The office of tomorrow is here today

Thanks to technology, employees can now choose when and where they want to work. A 2016 report by US software giant, Citrix said that already by this year some 50% of businesses would have a mobile working policy, and by 2020, 70% of people will work away from the office as often as they worked at a desk.

For those employees that choose to go into the office, hot desking has becoming the norm. Yes, there is no doubt that working habits have changed and, with that, so must the way that we plan and use office space. Certainly the big corner office with a view is fast becoming a thing of the past and these days even senior executives can be found hot desking in open plan workspaces.

A mobile workforce has several advantages for businesses, most of which outweigh the traditional convenience of being able to pop down the passage and discuss a problem with a colleague, or catch up on office gossip around the water cooler.

First and foremost, today’s employees want a better work life balance. That doesn’t mean they necessarily want to work less, but that they want to work smarter. Consider the benefit for a working mother being able to spend the afternoon doing homework with her children and then settle back down to work after she’s tucked them in? Simply put, the theory is that the happier your employees are, the more productive they will be; and, allowing them freedom of choice and flexibility makes them happier.

Then there are also the cost benefits. Office space is becoming increasingly expensive and a well-planned mobile workforce needs fewer desks, with the commensurate saving in rentals, maintenance and running costs.

But that doesn’t mean that offices will disappear altogether, rather that office spaces will increasingly be transformed into more productive and creative, albeit smaller, spaces. Upping the ante on creativity means providing areas that stimulate creative thinking and boost employee enjoyment of their work space when they do choose to come into the office.

A BBC article that looks at the evolution of the traditional office, includes the example of Lego, which “has taken hot-desking to the next level at its London and Singapore offices, introducing a system called activity-based working, which means that no-one has a fixed desk any more”.

At Lego, space is divided into flexible work zones with no fixed seating and no offices for managers. Employees who leave their workspace for more than one-and-a-half hours need to take all their stuff with them.

According to a senior director at Lego, the changes have worked well: 88% of staff said they “liked the choice of where to work. They get a choice of different settings to suit their activity or mood, including a quiet library, a buzzing social area with background music, comfy chairs in cosy corners or big banks of desks to share with team-mates”.

So, as more and more companies get to grips with the fact that not everyone needs to be in the office all the time, expect the space around you to start changing…for the better.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Blended workforces can plug skills shortage and increase productivity in project management

Finding the right skills is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today and no less so in South Africa where there is a dearth of skills across many disciplines, including project management.

Let’s face it, in times of corporate and economic stress, staff are essentially a liability beyond and between projects. But, on the other hand, if companies are to plan and execute projects effectively, they need to have the rights skills on hand. Smart companies also know that the right people can give the company a significant competitive advantage.

Enter the “blended” workforce comprising permanent employees supported by contractors, temps and consultants. Blended workforces are becoming more and more prevalent around the globe as companies cotton on to the benefits of a flexible workforce that mirrors the company’s needs at that specific time. Especially when considered against the backdrop of the increasing need for cost reduction, and increased productivity, in tough economic times.

“Using contractors and consultants to supplement the company’s permanent workforce makes good business sense. It boosts productivity in that you have the skills when you need them and avoids the heartache of having to let people go when those skills are no longer needed.  Having to shed jobs not only breaks hearts, it destroys company morale and can affect productivity in the long run. But the flexible worker arrives with the mindset that when the project ends he will move on to the next project. Knowing from the outset that he is here to give his best only while the project lasts before moving on to the next adventure can also boost productivity,” says Tony McManus, CEO of McManus Consulting.

But a blended workforce comes with challenges too. According to Matthew Franceschini, CEO of Entity Solutions, a contractor management agency, writing in Project Manager, one of the key requirements for blended workforce success is “to take an integrated, holistic approach, tapping into permanent and contingent talent in a way that ensures a seamless pathway for the project and the organisation. There must be flexibility of engagement while ensuring governance and visibility of spend”.

“The blended workforce must also meet the driving need of cost reduction, or at a minimum, cost containment. Ideally you want to create a dynamic of cooperation between permanent and contingent workers, one that leads to greater productivity. Your workforce then should be managed in a way that ensures logistical ease when connecting people to projects.”
© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

How BRM helps you unlock project value, at every step.

Benefit realisation management (BRM) is not just the newest business catchphrase, it is also a very effective methodology for correctly identifying project benefits, and comes into its own particularly when big budgets are in play.

Globally, business executives are embracing BRM to enable businesses to properly identify, track and deliver measurable value from the business case of a project through its execution and delivery phases.

In the project management arena, BRM takes place at programme or portfolio, not project level, because not all projects warrant it. But, when applicable, BRM is a phenomenal tool that tracks benefits through and beyond the project life cycle. And the latter is significant because it is important for businesses to keep monitoring that the project is delivering value after its completion.

Conceptually, every benefit has an enabler and, at project initiation, BRM verifies that all enablers have been identified and provided for. During execution, BRM monitors progress of the enablers, ensuring that they are correctly tested and handed off. And, once the project is closed, BRM transitions to operations.

Unfortunately, the process of selecting, justifying and prioritising projects is often influenced by subjective factors like personalities (he who shouts loudest, or holds most power, wins) and many projects quite simply don’t deliver the return on investment (ROI) promised at the outset, despite having been delivered on time and within budget.

BRM is a powerful tool in the portfolio manager’s arsenal, adding significant value when it comes to project selection and prioritisation; and allows the business case to be thoroughly interrogated and tested, at the start and every step along the way.

When one considers that, on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted*, it’s clear that the time has come to find ways to identify and unlock benefits that tie in with the business strategy.

Veteran Project Manager, Tony McManus, CEO of McManus Consulting, says that South African companies have generally been slow to take up BRM, but this could be risky because basing a project on an untested business case is too subjective.

“BRM facilitates an objective structured process that interrogates benefits that are sometimes vague, speculative and unachievable. And it’s not just portfolio managers that will find BRM invaluable. Project owners, who have to measure the benefits beyond the project, into the operational cycle will find value in BRM too,” says McManus. His company now has a BRM consulting capability for clients that recognise the considerable value in this discipline.

*That’s according to a McKinsey survey of 5,400 large IT projects.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Gamification can boost productivity in project management

Gamification is essentially about using the typical elements of game playing – like point scoring, rewards and competition with others – to incentivise staff (or, in the marketing space, to encourage engagement with a product or service.) Simply put: it takes the (often addictive) elements of video games into the office space; and suddenly work starts to feel more like a game – with often remarkable boosts in productivity!

Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, believes that gamification can play a positive role in the project management space. A successful gamification programme can increase productivity and quality of output; and boost morale and staff retention – all of which often pose challenges for project managers. By making work more exciting and fun, gamification can also help with that universal HR headache of how to improve staff engagement. Add into the mix the ability to encourage people to enter their project reports, task updates and so on and the case for gamification in project management is strong.

In 2012 – concerned by inaccuracy from its disengaged workforce – Lawley Insurance introduced gamification. During a two-week challenge, employees earned points for updating their files, logging their phone calls, and scoping out prospects and, according to, “The contest was responsible for generating the same amount of salesforce activities in two weeks as had been created in the prior 7 ½ months.”

As more and more businesses have cottoned on to the benefits of gamification the industry has exploded; virtually overnight, gamification applications and programs have turned into a $100 million industry, which is expected to grow to $2.8 billion by 2016.

The first step in using gamification in the project management world would be choosing Gamified Project Management Software (like RedCritter Tracker, a powerful Agile project management service).

Capterra – specialists in selecting the right software for the job – has the following advice for introducing gamification:

  1. Part of the fun of gaming is that it’s challenging—but also that there’s hope in defeating the game. Don’t build a game that can’t be won.
  2. Ideally, every employee has a chance to win a/the prize. That means you can actually demoralize your employees if you only have one winner of a challenge.
  3. Encourage teamwork in your games. Person 2 Person Engagement notes, “The benefits of true teamwork compared to individual or mere work-group efforts are literally both measurable and incredible even before they’re gamified.” Add gamification to the equation and watch your engagement soar.
  4. Repetition breeds discontent. Make sure your game offers diverse enough challenges to keep your users engaged.
  5. Gamification doesn’t work for everyone. As a project manager and leader, it’s up to you to figure out what makes your team tick. If it’s not gamification, don’t be afraid to scrap the game.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting

Smart planning can prevent project delays…

Project delays cost money, waste time, dent stakeholder confidence and can even scupper entire projects.

The reasons for project delays are many and include too many projects for the available project managers to manage; focusing on wrong projects; lack of buy in from senior stakeholders; and technological and legislative delays. But the primary reason – and, ironically, often the one that can directly be managed and influenced by the project manager – is lack of planning.

Delays often occur because of the conflict between reality and expectations. The PM might start off knowing that in an ideal world – with all the knowledge, experience and resources on hand – delivery is possible by a certain date. But, if the expectation is based solely on that, the project is doomed even before it starts. It’s important to realistically calculate the percentage confidence in the plan and add the missing percentage to provide a risk buffer.

According to Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, building in a degree of uncertainty is critical to delivering a project within expectations.

“Once expectations are set you’ve made a commitment you may not be able to meet. Rather than working backwards from the deadline date, work forward and set a date by looking at the project schedule with brutal objectivity (not to mention a healthy dose of cynicism),” says Tony.

Tony shares his top tips for making sure projects are delivered on time:

  • Always build a reasonable risk buffer into the project schedule – no matter how prepared you are, challenges will unfold along the way. So be sure that you have made allowance for the unknown from the start.
  • Manage expectations and keep stakeholders informed along the way – it’s dangerous to try and please stakeholders at all costs.
  • Never lose sight of the interdependence of time/quality/cost – any shift in one of these impacts on the other.
  • A structured planning process is invaluable – make sure that all activities are broken down to the point of individual accountability.
  • If possible, no activity should be longer than the reporting period to allow early detection of task slippage.
  • Once identified, the go live milestone should appear on weekly project reports.

“At the end of the day good project management is simple: it’s all set out in The PMBOK and Prince2®. And PMs that think they can skip any of the mechanisms set out in these methodologies do themselves, and their projects, a grave disservice,” says Tony.

No one has ever been fired for delivering a project early…so make sure that your project planning is, above all, realistic. That way, if all goes according to plan, you could come in early and, if you have unexpected (but accounted for) glitches you can still deliver on time. Either way, you win!

©Tony McManus, McManus Consulting

Sometimes it makes sense to combine system development methodologies

Project managers tend to favour either the Waterfall or Agile system development methodologies and certainly both have pros and cons. But Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, cautions that PMs should keep an open mind and ensure that they choose the approach that’s best for a specific project rather than simply blindly follow the methodology with which they are most familiar. And sometimes the best option is to combine two different approaches.

McManus takes issue with organisations that claim to operate “in a completely Agile environment”.

“If you’re using Agile in your solution development it is inevitably surrounded by other typically Waterfall approaches. It is often not possible to apply a 100% Agile approach to all aspects of a project– for instance, how would you manage contract negotiation, staff recruitment or establishing new premises using an Agile approach?” he asks. In essence, project managers need to ensure that they strike the correct balance between traditional executions methodologies for the non systems development components of the project, with the appropriate use of Agile within the system development components.

According to the Ambysoft’s 2013 Project Success Rates Survey, Agile has a 64% success rate, compared to 49% for Waterfall. But even 64% is a long way from 100%, so there may well be merit in looking at taking the appropriate aspects of each and applying them to achieve greater success.

Agile, created in the nineties, essentially breaks a project into sprints – or smaller components within the main project – each of which are designed to deliver a new working feature. Sprints are essentially a technique that shortens the development cycle by embarking on elements that have already been defined without waiting for all the elements to be defined. Proponents of Agile say that this allows developers to uncover and solve problems and obstacles along the way, delivering a more successful project, in a shorter period of time.

A predominantly Agile project environment would undoubtedly suit organisations that have a very lean project mind set – and those that employ a lot of so-called millennials (or generation Ys). The latter were born in the Agile era and it’s no surprise that the fast moving flexibility of Agile appeals to these young, ambitious, easily bored individuals. Similarly, these individuals could find Waterfall, defined by its strict and linear principles, stifling.

However, in an increasingly compliance driven corporate environment there is always the risk of running ahead without considering all aspects of the project. It’s worth considering that projects feature several components – like legal, marketing, human resources and research – that “unveil” themselves along the way and often can’t be pre-empted until the natural course of events has taken place.

So, smart project managers – even the millennials amongst us – would be well advised to recognize the natural constraints and benefits of both Agile and Waterfall.
It’s important to carefully evaluate each project to determine the system development approach that would best suit that specific project and, very often, open minded project managers will find that combining Agile and Waterfall is the ideal solution.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.


New Year’s resolutions for project managers…

It’s nearly time to make those (soon to be forgotten) New Year’s resolutions…why not skip the diet, smoking and gym resolutions this year  – you know you’re going to break them anyway – and rather make resolutions for where you spend most of your time, at work?

Here are three simple things that project managers should be looking to do in 2016…

Remember to manage your team, not do their jobs
Yes, when the pressure is on it is tempting to roll your sleeves up and get involved in some of the tasks piling up but that’s the quickest way to lose that all important “bigger” picture view. The most effective project managers empower their teams to give their best and that means giving them the space, knowledge and tools to do their jobs as effectively as they can.

And, team members who know that the project manager is always looking over their shoulder, waiting for the opportunity to jump in and “interfere”, are less likely to deliver their best, because they know that you are going to come along and change or fix what they’ve done anyway.

Tailor the meeting to the audience
An inordinate amount of time is spent (many would say wasted) in meetings every day and this holds as true in the project management world as everywhere else.

How often have you sat in a meeting thinking of your ever growing to do list while you listen to someone ramble on about something you have little interest or input in? Rather hold smaller meetings that include only the relevant team members when you want to drill down into more specific issues that warrant lengthy discussion.

When the whole team is in the room, focus on the challenges and risks the project faces and strategise about how to manage and solve these, rather than just getting a simple status update. In other words, create meetings that add value rather than just turn into a report back forum. The latter can be managed far more effectively using a web-based project management tool into which team members can report their individual progress and the PM can access as required.

Share information and knowledge
Make sure that every team member has access to the information they need to do their jobs properly; keeping your team on a need to know basis does not empower them. They’ll just end up frustrated and disengaged.

Clear, concise, constructive communication is what project teams need.

And remember that knowledge is the one thing that you can share freely without depleting your own levels, so share it generously; after all, the worst thing that can happen is that you end up with a smarter team!

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.