The other week I had a long talk with Jen, a new friend of mine who I met recently when she visited Cebu for an event. She runs a grocery-store chain in Canada.
In mid-2017, she contracted a team in the Philippines to do a small web-based tool for managing their company’s employee-evaluation process. The team she chose was a small development studio that was recommended to her by a former work colleague.
Jen actually had a good impression of the team when she evaluated them. They had a nice portfolio and a good list of past clients.
In the initial months, Jen’s discussions with them were smooth.After finalizing the project’s scope and specifications, they agreed to have the project launched within six months. However, a few weeks into the project and issues started to come out, starting with the delays in the delivery of the initial wireframes and mockups.
The next deliveries after that took way longer than expected. There were also arguments over requests by Jen which the team insisted should be paid for separately as change requests.
Over a year has passed now, and Jen’s project is yet to launch.
Yesterday, Jen gave me access to an initial version so I could check it myself. The app’s UI is a confusing mess. Navigation is unclear. I was supposed to log in as evaluator, and I did see a name for me to evaluate and a form to fill. But after completing the form, I didn’t receive any confirmation. I wasn’t sure what to do next after that.
Jen gave me her original project plan and I checked it against the app. It seems a lot changed in the implementation, especially the features.
Listening to Jen’s story was disheartening for me being a service provider myself. I can imagine how frustrating it can be, considering these things are very costly in terms of time and money. But I have to be honest, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this kind of problem. Over the years working as both client and service provider, I’ve learned a few things that help in terms of avoiding situations like Jen’s.
1. Draft a clear contract
A lot of projects I know fail because developers and clients argue over things that should have been cleared out in the contract in the first place. For example, as client, when are you required to pay? What should the developer deliver? In what format? How do you treat requests for changes? What should you do when there are issues that can’t be resolved? What happens if there are failures? How do you get out of the contract? These things should be covered in the Contract.
There are online templates which you can use as guide. You can also consult with a lawyer so they can provide help.
2. Communicate clear specifications
To eliminate back and forth work, create a thorough, clear business requirements document (or product requirements document) that includes general to specific information about your project. This is a business document that includes project purpose, target audience, features, sitemap, design requirements, even design inspirations. Make your business specs as visual as possible to avoid misinterpretation. You can send links to competitor websites. You can also send links to websites that you like. There needs to be meetings or conference calls to go over the requirements and make sure everyone is on the same page. Note that the business requirements document is different from the Developer-produced project plan and technical specifications. This document doesn’t deal with how the project will be delivered. It deals with what you want to accomplish through the project.
3. Create a product roadmap
You’d want the developers to be able to see the bigger picture and fully aligned with your vision for the product. I recommend creating a product roadmap with clear milestones every month. A product roadmap is a visual representation of how you see your product or application evolve through time. It helps to have this as guide for the development team when planning their execution strategy.
4. Be careful with requirements changes
Requirements changes, especially those that are made late, are very risky. They add to the cost too. Make sure to prototype your project early on so you can review and adjust the specifications as soon as possible. Prototypes can be in the form of wireframes, storyboards, and quick mockups. Also, it helps to show the prototype to sample end users (in Jen’s case, their employees) so they can provide feedback. The earlier feedback is communicated, the better.
5. Allocate time for your project
As service provider, one of my main challenges before was getting decisions from clients. Some clients just don’t have time for their projects. Some clients also take time to respond to questions. Others provide feedback late, which makes it difficult to adjust in cases where there are corrections.
Always allocate time for your project. Or if this is difficult for you, assign someone in your team to be your project point of contact. This person will make sure all decisions are provided whenever needed and that questions are addressed immediately. This person will also take charge of acceptance testing and getting feedback to the developers.
Of course, do a careful due diligence prior to signing a contract with any developer. I also suggest reviewing the profiles of the team members that will work on your project, especially that of the project manager. There’s a high likelihood that they will change team members during implementation, but the project manager will most likely be the same. If you see signs of trouble while the project is ongoing, raise it right away. Get it resolved before it becomes big.
Outsourcing web projects requires work and patience, but it can be fulfilling. I know of so many projects that succeeded, projects that led to even bigger ones. In fact, the company I work with right now started as a small project that later on became big. It led to the building of a development company in the Philippines.
Despite having been in IT for many years now, I spent a lot of time working in traditionally designed offices. The game studio I previously worked with had rooms and half-enclosed cubicles to isolate people. This setup seemed nice for our artists who liked custom designing their spaces, but it discouraged collaboration. Everyone seemed to keep to themselves most of the time. Every meeting had to be scheduled in conference rooms. And people conversed more on instant messenger rather than face to face despite them sitting just very close to one another.
The first time I got exposed to open spaces was at LegalMatch in 2014. We were still starting LM’s Cebu office back then, and since we were still testing things, we rented temporary seats at The Tide, a co-working office in Cebu IT Park.
At the Tide, they have long tables where people sit on opposite sides while working. Spaces are uniform for everyone regardless of position. And work tables function as conference room tables too. Anytime anyone wants to ask anyone anything, all they need to do is talk (or shout if they want to.
This structure is perfect for agile teams as it fuels collaboration.
What’s with agile and open spaces?
Agile development is an iterative approach to software development that allows for incremental delivery of output based on value to customers. Agile places importance on adaptability to customer needs and constant interaction with customers and team members at every phase of the project. For agile development to work, there has to be constant collaboration.
Open spaces support agile as they encourage people to talk more freely and do ad hoc meetings with one another easily. In open spaces, people can ask questions or seek help from others without walls to restrict them.
Tips for designing an agile open space
A few months ago, we decided on constructing our own office. We rented a space at the FLB Building, right in front of Ayala, Cebu Business Park.
We wanted the space to support agile development, thus we allowed our experience at Tide to influence much of our design decisions. We had two things in mind as focal point: design and practicality.
We wanted our space to feel nice, but we didn’t want anything superfluous and unreasonably excessive.
After a couple of months of fitting out, our office was ready. The place was something industrial and modern looking, but not too expensive. We had a few bumps in the early part due to usual construction issues, but eventually we came up with something that people in the office loved.
Here are few nice things we did which you might consider when designing your space.
We’re still planning to do more, like install cork boards for announcements and birthday greetings. I’m excited about the next phase. Every day, we see new things in the office, and people are motivated. I observe that a lot of people stay long in the office now. While we only require people to be physically in the office 6 hours a day (they work 2 hours from home), I see people now spending longer time in the office.
We have lots of deadlines and bugs to resolve for our next sprint, but people are working with their teams to get them done. What’s important is that they’re relaxed and are comfortable brainstorming with one another.
I just read this article at Thrive Leadership about feedback being an investment rather than a gift. Hmm...I understand the author wants to encourage feedback-giving by focusing on future returns. But I would argue that it is neither.
How can it be a gift? A gift is optional and given only on certain occasions. How can it be investment? Some feedback may have to be given even if they guarantee negative returns in the future.
Thinking of feedback in terms of future returns may discourage honesty. People would have to think twice about giving feedback. What if it’s not good in the long run?
Giving feedback should be thought of as an obligation in the same level as honesty, respect, and professionalism in the workplace. It should be part of the company’s minimum expectations of its people, especially its leaders.
The purpose of giving feedback is to improve performance. Thinking of feedback as either gift or investment focuses mainly on the intention of the giver. Isn’t it true that when we receive gifts, most of us often feel compelled to give back? And isn’t it true that sometimes people give gifts in order to get gifts or favors in return? This makes giving feedback contrived and insincere.
Companies should build up a culture of growth by encouraging people to give the right feedback when needed. In order to build a good workplace, one has to help others. By helping others, people learn and grow.
This one's an extended post I made on my Facebook page. Just thought to share it here as it seems the topic is relevant to the theme of this blog.
I find it disheartening that some people here in Cebu don’t understand art at all, nor do they respect artists and exhibit organizers. :(
I've seen many people haggle on prices of artworks like it were just some random kitchen item in Colon they’re buying. Others deliberately bypass exhibit organizers' fee by refusing to talk to organizers, opting to contact artists themselves directly for a much cheaper price. This is really unprofessional.
But I'm not mad. Perhaps we all just need some education.
Let me explain a few things to those who might be unfamiliar with how art exhibits work.
There is this thing called organizers’ fee, which goes in the range of 30%-35% of sales price per artwork.
In the case of ArtCebu, this money goes to the following:
Now what constitutes organizing costs? Any or all of the below:
What happens if no one buys?
The team at Artcebu is not paid for all these work. In fact, we shell out our own money for this. We all have dayjobs and work at ArtCebu is just what we do on top of our other responsibilities.
This post is not intended to be a rant, so I will not elaborate any further.
Anyways, all I want is for everyone to be objective and to see things clearly. You can research online if you’re unsure of what I just said above. If you want more elaboration, PM me so we can talk.
I still keep receiving questions regarding my May 2015 blog post about writing and defending a StraMa (Strategic Management) paper. I’m happy a few MBA students stumbled on that post, so I thought to continue part 2 of the entry. This time I’ll focus on some of the problems I and my classmates encountered while working on our papers. Here we go. :)
This issue was both frustrating and embarrassing for many in our group who submitted papers only during deadline day (which was like--ahem--all of us). At around 9 am, we went to the department office to submit our papers to the secretary, but we were told that we had to go through a plagiarism check first before they could accept our papers. At this point, we already had our papers printed and soft bound . So it was bad news, especially for those who failed in the plagiarism check and had to edit. That day, some of us were in near tears. (Good thing I was able to plagiarism-check my paper the night before. So I had the chance to rewrite and fix issues ahead. Some of my friends weren’t so lucky. )
Do be careful about this. Avoid outright copying of content. Cite your sources. And most of all, write as much as you can in your own words. Also, review APA’s writing style as this is the style being used in academic papers. They have specific guidelines on how to cite sources.
2. Conclusions that don’t make sense
This is funny. But it happens often to MBA students. When you’re working and taking MBA at the same time, your brain freezes sometimes. You become stupid. Try exchanging papers with your classmates. Encourage them to be critical about your work. This way someone gets to really check your work and send you honest feedback ahead.
I learned this the hard way, unfortunately. That day my friends were dealing with plagiarism issues, I was dealing with stupidity issues. Because I only wrote the conclusion the day before and was in a rush to do it, I didn’t get the chance to check previous chapters of my paper. I also didn’t review my financials to see if my strategies supported them and vice versa.
Good thing one of my friends brought a printer and a ream of bond paper during submission day. I was able to rewrite the last part of my paper, print, and bind it in with the rest of the pages just in time for deadline.
3. Just trying to make the paper longer
Keeping up with required minimum number of pages pushes students to just write blindly anything that comes into their minds, even things that aren’t relevant. Try to avoid this. Be careful with what you write. Everything has to have a point. Anything that’s not necessary should be deleted. Besides, your professors will judge you by the quality of your content, not by its quantity.
4. Data gathering
As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, do be careful with the company you’re choosing. Make sure you have access to internal and external data. I have a few friends who had to change companies halfway through the subject because they had a hard time finding data. This turned out to be extremely stressful for them.
5. Seek help, but don't ask others to do your work for you
It's okay to seek help from others, especially your classmates. But don't burden them too much by asking them to do your work for you. (This last part is actually something I rarely bring up because I really liked my classmates and they were all very nice to me. But there were some who demanded too much from others, which can be difficult sometimes as others have their own workload too).
Despite the hurdles, I still remember StraMa positively. It was there that I got to practice patience (which is something I lack) bigtime. I also gained really good friends as well. This I value very much.
To read Part 1 of this entry, click here.
In the Philippines, companies are mandated by law to provide employees with 5 days service incentive leaves (SIL) for every year of service. This benefit can be used by employees when they’re sick or when they want to take vacations. Any other leave benefit outside of this is voluntary on the part of companies. However, many software companies here provide extra time off, depending on the tenure of employees or performance of projects or the business itself.
I’m writing this post because I’ve been asked by colleagues at work how much in terms of extra days off software companies should be giving their employees and whether or not giving extra vacation leaves actually translates to net benefit on the part of the company. Here’s what I think:
How much extra days off to provide?
In general, it depends on what you as the company want to achieve out of giving the extra benefit. If you’re doing it to be competitive, then it makes sense to look into what your top competitors are giving.
Most companies I know of give 5-20 worth of extra days off. Bigger companies tend to give more as they have extra capacity to absorb workload when employees take leaves. Other companies provide paid time offs, which allows employees to accumulate extra days off by working extra hours/days under certain conditions.
Does it translate to net benefit on the part of the company?
Yes. Here’s a simple Benefits – Cost = Net benefit calculation that supports this.
Take note that the numbers above are arbitrary, although their relative difference to one another reflects their real-life value. For instance, I place high value on new ideas and better decisions. I think they’re directly related to company bottomline. Better decisions mean better output and less mistakes. More new ideas mean more new opportunities to grow and improve as a company.
As with the health part, there’s a lot of research published online pointing to the fact that taking time off improves people’s mental health and work attitude. You can Google them out if you want.
Here’s a few from what I found:
5 days SIL can cover flu, personal emergencies, and others but may not be enough to give employees an opportunity to really unwind and destress. Like cars, people need maintenance, and the way to do it is to go off the road for a while and allow the mind and body to heal and recover. The rewards in terms of long-term productivity and output are all worth it.
These days, we’ve been talking a lot about growth hacking in my current company. I was skeptical about its implementation at first, since our company is a relatively old one, having been operating for more than 10 years already. This might be a case of “teaching an old dog new tricks”.
But since I’m part of the group that’s evangelising on it right now across various functional teams, I figured it might not hurt to look again and see it is about, what we can get from it.
First, let's start with the basics. What is growth hacking?
Growth hacking as a concept is just a new way of looking into Marketing. Remember that the goal of Marketing is to reach the market and get target customers buying a product or service. This is achieved in many ways depending on which method you follow.
According to Andrew Chen, who wrote a popular article called "Growth Hacker is the new VP of Marketing":
“Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries”.
I think Chen didn’t really mean it literally when he said “hybrid of marketer and coder”, because in truth, even a non-coder can be a Growth Hacker, as long as he/she is very familiar with lean and agile processes.
In the case of my previous companies, I realized now that what we may have missed is real and relevant data. Not just old data, but also immediate data on user’s receptiveness about what we were doing. Also, many of our initiatives were rather long-term in duration and took a while to evaluate.
One of the nice features of Growth Hacking is that it is anchored on realism, unlike traditional marketing which is based mostly on optimism and which may oftentimes be unfounded.
While Growth Hacking doesn't always mean success, it guarantees that if a company fails, they'd know about it sooner so they can still course correct.
So how does an “old company” like ours hack growth?
1. A requisite for growth hacking is iterative testing. If a company doesn't operate lean and agile, then it has to go through a “transformation” towards agile first before adopting the idea of Growth Hacking.
2. There has to be committed, passionate champions. Usually, people get excited about new concepts. But then after a while, they’d go back to old ways of doing things. Someone has to be there to keep the fire burning..
3. Old companies may need to reorganize to get rid of bureaucracies. I’m not sure about this part though, but I think that a large company with a very deep org structure and bureaucratic processes might not succeed in Growth Hacking because of inherent speed limitations. By the time ideas get approved, it’d be too late already.
OK, I'll write more soon.
I’ll just keep this article short because I realize now my writing is too verbose and anti-lean now. Haha.
I’m curious about what my friend C would say. After all, she and her friends founded CebUX, a group of UX/UI professionals in Cebu. They talk a lot about trends and practices during their regular meetups. The last time they invited me to talk about the design process in our company, there were around 40-50 people in the room. They all seemed to be eager and knowledgeable about UX.
But why are some people (especially clients who’ve worked with Pinoy designers in the past) so skeptical about UX talent here?
I think I may know why.
Aside from the fact that some designers exaggerate about their skills, there’s a particular way of dealing with Pinoy UX designers that may sound new to some clients.
Pinoy UI/UX designers are not very big with requirements gathering. And they don't press on what they need, which is difficult most of the time, because in order to come up with good design, a designer needs to have solid information about what needs to be designed. Usually project managers are trained to do this. But not UI/UX designers. So if you're a client dealing with a UI/UX designer directly, you need to be proactively clear.
Here are a few things that actually worked for me in my current and past companies.
1. First, we never start without a creative brief
A creative brief is like a concept document. It gives the designer an overview about the project and who it is for.
If it’s a mobile application we want done, we start first with a user flow or wireframe instead of a creative brief. A user flow diagram or app flowchart (see rightmost image below) is like a site map. It shows all the screens of your application and their connection with one another.
Wireframes (the mobile screen images above right) are quick mocks of each of your screens. Designers look into them as reference for features and layout of the screen.
2. We always provide references/design inspirations
Part of our job as the client is to let the designer see what we’re seeing. We don’t just let the designer guess what's in our minds. We give them references so they know that if we say “create an awesome interface”, they know exactly what we mean by it. After all, “awesome” can mean so many things, right?
3. We do conference calls and meetings.
We try hard to make the designer understand what the business is all about. To me, it’s unfair to have a person design the interface for an application they know nothing about. What is the application for? How does it help people? How do people use it in their daily lives? Things like these are very important in shaping the designer's understanding about the project.
4. We do kickoff calls to make sure the designer understands how we work
Kickoff meetings are necessary to make work easier for both the designer and the client. During our kickoff calls, we talk about file formats, iteration processes, schedule of reviews, etc.
5. We make ourselves available in case the designers have questions
Lastly, we spare time for our designers. If we don’t give time to address questions or clarifications, it’s difficult for designers to move forward with their work.
To be honest, I feel for both client and designer. Having worked with design projects for a long time already, I’ve shared the frustrations of each. But I think it can be easily helped.
Processes like the above may take time to do, but they may save you from more work in the future. In addition, the artifacts I listed above may also be useful for your programmers and QA engineers when they do their part of the work. So they're worth the effort.
I've had lots of successful projects with Pinoy UX/UI designers in the past. I credit all of them to the designer's design and problem-solving skills and, of course, clear direction on our part. What I learned is that with Pinoy designers, if we give good inputs, we're sure to get awesome results.
The ROI of meetings decline as their duration becomes longer. It is easy to explain why by looking at the ROI equation below:
ROI = (Benefits-Cost)/Cost
If you lengthen the duration of a meeting, you increase its cost. However, you don't necessarily increase its benefits. People get bored, their brains becoming less and less engaged over time. They become exhausted by the minute. And exhaustion spreads like wildfire. Once you see one one or two people yawning or going out for coffee, expect to see all others doing the same too.
So how does one keep meetings short but productive?
One good practice we have at LegalMatch and Skimpl is to keep maximum meeting length at 30 minutes.
Before starting meetings, we list topics to discuss. Our list is usually short and focused. Just enough for 30 minutes. If the meeting is all about priorities for the week, we talk of nothing else but priorities for the week. If there are specific issues to discuss that might take time, we take them out of the meeting.
There are meetings which may take more time like those around proposal presentations or project reviews. We always advise people to follow a discussion outline to make the flow smoother.
For presentations, we like to keep slides to a maximum of 10-12. This is particularly easy to do for IT people because they hate making presentations anyway.
Meeting organizer/leaders play a big role in keeping meetings organized. They have the responsibility to keep everyone focused on the meeting objectives. From time to time, people stray and talk too much. We encourage them to keep focused or request for another meeting with relevant people if they need more clarifications.
A few months ago, I was invited to join as co-author in this book about startups (and starting up) in the Philippines. Happy to share with you that the book is now out in the market and available for purchase!!! :)
The title of the book is Cyberpreneur: Online Business Start-Up Guide.
I contributed two chapters here. One about business planning, the other about idea generation.
My co-authors and editors are IT entrepreneurs themselves with lots of startup experience. The foreword was written by none other than Sen. Bam Aquino, the biggest supporter of IT and youth entrepreneurship in the country.
If you're looking for practical tips to help you through startup life, feel free to check the book out.
The price per copy is only P499. To order, go to Amazon or visit the publisher's Facebook page.
Thank you! :)
I’ve been brainstorming with a very good friend of mine who runs a shipping business. V is my climbmate, tentmate, drinking buddy (sometimes), Viber sounding board, and former classmate in MBA school.
V is now starting to work with a team who’s developing a web app for her. This may be her first software project as a client. I thought to give her a few tips that might help her get started quickly. I've written those tips below too, for those of you who might be interested.
1. When planning a software project, it helps to create the product specs/product plan first.
This part you can do yourself, or you can do with the help of an IT person. The product specs is a business document detailing the high-level features of the product. Among the questions that will be answered through this document are the following:
To help communicate the product vision to your development team, you might wanna identify competitor products or products with similar feature sets.
2. Review your development contract with your lawyer carefully
At this point you should already talk a bit with an IT person, but if you haven’t identified anyone yet, talk to a lawyer who has experience with software development contracts. Make sure that:
3. Do a kickoff call to set expectations with developer team
If the developer team doesn’t request for a kickoff call, I think that’s a sign that they’re not organized enough. If they haven’t yet, make sure to schedule this with them. At a minimum, you should get the following from them:
Calls or physical meetings can be done weekly to get you updated on what’s going on with the project. In case there are issues, you can easily address.
4. Allot some time for your project or hire a PM if you’re too busy
Ideally, if you’re a top exec and busy with other things too, you’d need a PM who will liaise for you. But if you don’t have anyone yet, not a problem. Just make sure you allot enough time to review progress and communicate project decisions needed of you.
5. What you can expect of your POC
As a client, you should expect your POC to keep you updated on the project’s progress without waiting for you to follow up. They should follow the timeline you both agreed and inform you in case there are issues that will affect delivery schedules. They should suggest solutions when they present problems to you.
In addition, they should make reporting easy for you. You’re not expected to be the technical person. You’re the business person needing technical solutions to your business problems.
6. Always find a backup
Make sure that when choosing which programming language to use, you also consider resource availability for backups. For instance if your development team suggests PHP - check too if it will be easy for you to find another PHP team or resource that can continue to work for your project in case the current development team fails or leaves the project.
7. You don’t want very long timelines
If your software is very large and complicated, I suggested breaking it into phases and starting the earlier phases with features core to customers. 2-3 months max or less are ideal in my opinion. You should identify with your developers the content of each phase. Perhaps you also can release to your test clients gradually so you can gather their feedback and make improvements based on these.
I might still have a few more tips to share later.
Meanwhile, I hope the above help.
When I shifted to Android last November, the first thing I noticed was the preinstalled Google Maps. This was quite a pleasant welcome for me, being someone with "faulty GPS", aka, poor sense of direction.
Since then I became fond of Google Maps, even turning it on while travelling from home to familiar places like the office or the nearby mall. I love the calm and reassuring voice that comes with the app. I also love the fact that the app can tell me how much time it'd take me to reach a destination. Pretty handy when planning meetings
Everything about Google Maps was cool for me. There were one or two instances though where I almost drove against traffic because the app didn't tell me I was heading towards a one-way road. But other than that, everything was good.
Until last Tuesday.
I needed to go to the ICTO office to attend a startup competition where I, along with two other colleagues, had to mentor the final contestants from Cebu. I was given an address via email, but since I wasn’t familiar with the street name that was given, I turned to Google Maps. It told me the office was somewhere in SM, near Raddison Blu.
I arrived in SM at around 8 am. Since the event was to start at 8:30, I thought I was safe. But then almost 2 hours had passed already and I still couldn’t find the building that was in the map. I was led to this parking lot near Raddison Blu. But the place was almost empty. I talked to the guards and all three of them shook their heads. There was no ICTO office there--nothing except a few cars and Raddison behind it.
It was spooky. I remember an old story my aunt would tell me when I was a kid. In Biliran Island, there is a place near a village where sailors get stranded all the time for weird reasons. When asked, they'd say they saw a landing dock and a bustling town filled with lights. The villagers would just shake their heads in amazement. There was nothing there. Just a cemetery.
Well... Anyways, back to my Google Maps story. The ending was, I was late for two hours. The first two teams had already delivered their pitches when I arrived. There was only one team left for me to check. I felt really guilty. I had to schedule one-on-one mentoring sessions with the teams I missed the day after.
Huge lessons learned there.
One: Don't trust Google Maps 100%.
Two: If you go want to go to ICTO Cebu, just go to Plaza Independencia. Their office is in one of the buildings near there.
Three: Be more early. :) and
Four: Double check the venue with the organizers.
I love you and hate you at the same time. Actually, forget that. I hate you most of the time.
I wonder why those Atlassian guys that made you couldn’t make you look even just slightly better. To think you’re so popular along with your brother Jira. =(
All I wanted was to improve our company’s Wiki so people would actually want to read documents posted in it. But it’s been hours now and your uncool, totally unfriendly . Why do you frustrate me this much?
Of course, we can shift to other tools. But we’re heavily invested in Atlassian (your) products already. I wanna see if you can do something about my problem. Because seriously, I'm feeling really sad now.
I miss you terribly...
Your lover for life
We all know that employee productivity is a big deal for businesses, especially in the service industry. Higher levels of productivity can lead to increased revenues, lower costs, reduced waste, and – ultimately – happier customers.
But how productive are companies these days really?
The numbers may shock you. According to a recent study by Salary.com, 9 out of 10 employees waste an average of 2-3 hours at work per day. In the US alone, lost productivity is costing companies a staggering $750 billion annually.
Why is productivity so low?
One can cite a myriad of factors such as social media use in the office, lack of motivation, low morale. But in general, according to a study by research firm PlanView, the No. 1 cause of wasted productivity is simply inefficiency.
A lot of companies are not monitoring productivity, while those that do are not doing it efficiently. Some may be tracking using only Excel or physical whiteboards, which is cumbersome and difficult to scale.
In some companies, teams and departments are not coordinating with each other when it comes to priorities as well as resource allocation. As a result, managers are making resource decisions blindly without the benefit of correct information.
If these problems are left unresolved, they can cause major losses as well as disruption in operations.
One of the ways to address this is through web-based tools for team scheduling and productivity monitoring. These tools make it possible for managers to monitor resources’ schedules and distribute task assignments without any hassle. Resources, in turn, can easily view their assignments and update them when completed.
Typically, these tools are available for subscription at costs ranging from $10-$100 or more, depending on the number of users or other factors.
Below is a list of top 5 workforce management tools that have a really good set of features.
Skimpl - free
Resource Guru - paid with trial period
When I Work - paid with trial period
Weekdone - paid with trial period
Toggl - paid with trial period
The results of having these tools in place are very high.
A good workforce management tool can address problems regarding resource allocation, task management, and productivity monitoring. With such a very low investment, this tool can reduce spending by as much as 40-50%.
In my previous work managing game studios, a perennial headache for me was maximizing utilization and people’s productivity. There was always too much waste and it was hard to control it.
As studio head, I was required to justify every single hire and make sure every penny spent was worth it. The only way to prove that was to study resource utilization data. What we’d normally do is gather reports from an internal time clocking software, put them all on Excel, and then come up with summaries. This whole process was always cumbersome and prone to errors. In addition it’d take us 3-5 days on average every month to clean up time clock data, get rid of nonessential information, and put together useful reports.
This was costing us too much in terms of time and money. Very frustrating yet sadly inescapable. I talked to friends who were also heads of game studios and I found out that they, too, had the same problems.
I looked online for some options. But I couldn’t find anything that’s easy to set up, available on the cloud, and had both the depth and simplicity that I wanted in a productivity software. So I decided to come up with my own instead.
As a manager, my ideal situation would have been to open a dashboard that would give me a high-level overview of what’s going on in the company.
I wanted easy answers to these questions. I figured that the way to do this is to start from people’s schedules. If we have data on people’s schedules as well as their planned and actual time spent on every task, we can generate all the data needed to answer the high-level questions I wrote above.
In addition, we can address problems being faced by other teams related to schedules. For instance:
- need to account for the their team
- need to know what team member is doing at any given day or time
- need to know who is idle and who is not
- need to get closer to what is happening to the team if they are to be able to help improve people’s performances
- right now they’re an isolated group. I figured that if they’d be able to access data on what people are doing, they’d be able to appreciate and help plan initiatives to motivate and tie good performance with rewards.
Below is a diagram listing all the stakeholders and what they'd need out of a resource management tool:
It took us a very long time to come up with the core feature set for Skimpl. There were all sorts of ideas, but what we wanted was to come up with a productivity software that was simple yet has depth to it, as opposed to other products that are simply simple (shallow).
Now a couple of years of hard work later, we've been able to come up with a platform that can help managers get the best out of their resources. It saves the company a tremendous time and effort since:
- it lessens the time spent gathering utilization data and coming up with reports
- it helps the company monitor actual utilization and plan for future allocation easily
- it gives information conveniently in a matter of seconds
Overall, our vision at Skimpl is to be the most successful cloud-based resource management tool for SMEs within 3 years.
Right now that title may be held by SAAS platforms such as Resource Guru and WhenIWork.
Those tools are also cool and they’re accomplishing the same goals as us. But we’re different in that we pay more attention to reporting. We think that when people scrutinize performance, they should start with overall reports first, and then drill down to issues afterwards. Another thing is that Resource Guru and WhenIWork are both targeted at one user group only (either Production people or HR people but not both). Skimpl aims at alignment. Which means it can be used by everyone in the company, although at varying levels. For instance, individuals can look into their own or their teams’ productivity and compare it with their own targets. This puts productivity management into the hands in everyone in the company. With everyone engaged, it should be easier to improve overall productivity.
Following are some real-life tips on brand positioning.
Fact 1: Consumers, like spouses if you’re the jealous type, are all potential cheaters.
No matter how satisfied you think they are with you, you cannot expect them to be loyal to you 24/7. Every day they are exposed to temptation (in marketing language refers to hundreds and thousands of ads and messages from competitors) online.
The Internet delivers information about all these potential “others” in the form of Facebook feeds, emailers, interactive media, or simply unassuming web pages.
Fact 2: Consumers are cynical and discriminating. They don’t want to be tied up to anything unless it suits their needs.
The hard part though is that you cannot file an annulment case against them. You need them in your business.
The trick, I think, is to stop being the poor, jilted lover. You can be the unforgettable, irresistible choice regardless if you’re the spouse or the “other”. In other words, making yourself distinct and memorable.
Positioning is the act of designing a company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the minds of the target market.
Among Philippine brands that were able to successfully position themselves well are Jollibee Foods, Ayala Corporation, San Miguel Corporation, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Globe Telecom, Banco de Oro, and a few more.
The goal of positioning is to locate the brand in the minds of consumers. For example, Cebu Pacific, with its slogan “It’s time everyone flies” is the current number 1 in low-cost travel market. (At least for now, that is.)
To be effective, companies must be able to identify and communicate their brands’ uniqueness and verifiable value to their consumers.
Generally, the following are the key steps you need to do to create an effective positioning strategy for your brand:
Cebu Pacific achieved its desired positioning through a coherent, aggressive and well-placed marketing strategy. It has the most number of domestic destinations among all providers. As most players in the local industry are offering low-cost flights, year-round promos, Cebu Pacific differentiated itself by offering no-frills and fun flights (holding quick games and giving prices to passengers while on flight), an efficient and best-performing online booking system (although sometimes their website doesn’t work), as well as a convenient online check-ins and reservations.
In order to sustain long-term gains from a good positioning strategy, it is important to deliver the promise consistently. In the case of Cebu Pacific, it is not enough to have the most flights and destinations. They also have to improve their service quality, and minimize, if not eliminate, flight delays. These and other areas of dissatisfaction that exist today should be addressed if Cebu Pacific were to stay longer on top.
In relationships, I don’t recommend being so untrusting. And I don’t always espouse monogamy either. There are cases where an open and honest relationship works for partners.
But the opposite is the case in business. You have to always strive for loyalty. And it is advisable to be always suspicious. That is why you always have to rethink, reinvent, and rework your strategies.
You have an important project you’d like to implement. You’ve done your initial research and have determined that it addresses your company’s business needs. You’re anxious to start already. But before you can do that, you need greenlight from your boss. The problem is,— your boss has little knowledge about your project. And he’s a tough nut to crack. How do you get him to approve?
According to experts
Convincing someone to approve an idea requires both style and substance. “Words matter”, says John P. Kotter, author, Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International, and a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School. In other words, it’s not just about the idea. It’s also about how you present the idea.
Below I’ve compiled a top 7 list of things that may help you when presenting:
1. Consider what your audience needs
Let’s say for example your audience is the company’s CEO. How does your project benefit him/her? Start by having an understanding of what your audience is trying to achieve in his job. He/she may be looking for increased profit, reduced expenses, increased sales, etc. You have to shape your presentation in such a way that it highlights the benefits in relation to these needs.
2. Measure benefits in monetary terms
Money is a term everyone understands and appreciates, especially in the business world. So when you talk about benefits— what do they mean exactly in money terms?
3. State the urgency
You want your proposal approved yesterday? Sure. But there are other proposals on the table that are also as urgent as yours. How do you tell your audience that yours is more urgent? One thing you can do is to state in clear terms the everyday cost of not approving. Or you can do it the other way around. State the incremental profit achieved by approving the project now. For instance, you can say: if the project is approved now, we’ll start working on it around this date and finish around this date. That means around this date, we’ll have felt the reduction in CAC by X%. By the end of the year, we’ll have reaped a total accumulated savings of X%.
4. Present a clear plan
Nothing spoils a proposal more than an unclear vision of what needs to be done. Present a clear plan of action. If you need the help of other people, show who these people are and what sort of help you need from them. Indicate timelines. If you’re looking for changes in your website’s homepage or any other page, then show what these changes are and why they should be changed.
5. If you need funding in terms of tools, show how much and why
I would opt to use free tools at first before investing in paid tools, but that’s me. If you want to buy now, then by all means, tell your boss. But then, you’ll have to convince him/her why. This may make your job more difficult, but not impossible. What is it about these paid tools and why can’t you make do with free ones? What benefits can be achieved out of buying these tools? State the ROI and when the returns will most likely be achieved.
6. Keep your presentation brief and simple
Don’t beat around the bush when explaining. Keep it brief, simple, and direct to the point. If you need to explain processes or how your audience how CRO works, show visuals and diagrams. That helps digest information easily.
7. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Build up confidence by preparing. Think through what possible concerns your audience may raise during your presentation. Some of the questions your boss may ask are the following:
One thing you musn’t do is overwhelm your audience with too much details that they don’t need.
When responding to questions, respond with full confidence. This will help you win trust for yourself and for your proposal. If there are questions that you don’t know the answer to, do not dodge. Be honest about now knowing the answer, but assure your audience that you will check out as soon as possible and that you’ll get back.
Don’t assume that they will agree with your idea just because you do.
A friend of mine invited me to speak about Product Design and Skimpl in this meetup of UX designers in Cebu last month.
During pizza break, a young woman approached me to ask a question in private. She seemed hesitating at first, as though torn between nagging curiosity and concern that I might find her question improper.
"If Skimpl is for free, why are you doing it?"
Then I told her about our subscription packages, which we plan to implement as soon as we've launched the final version of the product. This one's not gonna be til October this year though. There's still some things to do, but that's where we're heading soon. We'll also be making and API available for developers to use.
There's still a lot of other ways to make money out of SAAS. Some may not be applicable to Skimpl, but they could work for SAAS products. I've listed some of them below along with some examples:
Most all SAAS businesses charge subscription fees for the use of their product. The pricing could be fixed monthly or yearly. Pricing could also be tiered based on certain criteria such as number of users/seats (Jira), amount of space being consumed (Dropbox, Amazon AWS), number of projects entered (Basecamp), and others. Below is an example of tiered pricing. I got it from the pricing page of Basecamp.
Referrals and affiliate sells
If Skimpl were to partner with third-party affiliate providers or other companies on an affiliate program—say, for example, we refer our customers to them, every referral that we make could be a point towards us. If we get to refer 1 million people and every referral is equivalent to $10, then that means we get richer by $10m.
We could also be the other party in an affiliate agreement, where for every customer referrals sent to us, we pay the referrer a certain percentage of the revenue.
Below is a referral form from Yesware.
Add ons or upsells
In addition to subscriptions, SAAS businesses could charge for related services, products, or features that may not be part of their core offering but could be valuable to their existing users. These are called add ons or upsells. You’ll find this in mobile games where game providers sell to their existing players more lives or more power or ammunition or others. Below is an example of an upsell screen from Zynga's Farmville.
One way to grow beyond proportions is to take advantage of this phenomenon they call “network effect”. Wikipedia defines "network effect" as the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to other people. The more people that come to use your product, the more valuable your product becomes.
One of the ways to achieve network effect is to position your product as some sort of ecosystem where other products can also reside, make money, and bring in new customers.
If you look at Facebook, for example—there are so many applications that are now sitting on top of it, including games. Statista published a report on top-performing games from Facebook based on number of daiy active users. Candy Crush tops the list at 11.61 million users.
Top Selling Facebook Games as of May 2015
These game companies make use of Facebook’s application programming interface (API) so they can have their apps “reside” within the Facebook ecosystem.
Some companies charge for the use of their APIs, others don’t. But regardless if they charge or not, having APIs that can be available to the public is still one of the best ways to expand your product.
There are other tools worth considering but may not be applicable for Skimpl. Example:
White Label Licensing
White label licensing is partnering with another party and allowing that other party to brand and sell your product as their own. In exchange you get to share in their revenue, at the same time you get to charge them license fees. We used to do this when I was working in a gaming company. We operated a software platform. Our customers were licensees of our product. Our customers get to “custom clothe” the product and sell it as their own. We make money out of fixed license fees as well as share in the revenue of our licensees.
Selling white papers, books, and reports
Distimo, Basecamp, Salesforce have all made millions out of selling books and industry reports. In the case of industry reports, what they do is compile customer data from their database and come up with market research based on those. Am not sure if we can do this for Skimpl. Perhaps when we’re big enough have zillions of customers already. But sure, this is a really huge income stream. In fact, for Basecamp, this is what’s making their founders billionaires.
To me, this sucks. Why companies charge for customer service is beyond me. But true, some SAAS companies charge additional fees for extra customer service.
The first SAAS product I remember using with total seriousness was SAP. We were integrating accounting systems with offices from our other locations outside of the country and were asked to adopt to what the central office was using.
They paid one SAP guy to go to the office to “onboard” everyone. He made a presentation about the product and lectured us on how to do accounting things with the product. Which really made everyone in the conference room sleepy despite the abundance of coffee.
In the days that followed, we had additional dry runs and conference calls with our head office to get everyone in synch. But, a few months already after the implementation and everyone still struggled with the tool. I suppose SAP may have made money out of customer service, but that to me, was stupid. We didn’t need to ask for customer service if their product was clearer in the first place.
Anyways, that was 10 years ago. I’ve now gotten over the trauma. And I’ve learned to love SAAS.
Now am also venturing into my own SAAS and I’ve discovered how profitable this venture can be if done right.
Startup book project
Well, it turns out someone noticed one of my business articles online and actually invited me to contribute 2 chapters in their book on Philippine startups. How cool is that. :D I've never written any book ever. I'm also unsure if I can do 2 chapters within 3 weeks given that there's too much happening now, but well -- how can I decline? :)
Am gonna write about writing business plans for startups and designing an online product. My two favorite things! Argh. Well, actually, I don't like writing business plans. It's messy work and it entails a lot of research. But it's not too bad. I think the challenge is how to make the process more fun. :)
I hate writing about my thought processes, but everything's silent these days and there's no one around to talk to. So allow me to be silly here for a while.
Am torn right now...
Should I make a new blog or not?
Am supposed to write blog posts about Skimpl and my product design experience and all the things we've been doing so far. Since the app is already underway, we need to start talking about it online. We don't have a writer yet, so I'll take a first stab at it.
But am not sure if it's a good idea to lump everything here. This is all MBA stuff and am not sure if people will appreciate having to weed through all these information.
On the other hand, I can easily get distracted. I might not be able to handle having to manage 2 blogs at the same time. Hmm...
Strama refers to Strategic Management. In Ateneo GSB, it is the last subject an MBA student needs to take before graduation.
Strama is an application of all learnings at MBA school. A student is required to have passed all other core subjects before he/she is allowed to enroll in it. Strama is unique in that it involves the top 2 things that could possibly kill a student's MBA ambition: the Strama paper and the panel defense.
The Strama paper is a 100-plus-page paper on a subject company describing that company's problems and the student's offered solutions. It's like a science investigative project, only that it's for business.
Before starting your paper, you need to find a company that has at least 50M pesos in yearly revenue and has at least 3 years worth of financial statements. Ateneo is very strict with these requirements. If your chosen company doesn't pass any one of these 2 criteria, they will not let you proceed. The sooner you get this part cleared, the earlier you get to start with your actual Strama work.
May I also add that before deciding on your company, it helps to do a quick Google check first on the industry where it operates. For instance, if you've chosen Jollibee, check out the quick-service restaurant industry first. If you can find data on market size, competitors, etc, then you're good.
The defense happens a few weeks after your paper has been accepted. During the defense, you get to present your paper to 3 panelists for 30 minutes. But then they also get to grill you for 30 minutes. So make sure to prepare thoroughly.
Before I took my Strama, I used to ask MBA grads about their Strama experience. I'd feel uncomfortable whenever they talk about being “grilled” by professors. They make it sound so awful I could really visualize them being barbequed while presenting. This image haunted me the entire time I was preparing my Strama paper.
Perhaps this also helped me, in a way, since it made me more attentive to advises. I took notes of what everyone had to say.
But now that I’ve finished my Strama, I could very well tell you that the defense wasn't really as bad as others portray it to be.
My defense started with me going through my keynote sides with the panelists. I had 20 slides all in all. Since I only had 30 minutes, I just went through the most important part. After that, the panelists started asking questions. Each of them had printed copies of my paper, complete with notes and highlighting. They seemed to have read everything prior to the presentation, so they came in with all sorts of questions already. They also asked about the presentation. And they compared my presentation to my paper. If you practice ahead, then there's no need to worry.
The panelists had positive comments. They had not-so-positive comments too. At first I felt intimidated by their seemingly endless questions and comments. It seemed to me that they'd never run out of things to say about every slide I presented. It was one versus three, so somehow it felt like the inquisition. But then I decided to make it sound like I was just brainstorming and gathering ideas with them. This worked for me. I took note of all their comments and feedback and promised to “update my paper” based on this.
After the defense, they asked me to go out of the room so they could deliberate. Then they called me and told me I passed and that it’s now ok to take photos. We took a groupie and that was it. :)
Update: Here's part 2 of this post in case you want additional tips.
Before anything else, let me define "good grades" for the sake of this blog post.
Good grades mean grades 3.5 and above (at AGSB, the highest is 4.0. They don’t give grades in between, so the next best grade after 4.0 is 3.5).
There are many tricks to achieving good grades. I’ll let you in on some things I know =):
Be friends with people who also obsess about grades.
People who obsess about grades put you on your toes all the time. Make sure you have their phone numbers as they have all the information about deadlines and where to get solutions to class cases.
Be very engaging with professors in class.
Remember that it’s the professors who give grades. So it helps if your professor knows you exist. One way to do this is by being very responsive in class. Whenever the professor says something, nod in agreement. Make comments. Ask questions. Of course, this advise doesn't work if your comments or questions are not smart. The moment you start with nonsense, your professor will put an invisible x mark on your name. You're doomed for life.
Be on guard with certain “evil" professors
There are professors that are simply evil incarnated. They won’t give 4.0 because they think mortals like you don’t deserve it. So no matter how much you study, the highest you can get is only whatever ceiling they set. Always be on guard with these professors. Before enrolling, make sure to know who the assigned professor will be. If you know these devils are there, don’t enrol. Wait 'til someone more human will be assigned.
Don’t go absent
Being absent in class is one of the worst things one can ever do while taking MBA. If you’re taking Exec MBA, you only have 4 whole-day meetings or 8 sessions per subject. Missing one of these sessions is like missing one month worth of classes.
Remember, you are more important
There are times when group assignments and team assignments happen at the same time. When you need to prioritize, make sure to prioritize yourself. Who cares about teamwork? :P
During a budget meeting in the office 2 years ago, our company's management team tackled an HR proposal for new employee additions. Our HR Head's proposal was to add 5-6 more resources for the next quarter. He presented us a list of projects along with resource requirements for each.
To evaluate, we reviewed monthly resource utilization data from our internal tool. What we saw was disheartening. Hours and hours spent on non-core tasks (internal initiatives, non project-related tasks), people with allocations that were way less than regular of 7 hours per day. And yet there were people rendering overtime almost every day. Why was this so?
We held another meeting, this time with Project Managers/Producers, to learn more about the problem. At the meeting, everyone agreed that we needed to hire. Everyone seemed overly stressed and tired. There was too much work. Quality was declining. And clients were feeling the pinch.
In the days that followed I spoke with a few friends from other studios. I learned that they too were going through the same resource issues. It seemed like this was already the norm for everyone. Was it the industry? Was it us?
It took us a while to resolve the issue, and not with lots of additional stress as well. Now two years later, I look back and analyze the problem academically. I write this post to share my insights on it.
What's causing scheduling problems?
One cause is insufficiency in number of resources that can handle the workload. When there's very little trained people and you have work that's more than you can handle, then surely you'll have problems. Another is employee absences/tardiness. You may have enough employees, but if they're not around, then you’ll have no one to assign tasks to. Lastly, poor planning practices. This happens when prioritization is unclear, when planning is not done regularly, and when no one is accountable. I realize this last one was the most controllable of all causes.
How to achieve better scheduling
First, determine what you really want for your firm.
An ideal production pipe is one that has the right amount of employees at the right time. Load scheduling is balanced, resources are available to do work whenever they’re needed, scheduling conflicts don't exist, and employees don’t have to "cram" to death during deadlines. I call this workplace utopia. But how to achieve this, here are some steps:
1. Assign someone to oversee planning and monitoring
Assign someone who can own production planning and monitoring. This could be the Head of the Project Management Office, Production Director, or Studio Manager.
He/she may use as planning input the Sales Forecast. Production planning can be done on a yearly, quarterly, monthly basis. The plan can serve as guide, however it may still need to be adjusted based on priority changes as well as actual progress. In addition, it should be communicated to the team on a regular basis through email or some other means.
2. Use an automated scheduling tool to manage conflicts
There are tools like Skimpl (this is our own tool. I'll talk more about it later), Toggle, and Resource Guru, which allow managers to schedule resources easily and simultaneously. This helps resolve scheduling conflicts as managers now have a way to check if a resource has already been “booked” by other managers.
3. Clear out scheduling issues during weekly meetings with PMs
Make sure to address scheduling issues during weekly meetings with PMs. Encourage PMs to be more attentive to schedules and to ensure issues that exist are resolved immediately.
4. Establish efficiency statistics and monitor them.
Efficiency statistics may include idleness, utilization, overtime, and timeliness in terms of project delivery. Implement rewards systems around this. This will encourage improvements and will make people more motivated.
5. Train PMs/producers on resource scheduling
Organize trainings to improve PMs/producers’ knowledge in terms of resource scheduling. You can do orientations, or you can also rotate the coordination role among PMs.
6. Gather baselines in terms of estimating lead times for typical activities.
This can be gathered from actual performance on past projects and collated through a document that can be discussed with PMs. This will help you create better estimates for future tasks.
7. Ensure individuals routinely manage their time
Nothing beats self-discipline when it comes to time management. Make time management part of the organization's culture, and encourage everyone to self-monitor.
Lastly, consult with other personnel so you can gather their inputs too. Am sure they'll have other improvement suggestions that you might wanna look at. You can also check with other firms and see if they can share best practices too.
This post is an abridged version of a paper I wrote for Operations Management under Prof. Arturo Zamora.
The project's requirement was to analyze a real-world problem using principles from Heizer and Render’s Operations Management book and to identify techniques that might resolve it.
If you’re taking Strategic Management (Strama), you’ll most likely be required to present an EFE Matrix for your chosen business.
An EFE (External Factor Evaluation) matrix is a strategic tool you can use to analyze and evaluate your business’s strategies in relation to the market and external environment. It is a component of the SWOT analysis and is often paired with an IFE (Internal Factor Evaluation).
An EFE helps you analyze how your business is responding to the changing world around it.
When evaluating the surrounding world, you look at it through various perspectives: economic, social, technological, governmental, political, legal, and competitive. Just as you would when deciding whether to buy a house or not. Is it nice? Is the location good? Is the price ok? Is the neighborhood peaceful? Etc etc.
One of the cases our class got to work on was about a hotel called Mandarin Oriental. The hotel was based in Makati but was recently closed because its long-term lease with Ayala Land already expired. The goal was to create an EFE Matrix for Mandarin. As input, we were given a few points about Mandarin. We were also given the profile of its target market, and a few economic high-level data about the Philippines.
Once we got all the available information assessed, we proceeded with creating an EFE Matrix. Below I’ve posted our team’s matrix.
A typical EFE Matrix looks like the table shown above. You may color it up a bit, make it sexier, but overall it should be similar. Your matrix should include the specific opportunities and threats that are relevant to your industry, weight, your rating, and weighted score.
Below are the steps in creating an EFE Matrix.
We gave Mandarin Hotel a weighted score of 2.15, way below average. This means their current strategies were not working well enough. We think there were opportunities they didn’t fully maximize. For instance, their revenue growth was only 6% compared to the overall industry growth of 15%.
The numbers you put on your matrix can be subjective. You can write anything but they should be accompanied by good, intuitive judgment. When you do your Strama presentation, panelists will ask you to explain your EFE Matrix. Make sure to be able to defend your matrix with facts. Most importantly, remember to go through the process consciously and meticulously. Creating your Strama paper begins with this first basic step.
I haven't defended yet. Most of what I know about the actual defense process I got from the grapevine. And of course, from my Professors.
Just yesterday someone showed me an app on iTunes. "If we develop something like this, how much will it cost?" he asked. "Can you give me a ballpark figure?"
He's not the only client that asks questions like this. In fact most all of my clients ask me for ballpark figures without them giving detailed project specs. My best approach is simply to educate the client on the cost factors. This, assuming the client is not from the industry and doesn't have an idea. (If the client has an idea and still bullies me into giving him a ballpark, then am gonna kick him in the ass and send him to outer space. =) Just kidding.).
In this post I'll outline some of the factors I consider when estimating app development projects.
Purpose of the application - what is the applicaton for?
Audience - who are the intended users of the app? The design of an app will be dependent on the audience type. If it’s a kids app, for example, the mechanics and the design should cater to the needs of kids.
Platform & operating systems - which platforms & operating systems would you like to support? The more platforms and OSes you support, the bigger the development cost since we’ll have to spend extra time with testing and optimization.
Features/mechanics - which features would you like to include? Features which include a highly tuned user experience, integration with third party APIs, complex databases, massive backend infrastructure, would make the app more expensive.
Our participation - what is the extent of our participation? Do you need us to cover certain aspects only, or should we cover everything including maintenance as well?
When needed - if you need us to rush the project, we might need to add more resources in parallel early on.—Oftentimes this would mean an addition to the budget.
Once we have the requirements in, we’ll review them with our technical personnel, and then sit down and make estimates.
There are times when we make disclaimers and advise the client the budget may change after project discovery. Often, only when we’re done with discovery are we able to fully drill down the specifications to the level where we can confidently estimate development costs. This happens a lot on large projects. We'd indicate this in the contract and rework the budget after full discovery. If the client agrees, then we proceed.
Overall budgeting is a tricky business. Developers want to have more projects and would desire that an agreement with the client be closed the soonest. On the other hand, if they rush too much, they could get into trouble. I've fallen into this trap many times. Took me a while to learn.
I got inspired by an idea from Greenbiz.com. What if we build an MBA school where students do not need to go to class?
In this school there will be no lectures, no exams, no class activities. The campus will serve as laboratory where students can come and get to work, be with teams, and together collaborate on new ideas to bring businesses into the future. Of course, they don’t need to be in the campus all the time. They go out there and explore the world, where much of the learning must happen.
As part of their requirement we throw problems to the students:—a series of local, national, regional, and international challenges. In the Philippines for instance, what sort of business initiatives can be done to alleviate poverty? How can we make growth sustainable? How can we improve the economy? How can we establish better partnerships among key sectors of economy: businesses, the government, organizations, NGOs, and etc. What do we do to make our businesses more competitive? All these challenges are ones which the country is grappling with. Why not allow MBA students to think of ways to solve them?
Let’s go to internal business problems. How do we make operations easier and more fluid? How do we build sustainable organizations? How do we empower employees and businesses? How do we encourage more people to venture into startups and new businesses? How can we develop better leaders?
Greenbiz has a novel suggestion. "Students accepted into the program would have access to a building with different work spaces and tools to enable them to work on these challenges, as well as to create and test out prototype solutions. There would be access to a range of interdisciplinary resources and experts based on the assigned task. There would be no tuition, rather it would be funded via the businesses and organizations that sponsor projects as well as alumni." (The Future MBA, Week 6)
Rather than training people to become managers, we’re shaping them to be problem solvers and innovators.
What do you think?
I'm passionate about business, art, and technology. For more about me, click here.
Not sure if you'll find this one helpful, but here's a book I co-wrote with a bunch of industry colleagues. You can click the image if you wanna check it out.
Ateneo Graduate School of Business
University of San Carlos