Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Smartsheet.com...an interesting approach


My investigation into Amazon's S3 lead me to Smartsheet.com - the site seems to utilize S3 for it's data storage. Smartsheet.com provides an excel/spreadsheet interface (similar to Google Docs) that can be shared and contains certain functionality to send out email alerts....so, it's the primary PM's tool with added features and an easy approach to sharing, etc. At first I wasn't impressed, then I realized that Smartsheet.com is giving PM's what they use 90% of the time instead of forcing a PM to work in a predefined/standard tool such as MS Project, BaseCamp, QuickBase, etc. ENLIGHTENMENT! Genius! A simple, easy to use tool....a better hammer! Something that will provide quick and consistent benefit! No fancy mousetrap here.....

For those of you interested in a simple PM tool, that users will find very intuitive, a quick learning curve, etc. - I would suggest looking into Smartsheet.com.

Amazon S3 - amazing


I've been looking into Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is AMAZING...at least very interesting. Basically, Amazon is providing access to the same storage solution they use for their IT infrastructure. Your access is unlimited, you are charged by use and storage (minimal charge). Amazon provides base API's to this infrastructure that would make direct access limited - fortunately there are many third party products out there either utilizing it for their own use (SmugMug, File123 and DigitalBucket) or provide a simple user interface for you (JungleDisk). Here's a good overview of it via WikiPedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_S3
Out of all the third party tools I've looked into, two stand out:
  • File123 - utilizes Amazon S3 for storing users data, provides one of the best Internet storage interfaces and is simply a clean easy to use system. Included is a tool to add a 'network drive' like interface, so in addition to the web interface, you can browse your File123 files just as you would a network connected drive.......impressive.
  • JungleDisk - while JungleDisk does not have a clean web interface, the accessibility is the smoothest and you create and manage your own Amazon S3 account - so - potentially you can change from JungleDisk to another interface (even though JungleDisk does certain things that would make another tool difficult to use). Jungle disk sets up your J drive or provides a volume for Apple/Mac users, so once again you access via a network drive like interface. The nice part is that JungleDisk is a flat $20 and you pay Amazon directly for use/storage. (possibilities here).
I tried some other tools, such as Digital Bucket, but found issues with use or system generated errors. DigitialBucket's nice feature is it's ability to share files with others...something File123 or JungleDisk should incorporate (and might be soon).

Soon the days of needing a large internal disk or buying external ones (that fail) will be gone, Internet based storage is here.....

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Back to the basics - Project Tasks part 3.1: How? Gathering the Details

link to part 3.0: http://itprojectguide.blogspot.com/2007/10/back-to-basics-project-tasks-part-30.html

Ok, so now you have your first (perhaps) second pass at gathering your task list (part 3.0) - now it's time to dig into the details of each task. Part 1 of this series provided the attributes to be collected (http://itprojectguide.blogspot.com/2007/09/back-to-basics-project-tasks-part-1.html)

Prior to meeting with anyone, take a first pass at defining each task's description, this provides the scope of what each task IS, it should contain as specific information as possible WITHOUT adding to much detail as to confuse the delivery (if you're adding a lot in the description chances are you're identifying that the task is actually two or more tasks and need to be separated out). In addition to the description make sure to provide the deliverable - a fuzzy deliverable description provides for fuzzy deliveries.

The most important step in this part of the process is getting the involved people - INVOLVED. Without the people involved in doing the actual work, at best, you'll take a wild guess at effort, missing tasks, etc. Make sure to listen more then anything else - good people will provide good information and identifying the potential resource issues now will GREATLY REDUCE overall project risks (it's all about the people). Get their input to the tasks, are there any missing ones? Get their input on effort AND duration (know the difference and ensure you understand which one they are talking about). Prod them to understand what needs to be done prior to the given task - do you have any missing tasks (the number two high risk to any project is unidentified work/tasks).

The end result of this process is the gather of more detailed information for each task, identification of any prior unidentified tasks and MORE IMPORTANTLY:
  • understanding of the people involved in the project
  • their buy in to the project (if people provide the info, the potential of them delivering is much higher)
  • a true time line (you have a starting date, predecessors and durations - string them out and you see the complete time line - pass 1)
  • if you listened you'll also have a good set of risks that need to be mitigated
Congratulation's - the easy part is mostly over - you know have a base set of tasks for your project, now it's only a matter of getting the time line to fit into the sponsor's expectations, taking a few more passes to better define and just getting the work done...........

Monday, October 22, 2007

QuickBase - 1 year later

  • I've been using QuickBase for about a year now AND I'm still happy with it. Is it the prettiest, easiest to use, stylish PM tool out there?? No. But it provides the basics and the flexibility that make it a very good tool. I was able to take their base PM application template and add release management, risk management, change control, root cause analysis and client specific fields easily. Intuit hosts (ASP) the tool and outside of a few outages (2 hours out of a year) - it's been steady and recoverable. There are groups dedicated to helping with coding advice, etc. For the more adventourous you could connect to QuickBase via open API calls - pulling/pushing data from databases, emails, etc. Some of the weak points include:
  • building multi-level task lists
  • create task dependencies
  • 'prettying' up reports, print outs
Overall great tool, very flexible and very stable.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back to the basics - Project Tasks part 3.0: How? Identifying Tasks

link to part 2: http://itprojectguide.blogspot.com/2007/09/back-to-basics-project-tasks-part-2-why.html

It's a target rich environment out there. Once you have your project charter and scope (to be discussed elsewhere), one of the next steps, and one most associated with project management, is creating your plan. There are various methods/approaches for this:
YES - I know the above list is not all specific to task identification, but the list is about methodologies that at least discuss task identification.....I think the two approaches most used are working with a group to identify tasks for a project and working alone.....and then hopefully getting input and feedback on the tasks identified. The method I've found most effective in capturing tasks is brainstorming (in a group or alone) and building a WBS (work breakdown structure) on a white board. (You can use some mind mapping tools - http://www.nova-mind.com/ is my favorite), but don't let the tool get in the way of the process. WBS, User Stories, etc. - it's all about the results - identifying as best as you can the tasks required to complete a project. Things to consider during the process:
  • don't get pulled into the details - not yet - keep it high level for at least the first pass
  • base the size of the task (duration/effort required) on the risk level assoc. with each, group culture, etc. This requires a high level of intuition which over time will improve. I've always used 2 week increments as a base - get the tasks to a level that will take about 2 weeks to complete each one - this is based on a 6+ month project duration. My feeling is that 2 weeks can be recovered if worst case the task does not completed at all and it's big enough to track (tracking to many tasks is as bad as tracking no tasks).
  • make sure everyone has at least a high level agreement to what the task is, use common terminology and use short/sweet/simple task names to identify them
  • make sure each task is associated with a hard deliverable - something like 'think about the design' without a deliverable has no meaning or value and will not really happen
  • think about, but not to deeply, the people performing the tasks.....don't get pulled into the details
  • make sure you have logistical tasks identified - not ordering servers, workstations, hiring people, etc. will drive the project in the direction of failure as quickly as any other missed task.
  • DON'T get caught up in the tools yet, not the project tools, development tools, testing tools...don't let preconceived 'notions' restrict this thinking process - if you never put yourself in a box you'll never have to think outside of one
  • time box the task identification process - you'll never identify them all and, like taking a test, the more you go back the more mistakes and less overall value will be added. Make the task identification process an iterative one, revisited throughout the project.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Capitalism - a new approach for IT


Most corporate environments today utilize the CIO role to oversee the IT infrastructure, provide IT resources for selected projects, guide them through current IT trends that could improve productivity and cut costs. Some CIO's see themselves as helping reshape base business models through use of IT approaches. In reality, in many corporations, CIO's perform a role similar to the Soviet's central planning committee role - determining what products to produce, in what quantity and fitting business requirements within those given products. The results are basically the same, potential business improvements through technology are limited or crippled, business managers are often fearful of CIO/IT involvement, potential gains are limited by centralized CIO/IT provided products. I'm not trying to associate CIO's with Stalin....but if the iron boot fits......Now what would happen if the 'wall came down' and IT needs were handled in more of a capitalist approach? Where business managers could obtain IT products (software, hardware, support, etc.) as they see fit and where a centralized CIO/IT group is more about setting standards and providing guidance? Each business manager has a given budget and they should be able to spend as they see fit as long as they can operate with in the given IT standards...they can purchase software from any vendor, prioritize their work load based on their needs and not centralized needs or constraints, etc. Various business managers could 'cooperate' by combing funds to gain better results, etc. The CIO/IT group could audit approaches and plans to ensure security, standard protocols, etc. are followed. Free market practices for internal business managers/teams? Yes! I think we would see some of the same results as we do in today's market place:
  • increased productivity
  • forced ownership and responsibility
  • results focused reviews
  • reduced costs based on market adjustments and competitive incentives
  • quicker and more flexible IT implementations
  • quality based on business needs
Maybe this is a simplistic approach or thought...or maybe it's why small startups are many times more productive then larger corporate environments (the CIO in a startup is usually just a title that someone gets strapped with to provided the required figure heads to investors).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World - Alan Greenspan


A Great Read! It's always fascinating (at least to me) when I read about how REAL decisions are made. For instance Paul Volcker taking the economy into a recession in order to control inflation - which (according to Greenspan) was the right choice, otherwise any other move would have been a short term correction and long term downturn. Great men make difficult important decisions based on long term gains regardless of short term impacts and have enough 'guts' (could use other words here) to stay the course. People who can see what needs to be done based on information at hand and understanding of impacts (everything is connected somehow) are truly amazing. This is a great reading book and full of information on how the government works and how past presidents behaved (President Ford being noted as the most normal of them all....)


Craig Newmark is the BEST!

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/here-are-the-answers-to-your-craigslist-questions/

Saturday, October 6, 2007

for $10.....


Result: website and analytics engine with images, slideshows, movies, books for sale
Cost: $10 (for the domain name)
Evidence: http://www.isshinryu-nj.com/ or http://isshinryu-nj.com/ for the group start page.

Using Google Apps, Google Analytics, Flickr, Amazon and Youtube in 5 hours I was able to put together a relatively decent looking point-of-presence website with some items (books) for sale where I receive a commission. In addition I can add up to 200 users, share calendars, various types of documents, etc.......First thought across my mind was - big deal....BIG DEAL?? A few years ago, putting a website together with the above could well have cost a lot more money (the $10 again was to register the domain name for a year)....and for a decent looking site A LOT MORE MONEY! Yes - web development is indeed a commodity, like toasters, PC's and opinions - everyone will have one for nearly free. Those who depend on simple to moderate website development better find a new trade. Website and basic business system (docs management and scheduling) for $10...??? WOW!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's all there waiting to be heard


Wondering where you can get an education on XP, Agile, etc.? Would you like to know what the top people in the IT field are saying? It's all there, everyday, just waiting.......websites, user groups, blogs.....here's some links:




It's there, mostly for free.......if you truly consider yourself a member of the IT community it's time to belly up to the bar and take a sip

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Monday, October 1, 2007

WhoDo?


http://whodo.es/sessions
I think this PM tool site is still cooking. The interface, approach and language were all confusing. The inclusion of help messages just added to my confusion. I realize I'm simple....and maybe the tool could be to complicated for me.......but I am able to sharpen pencils and find pizza places so maybe - just maybe - it's not all me. To many screens to flip through, adding tasks to milestones...??? minimal data to enter, less being displayed and no apparent organization throughout the site. Overall score F. (Even though I sort of like managing project through milestones).