Running IT Projects the way Movies are Made

Running IT Projects

The Movie Analogy to Running IT Projects

It may seem strange but running IT Projects is not that much different to making movies. They are created in small clips and then put together at the end. So, the way movies are made appears to be a far better and more successful process than running IT Projects.

Programming, Analysis, and Project Management are different skills. Some programmers and analysts make good project managers. Others do not. Many do not want to become project managers. What they want to do is earn more money.

How often have you seen, at your organisation, that the best business analyst with the best business systems knowledge can’t run a project for toffee? Also, how often have you seen a project manager who is logistically good and gets systems delivered in reasonable time, deliver systems that are not fit for business purpose?

Senior Business Analyst

There is a cure for this. It enables you to use your best people most effectively and it helps to keep them at your organisation. This is the use of Directors and Producers. In the movie industry, the Director is the person who is the creative genius, the Steven Spielberg, the person who makes the picture. This is your Senior Business Analyst.

The Producer is the person who handles the logistics. He or she hires the actors and draws up the contracts. He books the locations. He makes sure everyone turns up at the right place at the right time, the costumes are made, the food arrives, the star has the best caravan, the movie is on schedule etc.

Doing all this, as well as making the movie, would sap Steven Spielberg’s creative energy. There is no reason why he would be any good at this just because he can make good movies.

Software Producer and Director

The Producer and the Director would have equal standing and would therefore have similar recompense. The Director may even have a higher recompense.

This is a difficult idea to sell to senior management as they like to see one person in charge, i.e. the logistics person. This idea of Producers and Directors seems to them to be a bit ‘arty’ and not of the real ‘hard-nosed’ world.

They also usually have projects which run over budget and time. Those projects do not deliver fit-for-purpose systems. Also, their best staff leave in droves in this ‘hard-nosed’ world.

It should be explained to them that they would only have one point of contact. As the pressures on them are mainly money and time, the Producer would be their point of contact.

Academy Awards

There is also the problem of potential conflict between the ‘arty’ Director and the ‘real world’ Producer. It is important, then, to appoint a Producer who gets on well with the Director. Notice that it is this way round. In the movie world, it is often the case that the Director appoints the Producer. It is often someone who he has worked with successfully in the past.

Organisations continually complain that they are constantly losing people with good business knowledge from the systems department. With this change of emphasis, you will be able to keep your best Business Analysts. At the Academy Awards it is noticeable that although there is an award for Best Director, there is no award for Best Producer.

Project Goals Aligned

To cut any potential friction between the Producer and the Director, when running IT projects, make their rewards mechanism the same. That’s so that their goals are aligned. Don’t reward the Director for fitness-for-purpose while rewarding the Producer for Timeliness and meeting budget.

If you have problems selling this idea to senior management, just call them the Project Manager and the Senior Business Analyst while separating the roles.

It is better, however, if you can convince them that this is a good idea. It makes it easier to justify the kind of rewards for the Director / Senior Business Analyst which would keep him or her at the company.

Productivity through Motivation on a Software Project

Productivity Through Motivation

Productivity through Motivation

One of the greatest gains you can make on a software project is better productivity through motivation.

The great American Football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said that there are a lot of coaches who can improve the team tactically but that the really successful ones are those that can get “inside those guys’ heads and bring the best out of them”.

I have asked many people who work as developers in the industry how much more productive they could be if they were really motivated. Most of these have many years of experience. The answers they give me are usually in the range of being 50% to 200% more productive. I won’t name them here. When asked what would motivate them to achieve these greater rates of productivity they usually answer that if they were working for themselves they could achieve those levels.

Doubly Productive

It is very interesting to note that your project members could be, on average, doubly productive if truly motivated. Maybe they will never give you the same productivity that they would give themselves. You should be able to unlock some of these productivity gains, though, if you simulate, as far as possible, working for themselves.

You should create the conditions in which they profit (and profit well) from their productivity gains. You should use the model of the City of London traders. They are trained well, given a base salary, motivated by a sharing of rewards, and set free to make money for their companies and for themselves.

Best Developers

By doing something similar, it would be easier to keep your best developers and to stop them going freelance. So, by giving them a base salary and a pension you give them security. Also, by giving them a chance to earn large bonuses by bringing in projects, and their parts of the project, ahead of budget and schedule, you give them the chance to make money.

With this mixture of security and earning potential, and possibly career progression as well, why would anyone want to leave to become freelance? Why, indeed, would they want to take another permanent job with another company which has backward practices, low rewards, and fewer opportunities to achieve and be recognised.

Imagine All Your People

Therefore, imagine a company where the people are highly motivated, have security, are well rewarded, and have high self-esteem through high (and constantly improving) productivity. This company will retain its best people and their business knowledge. It will, as a result, produce software of better quality and with better time-to-market than its competitors.

People’s morale, as a result, will be high. Customers will be highly satisfied. They will, also, gain market share and have high margins. The Finance Director will smile. The shareholders will be rich. They will reward their senior management. This company, as a result, will be a world beater. There’s absolutely no reason why this company could not be yours.

It is not easy. Any change is resisted. To be forewarned, however, is to be forearmed. Productivity through motivation, therefore, is the best way to get it.

Keeping Your Best People – The Winter Holocaust

Keeping Your Best People

Keeping Your Best People – The Winter Holocaust

Keeping your best people is one of the major factors to success.

At a company where I was Chief Information Officer we used to hold People Satisfaction Surveys based on categories like career prospects, remuneration, management, the working environment etc. We held these every three months, in January, April, July, and October. One thing that we found was that morale was seasonally affected.

Morale was highest in October, dipping in January, hitting its bottom in April after a long hard winter and picking up again in July. We also found that the People Satisfaction Survey was a good leading indicator (by about 2-3 months) for staff attrition. When people are feeling at their lowest, they send out their CVs.

Lower Morale

During the winter people come to work in the dark and leave in the dark. It is not just this factor, though, that causes lower people morale. More projects are implemented in the winter (January 1st being a favourite implementation date). Because of staff holidays fewer projects are implemented in summer.

Therefore, people are working longer and harder in the winter on projects which are probably failing without much thanks or encouragement from management. While people are working, vis inertia kicks in and they don’t find time to compile their CVs. It’s only when they have a few days away like at Christmas, Easter or one of the spring bank holidays that they start to assess whether it is worth it. Many decide it isn’t.

Keeping Your Best People – Social Activities

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The dark days of January, February and March are the time when you should organise social activities. At this company, we used to always hold the Software Academy Awards in February. There were various awards like best manager, best developer, best business analyst etc.

Everyone in the IT department voted for these categories. We organised an awards evening, with the sports and social club meeting most of the expenses. We invited senior management. We made presentations, in reverse order, to the top three in each category. We gave each of the first three a certificate.

Keeping Your Best People – Winners

We have the winners fifty pounds in the serious categories and a bottle of champagne in the joke categories. The people organised it for the people. It engendered much interest in the two weeks before and for a few days afterwards The fact that the award was given by their peers, and that the handing over of the award was witnessed by senior management, was important.

This one event won’t sustain morale throughout the whole winter but it will contribute to it. I’ve often thought of having another awards night with the awards being decided by management. This, however, is fraught with danger. As it is outside work hours, will people turn up to see what may be perceived as ‘management lackeys’ receive their awards?

Keeping Your Best People – Pay Rises

This time of the year is probably a good time of the year to give out pay rises and promotions. At the very least it will narrow the differential between what you are paying and what they could receive in the marketplace. Once the CVs are sent out you are probably too late. When the staff agencies are sweet talking your people, and other companies are keen to have them, the grass seems an awful lot greener on the other side.

It’s counterproductive to try to keep them once they’ve resigned. They usually refuse but tell the rest of your people you’ve made the offer. It becomes the perceived wisdom among the remaining people the only way to get ahead in the company is to resign. This is not good for morale.

When people do resign, companies usually either try to make them work their full notice period (being crucial to the project) or they have them out the door that day (sometimes supervised by the security guard and marched out the door). The first is not clever. People who are going are not motivated to work. They usually spend the time de-motivating other people. It is usually people who are close to them who are next to leave the company.

Too Harsh

The second way is too harsh. They have friends and colleagues who remain at the company. People will not appreciate one of their members who have given good service to the company being ceremoniously or unceremoniously ejected. They will feel that the company does not appreciate good service.

It is better, and gentler, to give them a couple of days to pass their work over to someone else. You are going to lose them anyway. You might as well get used to it. A couple of days is also not enough for them to seriously disaffect the other members of staff. They are usually in the first flush after their resignation and feeling kindly towards their old company. Thank them, at their leaving speech, for all the good work they’ve done for the company and wish them well in their new job. This is relatively painless and everyone is reasonably happy.

Keeping your best people is crucial to your success.