Marketers ruin everything!

Let me start with what annoys me about online video: commercials.

I went to Youtube recently to watch a commercial that someone in the office was talking about. Before the commercial came on, I had to watch another 30 second commercial. Watching a commercial in order to watch a commercial = one annoyed viewer.

But, I must get over it. With the rise in popularity of online video, companies everywhere are trying to "go viral" with their best sales pitches. Which means, other marketing companies will be placing their ads to catch your attention.

I tend to agree with Gary Vaynerchuck in that "Marketers ruin everything!" He said that, among many other outstanding things about social media and marketing, in his recent keynote address at the Digital Summit in Atlanta this week. #dsum11

It's true though right? Great marketing gets your attention. From there, other marketers mimic the efforts. Which leads to more and more efforts that are similar (call it trends if you will). Eventually, the "market" is saturated with similar tactics and then the consumer chooses to ignore it. Let's take a moment of silence for Banner Ads, Sponsored Search Results, and Direct Mail.

MATRIX is not immune to this thinking. We know that online video is popular, and we want a piece of it. However, rather than sitting around brainstorming the best way we can "go viral", we're evaluating the content that we currently have, and brainstorming ways we can simplify and put it on video.

Now, we've created video "case studies" for our Business Intelligence group, fun videos showcasing things about our corporate culture, and highlighting our true heart-felt importance of community service.

Have they gone viral? Hardly.  Do we want them to? Sure why not! Let's make Kwesi Oseitutu the next Old Spice man!

The point is, MATRIX isn't trying to spam, nor is our goal to win a Webby. We are trying to provide our customers another insight into our business and corporate culture.

Our most recent "video venture" is taking our technical jobs and putting them on video.  It's not polished. It's not over-produced. But it's real. Real information about the opportunity, the work environment, and the skills needed to land the job.

In the end, we'll keep testing out different forms of video that work for our business. Scratch the ones that fail, then saturate the streaming web with those that work.

About the Author: 

Adam Waid is the Director of Marketing at Mediacurrrent, an industry-leader in helping organizations architect custom Drupal websites. Adam is also a MATRIX Alumnus, where he worked closely with the Sales and Recruiting organizations to develop differentiation strategies, create content, and drive CRM and social media initiatives with a single goal in mind - build stronger, more meaningful relationships with our clients. Leveraging new technology, the latest social media trends, and a good mix of traditional marketing, Adam grows online communities.   Follow Adam on Twitter and Read his Social Media Blog.

 

Posted in: 
Fun

Agile Project Management—Controlled Chaos

As you may or may not know, I’m an active agile coach. While I have a wonderful day job, I often get asked to enter new teams and jump-start them or assess their overall level of agile-ness. One of the ‘smells’ that I look for in a strong and healthy agile team is what I’ll call controlled chaos or perhaps a better phrase would be guided chaos.

Agile/PMYou see, the atmosphere in these teams isn’t safe nor predicted too far in advance. The teams don’t have a false sense of security. They’re working on a short list of features in close collaboration with their Product Owner. They know that challenges will rise up to meet them. Risks will fire. Team members will get sick or get married or tend to ill parents. And the design approaches and code won’t always work as advertised.

They may or may not have the technical skills to interface with the new 3’rd Party vendor they’ve just signed a partnership agreement with. They also struggle mightily to deliver software of sufficient quality—scratch that—they struggle to deliver solid software—even though they focus on it daily.

What I’m trying to say is that in these dynamic teams, “stuff” happens. The plans shift daily and the team must respond to this landscape. To be undeterred in their commitments to sprint and release goals and to be creative and relentless in attacking impediments.  Agile Project Managers need to understand this chaotic reality—in fact, they need to create and foster it! Here are a few ideas on how to do that.

Don’t Ask for Specific Commitments

Imagine yourself in a canoe on a river you haven’t navigated before. You have a map, so you know generally where you’re going. You have a GPS, so you know specifically where you are. Now you get an emergency call from your boss and they want to know exactly when you’ll arrive at the take-out location. What do you say?

From my point-of-view…not very much. You simply don’t know how long it will take. You can guess and give your boss a sense of comfort OR you can tell her the truth. I’m here and my hourly rate appears to be this. My map implies the following obstacles and journey length. I think I may get there between 4-5 pm.

A key here is that in highly variable and complex situations, we often don’t have a very clear idea of how long something will take. Instead, we need to triangulate to get to our destination. We’ll take daily samples of progress, looking ahead on our journey and then reducing the uncertainty as we gain knowledge, make progress, and get closer to our goal.

That’s the reality of complex systems. So the question for an effective Agile PM becomes, do you want the truth, with incremental triangulation, or a façade of absolute certainty? I think we need to emphasize the integrity of the former and support it with active team focus, high communication & collaboration, and full transparency. And leave the façade for those who can’t handle the truth.

Don’t Allow the Team to Plan Too Far in Advance

There a planning technique used in agile teams called release planning. You see it coming out of a few different methods with slightly different names:

  • Extreme Programming – Planning Game
  • Scrum & Jim Highsmith – Release Planning and Agile Project Management techniques
  • Crystal – Blitz Planning
  • Jeff Patton – StoryMapping

All of these techniques are driven towards gaining a high level, end-to-end view of your project—leading towards a release point. It turns out that they’re all incredibly useful for envisioning where your project is “going”. Let’s say providing the map in my earlier canoe example.

The danger comes when you start doing detailed planning (tasking, dependency mapping, detailed design, etc.) too far ahead. You and the team will get a false sense of comfort—thinking that you know where you’re going. But along the way there will be rapids and nasty weather that will surely knock you off course.

Trying to fully anticipate them is mostly a fool’s errand and can be very wasteful of your time. Being prepared for them and reacting quickly when you encounter them is the way to go. As an Agile PM, you’ll want to plot out a fair distance in your planning, but not too far. You’ll want to stay out of the micro-details too.

In my own teams I share a heuristic for this. It surrounds the following:

Agile Planning

Always remember that backlog grooming is an iterative process that needs continuous attention. These tend to guide teams towards the right level of look-ahead and appropriate granular planning.

Don’t Write Everything Down

Here I’m speaking to requirements and other project artifacts. You’ll want to apply the 80:20 rule or Pareto Principle in both directions here. From a writing things down perspective in project artifacts, I would contend that only the most important parts of the project needs recording. Serious design elements, important bugs, retrospective results, user stories or other agile requirements, acceptance tests, are good examples of what might fall into this category.

As a heuristic, try to influence your team to record only 20% of the things that they would normally try to record. Guide them towards the more important artifacts, while trimming out the excess. You know the ones—usually driven by some process checklist or the teams’ false desire to leave more legacy details than anyone will ever read.

The other rationale here is that software changes…quickly. So information surrounding it has a very short half life and decays quickly. You’ll want to ensure that you are keeping the most important bits up-to-date and with that comes a cost.

Turning it around, another heuristic is to target 80% completeness of your User Stories prior to their execution. We never want fully vetted, zero ambiguity, stories hitting our teams. Stories where everyone looks around and thinks they have a “complete understanding”. When that occurs, conversation and collaboration stops, which is the enemy of agile requirements.

In both of these situations or directions, Agile Project Managers take on the role of fighting for ambiguity in documentation. You should fight for terseness and for just-in-time and just-enough thinking and action within your agile teams. You want to hear lots of conversations. Heated debates around a particular feature and lots of discussion surrounding quality. Your first and second levels of documentation surround the code, the tests, and the stories—so keep you priorities focused there.

Back to Chaos

Wrapping up, healthy agile teams need to be uncomfortable, leaning into the unknown, and tense with anticipation. They need to be on the edge of chaos with just-enough clarity to get their canoe to the next segment in the river. And with an eye towards impediments and risks that might be right around the corner. In a word, they need to be agile and adaptive. Great Agile PM’s continuously foster this environment within their teams—looking to stay on the hairy edge of chaos. Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

About the Author: 

Bob Galen is the Director, Agile Practices at iContact and founder of RGCG, LLC a technical consulting company focused towards increasing agility and pragmatism within software projects and teams. He has over 25 years of experience as a software developer, tester, project manager and leader. Bob regularly consults, writes and is a popular speaker on a wide variety of software topics. He is also the author of the book Scrum Product Ownership – Balancing Value from the Inside Out. He can be reached at bob@rgalen.com

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PM-Agile

Can We Wear Flip Flops to Work?

As most companies have adopted a “business casual” dress code, the question often comes up this time of year, “What is appropriate attire for summer?”  For men, the choices are quite simple, wear what you’ve been wearing all year round, but maybe lighter weight or short sleeve shirts, and depending on the company, possibly even loafers without socks.

Let’s remember, “business casual” is not the same as “home” or “weekend casual”.  So the idea of wearing sweats, raggedy jeans and short shorts to the office, those types of clothing are definitely off limits, even on casual Fridays.  But by far the two most frequently asked questions and possibly the biggest dress code policy headaches for most companies in the summer months are the following:

What are flip flops and can we wear them to work?

Casual FridayEven though I am not personally an owner of flip flops, I can certainly offer an opinion about their appropriateness in the workplace.  To me, flip flops are flat rubber thongs that come in all colors and are perfect to wear poolside or at beach, even around the house or when walking the dog.  But they are definitely not acceptable footwear for the office.  They clearly fall into that “home or vacation casual” category.  And besides, if you put on a pair of flip flops, do you also feel the need to coordinate these so-called shoes with the appropriate clothing, most of which would not be business appropriate.  Even a leather pair of flip flop-style footwear, in my personal opinion, is also inappropriate.  Why not just stick with sandals, whether flat-soled or with a heel, that appear a bit more professional for the office?  Come on women of the world – we’re talking about shoes here!  We love shoes and we have hundreds of styles, colors and materials to choose from, even for work, so why even think of wearing flip flops to work?

And what about those shorts?

For men, the answer is clearly “No”.  And for women, the message is not quite so clear.  Women’s shorts come in all lengths, again in a variety of styles.  But why make things difficult for your employer.  Even walking shorts, which may hit at or below the knee, and be longer than some women’s skirts, are still considered shorts, and that’s the problem.  If a company wants to eliminate the temptation of having employees interpret the shorts “yes or no” policy on their own, they would be safer to draw the line by ruling out shorts all together.

Now are these drastic measures and am I living in a cave?  I think not, though I do admit that I am of the “baby boomer” generation.   I realize that a number of companies have very casual dress codes, in fact some have no dress code restrictions whatsoever, but they are not your typical employers.  If you work for a major employer who has a dress code policy, make a point to understand what the summer policy, if there is one, includes or excludes.  I would bet you a pair of flip flops that their policy does not include flip flops!

About the Author: 

Sandy Jess is the Director of Human Resources at MATRIX Resources. Her 20+ years of Human Resources experience in the staffing, software, insurance and retail industries has enriched her understanding of human nature — from the candidate, the employee and even the employer perspectives.

Posted in: 
Fun

The Day the “Tweets” Stood Still

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I tend to post at least one business item daily, something that reflects what I experience over the course of a typical day managing multiple client projects.  Nothing too terribly philosophical mind you, just a little something that I stumble across doing the usual ‘day in the life’ things.  This is something I try to do like clockwork, because (A) it helps me deal with whatever issue I happen to be facing at the time, and (B) I feel like I am contributing to the overall body of available professional knowledge .  I know, it sounds a little crazy, but leading multiple teams through simultaneous system projects can make someone a little crazy…

Now, if you were really paying attention, you may even have noticed that my business tweets simply stopped for a period of about 11 days.  No warning, no explanation, just a sudden interruption, like you didn’t pay your cell bill.  A curious person would wonder “why did he suddenly stop tweeting?”  An academic person, searching for the answer, would begin to opine on the subject – ‘maybe he won the lottery.’  ‘Maybe he found happiness as a waiter.’  ‘Maybe he’s in witness protection.’  A nosy person would just tweet and ask ‘Where are you?’

Willard WoodrowWell, it’s time I come clean on this.  I was (gasp)… on Vacation.  That’s right, I took time off from work to ‘get out of Dodge’.  I stuffed the Wife, Mother-in-Law, and Kids in a minivan rental, and we drove off in search of adventure, excitement, and the opportunity to reconnect.   I met up with my Mother, Sister, Niece and Nephew, and we had the best time you can possibly have with that much family in one place (insert snarky comment here).  I spent money like a late 90’s Start-Up CEO, completely tanked my diet, and enjoyed a serious change of scenery.  I had a wonderful time, came back feeling refreshed, and was ready to start working again.  It was a Christmas miracle in April.

All kidding aside, I am a huge proponent of everyone taking an annual vacation.  Taking a vacation is an opportunity to shed frustrations and recharge for the coming challenges, while reconnecting with your family and life. It is as vital to a successful career as education and experience.

I firmly believe this – every word, every syllable, every idea.  So here’s me breakdown on why you should take a vacation:

  1. A change of environment – After spending weeks / months / years in the same workplace, a change of scenery clears out the mind. 
  2. Reduction of stress and responsibilities – I don’t care how much you love your job.  Eventually, you’ve just had enough.  
  3. An opportunity to self-assess – While you are traveling, there will inevitably be a period of quiet time (or semi-quiet time if you take the kids) for you to just think about Life.
  4. Time with family, friends and loved ones –Your career is only part of your life – carve out some time to improve the rest of it.
  5. It’s part of the Benefits - If you are a full-time employee, it is part of the package of benefits your employer provides.
  6. Life experience and memories – Towards the end of your life, when you look back on what you’ve seen and done, wouldn’t it be nice to actually have seen and done something?
  7. Parent Guilt – If you have children, they will remind you of the times you didn’t take a vacation. 

Now, before you leave on vacation, I have the following suggestions for you. 

  • Carefully select your ‘vacation style– Are you someone who needs to be plugged in at all times, or are you someone who needs to disappear off the grid for a while.  Understand your needs before you put down that deposit on a Windjammer cruise or that resort in the remotest portion of the Canadian Rockies.
  • Do some high level planning, but don’t over-schedule –  If you try to plan every minute of your vacation, it will quickly start to feel like work, and that’s exactly what you are trying to get away from.  
  • Put together a Work Support Plan – To ensure your job responsibilities are properly tended to in your absence, put together a support plan.  Find the appropriate understudy to cover for you while you are away and get them positioned to step in for you.  
  • Assemble a pre-trip list of To-Do’s – Wrap up all those little open items before you go away.  Go through email, write status reports, review plans with your teams, and prepare everything in advance for your departure.  
  • Set a budget for yourself – Unless you are Jay-Z, you more than likely have a limit to your discretionary income.  Don’t over-spend in search of Vacation Nirvana.  All that you will do is over-extend yourself and then come home to credit card bills that will only increase your stress.

Alright, there you have it, Willard’s guide to Vacations.  I don’t know if Fodor’s will give it 5 stars or not, but I hope it inspires you to take off in your direction. 

About the Author: 

Willard Woodrow, Senior Project Manager and BI Champion at Genuine Parts, has 15+ years of information technology experience in the utilities, retail, recruiting, telecom, and insurance verticals. His professional expertise includes business consulting, system implementation, project management, application operations, and client relationship management. Follow Willard on Twittter @willardwoodrow.

Posted in: 
PM-Agile

How to Optimize LinkedIn for Job Search

I was recently interviewed for an article, How to get the most out of LinkedIn, on MSN/Careerbuilder, that posted earlier this month.  The article is very well written, by Alina Dizik, and I highly recommend it to job seekers, or anyone else wanting to get the most from Linkedin.  Below I have posted her original questions, and my answers, in full, for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy.

LinkedInWhat should you have on your LinkedIn profile if you’re looking for opportunities?
A candidate should tell a good story that describes who they are and what they do well.  You also need detailed job descriptions in your work history going back at least 10 years.  The more relevant detail and specific keywords that you include in your profile,, the easier it will be for recruiters and employers to find you when they search for appropriate candidates for their openings.

Is there anything with settings you should be careful of? 
Be careful about including everything you post to Twitter on your Linkedin Profile.  If you are a Tweeter, it's a good idea to update your Linkedin profile with Tweets that showcase your knowledge or some content that relates to your skill set.   But too many people fall into the trap of posting all Tweets there.  That can sometimes be too much.

How can you use the "Who Viewed Your Profile" section to your advantage? 
You should be wary of connecting with users "Who Viewed Your Profile" immediately.  It can be unsettling if someone who's profile you just viewed immediately requests to connect with you. Make a list of those people and connect with them the following week or find them on Twitter and connect there first.  

What are some LinkedIn tools that you should be using?
Use the apps available on your profile page to import content into your page.  Apps that automatically import your blog posts, SlideShare presentations, etc. help your profile to rank higher in search results.  The idea is to get more eyeballs on your Linkedin profile.  Also update your status once or twice per day with something that would be interesting to your targeted employers or prospects.

What types of forums/groups/etc. should a person join?
Join groups that relate to your industry, skill set, or location.  All are good for networking for jobs.  Also do a search for people who might be in a position to hire or refer you for jobs and companies you are interested in.  Join and participate in the relevant groups they are in.  Then, after you have been a good contributor, perhaps go back and ask those people to join your network.

What types of people should you connect with (how many times do you need to work with someone to make them your LinkedIn contact)?
Linkedin recommends that you only connect with people who you know.  So definitely connect with as many people who you know that are Linkedin users as possible.  After all, any of your friends or colleagues might know someone who could be a great lead for you.  Beyond that, connect with people who appear to be active in the groups in which you are networking.

Are there any mistakes or misconceptions about this method of job searching?
The top misconception is that if you just create a Linkedin profile, then you should get calls from employers or recruiters.  Not so.  You must optimize your profile with plenty of specific information that relates to your skill set; and participate in Linkedin groups, Q&A, and status updates.  You must also grow your network.  The more active you are, and the more people you connect with, the more people will see your profile.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 
Make sure you give prospective employers an easy way to contact you. If you have no email address or phone number listed, it might be tough for someone who is not a 1st level connection on Linkedin to contact you.  The whole idea is to be contacted.

About the Author: 

Craig Fisher is recruitment consultant, social media strategist and trainer, and serial entrepreneur. He consults with some of the world’s top companies on using social media for sales, marketing, recruiting, employer branding, and talent attraction. He is a featured author and speaker in industry publications and at conference events internationally. Craig created and hosts the original social recruiting forum on Twitter, TalentNet Live (#TNL), and the TalentNet Live Social Recruiting/HR conferences. Follow Craig on Twitter @fishdogs and @TalentNet

Posted in: 
Job Seeker