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Author: Curt Finch

Take Your Own Device: Mobile Workers and Mobile Strategies

More and more workers are bringing their own devices to work, often to the chagrin of IT types who will then have to manage numerous devices running often divergent operating systems. However, there is another category of employee that relies on accessibility and simplicity from his work tools: the mobile worker. This is essentially anyone who regularly travels for a job, and has moved beyond the realm of keeping life on a laptop. These days, it is more convenient to compartmentalize aspects of work and distribute that workload to the devices that best handle it. According to a recent article from the Huffington Post, “ninety two percent of workers believe their smartphones should be enabled for both work and personal use”. This is up a 2012 report showing the average American knowledge-worker carrying roughly 3.5 devices at any given time.

This reveals several compelling trends regarding the devices that workers carry with them. Obviously, items like tablets are a staple of the mobile worker’s repertoire, but more interesting is the fact that workers are not consolidating their devices. Rather, they recognize inherent strengths and weaknesses of the various platforms, and instead of sacrificing functionality, they sacrifice the convenience of only carrying one device.

So, what does this mean for businesses? To begin, it is important to recognize this desire for increased functionality from mobile workers. In a way, this segmentation helps to refute the argument that mobile devices are a distraction, because if that was the case it would be unnecessary to carry multiple devices for functionality. It also means that businesses need to recognize the comparative benefits of software, communication, and any internal business tools commonly used by their mobile workers as they relate to specific devices.

For instance, many workers might consider the laptop as a “home base” device that will be set up in a hotel room and left there until the evening after a big tradeshow when it’s time to write a report on the day’s activities. If a company communicates primarily through an instant message platform that is incompatible with a smartphone, the company will have limited ability to collaborate with a worker, or will inconvenience the worker as he fidgets with multiple devices.

It is important to consider what these various devices mean for necessary company data programs that might require updating on the road with a requirement for accuracy and ease of entry. For instance, Microsoft Dynamics AX provides a mobile solution for sales people who may need to update a database after a customer visit or while at a conference meeting with prospects. This can significantly reduce entry errors as users can input data directly to the program rather than metaphorically “jotting it down on a napkin” and updating a database later.

A little foresight when selecting and implementing tools will allow mobile workers to serve the company more effectively. Enabling and encouraging the use of devices that increase productivity, especially in the case of mobile workers, offers numerous benefits for the business as a whole. They have chosen functionality over convenience, and it is time for companies to make the same choice.

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Surefire Ways to Bring Out the Best in Your People

When I started my company, Journyx, 13 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I am a programmer and technology geek by nature and I left my programming job to start my own company with nothing but an idea and a dream. Back then, I did not have the experience needed to effectively manage people. I had to learn these skills through trial and error, and I had to learn them fast, in order to keep the company going. After all, human resources are a company’s most valuable asset.

Over the years, I have done every job there is in the company. I’ve been the accountant, the software developer, the marketing and PR professional, the testing department, integration services, customer technical support and sales. I have lost sleep when we were close to missing payroll, watched as competitors copied our software bit for bit and lied about us to prospects, and then celebrated along with hard-working employees as we achieved success. Today, we have 50 employees and several million dollars in sales with absolutely no outside investment. Here are some of the things I learned along the way about managing and motivating employees to reach their highest potential.

Hire Diversely

Businesses today face fierce competition on all sides, regardless of industry. The only way to survive in such an environment is to be relentlessly creative. New products, services and ideas are the best way to outshine the competition and win market share.

In order to keep creativity alive in a company, you have to surround yourself with different types of people. Forget partnerships, listen to your customers, and hire high school kids, foreigners, people from other races and religions, and Martians, if you can find them. Different people bring different perspectives to the table, something you need not only to succeed, but merely to survive. The truth is that no matter how smart you are, you cannot be as innovative as you need to be all by yourself.

Here in Austin, Texas, we have the luxury of proximity to the University of Texas (UT). From this well of intellect we continually draw for ideas and young energetic labor. It is a well that never runs dry. In the past, we have hired interns to work on both marketing and legal projects, depending on their area of study. Since Journyx is a technology company and UT has a computer science department, we also hire IT people and developers. Not only do they bring a fresh perspective during their internships, but if they are a good fit, they can remain with us upon graduation and become a long-term asset to the company. If not, they can at least get a letter of recommendation and some real world experience to put on their resumes. It is a win-win situation.

Be Flexible

Another key to effective resource management is to be flexible about allowing employees time off for extracurricular activities, such as college or graduate school classes. For example, we have an employee who is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in social work, which has nothing to do with her work here, and we know that we will lose her upon her graduation. Even so, we allow her to take off the time that she needs to accommodate classes, internships and other requirements. I look at it this way: she is important to me as a person, not just an employee, and I do not want to hold back her education even though her career choice has nothing to do with furthering the interests of Journyx. It’s vital to take a vested interest in not only your company and its profits, but also the people who make up that company.

Your employees have lives outside of the office, and the more you recognize this and support them in the things that matter to them, the more loyal and productive they will be in return.

Build People Up

I learned a long time ago that I can only be a mentor when I know what I’m talking about, which is not everywhere. Having said that, I’m good at lots of things and when those things are relevant, I try to step in and help. I’ve found that when I roll my sleeves up and dig in alongside an employee who needs some help, they see that I care about them and in turn, that makes them care more about the company and the job they’re doing.

It is important to let people know when they are doing a good job, as well. I like the phrase, “catch people doing something right” because it expresses the best way to mentor. And as Napoleon Hill stated, “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Encourage people to do more of what they’re good at. Find their hidden talents. There’s no point in spending lots of time telling people where they’re messed up.

Think Outside the Box

One of the most difficult tasks for a manager is to keep employees motivated, especially during tough times. It can be especially difficult to do this when money is tight and bonuses are not an option. A couple of years ago, I decided to do something creative and different in order to motivate our sales team. I bet them that they would not exceed their quota for Q1 by 33% and promised that if they did, the entire leadership team would dye their hair. Well, the sales team did not exceed their quota by 33% – they actually blew the doors off and beat their numbers by 45%. Since we lost the bet, we held up our end of the bargain and dyed our hair neon blue for a week, and I have pictures to prove it. (My wife has since forbidden me to do this again, so I will have to come up with something else next time.) It’s also important to remember that you can’t take yourself too seriously.

As you can see, there are many ways that managers today can keep employees happy and their performance high. All it takes is a little understanding and the willingness to try new things. The investment for such initiatives is low, but the return just might surprise you.

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Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx offers customers two solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability: Journyx Timesheet – a timesheet and expense management solution for the entire enterprise – and Journyx ProjectXecute – a solution that unites project and process planning with resource management. Journyx has thousands of customers worldwide and is the first and only company to establish Per Person/Per Project Profitability (P5), a proprietary process that enables customers to gather and analyze information to discover profit opportunities. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource. Curt authors a project management blog and you can follow him on Twitter.

Using the Requirements Creation Process to Improve Project Estimates


Estimation can be one of the most difficult parts of a project. Important questions must be asked in order to form the right figures and plans. How long will the project take? How many resources will it consume? Consultants may also ask the following question: What is the appropriate amount to bid on this project? These questions are not easy to answer at the outset when one generally has only a vague idea of what will be required throughout the project.

The good news is that there is a fairly simple way to improve project estimation and, consequently, the bidding process. Most people do not realize that the requirements creation process can lend insight into the length and scope of a project. Let me give you an example of how this method works and then explain how you can implement it within your own company.

The Story

Back in 1992, I was working for a consulting company named The Kernel Group (TKG). During this time, I was put in charge of porting Tivoli’s software from Sun’s Solaris operating system to IBM’s AIX operating system. The project was to be done under a fixed bid, and consequently, we at TKG knew that estimating the effort required to port the code was of paramount importance.

I looked at the code with a coworker of mine, and he came to the conclusion that if Tivoli didn’t make the project hard for us in some unspecified way, we could port the million or so lines of code in about a weekend. I told him that he was nuts – that it would take at least a week, maybe even two. We jointly decided that we probably ought to call it three weeks just to be safe. We also decided, rather smugly, not to report our padding of the schedule to evil upper management.

As a result, evil upper management drastically expanded the project bid to $325,000, and my coworker and I thought that this was a ridiculously high price. We believed that we were gouging the customer and that they would never accept it.

Yet they did accept it, and once the project began, we proceeded to discover how truly terrible we as software engineers were at the task of project estimation. To make a long story short, the porting schedule expanded to exceed our original estimate and we consumed not only all of the $325,000, but a whole lot more on top of it.

The Formula

Now our consulting company was religious about tracking employee time on a per-project basis, and so we broke every project into phases: requirements/specification, design, coding, testing, debugging, documentation, training, etc. This project was no different in that respect; we broke it down into its respective phases as well.

Just before we started working on the project in question, I read a book called Practical Software Metrics for Project Management and Process Improvement by Robert B. Grady. (By the way, this is a truly fabulous book that I would highly recommend to anyone who is managing software development projects.) According to the book, one of Grady’s rules of thumb is that 6-8% of every software project is usually eaten up in the requirements/specification phase.

One of the conclusions that Grady comes to in his work is that you can use this fact to estimate total project size. In other words, if it took 60 hours to do the specification, that’s probably 6% of the job and the job will be 1000 hours. Following such logic, a six hour specification implies a 100 hour job. Since the specification always comes first in any project, you can get some pretty reliable estimates from this method alone. In fact, in my experience as both a programmer and the CEO of a software company, I have found it to be incredibly accurate and useful.

A second way to triangulate this project estimate is to ask experts in the area for their opinions – hopefully they will be better at project estimation than my coworker and I were that first time. A third way is to select an appropriate metric for estimation. For example, one could use line of code counts or function points in estimating the length and scope of software projects. For architecture projects, you might use number of pages in the drawings or square feet planned as similar analogies. Every project has some gross measure of its size that is available at the outset and can be used to plan the overall project in addition to this method I’ve described of tracking time against the earliest phases.

So back to the story. We really blew it on estimating and bidding on that first project for Tivoli, but when the next one came around, we had data on the portion of the overall project that the requirements phase had taken up. This allowed us to use Grady’s ratio to predict overall project size, and we found that on this second project, we came up with a very accurate project estimate. This worked very well for all of the subsequent fixed-cost consulting work we did for Tivoli.

Partially due to the strength of the solution and how well it ran on IBM’s AIX operating system, Tivoli was able to eventually sell their company to IBM for 743 million dollars in 1995.

For a consultancy that is doing fixed-cost projects, this concept of using the standard ratio of requirements phase to overall project length is a very powerful project estimation technique. It can eliminate erroneous bidding and its resulting costs, which is a major concern for such companies.

Accurate Bidding

Overbidding on a consulting job means that you won’t get the work in the first place, because the potential customer will give it to your competitor at a cheaper price. Underbidding, however, means you will win the deal and lose money. Neither situation is acceptable for businesses today, and yet, most consultancies do a poor job in this area. One way to make more precise bids is to use a key performance indicator, which is a tool used to measure progress towards a strategic business goal. For example, the number you want to minimize in this situation is defined by the formula [(E-A)/E], where:

E = estimated hours to complete the project
A = actual hours spent to complete the project

It is important to keep this KPI value as close to zero as possible, which indicates that you are bidding on projects more accurately.

Just tracking this number is a great first step towards better bidding, and you can get the necessary data to calculate it from any timesheet system, including a paper one. Automated timesheet systems, however, are generally even more effective in this area because they often have reports to calculate the KPI figure for you.

Improving adherence to your estimate can be difficult for some companies until they understand the ratio concept described above. An example of this is illustrated in the following diagram, which shows how the formula can work for any business. Your company’s magic number may not be 6-8% like Grady’s, but once you determine your own ratio for specification to total project length, you can use it again and again.


Making it Work

I currently run a software company, Journyx, and I can assure you that this project estimation technique continues to be successfully employed by many of our customers to their great advantage. It is easy to implement and you can do it too. Once you do, you will start producing laser sharp estimates before you know it. And that’s a result we can all feel good about requiring.

Happy estimating!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Journyx offers customers two solutions to reach the highest levels of profitability: Journyx Timesheet – a timesheet and expense management solution for the entire enterprise – and Journyx ProjectXecute – a solution that unites project and process planning with resource management. Journyx has thousands of customers worldwide and is the first and only company to establish Per Person/Per Project Profitability (P5), a proprietary process that enables customers to gather and analyze information to discover profit opportunities. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published “All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource.” Curt authors a project management blog and you can follow him on Twitter.