Agile, Naturally by Cliff Katz, PACE Cohort 7

Podcast Blog“Agile is what you do when your back is up against the wall, naturally.”
–Jim York, FoxHedge Ltd.

As Jim York of FoxHedge Ltd. and Elizabeth McQueen at US Customs and Border Protections explain, agile is a commitment that forces owners and teams to be more transparent. Short processes allow for immediate feedback and correction. Scrums don’t have much space for hiding: everything a team member does or doesn’t do can be quickly seen by all within a short span of time. Therefore transparency is not just logical from a spending perspective (federal projects are funded with taxpayer dollars), but is paramount because the process is expedited and checked on regularly. Agile also forces managers to be more engaged and accountable due to its unique characteristics (more on that from MPS President Kendall Lott’s podcast on the effectiveness of the agile software development approach). York and McQueen speak of agile consulting from a project management perspective, but I think they’re onto something from, well, a human perspective.

Project management can be enhanced by a number of frameworks and behavioral science tests that serve as a playbook for navigating complex human relationships and facilitating high quality work. If managers and consultants faithfully execute these theories and models, the odds are fair that a project will be successful, or at least that its teams will cohesively work together. However, from past experience and my time at MPS, I’ve learned that even the best frameworks aren’t perfect – there’s no substitute for smart people who are willing and able to understand and execute a complex PWS to make a project successful.

Consulting, as every new hire quickly learns, is neither as simple nor as glossy as a google image search of the term makes the profession appear. In real life project management, the puzzles are numerous and complex, and they constantly change. Merely keeping up can be a full time job by itself.

Despite my anxiety about bucking well-established theories of project management and human behavior, I enjoy agile consulting’s challenges and dynamics. Agile organized into a series of three week ‘sprints’ in which small teams from a number of groups come together (in daily meetings known as ‘scrums’) and tackle a set list of tasks. Daily scrum work consists of various meetings where project and technical management gauge progress on individual and team tasks. Agile’s dynamic nature allows continuous rebalancing of tasks and immediate resolutions of roadblocks. At a sprint’s conclusion, teams demonstrate the products of the list’s tasks for the client to provide feedback. Project teams will repeat this cycle for the project’s duration.

MPS’ ethos centers partly on enabling our partners to do their very best work with as little disruption as possible. At MPS, I succeed with my partners, not in spite of them. The agile technique of actually doing the work together and bonding throughout the fast-paced sprints makes me feel a little more human in a profession full of frameworks and online meetings. Much like an athlete in a relay, nobody on a project is ever alone in the work he or she is assigned; however, the immediate availability of resources only increases the pressure to perform. Though I haven’t physically met any of my project’s partners outside of my MPS teammates, I don’t want to be the person who lets down my team. Hopefully I’m agile enough to deliver.

Personnel Data Just Got More Secure

Posted in Human Resources / IT Services on August 03, 2011

As part of our ongoing efforts to maintain the integrity and security of employee information, the M Powered Strategies personnel files are now fully encrypted, stored, and managed using Jungle Disk, which offers industry-leading security and privacy protection. This convenient online system not only offers real-time syncing but also automatic backups. We can all rest easy knowing our information is secured.

Our New Face on the Web is Officially Live and Well!

Posted in Corporate Updates / IT Services / Marketing on April 25, 2011

M Powered Strategies launched our new website in February. With a thorough introduction to the company, information about of each of our primary service lines, details on how to contract and partner with us, postings about current job openings, and, naturally, contact information, the new site is already attracting increased traffic from Google.

This launch was no small undertaking. The Marketing and Information Technology Services (ITS) teams worked closely together and coordinated efforts to prepare an infrastructure to host our newest marketing tool. To ensure consistent professionalism, ITS will be converting all of our email addresses to the ‘@mpoweredstrategies.com’ format to match our new domain name. This transition will take place over the summer and should be seamless.

ITS Upgrades Inventory System

Posted in Corporate Updates / IT Services on January 26, 2011

To drive towards further clarity and accountability of company assets, M Powered Strategies IT Services recently upgraded our inventory tracking system. Andrew Slawter, Elizabeth Nurse and Mary Flannery identified all of our physical assets, re-classified equipment, labeled hardware and re-organized our equipment storage at headquarters.

Once the initial reorganization was complete, Andrew and Elizabeth merged existing inventory records with the new data compiled during the project and designed a custom SharePoint list that offers streamlined inventory control. Accessible from any web browser, the new inventory list offers quick and accurate status of equipment, streamlining the on-boarding and off-boarding process and reducing the number of duplicate entries in the system. We are currently preparing the new inventory records for integration with our new accounting software to ensure that financial records of our assets remain accurate.

Though the project (which began in June) was quite an undertaking, it was an excellent demonstration of how we can use existing tools, resources and expertise to accomplish a goal.

M Powered Strategies Rolls Out WebEx Online Conferencing

Posted in IT Services on September 30, 2010

WebEx Online Conferencing screenshotAfter extensive research and comparative testing among online conferencing solutions, M Powered Strategies IT Services is pleased to announce a new capability to schedule, host, and attend internal meetings online through WebEx. WebEx is a well known online conferencing tool and is currently used by thousands of organizations, both large and small, across the world. Its unmatched functionality will allow M Powered Strategies employees to schedule meetings in advance or on the fly, and more conveniently than ever. Scheduling the meeting, inviting attendees, and sending out agendas or other meeting materials can all be done all in one easy step with WebEx’s scheduling software.

Andrew Slawter and Wes Cronkite have enabled a WebEx Wiki User Guide with all the information you’ll need to get started. Employees are advised to review the Wiki prior to scheduling any meetings through WebEx. The guide contains information on how to get started using the WebEx software, including many helpful tips, tutorials, and links to other resources already available on the WebEx website. For your next internal meeting don’t just tell your team about that innovative solution you’ve implemented show them through WebEx!

WebEx software offers M Powered Strategies useful new functionality and tools for meetings.

  • Option of phone dial-in or computer audio
  • Automatic document sharing
  • Sharing of a single desktop screen for all participants
  • Automatic email invite generation to all attendees

SharePoint Emissary

Posted in IT Services on September 30, 2010

In 2009 M Powered Strategies IT Services (MITS) enabled SharePoint by handing the admin keys over to Client Delivery and Corporate Development Managers within the company. Over the past year and a half content and usage of the new tool have grown, but are we indeed more collaborative as a result? Wes Cronkite has teamed up with MITS to review the use of SharePoint both as a collaboration tool and as a means for disseminating important company information for internal consumption. Wes has a background in web web-based project management, communications, and the careful use of web analytics to understand web usage and appropriate marketing strategies. So in an effort to match Wes’ valuable skill set with an increase of requests from SharePoint users to understand how to make better use of the tool, MITS has commissioned him to do a series of stakeholder interviews with the M Powered Strategies SharePoint user community. SharePoint Administrators, and a handful of users should expect to hear from the latest edition of the MITS staff at some point this Fall. He may ask some pressing questions about technical usage, business requirements, and why you still aren’t using wiki’s, but staff is asked to kindly remember one thing during the interview with Wes: don’t shoot the Emissary.