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Tips for hitting the ground running in IT projects

With companies evolving their platforms and services every day we know that technology is constantly changing. New efforts are constantly bubbling up to transform old processes and operations must continue to work smoothly. And if you are lucky enough to be in a place where an implemented solution is doing well, chances are it is time to start looking for the end of life or next release coming around the corner!

I can readily admit that at times I feel rushed and challenged to find the right time to insert myself into a project, and I am seemingly always trying to regroup, get organized, and hit the ground running (or slamming on the brakes in red flag situations).  Regardless of the stage at which you find your projects, be aware of insights and strategies you need to employ to establish the appropriate roles in fast and competitive environments.

How do we keep up?

If you are in a fast-moving environment you will need to be able to assess and understand quickly just how good or not so good a specific project is going.

Here are some potential problems you can use to assess how far a project has come:

  • Initial high-level strategy conversations for potential transformational work without an Executive and Project Sponsor
  • Working of business relationships / partnerships without a Solution Delivery Leader and Product Owner
  • Kicking off schedules and coordinating resource & task plans without a Project Manager
  • Business requirements and process steps not reviewed or optimized from a Business Analyst
  • Attempting to drive towards integrations without defined data flows from a Data Analyst
  • Initial architectural designs or defined solution capabilities without guidance or approval from an Architect
  • Development and configuration activities for a solution without an Engineer

Based on which activity that has not occurred helps you to identify when a project is off. If one or more of these are true then it would be time to pause and to begin to seek the right people to understand what really needs to happen next.

(The Unicorn Exception -> if you are in a situation in which you are performing multiple roles you are a unicorn for a standard project! Personally I love unicorns (I feel like one myself) but I know often it will stress out standard IT structures. What I would tell you is that even though you can wear multiple hats it does not mean you can abandon either the quality of work or the time to invest in each role.)

Tips for hitting the ground running in IT projects:

First, please work with the proper people to clarify and to understand the importance of your role in a project. Without the education and the understanding to help people temper their desire to push forward without the right help, people will not realize the cost of rework or of having to acquire an additional solution down the road.

Next, understand the current progress of a project. In order to understand how much rework or backing up may be required, you first need to get a good perspective on where the project is.

Finally, understand your role and the deliverables you need to provide. It is important to know what you need to do and when you need to do it so you can plan within the project schedule for a successful delivery. Above all, allowing enough time for the task is crucial so that teams know what to expect from a reasonable schedule.

Tips on questions you can ask to hone in on current status:

– Has the project been approved? (money available to spend?)

– Has the working team been identified (Solution Delivery Manager, Product Owner, Project Manager, Business Analyst, Data Analyst, Architect & Engineers)?

– Have requirements been established?

– Has the process been understood and optimized (leaned) out?

– Are there completed artefacts for a defined target architecture or potential proposed solution?

Chances are once you get this understanding you will know approximately where a project is in the current process and where you need to contribute appropriately. Do not wait for someone to approach you first for help; be proactive instead of reactive!

Know what to do? Let’s get to work: Once you understand the current state of a project, don’t hesitate to insert yourself into the resource plan and project timeline. Allow ample time to ensure your role is not lost due to something being rushed or dependent on a date. Chances are your business partners will be flexible to shift your dates if you have done a good job at establishing the importance of your role and its prominent place in the project timeline.

Finally, perform the work and deliver your artefacts and recommendations specific to your role. If this is accomplished, it either will validate that the proposed solution accommodates the process and requirements with provided capabilities or that the parts completed thus far need another round of rework. Either way, these are both very positive outcomes compared to the alternative:  just marching on and hoping for the best— with mixed results.

Done? Time to Retro: Once you’ve completed a certain milestone it is very important to educate your departments and teams about what should be done differently in the future. Without this education and course correction, you may find yourself suffering the same issues over and over again. Learn and grow from the retro!

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Looking Back! ETSU Computer Science Edition

Background for this post: I was recently working through some summer cleanup in the garage and unearthed what I had discovered as my binder box. As I began to take one last pass through these papers before a final recycling place it gave me pause to reflect and to share to those who have seen things change over time.

It seems like it is now so long ago that had just found the passion in computer science and began my journey during my tenure at ETSU. Looking back on it now I can definitely say I am thankful for all of the highs and lows I experienced: showing excellence in some areas, showing vulnerabilities in others and growing to learn, and above all the experience to collaborate and begin to understand what would eventually come daily teamwork. I can also way with great certainty that I am THRILLED in how far we have came in automation since my graduating class was sent forth: half of our work could have been in a run book, and our virtuals could have been speedy in the cloud! 🙂

Though a lot of the concepts may be refreshed or different my overall discipline to consume and learn new things has still held to this day. I definitely want to thank all of my instructors, collegiate colleagues and alum that helped me to push through to the end! I am most definitely better for it and will never forget all my memories (and sometimes late night studies) that brought me to where I am today.

Enjoy the collage! #memories

and of course, farewell to my days of binders and handwritten pages that became my foundation for the corporate universe! #ETSU #GoBucs #Binders

I think the only thing that was harmful in this experience was to unearth how time has flown by and that my age is definitely a few versions past the original release! 🙂

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My Top 10 Guiding Principles of Mentoring

I have enjoyed mentoring in many companies and types of settings. Whether interns at the workplace, up and coming members at my place of worship or with people 3rd party charitable ministries there have been many great learning opportunities that I have been blessed to learn and grow from as a person. Mentoring is the lifeblood of continuing to provide the most powerful means of training and developing relationships. If you have the time in your company or organization to provide this and make a difference than please do!

My Top 10 Guiding Principles of Mentoring

1) Mentoring is equally just as important to the mentor as it is to the mentee – realize that you are not only providing a chance of growth to the individual but to yourself also. We can always learn and grow from the new personalities and perspectives that we have a chance to be a part of.

2) Mentoring is not telling people what to do; it’s how to guide people to learn how to do it. If people are never equipped with the knowledge and confidence to execute in the problem in front of them then they may be less apt to take those bigger steps in their future. Build their confidence!

3) Mentoring takes time (and it’s time well spent). If you’re not willing to invest an ongoing slot of time to people you are mentoring then both parties suffer in the process. And I can say from experience that you will know the right amount of time to invest in someone when they’re less focused on asking questions and instead feeling confident in execution.

4) Mentoring is to give others the edge you did not have when you started. If we do not raise the bar in where we start our prospective candidates then we in turn are not shifting our talent to be more like the quality candidates we want to hire.

5) Mentoring tests your ability to lead and manage others. Chances are if working with new people and helping them learn new things presents a challenge to tough then you may want to keep focused as an individual contributor and continue enriching your ability to lead and influence.

6) People receiving mentoring should be receiving from you a combination of selflessness, teaching, communication and learning. Any piece of this that is left off will result in teaching without applicability, only doing your things you selfishly do not wish to do, communicating only when obligated to and learning without understanding the purpose.

7) Effective mentoring is not driven by being their “boss”; it is driven by your actions in being their guide. Often times I have seen internships or new candidates turn into cheap labor having only a few purposes of things we do not want to do. These experiences that candidates have are not well received and do hinder the overall company or organization reputation.

8) Mentoring will coach your candidate through their fears and insecurities. Candidates should walk away from your mentoring feeling more confident in prior areas of weakness.

9) Mentoring is an open door, an open ear and an open mind. If you close any of these you will not promote the development of conversation and ideas. Sometimes a new fresh perspective from someone outside of the norm can be the jump-start you need to be excited about mentoring.

10) Mentoring promotes the development of mentors. Over many occasions I have now seen before my eyes candidates I have worked with now mentoring others and developing new employees and candidates.

PDF: Click Here To Download

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Remember The Laggard! My Story of Overcoming Fears and Choosing To Learn

Have you ever heard of or heard yourself or others be referred to as a Laggard?

Google defines a laggard as:

noun – “a person who makes slow progress and falls behind others.”

adjective – “slower than desired or expected.”
Do you identify with that? Have you ever referred to anyone like that? First of all, I think that laggard is pretty rough of a term…which is why you also see the reference to the “mainstreamers” as a more friendly word for it.
I believe when we tend to think of a laggard we think of the classic curve in reference of the Rogers version relative to adoption:
Regardless of what we call it I have some things to share today in reference to my real-life “laggard” realization in my career and the decision I made in my life to stop being stuck where I was and choosing to further in my career.

About 10 years ago I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s of Science in IT, focusing in the Information Sciences and Programming backgrounds. During that final year a very wise professor at the time made a statement towards the end of my tenure in school that really shook me then.

“Whatever you have learned up to this point…three years from now will be completely obsolete.”

“Whatever you have learned up to this point…three years from now will be completely obsolete.”

After some confused faces and reactions in the room, the professor continued:

“However, if you have truly paid attention to the concepts that help you to understand the basics then regardless of the language of the day or technology you build your practices will guide you through.”

“However, if you have truly paid attention to the concepts that help you to understand the basics then regardless of the language of the day or technology you build your practices will guide you through.”

At the time, I thought to myself in a moment of confidence, “Wow, that seems a bit forward, I’ll be fine!” Wrong! I have learned through 10 years of experience now that there were no truer words ever spoken to me (about my career) at the time that I heard them.

In today’s ever-moving technical climate of mobile evolution, social media startups and new technologies making it easier than ever to go to the once mysterious cloud I have found that things are moving much faster than my professor may have even understood.

Being in a transition period in my career in the past 2 years I have found that I am in a place that I believe a lot of other folks have been in before or may be in the near future. There was a point where I felt like everything I was confident in understanding had become obsolete and that everything that was in front of me for a new future required me to make a choice to want to evolve my learning. On top of that there was the constant reminder of new people coming in and demonstrating in their learning (sometimes in ways that left me feeling very deflated) what I did not understand as great. Not to mention the ever looming call to responsibility to drive positive results with the best of my ability.

“There was a point where I felt like everything I was confident in understanding had become obsolete and that everything that was in front of me for a new future required me to make a choice to want to evolve my learning.”

What do I do? Well, I knew at the time of my self-evaluation that most everything I ever was taught in language, system or structures ten years ago was definitely in the latter part of the mainstream part of the adoption curve. It was only a matter of time where if I did nothing else I would have to begin taking a long look at the market to see where else I could thrive with my existing skill set. Maybe there is something close by? Then, as that began to feel scary I began to think about what my options could be to grow. After looking at courses I began to feel discouraged as a lot of the topics out there cost time, money and your presence away from your day to day work (that ensures to make you feel behind).

After many months of soul searching, being made to feel ignorant in work settings, left out by others and left on the assumption that I wouldn’t know I finally made a decision. I decided then that I would chose to grow and refused to be stuck anymore.

I would not be bullied by fears of learning or worried of leaving a few tasks behind to make time to grow. Even if I would not be provided moments during the day I chose to grow where I could elsewhere. It was a mindset change, a choice I made, and do not regret it. I would no longer blame my surroundings, commitments or challenges to keep me from making this something I do. I may fail. I may not understand it all. However, I would rather fail fast and grow than to give up! I then recalled being willing to do this before I started my career in college and this encouraged my willingness to want to learn more now.

Today, I am fighting for my relevance in my career and will encourage all that I can to remember to do the same.

“I may fail. I may not understand it all. However, I would rather fail fast and grow than to give up!”

These days I am learning every day. Free resources such as videos and websites out there are the best place to start. Joining social networking groups around topics I am unfamiliar in is another great step. I am voicing my want for more and am investing by making the time for it today. And in just a couple years of time I know for sure I am turning back the meter and heading towards new things! Conferences are great but make time for the learning opportunities and not just the free t-shirts. Training and courses, whether virtual or in-person and a must in today’s evolving tech climate and a must. Whatever you choose to do use these learning moments to fight to stay relevant with your investment into yourself!

So today as I close this open story of my personal career to those still hungry to work and others curious of the meaning of my intent I leave you with these words: Remember the laggard! 

Companies, remember that one of the most meaningful means of retention is the means to which you invest in people, especially their ability to evolve their skills and mindset. Laggards are not just people who know old things; laggards are loyal, invested people who simply need the opportunity to grow. Empower people with the freedom to be away in the short-term (for a little while) normal efforts to invest in themselves and you will see growth and trust in the working relationship for building longevity and driving positive results. When we choose short-term results and fail to invest here we begin to see teams that become less apt to adopt new things and challenge themselves, thus leaving key areas of business stuck in the mercy of mainstream and slowly letting our fears slow our progress. Fail fast, take chances on people, and never lose the grip of the importance of investing in continual learning!

“Companies, remember that one of the most meaningful means of retention is the means to which you invest in people, especially their ability to evolve their skills and mindset.”

Individuals out there, remember to choose to grow no matter your obstacles and know that you are able to do it. Remember to prioritize it as much as you want it. And just like every good degree, certification or learning experience any knowledge you gain to help you evolve and move forward in your career is worth the investment. Every time. Make sure you always include learning in your career plans and give voice to making sure others that help you succeed know that it is important to you. Do not get stuck in the mainstream and lose your confidence to try new things! And lastly, remember that if you are in a good place in your career and are in the midst of new learning…take others with you. Mentor and help others to not be afraid of embracing growth!

“Individuals out there, remember to choose to grow no matter your obstacles and know that you are able to do it. Remember to prioritize it as much as you want it. And just like every good degree, certification or learning experience any knowledge you gain to help you evolve and move forward in your career is worth the investment. Every time.”

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Action board: What words and actions are driving you?

I find each day has its challenges to give a chance to reveal a new possible action that can be taken to improve the moment.

As something I am learning each day I find that sometimes it’s good to visualize key actions and values to remember how we focus ourselves and work to apply them every day. You may not apply them all at once but as you come back to it and think through your experiences you can reflect and continue to figure out where you can grow and build your partnerships.

Challenge yourself, chances are you may find you have a lot more of these than you think. Thanks for reading.

Any other good ones for the board?