Skip to content

Recent Articles

20
Apr

What to look for when selecting a new company to work for?

Are you changing jobs?

When it comes to changing jobs, is never an easy time. Many people change jobs because they are not happy where they are, and others simply change jobs for a new challenge.

Due to the current shortage of high calibre candidates in the Australian IT industry, head hunting is becoming more and more popular, or perhaps necessary, which is creating a false sense of urgency and leading people to make mistakes.

What you miss when changing jobs:

Due to the competitive nature of recruitment the Australian IT industry, companies and recruiters are pushing candidates harder than ever before to commit to offers more quickly.

This push often does not give the candidates sufficient time to complete their research on the company they are joining prior to making the commitment to the new role.

In some extreme cases, the role they ended up accepting is simply not the role they thought they had applied for!

Many of us have made this mistake. We have accepted a role without doing sufficient research and have have to put up with the results!

What to look out for when changing jobs:

My advice to you is to spend the time necessary to research and properly evaluate the position and the company prior to making any commitment. If you are that good and the company really wants you, they’ll wait a couple of days for you to complete your research. If they are not prepared to wait a couple of days and pick another candidate, they were probably only trying to fill the role and were not worth working for.

If you are applying for a general mid level role in a company with sixty or less employees and end up:

  • Having more than two meetings
  • Meeting more than four people
  • Having to do presentations

*BEWARE* This is generally the sign of a political environment! Run while you can!

Things to check prior to joining a new company:

This section includes a number of areas that I think you should look into prior to accepting a role in a new company.

I don’t believe that you should [or would have time to] look into each and every point below. Take the items listed as guidance and concentrate on the areas that mean the most to you. If you think of key items that I have not listed below, please leave a comment and I’ll add your points to the list.

I am the candidate, can I really ask such questions?

Yes! Companies ask you for a resume, ask you about everything that you have done and call your references to make sure that you fit with that they are looking for. So why can’t you do the same to them?

Ask the recruiters, interviewers and some staff a few questions each and see what they say. If they don’t want to answer you, they must have something to hide. You need to make sure the position and company is just appropriate for you as you are for them.

1. Research the company – perform your own background check on them!

Find out a little more about the company that you are speaking to [or targeting] to allow you to understand more about them, how things work internally, and how their current employees feel about working there.

The basic steps for finding out background information are:

1.1 Check LinkedIn

  • Does the company have a complete profile on LinkedIn such as Kiandra IT?
  • Check the average tenure length based on employees LinkedIn profiles. Please remember that this is indicative.
  • Check to see if there is there an "Ex-Employees" group on LinkedIn
  • Check to see if the current employees are active on LinkedIn. Are they updating their profiles and connecting to recruiters?
    • This is generally okay for people in HR, Sales and Marketing, bad for most other roles
    • If these are general staff, beware! This is a sign of unhappiness and a world of churn about to unfold.

1.2. Look for Company Reviews

1.3. Gain some internal insight

  • Ask a friend or LinkedIn connection to see if they know anything about the company. You might be connected to someone that has previously worked in the company.
  • Have a coffee with someone that works in the company that you don’t know. Arrange this using LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • Dial a random number in their phone number range and initiate a conversation with whoever answers the phone!

1.4. Check for noise on Twitter

  • See what customers think of the company by doing a basic search on Twitter using their name (Twitter Handle) or Hash Tag
  • Monitor current employees Twitter accounts to see what they are discussing online. You can generally find a Twitter link on their LinkedIn profiles

Unhappy employees generally talk and Tweet about their experiences! If you are not able to locate sufficient information on the company and it has been around for a while, be wary!

2. Does the company care about their brand? Do they believe in marketing?

2.1 Brand awareness

  • Have you ever heard of the company before now?
  • Have your friends heard of the company? If so, ask them how they know about the company and what they think of it.
  • Does the company a positive reputation in the industry?

2.2 Website and online presences

  • Does the company have a website?
    • Is their website complete, relevant and up to date?
    • Do you believe what they say on their website? If you don’t, their customers won’t…
    • Are there spelling and grammar mistakes on their website? If so, be cautious. Their website is their first point of contact with their [potential] customers, and if they have no pride here, they’ll have not pride anywhere else.
  • Have they got an informative LinkedIn company profile with the products and services they offer?
  • Have they got an active Twitter account? Tweet them, ask a question, and see if they get back to you. If they don’t get back to you, they won’t get back to their customers, which is not a good sign.
  • [If Appropriate] Have they got a Facebook company profile

2.3 General

  • Call the general office number and observe the following
    • Do they have a proper reception?
    • Is the person that answered the phone knowledgeable?
    • Do they care?
  • Does the company have at least one internal marketing and communications person?
  • Does the company clearly communicate its mission and vision to all internal staff?
  • Do internal staff believe in what the company is trying to achieve and support the mission?
  • Ensure the company has a good current portfolio of clients.
    Make sure that the portfolio includes what has been done in the past 18 to 24 months because many companies present portfolio’s that are out-dated with customers that are no longer customers
  • Does the company engage in Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook?
  • Does the company feature in any media such as industry publications or journals?

3. Does the company have a sales team that is friendly and knowledgeable?

  • Does the company have a team of dedicated sales people?
  • Does the sales team understand what they are selling, are they able to demonstrate it, and can they clearly convey their value proposition to their prospects?
  • Ask them where they find most of their business?
    They should be active in multiple channels and not rely on word of mouth. Word of mouth will enable survival, but not let a company prosper.
  • Does the sales team focus on any particular markets?
    This is not important, but if it sounds like they take anything they can get, be cautious.
  • Does the company have a list of recent case studies and testimonials on their website?
    You should be able to verify at least two of them online.
  • Meet the sales team and ask them a few questions about their products and services
    • Are they knowledgeable?
    • Do you believe what they are telling you?
    • Ask them why a client would want to use their services?
    • Ask them company what their value proposition is?

4. Company Culture

  • Get an indication of the internal company culture from multiple sources, including:
    • The recruitment agent
    • The interviewers
    • A current or past staff member
  • Ask to see their office facilities
  • Ask the company why they think you will be a good fit and suitable for the position?
  • Does the company believe in Transparency? Validate this by asking an employee.
  • What level of social engagement does the company have with their employees? Do they have drinks and food on a Friday night? Do they take their teams out to lunch?
  • Do they recognise good work by giving out awards?

5. What size company should you join?

This is always a difficult question to answer. There is no straight answer and we all need something different. The notes below are simply general notes and you need to make your own decisions here.

  • Small companies are great when you are young and ambitious, but as you get older and mature, you tend to require something a little larger with more structure to satisfy your needs.
  • Larger is not always bigger. Bigger companies tend to be more political and hierarchical.
  • Smaller companies tend to be more ad-hoc with a level of chaos at times. They do however present you with far more opportunity which allows you to learn more.
  • Review the companies current head count vs. the length of time the company has been around.
    A good company would have more than 30 people after 20 years!

6. Performance management

  • Ask the company if they have a performance management system in place to track the progress of employees, divisions and the company as a whole
  • Ask the company how they go about measuring the performance of employees
  • Ask the company how KPI’s and targets are formed

Here is an interesting quote about Atlassian that I found on the BRW website:

Atlassian has completely changed the performance review system for its 200 employees in the past year. It scrapped contentious ratings and performance bonuses, shifting to a flat 8 per cent annual salary increase for everyone, backed with monthly “coaching conversations” between managers and team members.

7. General things to look out for when joining a new company

  • Do you agree with companies mission statement and do you believe in their values? If you can’t find these on their website, consider them as not having any!
  • Does the company have a strong leader that has been successful in the industry? A strong leader needs to have:
    • Good communication skills
    • Be known in the industry
    • Be ethical in nature
    • Be a subject matter exert in their area of expertise
  • Is the company structure based on silo’s and/or hierarchies, or do they promote a flattish structure?
    Silo’s and hierarchies are generally more political and less collaborative than a flat structure.
  • If it is a public company, review their annual reports for the past three years and observe:
    • How stable the company has been over the last three years.
    • Check the head counts to see if and when they have had any recent jobs cuts
  • Ask the company how they manage their resources and how they go about forecasting their resource requirements

The top 10 things employees look for in a company

This is a summary taken from the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix it.

  1. Employees want purpose
  2. Employees want goals
  3. Employees  want responsibilities
  4. Employees want autonomy
  5. Employees want flexibility
  6. Employees want attention
  7. Employees want opportunities for innovation
  8. Employees want open-mindedness
  9. Employees want transparency
  10. Employees want compensation

 

You can read more about the top ten things employees want in Issie Lapowsky’s great post on inc.com.

I hope this helps some people when evaluating a new company.Please leave any feedback you may have in the comments below.

[Update] 7 May 2012: Added Australian Company Review sites in “1.2. Look for Company Reviews” above

10
Sep

How to Run Effective Meetings

I get many meeting requests on a daily basis, and if I attended them all, I’d have no time to do my real work. I always appreciate it when the meeting organiser has planned the meeting in advance and knows what they want to achieve from the meeting.

There have been many books written on the topic by researchers with great tips on how to conduct more effective meetings, some of which I am going to share with you below.

Before the meeting:

  1. Determine whether or not a meeting is actually necessary. Could the matter be resolved in a more time efficient manner such as a conference call or over email?
  2. Determine the purpose of the meeting. The most common reasons for holding a meeting are:
    1. Share information
    2. Collect information such as input or ideas
    3. Plan something
    4. Make a decision
    5. Persuade or sell
    6. Solve a problem
    7. Evaluate a status
  3. Determine who needs to attend the meeting. You should invite the minimum number of participants needed to achieve the purpose of the meeting.
  4. Distribute a meeting agenda to those invited prior to the meeting.
    The meeting agenda should include:
    1. The purpose of the meeting
    2. The topics to be covered with the most important agenda items at the start
    3. The time allocated for each topic
    4. Who will present the topic
  5. Prepare visual aid or handouts. Prepare some materials the present the topic in a graphical way, something that will help the participants focus on the topic and avoid rambling digressions.
  6. Make meeting room arrangements.
    The meeting room arrangements should include:
    1. Booking an appropriate meeting room
    2. Making sure the room is large enough for all the participants
    3. Making sure there are enough chairs for all the participants
    4. Making sure that the required equipment, such as a projector, will be available for the meeting
    5. Confirming any catering requirements for food and drinks. This is especially important if you are going to be running a breakfast of lunch meeting.

During the meeting:

  1. Start the meeting on time. Don’t wait for late comers. If you wait for them once, they will tend to always be late for future meetings because they know you will wait.
  2. Designate a person to note the meeting minutes. Someone should be assigned to take meeting notes ahead of time.
    The meeting notes should be: 
    1. Clear and concise
    2. Cover all the decisions made, actions, assignments and estimated completion dates for actions during the meeting.
  3. Review the purpose of the meeting and the agenda. Be concise and don’t give a lengthy discourse.
  4. Facilitate the meeting, don’t dominate it. The facilitator should not lead all discussions, they should get the persons assigned to the topics to lead their topics.
    A good facilitator will:
    1. Keep the meeting moving within the scheduled time
    2. Encourage participation from all
    3. Limit the discussion by participants who have a tendency to talk too much
    4. Control interruptions and side conversations
    5. Clarify points that should be made
    6. Summarise topics and transition to the next
  5. Summarise the meeting at the end. This is to ensure that all participants have a clear understanding of all decisions and action items. The meeting leader should verbalise these items to reduce the chance of any misunderstandings.
  6. Do not exceed the scheduled meeting time. Participants have other meetings to attend to. If all topics are not covered in the designated time, it is better to schedule a follow up meeting.
  7. Evaluate the meeting process. Participants should discuss any ways in which the meetings can be conducted more efficiently and effectively.

After the meeting:

  1. Publish the meeting notes within 24 hours
  2. The meeting notes should:
    1. Be concise and kept to one page if possible
    2. Should not include a detailed narrative
    3. Should confirm any decisions that were made
    4. List any action items, who is responsible for the actions, an estimated completion date and the deliverables expected
    5. A list of persons who attended and who was absent
    6. Should be distributed to all persons who were invited

 

Please note that these are not my ideas. This list above is compiled from a number of books that I have read.

6
Sep

WANTED: ScrumMaster’s and Agile Project Managers!

Hi Guys,

I currently have a couple of openings available for experienced Agile practitioners to join my software delivery teams.

I am looking for candidates that have:

  • Prior hands on experience developing software applications
  • Recent project management experience – being accountable for project finances, delivery and stakeholder management
  • Experience with Agile. People who enjoy using Scrum and Kanban, and would like to help me by continuing to improve our software teams and to educate our customers on the benefits of Agile

This is not a hands-on software development role. It is a ScrumMaster role with some formal aspects.

I am offering an attractive package for the right candidates. If you think you are a good fit for the job, please contact me on matthew [dot] sorvaag [at] byte [dot] com [dot] au.

Thanks,
Matt

7
Aug

Creating a Work Breakdown Structure Diagram in Microsoft Project 2010

As far as I am concerned, one of the most fundamental report templates that are missing from Microsoft Project 2010 is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) template.

What many people don’t realise is that there are still a number of ways for you to generate pretty Work Breakdown Structures using third party or free Microsoft add-ins.

To create a Work Breakdown Structure in Project 2010, try the following links:

Please let me know if you come across any other useful WBS Templates for Microsoft Project by leaving a comment below.

Getting Started with the Microsoft Visio 2010 WBS Modeller:

  1. Install the appropriate add-in linked above
  2. Open Visio 2010 and open the “Add-Ins” folder under the Template Categories
    image
  3. Select the “WBS Modeler” template, select your preferred Unit of Measure and then click the Create button
    image
  4. A new blank Visio drawing will open and you should see a new Tab on the Ribbon Menu, WBS Modeler
    image
  5. The next step is to import data from Microsoft Project. To do this, open the project file in Microsoft Project, select the WBS Modeler Ribbon Tab and click Import
    image
  6. Select the level from which you want to begin the data import and then press the Draw button to draw the Work Breakdown Structure
    image
  7. That’s it! You now have a pretty Work Breakdown Structure as a Visio Diagram
    image
7
Aug

Rules for developing Network Diagrams

Some basic rules for developing network diagrams are:

  • Network Diagrams flow from left to right
  • An Activity cannot begin until all preceding connected activities have been completed
  • Arrows on Network Diagrams depict the precedence and flow of Activities. Arrows can cross over each other without any impact.
  • Each Activity should have a unique identification number
  • It is acceptable to leave gaps between Activity Identifiers such as: 1, 5, 10, 15. This makes it easier to add missing Activities at a later date without having to renumber the entire Network Diagram.
  • Activity Identifiers should be ascending numbers that are as simple as possible
  • Looping is not allowed
  • Conditional statements are not allowed – the network diagram is NOT a decision tree
  • Activities can only occur once on a Network Diagram. If they are to occur a second time, they should have a different name and new identifier.
  • Experience suggests that when there are multiple starts, a common start node can be used to indicate a clear project beginning on the network. Similarly, a single project end node can be used to indicate a clear ending

There are two main approaches for developing Network Diagrams:

  • AONActivity-On-Node – uses a node to depict an Activity
  • AOAActivity-On-Arrow – uses an arrow to depict an Activity
  • AON dominates most projects
6
Aug

Network Diagram Activities

A Network Diagram Activity is:

A Network Diagram is made up of a number of Activities, and each of the Activities consists of one or more Work Packages.

An Activity is an element in the project that consumes time, such as work or waiting.

Types of Activities:

  • Merge Activity – an Activity that has more than one activity immediately preceding it
  • Parallel Activities – two Activities that can take place at the same time
  • Path – A sequence of connected, dependent Activities
  • Critical Path – the path in the Network Diagram with the longest duration through the network. If any Activity on the critical path is delayed, the project will be delayed by the same amount of time.
  • Critical Activity – an Activity on the Critical Path
  • Non Critical Activity – an Activity not on the Critical Path
  • Event – an Event represents a point in time when an Activity is started or completed – it does not consume time
  • Burst Activity – an Activity that has more than one Activity immediately following it
  • Hammock Activity – creating of a Macro Network by grouping or rolling-up Activities to get the right level of detail

Notes:

  • Activities may or may not require resources
  • Activities may represent one or more tasks from the work package
  • Activities descriptions of activities should use a verb/noun format such as: Develop Product Specifications
  • Refer to the Task Dependencies in Microsoft Project 2010 post for more information on Activity Relationships
5
Aug

Developing a Network Schedule or Network Diagram

A Network Diagram is:

A Network Diagram is a visual flow diagram representing the sequence, interrelationships and dependencies of all activities that are required to be completed to complete of the project.

Work Packages from the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) are used to build the activities found in the Network Diagram. An Activity can include one or more Work Packages and are placed in a sequence that allows orderly completion of the project.

The nodes on the Network Diagram represent the Activities, and the arrows depict the dependencies and the project flow.

Notes:

  • A Network Diagram is constructed from a number of Activities, each of which are made up of one or more Work Packages
  • Work Packages are the primary input for developing a Network Diagram
  • All Activities that must be completed in order to complete the project
  • Work packagesare:
    • Defined independently of other work packages
    • Have a defined scope
    • Have definite start and finish points
    • May require specific resources
    • Include technical specifications
    • Include cost estimates
    • Are owned by an organisational unit
    • Belong to a single Cost Account. One cost account can have more than one Work Package associated with it
    • Do not include dependencies, sequencing, and timing
  • Well-developed Network Diagram should be easy to adjust when unexpected events occur while the project is under way
  • A Network Diagram provides the basis for scheduling labour and equipment
  • Network Diagrams enhance communication that melds all managers and groups together in meeting the time, cost and performance objectives of the project
  • Network Diagrams provides an estimate of the project duration
  • Network Diagrams identify the critical activities – those that should not be delayed
30
Jul

Comparison of project management software tools

People are always asking other people which software platforms can be used to manage projects, which are good, which are bad, and where do you find the details of the software tools that are currently available…? Wikipedia has a great page that compares many different project management tools that I found useful.

Have a look and see what is currently available on the market!

11
Jul

Contouring Resources in Microsoft Project 2010

He is another feature of Microsoft Project that I bet almost nobody knows about – Resource Contouring.

Resource contouring describes that shape of the contour with which a resource is assigned to a task. In reality, when we have a task that spans over multiple weeks and ten resources assigned to the task, it is highly likely that not all of the resources are going to be starting on the task at the same time, they would probably be staggered.

Project 2010 provides two methods to contour your resources:

Manually

To manually contour your resources, follow these steps:

  1. Allocate the required work resources to the task
    image
  2. Switch to the Task Usage View – this view shows all the work resources allocated for the same amount of time each day.
    image
  3. Manually adjust the hours in this view until you achieve the required staffing contour.
    image

Automatically

To automatically contour your resources, follow these steps:

  1. Switch to the Task Usage View – this view shows all the work resources allocated for the same amount of time each day.
    image
  2. Double click on the resource to open the Assignment Information dialog
    image
  3. Select the preferred contour and hit OK to apply it
    image

 

That’s it! That’s how easy it is to contour resources in Project 2010.

10
Jul

Task Dependencies in Microsoft Project 2010

And once again, I would be willing to bet money that many of the users of Microsoft Project never change the default task dependency types within their project schedules.

image

The 4 types of Task Dependencies in Project 2010 are:

  1. Finish-To-Start (FS) – the initiation of the successor task depends on the completion of its predecessor
  2. Finish-To-Finish (FF) – the completion of the successor task depends on the completion of its predecessor
  3. Start-To-Start (SS) – the initiation of the successor task depends on the initiation of its predecessor
  4. Start-To-Finish (SF) – the completion of the successor task depends on the initiation of its predecessor

The most common and default type of task dependency found in project schedules are the Finish-To-Start (FS) dependencies.

Leads and Lags:

In addition to selecting a type of dependencies between tasks, you also have the option of assigning leads and lags on the relationship.

  • Lead – a lead allows for the acceleration of the successor task. For example, the landscaping can be scheduled to start three weeks prior to the completion of the construction of the house. This would be a Finish-To-Start task dependency with a three week lead.
  • Lag – a lag is a delay in the successor activity. For example, the editing of an instruction manual could begin one week after the technical writers have begun. This would be a Start-To-Start task dependency with a one week lag.