Friday, 17 October 2014

Digital marketing and user understanding getting together

Apart from the blurring of digital roles like programmer, designer, and project manager, the blurring of digital marketing and usability specialists occurs but has not been recognised. The overlap comes from the interest in the users’ reactions to products and services that are offered electronically. Traditionally both professionals have employed concept testing to assess the reactions of potential users to an idea, new product or service. However, the market researchers keep a strong eye on the market conditions while the usability experts are biased towards the immediate user experience with the technology process. Both have merit, of course. Imagine a new product that the market seemed to want but it returns a poor result because of technology difficulties in users trying to buy it.

It comes back to the emphasis on which concept is being tested: the type of product or service, or how the user gets information and access to the product and service. We can see that the traditional approach to marketing and concept testing has a rounded approach covering the product, the packaging, the branding and the proposed advertising. [www.decisionanalyst.com]

More than this, the concept testing needs to take account of: the users’ needs for particular solutions, the clarity of the presentation of the item, whether the users are prepared to pay for the proposed new solution, how to move past the hypothetical to real responses. [www.circle-research.com]

So, concept testing covers far more than you imagined? Quite right. But companies are expecting a blend of skills and experience in the job descriptions they are drawing up, such as a Senior Digital User Researcher.

You know these skills are in demand when a technological solution is offered to cover them; see the description of various online tools that are designed to test concepts at Decisionanalyst.com.

The user perspective is noted much more strongly than it used to be. They are more vocal after all, and technology provides a means for them to voice opinions. How is your company dealing with this shift? Do you partner with a marketing/usability company that offers complimentary skillsets to yourselves that will serve your client-base? Are you conscious of the blending of usability and marketing insights? If you have a partnership, is there a bias towards the core skillset that might be limiting the research?

Searching questions for many iMedia development companies, I’d imagine.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What’s in a name? Are you missing out on recognition and funding?

We often come back to the thorny problem of what this whole industry (is it even defined as an industry?) is called. Multimedia, Interactive Media, Digital, Digital Media, Mobile Communications and so on. Then the pieces of whatever it is – digital marketing, games, animation, digital effects, digital data, social media, e-learning, front-end, back-end, digital graphics, ?????. Where do they fit?

You may well react with a, ‘what the hell does it matter?’ attitude because there’s so much to try to keep up with that this seems nit-picking. But, if the government doesn’t recognise you and keep statistics on you, they won’t apportion any of their money to you. That’s the fundamental problem. Government makes decisions on where to place investment as a result of stats collected according to definitions of ‘industries’ and their contribution to the economy: data that is gathered adhering to data codes of standards. Now, if their definition of an industry sector is non-inclusive, businesses not defined in their definitions don’t get a look in.

Do you define yourself within the ‘creative industries’? Do you know what they are? Finally people are recognising that we in digital are contributing significantly to the UK’s economy. In fact, the DCMS (Department for Media, Culture and Sport) cited some key figures in January where the creative industries value added growth of 15.6% between 2008-2012 was almost three times the 5.4% of the economy as a whole. More encouraging, employment rose far faster in our sector – almost 8:1 ahead of the general employment growth.

The traditional definition of ‘creative industries’ included film, television, writers, artists, musicians, theatre and even antiques, but with the rise of cgi, digital effects, animation, digital games and so on, exactly what constitutes ‘creative industries’ has been under scrutiny (hurray!). The DCMS gave some credence to the wider ‘creative economy’ where the official figures state that 1 in 12 jobs in 2012 were in it and that IT, software and computer services account for 31% of employment within this.

Oliver and Ohlbaum Associates did some research for Google in December 2013 where they used a redefined stance on ‘creative industries’: The Internet and the Creative Industries: measuring growth within a changing sector ecology. Here the wider digital value chain is recognised as ‘enabling industries’ that serve the digital creative chain. Their research recognises variances of definition of ‘creative industries’ across Europe as well as realising that the contribution to a country’s economy might be from global recognition of worth as well as a country’s GDP. They give a strong recommendation on behalf of SMEs and sole traders so that their contribution is recognised in future as they have been poorly represented so far. They warn that if the influence of the internet on the traditional creative industries is ignored then the measurement indicators for these industries might well report a decline while the opposite is true. There are some great graphics used in this report and it’s worth scanning if you have the interest.

It’ll come as no surprise then that, with such a rapid growth of employment, a skills shortage is recognised: don’t we know that. The Landing organised an interesting panel event in Greater Manchester to look at this specifically.

But there are several initiatives that it’d be good to know about – namely, thecreativeindustries.co.uk, and NESTA - an innovation charity that has funding opportunities for ‘creative’ businesses, among others. Things are finally moving in a positive direction. Keep shouting!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Risk management - a conflict for iMedia companies

Trying to get a snapshot of risk management in digital development proved difficult and confusing. I was looking to find information about specific risks in project development but they didn’t surface; what did is actually more strategic and thought-provoking.

There is a complete spectrum of risks for tech companies ranging from lack of innovation to the higher risk of insolvency because of not managing financial risks. It’s a minefield. You find examples of larger companies valuing the smaller entrepreneurial risk-taking tech companies because they themselves are too big and slow to evolve business solutions that suit the fast-changing consumer environment. They appreciate the iterative progress/test cycle and user-lead style projects that give faster results. Hence the Accelerator Centre in West London where 11 tech companies have been selected by Barclays Bank and Techstars to invent future financial services. Another such partnership is Centrica and Hive where ‘normal management structures don’t apply’. General Electric (GE) outsource innovation including offering open competitions for ways to improve their products. Get more information on these from the BBC Business News (9 September 2014).

So from risk takers and their culture to the more traditional ‘control risks or else’ cultures. R3 – an insolvency trade body – has reported that tech firms are at higher risk of insolvency because of their failure to ‘factor in the full costs of development or assess the competition’. Apparently tech firms in the North-East are most vulnerable which explains the news item in the Lancashire Evening Post, Tech Sector has high number of firms at risk (29 September 2014).

The key word from the last paragraph was ‘cultures’. The ‘soft risks’ or ‘culture’ of a company are beginning to get serious recognition as a possible financial drain – a hard risk factor! The Dialogue blog (16 September 2014) Soft risk: how culture can fail business, by Richard Finn, gives interesting examples of where a culture misaligned with business purpose has had serious consequences. This is BIG, since he calls for senior management to create a new senior management position (non-executive director) and committee to manage soft risks! How does your company’s culture line up? Richard cites six consequences of a ‘bad’ culture as: business under-achievement, poor products, poor service, damaged investor sentiment, reputation destruction, and talent flight. Well, I’m sure no company wants those.

We’ll end with a conundrum. As I said, this risk assessment seems to follow a circular path. Enter the larger tech company that is targeting bespoke development companies in the government sector: KnowledgeKube from Mercato Solutions. They cite bespoke solutions as costing more and taking more time to develop. They offer a platform and services approach that will drive down costs and give government departments more control. It sells itself on being able to ‘remove the risk associated with bespoke development.

So you see the conflict between the start of this blog where innovation and risk-taking are valued and this last example where bespoke development is itself risky and to be avoided.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Lolcats and the lexicon of being online

When we put together the various editions of our book, one of the things we included was a glossary. Abbreviations, acronyms and slang terms are a part of any subject and can often be used by specialists as a shorthand. Unfortunately, if you don't know the shorthand then this can make it impossible to understand a subject that you actually may be able to follow were you to speak the language. Hence glossaries.

Our glossary is getting a little elderly now, although it should still be useful.

An altogether more up-to-date and wide-ranging glossary was recently published by the Guardian, modestly called The ultimate internet glossary. It goes from 4chan to Zoopla (or is it Zynga) and includes lots of cats.

What is it about cats? It has been jokingly suggested that problems with the internet could be fixed if they took all the cats off it. This lets me mention Henri le chat noir and lolcats.com, en passant. (Wasn't Lolcats a song by the Cure? That's a QTWTAIN by the way.)

As with all things in life you can Google glossaries. They range from the technical (from pc.net and Matisse Enzer) to the basic but undoubtedly useful (such as this glossary for 'older adults' from the American National Institute on Ageing).

If you feel like contributing to the daunting task of keeping such a thing up to date then there is a Wikipedia glossary, however at the time of writing it is somewhat poor IMHO and in need of TLC.

TTFN

Friday, 12 September 2014

Pointing the finger – blame and risks in digital project management

There are many aspects during a digital project that do not go according to plan; even if you had one. Project Management is about control but, particularly in digital projects, your clients and your team can often seem to conspire against the progress of the project. Your management, on the other hand, are meant to be there supporting you. If this isn’t the case, you’re in trouble. Are you in a company that has an attitude of ‘sacrificial accountability’?

It is common that if and when things go wrong, someone takes the blame and resigns from his/her post. I think that most people view this as acceptable when it is clear who has had the overall accountability during the time that the problems brewed and blew up. But looking for the sacrificial lamb is another thing entirely as John Linwood, ex BBC, found out. He was Chief Technology Officer for the BBC when the plug was pulled on a £100m Digital Media Initiative project. He took the BBC to a tribunal for firing him and won because they believed that the Senior Management were dodging the blame and placing it on Linwood.

John Gough in Avoiding Blame for Botched Projects, (undated 2014), summarises the Linwood story and points to internal company politics as a driver. We all know company politics and how it can invidiously dominate decision-making. How’s your company for this?

The risk of being sacked as the accountable one is real but companies are beginning to understand that they need to get on top of risks before they cause trouble. Enter the Digital Risk Officer. Have you heard of them or seen a job advert for one? You may well find you have to relate to them in your client companies. Apparently, these people will be hot news in 2015 according to Gartner research 2014 . Now this is in response to security issues and technology as companies realise that with the plethora of technology-driven channels of communication and the increasing use of them by the public at large, that the risks of service failures increase. It will be interesting to see if these officers are increasingly used as easy target sacrificial lambs by their companies when things go wrong! But if you meet them as part of the client-mix, you can be sure that they’ll make strong demands of you making your job more accountable too.

Now you’re in the mindset of blame, perhaps you need to become aware of a nasty blow coming from an unseen upper-cut! This has crept in from the side of a legal ruling about blame in a service contract. The original case was about pipes and little to do with digital project management. (See, The Best Practice Group, Your Service Provider’s Duty to Warn, by Alan Watton (23 January 2012) But as the ruling can be generalised to all service contracts, we need to take note. The judgement found that the contractor (expert) should have warned the client about the possible risks in the project because they as the experts were in the position to know the possible impact on the clients while the clients as non-experts – and the very reason for using the contractors – were not in the position to understand the impact.

The key concept is ‘a duty to warn’ about the risks pre-contract and during the life of the project and exists independently of written clauses. You have to account for what your advice does and does not cover. You have to be clear in writing about what your advice does not cover and what your proposed solution does not cover including any possible consequential impacts. Well, that’s a tall order in our uncertain digital world. You need to throw this concept to the legal bods who draw up your contracts as service providers. Now if you are too small to have a legal section, check if the templates you use for contracts cover this angle and raise any queries with your management.

You’ll probably do a lot of ‘warning’ without realising it. So, for example, if you recommend that your client should do some pilot testing with users to check the system out and assess its impact on the project objectives pointing out to them the pros and cons of this, then you are warning them of the possible negative effects/risks. If they take the decision not to do this, they accept responsibility and accountability. Likewise, you’ll probably be recommending various types of testing from stability to security, for example. You can indicate the pros and cons of all of them, so if the client chooses to ignore your advice - because of lack of budget maybe - then you have fulfilled the ‘duty of warning’ principle.
Blame is not a nice topic in any field. Better to be prepared though.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Prince2 and its relevance for iMedia now

Who would believe that it’s more than 25 years since Prince2 started making an impact on project management. Its original success, arising out of a commitment to train project managers from the IT sector, has helped turn project management into a recognised profession. That’s what we owe it. And, it recognises that as the project environment changes, its practices need to adapt. The present lot of project managers have more access to technology through social media as well as conventional media and they are deploying these to communicate with their global teams, stakeholders and management. This is a far cry from 25 years ago. This implies recognition of the expansion of the team, the cultural differences, the importance of managing stakeholders and communication with management. The role of project manager has changed with the times and now encompasses more upper management and business strategy, as well as the day-to-day projects.

Prince2.com celebrated its 25th birthday on 15th August 2013 with a review of Project Management: Past, Present and Future, by James Hancock. He recognises the changes that technology has brought for the profession and that Project Managers utilise more technology now. But, just like the book, Project Management circa 2025 (2009) edited by David Cleland and Bopaya Bidanda, they all seem to miss out the role of project managers with digital (iMedia ) projects. The chapters in this book address the financial services sector, space exploration, Pacific, European, Indian and Arabic geographical areas, and give attention to the changing role for team management, competencies for project managers, and the impact of cultural and social issues.

No consideration is given to the developers of digital pathways that lead to the changes in the general project management role. Maybe this is because general project management is all about controlling risk factors in the general projects while digital project managers are risk takers themselves by the nature of the type of projects they manage. They still try to control as many risks as possible but when you are pushing the envelope there’s no safety net! General project managers would struggle with the black holes faced by digital project managers. They work from being able to predict the likelihood of risk from previous experience that has been codified from other projects. As an analogy if you have built one house, although there will be variations, a second house has many of the same processes. But digital project management can be like designing new bricks as you build the house. Fundamentals are different and unknown. Now this gives an edge to digital project management that will affect the competencies needed as well as the management skills.

What would you look for in a digital project manager? Maybe you’d agree with Access’s definition of, The Top 10 Skills You Need to be a Super Digital Project Manager – but maybe not as the role spans such a wide set of skills depending on the digital sector. It’ll make you think though, and the first three words, ‘Dark art, witchcraft, science’, are far removed from a traditional project management role and reflect the differences I have been trying to highlight.

The applicability of Prince2 to iMedia is something I've thought long and hard about. You can read more in a white paper on the ATSF web site.

This discussion in no way undermines the strengths of using Prince2 methods and processes. It is versatile enough to employ as needed to fit a project and many digital project managers now have this qualification. All this blog is doing is highlighting some differences in digital project management that can affect Prince2’s use in such projects. Any hints and tips for using Prince2 in digital projects would be fantastic – thanks.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Stakeholder Analysis - don’t forget it’s a continual process

At the scoping stage, you’ve done your initial analysis with the matrices and communication results for all the people who might influence the course of the project. Fantastic. Yes, it does help greatly. But, so many forget that this arrangement is dynamic. Various stakeholders emerge as the most important at different stages of the project. Don’t be caught out. Quite often you just need to flag yourself to ask the dominant stakeholders for a forthcoming phase if they want to be kept informed differently. They’ll appreciate the heads-up and the acknowledgement of their increased status for the phase, while you retain the good will ... and control.

The dynamic nature of stakeholder analysis and communication is neglected at the peril of the project. This factor is not really given the attention it deserves yet, even though stakeholder analysis is cited in many top project management jobs. There are a few who show the wisdom of experience and we should try and learn from them even if they are general project managers rather than digital project managers.
Take for example Omar Muhammad and Abid Mustafa in Managing stakeholders – going beyond conventional wisdom, Project Smart (27 October 2013).

They are experienced in delivering complex projects in the telecommunications industry. This means they are closer to iMedia projects than many. You need to take a view on what they say as to whether your own projects are as complex, but, I’m sure you’ll recognise several of the stakeholder issues they mention.

The first issue they address is the difference between a stakeholder’s motives and expectations. This happens quite frequently. Do you recognise someone blocking progress but you can’t identify who because all the stakeholders appear positive to your face? The article writers warn about different agendas shown in levels of management meetings where you might be excluded. The second issue addressed is ‘Not all stakeholders are equal’, and the writers suggest your team adapts their management style appropriately. The third issue is, revolving alliances. This explains that you become part of a shifting set of alliances between the stakeholders that happens over the course of the project. I reckon the underlying message is, ‘Don’t make enemies’ as you may need the stakeholder’s support in an alliance later!

Finally, Omar and Abid give some hints and tips on ‘picking the right fight’. It’s a shame that they don’t define what ‘acceptable levels of behaviour’ are for stakeholders. But this sounds similar to conflict resolution techniques that we covered in our team management courses. There, you agree boundaries of acceptable behaviour for your team at the beginning of the project that can then be used if a team member becomes so problematic that his/her behaviour is having a negative impact on the project. This is an extension of conflict resolution techniques for stakeholders where you pre-empt difficulties by instituting boundaries of behaviour. Essentially Omar and Abid recommend that you only pick the battles with stakeholders that you can win. Good luck with that!

Otherwise there are some free resources that can help you over specific stakeholder problems. Take a look at free-management – ebooks.com and their range. We’ll focus on the stakeholder one now. The book covers how to identify stakeholders, plan their management, manage their engagement, and control their engagement.

I can imagine that if you are only involved in the short, sharp end of iMedia projects that all this seems unnecessary fuss and a lot of time and effort. Those of you that have to juggle several stakeholders, possibly internationally, will appreciate the insights. Hope they help.