Ukrainian service

We have our Ukrainian colleague Andry is in our office in The Netherlands for a couple of weeks, to assist in projects and learn about Wicket and mashups. His passport got stolen. That is not the best thing that can happen to you when being abroad. So he is now in a foreign country, without a passport and a visum to end soon.

But off course you have your own countries ambassee in the visiting country to help you. In this case the Ukrainian ambassee in The Netherlands. The first thing they told us is that it can take three months before they can deliver an official document stating Andry is allowed to travel back to the Ukraine without a passport. Next, when trying to call them on the status of the request, they give us another phone number to call between 9:00 and 12:00. That number answered, informing us to call back after 15:00. After 15:00 nobody answered at all. The next day between 9:00 and 12:00 no reactions again.

Ukrainian service/bureacracy? Or just bad luck?

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Improved marketing using social networks

Viral marketing
The project we are working on right now is focusing on viral marketing. Viral marketing means we are not talking about a normal “campaign” that is advertised to the target group by the company that started the campaign (via radion, newspapers, tv, banners, etc), but it is mainly spread by the target group itself (like a virus). Where it used to be word-of-mouth, nowadays of course it’s going much faster on the internet. For more info, check wikipedia on viral marketing.

Social networks
There are a lot of online social networks, both business (LinkedIn, Xing, etc) as private (Facebook, Hyves, Twitter, etc). The power of these social networks is that they enable the user to show themselves and contact friends, relations. And all that in a user friendly way, no copy-pasting e-mail address, but button-click functionality to expand your network and show who you are.

Contribute and win
My current project combines the viral marketing and the social networks into one. A marketing message that is spread to the user group via the social networks, by the target group itself. A powerfull combination, and the concept leads to a lot of positive response. People are invited to enroll in a competition (motive: you can win something nice). Of course we ask the information that is the main goal for the marketing campaign (a content submit and/or personal details). So there is a win-win-win situation. The marketing goal is reached, the target group is happy to join a competition and win awesome prices, overall costs drop because of the use of available networks.

Of course a new blog post will follow after we have the first release live 🙂

Interesting use of this approach: Use a viral to see if a community has added value for your business/product.

The client wants everything

In the past I have done a couple of projects (all CMS websites or portal development) where the deadline and budget were fixed, and the scope variable. Most of the times because the Senior User (business/client) did not completely know what they wanted at the start of the project. This is a problem. During the project more and more requirements become clear, and new ones pop-up. The work to be done, based on the existing and new requirements becomse more clear. And after some time it gets clear that the total amount of work requested will not fit the time and budget that is available.

That situation is not nice for the Senior User, because priorities have to be made and less important (but still wanted) requirements will not be delivered or additional time and money needs to be available. Also for the Senior Supplier (we) this is not a good situation. The client does not get all they want, which means the client will not be completely satisfied in the end.

Of course then you think…. but the agreements was based on variable scope, this problem is discussed in the project, everybody should be aware of it. Yes. But still the client wants everything, and is not happy if this doesn’t happen. String of thought: scope is variable, so let’s add this small feature, and this small feature, and this small feauture, ow… and this small feature.

In my current project we updated the offer from variable scope, fixed planning, fixed budget to fixed scope, variable planning, fixed budget. By defining the scope and offering it fixed it gives clearity to the client: this is what you will get, nothing more, nothing less (at least… without updating agreements). There will be less discussion, because is defined as fixed. And because the scope is fixed there is less reason to investigate all possible other nice related features.

No problems with scope changes, but they will have to be discussed separate. The advantage is the Senior User will verify if the additional scope adds value, because it’s clear what are the costs of this specific scope.

So my best practice (for the types of projects we normally do):

  • analyse the needed functionality and create clear specifications about them (T&M)
  • create a fixed scope offer for implementing the functionality described in the specifications
  • changes: RFCs

Twitter for reporting

Until now I did not really understand the added value of Twitter. Blogging I understand. But just mentioning what you do, it sounds a bit…. irrelevant. I know a lot of people see this completely different, so probably I am wrong (so pls don’t feel offended). And I think you never know for sure if you don’t test it yourself. So I need to find a good reason to push myself in trying this.

Wednesday we started a new project, which needs to be delivered fast, so we are going to do an extreme developement project. I have the honour of managing the project. Because we all like the concept we are really focused on delivering good results. We have a capable team. So far nothing but good news 🙂 Now, the next part is reporting to my client. We are doing this project as an internal project, so my client is also internal, but always really busy. And because time is short I want to be able to give small regular updates. What I do know he is using Twitter on a regular basis.

So I decided to bring these two together, and I will use Twitter to do reporting on the project. Not the normal Highlight Report at the end of the week or an Exception Report (hopefully not needed). But just small updates, some additional small info, short questions, etc, just the type of messages Twitter is meant for.

It will be a nice test to see if Twitter works for me and if I can swift to the extremely cool 😉 people that do use Twitter. Will I like it? I will keep you posted.

O, if you are interested: http://twitter.com/tomvanlamoen

Projects are about the goal

A couple of weeks ago I wend hiking in Belgium with my Scouts. And it was really nice, good weather, a nice route. After one and a half day we crossed a road which leads to the village Hotton, and we knew we also had to go through that village. One of the Scouts suggested: “Why not follow that road…. that’s faster than hiking up and down that hill in front of us”. Of course we didn’t follow the road, not only because it was a drive-too-fast-don’t-pay-attention-to-pedestrions-because-they-shouldn’t-be-there-anyway-road, but mainly because Hotton was not the goal of the day. The route was the goal. Hike through a nice environment, enjoy the view, enjoy the route.

This is different in projects. Projects are about the end goal, the business case, the benefits. And of course if you have no fun at working towards that goal,  find other work. But the  only reason for doing the project is reaching the goal. So if you find a fast route towards the end goal, you take it. No detours just for fun, no “sitting around, enjoying the view”…. 

That’s not always easy. Not only the senior user/business/client has a tendency to add as much as possible to the scope of the project, without verifying if it serves “the big plan”. Also developers like to add as much to the scope as possible, to deliver the best and complete product possible. However there is also time, money, quality, etc to consider.

So I guess in a project with every step you take, consider: “Does this have a positive influence on the goal?”.

Party… Ukrainian style

This weekend was the Christmas party of our colleagues in Lviv. Because I happened to be there for my current project, this was a nice opportunity to join, have a nice not-work-related time with my colleagues and see something more of the Ukrainian country. Ukrainian parties are like this: hire a bus, pack it full with wodka, drive to some nice hotel in the mountains, drink all the wodka and have fun in some activities. It really doesn’t matter what kind of activities, as long as it is people having fun. And we had fun… and drank wodka, and some more wodka, and after that… some more wodka.

We wend to a really cool hotel in Slavsko (which I could not find in Google Maps, btw), in the Carpathian Mountains. It is a ski village. But we were unlucky that there was not yet enough snow to do some skiing or snowboarding. That didn’t matter, we still wend up to the mountains, to have a look around, eat bread with cheese and meat and drink a small wodka with that. Also we have some musicians in the team, they have their own band. They took the guitars, drums and everything with them. When they started playing it kind of ended the party for the other group in the building (probably we were too loud), the music was good, and after some asking they even improvised some English songs. The second evening we had a barbecue with perfect shashliks.

I really enjoyed myself and this trip confirmed to me that we have a team that’s all really close. If you have a group of people that like each other you will have fun, and that’s what happened. So we have an amazing team spirit, which is easy to get along in even though I saw most people only for the second time. I hope I happen to be in the Ukraine for the next party 🙂

More pictures on my picasa.

Team culture

Some time ago I was doing a project in Germany. I worked closely with a lot of people at the client, on location in Germany.  What better way to discover the cultural differences 🙂

I was surprised. Germany and The Netherlands are neighbouring countries, but there were more differences than I expected.

Compared to Dutch people Germans have a more formal way of communication at work. So it’s possible you are good friends for years, but still in business meetings you will call each other sir/madam (if other people are present). In The Netherlands you almost never call somebody you know sir/madam, there are other ways to show you respect people.

It’s also always clear what the hierarchy in the company is, lot’s of people even have that in their signature, which makes escalation paths really clear ;). Disagreeing with somebody above you in the hierarchy is not done in Germany, but Dutch people are always ready to discuss everything with everybody, because it is possible you have a better solution for a problem than your manager. On the other hand it does take much more communication time in NL because of that.

Because of the different cultures within this project (German, Dutch, Greek, Romanian) the culture in the project changed from the local German working culture into a mixture best suitable for this project. For example everybody was on first-name base, but decisions from higher levels were always accepted as a fact.

As always a project team should find its own culture for maximum performance. Working with people from different cultures means you have more options to choose from and more to learn from each other. Of course if the cultural differences are big, everybody needs to change their behaviour more to fit in the culture, althought the tendence is to stay closest to the clients culture.