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Missing Users October 14, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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A common conversation among CIOs these days is how they are dealing with the current recession.  We talk of budget issues, staffing concerns, reduced resources, and a general reduction in our ability to execute and expand our services.  Especially at this time of year, the conversation turns toward next year’s budgets and what we might expect to see in the coming year.

One of my big worries for the coming year is a shortage of users. Not in the sense that there won’t be people to use our systems, but in that IT cannot survive without those critical users that help define, build, test, and deploy our systems.  The economy is affecting the supply of users that are able to help us do things.

For many years IT worked in a vacuum, building things as we saw fit.  The prevailing attitude was that users should be happy with whatever they got, and little time was spent engaging users to ensure we were building the right things the right way.

Many of us (or those of us still employed in IT) realized that this methodology was less than effective and changed our approach.  We actively engaged our user community in every aspect of the development process.  From project charter through requirements analysis, testing, training, deployment, and post-production support, users with specific business knowledge are key to the success of our projects.  Without them, we are doomed to fail.

Unfortunately, the economic pressures being exerted on IT are being felt by everyone else.  People are busier than ever before, doing more with less.  As a result, they simply do not have the time to engage with IT to partner for success.

In a sense, finding that time to help is harder for our users than it is for our staff.  The reality is that many IT shops can easily augment staff by backfilling with contract labor.  If you want to focus a few developers on a new project, you can bring in additional contractors to take over the day-to-day stuff while your developers dive into a new project.

This is rarely possible with non-IT staff.  Business people, especially those that assist with IT projects, usually have deep knowledge of your company’s business rules and processes.  If they are added to a project team to contribute that knowledge, you cannot easily hire an outside contractor to backfill that knowledge gap.  For the most part, IT skills are fungible; non-IT skills are not.

This has deep implications for our ability to execute and deliver results to our companies.  As we seek funding to do things, it can be easy to overlook the non-IT assets needed to make those things successful.  Funding can’t expand those resources, yet our success depends on engaging those very important people.

What to do?  There is no easy answer.  First and foremost, coordinate early and often with you business partners to ensure their availability and willingness to help.  Be very respectful of their time and engage them for your most important work first.  And like most things in life, these times will pass, things will improve, and we’ll re-engage with our previous fervor.

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Slices Of Apple, Part 3 July 30, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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This is the third in a series of posts dissecting Apple’s recent misfortunes during the rollout of the iPhone 3G and related technologies.  You’ll find the first post here.

Time, Quality, or Money: Choose Two

I am always surprised when I meet IT folks who don’t know this old canard.  Simply put, in any project something will be sacrificed.  If you want a high-quality result on time, you’ll spend a lot of money to get it.  Want to hit your budget and deliver high quality?  You’ll take longer with fewer people to get things finished. And if you want to hit your date and hit your budget, you’ll never meet your quality goal.

Apparently, this is the choice that Apple made for MobileMe, the new shared email service launched along with the iPhone 3G earlier this month.  After making the bad decision to release four big things all at once, Apple seems to have stuck with that decision without regard to the quality of the MobileMe product.  The fallout has been terrible and Apple has lost face with a huge swath of its customer base.  The problems still aren’t fixed, and users are still (rightfully) upset, as witnessed by the FailMe parody web site.

The key to successful project management is to realize that this rule is inviolate.  When a project goes awry (and they all do, to some extent), you will be choosing two of these three goals.  How to decide?

If possible, choose Time. Money may be limited, and quality is crucial, so delaying a project and slipping a date is your least distasteful choice.  If you are managing a project whose date cannot slip (end of year reporting or tax filing, for example), recognize that constraint right away and budget lots of money to ensure that you will wind up with good quality.  A good product delivered late is still a good product; a bad product delivered on time will never be forgotten.  Apple will be hearing about MobileMe for a long time; slipping it would have been no big deal.

If you can’t choose Time, choose Money. Money buys labor in the form of developers, testers, tools, and anything else you might need to hit that date.  The goal is to ensure that you avoid having to choose quality.  Be careful, though: money only goes so far.  At some point, you cannot buy your way to hit a date.  (There is a closely correlated rule for this: Nine Women Cannot Have A Baby In One Month).

Never choose Quality. If you really have to choose Quality, argue strenuously to cancel, defer, or redefine the project.  Like eating bad food, memories of bad quality linger for a long, long time.  Slipped dates are soon forgotten as people move on to other things, and even blown budgets fade after time.  Bad quality never diminishes and can come back to haunt you over and over again.

In short, make rational decisions on Money and Time, but never give in on Quality.  If you cave in on Quality, you’ll soon find yourself living through Musciano’s Extension to this rule:

Time, Quality, Money, or Your Job: Choose Three

In these cases, you usually aren’t the one making the final choice.