Handing off a project to a client; what are the risks and challenges?

Finishing up a project is a large accomplishment and the easiest part of it should be handing it over, right? Sometimes the answer is no, and the hardest part has just arrived. Handing off a finished project a client sounds simple enough, but in some cases there is just no easy way to give it to them. In the case of our project with STEM NOW, our largest challenge was giving them the website itself. We were not able to just give the officers of the club the website we had created by transferring the website files and database to them. The easiest way to hand off our project was to utilize the WordPress plugin, Duplicator. It was able to back up the website and migrate it into a Zip file for the officers to easily move onto the final live website.

Making sure we could transfer the website was a huge hurdle to overcome.

A large challenge in handing off a project is making sure the clients are able to maintain and use the project as self-sufficiently as they can. The project should be tailored towards the proficiency level of the clients. Sometimes, there are live applications and programs on the market that are convoluted and just terribly designed for the target audience, and end up doing awfully. However, there are going to be moments where the clients will not know how to use the product, and will come to the development team for support. In the off chance the product is not thoroughly tested and crashes, the development team needs to be able to answer and remedy the problem immediately.

Get those agreements documented between everyone!

 

Another problem is making sure there is a complete agreement between the product stakeholders and the development team. Ben Ferris states multiple different steps to make sure handing off a project between parties goes smoothly. Deadlines need to be agreed upon between all parties involved as to avoid potential mishaps on delivery dates. (Ferris, 2012). Also, clients tend to add and remove different goals for the team at times, and depending on how on track the team is, it might set the release date off track by a large margin. Missing the original set date may miss the market share for the product, and would lose an enormous profit. This would not be worth it just for adding a few features. “No longer is one party (often the supplier) subordinated to the other, but all parties are mutually dependent with respect to knowledge, continuity, and care” (Wognum, Fisscher, & Weenink, 2002, p. 350). Everyone, from the product stakeholder to the target audience has a part to play in building the project, but if everyone’s on the same page, then the project will succeed.

 

Ferris, B. (June 2012). How to Hand Off a Project Successfully. Cobalt PM. Retrieved from http://cobaltpm.com/project-hand-off/

Lamle, Cory. (February 2014). Duplicator. WordPress Plugin Directory. Retrieved from https://wordpress.org/plugins/duplicator/

Wognum P.M., Fisscher O., & Weenink, S. (March 2001). Balanced relationships: management of client–supplier relationships
in product development. Technovation, Vol. 22. Retrieved from http://mx.nthu.edu.tw/~chchu/CPD/Data/Paper/BR.pdf

Image credit to http://www.dexmedia.com/media/duplicate-content.jpg

Image credit to http://blog.certifiedbb.com/2011/05/non-compete-agreement-negotiated.html

Advertisements

What five technical skills are employers seeking? What five soft skills put you on top?

Technical skills and soft skills are both extremely valuable assets to employers when looking for a great new addition to their company. Depending on the position, technical skills will depend on what the company is looking for. However, soft skills will usually stay the same regardless on the job. According to Investopedia, soft skills are the skills used to interact with others, including communication, organization, and teamwork skills. In the future, I hope to obtain a position in IT, which would require skills such as communication, project management, teamwork, and teaching (Tech Republic).

The typical IT professional

 

Communication plays a long way in IT, as it requires the ability to speak to many different branches in the company, and ranges through all types of technological expertise. IT personnel must be able to be to convey and explain according to the level of their clients.

Project management can include a multitude of different soft skills, but will culminate towards the art of getting things done. The structure put into creating a project translates into how IT is set up. A messy network ultimately ends up in a giant disaster. IT professionals need to be organized and have to always think about Murphy’s law. Murphy’s law basically means, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” and you always have to think about a backup plan. Project management makes sure that the individual is prepared to handle the worst that could happen.

Everyone works together for one goal, even the guy stuck in the middle.

Teamwork is a necessary in a variety of jobs, but is an extremely vital tool in IT management. In the IT field, technicians work with a variety of people, from the bottom to the top. Maintaining and improving the digital infrastructure takes the effort of not just one person, but an entire team of professionals relying on one another. Being able to take initiative, being the glue to keep everyone from biting at one another, and keeping track of time and making sure everyone progresses well make teamwork such an invaluable tool. It’s all about understanding social cues.

IT professionals also need to be able to know how to teach. Entry level positions tend to be helpdesk and a lot of answering questions. Going in hand with the communication soft skill, many companies have different competency levels of technology knowledge, from baby to technological wizard. Beginners aren’t going to be able to understand complex lingo that professionals would know.

Technical skills are much more specific and specialized according to the position. These would probably include languages and specific skills meant only for certain fields. According to Computer World, there are a large number of technical skills in demand. Various web development languages as well as programming languages are a given for needed technical skills. Recently, companies have been moving into cloud computing so knowledge about the cloud and virtualization are a large benefit. Finally, a large portion of IT work is utilizing networking administration, which makes it highly sought after.

In general, skills will define how you can contribute to the company. The more you hone your skills and broadcast yourself out to employers, the better chance you have at attaining that dream job.

Pratt, Mary. (September 2012). 10 hot IT skills for 2013. Computer World. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2492784/it-management/10-hot-it-skills-for-2013.html

Shacklett, Mary. (May 2013). 10 highly valued soft skills for IT pros. Tech Republic. Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-highly-valued-soft-skills-for-it-pros/

Soft Skills [Def. 1]. (n. d.). In Investopedia online. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/soft-skills.asp

Image credit to http://www.trackersuite.net/rl_it_administrator_software.html

Image credit to http://1977ca8db5199587c696-5e63259377cc7aef802a7f39d8ade0b7.r31.cf2.rackcdn.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013-10-3-teamwork.jpg

Social Media and Blogging

Blogging is a great way to get your image to the public. When combined with LinkedIn and other social media accounts, blog posts can convey your personality to professionals in your field and can set apart one person from another. According to Lyle Wetsch, “A series of recent surveys of recruiters show that they believe the use of social media is an efficient, cost-effective way to obtain quality new hires” (Wetsch, 2012, p. 31). Blogs have been a popular tool for individuals and groups to spread their word across about absolutely anything. Blog posts are also available to comment on, giving the owner feedback about what they have written about. Popular platforms to create a blog include, WordPress.com, Tumblr, and Blogspot, and are all extensively used by professionals in all fields. Each platform have their own different features and audience, but are all acceptable to get started with. I utilize this blog for technical posts, as well as have a private Tumblr for posting about my daily life.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 8.49.18 PM

Another useful feature of blogging is how highly customizable it is. Platforms such as Tumblr, and WordPress allow for easy customization through themes and plugins. This makes it easy for novices to have a professional blog without any knowledge  of coding. However, if users are skilled in coding and would like to make specific changes to their blog, these platforms allow for css changes, allowing everyone to fine-tune their blogs.

Figure 2

“Branding is your reputation. Branding is all about building a name for yourself, showcasing what sets you apart from the others, and describing the added value you bring to a situation” (Cook, 2013, p. 1). When shopping for anything, we as individuals tend to seek out a specific brand that will fit our criteria. The same thing is being done to us as we are floating in the job market. “The contemporary personal and professional success requirement for an individual to maximize visibility has been growing in popularity, personal branding phenomenon appears to be here to stay” (Khedher, 2014, p. 37).Employers are looking for what will fit their needs, and what will mesh well with their brand. Having a specific mission in mind will definitely help. This mission will explain to others what you are driving for and can show others your unique individuality.

Even the projects you continually work on throughout your career and life will mold your brand. For example, the web site I am currently working on now for STEM NOW shows that I am an advocate for a fair and even workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I do feel strongly about this and believe that everyone, regardless of race, sex, gender, upbringing, etc., should be given a fair chance to pursue what they want to accomplish. Working on things and being vocal about your passion will go a long way toward building a future.

Cook, L. (2013). It’s a Brand You World!. Richland Library. Retrieved from http://www.richlandlibrary.com/it’s-brand-you-world

Khedher, M. (2014). Personal Branding Phenomenon. International Journal of Information, Business & Management, Vol. 6, Issue 2. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=d1254007-2bfa-4a12-b090-4cdc7ada9f2a%40sessionmgr4001&vid=18&hid=4104

Wetsch, L. (2012). A Personal Branding Assignment Using Social Media. Journal of Advertising Education. Spring 2014, Vol. 16, Issue 1. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=d1254007-2bfa-4a12-b090-4cdc7ada9f2a%40sessionmgr4001&vid=21&hid=4104

Image credit to http://modernobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Brand-Name-Logos.jpg

LinkedIn Profiles, how to use them, how to market yourself, how to network

LinkedIn is one of the strongest professional social-networking websites and is currently still growing. According to their website, they have over 332 million members in over 200 countries and territories (LinkedIn Corporation). LinkedIn’s potential in fostering a budding career is far too hard to pass up as there are so many potential employers visiting the website each and every day.

Figure 1: Statistics regarding LinkedIn’s member count.

A LinkedIn profile is the first thing a probable employer will see. The profile should be worked on like a fine piece of art. The main use of these profiles is to market yourself to these employers, and a sub-par profile can easily get your profile thrown out when compared to those who have finely tuned their profiles.

While creating a profile, only make it viewable once it is fully completed. Making an incomplete profile live will greatly discredit your image as you are not truly marketing yourself to full potential. Market yourself by utilizing the sections as much as possible. Be detailed about your job experience, volunteer work, internships, and similar experiences. These profiles are all about trying to set yourself apart from the others. Other than filling in the blanks LinkedIn provides, there are other ways to market yourself effectively.

Connections, groups, and skill endorsements can factor greatly on how others see you. It is best to have connections that associate with the field you’re in. Connections in different fields may endorse you for things they have no knowledge of, which can greatly discredit you. When connecting to others, never use the default message LinkedIn provides. State who you are, and be clear with your intentions.

Figure 2: A typical professional headshot, shoulder up.

Always use a professional headshot as a profile picture. Profiles with a picture tend to have eleven times more views than those without (Williams, 2014). This is a large amount of untapped traffic that could lead towards a professional opportunity. Though they are called headshots, they should not just be of your head. Use photos that are from the collarbone up, as this will display a more professional aura.

Groups on LinkedIn are a great way to connect and expand your network. These groups also relay information to a specific field, and can filter out unnecessary information. Professionals also tend to utilize these groups, and are a great way to ask for questions or advice. Always be active in groups, as professionals will take notice of the effort made, and thus will expand your network even more.

LinkedIn Corporation. (2014). About LinkedIn. LinkedIn Press Center. Retrieved from http://press.linkedin.com/about

Smith, C. (2014). By the Numbers: 100 Amazing LinkedIn Statistics. Digital Marketing Ramblings. Retrieved from  http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-a-few-important-linkedin-stats/

Williams, N. (2014). Professional Photos on LinkedIn Are Worth a Thousand Opportunities. LinkedIn Official Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.linkedin.com/2014/04/22/professional-photos-on-linkedin-are-worth-a-thousand-opportunities/

Agile task lists, what does “done” mean in Agile?

Agile task lists

After creating a product backlog from user stories, the next step is all about how to bridge the gap between having a plan, and starting real concrete work on the project. In order to do this, we need to plan out the sprints in detail, including what needs to be done during the sprint, which can be accomplished through sprint backlogs. Similar to product backlogs, sprint backlogs are a more condensed iteration consisting only of work that needs to be done during that one particular sprint. Within these sprint backlogs, there are tasks. “Tasks provide a way for the team to agree exactly who is going to do what to complete the story. Tasking exposes dependencies within the team as well as bottlenecks, resource availability, etc” (Leffingwell, 2013). This can improve and streamline the team by supporting and teaching the weaker team members after determining who they are. Also, agile task lists make the workload much easier to handle and much more organized.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 8.19.41 PM

Figure 1

For example, my group utilized sprint backlogs (Figure 1) recently to track our work on the STEM NOW website. We split up user stories into smaller, more doable tasks that are trackable. Our most recent iteration of the sprint backlog included tasks like coding the headers, footers, and creating specific pages. The Agile style of product building tends to focus on putting similar tasks together, in order to build a potentially shippable product out of what was completed. Akin to how product backlogs are timed, sprint backlogs are also measured in estimated and actual hours worked.

Figure 2

This agile task board shows what tasks are currently in the list and their progress. It is an easy way to display to those not involved within the development of the project to understand how far along the product is. Task lists show transparency on what is currently being worked on to those outside of the project, and easily shows sprint managers who is slacking and who is on track.

What does “done” mean?

Everyone has their own definition of done. However this would not cut it in an agile setting. An agile team, from the product stakeholders to the development team, must agree on what “done” is. In an industry setting, done is not only just working code. There are multiple steps that need to be taken, such as commenting the code, making sure that multiple eyes have checked it, and meets industry standards, has complete documentation, and is agreed upon as finished by everyone on the team.

Hannington, F. (2013). Agile Task Board. Can I Be an Agile Technical Communicator When My Team Is Not?, Techwhirl. Retrieved from http://techwhirl-1.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/agile-_task-board.jpg

Leffingwell, et al. (2013). Tasks. Scaled Agile Framework. Retrieved from http://scaledagileframework.com/tasks/

Waters, K. (2007). Step 4: Sprint Planning (Tasks). All About Agile. Retrieved from http://www.allaboutagile.com/how-to-implement-scrum-in-10-easy-steps-step-4-sprint-planning-tasks/

What is an Agile Sprint Retrospective?

Practice makes perfect has been a quote many of us have all heard. However, what if what we have been practice is flawed. The end result would be a disastrous result rather than perfect. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfect practice makes perfect”. Reflection is the first step of achieving “perfect”. Sprint Retrospectives are meetings in which Scrum Teams reflect on themselves and their work, producing an actionable plan for improving. Sprint Retrospectives are the final event in each Sprint, marking the end of each Sprint cycle (Starr, 2012). They provide an opportunity to grow and to better understand the project in general. Agile sprint retrospectives are extremely important and may be the most important step of the entire sprint process.

Standing up during Sprint meetings fosters more activity.

Some individuals see retrospectives as a waste of time and wonder why conduct the retrospective in the first place? Shirly Ronen-Harel puts it best when explaining the positive aspects of the session. “Each team member sees things differently, if we wish to improve as a team we need to get everyone’s opinion to the context of the team. Without a retrospective session, the team will probably continue to make the same mistakes all over again… and the rate of improvement will be lower than it can get” (Ronen-Harel, 2013). Agile is all about maximizing each team member’s strengths.

Agile was created as an improvement to the bulkier style of Waterfall and Code-and-fix. A large problem with them is that they don’t provide opportunities for small scale growth and improvement. Once a portion of the project is finished in Waterfall, the team is unable to go back and review what could be improved upon; they must continue on with the project. “The majority of feedback for the Sprint Retrospective confirmed that teams use this activity to make tactical decisions about process, specifically around short-term improvements” (Drury et al., 2011, p.44). These retrospectives are a key part of what sets agile apart from the other development methods.

The bare-bones purpose of the retrospective is an elaborated pros and deltas overviews of the recent sprint, including what worked well, and what could be improved upon. Scrum masters are involved in these meetings to overview what is discussed between the group and give input on what would best benefit the team.

Start, Stop, and Continue.

A general guideline when conducting sprint retrospectives is the simple three-step method of Start, Stop, and Continue. Start refers to what to start doing in the next sprint. This may include something as obvious as unresponsive members communicating more. Stop is what you think it is; it refers to what to stop doing in the next sprint. Finally, continue is what has been working well. Keep doing whatever it is, because it will lead to a better final product.

Drury, M., Conboy, K., & Power, K. (2011). Decision Making in Agile Development. 2011 Agile Conference, 39-47.  Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6005504

Ronen-Harel, S. (2013). The Retrospective Session for Everyone. Agile Coaching for Everyone. Retrieved from http://agileandfamily.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-retrospective-session-for-everyone.html

Starr, D. (2013). Effective Sprint Retrospectives. Microsoft Developer Network. Retrieved from http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj620912.aspx

Image credit to: http://thewestsidestory.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/standing-up-meeting.jpg

The Agile Team and what is a Backlog? What are they for and why are they important?

The Agile Team

Software development is a team effort. An agile team focuses on utilizing everyone’s individual strengths to collaborate and grow an even better product. According to Blackburn and Highsmith, “A project is built from people having differing personalities and differing skills… The people, environment, and organizational culture all influence one another” (Blackburn and Highsmith, 2001, p. 133). Not every person is the same and has their own set of unique personalities. This is what agile thrives on and ultimately creates a more polished product.

A large difference between agile and other team development methods (not just computer technology, but business and other fields also), is that agile focuses on members continually working together in person. “The agile team works to place people physically closer, replace documents with talking in person and at whiteboards, and improve the team’s amicability” (Blackburn and Highsmith, 2001, p.131).

This team effort is comprised of many different roles. The most important of these roles include the product owner and the Scrum master. As we have gone over before, the product owner is the primary stakeholder. They create the user stories, and is responsible for input in the product backlog. The scrum master is similar to, in business terms, a product manager. They are the main link between the product owner and the agile teams. Their primary objective is to make sure everything is running smoothly with the agile team, and do everything within their power to facilitate team progress. The agile manifesto says it best, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done” (Beck et. al., 2009, p. 6).

 

The Product Backlog

Scrum Task Board

Figure 1

A product backlog (Figure 1) is a collection of ideas that the stakeholders desire in the final product. However, not everything can be materialized, so the team looks through the backlog to see what can be done. Not everything is worked on at the same time. This is when the team utilizes Sprints to tackle smaller groups of problems. These backlogs are useful for progression, as teams as can create burndown charts. These charts track how much work still needs to be done and time. By utilizing these charts, the teams can estimate when the product will be finished and whether it will be done before the deadline. Refer to Figure 2 on an example of how these charts work. The actual burndown indicates actual progress, whereas the blue indicate the ideal progress. The numbers indicate how many hours of workload are left.

Figure 2

 

By using a burndown chart, agile members can figure out what in the backlog is taking up a lot of time to complete and needs to be focused on.

 

 

 

Beck, K., Beedle, M., Van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., … & Thomas, D. (2001). Manifesto for agile software development. Retrieved from http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/cis/sfleisher/Chapter_03_sim.pdf

Cockburn, A., & Highsmith, J. (2001). Agile software development: The people factor. Computer, 34(11), 131-133. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=963450

Ingalls, L. (2010). Scrum task board. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons . Retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scrum_task_board.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Scrum_task_board.jpg

TechBudha. Create a burn down chart using Excel in less than 5 min. Retrieved from http://www.techbudha.com/2012/09/create-burn-down-chart-using-excel-in.html.

What is Agile and What are User Stories?

Software projects requires some sort of cohesive team effort, but where can you start? Different methods have been created by developers on creating software on a timeline, such as Code-and-fix, Waterfall, and Agile. Code-and-fix was one of the first methods of development of software. The method was fairly ineffective; when problems arose from coding or there was a difference in vision from what the product owner wanted, it required a large amount of time and resources to remedy. Waterfall was a step in a better direction. The method created specific modules for development and testing. However, Waterfall was still not entirely a foolproof system for code development. Once a team completed a module, it was difficult to revert and change problems that originated from the previous module.

Waterfall (Left), Agile (Right).

Agile utilizes a cycle method, also known as Sprints, which focuses on improving the product frequently while collaborating with the product owner specifying what works and what doesn’t. A major difference between Agile and other methods is flexibility on requirements. As development continues, the product owner may need to alter a feature, and add an entirely new feature that was not originally  on the blueprint. User stories are the product owner’s wishes on features of the finished software. Agile developers read these user stories and determine what can and cannot be put into the final product. This has been regarded as an easy way to find out what people want in their product while being concise. After user stories have been collected, the developers can use a technique called “Planning Poker” in order to figure out what should and should not be worked on for the Sprints.

User Stories Template

From the article, “What Agile Teams think of Agile Principles”, by Laurie Williams, she reviews over two surveys conducted on how effective agile practices are and the most important futures of agile.  A large amount of those surveyed put importance on satisfying customers first and foremost. “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”(Williams, 2012, p. 73). The absence of updates and seeing software development in progress was a large fault of Code-and-Fix, and Waterfall. Adil Zeaaraoui states in “User Stories Template for Object-Oriented Applications”, “They help bridge the developer-customer communication gap; they provide the common language to build understanding between the user and the technical team” (Zeaaraoui, 2013, p. 408). A large problem in most teams is communication. The translation between from technical language to consumer-friendly language can be rough, but can be fixed through these user stories.

 

Williams, L.. (April 2012). What Agile Teams think of Agile Practices. Communications of the ACM, Vol. 55. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=0ce753d4-0452-4d46-9e4d-e420643890d1%40sessionmgr112&vid=5&hid=122

Zeaaraoui, A., Bougroun, Z., Belkasmi, M., & Bouchentouf, T. (August 2013). User Stories Template for Object-Oriented Applications. Third International Conference on Innovative Computing Technology. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6653681

Image credit to http://www.agilenutshell.com/assets/how-is-agile-different/continuous-activities.png

Image credit to http://mikebosch.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/12-9-2010-4-29-29-PM.png