Agile talent management software – Your survival plan?

I read with interest this morning Dr John Sullivan’s article looking at how to survive in such turbulent economic times, his concept seems to be a play on the software development process Agile. To quote Wikipedia Agile software development is:

Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

I am very interested in John’s views next week as he shows us some of the attributes he sees within an agile talent management strategy. In the meantime let me provide some of my own thoughts.

Last month I sat through a demonstration of a top end talent management system that ticked all of the boxes from a feature set, which as a buyer of software is important. However during the whole presentation I could not help but think “wow this would require a large structured project to implement in even the smallest of organisations”.  To start with a massive project would be required around defining competency frameworks, then career paths, development plans, capturing employee information, etc. Ongoing the process of ensuring performance management information is collected, development plans are kept up to date, compensation plans managed would overload many an HR department.

Most systems and their vendors today still follow something that closely resembles the waterfall model of software development. Again from Wikipedia:

The waterfall model is the most structured of the methods, stepping through requirements-capture, analysis, design, coding, and testing in a strict, pre-planned sequence. Progress is generally measured in terms of deliverable artifacts: requirement specifications, design documents, test plans, code reviews and the like.

Where as agile processes produce completely developed and tested features every few weeks. Today the consumer web is a very fast moving and dynamic environment that can change almost overnight, for example 18 months ago MySpace was the place to be, now it is Facebook. This has lead to most consumer focused web development teams, and some corporate, to use agile processes to quickly deliver new features to their customers. To this end a host of light weight tools have entered the market to help support these teams, for example Pivotal Tracker and Agile Zen.

Today most corporate IT environments are the exact opposite to agile. They have enormous governance models designed to stop “cowboy software development” and ensure that all stakeholders, including the board, internal customers, and in particular departments such as finance, have the necessary input into the decision making process. These governance processes have been required due to the complexity created within an organisation’s IT environment from years and years of short term planning and projects where only “phase one” has ever been deployed. Ok yes there are exceptions I admit, but ask the employees of most organisations what it is like working with their IT team and they will roll their eyes at you.

Enter Agile.

Just as Dr John Sullivan is suggesting you bring agile practices into your talent management strategies, how about you bring them into your software projects as well?

Google Wave and the Enterprise

Google Wave

With a fair bit of fanfare on May 28th Google pre-released a brand new tool/suite/ concept/framework for collaboration called Google Wave. I am not going to cover all the technical details, you can see them over at http://wave.google.com. But you do need to understand that Google Wave is actually three things all in one package.

  • The Google Wave product (available as a developer preview) is the web application people will use to access and edit waves. It’s an HTML 5 app, built on Google Web Toolkit. It includes a rich text editor and other functions like desktop drag-and-drop (which, for example, lets you drag a set of photos right into a wave).
  • Google Wave can also be considered a platform with a rich set of open APIs that allow developers to embed waves in other web services, and to build new extensions that work inside waves.
  • The Google Wave protocol is the underlying format for storing and the means of sharing waves, and includes the “live” concurrency control, which allows edits to be reflected instantly across users and services. The protocol is designed for open federation, such that anyone’s Wave services can interoperate with each other and with the Google Wave service. To encourage adoption of the protocol, we intend to open source the code behind Google Wave.

Think of a wave as the combination of an email and instant messaging but on steroids! Google describes wave as being equal parts document and conversation, which sounds very strange, essentially it is a fully integrated collaborative communications framework. Technically the tool is amazing; for example real time edits of a wave appear on all participants’ screens immediately and the ability to “replay” edits of a wave to see how the wave developed. The only part missing from the wave product is a VOIP client, but given that Google has open sourced the core of wave and the extremely flexible API framework a smart engineer should be able to hook one up very quickly.

Within an enterprise Google Wave, or at least the concepts behind it, have the ability to revolutionise the way people work! The flexible streamlined approach to communication and collaboration is both amazing complex and simple at the same time.  For example:

  • Real-time foreign language translation allows everyone to easily collaborate naturally in their own language.
  • Real-time updates on waves allow teams to create documents wiki style at a rapid pace.
  • Changes that happen while you sleep can be replayed using the play back feature so you can see the context that trigger comments, suggests and ideas to be added to the Wave.
  • Drag and drop images, and in the future other media types, allows fast real time collaboration of prototypes and ideas.
  • The open API allows full integration of other products such as production schedules, or CRM tools.
  • The protocol allows you to federate with other organisations for collaborative purposes.

Now this revolution will not happen overnight given the massive investment organisations have made on Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint over the last few years. So initially I would predict Google Wave being picked up by smaller organisations and freelancers who need to collaborate with different people on projects across multiple locations.

A word of caution given Google’s track record of letting services die off time will tell if Google Wave becomes the next Gmail or Google Base.

Internet usage at work makes you productive

Flickr Photo by : dietpoison
(Source: Flickr dietpoison)
An Australian report released yesterday found that employees who “surf the Internet work” are 9% more productivity than those that don’t! The study was conducted by Dr Brent Coker from the Department of Management and Marketing.

The study covered 300 workers and found that 70% engage in what has has termed “workplace Internet leisure browsing” and helps with their concentration.

“It’s the same in the work place. Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a days work, and as a result, increased productivity.”

The Deacons Social Networking Survey found that a majority of Internet users (91%) felt they use the internet appropriately while at work. It could be said that not only are people who have access to these sites more productive a majority use the tools appropriately. To all those organisations that are blocking sites such as YouTube, Facebook etc due to productivity issues, well you might in fact have it the wrong way around!

Let me push this thinking further.

Trusting and respecting your employees provides a foundation for engagement. With somewhere in the order of 20% of Australian employees actively disengaged and 62% general not engaged. Organisations need to work on engagement, part of this is how to motivate employees and improve employee morale, ok this is not news to most.

What if you trusted your employees that they would ‘behave’ on the internet and allowing them “workplace Internet leisure browsing”?

You might find that not only are they more productive, more engaged, motivated and have a higher morale.  Also don’t forget that companies with highly engaged employees tend to out perform (financial returns) their competitors by 2:1.

Of course there is always a flip side, the study also found some of us are addicted to the internet and as such “workplace Internet leisure browsing” just feeds the addicition. Oh well maybe it is time for some IAA meetings.

Productivity paradox of social networks

Social networking tends to take a bit of a beating in the mainstream press when it comes to the business value. They seem to ignore the good examples of how organisations use these tools, such as Dow Chemical to encourage their alumni and employees on long term leave to return. In the first three months of usage they had 25,000 referrals, 24 full-time jobs and 40 contract roles filled through the use of a social network (Source Gartner).

Which brings me to two very good articles I read this week. 

First up was from the UK’s HR Zone looked at the benefits social network tools provide organisations in reducing the barriers to communication.

Organisational behaviour research has shown that collaborative Web 2.0 tools are particularly effective where technical knowledge is valued. In complex organisations like multinational corporations, finding someone who possesses highly specific expertise is often difficult. One reason is that expertise remains ‘hidden’ – and consequently unexploited – within organisational structures.

They even go on to quote a UK-based think tank indicating that social networks encourge people to create productive relationships and work the way people do.

The second was from Harvard Business Review on the benefits of social networks, focused around information discovery and sharing. Here we see figures such as 7%, 30% and even 40% improvements in productivty when employees where using communication patterns facilitated by social networks. What CEO doesn’t want 40% more out of their existing workforce!

With all this research being released I hope we will see some more positive articles from the mainstream media.

Great places to work in Australia

The Great Place to Work Institute has launched their 2009 program partnering with BRW. They have over 20 years experience in measuring employee engagement from all over the globe, they define a great place to work as one where trust exists.

At the heart of our definition of a great place to work – a place where employees trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with – is the idea that a great workplace is measured by the quality of the three, interconnected relationships that exist there:

  • The relationship between employees and management.
  • The relationship between employees and their jobs/company.
  • The relationship between employees and other employees.

The 2008 Great Places to Work in Australia were:

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  2. Dow Corning
  3. Google
  4. McDonald’s
  5. Morgan Stanley
  6. NetApp
  7. Russell Investments
  8. SEEK Limited

Nominations are open now, so if you feel your workplace is a great place to work head over and nominate it!

Halo HP’s Telepresence Solution

Yesterday I attended a media event, as a blogger, for the Australian launch of HP’s Halo Telepresence product. The event was simultaneously held at HP’s office in Sydney and Melbourne using HP’s Halo product and included a Halo hook up to the US and audio hook up to HP’s PR company.

Down to the product:

  • It is telepresence, nothing really new here
  • HP has built a nice control panel to make using the service very user friendly
  • Halo allows both laptop sharing and a tabletop camera for the sharing of physical objects
  • It allows you to include non Halo endpoints from suppliers such as TANDBERG and Polycom
  • They have a gateway to also include endpoints that support ITU H.323, H.320 and SIP
  • A majority of the devices in each room have IP addresses assigned which means they can be maintained remotely
  • All Halo rooms have access to Halo’s 7×24 Concierge service for support.

Where the product is a little different from other systems is in the installation. HP have built Halo to be a fully managed solution, from installation to deployment and operations. All Halo rooms are connected to each other via the Halo Video Exchange Network (HVEN) a specialised fibre optic network run by HP just for Halo, HP install a 45Mbit (also called a DS3/T3) link into your premise. This enables several benefits such as reliability, bandwidth availability and cross company collaboration.

Like many I have experienced old school video conferencing before with all the issues of latency, crappy images, and crap audio. Halo, like all telepresence solutions, is none of that. The Halo meeting rooms is purpose built panelled in light brown fabric (to enhance audio), with half the room taken up with a board room table. In front were three 42″+ HD screens, at table level, with a fourth screen above for control.

On the three table height screens were the other meeting participants, almost life size and disturbingly really. The audio quality was fantastic, you heard all of the subtle noises from the other rooms, just as if the people were in the same room as you.

HP Halo

HP’s sales approach is, to reduce travel, increase productivity and support the environment, in fact the theme for yesterday’s launch was the environment with several presentations covering all the things HP is doing to be green.

My thoughts?

This is not for small business with the basic solutions starting well over A$100K not including the monthly managed service charges.  Having said that for large enterprises any product that improves productivity or reduces costs is a bonus, especially in these tough times. HP claim to be cutting up to 20,000 trips during 2008 just due to having Halo installed globally and that ROI is achieved by most customers within 12 months.

The almost real life nature of telepresence allows for significantly more interactive meetings then are possible over pure audio or older style video link ups. However given the price tag maybe virtual worlds are a better choice for many organisations who want collaboration?

Self Management & Inspecht Update

The last month to 6 weeks has been very busy, but I have to say I have not made a lot of progress in many different areas. Before we get to the challenges let me review the positive things from the last month.

  • I started attending Jelly in Melbourne and have met some great folks.
  • We went to Sydney for Web Directions South 2008.
  • I spoke at a user group for EmployeeConnect.
  • Sat on a panel for the NSW KM Forum.
  • Meet with several people around possible work opportunities.
  • Helped organise the Melbourne Twitter community’s Talk Like a Pirate Day party & another MTUB meetup.
  • Helped organise and attended Startup Camp Melbourne.
  • Started a wild idea of mine Blue Day 2008.
  • Wrote several blog posts that have focused my thoughts in some new areas.
  • Read several books on business development and social media.
  • Attended the AHRI HR Leadership Day.
  • Begun discussions with some peers on a new project that we can’t talk about at this stage ;-).
Now the challenges.
  • Being a solo operator for the last 6 months and having spent the 6 months previous working from home full time motivation can be an issue some days. The last month has been full of days like that.
  • I have not completed a GTD weekly review, at all.
  • Inbox is no where near zero.
  • I have not finished several documents and presentations that I set as goals for September.
  • To be honest I have no billable work between now and the end of the year, which is a concern.
  • My hosting provider and I have had a falling out meaning I spent most of last week starting to move the dozen or so sites I have onto a brand new dedicated server. While the performance has improved this process is costing me time and money. 
  • I have spent a lot of time writing code on several personal projects that don’t pay any money. While I enjoy the writing of code, you can’t pay the bills with it.
Next steps.
  • Complete a full weekly review, my major task of today.
  • Review my value proposition of Inspecht as I have noticed the message is not clear when selling my services.
  • Update the Inspecht web site with these revised service messages.
  • Finish the outstanding documents from September.
  • Focus on my GTD next actions so I don’t get lost again.

Enterprise 2.0, employees and profits

Last night at PubCamp I led a small unconference session around Enterprise 2.0, employees and profits, overall it was Ok but not as good as I would have liked. A part of the issue was a couple of vocal participants in the front row who kept heckling the group the robust debate going, Duncan Riley and Tom Reynolds you know who you are. Actually the main issue was as I suspected wrong audience but it did force me to prepare some content so the I am very pleased with that as an outcome.

I had created some slides just in case but did not use them, maybe I should of to focus the group further rather than just talk. Next time. The plan was to introduce my thoughts with the slides and then open the floor up for discussion.

The slides are on SlideShare but like most of my presentations without the commentary they are fairly meaningless.

Here are some of my notes for the slides.

Introduction

My basic premise is that businesses exist to create shareholder value, this is generally through revenue and profits. Therefore increasing revenue and profits must be the primary driver for all activities, even corporate social responsibility activities fundamentally exist to enhance shareholder value.

Slides 2 & 3

The first couple of slides are to highlight some of the documented reasons and benefits for organisations to undertake enterprise 2.0 activities. The last 3 benefits increased productivity, reduced turnover and improved communication are the focus areas for the remaining slides.

Slide 4

While it is generally accepted that happy and loyal employees are good for business, it is only recently that hard dollar evidence has been produced to support the idea.

Slide 5

In Australia we have a major employee engagement issue. A Gallup poll in 2005 of 1,500 employees found that 20% are actively disengaged (disruptive, unproductive or disloyal), with another 62% not committed to their role or employer. Gallup estimated this was costing the Australian economy A$30 billion annually. This research is backed up by recent studies in the US that found only 27% of workers were actively engaged.

Slide 6

Research from Alex Edmans, a business professor from Whartons School, has shown that happy employees do in fact drive company performance. He looked at Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work for in America”and found that an annually rebalanced portfolio returned 14% between 1998 – 2005 compared to the market in general of only 6%.

Slide 7

A 2007/2008 Watson & Wyatt research report looked at employee engagement on a global basis and showed a strong linkage between engagement and financial performance. In summary organisations in the top 25% of engagement had a 20% total return to shareholders, a 22% market premium and $276K productivity per employee when compared to the bottom 25%.

Slide 8

This same survey found communication, compensation & benefits, customer focus and strategic leadership as the 4 key drivers for engaged employees. Communication & customer focus are areas that Enterprise 2.0 can help, well also strategic leadership but mainly from a communication point of view.

Slide 9

A further 2007/2008 Watson & Wyatt research report on communication best practices found that organisations with a “most effective” communication programs provided a 91% total return to shareholders from 2002-2006 compared to 62% for least effective. Improved communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7% increase in market value. While finally organisations with “most effective” communication had an employee engagement level 4 times that of “least effective”.

Slide 10

The same communication survey found that there are 4 key emerging trends from organisations who communicate effectively:

  1. Give managers the information, tools & training to navigate change
  2. Give employees the opportunity to provide input into decisions that affect them
  3. Promoting a culture that supports information sharing
  4. Sharing the voice of the customer

Items 2 and 3 are the exact benefits organisation are seeing from Enterprise 2.0 deployments! Items 1 and 4 are also supported by Enterprise 2.0 but from my point of view they are secondary.

Slide 11

Another hard dollar area for Enterprise 2.0 is around retention of employees. If your employees are more engaged they are more likely to remain as employees, hence reducing the need to replace them. The cost to replace an employee ranges from 15% – 150% of their salary depending on the level and industry. For every employee who you retain you are contributing to the bottom line via cost avoidance.

Slide 12

A recent case study from Gartner on the use of Social Software by Dow (the chemical company) supported the previous slides. Over the next 5 years 40% of Dow’s 46,000 employees will be retiring, requiring a massive recruitment cost to replace. Dow have used social software to connect retired, long term leave of absence and current employee in an alumni style site. In the first 3 months of usage they had 25,000 referrals, 24 full time jobs and 40 contract roles filled. Based on the average cost per hire this tool could be saving them anywhere from US$50k-$200K per month already!

Over time I plan to enhance this presentation and my thoughts as they are directly related to where I want to take my new business.

PubCamp Melbourne

I have been able to clear my schedule and can now attend PubCamp Melbourne on 23rd June. What is PubCamp and why should you attend? Glad you asked, from their site:

  • Understand the most important trends and technologies for Web 2.0 and beyond – social and citizen media, the semantic web, widgets, the shift to online software, cloud computing, web devices, mobile and more.
  • Develop strategies for capitalizing on new digital media technologies and staying on top of their evolution.
  • Use Web 2.0 technologies inside your organization to improve how you operate.
  • Find out how other people are dealing with the challenges and learn from their mistakes and successes.
  • Take back practical tips and techniques you can use right now to help your business and career today.

Other than the general it’s about Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 the third bullet point really made the decision for me to attend as this is one area my new endeavour will be exploring. Not to forget it should be a chance to hang out with and meet some of the cool kids in the social media area in Australia.

PubCamp is divided into two sections a more formal conference style and then an unconference. Having never got to an unconference before I am not sure what to expect, but I figured I should try and lead a session.

I have titled the session I would like to lead:-

A discussion on how Enterprise 2.0 can drive an organisations revenue and stock price. A look at the relationship between Enterprise 2.0, employees and an improved bottom line.

My thought is to develop on the idea that enterprise 2.0 tools can help drive employee engagement and productivity which in turn drives better financial performance. While we all “know” better productivity drives better performance, the concept of engagement driving the bottom line is a little newer. Have a look at this paper from Wharton’s to get an idea where I am thinking.

I will post again as I flesh out my thoughts a little further, in the meantime comments would be great.

Innovating to Reboot

Over last several months I have gone through several changes in my life which has resulted in me reviewing many things.

I have been struggling with how to conduct this process, but I figured it is a bit like a reboot but I can’t really turn myself off and on again like a computer now can I. Then I remembered the 10 areas for innovation from Doblin, while designed for product and organisational innovation I figured it might also work for me to complete my “reboot” process, which in some part is a review of my personal brand.

The 10 areas for innovation are split into 4 main categories; Finance, Process, Offerings & Delivery, below I have outlines some of my initial thoughts on how they can be applied to a personal reboot.

Finance

The finance has two components your business model and you networks/alliances.

The first part business model, covers how you make money. Can you change this? Supplement it? Begin consulting or take a full time role in a company. If you are a consultant, could you create a “product” out of your knowledge and sell that on top of your billable hours, this sort of decision allows you to make money while not actually out working. Remember that this decision will either influence or be influenced by the rest of the innovation areas. For example it is not very good if you want to be a consultant but are not involved in a professional network.

The second covers your social/professional networks and alliances and what new arranges you could make for mutual benefits. Are there new or different groups you could get involved with? Could you take a more active role in an existing network? Involvement in networks and alliances increases your visibility and this will in time translate to additional work and income.

Process

The process section covers both enabling and core processes. Enabling process look at how you support core processes, for example time management, exercise, and social activities. Review these processes; can you modify or update to help support your new direction, will an update open the doors to a new direction? Remember if your enabling processes are not supportive of your overall requirements then you quite possibly will fail or not operate at 100% efficiency.

Following your enabling processes you now need to review your core processes. Your core processes are the things that make you and your offering function, for innovation here look at ways you can create new value, do you need to update your education, or if you are a consultant/product provider how about some aggressive volume/pricing/delivery contracts?

Offerings

The offerings area starts to get a little more complex, this area covers your performance, your systems or services. How can you innovate these fundamental items so as to modify what you deliver? Examples are can you adjust your product or service offerings and maybe package as a series of deals, example IT consultants could provide proactive system health check services instead of after the even reactive services. Think outside the box here, the more ideas the better.

Delivery

Having relooked at your revenue streams, processes and offerings, it is now time to look at how you deliver these offerings to the marketplace, in marketing speak this is your “Go To Market” strategy. Essentially you are looking at how you take your offerings to market. Examples if you physically visit clients can you do more virtual or remote work to allow more freedom? How to you communicate your offerings? Have you updated your resume, your web sites, brochures, blog etc. Do you need to update your wardrobe to reflect your new offerings? Do you need to market yourself as a brand? If you are now a brand make sure you pass the 15 words or less contest challenge to describe yourself & your brand. In fact if you follow Tom Peter’s advice on creating Brand You, you will most likely have rebooted yourself.

While I have looked at using the 10 areas for personal innovation, managers and leaders could do the same to reboot their teams or departments.