Dream of a world without borders, where you work on what and where your heart desires

It used to be that the companies were mostly into manufacturing, distribution or retailing. Most of this is asset-based business where people go to the ‘place of work’ where the assets were.

In this century the ratio of knowledge-based business has drastically increased compared to the hard asset based businesses. And knowledge business does not require people to be in the same room to be productive. In fact the trend has been sourcing the best team members globally and delivery project where it’s needed. Lot of alliances is temporary project based and specialized. A lot of the knowledge workers prefer more flexible lifestyle and work from place of their choice rather than formal office and once company for long.

However managing a business with dispersed team is not necessarily easy. Keeping everyone on the same page literally is tough and proper infrastructure and mindset is needed for success. We at BlastAsia since early 2000 has been working with clients across the globe and sometimes it’s a collaboration between not only our team and the client but other third party providers, their team members from another location and to say the least it has been challenging for all. Not only managing projects across the globe but maintaining a tight coordination between different functional units is critical to profitability in service business.

Xamun is our effort in providing a global platform and infrastructure for the knowledge industry to manage their business with ease and confidence. Our vision is to provide a flexible system to those in the industry to manage virtual teams, coordinate across the lifecycle of an engagement and also being connected to the resources and suppliers who are critical piece in a virtual organization. We envision a world of business where geography is not a limitation for companies to source and deliver critical projects and knowledge workers can work where their heart is, breaking the 9 to 5 work cycle, helping reduce traffic, providing better work life balance and hopefully helping in decongesting the city centers and being more ecofriendly.

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Points to Consider for Outsourcing

Coming from both ends of the spectrum of outsourcing and offshoring for the last 10 years and picking up on the pain points from others in the industry, the following is my collection of things to consider:

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  • Freelancers: Choosing the right freelance talent works best for specific, one-off assignments. However, if you have a large project which requires a lot of collaboration and coordination, you might want to consider getting an entire team from one company rather than gathering several freelancers and form your team. The latter seems to be the more affordable option, but you have to bear in mind that a lot more value can be delivered by the former. A group from a company has established processes, administrative support, centralized invoicing, and other services that may add a bit more to your cost, but also saves you from a lot of headache. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts, after all.
  • Cheap: You are already saving a lot by going offshore, I believe a 40-50% saving from what you would pay locally is a good expectation. However, once you try to save more by going to the next cheaper group of service providers, you might be looking for trouble. Remember the people you are working with are also in business and they need to make enough money to 1) deliver quality output; and 2) be interested in doing business with you in the long term.
  • Flat World: Knowledge and know-how are more universal today due to the Internet and people working with each other across the world. Its best to be open minded about what the provider can contribute to your project, not only in terms of labor but also insights. Chances are, the outsourcing providers have had other similar or related experiences that can help improve your product concept.
  • Process: Sometimes following a process seems like a waste of time, but in reality it comes back to bite you later – in the form of missed out items and heavy rework. Working without any clear specifications and processes might work fine in a small collocated team, where knowledge sharing is seamless and instantaneous. However, as the team grows and extends beyond your table and physical office, you just can’t live without specifications and processes. Remember that ‘Lean’ and ‘Agile’ concepts talk about doing only the necessary documentation, not ‘no documents at all.’
  • Trust & Transparency: Starting small, knowing the people from outsourcing providers as intimately as your own team members at your office, and building the human connection is critical. It might be natural if you are in the same office working hours on your project –but when you are across the ocean from your outsourcing team, you really need to make a conscious effort to build the relation and trust. Spend some time visiting them at the beginning and during the project.
  • Big Benefit of Small Talk: To make lot of the above items to happen, there is no substitute for small talk. In the office you get to do this by the water cooler, over lunch, or over beer after work hours. With your outsourcing providers, you should try this over social channels like being part of their FB and Linkedin network. Constant Instant Messaging (IM) via Skype, YM, Live Messenger, etc. is a good option, too. When doing IM with the outsourcing team, perhaps keep a window open – this seems to work well for a couple of our teams. It’s like a police blotter where open discussions and knowledge keep happening between all the team members.

Leverage on Technology: Remember there was no outsourcing and offshoring of service before the Internet, technology made it happen. Don’t think its waste of money or time in leveraging as much possible on technology in getting all the above done smoothly and easily. Try an online tool like www.xamun.com to manage your projects, clients and distributed

The Incredible Power of Online Task Board

Have you ever tried getting something done that requires a concerted effort from a bunch of people? Have you ever organized an event such as an alumni homecoming for your high school class, a New Year’s party for your club, or a fundraiser for your favorite cause? How about something in a more formal setting, such as leading a team for a project at work?

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(not as easy as it seems)

It sure is difficult. The challenge doesn’t come from the tasks at hand; most of the time those are not the problem. You may even say it would be so much easier if you did it all by yourself, right? However, doing it all by ourselves is very inefficient, after all the concept of “division of labor” is supposed to be one of the greatest social achievements that helped human beings progress. So what’s the cause of this conflict? If it’s so easy for each member of a team to do things separately and it only makes sense that a team would be more efficient of you split a set of tasks among its members, then why does it become harder to get things done when more people join a team?

In my experience, in order to resolve this conflict, one must master the process of:

  1. Breaking down the entire project into smaller parts;
  2. Distributing these smaller parts among members of the team;
  3. Monitoring the progress on “who is supposed to do what” before you run out of time; and
  4. Re-planning if some original assumptions change during the course of doing things.

These activities above, known to some as project management, are causes the difficulty if not carried out properly. When we do it alone, those four activities are taken as a whole and are performed in our minds, but in a team this set of activities tends to be overlooked. Some people even think all those things above are actually a waste of time: they would rather get the work done immediately than plan and check it. The thinking is, “it’s all good until things get done”. If a team is doing similar things regularly and all members are familiar with the tasks at hand, risks are lowered from repetition. Then again, if someone slips due to some unforeseen reason, the whole project can be at risk.

Do I mean to say most people don’t do this? No, not really. There usually is an effort among project teams to meet and plan. It’s actually fun to do it, specially at the start of the project. Nothing much gets done in these kickoff meetings (most of the time). Most people after a kickoff meeting resort to emailing each other or making an Excel list and updating it – until some point in the process, things gets out of control and they simply drop all those activities together and just go with the flow.

So you may ask, how about getting one of those project management software like Microsoft Project and trying to keep tabs on everything that’s getting done. Sure, this is better than nothing, but the trouble is, this is a centralized command and control kind of thinking. One person has to take this role and run after everyone in getting things done and finding out if they are doing what they are supposed to and what stage it’s in etc. This type of centralized effort is not very efficient for a number of reasons:

  • The project manager becomes responsible for the success and failure of a project, thus allowing team members to be less responsible for the overall success
  • Reduces the benefit of collective wisdom that comes from collaboration and visibility
  • This still does not provide the communication and collaboration needed on regular basis for project success

By now you should be asking me, “What, then, is the solution?” What do I think makes getting projects done easier, more fun and at a lower risk? If the team is sitting in the same room all day, perhaps all you need to do is take a wall, divide it into three columns (To Do, In Progress, and Done), get a bunch of post-its, write down what needs to be done, and each person just picks up what they are going to do and update the wall. Maybe do a short 15 minute meeting every day to collaborate and update each other, benefit from the collective wisdom and getting the project done successfully. This practice works, for sure. But in a lot of projects today, you don’t spend the day together, you don’t even get to meet each other often.  Heck, team members may even be from a different city, country, or continent. What do you do now? Is there a liberator in sight?

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Introducing: The Incredible Online Task Board!

Welcome the world of web 2.0 and online collaboration. There are many online solutions out there to choose from. Some thoughtful people came up with tools to make task lists online that can be seen by all team members and be updated as required. This can work for rather simple projects, but it lacks the benefit of collaboration and overall visibility. Some teams even resort to using blogs where they can write down the tasks and update each other in real time. That can work, too, I guess. But nothing works like The Incredible Online Task Board.

It’s similar to the real-life or physical task board using a blank wall, but this time distributed teams can work seamlessly – as if they’re in the same room. If you use The Incredible Online Task Board together with a more social collaboration wall like Facebook for free-flowing and easy communication, then you have what we call a perfect combination.

In fact, we made a version of The Incredible Online Task Board and a collaboration wall after experiencing the above issues first hand in dealing with projects both in-house and with clients across the world. The nature of these projects span from something as simple as a list of things to fix, to complicated multi-year projects building complicated products, to the implementation of a business process across different departments, to hiring a specialized resources for an upcoming project. We’ve seen it all, and after several months of using what we created, we are definitely seeing the benefits.

What we created is called Xamun. It exists in two versions – Lite and Business. The former is tailor-made for those users that need the task board and a collaboration wall, while the latter is a robust version that extends to other different functions and areas of management and allows you to run your entire business online.

The power of The Incredible Task Board is at the heart of Xamun, and you can see it for yourself by visiting www.xamun.com and taking a 30-day free trial.

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What Makes A Great Project Management Software?

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.