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The Top 6 Things to Consider When Choosing a PPM Solution

According to a recent article in a leading technology magazine, the demand for project and portfolio management (PPM) solutions is rising in response to the weakened economy.  Many businesses are choosing to implement PPM solutions in order to “identify which IT projects are mission critical and to help them execute those projects as efficiently as possible.”[1]  These customers have also found that PPM solutions offered as software-as-a-service (SaaS) are both more affordable and easier to deploy than traditional ones. 

One of the problems many businesses face when choosing a PPM solution is wading through all of the functionality of complex solutions.  It can be difficult to understand what functionality a business needs, as well as how to strike the right balance without paying for things that are not needed.  When it comes to project portfolio management, most companies have two basic needs: to understand costs and profitability on a per-person, per-project basis, and to know who is going to work on which projects for the next few months.

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Can Technology Solve the Project Execution Problem?

Project management technology has been around for years now, so the problem of project execution must be basically solved, right?  Wrong.  The Standish Group has found that 68% of technology projects failed in 2009[1].  Does this mean that project management solutions are just a waste of time? 

The truth is that project management technology is only as good as the processes that support it.  The only way to improve project execution rates is to look at the root causes of project failure and implement the necessary changes that will allow the technology to work.  Here are a few of the top ways to accomplish this in your organization. 

Problem #1 – Ignorance of True Per-Project Cost 

We all know that people hate to track their time for a variety of reasons.  Most find it to be a tedious exercise and believe that it takes time away from more important work.

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Is an Agile PMO Possible?

It often seems that a lean, agile development environment will always be at odds with the structure and constraints of the PMO.  Rick Freedman described the situation well in a recent blog post: 

Many firms have committed so completely to PMBOK process flows and CMM best practices that many of the core concepts of agile development, such as “barely sufficient” documentation and change-friendliness, seem like heresy.  In fact, I’ve had people in my Agile Project Management classes tell me that their perception of agile is that the key message is “everything you know about project management is wrong.”[i]

Yet it does not have to be this way. The agile PMO can bridge the gap between these two very important groups and help organizations to execute projects more successfully.  While it does require a bit of change management, it is not as impossible as it seems and the benefits far outweigh the effort.

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How Automated Invoices Save Time and Money

We now live in a technological world where tedious tasks can be performed with agility and ease.  Computers and software can do most of our work for us, whether it’s filing our taxes or ordering groceries.  The benefits we gain—namely more time and less margin of error—make this kind of technology appealing to businesses as well.  There are several ways in which an automated system that tracks time spent on projects and generates invoice reports will make your work life easier and more profitable.

Maximize Revenues

Your employees' billable time is the source of your revenue.  By capturing time, expenses and other products or services accurately, you will be able to maximize this revenue.  The right timesheet system will give you the ability to create customized interfaces to facilitate employee acceptance & compliance, eliminate double entry errors through online approval routing & integration, and even assign multiple billing rates to a single employee.

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Management 101

I recently was asked to answer a few anecdotal management questions and as I was thinking through my answers, it occured to me that this would be useful information for my blog here at Software CEO. I've made mistakes along the way, no doubt, and I'm still learning all the time but here are a few things that I'd like to think I've done right and maybe will help one of you.

1) As a CEO, have you written out your policies and procedures to provide precedents for doing things or to make it easier for employees to run the business in your absence? 

Given that I’m more of an idea person and a technologist rather than a process maven, I have chosen to surround myself with people who get processes documented and implemented as those processes have evolved.  We now have processes for sales, billing, support, configuration and many other things involved with selling and making companies successful with our software processes. This helps to keep the business running smoothly no matter who is away from the office.

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Managing Projects on a Global Scale

There are no longer many physical obstacles to performing global projects. Instantaneous global collaboration, inexpensive resource transportation, and near-global access to knowledge have expanded organizations’ horizons and consumer markets. At the same time, however, these now-hurdled obstacles present new challenges to the global project manager: though distance is now surmountable, what happens when project team members speak different languages, for example? We may have instantaneous communication, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into instant comprehension. 

So where does this current level of interconnectedness leave the modern global project manager? The internet and globalization are too young to have expunged regional differences, yet they make collaboration between these regions too profitable to be ignored. The following obstacles are real threats to conducting good business, but can all be hurdled using a combination of new technology – the tools which have brought us this far along – and old tactics – the tried and true elements which constitute business as we know it. Though new generations may not experience these same complications as we do today, they currently pose a threat to conducting smooth business.

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Evaluating the ROI of Cloud Computing

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of cloud computing.

The advantages of the cloud include:

   1.  Low initial upfront investment -- If you are using Amazon EC2 to rollout some Linux boxes to fire up a new app, it costs almost nothing to get started.  No plugging in wires, crawling around on the floor.  It’s up, and you're done.  You don't have to buy any machines, ever.  That’s just awesome. It’s OPEX instead of CAPEX.

   2.  It’s probably pretty secure and pretty well backed up.

   3.  It’s green.

   4.  It is massively scalable.  If you need your app to grow and use 1,000 machines, but only for a while, this is very achievable.  Few apps have this requirement really.

   5.  You can bypass IT and purchasing and just get it done.

Disadvantages of the cloud:

  1.  In the case of Google App Engine, you have to rewrite your app since SQL is not supported.

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The Reason that IT Projects Fail

Are out of control projects really a problem in most companies? According to the Standish Group, 70 percent of projects are over budget or behind schedule. Why is this?

IT projects fail because they are out of control, over budget or broken. Companies must figure out which of their IT projects are high risk and which ones are low risk. The best way to measure that risk is to track employee time spent on projects, while simultaneously estimating how much of the project is complete. If the project budget is 1000 person-hours and 50 percent (i.e. 500 hours) is used up -- but the project is only 15 percent complete -- then you know you have a high risk project, and a big problem. 

Conversely, if the same project is 40 percent complete, but only 10 percent of the hours are used, then you have a low-risk project. 

If you have

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How to Use the Requirements Creation Process to Improve Project Estimates

Estimation can be one of the most difficult parts of a project.  Important questions must be asked in order to form the right figures and plans.  How long will the project take?  How many resources will it consume?  Consultants may also ask the following question: What is the appropriate amount to bid on this project?  These questions are not easy to answer at the outset when one generally has only a vague idea of what will be required throughout the project. 

The good news is that there is a fairly simple way to improve project estimation and, consequently, the bidding process.  Most people do not realize that the requirements creation process can lend insight into the length and scope of a project.  Let me give you an example of how this method works and then explain how you can implement it within your own company. 

The Story 

Back in 1992, I was working for a consulting company named The Kernel Group (TKG). During this time, I was put in charge of porting Tivoli

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Help Your Software Business! Reducing Cash Float for Fun and Profit

If you're running a small business, especially one that is growing, then chances are you are broke all the time.

The cash float problem that occurs during business growth is a mathematical rational reality that is easy to understand, but still punches you in the gut from time to time.

Simply put, if you are in a position—as most of us are—where you must pay to create something before you sell it, and your customer pays you 45 days later or so, then you have a period of time of at least 45 days (usually more) where you have spent money that you aren’t getting back. This is called 'float'. If your business is in a steady state, that float will be equal to two or three months of income.  For example, if your company makes $240,000 each year, the float is probably $40,000 to $60,000.

When success comes your way and sales increase to $1.2 million per year, your float also increases from $60,000 to $300,000.

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Developing a Strategy for the Recovery

            The experts are saying that recession is nearly over and the recovery is upon us.  If this is true, do you have a strategy in place for how to navigate the new economic climate?  Projects that were sidelined for the past year or two could come off the bench, and there might be more money to go around. Yet are you confident that you will be able to put the right people on these projects and make the right decisions about how to spend this money?  Fortunately, there are three easy steps to make sure that you have both the knowledge and the resources to accomplish your most profitable projects.

Step 1: Discover Where You Are Profitable

            The only way to ensure that you are not putting money into projects that will bring in a minimal ROI is to know without a doubt where your business is profitable and where it is not.

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Tax Strategies for Small Businesses

If you track time using timesheet software that is SOX compliant, and you do so on a per-project basis, you will find that some projects (like software development projects, for example) can be capitalized - i.e. they can be accrued as an asset and depreciated over time. This gives you a very high ability to control how much profit you show in any one quarter.  If you want to lower your profit and taxes one quarter, then expense the project (write all the work off in this quarter). If you want to raise your profit, continue to accrue and depreciate such work.  At any time you can make the decision that a project is 'done' and is now in maintenance mode, thereby expensing all future work on it. 

There are GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) rules around this activity that must be followed. But if you have accurate time data on all employees working on the project, then there is some judgment that can be applied as to which projects are expensed and which are capitalized.

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How can you best monitor and control vacation plans - so you can win?

Many companies - especially small ones - ignore paid time-off (PTO).  They’re casual about vacation and emergency absence time, as well as its tracking and accrual, but as they grow, PTO can become a significant expense that must be managed.  Following are some things to think about as you develop or improve your PTO plan. 

1. Talent – How To Get It 

Controlling and understanding PTO expense allows you to recruit better talent.  You can promise and allow people more vacation than your competitors if you know that it's controllable.  This tips the balance, allowing you to build a better team than your competitors.  It’s another way to win. However, don’t let your great teams experience burnout. 

2. Burnout or Slacker? 

Your company’s profitability can be wrecked in two ways: by overwork with its associated burnout, or by too much absenteeism.  Everybody needs a vacation once in a while

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Cutting Costs the Smart Way: Per-Project Profitability

The global financial marketplace has recently become quite volatile, as fears of an American recession affect economies all over the world.  In addition, the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently hovers at around 12,400, while it was at around 14,000 in October 2007.  A drop of 11% in just four months is cause for concern for many people. 

At times like this, executives typically search for ways to cut costs, which can be a sticky business.  And yet, what if you could know where your company is profitable and where it's not, and then figure out a way to do more of the profitable work?  In other words, what if you got rid of unprofitable customers instead of loyal, productive employees? 

The truth is, many companies that slash costs in response to an economic recession find it difficult to achieve top-line growth when the recession ends.  This is not hard to believe, considering the fact that their best workers are gone and their long term projects were cancelled.

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Linux and Open Source: How it Affects Small Organizations

Linux and other open source applications are finding increasing acceptance in the global marketplace in small and large companies alike. Statistics on the growth of a few open source programs – like Apache (a webserver), Linux (an operating sytem), FreeBSD (an operating system), and PostgreSQL (a database server) – show this to be true.  In this article, we’ll consider why open source is growing so fast, and what it means to a leader of a small company. 

Apache – on the Warpath                

Apache is a free open source webserver that runs on most operating systems. It has been taking market share from Microsoft’s webserver (and others) since 1995.

It’s not like Microsoft hasn’t tried to take over this market. Users have found Apache to be easier to implement, more secure, and more reliable than its competitors in the marketplace. It is also more reparable when there are problems (after all, you have the source code) and, most of all, it is free.

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IT and HR - Can't We All Just Get Along?

In many small companies, IT employees and HR employees just don’t get along.  This is unfortunate, considering that both departments are integral to the success of the organization as a whole.  In my opinion, one way to bridge the gap between IT and HR, as well as improve the business overall, is for both departments to rethink their priorities and processes.  They need to stop acting as cost centers and start acting as individual businesses, viewing other departments and employees as customers who need to receive value from them. 

What exactly does this mean?  Firstly, both departments need to understand the business value delivered by each project they spend time and money on.  After all, that is the ‘R’ in ROI, right?  This requires IT and HR departments to create metrics that will help them gauge the value that their work provides to the company.  In doing so, they will learn which projects are most profitable to the company, and subsequently, which projects should be a priority.

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How to Start a Company Without an IT Professional

Have you ever noticed that IT professionals are grumpy? I think that part of the reason is because they never get calls like this: "Hey IT guy, just calling to say that everything is working okay today and you're a great guy!" 

The calls are typically more like this: "Hey IT guy, why is it that the only messages our spam filter filters out are our sales leads? Luckily, however, it does let all the Viagra ads through, which is good because it gives us something to read while we're not selling anything. Did they have classes in spam filtering at the college you supposedly went to?" 

Working in IT is somewhat like being a fireman. You can never respond to the fire fast enough no matter what you do. If I was starting a company today, I wouldn't even buy a server. I would do my best to avoid acting as or hiring an IT professional.

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Open Source: A Threat or an Opportunity?

Ever since the advent of Open Source Software (OSS), people have wondered about its impact.  Is it a good thing that breeds innovation, or is it a dangerous thing that will put traditional software companies out of business?  Even today as its popularity continues to grow, many are unsure of how they feel about it.

The truth is that fears about OSS are often unfounded.  There are reasons for its popularity that have more to do with functionality and flexibility than with cost, and the new dynamic that OSS has brought to the technology world is actually a step in the right direction.  By commoditizing the software market, it prohibits vendors from becoming complacent and propels us all much further than we might have gone without it.  Here are some of the ways in which OSS can actually work for and not against us.

What is OSS?

OSS is software that permits the use and modification of its source code by anyone. It is characterized by some of the following attributes:

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Calculating Total Cost of Ownership when Choosing a Solution

Total cost of ownership (TCO) is a financial estimate that helps consumers and enterprise managers determine direct and indirect costs of a product or system. TCO goes beyond the initial purchase price or implementation cost to consider the full cost of an asset over its useful life. A TCO analysis often shows there can be a large difference between the price of something and its long term cost

For example, let’s say you buy a car that’s inexpensive but it breaks down constantly. When you take it to get fixed, you find that the repair shop is far away and the parts are costly. It also loses value faster than other cars that cost more when it comes to resale. Your time is also valuable and all of the trips to the repair shop should be taken into consideration, too. 

So, let’s do the math. 

  • Car A
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Watch Out For Fake References When Buying Business Software

When you're making a large investment in software, you want to be sure that you're buying from a reputable company that will be there to support you long term.

Getting a short list of happy customers that your vendor has helped - some references - is a common part of most companies' buying processes, but there is a good way to check references and a bad way to do it.

Are you doing it right?  Are you getting the data you really need to make this critical buying decision? Or are you talking to one of the vendor's own employees who is just pretending to be a happy customer?  Sound far-fetched?

I actually know of software companies (one of our competitors, in fact) that are guilty of this kind of scam.  The Internet often allows companies to appear bigger and more successful than they actually are.  Professional looking websites can be created quickly and easily and are not necessarily evidence that a company has been in business very long.

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