Archive for July, 2009

The No Collar Workplace

Here is an interesting article that examines the types of personalities that can excel at working remotely or from a home office. These are the main takeaways:

Duff assumed it would be the quants, introverts, and reclusive types who would thrive in a virtual work situation. After all, they’re the ones who keep their heads burrowed in their cubicles. But it turns out it’s the extroverts — the office gabbers, the life of the break-room party — who thrive in the land of virtual work. Left on their own, these types of employees are the ones who work closely with clients, chum around with colleagues, and talk it up with bosses. They stay connected no matter where they are.

Shy, disorganized types are better kept in-house. The office environment is more forgiving of the scatterbrained; its structures help provide external reinforcement — as in your comrade popping his head into your office to remind you that you are late for the meeting (again). There’s also something to be said for the social interactions of an office environment. It doesn’t require much to keep up basic relationships when you are physically at work.

Duff also thought that mobile workers would tend to be seat-of-the-pants types. Again, the opposite turned out to be true. “Mobile workers are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts,” he says. “They have to be on top of their game the whole time.”

Based on our experiences with remote offices and employees I mostly agree with these findings. Here are a few of our own best practices for remote workers:

  • The best remote workers are people you have worked with in a physical office. The longer you have worked with them the more likely it is for the remote relationship to be a successful one. Of course, the above criteria still applies. If this person is a disorganized introvert then going remote will only make matters worse.
  • Do not hire someone who has always worked from the office as a first time remote worker. This is too much of an adjustment for anyone. A more gradual approach to going full remote (let’s say two days a week to start) is much more likely to succeed.
  • Invest a lot of time in nurturing the remote relationship. We assume too much when we work with others, especially those we do not see. Taking the time to talk to them frequently, asking them how it’s going, and finding opportunities to connect with them virtually and in person goes a long way in making the relationship successful.
  • It takes a village to go remote. You have to make sure that remote workers have the collaboration from everyone in the main office and access to the information they need to feel connected and get their work done. For example, if you are having Internet issues in the main office or any major pending announcements, your IT and HR personnel should immediately notify all remote workers of such events. After the fact is too late. Every event is an opportunity to build trust and enhance communication. Lack of such updates actually alienates people and hurts their trust in you and the organization they work for.

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Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

In a previous blog I looked at how Occam’s principle can be applied to product design and development. Now let’s look at applying this principle to making IT investments.

The question to answer:  How long should I stay with the technology I have already invested in and should I choose to stay with our existing IT investments or move to a brand new technology?

Applying Occam’s rule to IT investments could go something like this:

  1. Choose technologies that are simple to use
  2. Use just one IT system to automate a specific function
  3. Don’t oversimplify

1) Choose technologies that are simple to use

All things being equal, such as cost of adopting the new technology versus cost of staying with the current technology and processes, choose the simpler alternative. If the new technology is easier to implement and support then making the new investment is the right choice. If not, best to stay with the existing technology.

2) Use just one IT system to automate a specific function

We often run into organizations that use several different systems for time tracking, project management, workforce planning and billing. Most of the time this is because every group or department chooses and implements the solution it prefers.

As an example, accounting staff are naturally biased towards accounting applications. As far as they are concerned, everything including project cost and revenue data should be driven by the accounting system. However, IT, project or professional services staff hardly ever choose such an option if they have any say in the project management software they use. The time tracking, job costing, project management and workforce planning add-on’s offered by accounting systems tend to be subpar, based on older technology, and at best mediocre applications. This is because these are not the main focus areas for accounting software or ERP vendors. Similarly, IT and project teams would never choose a departmental project management solution for its strong financial reporting and accounting integration capabilities.

In applying Occam’s principle, accounting, HR, IT, professional services and project teams have to collaborate much more before making new enterprise software investments. Any investment that reduces the number of redundant systems, eliminates manual integration and reporting, or breaks down the communication barriers between various teams is a definite move towards the key elements of the OCCAM principle.

3) Don’t oversimplify

As mentioned in the previous blog you should not try to take things too far when it comes to simplifying. As an example, IT investments must take into account and accommodate the unique requirements of various stakeholders and constituents. Imposing oversimplified washed down software that everyone in the company must use may standardize a process at the expense of lost group-specific productivity, flexibility and innovation.

Let’s look at an example of a typical project management software initiative. A prospect contacted us to investigate whether they should invest in Tenrox Project Workforce Management software. They had the following project management software investments:

  • Timesheet: an in-house timesheet application they had developed a few years ago and maintained over the years; customized to run on top of their ERP/accounting system
  • Expense reports: using Excel file to report and approve expenses
  • Project planning: using Microsoft Project desktop to plan projects
  • Billing/cost reporting: done manually by extracting the information required from the timesheets and expense reports

Should this prospect:

  1. Change only the timesheet application
  2. Change only the timesheet application and automate expense reports with a single time and expense tracking solution
  3. Change all systems at the same time; replacing them with a single solution
  4. Do nothing – stay with their current systems for another year

According to the OCCAM principle the simplest approach that does not create redundancies or oversimplify is the best option. Let’s look at each option in that light:

  1. Change only the timesheet application
    - If the old timesheet system has no major shortcomings, this option replaces one working system with another; without really creating any new value. Changing just the timesheet system in such a scenario does not add any value.
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  3. Change only the timesheet application and automate expense reports with a single time and expense tracking solution
    - This may be a suitable option. Two disconnected systems are replaced with a single system and the new system is simpler in that manual processes and spreadsheet are eliminated, and a standard approval process is used for time and expense tracking and approval.
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  5. Change all systems at the same time; replacing them with a single solution
    - This option may oversimplify requirements of the various teams that need a project workforce management solution to get their job done. However, if all user groups conclude that a new system is as good as their current system, is as simple or simpler, and even solves some existing issues then this is the best option.
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  7. Do nothing – stay with their current systems for another year
    - Staying with legacy disconnected systems is definitely not the simpler path to choose. While on the surface the company does not take any risk, using old disconnected processes to manage in today’s highly connected and competitive world is the worst option.

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