We are Hiring! Come Work with Us!

Shane and I both work at a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner company here in St. John’s, Newfoundland called Infotech.  The company has existed since 1994 and has evolved from a small web development shop to a highly focused SharePoint / .NET application development firm. We also have other arms of our business that focus on Infrastructure and IT resource placements.

We have experienced considerable growth over the past 12 months and are looking for more talented people to come join our team. Right now all of the positions are based in St. John’s, NL so that would require you to be from this area or interested in relocating here. That’s right, while many complain that they must leave the Province and go West to get employment, we have been actually bringing people back East to Newfoundland.

Positions currently open include:

  • Senior Project Manager (7-10+ years experience managing IT Projects)
  • Business Analysts
  • Sales Lead
  • SharePoint Specialists
  • Application Developers (ASP.NET, SharePoint)

If you are interested in coming to work for us and would like to submit a resume, you can do so by either going to our website at www.infotechsolutions.com or by sending an email with your resume attached to careers@infotechsolutions.com.

About Process.

A word that is music to my ears yet sends so many others running for cover. How many times in the run of a week do I get that “Oh here she goes again” look? Usually good natured since most people in my company have begun to appreciate the value of well structured projects and products. However I still see it.

A large part of my job is related to understanding what customers need, matching technology features to those needs and then defining the process to deliver it. Since communication, collaboration and documentation are such important aspects of each project, it’s important that we have good processes in place to facilitate these activities.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner and software development company, we have a lot of different technological tools at our disposal to help us manage these processes and automate tasks. However it is important to understand that no matter how great the technology works (and how I do love it) – it is nothing without the process that it supports. Technology is an enhancement to a good process but it is not a substitute.

The Truth.

Process exists whether you recognize it or not. Any activity you perform has a process. You drive to work.  There is a process that brings you from your kitchen table to your desk. You brush your teeth.  There is a process. Imagine putting your toothpaste on your toothbrush after you finished brushing. Not very likely to happen since it’s a process you have performed so often throughout your lifetime that you have become completely unaware of its steps. The reason why you were able to learn how to do this right so quickly at a young age was because a) you had good instruction from your mother or father b) if you did it wrong you were probably sent right back upstairs to do it again, thus cutting down on the time you had to play with your friends c) it was logical – the steps were easy to remember because they made sense.

The Fear.

Many people at some point in their life became scared of the word process. Even though they unconsciously perform thousands everyday – somewhere along the line somebody taught them a BAD process. Bad processes are ineffective and inefficient. They cause people to spend more time worrying about HOW they are doing things than focusing on WHAT they are doing.

The Benefit.

Good processes define what comes next for people. They improve how information is transferred and stored in relation to an activity. By establishing efficient systems you allow your team members to focus on the issues that require their specific skill sets.

Think back to my example of driving a car. This is a process that you probably learned quite a while back. When you first started everything was new and your probably had some hesitancies and fears. However once you performed the process over and over – everything became more natural (hopefully). You became a better driver because you were able to spend more time looking at the road and what was ahead of you than looking at the speedometer or worrying about when to switch gears.

Processes allow team members to better react to issues and risks since they are not burdened with decisions on inconsequential tasks. Decision making and creativity can be left to more important items that directly affect the customer?s experience or product.

Ever go to a grocery store looking for 5-6 items and walk out forgetting one. Chances are you did’t have a list or a plan when you entered the store. Maybe you even got so distracted picking up other items that you forgot about the milk. Not a big deal in this setting I guess – I mean the kids can have orange juice in their corn flakes can’t they?

Now let’s change the setting to an important software development project where the customer identified 10 very specific requirements – and you develop an application for them that meets just 5 of the requested requirements plus 12 others that they really couldn’t care about. I think this could be considered a big deal. An effective process in this case, would have smoothly carried us from the requirements analysis stage, right through to the post project analysis meeting where the customer explains that they are very pleased with this new application that solves ALL of their problems. Now that my friends is where the music comes from.

Effective processes help you to make sure that critical tasks are completed and never skipped. Perhaps you have a project manager that needs to be notified whenever a change order is requested. By creating a change management process, resources can be required to notify their project manager or team lead before accepting changes. By having tools like Sharepoint or even custom developed applications, automated messages can be sent to team members based on activity in a specific web folder or directory. When a team member receives a change order request, he fills out a form and saves it to a library, and the project manager is notified immediately of change via an automated email message. By having a collection of these requests stored in a centrally accessible area – team members and leads are better able to make decisions and prioritize.

By effectively establishing and documenting processes, it becomes easier to scale your team and company since new members can easily be added. Valuable resources can be freed from repetitive time consuming tasks and bought in on additional projects to help your company grow.

The Things to Remember.

There are a few things that you should remember when you attempt to implement new processes or change existing ones in your organization:

  • Every activity has a process.  The question is whether the process is efficient or effective enough.
  • Don’t over complicate things.
  • Avoid duplication of information or effort.
  • Provide an appropriate level of instruction and documentation.
  • Don’t forget to work with your team to make sure you are considering all alternatives. Remember they are probably better at doing their job than you are.
  • When working with a group to define a process – focus on what activities they currently perform now. Try to retain as much as possible in the first pass through. If optimization or re-engineering is required you should try to implement in stages.
  • Once a process has been defined – look at ways in which certain tasks can be automated or made easier. Consider the use of templates, tools or information systems. Encourage team members to share areas they feel could be automated or improved.
  • When implementing multiple new processes to a group that contain similar tasks, try to be consistent in how these are performed. In other words, make sure the round red button always does the same thing.
  • Don’t be afraid to look at how other people are doing things – they might be doing it that way for a reason and might not mind showing you why.

Ineffective processes leave people with wounds. Try to avoid implementing steps that result in your staff feeling locked down. The goal should be liberation. Let people spend their time doing the things they love about their job. Allow them to see the value behind the process and subsequently feel more positive towards it.

By gradually introducing change in manageable stages, it becomes

  1. easier to train users or groups on the new way of doing things
  2. demonstrate the benefit of each change
  3. spot some things you might have missed in your design.

By completely overhauling how a team does their work – you run the risk of losing them for good or disrupting the quality of service being offered to your customers. Unfortunately that is a process you have no control over once it happens.

Can you process the notion of a process?

It?s been a busy week and I feel like generalizing. I have managed to sort the entire population of our planet into 3 categories.

A) Those that can always see the big picture despite complexity and can architect processes to reach goals. The strongest representative of this category is generally not satisfied to be in a strictly implementation role and are often looking for ways to improve things.

B) Those that excel in implementation in their particular field but require a roadmap to complete each milestone. Every organization needs these people. The strongest representative of this category is generally extremely talented at what they do.

C) Those that cant identify or follow process. In fact, when faced with instructions, rules, or timelines, these people either fight back with opposition or run and hide. The strongest of this category can be very frustrating to work with when placed in a role which involves collaboration and interdependency. In fact, working with these people can often lead to some form of dependency.

Ok so there is no doubt to the fact, I am over-generalizing but I bet by now you have identified which of the above you feel you are. If not maybe you are a boundary spanner. These people are very key and also great at managing the relationships between the stronger cases of the above mentioned.

So should a company go out and hire only people in one of the above categories? Of course not but effective placement is key to success as well as the overall morale of your staff. As well, by building the channels of communication to cater to the specific needs of each group, a manager can optimize the strengths of each group and minimize the effects of their weaker skills.

By the way, none of what I am saying above is earth shattering news. A good book that discusses a similar breakdown is the e-myth. I highly recommend it and thank Steve for recommending it to me a while back.

The 10 Rules of Leading Successful Projects

#10. Don’t Communicate!

Everyone knows that communicating with others is a sign of weakness. You should never share with your ideas with teammates. Someone may steal them and put you out of a job!!

#9. Avoid Planning and Progress Tracking

It takes too much time and is too distracting. It is better to just dive in and not get too caught up in this whole “direction” thing. Things will get done faster this way! Everyone knows that.

#8. Avoid Decision Making

It’s better to leave that for someone else – that way you can’t be held accountable for anything. Besides if you never commit to anything…it’s much easier to back out in the end.

#7. Be the Hero!

Try and do as much of the work yourself as possible…I mean if you are leading the project…surely you know more about the individual tasks than anyone. In the end you can brag to others about how great you are.

#6. Hack It Together!!

Avoid methodologies and best practices. No one really follows them anyways. They were created by your competition to distract you. As long as it sorta works like it should, you can always go back and fix it later.

#5. Avoid Testing

Never Test – It impedes morale and progress…it is much better to assume it works.

#4. Avoid Documentation

It’s a waste of time…no one ever reads it anyways

#3. Blame Your Team for Everything

Blame teammates for everything – as long as you are talking the loudest then everyone will think that you are right.

#2. Never Recycle

Never ever do something the same way twice…it’s much more exciting to invent a new process every single time you do something.

#1. Never believe something just because you read it on the Internet

Take the time to learn the right way to do things. Effective decision making, leadership and collaboration can make or break a project and anyone that believes the first 9 items in this list should be shown the door or smartened up fast!! Quite often the less obvious elements of a project (planning, tracking, communicating and testing) are the most imperative to its success.

Staying motivated for your day job

Curt Rosengren has a great post onstaying motivated at your job.

I remember being very intrigued by his title “Passion Catalyst” a few months ago when I first saw it listed on another blog. Now that I have been reading his weblog for a while I think I have a better respect for what that means. Great great great blog!

Now all I need is a motivation partner :-) Maybe our dog, Zhiva, will be up for the job. Great listener but kinda lacks in the perspective department.

What Makes a Job Enjoyable??

Workplace happiness and “jerk bosses” are topics I see popping up on a number of blogs lately. The Fast Company crew had some more great guest hosts in last week to discuss such topics (I really like how they do that) and many readers posted some interesting experiences.

I have been fairly lucky throughout my short career. I started out with a boss that not only served as a great teacher but also became a great friend. My current boss is someone who I both trust and respect tremendously. These are the two metrics I consider most relevant in relationship building. Steve lets me work on projects that challenge me, listens and always makes sure there is never a shortage of cool new things for me to play with. He is probably the only person I know that reads more than I do. He is also the person that is most responsible for my decision to start a weblog. He started his and suggested that it might be something I would enjoy. He was right.

There are a multitude of factors and experiences that affect how one feels about his or her job. Far too many people work jobs that they hate – just because they need the money or never had the opportunity to follow their true passion. Other people may love their job but have a difficult time tolerating office environmental factors such as stress, politics, or mismanagement.

A large part of what discourages employees and makes them hate their jobs can be avoided by effective leadership and management. Management that builds an environment that facilitates communication, growth and relationships.

I have known first hand that a less than perfect job can be made a lot more enjoyable when coupled with great management. The first job I had was by many measurements “less than perfect” but the owner was someone who to this day has taught me more about business and relationships than a text book ever could. I have also witnessed employees hate a job that they have always wanted because of poor management and difficult relationships.

I believe that great leaders are born not bred. (maybe with a few exceptions) Just as I feel there are certain personalities that are made for management – there are those others that should really know to step back. That being said, for those who are in management positions but are seeking ways to improve their effectiveness in their role, I offer this advice:

Lead By Example

Employees respect a leader that not only follows the rules but defines them. A leader that can be seen constantly seeking self improvement and growth is one that will inspire his / her team to do the same. A leader that is seen as the weaker link in the chain will over time, drag down the performance and moral of those around him/her. By leading by example, a leader will in fact raise the bar and set a standard for performance that all team members will respect.

Follow Through on Promises

Gain a reputation for following through on promises and deliverables. Treat team members with the same level of respect as your clients. If you can’t deliver “X” by a certain date, don’t promise that you will. Failure to deliver on promises will not only diminish your team’s respect for you but will also erode their trust. This is dangerous for any organization. Create an atmosphere of honesty and realism. Goals will become easier to attain as a team, when everyone knows where there REAL finish line is.

Be Honest

Honesty is a critical characteristic for any human being in my book but especially in an environment where people need to work together and depend on each other. If you develop a reputation for lying, your team will never respect or trust you. Even worse, some might consider it to be an acceptable behaviour. A team that is operating on a platform of distrust and deception will self-destruct. But probably not before they cause destruction in all other areas of your business.

Build Relationships with People Not Groups

Understand the people you work with. Don’t feel content that you get along ok with the team as a whole. Find out who they really are. Recognize their strengths so that you are better able to use them. Understand weaknesses, not to criticize but to make sure that each team member is operating in an environment in which they feel comfortable and confident. Learn what it takes to motivate each person on your team. What works for one person, may not for another. People are different and therefore have different ways of communicating, responding and growing. Make sure you understand what these are.

Empower and Delegate

These aren’t just trendy words – they are major building blocks in an effective organization. A team should be built out of individuals that are great at what they do and meet a specific mix of requirements to perform a job. If this isn’t the case then you may have a human resources issue that needs to be resolved. More often than not however, employees fail not because of their own competency levels but because they were not given the direction or permission they needed to do their job effectively. When this happens – it is a gross example of mismanagement. Great managers hire people that are smarter than them and teach these people to be better at their job than they are.

Encourage Growth & Learning

Understand what each team member’s long term goals are and help them gain the training and experience they need to achieve them. Remember the more you facilitate their growth and learning, the higher their level of satisfaction will be – thus reducing the likelihood of them seeking the equivalent experience elsewhere.

There are a lot more things that affect relationship building and leadership in an organization. But if you work on the above things, much of the others will come a little more naturally since you will have created an environment full of opportunity for both you and your team members. However if you continuously close the doors of communication and fail to build these critical relationships with your employees – perhaps you should consider alternate positions in your company.

The Opportunity Shop

Imagine yourself walking into a store – it’s filled with shelves and shelves of items that interest and excite you. Now if you are like me, you probably can not afford to purchase every single item. Even if you could, it is unlikely that you would since it would just be impractical – you would never have enough time to use each item and it would be a chore to get every item home. Plus where would you store it all when you did get home? Bottom line, no matter how attractive something looks, your resources are too limited to be unselective.

In business we are faced with opportunities every day (hopefully). However not all of these are worth pursuing. The more scarce your resources, the more selective you have to be. Seems logical enough but unfortunately too often employees are sent on wild goose chases tracking down leads that are neither strategic, profitable nor even possible.

These hopeless opportunities are what I call SODs. Some of you may know a sod to be a small rectangular block of grass. On its own it looks rather small and insignificant, but depending on how many of them you collect, you can fill an entire field with them. Hmm large grassy field eh? How can that be wrong?

Well when I speak of SOD I am not referring to anything grassy. I am alluding to what is usually left over when you chase down these hopeless opportunities. Sunk Costs, Opportunity Costs, and Disappointment. Similar to its grassy namesake, individually they seem harmless. However the more you collect, the greater the mass of unrecoverable costs, lost resource time and depleted morale to soil your company.

Effective decision making is the key here. Decision making based on business intelligence and shared strategic vision. There are many methods for evaluating the future value of an initiative that we all learned in business school. As well, there are all kinds of analytical processing systems that can be deployed that will supply teams with data to aid their decision making abilities. However what matters is that the system you use works for you. So if a whiteboard is all your team needs to make good decisions – roll with it.

I used to use an Excel spreadsheet that listed opportunities and calculated a score based on items such as:

  • strategic value
  • resource availability
  • expected profit
  • expected revenue
  • competition
  • probability of success
  • These days I can store all of this information in a cross departmental list on a Sharepoint site so that team members and leaders can view what matters to them whenever they want to. As well I can make this information a lot more useful by using it as a launch point for some other processes.

    Those are just some variables one could consider when evaluating opportunities, and each can have a different weight depending on how important they are to your company. By calculating a score, it becomes easier to be selective on which opportunities should be pursued by employees. As well, by considering items such as probability of success, competition and profit, you may notice yourself with a lot less SODs lying around – and that’s good for every company!

    So the moral of the story – if you go to the opportunity shop make sure you take a list. It can be as technology rich (or poor) as you want. The important thing is that you use a system that makes better use of scarce resources and reduces the number of SODs you see if the run of a week.

    Storing Ideas

    There is an interesting post on the Fast Company blog regarding where people get ideas and more specifically…how they deal with them.

    Most of the people commenting are saying that paper systems are the way to go. The original poster even discusses a neat system whereby ideas are written on small blocks of paper in one pocket and transferred into another for later review. Great system! But it would never work for me.

    The whole point of any such system is that it be one that would actually be used. If it?s not convenient and natural – it won’t be used often enough to be effective.

    Anything that involves storing information on paper generally doesn’t work for me. No matter what the size is, it clutters my desk, gets bundled in my pockets, gets lost, takes too long to shred when I am done with it etc…

    I use OneNote for virtually all my notes, research and brain dumps now. I have developed a system that fits me just perfectly and it?s so natural to use I don’t even have to think about it.

    I know some of you might be saying that I might not always have a computer with me…but for the most part (in a kind of sad way) that is not true. At a minimum I have it anywhere I would have a pen and paper with me. I work with my tablet next to me, I relax with it next to me, and yes I even sleep with it next to me. Unless I am driving (at which point it?s likely behind the front seat of my car) it is pretty much always with me. Hmm this is sounding more pathetic as time goes on. Ah well I am 100% geek and I love it.

    OneNote is great for research, as my boss has discovered. I love how it appends the URL of any thing you find on the web within your notes. Thus letting you focus on tracking down good information – not worrying about how you will reference it later.

    The note flags in OneNote are great and customizable – plus you can apply them as you work and later reference a summary screen with all of them – thus saving you the stress of keeping track of them yourself. I am working on a small tutorial on how to use these and other One Note features which I will probably have up on my new site this weekend (been real lazy). If not just email me and I will send along to you or answer any questions you might have.

    Not Just Buzzness as Usual

    When did talking over your customers’ heads become a wise thing to do? I completely agree that certain words stimulate better reactions in specific audiences however it amazes me how many people just don’t GET it when it comes to communicating with their customers.

    The goal should always be to help your clients – not confuse them. Some people have different opinions on how far you should go to help a client. I think that as long as you are not sacrificing your business, you should go the distance.

    Helping a customer doesn’t mean giving them everything for free or a discount. Helping a customer is giving them a clear concise message about what they need to do to make their problem go away. Most customers appreciate honesty and similarly I have noticed that more poor customer experiences are a result of too little information rather than of a price dispute.

    If I bring my car into the dealership because it’s making a weird noise, I want them to fix it. I don’t care what parts they use to do it. I just want to know that A) its going to be fixed B) its going to be fixed in 4 hours and C) it will cost me $xxx.xx to get it fixed. That’s it. I don’t expect them to do it for free or a discount but I do expect them to do what they said they were going to do.

    You should talk WITH your customers. Talking with your customers implies a two way converation. Two way conversations are nice and go a little something like this:

    —————————————————————

    You: Hey, how’s it going?

    Customer: Terrible

    You: Really? What seems to be the problem?

    Customer: I just don’t understand why I am losing so much business in “X” area. The group there is working round the clock and still can’t meet our customer demands. I don’t know what is going on.

    You: Really? Is this a new development or has this always been a problem?

    *** Conversation continues on for a while with exchanges from both parties and then LATER THAT SAME CONVERATION… ***

    Customer: Wow you are right! By clearing up the [real problem] in our “y” department, the guys over in “x” would be much better able to perform their jobs and wouldn’t be spending some much time [cleaning up the mess from “y” department]. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before.

    You: Don’t worry about it – that’s what I am here for. I have seen this situation a lot. There are a couple of ways I think this could be done. I think the best alternative in your situation would be to [buy my product] but you could also try [my other product] if you think it might be easier to implement. I can drop by later to give you a little demo and discuss what would be involved here.

    (In other words…”I understand your problem and I CAN HELP YOU”)

    Customer: Ok drop by tomorrow at 3.

    (In other words…”finally someone that can HELP ME”)

    ————————————————————

    Sometimes an actual peer-to-peer dialogue can’t take place but it is still important to dig a little deeper to hit on the real issues that matter to your customers. Don’t talk over their heads. Not many business managers or owners are going to purchase something that they don’t understand. If they do once…they might not be around for any repeat sales down the road.

    Most customers are “customers” for a reason. In other words, if they knew everything you did about your product – they wouldn’t need you because they would probably make it themselves.

    They don’t care if you are going to proactively implement end-to-end result driven best practices that revisit your core competencies and create 24/7 value-added solutions that improve your bottom line by the end of the day. They just want you to solve their problem.

    So in summary, if you can’t talk WITH your customers, at least talk TO them. Just don’t do what so many companies these days seem to fail on, and talk OVER their heads. Sometimes the only buzz phrase you need is “I can help you solve that”.

    What a Game!

    Being a long weekend, I have decided to take some time to kick back and catch up on some reading and relaxation time. I also watched “Hockey Night in Canada” for first time this season. Unfortunately the Leafs got womped by the Canadiens but I can?t say I am too upset. The season is still only starting and I am more a Rangers fan anyhow. The good news was a young Newfoundlander scored his first goal in the NHL.

    In thinking about it, I have come to realize that an efficient small company is quite similar to a good hockey team.

    Consider the company’s sales & marketing teams (centre), business development division (wing), and finance department (wing) as the forwards. While each group has its own unique strengths and responsibilities, they can feed off each other’s plays to produce winning products and great scoring results. A good lead or move by one can really benefit the entire team?s offensive strategy and performance. The forwards are also always watching over their shoulder to make sure there is someone back on the line for defense. Effective spotting of a hole in the defense line, allows for quick communication or a temporary replacement before any damage can be done.

    Similar to a hockey team, the sales and marketing divisions may be the most visible on the score sheet but can be easily overwhelmed if left on their own with no support. Sometimes a good feed from one may lead to a fast break and quick goal, but a more dependable offense is more strategic and requires steady input from all players.

    The defense team is the operations team in my opinion. These guys are feeding everyone on the team and are the primary source of the stability for the company. The defensive line can step up and deliver some offense occasionally but are primarily there to act as the foundation of defense for the team. By effectively performing their roles in a timely and effective fashion, they defend the team against opposition and become a symbol for dependability and strength that their fans (clients) grow to depend on. Everyone loves a good defensive team. A good defense team improves the confidence level of the forwards to go out and do what they are best at. Score.

    The goalie is a representation of the management team. These are the program managers, product managers, technical leads etc? These players are constantly watching the game and monitoring everything that happens. They are ready to block off adversity and transform it into an offensive strategy, kick it off to side, or sometimes when the going gets tough they will stop the play just to give everyone a chance to catch their focus again. While often viewed as the strength of a team, these players are only as good as those around them. A poor skating team with an amazing goalie is still going to be a losing team. A good goalie learns to love and respect his/her team and depends on them tremendously.

    As in hockey, the absence of one player may be handled for short amounts of time but places a great deal of strain on remaining players. When a team is shorthanded, they are vulnerable to adversity and can be worn down very easily. For that reason, all team members should do their best to keep themselves on the ice at all times. Sometimes an innocent slip up can really hurt the entire team.

    The coaching staff is representative of a company?s executive management team. These are the people who are constantly seeing the big picture and drawing up the plays that optimize the strengths of each line. No matter how good a team is, they need strategic direction. This isn?t always easy to see when viewing the game from the ice and that is why it is important to have an executive team that knows where they are needed most. Absence of a good coaching staff can result in a bunch of players all performing their best but going nowhere since they are not performing with a common goal in mind or do not have a proper roadmap or playbook to get there. A good executive team is aware of the performance of every division and should be able to adjust lines and build plays that will deliver both a solid offense and bulletproof defense.