Archive for September, 2007

Outsourcing and Innovation in Project Management: Can You Do Both?

Outsourcing’s Innovation Crisis is the title of a very interesting article by Stephanie Overby in CIO Magazine’s Advice & Opinion section this month. The thread of comments that follows the article is just as interesting.

The article is about IT outsourcing, but I see implications for many types of outsourcing, from large to micro levels, and for the "Hollywood Model" that we discuss here.

From Overby’s article:

Many IT leaders enter into outsourcing arrangements with an expectation that the outsourcing provider will not only live up to the letter of the contract, but by virtue of being a Big Outsourcer, will bring something more to the table.

Is that so wrong?

Some say, yes. It’s an unreasonable expectation. … Others say, if you can’t get IT innovation from billion-dollar service providers, who can you get it from?

In the comments, readers weigh in on both sides. One says that innovation isn’t really part of the business model: outsourcing is about fulfilling a contract that, in essence, states: "please do this for me." Another says that innovation is what will truly differentiate one vendor from another. The debate continues as commenters evaluate how realistic it is to expect a vendor to offer innovative projects and services–when they are really in business to deliver only what is expected, and earn the highest possible margins.

Inherent in Workforce 2.0–the rise of project-based workforces who offer highly specialized skills–is the assumption that a client is asking for a scope of work, and a provider is delivering that scope. It’s a simple model that applies whether I ask my Marketing team to build a sales presentation, or a multi-billion dollar company outsources its software development division to a company in Indonesia.

The request is: "please do this for me," and we must both be clear about what "this" is. But if the provider delivers "this" and only "this," then there is no innovation.

From our own experiences, outsourcing poses a great danger to innovation. Outsourcing partners will do "this" and nothing more. They cannot innovate; it is almost in the contract for them not to (afterall we ask them not to deviate from the agreement). So far, we have had little success with expecting any innovation from our outsourcing partners. But they do what they are asked to do quite well, in most cases.

So is the Workforce 2.0 innovation-challenged, by its very nature? Will delivering "this," as quickly and cheaply as possible, actually prevent us from pushing the best ideas out to the market? The hopeful answer is that the market will value innovation: that clients and managers will reward those who innovate. But will economic realities bear this out?

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Webinar Describes Project-Based Solutions for Project Workforce Managers

Tenrox is hosting a webinar on Project-Based Solutions, to be presented by R “Ray” Wang, Principal Analyst in Enterprise Apps and Strategy at Forrester Research. The event is on Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern, and you can register online here.

Project professionals in the services industries–where valued is delivered by people, through projects–have been rightfully frustrated as some of their automated tools have been taken over by ERP and CRM software providers. These enterprise applications were never really designed for project workforce management.

According to Wang, the services sector is growing, and demand for "project-based solutions" (PBS) is rising. These solutions streamline delivery of engagements, projects, and programs. In this webinar, Wang will describe PBS and the project-based processes it enables, discuss the industries that can benefit most from PBS, and make recommendations for selecting a solution.

Click here to learn more about project-based solutions and the webinar.

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Look for the “Ditch Diggers” in Project Workforce Management

Kris Dunn, who blogs as the HR Capitalist, has written an article on Workforce.com: "Does Your Company Need More Ditch Diggers or Stars?" In the article he makes the excellent point that, although HR appears to be obsessed with "high performance" and "always hiring the best," the steady workers bring critical value to the workforce. These are the people who meet performance expectations and compete to produce in the roles where they are assigned–but do not compete to climb the org chart. They are best suited in roles that are not "star-driven" (as sales or business development jobs are), but are more production oriented.

Dunn’s perspective in corporate HR is centered around filling full-time, permanent positions. But it so happens that these "ditch diggers" are the reliable producers who are often on the teams that Project Workforce Managers manage. Indeed, teams could barely function if everyone was a "star," trying to outperform the rest of the team at the expense of the tasks at hand. "Ditch diggers" are the ones who get projects done.

In a Workforce 2.0 world, where roles are defined on a project-by-project basis, Project Workforce Managers, and the Resource Managers who help them staff projects, need to know how to identify the "ditch diggers" who will give them reliable, predictable results. So I recommend Dunn’s article, and, if he writes it, the book on the same topic.

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Project Management Without A Crystal Ball

Johanna Rothman, writing for Projects@Work, has published an article entitled "Roll With It," prescribing a "rolling wave" project plan that only includes four weeks of task-level detail. Here is an excerpt:

If you’re accustomed to trying to schedule an entire project, rolling-wave planning might feel strange to you. You won’t generate an entire Gantt chart or know exactly what you’ll be doing three months from now. But honestly, how good are you at predicting the schedule that far out anyway? I’m not that good — things happen in a project. The further out the milestone, the less you know about exactly how you’ll get there. Because no matter how good the project team’s estimate was, some events will prevent them from completing the project the way they originally estimated.

(I made a similar recommendation here on Talent On Target, under the title "Scheduling and Project Workforce Management: Management By Reality.")

I am glad to see that long, over-analytic Gantt charts are continuing to go "out," and shorter, more realistic project plans are "in." No Project Workforce Manager has a crystal ball to foresee the obstacles and risks that occur while a project is underway. And the time required just to maintain the Gantt chart can be enough to put a project over-budget!

Rothman suggests a "rolling wave" of 4 weeks (or more or less, depending upon the project). If you have other techniques for keeping project plans realistic and under control, please share them under Comments.

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The Two Way Street: A Lesson for Project Workforce Managers

BNET is a good source for insightful articles, news, and blogs. In particular, their blog "The You in Team" (which takes its name from the tired old adage, "There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’"), authored by Jeff Palfini, has frequent posts and lots of intriguing commentary about the nature of teams, teamwork, and how we all work together in a flat-world, "Workforce 2.0" environment.

Among many good posts, a recent favorite is: "A Two-Way Street Will Get You There and Back Quicker," about the value of enabling communication from the bottom up, as well as from the top down, within any team, large or small. For example, the post tells the story about how one CEO’s ability to listen to a junior engineer led to Sun’s development of the Java platform.

Not only is the "two-way street" a good idea on a philosophical level, but technology-enabled collaboration is simply making it an imperative. We see this everywhere, from "The Great Firewall of China"–where even one of the world’s most powerful governments is threatened by public communication and collaboration–to the ways corporations are optimizing their business practices around new collaboration tools.

As much as we talk, write and blog about global communication and collaboration, and the leveling of the playing field, the "two-way street" philosophy appears to be a difficult lesson for humans to learn. Yet it is clear that we are in the midst of making this fundamental shift in our ways of thinking and working together.

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