A Business Technology Place

That defining moment

Crossroads of the career journey

It can be an event, a project, or an assignment. It’s that situation that leads to the point in time when we make a decision between two divergent paths. For me, it was a failed assignment as a software product manager. My job was to create a B2C internet site that integrated with a Siebel ERP. But the combination of business rules, technology capabilities of the web platform, and intricacies of an ERP integration were above my skillset at the time. I wasn’t mature enough to recognize it, and when management pointed it out to me I became defensive. The project stalled and was scrapped.2choices

The unseen path

So my defining moment was a career failure. I was subsequently “reassigned”. The path was as much chosen for me as anything I did. I suppose I could have quit or asked for a different new assignment. But the idea of a change of scenery had an appeal. It was a new business unit with different technologies . A complete start-over.

I don’t know if the intent of management to locate me far away from central IT or if it was to give me a chance to work with a business unit that needed some IT assistance. It could have been either. I had been very successful in all my previous assignments. But a failure on a high profile project can be a “career limiting move”. Whatever the case, I went from a situation where I was trying to survive, to one where I could thrive.

Career booster shot

In my new assignment I reached out and aligned myself directly with business unit owners. The business unit wasn’t part of the core revenue making unit for the company and didn’t have much oversight from the central IT group. This alignment shaped my business preferences and thinking even to present time. It was decentralized. I had direct access to a developer and didn’t work through a central PMO or project board.

I’m not saying it was the wild west. There were rules. I had accountability. It’s just that most of it came directly from the business unit owners; my primary customers. Thinking back on it now, it was like an early model of agile development. I had lighter documentation. I had contact with the customer, the developer, and the tester. We programmed quickly and at regular cadences. We solved problems. We got stuff done.

Communication, relationships, and people

I developed new communication skills. I learned that the technology is not what matters to the business. What matters is solving a business problem with the technology. I learned that it’s the job of a technology professional to immerse in the business and understand it. I learned that it’s the people relationships that open doors to working collaboratively to find solutions.

The failure and subsequent change of scenery started molding me. It’s the reason I list career failures on my resume. They made me stronger. They helped me learn.

So for me, that defining career moment was humbling, disciplining, and guiding. It was worth it. I haven’t looked back.

Communicating go-live deployments

The work of eCommerce deployments doesn’t end with go-live sign-off.
If you work with eCommerce platforms then you know the happiness of after go-live deployments. The actual events of go-live deployments can be an adventure when unplanned events ‘happen’. But the work doesn’t end with the final sign-off and completion of the deployment plan.

There are a series of tasks after deployment.
One important step is to gather information from listening posts such as voice of customer collection areas. The success of the deployment is really based on how the customers use the system. Unwritten and unspoken voice of customer responses are visible by monitoring the key metrics of the site such as conversion rates, average order value, number of items in the cart, etc.

Don’t underestimate the value of communicating the success to other stakeholders.
I’m not referring so much to the confirmation email that usually goes out to the project team and direct project stakeholders. Certainly, that is an important communication to send. It let’s everyone know that the project team has successfully deployed the new release and that customers are now able to take advantage of the new features.

But there’s a way to get further benefits out of the release by notifying other company stakeholders and customers. This communication summarizes what changed and the value it provides to the customer. In other words, what problem did it solve.

Company stakeholders love this type of communication. It’s a group win that shows a team successfully navigated processes, approvals, and company friction to create something that adds value. People like sharing good news with others, especially clients. So a success communication is often shared again through forwarding. It’s the original viral communication within an organization.

Keep the communication simple and on point.
A good release communication  is simple and shows the changes visually. Often times this is done through a blog post or an email. The communication should be written in common language to engage the audience best. I like avoiding charts, tables, and highly structured templates.  (It’s not a specification!)

The communication should be upbeat. Let the customer know how excited the team is to deliver value to them. It’s why the team works and this work is a reflection of the team and the commitment to customer value.

2 takeaways for tools used by remote teams

A recent blog post by Wayne Turmel about tools for remote teams does a good job of breaking down the communication needs of remote teams. I liked Mr. Turmel’s approach of defining the tools by breaking them into synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication.  I work in remote work team every day with colleagues spread across the country.

Post Office

To message 1 or many. That is the question.

The communication of my team revolves more around the need for a point-to-point solution or a multi-point solution. I’ve found that person-to-person communication most often involves either phone or email depending on the required immediacy of the response. I’ve also found that point-to-point solutions are more likely to use non-standard or specialized versions of software that are shared by the two parties involved. Some common examples include video phone services, brainstorming tools, or shared directory space.

We use a multi-point solution for situations that require three or more parties to communicate. As with the point-to-point solution, email and phone conference calls are still the most common forms of this type of communication. We often use software specifically designed for groups such as Webex and GoToMeeting.

I’ve learned a few things about remote team communication over the past couple of years.  These are good to remember when trying to decide on which tools to use.

Teams must get beyond email

Email is a popular communication vehicle for a couple of reasons: everyone has it and it’s easy for the sender to create a message send it. But email is an increasingly poor choice for the best communication between remote team members.

1. Email attachments don’t version well. Team members don’t know if they have latest version of a document. This leads to confusion and wasted time trying to synchronize with each other.

2. Team members with an abundance of email or that are challenged to manage items in their inbox often don’t respond in a timely manner.

3. Some corporations now actively delete email that is older than a certain age based on legal policy. If you need to retain information or keep records of conversations then email may not be the best solution.

Use company standard tools where possible

If the software is a company standard, then everyone already has it, or has access to it. Many companies prohibit the download and installation of software from the internet as a security measure to keep out viruses and malware. In addition to having access to it, it works well because most team members probably already know how to use it. People use the tools they are familiar with and will not choose to learn a new tool unless forced to do so.  If you need to communicate with members outside of your team this concept becomes even more important. You don’t want to send a person not in your immediate work group a request to communicate with you via some tool they don’t have or in a location that they don’t have access to read.

One a personal note, I’m reallying loving my Gmail inbox from Google these days. I have access to email, chat, voice calls, and video calls all from a single location. I can even use Google docs for remote file sharing. But it’s not a company standard. So I use it now as a special point-to-point solution for certain members on my team.

photo credit:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/coba/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Six communication tips for teams with remote workers

It’s not uncommon these days for work teams to be separated by large distances. My current work team, composed of five people, spans three states and four cities. A common challenge with remote workers is to learn to communicate efficiently. The challenge increases when you throw in a few different time zones, different work schedules, and varying communication styles.

Email provides many advantages for remote workers but also creates many stumbling blocks that become communication inhibitors. Back in January I posted my thoughts about about how to not use email in your company. Those communication tips were mostly focused on email use for individuals.  Group communication is just as much a challenge to maintain, and individuals tend to rely on email more than it should be used because of its convenience and ease of use. Her are a few of the dangers of email, not just for remote workers, but for all work groups.

Email communication dangers

  1. It lengthens decisions. How long does it take you to reach consensus or resolve issues via email?
  2. It loses focus on the original intent. Just like projects are subject to scope creep, so are emails. As people add their thoughts, opinions, and questions the scope of the email becomes greater.
  3. It creates ‘versions’ of the message that the distribution list must manage. If you’ve ever checked your email only to find 10 or more messages on the same thread then you have experienced this. You can move down to the last email sent in the thread and try to work your back up to see all of the individual threads or spawned threads to different a distribution list. But this creates management overhead to try to keep up with the conversation.

So what’s a remote workforce to do? Email should have a part in the overall communication plan.

How does your team communicate?

How does your team communicate?

But to create better communication that will help the team be more successful and connected consider these tips:

Communication tips for remote teams

  1. Use emails to send notifications and ask questions (limit the number of questions per email to no more than three). Don’t use email to try to reach decisions. If you need to make a decision then you need a phone call or meeting depending on who needs to be involved.
  2. Email threads should be limited to three messages. If your notifications require more clarification than this, then the language is not clear or the subject matter is complicated enough to warrant other forms of communication.
  3. Limit the use of attachments in email. Just as multiple email threads creates versioning issues, so do the number of attachments in email. Try to use team rooms, network links, or collaboration software to manage document versions.
  4. Use video chat to promote remote team cohesiveness. There are plenty of tools now for video chat and portable cameras are relatively inexpensive. If your team members are remote, get’em each a camera.
  5. If possible try to meet in person quarterly. This may not always be practical or within a budget. But teams that meet together, stay together.
  6. Hey yo! Pick up the phone! In a communication world driven by email, text, and instant messages, you can still reach out and touch someone.

Communication is never easy. It requires work. It requires attention. Remote workers don’t have the option to walk to each others cubes or offices. So find time to communicate. As Rollo May said, “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

Photo Credit: Joe Mabel