Random Acts of IT Project Management

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Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Tool

Posted by iammarchhare on 21 August 2009

At one place I worked, we were looking into some content management systems.  When I found out the licensing cost for one tool we were already using, I was pretty much floored.  The old pricing scheme was pretty high, but in order to update, we had to move to a licensing scheme that seemed pretty insane to me.

Since there already was a Microsoft license in place, the recommendation was to move to MS Sharepoint and dump the more expensive tool.   It literally meant quite a bit of conversion and testing time, though.  There was a weird path assignment for many documents, and it would have been easy to have a lot of broken links.

Well, Alfresco offers an alternative to the more expensive contenders.

Twenty years of experience drove us to believe that the Enterprise Content Management industry was driven by:

  • High Cost — Application driven purchases with a high up-front investment and per user pricing
  • High Complexity — Long rollout cycles and complexity resulting in software either not being implemented or used
  • Lack of Customer Control — Proprietary control preventing choice and ability to switch to other vendors

For these reasons the vast majority of people do not use ECM systems but instead work with shared drives and email to create, share and store content.

That last paragraph really hit home with me.  At the company I was working for (above), there were quite a few pockets of people using shared drive because no one wanted to pay for the overpriced licensing.  While an older version of Sharepoint was in place, it’s use was mostly for project work.  There really was no central schema to how to get information.

At any rate, I plan to have a further look into Alfresco.

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Posted in Knowledge Management, Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alfresco Enterprise Content Management Tool

Making Extra Cash

Posted by iammarchhare on 18 August 2009

TechRepublic posted “10 ways techs can make extra cash” a while back.  There are some good ideas there, and even gives you sites that cater to specific categories.  Some of these can even help drive people to their own business.

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Tough Client Questions

Posted by iammarchhare on 6 August 2009

It is a certainty that clients have become more picky about who they will hire.  It is also pretty evident that many in IT are now using this opportunity to turn to going it on their own.

That’s why I think Chip Camden’s article on TechRepublic about “Answering client questions about perceived risks and benefits” is a good one to read if you are contracting or thinking about it.

For example, if you are just starting out, you may be the only one in your “firm”.  So, how do you answer the question, “How many people are in your firm?”  Remember, there’s an upside as well as a downside to being small.  Think communication.  Think reliability.  Those are the risks that the client wants to mitigate.

That’s one of the questions.  Chip asks 6 others.  A recommended read.

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John D’s Computer and Network Services

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 July 2009

This is a shameless plug for my new company, and I wanted my blog readers to be among the first to know.  It is still in startup mode (I just acquired phone service today), but it isn’t too early to start getting the word out.

It is John D’s Computer and Network Services, and it is based out of the Akron/Cleveland area of Ohio.  We specialize in installation, service, repairing and general consulting for computer and network needs for individuals or small businesses.  No project is “too small”!

I am in the process of setting up a web site, but I haven’t even come up with a business logo yet 🙂

In the meantime, our telephone number is 440.499.5326 or 440.499.JDCN.

If you don’t know me well, you may wonder, “Why John D’s?  Shouldn’t it be JC’s?”  When I was growing up, I was rarely called John, actually.  I was usually called “John D” because it was easier to distinguish me from anyone else in the vicinity called “John”.  It basically stuck, esp. amongst family.

At any rate, the plan is to be basically open for business by Monday morning.  So, thanks for tolerating this shameless plug.

Posted in Mostly off-topic rambling rabbit holes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on John D’s Computer and Network Services

Internet Explorer Back in the News

Posted by iammarchhare on 7 July 2009

Microsoft has taken the unusual step in posting a security advisory about a vulnerability in XP and 2003 Server machines running Internet Explorer.  It is being called the “zero day” vulnerability.  Microsoft issues security advisories (Yahoo! calls them “updates”, which is confusing) around the second Tuesday of the month, but it broke the pattern because of the seriousness of the vulnerability.  It did this before with the Conficker worm earlier this year.

It is an unusual vulnerability because all that has to occur is for a user using IE on the XP and 2003 Server platforms navigates to a website that has been hacked.  The user does not consciously download anything, but the trojan is downloaded onto the users machine, escaping detection.  The propensity for users to click on links in emails from associates means that it is fairly easy to get people to visit the hacked web sites.  And, just in case you are ready to jump on the “I would never do that!” bandwagon, there was also a story about the Bermuda weather website getting hacked yesterday.  While it doesn’t sound like the same virus, it goes to show the vulnerability of surfing the web.

There is a workaround available.  Of course, you could just switch to Firefox, a much better browser, IMO.

In the end, MS is recommending that all users implement the workaround, even for Vista, because “there are no by-design uses for this ActiveX Control within Internet Explorer.”

That’s sort of a scary statement, when you think about it.  When you read the description, it is even more problematic.  You end up disabling either QuickTime or limiting Microsoft Media Player’s ability to play AVI and WAV files.  Whatever happened to the good old days when multimedia couldn’t harm your computer other than running out of memory?

Be aware that the automated “Fix this problem” button on the KB will do the disable QT workaround.  So, if you deal with a lot of QT media, you may want to use one of the other workarounds.

Update: I tried the registry workaround on Vista, and the “Fix this problem” button does not work because the key doesn’t exist. So, I’m not sure why they are telling “all customers” to implement a workaround. Perhaps they mean “all Windows XP and Windows 2003 customers”?

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Future of Development

Posted by iammarchhare on 8 June 2009

This post is targeting development teams.  Justin James of TechRepublic wrote a paper “10 skills developers will need in the next five years”.  It’s a short paper, and it isn’t meant to be exhaustive.  Agile is on the list, as is .NET/Java/PHP.  No surprises there.  There are some more interesting items on the list, though, so go check it out.

Posted in Software | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Future of Development

The “Wave” of the Future

Posted by iammarchhare on 4 June 2009

Email has been around a long time.  Longer than the web, actually.  It was the first form of communication on a network.  Yet, it is still the most popular application in use today.  Google is working on something now that is so revolutionary that it might actually knock email off of its pedestal.

You have probably heard that claim before.  Yet, email has remained king of the hill.  So, how likely is it that there may actually be something revolutionary enough to do it?

Google is working on a new application that runs in a browser.  No surprise.  However, according to Andy Wibbels’ blog, “Google Wave Obliterates Everything”.  Imagine only needing one application for email/IM, wikis, forums, blogs, and so on.  Oh, and did I mention it will work on Android as well?

It is also pretty cool watching pictures being dragged and dropped onto a web browser and have them automatically upload.  While uploading, the thumbnails appear on other users’ web browsers.  Not to mention watching 3 people edit the same page at the same time.

I remember the first time I saw a web browser.  I knew then that what I was looking at was nothing less than revolutionary.  This has the same potential, IMO.  If anyone can pull this off, Google can.

This might change the way we work, even.

I will warn you that the entire video is 1:20:11 long.  However, I am writing this the evening before making a trip to Columbus for an 8:30 am event, but I could not resist watching the entire thing!

Posted in Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The “Wave” of the Future

A Pet Peeve About Leadership

Posted by iammarchhare on 2 June 2009

What is a leader?  “The Army defines leadership as influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (AR 600-100, p1).   With over 200 years of experience, you would think the Army would know what leadership is.  What is not said is just as important as what is said.  In the Army, you are influencing people to risk their very lives to accomplish a mission.

Leadership means influence – by definition!  Please!  I don’t want to read another article about how influencing is “part of” leadership, or how “leadership” and “influencing” are both skills, or how influencing is a “sign of” leadership!

Leadership without influence is like a cake without flour.  It doesn’t exist.

Posted in Leadership | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Bridging the Gap

Posted by iammarchhare on 29 May 2009

This week, we’ve looked at use cases vs user stories, basic abilities for PMs and BA competencies for gathering requirements.  All of these involve in one way or another transforming user requirements into reality.  In “Use Cases and User Stories – Just Degrees of Difference?” we saw that one of the issues with user stories is whether or not the customer has built up “trust” in the process.  I mentioned in “Are You Cut Out to be a Project Manager?” that a PM must be able to bridge people and technology.  And, finally in “Avoiding Project Failure: Gathering Requirements”, we looked at some core competencies for BAs or for PMs filling the role.  All of these involve communication.

I couldn’t help but think of communication when I read “The Role of Agile Advocates” by Lynda Bourne on PMI’s blog.  She writes:

Forget the jargon of “sprints” and “iterations.” Communicate in your stakeholder’s language. As an Agile project is progressing through its cycles, what benefits are being delivered and how can they be measured? What contingencies are in place? What real progress is being made from the business perspective?

You know, this has little to do with Agile.  It is good advice always.

I’m of the opinion that all developers should have to either do helpdesk or desktop support starting out.  Why?  Because there is no better way than experience for a developer to get to know how endusers work, how they think and what they want.  You develop a real empathy for them if you care about your job at all.

I learned something early on because of doing desktop support.  I learned that users just want to get their work done.  They don’t care about bits and bytes, routers, packets, objects, classes or any of the other stuff that IT cares about.  They don’t want to learn a new language to talk to you.  All they care about is that their email, spreadsheet, billing or other program isn’t working.  They want it fixed.  I had to learn their language.

Mind you, this does not mean talking down to them.  Some of the people I dealt with were chemists and engineers.  You want to hear jargon?  They will give you jargon!  Don’t even get me started on day traders!  They are from a completely different country!  No, if you talk down to these people, they could put you in your place rather quickly!

Remember, you are rendering a service.  You might have a degree, and you might make more than a burger flipper, but the reality is you are enabling a person/team/company to be more productive.  To achieve that end, you have to be able to communicate, which means listening as well as talking.  You then have to be able to encode and decode the information between a technical core and the business owner/sponsor/customer.

Without communication, nothing else you do as a project manager will be successful.

Posted in People Management, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bridging the Gap

Avoiding Project Failure: Gathering Requirements

Posted by iammarchhare on 28 May 2009

After a round of LinkedIn discussions about project failure, it was a general consensus that most project failures stem from bad or vague requirements.  This is a recurring theme in project management, it seems.  Well, in “Eight Things Your Business Analysts Need to Know”, it appears that Brad Egeland would agree:

In an online poll of 2,000 business professionals, the question was asked, “What are the key challenges in translating user needs into system specifications for mission critical projects?” 50% stated poor requirements definition as the key challenge. Inadequate risk management (17%), poor scope control (15%), and communication problems (14%) followed far behind as key challenges.

After the discussion online, someone posed the question to me, “Who should gather the requirements?”  Again, Egeland’s article answers the question, “What about the business analysts?  What role do they play?”

Egeland’s article, which distills down a whitepaper from Gantthead, goes on to identify 8 competency areas for BAs.

But, you know, input from a BA is usually not hard to get on a decent-sized project.  On smaller projects, though, it can be difficult to even get a BA assigned.  So, now what?  Well, it usually falls to the project manager if a project falls under a certain number of hours.  Therefore, it would behoove any decent PM to check out these competency areas as well, especially the first 5.  Don’t be afraid to pull in an architect or a SME to answer questions, either.

If you really want to rescue a project from the safety of victory and dash it into the jaws of defeat, though, then ignore competency #6 “End-User Support”.  How many projects have I seen that were “done” but lived on as the walking dead that sucked the life out of team members long after it was put away?

Posted in Requirements | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »