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News for August 2013

The Future of Online Work? It’s Already Here

The Future of Online WorkThere has been lots of talk lately about the future of the traditional work environment and how it is shifting. Online work is the wave of the future and the rise in the number of freelancers, remote workers, and distributed teams are evident of that. So as 2013 moves into the Fall and the year wraps up (how fast did that go?), we take a look at some of the articles recently highlighting this trend.

The Findings

  • The new world of online work takes a different management mindset than in the past. Jason Corsello of Cornerstone OnDemand discusses this management mindset needed for the global work environment.
  • oDesk CEO Gary Swart covers the future of work, especially online work, in many of his articles on LinkedIn. Read his opinion about the future of work in part 1 and part 2 of the series.
  • Startup and small businesses often face the challenge of a skills gap in their immediate geographic region for hiring. See how many of these businesses are turning to freelancers online to close this skills gap.
  • Elance recently created this infographic illustrating the trends in online work from their latest global online employment report.
  • Andy Jordan of Roffensian Management Consulting and contributor on projectmanagement.com, discusses how the increase in online work and distributed teams has brought change to project management styles.
  • This article shares some stats about the current trends in online work and 5 advantages of having a distributed team. Did you know that 83% of workers spend at least a part of a workday at home?
  • Shane Snow, CCO of Contently, shares his thoughts on why half of us may be freelancers with these 6 reasons.
  • Another article from Forbes discusses 5 reasons why workplace flexibility is smart for finding the best talent available.
  • Yet one more article on Forbes about the recent announcement of the Internet.org initiative that aims to make the Internet available to the entire world. Gary Swart talks about how that will affect online work.

The future of work is already here and the number of businesses employing online employees will only continue to grow. Being a 100% distributed company ourselves has allowed us to experience many of the benefits talked about in these articles. And we took many of those experiences working on a distributed basis and baked them right into Spotlight People & Project Manager.

Has your business jumped on this trend of hiring online workers? How’s your experience so far?

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Posted By: Seth Weedin, Director of Marketing at Spotlight Software.

Posted: August 30th, 2013
Categories: Friday Findings
Tags: , , , , ,
Comments: No Comments.

Can’t Live Without Skype? Spotlight Has It Integrated

Skype on the Spotlight DashboardOur company is 100% virtual. All employees work from home or wherever they have an Internet connection (and we have worked from a lot of places) in the southwestern part of the U.S. and throughout Mexico. Needless to say, being able to communicate is extremely important…and Skype is one communication tool we can’t live without. I imagine many other businesses fall into the same boat.

Spotlight’s product and service offerings relate directly to how we operate – we help distributed teams like ourselves manage people and projects better. And we use our own project management tool, Spotlight PPM, to help us communicate, collaborate, and work better together as a distributed team. I think the saying goes “we eat our own dogfood.”

Obviously Spotlight is another tool we can’t live without, so we decided to merge our two favorite methods of communication and integrate Skype right into Spotlight. You can now initiate a chat, phone, or video call straight from a team member’s status card on the dashboard.

By integrating Skype directly on the dashboard, it makes it very easy to get your whole team together for meetings with just a few clicks.  Simply click the Skype button on the person’s status card you want to include in the meeting and they are instantly added to the queue. You can easily tell who is already added to your call by the queue list or if the Skype button is highlighted on the status card. Just click the type of communication channel you want to initiate (chat, video call, audio call) and you have a team meeting going in just a few seconds.

Skype Queue in Spotlight

This is where we live by the KISS acronym – keep it simple, stupid.

One of our goals with Spotlight is to combine many of these tools used to communicate and collaborate with your distributed team into one solution. Integrating Skype and some other features we have on our product roadmap in the future will allow you to almost completely manage your distributed team and project from one interface.

This overview video shows how Spotlight helps teams working across borders communicate and collaborate. You can specifically see how the Skype integration works at the 0:58 second mark.

Does your business rely heavily on Skype to communicate? What other tools do you use to quickly initiate conference calls or chat?

To stay up-to-date with Spotlight Software and Spotlight People & Project Manager,  join our mailing list or visit our FacebookGoogle+LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles.

Posted By: Seth Weedin, Director of Marketing at Spotlight Software.


Bringing Remote Resource Management into the 21st Century

Andy Jordan on Bringing Distributed Teams into the 21st Century

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting Inc., an Ontario, Canada-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy’s new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Posted by: Seth Weedin

This is a guest post by Andy Jordan, President of Roffensian Consulting, a management consulting firm in Toronto, Canada. If you are looking for more from Andy, he is also a regular contributor on projectmanagement.com.

Technology has brought a considerable amount of change to the way that work happens today, and to me one of the most significant (and welcome) changes is the way that it has enabled people to work closely together regardless of where they are physically located.  While the idea of flexible working or distributed teams is not new, until recently it always required compromises to be made.  As a project manager I had to accept that I wouldn’t be able to communicate so easily with a team member in a different office, country, time zone, etc.  I knew that there would be delays and confusion at times and I just accepted that as part of the cost of doing business while trying to minimize the impact.

Well that’s not the case anymore, but to look at how some organizations manage distributed teams you would never believe it!  Advancements in technology have allowed for new tools to become available that allow for true collaboration, real time communications, universal access and updates to status, etc.  It’s project management gone social, and yet many organizations still manage distributed teams by e-mail and voicemail – ironically while ensuring in their personal lives that they are always able to monitor Twitter and Facebook.

The success of any project is built on a strong team, synergy has become a clichéd buzzword in recent years, but it is no less real, and when a group of individuals can come together to work on a common goal the results can be dramatic.  However, if some of those team members feel as though they are not truly a part of the team because they are physically removed, or if energy has to be spent trying to connect with people to discuss issues, obtain updates, etc then not only is synergy lost we can easily create an environment where the entire team dynamic is damaged, reducing morale, lowering productivity and significantly damaging the chances of project success.  With the recent growth in Agile project execution approaches this becomes even more important – delays and confusion can have dramatic impacts.

So what can organizations do to better manage distributed teams?  Well tools are part of the solution, but before you run out and buy a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software solution, you need to understand what your unique challenges are and what problems you need to overcome.  The best tool in the world won’t help if it isn’t used properly so organizations need to consider:

  • How effective and efficient are projects with remote / distributed teams relative to projects where all resources are co-located?
  • What are the specific problems that those projects face?
  • What is the root cause of those challenges – process, training, people, etc?

Only when these aspects are understood can the organization implement a plan to improve, and only one there is organizational commitment to improve is the organization ready for a tool to support that transformation.

In my experience many of the problems come down to broken or ineffective communication links so one of the most important elements of any PPM solution is the ability to effectively facilitate real time communications through instant messaging, status tracking, etc.  A few years ago there may have been reluctance by teams to embrace these tools, but in the current technology environment the fact that these are really just corporate extensions to the type of interactions that many of us have in our personal lives through social media makes rollout and acceptance much easier.

To stay up-to-date with Spotlight Software and Spotlight People & Project Manager,  join our mailing list or visit our FacebookGoogle+LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles.


5 Resources for Distributed Team Accountability

Ensuring distributed team accountability from at home employeesPosted by: Seth Weedin

The hiring and managing practices of businesses are shifting. Businesses are increasingly hiring freelancers, letting employees work from home, and managing projects across borders. In a recent article on LinkedIn, Contently CCO Shane Snow gave 6 reasons why half of us might be working as freelancers in the future. These trends are making distributed team accountability even more of a priority.

Driving distributed team accountability has its share of challenges. It involves a high degree of trust, which is sometimes hard to create when thousands of miles apart. You can’t be there to hold hands all the time and see that team members are being accountable for the work assigned. Nobody wants that type of environment anyway. So how do you drive distributed team accountability?

In this week’s Friday Findings, we provide a list of 5 articles that offer tips and techniques to ensure team accountability when members are distributed.

The Findings

  • The approach to holding distributed team members accountable is different than with co-located teams. Here are 5 tips to holding your distributed team accountable during a project.
  • LifemeetsWork provides a bulleted list of tactics to drive distributed team accountability. They may not all fit your current environment, but try the ones that do.
  • David Cohen offers some tips on inspiring accountability in your virtual startup team. The number of startups working on a distributed basis is growing rapidly.
  • Eric Holtzclaw from Inc.com offers tips for improving productivity and accountability for distributed employees. Ensuring people are productive and accountable often go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other.

Ensuring distributed team accountability is critical when projects involve freelancers since working across borders decreases visibility and control. And here are some good reasons why ensuring that accountability is so important. When a sense of accountability is driven home to the team, resulting in greater productivity, the benefits of distributed teams and work flexibility are numerous.

At Spotlight, we use a number of communication methods to help with accountability in our distributed team. Virtual daily status meetings and progress reports, automatic time tracking on tasks in Spotlight PPM, and team member status availability are some of the ways. Automatic time tracking is especially useful as it lets us know the hours worked by individual team members yet eliminates the burden of having them manually record hours. See how we use the automatic time tracking feature in Spotlight at our webinar next week. It benefits everyone involved.

Are you a freelancer, work from home employee, or manage distributed teams? How do you hold yourself accountable in addition to those you manage?

To stay up-to-date with Spotlight Software and Spotlight People & Project Manager,  join our mailing list or visit our FacebookGoogle+LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles.


How Project Time Tracking in Agile can be Valuable

Posted by: Seth Weedin

The project time tracking debate in Agile: is it valuable or a waste of time? Some team members argue that time tracking does not follow the agile principles. The reason being that only the work remaining really matters.

Yet others, usually the managers and stakeholders of a project, argue that time tracking is imperative to managing the project. Because “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Scott Ambler posted his thoughts on time tracking in Agile projects earlier this spring on IBM developerWorks. He ran a poll in LinkedIn asking Agilists their thoughts on project time tracking. The majority of responses were negative and actually considered time tracking a complete waste of time.

But as a manager that sees value in project time tracking, what if you could have the best of both worlds? Like time tracking on all tasks without your development team ever having to waste time manually recording their hours? No more worrying about the accuracy of the time tracked, team members forgetting to submit their hours, or handling all the time cards every Friday.

Spotlight offers this opportunity. Hours worked by developers and QA are automatically tracked by the system and then instantly available through on-demand reports. When a team member actively chooses a task to work on through the Status Update Control under “Currently Working On:”, time tracking starts and is recorded until they finish or go offline. Everything is done in the background while the team works, keeping waste to a minimum.

Choosing a task in Spotlight

Choosing a task for automatic time tracking

Our clients have provided some great feedback on how the automatic project time tracking feature in Spotlight has helped them manage projects more efficiently. Here are 3 ways the feature has helped them the most.

More Accurate Estimates

Getting an idea of how many hours developers and QA spend on certain tasks can help you estimate more accurately for future projects. Spotlight’s project reports are broken down by team member, task, and hours worked. From this data, you can gauge where a particular team member’s knowledge lies and put them on those tasks for the next project. Getting your development team working on the right tasks can shorten development time. All this information will help you better estimate task, sprint, and eventually entire project duration.

One of our clients has a mobile app that integrates with PeopleSoft. While each integration is a little bit different depending on environment, many of the tasks are repeated for each. By being able to see how much time the team spent on those repeatable tasks, they can get a very accurate estimation for how long the next integration will take.

Eliminate Wasted Effort

One of the staples of Agile is to eliminate waste in a project. The automatic project time tracking feature can eliminate waste in so many different ways. From the development and QA side, team members no longer have to worry about recording their hours as they work. Many developers are heads down when they start coding and do not want to be interrupted for any reason. When their time is automatically being tracked on the task they are working on, there is no interruption to their concentration.

From a manager’s perspective, automatic project time tracking eliminates those mundane tasks with time cards such as ensuring accuracy, making sure everyone gets them in on time, and bugging the team to submit their hours if they forgot. Being able to easily print a project report for the week listing each team member, their tasks, and hours worked eliminates all that manual work that has to be done. Plus, it’s always a perk to be able to present a user-friendly report that the C-level team can easily interpret.

Team Member Time Tracking Report

Team Member Report Displaying Hours Worked

Accurate Data

Startup and small businesses are increasingly turning to places like oDesk, Elance, and Freelancer to hire software project teams. They don’t have an internal development team hired and this is a viable alternative when resources are minimal. Depending on the project, the business may decide to do hourly billing where time tracking is required.

Being able to rely on an automatic time tracking feature with hourly billing is useful for both parties in this scenario. Because a team is hired online and trust may take a while to develop, this eliminates any potential issues with one party wondering if the other is being honest. Managers can ensure the time developers work is accurate for payment and the developers can ensure they are getting paid for the amount of time they work. Automatic project time tracking eliminates the old adage scenario of “he said, she said.”

Conclusion

Opinions on whether project time tracking in Agile is valuable are divided and both sides have valid points. As an Agile practitioner, there will probably be some point where you will have a manager who does want development time tracked. If this is the situation you are currently in, Spotlight can be a solution for you that eliminates all the wasted time that comes with manual time recording. Which leaves you the extra time for your personal life and will make all stakeholders, from the managers to the project team, happy.

Have you been in a project where team member time tracking is required? Let us know how you handled it and if it actually worked!

To stay up-to-date with Spotlight Software and Spotlight People & Project Manager,  join our mailing list or visit our FacebookGoogle+LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles.


Successful Outsourcing Starts With Management

Successful Outsourcing Starts with Management

Posted by: Seth Weedin

Entrepreneurs know that squeezing every ounce of value out of the resources committed to a project for the business is vital to survive. Time and money are at a premium for an early-stage business. Which means at some point in time, you will probably manage a software project that involves outsourced or contracted developers, if you haven’t already. This management approach will be the key to the successful outsourcing of a project.

Freelancers and outsourced developers can increase the overall profitability of a software project greatly. You can find quality talent outside of your local area at an often much cheaper rate. These developers and designers can be brought on for one project at a time, which cuts out the overhead of hiring an internal team.

But it can also crash and burn rather quickly if managed the wrong way.

Hiring software developers as part of your project team in this manner presents its fair share of challenges. Not only do you have to find a fit in with your current team, but also manage them a bit differently to get the maximum production. Following these best management practices can ensure the profitability of your project and end with a successful outsourcing experience.

Be Clear and Concise

Misunderstood requirements at the beginning of a project can sink it quickly. While the requirements created may make sense to you as the project manager, it may not make sense to the hired development team. And sometimes, they won’t tell you if it doesn’t make sense.

Ensure requirements are clear and concise when presenting them to the team. Outsourced development teams will follow these requirements exactly as they are written. The key is to provide them the depth and information needed to build exactly what you envision. Don’t assume they will take a vague requirement and run with it.

As the project progresses, requirements will surely change, bugs will come up, and new business rules will emerge. Provide the depth and details in these scenarios as well. Outsourced development teams will be great at coding. Just make sure they are coding it according to your plan.

Establish Communication Channels

Lay the ground rules for the communication channels and schedule from the beginning. More frequent communication will be needed simply because of time, cultural, and work habit differences. When the development team is half way around the world, it’s important to know what task every team member is working on and when they are working on it.

As the manager of the team, this frequent communication can come in the form of setting daily standup meetings (yes they still work virtually), requiring periodic status updates from team members, and using instant chat. Providing several communication tools and creating a meeting schedule your team can expect will keep them in sync with you and each other.

Learning how to communicate with your team in addition to when helps prevent details from getting lost in translation. This comes with simply getting to know your developers. Seeing how they work, interact, and engage with the team will give you an idea of how to best communicate project requirements to them (see above).

Oftentimes, successful outsourcing can be tied directly to quality communication.

Recognize a Team Leader

When working with an outsourced software team, usually one of the developers will emerge as sort of a team leader. Try to identify this team lead quickly and use them as the primary point of contact for the development side of the project. This person can often be present in meetings involving other project stakeholders to report on the development status and clear up any issues.

This person can also provide honest feedback on the motivations and attitudes of other team members. It’s hard enough to manage a team across the globe and figuring out when there are issues with motivation is even tougher. A development team leader can communicate this information to you as they understand how the other team members work and when there may be a problem.

Keeping the development team motivated and focused will play a major part in successful outsourcing. While sometimes hard to identify across borders, a team lead can provide this insight.

Eye the Schedule

Staying on schedule is one of the primary responsibilities of a project manager. A schedule can be better maintained by breaking the software project down into sprints and tasks (also known as agile). This gives the outsourced team specific tasks to work on instead of having to figure out what to do next. With a tool like Spotlight PPM, you can break your projects down in this manner and easily see the status of each task in the task manager. This helps you determine the efficiency of the entire project and if your on track to deliver by the deadline.

If you are unsure what the status is of a task or when it will be complete, ask the team member until you get a clear understanding. Communication affects everything in an outsourced project and the schedule is no exception. Ensure there is frequent communication on sprint and task schedules so you can report back the progress.

Drive Accountability

When you are in the office, it’s pretty easy to see when your project team is there working. But not so much with an outsourced development team. It’s much more difficult to ensure your team is being accountable for their work from a different country and time zone. But there are ways to drive home this accountability to your outsourced team.

As mentioned above, breaking down the project into sprints and tasks helps keep team members accountable. When you have very specific tasks in the backlog for team members to work on, there isn’t that period of wondering what to do next. Team members pick a task and when completed, move on to the next task. You can easily monitor if they are being accountable for their tasks by simply checking the status and completion date.

At Spotlight, we use a tactic called daily progress reports at the end of each day. Each team member submits a short, free-form report of the tasks they accomplished that day, what they are working on tomorrow, and if they had any issues. This keeps them accountable for their work and demonstrates their accomplishments for the day.

Conclusion

Successful outsourcing is a result of proper management of the development team. Many of these developers are very talented and work hard. But without the guidance and clear communication of exactly what you are looking for in the project, you probably won’t get what you envisioned. Effectively managing the team using these techniques among others will ensure you a successful outsourcing experience.

What other tips and techniques would you suggest for managing an outsourced team? Share your experience with a comment!

To stay up-to-date with Spotlight Software and Spotlight People & Project Manager,  join our mailing list or visit our FacebookGoogle+LinkedIn, or Twitter profiles.