Needs vs. Wants Update

I've been pretty busy with several large projects and wanted to update this post with a few more learnings:

Additional Communication Methods to Help During Rapid Change

What is rapid change?  Well as a project consultant my baseline on change has evolved over the years (eight years consulting and counting) so I have been used to dynamic situations for a while (you don't start out that way).  Most clients that you work with seldom have to deal with longer periods of significant change, and some clients may struggle to communciate internally fast enough to keep up with an aggressive project timeline.

The following are easy to implement but highly effective things that can be added to your project rhythm to help the extended team feel and stay involved even during periods of rapid disruptive change.

Daily Scrums

4 or 5 times a week.  Sometimes called a standing meeting.  10-15 minute call or meeting to update and ask questions.  Simple rules apply:

1. It begins and ends on time.

2. Updates are provided by all attendees (if they have an action to update)

3. New concerns can be raised for later discussion (follow up meeting)

4. Great time to recognize achievements or clarify a deliverable

Weekly Updates (to the entire project team)

Be proactive and transparent in your communication.  By communicating and providing answers and information before it is asked for can prevent a lot of confusion and build trust. Put yourself on the receiving end, what information would be useful to you? Celebrate the success as milestones are achieved, and let everyone know what is coming up next.

Voice Communication

As much as possible try to speak with impacted parties for critical items.  Our email culture can be very fire and forget, and not everyone can get to the bottom of their new email every day.  Use the scrums for internal team and call the impacted clients or remote extended teams when you can, especially if you have a time sensitive request. If you have video capabilities like Lync, Skype or TelePresence use them.  Seeing each other's faces can bridge time zones, assure a nervous participant, and ensure they know you are listening to them and their involvement is important.

Hope some of the above help during your next fast paced project.

Thanks for reading!



Needs vs. Wants

I was catching up recently with my wife about our days and were discussing communication with clients, expectations and requirements.

Both of us had had long days, and her story went something like this.

She had been helping a client complete a transaction, had confirmed the details and and then proceeded.  The client reviewed the end result and then said "that's not what I wanted".  Classic problem, some things are challenging to unravel once you get approval/agreement and proceed.

During the resolution efforts it was explained by the client that it wasn't really a 'big deal' but that the client should be able to get exactly what they want, regardless of the current state (After transaction was completed).  This should be possible, just do it (Not the best way to motivate someone IMHO).

In my wife's case other people had to get involved and everything was sorted out.  Those who got involved were confused why the solution had to be 'undone' and then made more complex if the original result seemed to meet the requirements.

Sound familiar?

I often work with clients during the start of a project defining requirements and when dealing with potential change of requirements during a project.

The difference between we want and we need in a project can be a large chasm.

  • When someone asks "Why aren't we doing it this way?" you need to be able to answer and speak to how the current approach meets the requirements.
  • When someone new joins the project or stakeholders change you need to be able to communicate the boundaries of the project and the implied scope.

So how do you properly manage changing expectations in a project setting?

That's where documented and agreed requirements, constraints, assumptions and risks come into play.  When change requests come you need to be able to help the client understand the potential impact and then manage it.  Change is going to happen, but what counts is how you manage it.

What can make this easier?

Lots of healthy discussion and understanding of the changing client requirements is always a great start, but the following are a list of things that may help throughout the project and specifically can be useful when dealing with changing requirements.

1. Overview presentation

Create an overview presentation.  I like to have one for the project kickoff meeting. It lists the objectives, and outlines the components of the project and the requirements from the entire team - most importantly it defines what is in scope and what is not.

  • This information is usually available in a Project Charter or a Statement of Work.
  • This is handy if someone joins the team later, for a mid-project refresher, or as a quick reference you can provide to someone if they have a question.
  • When questions of change come up its time to review the original objectives and then talk about it with everyone having the same (refreshed) information.

2. Whiteboard with the stakeholders

I often find it useful to use the whiteboard and list out all the details: options to meet the new requirement, impact to the current plan, pro and con of the items, and risk including probability.  Work this through with the team and stakeholders.

Great way to get buy in and collaborate.

  • Try to facilitate more than lead the discussion, let the team get to a result of at least two options that will meet the requirements and stay within your constraints.
  • Include the estimated effort, budget changes and timeline impact for options.  Budget and time will usually heavily influence the weight of an option and whether a want is approved to become a need.

3. Avoid snap decisions, don't be afraid to have the team 'think on it'.

Having the team take an important item away and come back prepared to discuss in more detail is important.

  • Not everyone engages the same way.  Some people (myself included) prefer to spend time thinking something through and then discussing it.
  • If you can take another 24 hours, try not to force people too far out of their comfort zone, they may need more time to come up with questions and form their thoughts in order to participate.  It is usually worth the day investment.
  • Set a deadline for when the discussion will happen.  This ensures it will happen, and that the expectations are set.  Depends on the group, but a day is a good starting point.

4. 'Show' the change if possible.

If you can display things visually in a diagram, that can be helpful; some people are visual and will be more engaged if they can 'see' what the changes mean.

  • Diagrams can make the difference in getting across a concept and keeping it whole in a dispersed team.
  • Diagrams may make it easier to demonstrate options or possible impacts on the solution and design.
  • Diagrams don't always have to be complicated or highly detailed - conceptual or logical diagrams can often help demonstrate the difference between current and options on future state.

5. Everyone has a chance to comment

Clear communication is key to success here and so is the requirement for people to feel involved and buy in.

  • Most people will accept a decision contrary to their own if they have an opportunity to be heard.
  • Give them the chance so it doesn't become a roadblock and prevent everyone from buying in.

6. Document the Decision - Use a Decision Record!

When you reach a consensus or decision, document it!  Email is fine in smaller less structured projects, but some will require decision documents and supporting information for the project sponsor.  Time passes and memory fades… so document.

  • Don't forget to update your deliverables and all project artifacts; sometimes a change flows through a lot of things.
  • Few things are more annoying and confusing after a project is transitioned to operations than an implementation document that doesn't align with the design.

The decision record and project change request are your friends and IMHO the best vehicles to keep track of approvals during projects.  They don't only have to be used for changes in budget!  They can also be used to keep your scope accurate and ensure you are measuring your success against what was agreed upon.

Every client, project, team and situation is different.  Use what makes sense and keeps things moving, but always document so you can measure success.

Things change in projects (as in life), hopefully some of the above will help your project team be more successful.


Thanks for reading.




A VCDX Journey - Part 1

Happy New Year!

This is the first part of a multi-part collection of my thoughts on how to get started with VCDX and some things that may help you along the way.  I have started a new section of the site called VCDX Resources.  I will post all of the parts here, starting with Part 1 - So How do I get Started?

Will this be the year that you start or complete your own VCDX journey?  I hope you get something out of it and please feel free to share and comment.

Thanks for reading, and all the best for you in 2014!




2013 A Year in Review

As I take a moment to look back, 2013 was a fantastic year and the perfect start for this project.

 1H2013 (January - June)

Both Matt Vandenbeld (VCDX#107) and I (VCDX#106) successfully completed our VCDX at Partner Exchange and Long View became the first Canadian partner to have VCDX on staff.  For a few months we had two and were one of the few partners worldwide to ever have that number at one time.  I was finally able to achieve the goal I started in 2010 and join one of my most respected friends and peers Mark Achtemichuk (VCDX#50 ) as a fellow VCDX.  Without the support from my amazing wife Paula, my family, Long View, and many friends this would not have been possible, thank-you.

Partner Exchange also saw an opportunity to speak as one of four focus partner success stories during the first General Session.  This was a pretty cool experience and I got to play a small part in the magic that is a large conference production, and meet Carl Eschenbach at dinner (the Carl)!

One of the years consulting highlights happened in the Spring after Partner Exchange.  I received a call one evening from our GM of Sales, a client was having trouble in their VMware environment.  What followed makes me extremely proud to work for Long View.  The complex problem was impacting the production environment of a newer client and we swung into action.  Over the next 30 days we would bring over 30 of my peers into play from across the organization to assist with the largest multi-technology recovery and remediation effort we had ever assisted with.  Team members were onsite 24/7, we provided architectural oversight, subject matter experts, project management, resource coordination, change and problem management, crisis management, and communication support.  We forged a partnership that will last for years to come, all starting with one phone call.  Next challenge... the Alberta Flood.

The flood surprised the province to put it lightly and the effects will be visible for many years.  Our offices were without power as were many of our clients, and some of our clients and peers businesses and homes were underwater or inaccessible.  I am so proud of what Long View did next, we were given three priorities: 1. Look after our staff, 2. Ensure our clients were up and running, 3. See how we can help in our communities.  Those who couldn't work remotely and were willing, were organized into volunteer teams to go and help the community.  Long View financed hundreds of hours and supplies to give back to the communities that have treated us so well.  We also did some very innovative work to deploy and expand remote access and VDI solutions for several large public and private clients dramatically impacted by rising water.


 2H2013 (July - December)

I said goodbye to my good friend and colleague Matt as he went onto a global role with the VMware Global Center of Excellence in the Summer (Nate Raper went too - theses guys are world class).  He will be missed (and the Twitter banter will of course continue), but we have another VCDX applicant in progress and we will have two again in 2014.  We won't stop there, it's important to support the VCDX program, we will find more candidates.

My first year in my new North American role ended November 1, and we experienced another good year of growth and projects successes.  Five of our branches now have established virtualization teams, the progress continues.  In 2014 we will build out our Toronto team.  Yes, we are hiring, let me know if you are looking in that market, or any of our markets.  Good people are hard to find, we often create positions for them when we can.

I met a lot of great people this last year at conferences (Partner Exchange, VMworld) at Partner Technical Advisory Board, at clients, and am happy to now call many of them friends.  I also saw a great deal of movement as some friends made the move to manufacturers.  The partner community will feel the loss, but we gain advocates for tighter partner engagement.  You can't stop career progression and retaining top talent is always going to be tough in this market.  I wish them all well in their next challenging roles and hope to work with them "on the other side". :D

And to properly close out the year and begin the next, I decided it was time to do something I had meant to do for some time now, start this blog.

In 2014 I will start putting my thoughts to print as something grabs my interest.  I find that the longer I consult and run a virtualization practice the more I want to write my thoughts down about what we do and share ideas about what we have learned along the way.

I hope you find some value in it, and if you have time to comment please do.

I will be starting with a multi-part post on the journey to VCDX, the first part is mostly written and should be out (coffee pot willing) before 2014 begins.  I will also be running a breakout session at Calgary VMware vForum in January on automation and the cloud journey, so please stop by  and say hi.

I hope 2013 was a good year for you as well, and I look forward to seeing you in 2014.  Enjoy the time with your families, all the best to you this holiday season.  Thanks for reading.