best joke at the 2011 Edinburgh festival.

“I was asked for an eight character password so I gave snow white and the seven dwarfs”

IT not a support functionSupport Function – The History

One of the enduring debates within the corporate world is that IT is a support function in the same way that Finance or HR are. This is something I contend is no longer true in any modern business. You certainly don’t here of any businesses that are gaining market share on the back of being able to do their accounts quicker or more efficiently than others.

Back in the day when everyone was rushing to implement first generation ERP systems and improve the transaction base of the business this was probably true. These systems enable businesses to get in control of the nuts and bolts of the business and put order in place.

At first these were differentiators and businesses that were first to market could gain improved share and business based on these improvements. Generally productivity increased and cost saving were made. However they were very much the automation of the back office.

Over time most companies moved to some level of ERP and the field was levelled.

Then the push was for Data Warehousing which eventually became BI (Business Intelligence). This provided businesses with a means of understanding themselves and their markets in ways that had never been thought of before. This was the point at which the paradigm changed and IT became more of a partner with the business.

Support Function – The Future

In the 21st century businesses can no longer survive without great IT and in many instances the IT is what differentiates certain businesses from others. Being able to react to markets and customers quickly is now the way to gain market share.

However as this change has progressed there are still many cases where people in the business perceive IT as a Master/Slave relationship. They still talk about IT as if it is a bunch of geeks in the basement who love to code, understand the technology but not the business.

These dinosaurs need to be convinced of the benefits of IT and made to see that the world has changed. In order to do this the IT department need to up their game and prove to these sceptics what they have to offer.

It is up to senior IT management to sell the ideas and offerings of the department to the business. To challenge when necessary and offer alternatives and ideas to the business leaders.

We are entering a time where the technology opportunities are increasing constantly and as IT professionals we need to consider these technologies and see how they can help our businesses grow not just follow instruction. How can the tablets and other future technologies be deployed to the business to give advantage?

An old boss of mine always used to say you need to “walk in the steps of the business man” to understand what he needs and then provide it. This is more important than ever and we should be partnering (equally) with the business when ever we can. Once we do that then IT will not longer be perceived as a support function and a slave to the business.