how technology is transforming the way we work, specially for the professional & creative services industry; creating digital content by collaborating across the world and delivering globally
Here are a few key takeaways on what constitutes a great project management software tool, based on what I picked up from my last 20 or so years of project management experience – in construction, real estate, business consulting and lately, software development – and roughly 12 years of product development experience.
- 9 knowledge areas of PMI: Schedule, Cost, Scope, Risk, Quality, Communication, Procurement, Human Resource & Integration. For a project to succeed, the tool should help with more than just managing scope and communication and cover these areas, to avoid a myopic view of project management.
- Agile vs. PMI: Agile, through its innovative means, reduces or eliminates the need for close monitoring of all the 9 areas, however we still need to keep an eye on them and the system should provide an integrated way to track those that need to be monitored. The software should also provide the capability to handle different project management methodologies in one system rather than forcing users to choose one over another.
- Communication & Coordination: The key to successful project management is close communication with tasks at hand. This holds true in agile, particularly in how it eliminates documentation and other heavier monitoring. However, with larger and geographically-distributed teams, communication and coordination can become a major challenge. Unless your tool takes care of this in an integrated manner, your project can easily spin out of control.
- Project Tasks vs. Organizational Tasks: Every member of an organization needs to handle more than just project tasks, even though that might be their primary responsibility. In smaller organizations, there is always set of tasks that are strategically important but not part of any project. Most PM tools miss out in managing both kinds of tasks in a synchronized manner, to help people in their daily responsibilities.
- Ease of Use: I have used some very sophisticated software, but they are so difficult to install, implement and understand that a major part of my time goes into learning them. Add to that the fact that human error is highly likely during use because of their complexity. A good tool should be intuitive enough, should not take more than couple of hours to get used to, and should feel natural while using on day-to-day execution of a project. The social aspects in software today are also very interesting to induce improved usage and communication, the latter being the key to success.
I can go on with more points to add to the list, but that might just dilute the value of each item above. There is not one way to handle all projects well, and some models like the Diamond Model for project analysis can be a helpful tool to understand and segregate the sub-modules/systems by its profile and manage appropriately to improve success rate. Of course this is not up to the software to analyze and decide, but the people in charge of the project. However, when project leaders decide on a methodology, the tool should provide enough flexibility to manage the project and its parts in an integrated manner, and the tool should be suitable for the increasingly global team structure.
We at Xamun designed our product with most of these points in mind, and we are continuously improving on it as we gather more inputs from our users. We hope to hear from you soon about your Xamun experience, so you can also be part of our product development journey.
I am not one of those who confirms with ‘the way it is‘ paradigm too well, not a ‘rebel without cause’ either or even much of a rebel. I am comfortable like most people with established ways, but do end up questioning if there is a better way, when I feel something has not caught up with the pace of development.
So, lets focus on the topic for today, Virtual Business. Let me start by defining what do I consider as Virtual Business, ‘If a business uses online means to find, cater, deliver and support its clients, without overly depending on traditional brick & mortar setup of office, full time employees and other facilities, I define them as Virtual Business’. Please note, I am not saying they should not have physical office or employees, but those are not the primary means of delivering value and delight to their customer. Most successful Virtual Business probably would be Amazon, but in this post I would like to focus on Virtual Business that relates to the ‘creative industry’, as defined by wikipedia “The creative industries refers to a range of economic activities which are concerned with the generation or exploitation of knowledge and information.” Which includes everyone from digital artist to architects to software developers and book writers.
The creative industry as I see it is pre-disposed to be virtual. Writers and painters were always working alone in some remote location ever since, however those into software development, architecture, marketing research, advertising, etc., till date have not totally given up the office, employee and other old world ties. This is changing rapidly and I am betting on this industry moving more and more virtual, capitalising on globalisation, internet and technology in general. Below are my list of 10 reasons (not in any particular order) why creative industry will go virtual, and why we are building the first and only integrated tool to conduct your business virtually, check out more at Xamun:
- Freedom to work from where you like, when you like. Geography, timezone, and office hours are things of the past. Nowadays, you can work where your heart is – by the beach, with your children at home, on a mountain cabin. When you are working on ‘digital output, why should you be constrained by one physical location to work from?
- Economic realities demand lightweight, flexible cost structure to be competitive in the global market today. Full-time employees tied to real-estate and other constraints limits the options of how fast you can scale up or down to handle market opportunities across the world.
- Global Talent Pool: there is no monopoly on skill and knowledge, with internet as the great equaliser, its a loss if teams do not leverage on the best talents where ever they are.
- Global Market: not only traditional Multinational Companies, but even small to mid-size companies are operating in multiple geographies, when they buy service they don’t limit themselves to the head-office but look across the world for the best deal they can get. With the digital nature of the output, geographic borders do not matter anymore.
- Intertwining of various output towards the final product: the expected final outputs from different companies in creative industry are increasingly intertwining. These days, web apps have graphics, 3D, video, gamification all mixed together, and clear division of expertise are not easy to maintain among service providers. Therefore, collaborative efforts among virtual teams coming from various creative firms are necessary to address specific needs of clients.
- International Payment online (Paypal): money is the lifeline of any business, and one factor that made it difficult to do cross-border trade a couple of decades ago was the control on the money by different governments. Globalisation has made money exchange much easier in the real world, and new online payment options like Paypal, Google Checkout etc, have even made paying in smaller amounts a reality. This has to be one of the pivotal developments for Virtual Business.
- Desegregation of Work-Life: work life balance is perhaps thing of the past. If you choose to work in a profession that you would probably do for free, your intrinsic motivation does not require you to separate your work and life, unlike in the past. With the freedom to choose your workplace and how many hours you want to put in, work and life can be interwoven into a single fabric. Working parents, single parents and the growing number of women in the workforce require the creative industry to think beyond full-time office and work hours, focusing on productivity and output instead.
- Mobility of Skill set, international travel & open borders: the fact of the matter is people are travelling more, not just looking for work, but because they want to, and with the lifestyle of freelancing and remote working, you dont have to be on vacation, to travel.
- Maturing buyer readiness for freelancers and virtual businesses: few years ago it was much harder to win a project for a freelancer or a virtual company competing against branded firms, but it’s changing rapidly. Personal brands of experts are getting easier to be sold, and more companies across the world are opening up to the idea of buying services from people they have never seen before (or might not see ever). The volume of transaction and rapid growth on sites like oDesk, eLance etc are proof of this.
- Technology tools and ecosystems: there are tools like oDesk, Basecamp, online accounting, etc, which Virtual Businesses have been patching up to cater to business growth. Next wave would be of systems that allow a seamless, integrated experience in conducting business online (shameless plug for Xamun), perhaps connecting with some of the tools of your choice. Legal systems globally also are getting better at recognising Intellectual Property rights and ownership, and countries and states have already started structuring themselves to attract Virtual Companies to register with them, removing certain constraints that restricted ‘true virtual companies’.
I can try and add some more, but I think those 10 points would be compelling proof about the growth of virtual business and how creative industry is gearing up to capitalise on it. I believe leveraging on the concepts of Virtual Business, global marketplace and lean startup, more and more knowledge workers from all parts of the world would grow and prosper as entrepreneurs adding value to their customers and their own economy; at xamun we believe we can help them and ourselves by providing tools and support in making virtual business a reality.
Minimum Viable Product or MVP is one of the most misunderstood terms from the concept of Lean Startup in my humble opinion. Some people start associating the term ‘viable’ with ‘usable’ for the customer. I have seen arguments about how MVP for enterprise products can’t be too minimum or else the customer wont let you in the next time or overloading of features or users and not buyers etc etc. Sorry, but I think this is a mistake in understanding the concepts of MVP clearly.
MVP is not always something you ship to your customer, its not the output of SCRUM (agile development methodology) that has to be shippable increment and no the customer or user does not have to use it for their business to give you feedback about what to build next, thats not the purpose of MVP but of Agile development.
So what is the purpose of MVP then? lets first understand the key hypothesis behind Lean Startup thinking. Startups as we all know are risky business, a lot of assumptions about the product is in the mind of the entrepreneur from his world view, which most of the time is little to very different from the customer point of view. There are two key hypothesis to be proven before trying to scale a startup:
- Value Hypothesis
- Growth Hypothesis
Value is the real solution to a burning problem for which the customer is actively seeking a resolution and is willing to pay to get your solution (though sometimes the solution might be free and making money from another segment). I would think we are not talking incremental improvement over a bunch of existing product, but something that can be considered as an unresolved issue (Blue Ocean rather than a Red Ocean) for a interested segment.
After we have established that the proposed solution has Value for a segment, then comes the question of whats the growth potential for the solution in the market, locally, regionally and globally. Even though the problem and solution might be real, the potential buyers might be too small to make a profitable and viable business, or the effort and knowledge required might be such that it would be hard to scale beyond certain market or cost can be a major hindrance. Even if the solution has value and there is a market, there is still the question of how to reach out and sell it in a way the buyers are willing to buy it.
All the above are RISK that a startup has to face in its initial phase, if the venture got to see success, there has to be a systematic way to de-risk the venture without spending too much in the wrong things and running out of money. This process is what Steve Blank calls ‘customer development’ and approaching a startup with all this in mind in a scientific manner is the whole philosophy of Lean Startup.
So now the question is how do you go about de-risking the venture, the answer is through series of experiments to test the various assumptions and key concepts in the solution. MVP is a tool to run these experiments, not the only tool, but probably the most used tool. Smoke Testing, A/B testing and Statistical Hypothesis Testing are some of the methods for experimentation to confirm with customer, the theories for the startup solution as well the problem perspective.
MVP can be a smoke test website that tries to establish demand for a solution in the market, or the segment that needs it most. Smoke test does not intend to be dishonest with the customer, instead it paints a picture of a solution to come and get interested parties pre-register for invite or information when it is ready.
At various stage of the product lifecycle the MVP can be very different in its form, but the purpose in the world of Lean Startup is to use it to proof or disprove another hypothesis and thus lower another risk to the venture.
Its probably also worthwhile to remember not every kind of customer or user are ideal target for MVP or experimentations, early adaptors are usually the ones we should be looking for, they might not form the bulk of the user segment when the product flys, but they definitely are those who would be ready to touch your buggy barely working concepts and give you inputs that bring your product in the track to be a reality. Will discuss more on Early Adapters in another post one of these days, thanks for reading.
If you are into software business and hearing one or more of the three terms for the first time you are missing out a lot, like I was a year or so ago. Learning about how all three work together specially in cutting down waste and reducing the need for funding to grow ones venture has been an eye opener. This is after 4 startups and about 20 years in business felt like the first week at the B School, and its not only me, when I shared some of this with the group (Philippines Software Development Association’s Special Interest Group for Product and IP development) it was eye opener for all.
In fact one of the adapter and loudest proponent of these concept today in one of our founding member of the sub-group with decades of experience in product development in companies like Microsoft and Apple at its early and growth phase, and several successful ventures over the years.
In this post and several others I will share our learnings, success and failures in following the concepts. Personally my exposure and experimentations would be for our flagship product Xamun.com and secondary exposure from the sharing of others in the subgroup and interesting findings from the web.