The sellers dilemma in an outsourced environment

Whenever people speak about ”challenges in outsourcing”, they generally look at things from the buyer’s perspective only, ignoring the seller’s perspective completely. Being from India, the outsourcing hub of the world, and after spending almost three decades in I.T industry as a programmer, consultant, manager and business owner, I have been hearing, solving or living with these challenges most of the time. I strongly agree with the statement ”Projects fail at the beginning, not at the end”. By confronting these challenges during the planning stage itself (project manager takes control only at the planning stage), the probability of success of projects can be improved. Here are some of the key challenges one has to address collectively (both the buyer and the seller) especially for outsourced / off-shored projects;

  1. Selection of a wrong contract type – How true PMI is, when they say ”Project’s fail at the beginning, not at the end”. Very often the pre-sales team, without much awareness of the customer’s awareness level of the scope of work, and the kind of technology being used, recommend a fixed price contract along with a waterfall model to a customer who is not very clear about his requirements (high volatility) and the technology is very new to the team and customer. Not much thought is given to the contract type and the development life cycle. Once fallen into this trap, it is very difficult to recover, unless someone shows the grit to admit this problem as early as possible and correct it.
  2. Wrong estimation by the pre-sales team – The project manager comes into the picture after the organization has bagged the order from the client. By that time, the end date of the project, the contract type and the major milestone dates are already finalized by someone, and is imposed to the project manager. Now the project manager is bound to abide by these constraints. If a WBS (work breakdown structure) based estimates are not available during the planning stage, the project manager must initiate a WBS based estimate. At the end of it, one may realize that either the estimates imposed on to the PM by the pre-sales team or the WBS based estimates are correct. If there is a mismatch between these two estimates, it has to be confronted, and the right one must take precedence over the wrong one. No project management methodology will help us to recover from a wrong estimate which is on the lower side :-).
  3. PM being accountable for profitability – Most of the services organizations make the project managers believe that they are accountable for the profitability of the project. This is terribly wrong. For all fixed price contracts, Price = Engineering cost + Margin. As a project manager, ones responsibility ends with engineering cost. If the engineering cost is lower than the quoted price, the project will make a profit, else it will end up in a loss. As a project manager, if one has completed the project within the ”agreed upon cost”, then he is successful.
  4. The project management methodology is also dictated by the client – Very often, the customer chooses the project management methodology as well. If the client is from USA, most probably they will ask for either PMI based or Agile. If the client is from UK, their preference will be either PRINCE2 or Agile. For the rest it could be anything, with a bias towards ad-hoc project management. That means, I want absolute freedom to indiscipline. I will tell you what to do, before I go to bed, and when I wake up, I want to see it.
  5. Tailoring the processes for better control than collaboration.
  6. Forget about co-location, most of the product owners have not even seen all their project team members even once.
  7. Intellectually obedient crowd– Most of the outsourcing destinations are English speaking and the reason for this was colonies. The hangover continues still. The only way out of this is co-location of all the team members including the product owner (customer’s representative) at least during the early stages of the project, and the celebrations of the early milestones.
  8. The blind, leading the blind – Very often we hear things like, we are following SCRUM, but….(scum buts). We are following scrum, but a tailored version of SCRUM, and the tailoring has removed the pillars. This is not uncommon. Both the customer and the supplier do not understand the method completely, and the supplier is willing to listen to the customer in the name of customer satisfaction.
  9. Lack of respect for time – In most of the outsourcing destinations, working overtime without additional pay is the norm. Most of these organizations have time accounting systems which captures the time utilization of the team members on a daily basis. Irrespective of whether one has worked for 6 hours / day or 14 hours/day, what is captured is only 8 hours/day. In the longer run, this affects the physical fitness and the morale of the team.
  10. Everyone talks like a CEO – Every one is wrongly mentored to talk about cost and profitability only. No one is talking about project strategy, execution, engineering cost..May be an offshoot of the fixed price contract type. In the process the focus on scope and time gets a back seat. Encourages the sellers to cut corners to make profit, even if it is to the discomfort of the project manager. Here, a project manager who is ‘flexible’ scores over the project manager, who is ‘right’. This can be avoided by ‘demonstrable product increments’ linked payments based on time and material with a cap. The contract type can be a combination of T&M and fixed price as well. Till one gets a hang of the technology and scope it should be T&M, and the rest could be fixed price.
  11. Lack of understanding of the business case – Very often, the team, including the project manager is not aware of the business case of the project (Why the customer is doing it?, What is the impact of the project on the customer’s business?). This deprives the team of the opportunity to look at the project from the customer’s perspective, and for each and every change/suggestion the contractual terms gets precedence over the value of the change to the customer’s business, leading to frustrations building up at both ends. By understanding the business case and by sharing it with the team, the project manager can change the perspective of the team from ”Carrying stones” to “Building cathedrals”.
  12. Country club manager’s outlook – Very often I have to drive this point hard to the Indian project manager. Professional project management is all about doing the right things for the success of the project, than doing the nice things to please people. Majority of the project manager’s from the outsourcing hubs are inclined to please people than doing the right things for the success of the project. They are unable to say ‘No” ‘to anything. Even when they disagree, they say ”Yes”, and if you mistake it for a real ”Yes”, you are in trouble. The new generation in these countries have changed a lot, and do have own views about things, both engineering and managerial, and about the whole world itself. That is a welcoming change. Unfortunately they are oppressed by the manager’s who belong to the previous generation, who are still aligned to ”pleasing people than doing the right things”.
  13. Cultural differences – In India, the focus is always on protecting the weak, and very often it happens at the cost of the strong. In highly capitalist societies, the trend is towards protecting the strong. For an Indian manager, sacking someone very weak at work is something very painful, where as for a project manager from some other capitalist society, that is very normal. So, even when the head count is high in project team, all need not be productive, and the strong will end up compensating for the weak, leading to the burn out of the strong. The associated risk is the lack of transparency into the real teaming issues. Only those nice to get discussed gets discussed. The chronic problems and the associated corrective actions will not be encouraged. This has more to do with the culture than anything else, and anything linked to the culture takes a lot of effort to get sorted out.

Conclusion

By the time a project manager takes charge, the contract type with the customer is already decided, the effort/cost estimates, milestone dates are already agreed upon. The product owner (customer’s representative) remains as a voice or image. Very often, the customer imposes their way of working to the project teams. Man with money always get an upper hand, when it comes to decision making, ending up with poor project management decisions. The customer even tries to impose their work culture to the team, and the Asian project manager, very often is in the business of pleasing people than doing the right things. Most of these things are detrimental to the project. The only way out is developing mutual respect, and that is possible by;

  • Co location of the product owner
    with the team during the early stages of the project
  • Celebration of successes, even small ones
  • Explaining the place holder of the project to the customer’s business strategy
  • Re-estimating the project efforts, during the planning stage, and confronting the issues upfront
  • Understanding the cultural differences
  • Setting up a stage for fearless communication by promoting ‘we are in the business of doing right things and not the nice things’
  • Applying the collective wisdom to develop the project strategy
  • Aligning the contract types and payment terms to match the project strategy
  • Work planning for only 7 hours / day, excluding holidays and leave
  • Developing (gaining) in-depth understanding of the project management methodology for the project, before implementing
    them
  • Projects do not fail at the end, projects fail in the beginning. By taking care of the above points, we can reduce the probability of failures.

PMdistilled PMP preparatory program schedules for Bangalore & Kochi 2011

Season’s Greetings!. Start the New Year on a positive note – Become a PMP certified project manager. Attend the proven PMdistilled – PMP preparatory program.See the 2011, Bangalore & Kochi schedules and block your seats  ASAP.

After training around 3000 professionals on professional project management based on PMBOK, I must say that no one has ever regretted by becoming a PMP certified project manager, and at the same time I have heard many incidents where many lost great career breakthroughs because they did not have the required qualifications (PMP certification) or sound knowledge on key project management concepts like critical path, earned value management, human resource management, quality management, risk management, procurement management, communications management etc, or both. The PMdistilled PMP preparatory program, designed and perfected by me over 300 deliveries during the last 4 years is aimed at;

  • Imparting the key project management concepts to the participants from a practitioners perspective, which will give them an edge at the work place, over those who are ignorant about professional project management concepts.
  • Preparing the participants for the PMP exam by;
    • Providing hands on exam tips and techniques, demonstrated through mock exams during the class and through easy to remember examples.
    • Providing access to an online test simulator (500, hand picked questions which has semblance to the real questions), for 90 days from the completion of the classroom training.
    • Post course, online doubt clarification opportunities with me.
    • Crisp, 126 page reference material, which is easy to read and understand.
    • 98% of our students have cleared the PMP exam on the first attempt itself.

Believe me, impacting this world positively, by transforming the work places through competent and qualified project managers is something I really enjoy and take pride in. So, take that first step to an exciting and achievable professional goal, which will take us closer to our professional dreams.

My PMP workshop schedules for the year 2011 (Bangalore & Kochi)

Bangalore

January 28,29,30

March 4,5,6

April 7,8,9

May 26,27,28

June 24,25,26

July 21,22,23

August 19,20,21

September 23,24,25

October 20,21,22

November 18,19,20

December 16,17,18

Kochi

January  19,20,21

February 25,26,27

March 31st, April 1,2

April 28,29,30

June 2,3,4

June 30, July 1,2

July 28,29,30

August 25,26,27

September  29,30, October 1st

October 27,28,29

November 24,25,26

December 19,20,21

How to register?.

Please block your seat by emailing your details, including your contact phone number and the preferred date of the program to abrachan@pmrinstitute.com Cc : abrachan@gmail.com. You can also call me at  0091 9447209070, 9895372115. Skype,Gtalk,FB,Nimbuss ”abrachan”.

The course fees is Rs.12,500/– inclusive of all taxes (do not include the exam fees). Special discounts for batches of 3 and above.

Instructor details

Name : Abrachan Pudussery B.E,M.S,PMP,Prince2,CSM,CSP

Blog :   www.abrachan.com

Other trainings & services

  • Agile project management using SCRUM (2days)
  • Agile project planning and estimation ( 1 day)
  • Project portfolio management (1 day)
  • Program management (1 day)
  • Software project management ( 2 days)
  • Earned value management (1 day)
  • PMO implementation support (consulting)
  • SCRUM implementation support (consulting)
  • Customized training programs for specific corporate needs
  • PMdistilled e-learning with 35 contact hours
Phone : 0091 9447209070, 9895372115  email : abrachan@pmrinstitute.com, abrachan@gmail.com


Burning the bridges between PMP,PMBOK,PRINCE,CMM,Waterfall and Agile

Context

Bridging the gap between PMP, PMBOK, PRINCE, CMM, Waterfall and agile is the in thing now, so let me share my two cents on this. The basic question I am asking is whether we should build the gap or bridge the gap. Just because Agile is  redefining  the  I.T  project management landscape and all those proponents of standards based heavy weight models are on a catch up mode with Agile and are busy building bridges. My professional view is to burn those bridges to maintain the uniqueness of these models, so that they can exist and continue to serve humanity for the purposes for which they are created.

Word of caution

In English, the original meaning of the idiom ”burning own bridges” means a point of no return. Here what I mean by the ‘bridge’ is the attempt  by organizations and individuals to merge the gaps between different models. So the basic point of argument is ‘should we find a common ground among these models’ or allow them to exist and flourish in their own forms, providing amble choices for the project teams to choose from, based on their project’s needs.

After spending a quarter of a century in practicing waterfall, agile, pmp, pmbok, adhoc, cmm…in project companies, product companies, you name it, it is quite possible that I have a had a tryst with it, either successful or unsuccessful. By qualification I am a PMP, PRINCE2, CSM,CSP apart from Bachelors in electrical engineering and Masters in quality management. I have trained around 3000+ project managers or would be project managers on PMBOK or Agile (SCRUM). Have worked with twenty five teams in implementing SCRUM, took part in the development of a scrum tool as the product owner. So let me believe that I have the credential and the required experience to comment on this.

First of all, a comparison between PMP and Agile is useless because PMP is a certification given by PMI, USA for project managers, and Agile represents a family of light weight project management / execution models. So no point in comparing between a certification and a model. So this comparison is futile. A comparison between PMBOK (the project management body of knowledge) and any one of the agile models is slightly better, but not perfect, because PMBOK is just a collection of  project management best practices. It does not advocate any specific way of compartmentalization of the project activities. For example, PMBOK advocates the uniqueness of every project, and the need for developing an appropriate project strategy that will suit the needs of the project at hand. The same PMBOK talks about rolling wave planning, which is the backbone of the agile family. The concept of ‘progressive elaboration’ of a project is more suited to agility, than rigidity. So, PMP is a certification, and PMBOK is very neutral when it comes to defining the project strategy, and is built on the ‘progressive elaboration nature’ of projects. This is the perspective I get when I look at things from a PMBOK,PMP perspective.

Now, let us take a look from the Agilist perspective. Going by the model defined by Ken Schwaber (SCRUM), It just talks about a product backlog which is allowed to grow indefinitely, planning meeting, sprint backlog, tracking board, burn down charts, daily scrums, demos and retrospectives. It is not talking much about the project level planning (road map), project level budgeting, contracts, risks, human resource management, quality management, communications management, procurement management, time management, scope management, cost management and integration management. In order to manage a project effectively the knowledge about these aspects are very critical. Agile models are not against imbibing any knowledge / best practice that will improve the deliverables. Agile models, especially SCRUM is a wrapper, which can wrap any relevant best practice that will make the project’s deliverables more valuable to the customer.

A gap do exist between PMP, PMBOK and agile models, and they are complementary. Here the basic question to be asked is whether we should bridge the gaps or build (maintain) the gaps to protect the uniqueness of these models, so that they can cater to specific types of projects. We must conclude on this question first, before proceeding further. Personally, I would support building the gaps than bridging the gaps, so that predictive models like PMBOK, PRINCE2 can cater to a specific type of projects where the requirements are very clear and the engineering discipline do not permit changes (civil, electrical, mechanical)  where as the adaptive models (agile)  like SCRUM, XP, Crystal, TDD, RUP etc can cater to a different type of projects where requirements are highly evolutionary and technology is very new.

So if, our discussion need to be fruitful, it has to be confined to a specific type of project. Let us anchor our discussions around I.T projects, and accept the fact that for civil, mechanical, electrical projects, barring the design phase, agile will not work, because of the rigidity of the engineering discipline.

Water sprints

With due regards to the founders of the heavy weight models let me say this, most of the implementations are flawed. On this, whenever I tried to prove myself wrong, by asking several engineers (programmers), for the low level design document, which they are supposed to follow for coding, they stared at me as if I am asking for some strange things. Most of the implementations of the heavy weight models are rule based, rather than value based, and are insensitive to the customer’s business needs. The founders did not intend it to be like this, but unfortunately the implementers made them like this. Most of my living come from working with level-5 companies to implement level-2 KPAs of  project planning, tracking and oversight. Majority of them have bought M.S project licenses and are using them as glorified word processors. If you want to validate my argument, please ask these questions to the project managers from these types of organizations;

  • What is the current schedule performance index?
  • What is the current cost performance index?
  • What is the TCPI (to complete performance index)?
  • Can I see the critical path of the project?

These are the basic project management ratios, one has to have, if they are following classical, conventional project management. Most often you will not get the answer, instead you will hear things like;

  • They are changing the requirements very often, so we are unable to draw a plan
  • The customer does not care for it

Then how do they really manage?. Using excel sheets, post its, project wikki, status update meetings…..most of these are very familiar terms in the agile world. Here the root cause is, we have chosen a project management method, which is not in alignment to the project strategy. The other side of the story is even more interesting.

SCRUM buts

During the initial days of  the consulting assignments for implementing Agile (SCRUM), in organizations which has already embarked on to the journey, we hear things like ”We are following SCRUM, but a tailored version of it”. What is the underlying meaning?. We are following all the SCRUM ceremonies like planning meetings, daily stand ups, demos, retrospectives etc…but we follow work allocation, velocity calculations are not available, the daily stand ups lasts for 40 minutes because the project manager converts it into a issue resolution meeting, within a sprint we have requirements, design,coding,testing phases……the list is not complete. This is SCRUM falling. A combination of SCRUM and waterfall. You adopt the SCRUM structure,  and within that create waterfalls. Many of these terminologies are a hangover from the waterfalling.  So building bridges knowingly or unknowingly will be like mixing coffee with tea. Good coffee by itself is great, and there is nothing to beat good Tea…once you mix it…it is gone.

The organizational need

Unless it is a start up, organizations will have some existing project management practices in place. Very large organizations are likely to have the baggage of heavy weight, rigid practices evolved over the years. The unwritten rule is, ”any thing new must co-exist with the existing”.  If we look at organizations from India and China, considered as the main outsourcing destinations of the world, very often they are not empowered to choose the project management methodology, and it is imposed to them by their customers both internal and external. The best strategy for these organizations is to have capabilities in every other model available, in it’s purest form, without trying to merge them.

The key benefits

  • Ability to recommend the appropriate project management method to the customer, very early in the project life cycle, preferably during the negotiation stage itself.
  • Ability to ask the right questions, at the right time, with confidence.

The challenges

  • An open enterprise project management systems architecture, which can improve the current practices, imbibe new practices from the industry without diluting the practices.
  • Project centric outlook. The project is the organization. Everything else is a support system to the project.

 

Read the complete discussion at  Scrum Practitioners Group

 

Brick story

I was clay. Flexible, shapeless, without an identity, submersed below the upper crest, ugly, filthy. You lifted me up, gave me shape, molded me, and baked me…thus giving me colour and shape, to be part of larger useful things. I got transformed from useless to useful. Now I am wanted by people, for their creative pursuits. I am part of home, office, church, temple, mosque, parliament, charity organizations, clubs, hospitals, tombs, monuments, shopping malls, airports, bus stands, huts, apartments…..I am there everywhere now, because you transformed me and gave me shape and colour from my flexibility. Without you, I would have remained as clay, unnoticed by this world…..

 

 

Decoding the omen

Have you ever lost your mobile phone once?. When you loose your mobile phone, what does it really mean?. Very often, rather than loosing the phone, it is the agony of loosing the contact details of so many friends, accumulated over the years is what hits us harder than the cost of the phone. The depth of the pain is directly proportional to the length of the contact list. The loss of an overly grown contact list is a natural intervention forcing us to create a fresh contact list, giving us an opportunity to eliminate irrelevant contacts. It reminds us of the fact that all contacts are not important, where as some are. Remember, these significant contacts will definitely take a place in your new contact list, where as the irrelevant contacts will cease to exist. This is an opportunity for a new beginning. This is the natures way of balancing your life. So be grateful to the mobile thief :-), and do not loose your new mobile, till the address book grows beyond the limits.

Benefits of enjoying a flight delay

I am at Bangalore airport, awaiting the connecting flight to Delhi, which is delayed by three hours. Going by the patterns, this is enough reason to annoy me. Today I decided not to loose my cool, a thought stemming from the wisdom acquired through my frequent travels over the years. What is that wisdom?. Simple, Ýou are not going to achieve anything by making people unhappy’. If you want to achieve your goals, make others happy first. Is that what Jesus also trying to teach us through the Bible. Do unto others, what you want others to do to you. Seek my kingdom, everything else will be given to you. In another place he says, love one another, that is the biggest commandment. So I decided to be cool, despite the adverse event of a delayed flight.

The good looking ground staff lady had a special knack of  giving bad news with a disarmingly pleasant smile. I just admired her for managing the situation well, and requested for some snacks, which was promptly arranged. When all others got sandwiches, I got my favorite dish. I just complimented the cleaning boy in charge of the restroom for maintaining it well, and the response was a surprised face, which told me that he is not used to such things. Then I took some photographs of the busy airport and I decided to just watch the people on the move. Hundreds of people are around me, in different shapes, sizes, colors, cultures. Some body’s son, daughter, husband, father, mother, wife, friend, boss, team member….all these bodies are somebody for someone else. They are all heading some where without seeing anything. Most of them are immersed in their own worlds. Believe me, they are  not seeing anything on the way, and when they reach their destination, they will be exhausted to the point where they will not be able to enjoy the destination as well. Out of ten, four are on their mobile phones, three are on their mobiles and lap top. Others are just heading forward fast……I am really enjoying this flight delay, just because I have decided to be happy. It is a fantastic feeling.  In between I got a call from my daughter saying she lost her mobile phone. Instead of  scolding her, I just said..may be it is time for a new beginning….

 

 

Is Julian Assange a role model?

These days, every day a new scam is revealed. I do not know whether it is a good sign or not. Even when it is bad news, sometimes I feel good because it is better than undetected scams. This could be the beginning of the end of corruption in India. Definitely, the culprits would not have done proud to Gandhi. After seeing and hearing all these, he would have died of agony. Another development is wikileaks. Julian Assange, a young gentlemen of just 39, had the guts to risk his life to reveal the dual faced America. Definitely, his life is at risk. I am sure that, the damage is already done. Even if he gets killed, more Assanges will emerge. From all these, will the Indian journalists learn some lessons. Instead of quantity, can we have quality investigative journalism, which can contribute to the wellbeing of the ordinary citizen. I think, it can happen only when our journalists start seeing journalism as a vocation, rather than just a profession. My sincere appreciation and best wishes to Assange. Let every Indian journalist get inspired by him. Only that can save our country from corruption which has gripped this country at every level. Congratulations and best wishes young gentlemen, for choosing to live an extraordinary life.