The client wanted 30 minutes. More precisely, they needed to eliminate a 30-minute delay between completing a finished product test in a manufacturing quality control lab and communicating the result back to the operators on the production line. By making data more available to inform decisions about process equipment settings, simply automating that reporting step led to lower scrap rates and higher throughput – a win for everyone. Another client, also a manufacturer, needed to optimize finished goods inventory and production scheduling for a line of consumer electrical products that had 20 or so discrete models. A statistical model used a rolling 3 years of order data in order to predict optimum monthly production volumes for each product. Reviewing the model[…]

Life is messy. Those of us who work as business analysts see it in the myriad of ways in which people create, store and retrieve information in order to do their work. Called upon to help improve a situation, we often reach for help in the form of a methodology. The trouble with most system design methodologies is that they are made for giving structure to the process of building a solution, not for helping people living in a messy situation decide what would actually make things better. It is all too easy, particularly with larger projects, to get to design without fully understanding the context in which people will use the solution. What’s missing is an explicit way of[…]

How do you use Microsoft and Open Source in the same sentence without creating an oxymoron? Answer: talk about the application, not the technology stack that runs it. The application is DotNetNuke, also known as the DNN Platform and Evoq. Originally bundled with the first release of Visual Studio .NET as a sample project, the “IBuySpy” portal has taken on a life of its own as DotNetNuke. Ten years, 7 million downloads and one million web sites later we have a thriving open source community. DNN is a portal for capturing and presenting web content. It provides a standardized framework for managing security, user access and page layout, and a set of modules that deliver discrete functions within each page.[…]

Last month I started talking about open source alternatives to SharePoint for document management and team collaboration. Before getting into the merits of any particular solution let me say a bit more about the business problem that’s behind the evaluation.  As a writer I read a lot and I accumulate material in the form of documents, articles, images, video clips, podcasts and web links, all of which serves as research for things I write about. As a consultant I also need to organize project files, provide the means to ensure that confidential files are maintained securely, to share documents with clients and provide them with a way to give feedback on in-process material. My ideal content management solution would make[…]

Managing electronic documents isn’t just a “big organization” problem. Small and mid-sized organizations need to be able to protect, organize and share electronic content just as much but they don’t have a $1 million+ budget to deal with the problem. Convinced that “making do” with file shares is not enough, a budget conscious buyer is likely to look in one of two directions, SharePoint or Open Source. While both options have plenty to offer, neither is a magic bullet. SharePoint is attractive, especially in organizations looking for a collaboration tool. For an group of even 500 people the infrastructure and licensing costs are affordable, but getting people to use SharePoint effectively can take a long time. Often, IT leads the[…]

Have you ever read something you wrote a long time ago and then compared it to the way you think today? Cleaning up my home office on the weekend I came across a review I had written about 10 years ago about some research published in Harvard Business Review. The original research article was about knowledge management practices in a number of different organizations. Titled “What’s Your Strategy for Knowledge Management?”, it made an impression on me at the time.  The researchers identified two generic approaches that organizations use in order to get value from what they know: Codification: Efficient reuse of experience within a firm through documents and software tools that enable information storage and retrieval.  Personalization: Build creative[…]

If Web 2.0 tools offer the promise of better project communication, what does “better” look like? Answering that means considering two broad dimensions of project communication that point in opposite directions. In one direction there’s collaboration where the priority is the individual experience of finding and sharing information. In that context “better” looks like one-stop-shopping for project information in surroundings that promote collaboration by encouraging people to engage in discussion through annotations and comments — in other words, the kinds of personal interactions that social media support. Looking the opposite way we find Enterprise Project Management systems where the priority is the transactional work of project execution. There, communication is far more structured and “better” means making it easy to[…]

My last post about Web 2.0 tools for project management led to two lines o f conversation with some colleagues. The first was about and how poor communication about requirements can lock in design mistakes early in Design / Build projects and lead to major rework costs later on. The other was about why we need to bother trying to get people to learn how to use a new communication medium. We all use email every day; isn’t that enough? Three “C” words tie these threads of conversation together: Communication, Coordination and Collaboration. Not a particularly original phrase, I admit — Lotus Notes jumped on it a long time ago to promote its (then new) groupware capabilities. Nevertheless, making it[…]

My last post began to make a case for Web 2.0 tools as something that can give project teams access to collaboration and information sharing capabilities that many organizations have viewed as simply out of reach. One of the risks in embracing a new technology is that it may consume a lot of time and resources doing well, something that wasn’t worth doing at all. After all, Project Managers often struggle with just getting things done, never mind the challenges of learning new software tools. Why is information sharing and social networking software worthy of a Project Manager’s attention? Implicit in a discussion of project team collaboration and information sharing tools is the idea of a Project Management Information System[…]

Enterprise 2.0 is gaining attention as a way to describe the way that social media tools are changing the way that people communicate at work. What (if any) relevance does that have for small and mid-sized organizations? If you perceive a hint of déjà vu it’s probably a memory of things we were saying a decade or so ago when the web was catching on as a mainstream business communications medium. The promise then was that easier information sharing and collaboration were going to transform the way that people worked. Individually we now use the web every day, but regardless of size a lot of organizations remain as tightly siloed as ever in the way they manage information. Cut away[…]