August 2013

Painted sign: "Mind the Gap" at a railway station

Mind the gap when buying IT

Painted sign: "Mind the Gap" at a railway stationGood information and communication technology (IT), when deployed in a well-managed organisation, with appropriate business processes can be a key enabler.  In fact, technology has become somewhat of a second nature to us, and it’s hard to imagine how modern businesses could survive without IT.  Quite naturally, organisations strive to use technology in the best possible way and ensure that their team members have the best tools at their disposal.


As businesses evolve, they look for new and innovative solutions to their problems.   New technology may play a part of this. As I’ve written in a previous article, it’s crucial that change is considered holistically and not just from an IT perspective.  In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the steps an organisation should take before purchasing new IT, and discuss some pitfalls that are best avoided.  These points are relevant to businesses of all sizes, but particularly those mid-size businesses that are growing.  By implementing the right type of flexible IT, and avoiding the so-called “legacy” issues that many large organisations have inherited, can be a way of staying nimble and sustaining competitive advantage.


Off-the-shelf: The dangerous gap for the unprepared

Rather than build bespoke software applications from scratch, organisations will often buy ‘off-the-shelf’ software solutions.  This might be a Customer Relationship Management package, a Business Analytics package, or something entirely different.  It might be hosted on premise or even in the cloud.  Buying off-the-shelf has several advantages:  There’s no need to develop the software from the ground-up, you can capitalise on innovation and development that has taken place before you bought the software, and you don’t need to have hoards of software development expertise in-house.


However, there’s a trap waiting for the unprepared.  Buying “off-the-shelf” sounds easy and appealing doesn’t it?  It sounds like we just drop a system out into the production environment, and it’ll do everything we want it to, immediately.  Almost like buying shrink-wrapped software from the mall – pop the CD in the drive, install, and you’re ready to go…..  Sadly this isn’t likely to be the case.

Picture of tired/exhausted/burned out male in front of computer screen

How to avoid the silent danger: Burnout!

Picture of tired/exhausted/burned out male in front of computer screenWe’ve all been there – you have an urgent and high-profile project deadline looming, there are 350 unread e-mails in your inbox, and you’re already 5 minutes late for your next meeting.  You desperately need to grab some lunch… but you dash out to your next meeting, stopping only to neck a strong black coffee from the coffee machine on the way.   Two hours later, your meeting has finished. The adrenaline is flowing, you look at your watch, and it’s now 5.25pm.  You’ve skipped lunch so you grab a stale sandwich, take a bite, and stare blankly at your e-mail inbox and get ready for another night working late…


Perhaps this kind of high-paced environment was once associated only with senior management roles in large multinationals.  However, small and mid-size companies increasingly need to run fast paced business-change projects, adapt and work as efficiently as possible.  As well as a day-job, we’re likely to be working on multiple projects, responding to queries from our colleagues as well as dealing with the (many) crises that present themselves. Plus we’re trying to balance our busy home lives too!  But when the pace increases are we actually any more efficient or productive? Many would say that we’re actually less productive in these circumstances.


I recently saw an interesting question raised in a LinkedIN forum.  In a thread entitled “Staying Happy and Productive” Eric Drumm asked how it’s possible to maintain a healthy work/life balance.   This is a good and important question.   After all, ‘burning out’ is not good for anyone.


It’s counter-intuitive, but you probably need some stress…

It would be tempting to suggest that we all avoid stress completely and retire to a sunny desert island and spend our days hula-dancing and meditating.  Yet, it’s generally accepted that we need some stress to have a happy and fulfilling life.   As this article on MindTools very articulately states, too little stress and people tend to become bored.   Too much stress and anxiety kicks in.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly relate to both of these states – the challenge of course is finding the optimum zone in the middle.  Finding this zone can be challenging, particularly when our project workloads might be dictated based on factors beyond our control!


Keeping in the ‘optimum zone’ is key.

Picture of a magic roundabout ride with horses

The Magic Roundabout and the importance of the Glossary

It’s not often that printed driving directions grab my attention, yet it happened a few weeks ago.   I was planning a trip to Cardiff, and since I don’t know the area well, I decided to check out and the route online.  Although I have sat-nav, I always like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, so I print driving directions as a back-up.    I was reading through the directions, and I noticed the following step:


“Cross the Magic Roundabout, 2nd exit”


Wow – I’m going to be crossing the magic roundabout.  That sounds pretty exciting, right?  Well, maybe….


For me the phrase “Magic Roundabout” conjured up two images.  Firstly, a stop-motion animated children’s TV program from the 1970s, and secondly a rather famous and complex road junction in Swindon.  Assuming that the likelihood of this “magic roundabout” being related to the 1970s TV show was extremely low, I made the assumption that it must be a frighteningly complex junction.   You know the type – a busy junction that only locals can traverse, and visitors use at their peril.  A shudder went down my spine as I imagined having to traverse this seemingly increasingly complex junction after a long journey.


Picture of a magic roundabout ride with horses

Would it be like this?

Traffic sign: Magic Roundabout Swindon. A complex junction, with a central roundabout and many orbital roundabouts.

Or like this?











Having set this expectation very firmly in my mind, the reality was somewhat more—well—glacial. It transpired that the magic roundabout in Cardiff was rather less ‘magic’ than I had been anticipating. It was nowhere near as complex as the ‘magic roundabout’ in Swindon, which was the benchmark I had been expecting, and in many ways, given its surreal nature, it shared more in common with the 1970s TV show!  In short, it was a normal roundabout with some interesting art on it.   My presumptions and expectations had been altogether wrong.  I later passed it on foot and took a picture:

Magic Roundabout Cardiff -- A traffic roundabout with artwork made from road signs on it

The *actual* magic roundabout in Cardiff

3 Elicitation Techniques You Can Do Without Stakeholder Access

I’m pleased to say that one of my recent blog articles has been published on “”, where I have contributed as a guest author. I’d love to hear what you think, so please take a look and add a comment.   Excerpt: Imagine the scene: A significant project is underway, and you are leading the…