Archive for Work Management

Taskboarding with CorasWorks v11.3–make work easier and better

With the release of CorasWorks v11.3 that includes CAPS you are able to create and deploy very rich, interactive web features for your work management applications on SharePoint.  A popular one to get started with is TaskBoards.  They provide a visual way to see where work stands, organize and prioritize it, collaborate, and, track the flow of the work.  The approach started with the Kanban method of working in automobile manufacturing.  This style has been adopted as a key piece of Agile software development, for instance when doing Scrum.  In the digital world, TaskBoards are all about drag and drop and interactivity.  In this article, I’ll show you what we offer out-of-the-box and explain how you can leverage this way of working to improve results in many areas across your organization.

TaskBoarding Demo

We first added TaskBoards to our Project & Portfolio Management solution about 6 months ago in version 3.2.  It gives users an easy way to manage  task work for a team, project, or Agile sprint.  The drag and drop user interface and interactivity make work seem and feel much easier. Our standard TaskBoard goes a step beyond most others by enabling users to add new tasks and do updates in a smart, guided, interactive way.  This makes the work more manageable.

In the video below, I’ll look at the use of a TaskBoard for a SharePoint Service Delivery Team whose purpose is to provide a great SharePoint environment and deliver new applications and enhancements.  The tasks/requests come in, then, the team uses the task board to organize the work and to get it done.

Let’s do some Taskboarding – just click the image below for a 6 minute demo.TaskBoard

 

From TaskBoards to Workboarding on SharePoint

The TaskBoard you just saw makes work easier, more effective, and, more manageable.  The common use of it would be for projects and teams.  Use it with a tablet and you’ll have a really great experience.

Being based upon CorasWorks v11.3 CAPS, it is now totally customizable, portable, and re-purposable. So, you can use this style of work, let’s call it “workboarding”, as a feature of any application.  Fundamentally, it gives you an easier way for a group of people to work together to move things forward.  It would make a great new feature for any Stage-based collaborative process.    So, how about:

  • ChangeBoards – to manage change requests
  • IssueBoards – to manage issues
  • IdeaBoards – to manage ideas and innovation
  • PolicyBoards – to submit HR policy changes and approve them
  • ProductBoards – to plan product features for a release
  • ProposalBoards – to manage the work of business development proposals
  • SalesBoards – to track sales opportunities
  • RecruitBoards – to manage the HR recruiting process

I could go on.  But, it is now time for you to get your creative juices flowing.  With CorasWorks CAPS, you are empowered to go far beyond the out-of-the-box and come up with your own applications of this feature.  You don’t have to wait for CorasWorks to make changes and release a new version of it.  Just go forth and innovate.  You can drop it into any CorasWorks Application template, or, any native SharePoint site, or, a custom SP site.  Workboarding can be put at the fingertips of users anywhere across your SharePoint work environment. Your users will love you for it.

william

Shared Contract Work Order Management System for Federal Agency and Contractor

How can we make the work on contracts more efficient and effective?  One powerful way is to enable people from the Federal Agency and the winning vendor Contractor team to work together in a shared environment to manage the work.  In this article, I’ll review a work management system that we just delivered that does just this.

The story is about how we were able to take our off-the-shelf IDIQ Task Order Management solution and rapidly apply it to meets the custom requirements of an RFP from a Federal Agency for a shared Contract Work Order Management System.  The story is partially about our solution, but, it is also about how a Federal Contractor can leverage CorasWorks (software and people) to outdo the competition, win business, and, stay close to their customer.

Situation

A civilian Federal Agency released an RFP as a small business set aside valued at about $100M over its term.  It is an outsourcing contract for IT-related Services.  The format of the contract is a single-award IDIQ with general Task Orders and specific Work Orders supporting about 30 core work areas.  The Work Orders are the primary method for getting the work done.

The new wrinkle is that the agency required, as part of the proposal, that the vendor provide a shared, collaborative, online work management system enabling the participants from the Agency to work with the participants from the Prime contractor and their team.  The system had to support the release of specific Work Orders that would come in as Agency requests, get released for estimates, get estimates, and drive the approval process.  In addition, the system had to support visibility into the work in progress including planning, tracking the work, ongoing collaboration, issue flagging, and reporting.

The big practical challenge for the Prime contractor and team was that the Agency required the vendor to have the system up and running on the date of submittal of the proposal.  It would be a live system, accessible by the Agencies review team during the proposal review phase and would then be migrated post-award.  This was a major compliance challenge that could have doubled or tripled the cost of submitting the proposal.  And, whatever system they proposed, they were going to have to live with for the duration of the contract.

Approach

A member of the Prime bidder’s team was a Top 10 Federal Contractor that is a CorasWorks customer and was familiar with our IDIQ Task Order Management solution that runs on Microsoft SharePoint.  This solution is designed for use within Federal Contractors, primarily in a multi-award situation, to manage the process of responding to task orders.  Upon review, it was decided that this solution would be the base for the required Work Order Management System.  The primary reasons were:

  • the core off-the-shelf feature set is very close to the needs of this contract work order management system
  • the configurability of CorasWorks would enable the team to deliver the required demonstration environment at a very reasonable cost and on time
  • CorasWorks is an open application environment, ie., not a proprietary code base, and thus, it be custom-configured, enhanced, and extended, by the Contractor team, to meet ongoing needs.

Solution

The solution was implemented by CorasWorks with our bidding team of the Prime Contractor and subcontractors.  We started with our off-the-shelf IDIQ Task Order Management solution running in a CorasWorks provided online environment.  We then applied it to the Agencies requirements.  This work took a couple of weeks of configuration and testing. Some key requirements for the system were:

  • The system was designed to support Federal Agency participants and Contractor participates within a common, online collaborative work environment requiring appropriate control of permissions and work action authority.
  • The system was setup up to support two workstreams (distinct stage-based processes).  One for Work Orders that cover the core contract work areas (the bulk of the work).  The other for new Task Orders that would be released to expand the scope of the contract.  Each workstream was a bit different.
  • Each workstream had to support 2 work Phases.  One was the Approval Process with the key stages of Request, Review, Estimating, and Approval.  The other was for approved work orders, Work In Progress, covering Working Planning, Work in Progress, and Closeout.
  • The system needed robust reporting to show process metrics and exception reporting across the life cycle of work.
  • Each work order or task order has its own Workspace that contains the detailed information for the item across its life-cycle and supports the collaborative activity required to drive the item forward.

Result

The system was delivered within cost and exactly on time which was objective one for compliance and is now in ongoing support mode.  The system met the compliance requirements of the Agency and included an interactive checklist to make it easy for the Agency to validate compliance.  While this system is not the core reason why the Agency will award the contract to a vendor team, it was perceived as a major reason why a team would be knocked out of the competition.

In addition, after working with the system, the Prime Contractor is now in process to procure CorasWorks for internal use and to leverage this Contract Work Order Management system to create a standard way of working on each of its major single-award contracts and for use for its IDIQ task order management.

My Comments

It is not uncommon for CorasWorks to be used to bring up collaborative work environments that bring together participants from Federal Agencies, Prime Contractors, and, contract teaming partners.  In fact, this particular agency has had experience working in similar CorasWorks-based environments for two other major contracts/programs with another Top 10 Federal Contractor (see Large Federal Contractor Drives Customer Intimacy and Value with Dedicated Program Workplaces on SharePoint).

However, this particular application of our IDIQ Task Order Management system was new.  Instead of focusing on winning the work, as in the typical multi-award IDIQ scenarios, it is all about getting the work done with visible participation of all members (Agency and Contractor).  Our existing solution provided 90% of the base system allowing the team to get where it needed to be very quickly.

I can see the use of CorasWorks for Contract Work Order Management in three scenarios.

  • One where a Federal Contractor uses it just within their organization and working with teaming partners to manage work requests on their single-award contracts.
  • Another is for a Federal Agency to manage their request processes within the Agency and the interaction with their vendors.
  • The third is an integrated, shared work environment as in this scenario.

I believe that this last scenario, the integrated work environment, is the top of the food chain in terms of driving efficiency and effectiveness of the work delivered on Federal Government contracts.  We’ve seen it before and it is proven.  However, you need an enlightened agency and a contractor that can handle the transparency to make it work.  Like any collaborative process, it takes the team some time to learn how to work together and how they work will continually evolve as they learn.

William

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See additional articles for IDIQ Task Order Management in this blog.

Visit CorasWorks IDIQ Task Order Management for product information.

Mastering the Core Federal Government Contractor Work-Stream

Its been almost 3 months since my last post.  No, no vacation.  Instead, I’ve been heads down supporting implementations with our Federal Government Contractors.  I’ve also been working on a suite of solutions being launched over the next few months that focus in on the core activities of Federal Contractors.  Sure, you’ve probably heard about Sequestration and Federal budget cuts.  This is putting even more pressure on our FC customers to get more efficient and effective.  So, we are helping by “productizing” solutions and pre-integrating them to increase the competitiveness of our customers.

In this article, I am going to cover the 3 activities that make up the “core work-stream” for the folks in this industry.  A work-stream is a set of “loosely coupled” activities that build on each other. They are independent activities but necessary elements to deliver the result.  Even if you are not a Federal Contractor you might find it interesting since at the heart of any industry, its participants have a set of solutions/activities that represent their core work-stream for success.  So, as you read this, think about what your core work-stream might look like.

Now, to Federal Government Contractors.  Below is a graphic depicting the core work-stream.  It consists of three activities (the ones in blue).  If you do them well, you’ll succeed; if you don’t, you hurt your chances of success.  They are different.  They are usually managed by different people.  They have different outputs.  They are managed by different metrics.  Yet, effectively, in this industry, they represent the critical path that transforms opportunities into money in the bank.

image

Over the last year, we’ve worked with customers to build out each of these three activities as separate “productized” solutions that can be part of one, integrated work environment. Below I’ll list each solution as it relates to each of the three activities of the core work-stream:

CorasWorks Capture and Proposal Management v2.1

This solution is used to manage the process of capturing business including the development of the proposal and the maintenance of all of the Proposal Assets that support the process.  It is a Stage-Phase-Step process that can be managed to be most effective.  This is the key first piece to get you going.

CorasWorks IDIQ Task Order Management v2.1

About a third of Federal Contractor business now comes through IDIQ/GWAC vehicles.  If you won a single award contract or a multi-award IDIQ, you then will want to process those task orders that come in.  With multi-award IDIQs you have to respond quickly, often with Teaming Partners, in order to really win the business.  You need to master the art of collaborative work that is fast, efficient and effective.

CorasWorks Project, Portfolio and Program Management for Delivery v3.2

So, now you have won the business.  You need to deliver on it.  This is where our PPM solution comes in.  Our solution focuses on helping the users to get the work done in a collaborative manner.  The key is the solutions flexibility which enables users to modify the solution to do very different kinds of “project” work.  Some may have tasks and classic GANTT.  While others may be just about collaboration and reporting or represent Programs of multiple activities by customers, employees, and partners.

The Core and the Supporting Activities

The core activities are the core.  You must do these well.  Surrounding these are a host of other activities that help to make you successful.  A very small list might be:

  • working with HR for recruiting
  • working with Contract Administration to get SOWs with teaming partners
  • managing an overall CMMI or ISO set of policies
  • integrating with CRM that is your database of opportunities and contact tracking
  • working with Legal
  • Partner Engagement
  • Customer Engagement
  • training
  • knowledge management and open collaboration
  • marketing activities
  • solution innovation management
  • executive and management dashboards, reporting, and drilldowns
  • integration with Financial systems/ERP

Using CorasWorks each of the above can also be added to your environment as supporting activities.  Each adds value.  However, to say it again, you need to get the core elements working properly to make money.

What Shape is Your Core In?

Most people can use some help with their core work-stream.  Many can use a lot of help.  Those that have been around for years usually have good practices, but, aging systems.  The possibilities for systems/tools have changed over even just the last 5 years.  With flexible systems such as CorasWorks on SharePoint you are able to extend and enhance existing systems or replace them quite quickly and cost effectively.  If you have the feeling that you are stuck with legacy, fixed, custom coded systems and may be missing the boat to staying competitive – then, there is a good chance that this is the reality.  If you are young and growing but need to put core work-stream systems in place, then, you can step to the front of the technology stack.  However, you will still need to go to work on learning and developing the right processes and practices.  It helps to have systems like CorasWorks’ where you can get started with a simpler approach that is also cost-effective and then change the system to adapt as your people and organization grow and learn.

No matter which situation you are in, with the competitive pressures of today and the foreseeable future, it is critical to continually make sure that your core is in good shape.

william

The Power of CorasWorks Rollups–10 Years Later

It really amazes me.  We are coming up on our 10 Year anniversary on February 7th.  We first introduced the term “rollups” in 2003 with our first technology product the CorasWorks Rollup Suite.  This week I was on a call where the customer was trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem around Proposal Management that was killing her teams productivity.  In 30 minutes the solution was in place.  Effectively, it was a rollup: classic CorasWorks, same problem, and, still the best thing since the Post It note for SharePoint business users.  In this article, I’ll give some background on the “rollup” and explain how it solved this customers problem who needed to see new information and act on it from across 100 Proposal Sites.

The Rollup

We invented the Rollup in 2003 to meet a core issue with SharePoint.  SharePoint 2003 focused on an Enterprise Portal.  With that, on the side you had this capability to have these little team sites.  But, there was no connection between the two except the ability to see a listing of the sites one level down from the portal.  We knew that at the end of the day, the collaborative sites would be the key to creating collaborative work management solutions for business and that this is really where the productivity is.  We knew that they’d have deep hierarchies and that people would want to share and work in those little team sites.  BTW, in 2003, other collaborative products like eRoom also saw the world as a bunch of disconnected sites (rooms), so, the siloed approach of SharePoint 2003 team sites was not alone.

So, in order for us to build the business solutions we needed as part of an inter-connected work environment, we created the “rollup”.  This technology allowed you to very easily create a display that would allow you to connect to information anywhere across the SharePoint environment (across data types, lists/libraries, sites, site collections, and web applications).  Accordingly, from a single display you could see any content from across SharePoint – filter it, search it, contribute and act on it. Effectively, what we did is separate the end user display and actions from the data.  You could now work from anywhere and anything could be at your fingertips.  What business users got was convenience, visibility and productivity.

Quickly, the CorasWorks rollup display became the standard for connecting to distributed information on SharePoint.  It was used in three key scenarios: a) to cross-connect to information in other sites and get work done and b) to connect to a number of similar types of sites, like projects or proposals, and aggregate the information and c) as the core grid-style display to build collaborative business applications where users could see, contribute, and act on information in a structured, business context.

Over the years, our approach has matured a lot.  We now just talk in terms of web-based business applications and custom displays.  The capabilities are multi-tier with Wizards at the Display level and to automate work with CorasWorks actions.  Our displays can connect to external information and mash it up.  And, more and more…

Yet, fundamentally it is still about enabling people to work with information across the distributed work environment that is SharePoint.

Our Proposal Management Scenario

Now, roll the story 10 years ahead to this week.  I was on the phone working with a Program Manager for an organization where we are implementing an IDIQ Task Order Management solution in a business group.  This PM also has a team of people that drive and manage RFP proposals.  While we were talking she told me about a pain point with the proposal work and asked if we could help.  Here is the background:

  • They have another place (a Site Collection) where they are doing proposal development in native SharePoint (we haven’t gotten to upgrading this to CW yet)
  • They have 6 Business Groups
  • Each Business Group has their own section
  • Each business group manage their own Proposals
  • Each proposal has its own site
  • Each site has a document library with about 8 folders representing different parts of proposal work
  • Each folder has documents in it or could have documents in it

In order to know what is new, i.e., what is going on and what needs to be done, a Proposal person (on her team) has to go into each proposal site and check all of the folders.  You could say that they could get emails, but, unfortunately, that is if email notification is enabled, if her person gets it, and, if they see it and remember.  If you miss something, it is your fault for missing a deadline.  So, her team does a tremendous amount of navigating and checking.

So, what she asked for was a magical way for her team to have a single Dashboard/Work Console where they could go to one page to see all of the new documents that have been added or modified across all of the Business Groups, Proposal Sites and Folders.  And, she wanted her people to be able to act on them from the Work Console (like pop off emails, change status, etc.) without going anywhere else.  Tall order?

If took me about 30 minutes.  We deployed a CorasWorks Work Console.  We dropped on a Display (formerly known as a “rollup”).  We cross-connected it to the various business groups and configured it to pick up the appropriate information across the proposals and the folders.  Viola, all of the new work in the last 7 days was in the display.  Then, I had her go in and customize the display to meet her needs and create a couple new ones that sliced and diced the information differently.  We then added some actions to automate her work.

To say the least, she was amazed and wanted to jump off the phone to show her team.  I hate to say it, but, I’d estimate that 80% of SharePoint users think that they need to navigate around from site to site looking for information.  They have to go somewhere to do work.  It seems ridiculous given a work environment 10 years later.  But, most people think of SharePoint as siloed sites that you go to.  That is what the Internet is – right?  The ability for our little, old “rollup” to make this huge pain go away is just awesome.

If you know of anyone that is experiencing this type of pain, then, have them call the CorasWorks Solution Hotline at 1-866-580-3115 and just have them ask for relief from work druggery.  We’ll take care of the rest.

Smile

william

CorasWorks for Legal Work Management on SharePoint

In addition to everything else, we are doing quite a bit of work these days within the Legal departments of organizations and for Law Firms.  The standard needs of this department for legal matters, ad hoc requests, and case management fit well with the CorasWorks Work Management capabilities.  I’ll briefly cover a few examples in this article.

Matters Management – a 3,000 person Non Governmental Organization (NG0) used CorasWorks to create their Legal Matters Management process.  The work was done by a CorasWorks partner using our off the shelf framework.

Case Management – we are completing a project for an Arbitration Case Management system for an association.  This system is really a service to the legal community where they can request arbitration cases and then the arbitrator can manage the cases.  It is Case Management as a service.

Claims Management – we support a Law Firm that has built an extensive Claims Management system for insurance claims.  This office of this global 1,000 attorney firm does 80% of its business managing claims for Insurers.  It is a large system with thousands of claims.  A key part of this solution is its 360 degree Dashboard that puts all of the information about a claim, and all of the actions people need to do, at the fingertips of the attorneys.  The system was built by our customer and a CorasWorks partner specializing in Legal systems with support from us.

Leverage CorasWorks in your in house Legal departments

It is clear that our Work Management framework is a good fit for a lot of the work done by Legal departments.  In most organizations (vs. Law Firms), the Legal department is one those under-served departments that are low on the list of enterprise IT priorities.  But, if your organization is already using CorasWorks, you may want to look at re-purposing it to address needs of the Legal department.  Many of the needs of the Legal department are rather straight forward from a CorasWorks perspective.  And, the capabilities we provide are pretty slick when compared to many of the Legal products out there that are usually based upon legacy technologies and targeted at law firms and tend to be overly complex for an in-house legal department.

Legal Project Management – A Next Step In Innovation…

With that said, I also see a new area of innovation by CorasWorks for in-house legal departments and law firms.  Over the last few years, innovative and leading legal teams are starting to adopt a structured Project Management approach to large legal cases.  It makes sense.  Part of this is driven by a shift to fixed price work, part is just the idea that legal cases can be better managed.  I’m looking for some opportunities to apply our Project Portfolio Management solution to this need – any takers?

william

Building a Solution Catalog? Start with These 4 Core Work Management Solutions

Are you building out a re-usable solution catalog?  If you use SharePoint as an application platform, you should.  This is how you get tremendous leverage, save costs, decrease time to app, reduce risk, and, cut out lots of “noise”.  In this article, I’ll give you some context of why you should have a generic, re-usable solution catalog.  Then, I cover 4 core Work Management solutions that I’d recommend you add to your catalog.

Don’t have a Solution Catalog?  You are not alone.

Most folks started with SharePoint for Portals, Intranets, and general collaboration, largely via collaborative Team Sites.  When the idea of doing more on top occurs, such as business applications, they tend to think of development.  Over the years, as the standard enterprise application development teams have been migrating to the SharePoint world, the habit of doing “classic” development of applications has infiltrated the SharePoint world.  So, for anything that sounds like a business application, they do requirements gathering, waterfall development, custom code development, and hopefully, end up with an application.  This approach doesn’t lead to a catalog of re-usable solutions because it is technology focused vs. business focused.

This is unfortunate.  SharePoint, particularly in an environment enabled by CorasWorks, is the ideal environment for re-useable applications.   All of the elements are there to dramatically improve the process of delivering applications and be able to serve demand based upon known, re-usable frameworks and “base solutions”.   It is not just about the cost of developing a single application, but, about how you can transform the process into a virtuous cycle that actually drives business innovation and continuous improvement.

Envision A World of “Magic Apps”

Imagine, a world where there were 10 basic application frameworks or design patterns for information work.  These 10 were the core elements for 90% of what most business users needed.  If you had these 10 pre-packaged as templates in your Solution Catalog, you’d be able to reduce time to solution 5x, cut your costs in half, and, be able to focus right in on the key features that drive productivity and enable innovation.

The challenge is that these 10 core design patterns aren’t easy to see.  We get focused on the specifics of a requested app and fail to step back and see the pattern which is necessary to build up your generic catalog of what I call “magic apps”.  Here is an example…

A business customer comes to you asking for a Materials Storage Request solution for managing the storage of manufacturing chemicals.  They have come up with some requirements.  Of course, the application is unique or so they think.  But, you happen to have a Work Request Management magic app in your catalog.  You whip it out, spin up a site, spend a couple hours tweaking some words, fields, navigation to “localize” your magic app to the “language” of the customer.  Then, you engage with them.  All of the sudden you are not doing requirements, but rather, you are in the stage of “finishing” the application.  You immediately have them working with the app, thinking through the process as they touch and feel it.  In this imaginary world, good things happen all around.  But, is it really fantasy?

4 Base Work Management “Magic Apps” for your Catalog

If it is real, then what are the 10 magic apps for your catalog?  We’ll start with the basic 4 for work management that we use with new customers.  They cover a lot of needs.  Each is targeted at structured work management – getting specific work done.  However, their design is different because of the context of the work.  They are:

  • Team Work Management
  • Work Request Management
  • Role-Based Process Management
  • Stage-Based Process Management

We’ll take a look at each below.  Along the way you’ll get examples and see how they build and differ.

NOTE: I tend to think of Solutions as the somewhat generic way to meet a need.  The Application is the solution that is applied to a specific problem for a specific person or group.  Example: we provide coffee (solution), do you want a Mocha Chai Latte or a Yukon Drip with Soy (specific applications).

Team Work Management

This solution is used by a self-contained team to get work done amongst themselves.  It is not a Team Site where a team can generally collaborate.  It is purpose specific and structured to help the team get something specific done.  A key difference the others that I’ll cover below is that you don’t have external people requesting things or external parties involved in the process.  The team is creating the work and managing the work.

Examples for this would include: Task Management, Marketing Collateral Management, Idea Management, Meeting Management, Knowledge Bases, Design & Work Standards.

This is really the most basic solution for work management.  In a SharePoint-context the key is that the users are working in a controlled UI, with a managed set of things they can see and actions they can take.  This separation of the work from the content (which would be users working directly in native SharePoint in a list or library) is what gets you into structured work management and gives you control, consistency, and user task automation.

Work Request Management

How many apps depend on one team getting requests from a) individuals or b) other teams?  A lot.  The key difference in this solution design is that there is an external individual or group that is making a request.  Then, a specific team manages these requests through to completion.  By its nature this work is “interrupt” driven – the team is responding to outsiders.

Examples include:  a Help Desk, Change Requests, Materials Storage Requests, Product Information Requests, Security Clearance Requests, Contract Review Requests. (see article with examples)

In a sense these apps are just one step up from Team Work Management.  The external Request and the interactivity with the requestor are the additions.  A standard application contains the request form, the work management displays and user activity, and reporting.

Role-Based Process Management

SharePoint is natively content-based and many of us are used to the idea of simple sequential workflows to individuals for document approvals.  With this type of solution, we change the design to provide a common UI where people in their roles vs. as individuals, usually cross-functionally, participate in the process of reviewing requests/submissions to arrive at an outcome.

Examples include: Contract Review, Policy and Procedure Management, Legal Matter Management, Capital Approval, Project Proposal Review.

The standard application is a UI with tabs for different roles and the work management to control the flow and the activity that occurs within each role.

Stage-Based Process Management

This is similar to role-based process management yet fundamentally different.  The process is typically a Stage-Gate based process.  Thus, instead of roles or individuals, work flows through a set of standard Stages.  This solution is designed to open up a process and allow for collaboration within the Stages.

Examples includes: New Project Onramps, Idea Management, Business Development Capture & Proposal Processes, Knowledge Creation/Publishing Processes, R&D Product Innovation, Patent & Trademark Reviews.  (See article with examples)

Again, you typically have a UI with tabs, but here, each represents a Stage vs. a Role.  Then, you have the work management to automate the activity within each stage and promote work through its gate to the next stage.

Build the Catalog.

The above is a bit abstract.  It should be, that is the key to building your catalog of “magic apps”.  You are abstracting from the specific to the general.

My recommendations are simple.  Decide that you will build a Solution Catalog for your organization.  Understand the standard business design patterns that apply in a workplace.  Measure how many solutions you add to the catalog per quarter and how much you use them.  Promote the applications that you deliver leveraging the catalog.  You’ll have better results.

Now of course, I’d highly recommend that you include lots of CorasWorks in your apps.  Our software gives you the consistent framework as your base and we have many base solutions to leverage to augment your catalog.  The great flexibility of CorasWorks allows you to easily customize the “magic apps” of your catalog to meet specific needs and enhance, extend and integrate them.  It is time to get your virtuous cycle humming…

william

Social Collaboration at Work– 4 business scenarios to drive value

Today, I did a presentation for the internal SharePoint Community of Practice (COP) for a large (Top 50) Federal Systems Integrator.  This COP is 700 people.  They have a current topical focus on Social Collaboration.  Microsoft gave a presentation a few weeks back on the Social Collaboration features of SP2013.  In my presentation, I introduced and demoed 4 different business solutions where social collaboration is being used in a business process/application.  These were all based upon the CorasWorks Cim™ solution framework.  For those of you interested in the potential of Social Collaboration on SharePoint, and, looking for hard-hitting business scenarios that demonstrate the value – this article is for you….

My presentation abstract was as follows:

Social Collaboration at Work (www.corasworks.net)

Social collaboration within SharePoint makes it easier for people to engage.  So how do you leverage this approach to drive organizational results?  In this presentation, we’ll look at four practical business scenarios where social collaboration is used to drive business results.  The scenarios are:

· Idea Challenge Management – purposeful, event based challenges to drive ideas and manage them through a review and approval process

· R&D Working Groups – designated working groups that then output results as proposals for new projects

· New Project Initiation – collaborative, stage-gate based process to review and approve new project proposals (partials feed from working groups)

· Collaborative Channels for Capture & Proposal Management – communities used for collaboration across a distributed capture and proposal management system

Let’s look at each of the business scenarios above…

Idea Challenge Management

The area of Idea & Innovation Management is pretty hot and ripe for social collaboration.  Organizations know that Innovation is necessary to succeed (and survive).  But, how to move the ball forward is a challenge.

We have found the most effective approach is for organizations to use Idea Challenges vs. creating a general idea “inbox”.  Challenges are typically event-based (time limited), purposeful, and, sponsored by a team who is responsible AND interested in reviewing and using the results.

The solution I showed provides organizations with the ability to spawn new Challenges.  These are sites and they are created and configured by the sponsor in a self-service way to meet the needs of the Challenge.  The Challenges are then exposed across the SharePoint environment.  People respond, contribute ideas, and collaborate using Star Ratings, Commenting, Document Upload and management, Peer Reviews, Sharing.  The Challenge managers have a robust stage-gate process to screen, review, and decide on the ideas. Of course, being CorasWorks-based the structured work management part is also greatly and easily customized to meet the needs of the specific team that sponsored the challenge.

R&D Working Groups

This solution addresses a scenario where you have multiple/many working groups where each is expected to have an output – a document, a project proposal for funding, a discovery, a new policy.  A Working Group differs from say a collaborative team site because an output is expected.  Each group is a community where the members collaborate.  Then, when they have something to output, from within their working group they have one or more channels to kick off the output process.

In the solution that I showed, the output of the R&D Working Groups is a project proposal for funding.  From within the Working Group site, they access a New Proposal “community” and post a form for the project proposal that goes to a central management team.  The central team reviews and works the proposals through a funding process.  The output side is also highly collaborative and visible with members of the Working Group able to interact with the central management team and with all others that are watching and collaborating across the system.  (Note that all Working Groups are feeding the central Project Proposal process – see NPI below).

New Project Initiation

This solution is for the “demand management” part of project management – the front end part where you determine which projects you will invest in.  It is a challenge to do this part well.  A good process means less duplication, more visibility, and more commitment to the projects that are funded.  To accomplish this, we showed how this process could be made more transparent and collaborative.

Actually, the demo I showed had the New Project Initiation process receiving the project proposals from the R&D Working Groups above.  Thus, when the various R&D Working Groups submitted a proposal, they all feed this process.  In addition, individuals can also directly submit proposals.

All of the proposals are seen by the entire R&D working community so you get the transparency and visibility.  Each proposal is then centrally managed through a stage-gate process.  Along the way the managers are able to collaborate with the proposals submitters and “watchers”.  In addition, the managers collaborate amongst themselves such as doing collaborative reviews.  Here they can Rate, Comment, and Score proposals separate from the general community.  This solution has all of formal features you’d expect such as portfolio management, downstream project/portfolio integration and extensive reporting.

Collaborative Channels

This is the simplest of the 4 solutions.  The scenario was a Capture & Proposal Management system for a Federal Contractor.  These are large systems with people working in many sites (100’s – Program Management, Proposal Sites, IDIQ Management, Task Order sites).  The challenge is how do you communicate and collaborate amongst this distributed “working community”.  For instance, if there are new forms, new policies, challenges, needs for a resource – how does the community know of this and how can they engage and collaborate.

The answer is Collaborative Channels.  What I showed was the Business Development Channel.  It is a community of sorts except it IS NOT a place you go to collaborate.  Rather within each of the hundreds of sites, users have access to the Channel.  There they can post, share information, and, collaborate.  Thus, no matter where someone is working across this “work community”, they have access to the Channel.  This Channel approach is a great way to get people working together across the distributed environment of SharePoint.  Think departments, business functions (sales, engineering, bd, global branch offices, plants, et al).

Wrap Up

The objective of this presentation was to get people thinking about the business value that social collaboration can bring.  In general, we start with the business application/process (often existing) and ask how can this process be improved by opening it up to greater engagement and collaboration.  Accordingly, we see social collaboration as a set of features that can be applied to business as opposed to something that adds value on its own.

In addition, if you review the above scenarios you will see my use of the term “working community”.  In most social collaboration feature-products (social-social) a community is a place you go.  In the above, there is a business context to each.  Thus, the idea of the “working community” is everyone that is interested in or should be a part of outputting the best work results.  Accordingly, you see that all of the business solutions span multiple sites and an entire SharePoint environment.  All part of bringing a broad set of people together and putting them to work.

So, that is a wrap on Social Collaboration at Work for now.  If you would like a private demonstration of these scenarios ping me or CorasWorks.

william

CorasWorks Solutions for Engineering

Hard core engineering is at the heart of all companies products and systems. Increasingly, success depends on how effectively globally dispersed individuals are able to work better together.  In this article, I’ll review several CorasWorks solutions that we have delivered recently for the Engineering business function. I’ll look at 3 customers and cover 7 work management solutions that address the “soft side” of engineering – how you get the engineering function to work better together.  The solutions are are all based upon the CorasWorks Solution Platform running within a Microsoft SharePoint environment.

Engineering Work Management Hub for Automotive Supplier

The customer is a 4,000 person division of a Top 100 Global Industrial company.  This global division provides components and systems to the automotive industry.  The Engineering function is a 250 person organization.  The customer wanted to create a central Hub where engineers could go and access the core information and participate in key processes.  Using CorasWorks on SharePoint they wanted the Hub to be a single place where the engineers could to access information and to do their work WITHOUT having to go to a different application interface.   They wanted to avoid the app interface proliferation that they experience with the multiple legacy PLMs that they have used over the years.  Accordingly, the specific applications were designed as “services” so that they all surfaced within the Engineering Work Management Hub. Below I will cover three specific applications that are part of the Hub.  Each is a custom application created jointly by CorasWorks and the customer using the CorasWorks v11 Solution Platform.

Design & Engineering Work Standards (DEWS)

This is both a resource and a process.  It provides engineers with access to the approved design and engineering work standards.   In addition, it provides the full process to manage the creation and change control of proposed and published DEWS.  This process consists of three core roles of Engineers, Document Control and Design Engineering.  The system is automated to keep all parties informed of review update reminders, new updates, reviews, and newly approved items.  All work is done within the Hub.

Equipment Management

A key role of engineering is the maintenance of manufacturing equipment and the use of equipment for testing and calibration.  This application manages all pieces of equipment used by engineering.  It serves as the system of record for the Certificates of Inspection for all equipment.  In addition, it includes check out processes for testing equipment and maintenance and calibration alerts.  A nice feature is the inclusion of images of the equipment as part of equipment descriptions.

Purchase Requisition

Engineering is responsible for a large number of purchase requisitions.  This application supports the full process from request through final approval.  The requestor receives constant updates via email and within the Work Management Hub.

 

Resource Planning and Demand Management for Electronics Component Manufacturer

This customer is an 11,000 person manufacturer of components for computers and consumer products with $5B in revenue.  The engineering function was looking for a better way to manage their global resource planning and allocation process and to provide visibility into the project load for their product roadmap.  Their standard planning cycle is 5 years ahead with a rolling quarterly estimate of engineering resources by technical function.

The customer had tried a number of approaches in the past to address this need ranging from spreadsheets to Microsoft Project Server.  They wanted something in the middle that provided a structured work process but was highly visible and collaborative.  They had found that the most effective estimating was a rolling solution where the more near term estimates should be very accurate, but, they are able to generally project the needs as far as five years out in order to manage the demand side of their project portfolio.

The CorasWorks-based solution provides a central place where engineers from around the world get a single view of all projects in the product pipeline.  The function managers then make estimates of the required resources from their function and by team (skill) on a quarterly basis.  This information is then correlated to provide resource estimates by projects, by function, and by skill (overall resource allocation).  The solution integrates with Microsoft Project Server which is the system of record for the project portfolio and actual project activity.

They now have a single place where global Engineering management can collaborate and get a single view of the allocation of their resources.  They have ongoing and historical estimates for each manager (which has become quite interesting as they can see how the estimates change over time).  In addition, they have a robust. real time dashboard reporting system with drilldown into actual project work.

Idea Challenge Management for Engineering Function of Defense Systems Integrator

This customer is a 10,000 person organization providing advanced systems and services to the Federal Defense Agencies.   The organization had been a customer of CorasWorks for a number of years.  Over the last two years they had been evaluating third party Idea/Innovation Management solutions at the enterprise level but had made no decision due to cost and common lack of core process management capabilities.  One of their business divisions is a 1,000 person organization with 550 engineers that provide systems services primarily on a cost plus basis. This unit wanted a solution that would enable them to drive timed, specific idea challenges out to the engineering group with a detailed downstream review and management process.  They selected the CorasWorks Cim solution for Idea and Innovation Management for this purpose.

Their solution was implemented in a 3-month pilot.  During this time they launched 6 idea challenges across the 550 engineers of their division.  Three of the challenges were general to all 550 engineers and 3 others were specific engineering challenges for 3 different lines of business.  The ideas went through a detailed initial management screening by their Engineering Management team including a Quadrant (Impact High-Low, Cost High-Low) to provide a quantitative approach.

An important element of their pilot approach was that they had a structured set of downstream activities to drive to conclusions.  The resulting initial actions on the submitted ideas broke down as follows:

47%   Deferred (largely not priority)

12%   Requiring more research

26%   Promoted to Line of Business

12%   Process Improvements promoted to Working Groups

3%     Approved for immediate implementation

The pilot was successful with ideas approved for immediate implementation and with subsequent Integrated Research and Development (IRADs) fundings being approved by the lines of business.  Remaining ideas continue to be managed through the funnel.  The customer has since moved up to an enterprise license of Cim for the organization.  However, they envision a two step approach moving forward.  First, they are working on cross-pollinating their challenge model across the engineering groups of the 4 other business divisions (a total of 3,500 engineers across the 10,000 employees).  Then, they will open up the model to the broader organization managed at the business division level.   The interesting part is that there is no definite commitment whether they would even role out enterprise-wide idea management initiative as they now believe that the greatest business value is a challenge approach driven by specific business needs of specific groups (a bottom up approach to innovation).

The Soft Side of Hard Core Engineering

Information technology solutions in engineering have tended to focus on the hard core aspects of engineering like their CAD/CAM diagrams.  What you see above are solutions that address the softer side of engineering, the way that work is managed and how engineers are enabled to work better together across globally distributed organizations.

Design More Effective Collaborative Processes by including “external” people and activities

Most of us are familiar with workflow approval processes using SharePoint.  These are targeted towards efficiently routing items for approval usually in a serial fashion with known actors.  However, a great deal of information work is done through collaborative processes.  And usually, this work has a large impact on organizational results.  The key here is to be organizationally effective.  In this article, I’ll define collaborative processes and look at a general design approach that includes not just the core process but the “external” people and activities that drive a higher degree of organizational effectiveness.

What I Mean by Collaborative Processes

Collaborative processes are ways of working where the work progresses through stages that involve a number of people and activities.  Basically, individuals are often not the decision makers.  Rather, work progresses via collaborative group decision making.  Often these processes are oriented towards making the right (or at least a better) decision through collaboration and incorporating relevant activities.  Examples of such processes are:

  • Demand Management: New Project Initiation – onramp to project management
  • Business Development-Capture and Proposal Management – working the process of responding to RFP’s/tendors
  • Policy Management – getting policies out and incorporating feedback
  • R&D Innovation – managing R&D proposals through the funnel
  • Idea Management – the process of capturing, reviewing and deciding on new ideas

The Core Process

When you go about designing such processes, in a SharePoint context, most people initially focus on the core process.  This is typically a single SharePoint site.  Usually, the process is defined as a set of stages for items to pass through (see this article for a more detailed discussion of stage-based applications).  In each stage, items are acted upon, people weigh in, and, an item must pass through a gate to move to the next stage.  The main participants are the core process members.  CorasWorks adds various features to this core process to enable and enhance collaboration amongst these participants.

In most situations, this core process meets the expected requirements. Just getting this done is worth declaring victory for your team. However, we have found that organizations are usually able to make the process more effective by going beyond this core process and incorporating external people and activities in their overall design of their system.

Broader Perspective of Collaborative Process

Below is a schematic illustrating a broader perspective of your collaborative process.  The items in green are the expected elements.  You have the core process and the engagement of the “standard” process members.  The three other elements (in blue) extend the process to engage additional people and activities to flesh out the system.  I’ll discuss each of these three extended elements below.

image

External People

Imagine you are part of a product team.  You all have your ideas.  You put a process in place to enable your product group to work on them in a more collaborative way.  This works.  However, you could broaden your scope of who is engaged in three ways to improve the effectiveness.  First, you could open up the idea funnel to enable people outside of the group to submit ideas.  Second, you can make those ideas visible to the broad community and allow them to collaborate and enhance the ideas – outside of your control.  Third, you can vet your ideas with the external community.  In effect, you take your internal idea and push it out to the broad community or to external targeted groups – allowing them to also engage with other in vetting your idea.

Simply, you are taking your black box process, that has historically been fully controlled by the few and opening it up to external communities.  The objective is to drive effectiveness by a broader set of eyes and experiences on the idea.

Supporting Activities and Teams

You are working to get things through your process.  Within each stage there are various activities.  Most are done by the process members.  But often, the activities involve people that are outside of the core process membership.  Imagine that you are working on business development proposals and you need to resource people.  You may want to drop in a programmatic activity that engages HR and other “sources” of people to check the box on the required people resources.

Some of these activities can be ad hoc.  Others that are common to your process deserve a more permanent and structured way of working.  In a SharePoint context, it is important to note that others work where and how they work.  So, HR might want your activity to nicely become a part of their place and way of working rather then HR folks having to go to your place and work your way.  Thus, you agree on how to work, and then, drop in the element to tie your process activity to their work space.  Over time these “activities” of your process start to become standard ways of working amongst a broader group of people.

Downstream Activities and Teams

So, your process is all set and you start processing.  Imagine that you are working to drive new projects for products and services.  At the end of your process, the approved projects appear in your Portfolio.  You are done – right?  Yet, the project is not.  So, what you now need is a nice, effective handoff from your process to the next downstream activity, maybe the PMO to handle a group of like projects, or, to a project manager.

The key to the handoff is to do it in a programmatic manner and set it up so that the receiver of the handoff has access to the information and decisions that were made upstream.  Likewise, as they do their work on the project, you’d want a certain access to or flow of information back to you to keep track of the results of your decision and help you improve the effectiveness of your process.

As you define this you are again starting to define a broader “workstream” of related activities.  As a design note, these types of workstream are loosely coupled.  This means that each process/activity can live on its own but connects to the other upstream and downstream activities.

Take a Broader Perspective, Start Small and Allow it To Evolve

Collaborative processes are very important to organization success.  You need them to be effective because you are making decisions with a broad impact.  By all means, start by focusing in on the core process and getting the stages and basic activities right.  However, step back and consider the three additional elements outlined above early in your thinking. This broader perspective will enable you to design more effective processes.  As always, I’d say think broadly, start small, and evolve.  The best processes evolve forward with input, lessons learned, and, results. CorasWorks provides you with the flexibility to start simply and enhance and extend your system to add the new elements – take advantage of it.

william

10 Fundamentals to Know When Delivering Apps in a CorasWorks-powered Environment

I’ve spent a lot of time with customers over the last year working with the internal people who are delivering apps to business users.  You are out there busily building apps, setting standards, listening, supporting and connecting things. Your technical skills range from beginning builders to workplace wizards.  Along the way it has become clear that core fundamentals of CorasWorks have gotten lost or are at least lumpy.  I am not talking about technical items, but, about how to think about what you are doing when delivering collaborative work management apps using CorasWorks.  I guess with the time, new folks coming in and churn it makes sense.  In this article, I’ll go over my list of Top 10 fundamentals of CorasWorks that every app builder and every application service delivery manager should know.

You can templatize an App and Reuse it for another Purpose/Group

A key value proposition of CorasWorks is the reusability.  Yet, a surprising number of people don’t even know that you can templatize and re-use an existing SharePoint site.  So, if you build a CorasWorks app, why not re-use/re-purpose it for another use.  Better yet, how about maintaining a central catalog of cleaned, re-usable application templates, and, giving it visibility across business groups.

Context vs. Content

I often hear business users say that the UI of a CorasWorks PS delivered app is simpler to use, easier to understand and much better than native SharePoint.  The reason is context vs. content.  An average native SharePoint user is used to working in a team site.  By design SharePoint is a content driven experience – really collaboration by proximity.  You go to some place (a site) and hit a page to access content.  CorasWorks changes this.  Effectively, what you do with CorasWorks is overlay a business context.  When our Professional Services does the work we use our in-house standardized application templates that strip away all of the ancillary content baggage like announcements and quick links and provide business users with an experience that is relevant to the business context.  This seems much “easier” to business users.  I recommend that you take a look at our PS standard and do the same.

Three Main Tiers of CorasWorks App Value

When using CorasWorks, you can add value in three main tiers.  Always triage your work into one these tiers as follows:

  • Self-service – this is where you expose native SharePoint and CorasWorks capabilities to a broad group of users that use them to enhance their team collaboration sites.
  • Standardized solution types – CorasWorks has defined, trains on, and supports about 15 types of standardized solutions for collaborative work management.  The idea is for your organization to understand these, buy or build your first one, catalog them, and reuse, reuse, reuse.
  • Custom solutions – These are solutions that are so unique that you need to do requirements and then build them out.  The box for doing this with CorasWorks is very, very big, particularly when leveraging the Advanced Framework of v11 (see next item).

NOTE: Most people are binary; either self-service or custom.  What is really lacking is the middle tier – this is probably the area of greatest opportunity to add value to your organization.

CorasWorks v11 and our Advanced Framework

The Advanced what???  The current shipping version of CorasWorks is v11.2. This is the 11th major release of our core platform since 2003. With CorasWorks all of the software (.dll’s) are in this platform product. Your solutions are created on top by configuration. v11 includes an Advanced Framework. This is a multi-tier app framework that allows you to build very custom extensions or new apps without doing custom compiled code. You can even go as far as to build a custom database app with a separate SQL server database and a CorasWorks front-end surfaced in SharePoint – again without custom compiled code. This means that your IT Governance model can be centrally managed, but, the business groups can get lots of value.  The box of what you can do with CorasWorks is probably a lot bigger than you think.

Basic Apps are Built Up – Like Layering

When you use our basic framework/components we call that a basic app.  A standard, single-site CorasWorks basic app is built up.  It is like an assembly line.  The standard steps are:

  • Create a new site using a standard base solution template
  • Add navigation
  • Modify the data – lists and libraries, custom “workplace” fields, and data relationships
  • Add basic displays (usually grids for apps)
  • Add forms (action forms for new items and in process action forms)
  • Add user task automation actions
  • Add email notification actions, activations and workflow
  • Add reporting
  • Add Advanced Framework extensions (after business user feedback, see last point)

CorasWorks Actions Control What Users Can Do

CorasWorks comes with its Actions Framework.  Using a wizard you can create actions for users to perform.  This is your control point.  It allows you to separate the user from the data (If you think about it with native SharePoint you are pretty much giving users direct access to the data).  So with your apps, think actions for users.  They need not know what magic the action does behind the scenes or what gets kicked off (emails, workflow, other actions, etc.).

CorasWorks Cuts Across Structural Barriers of SharePoint

Native SharePoint has a number of structural “barriers” that constrain your canvas for designing and building apps.  CorasWorks separates the user context from the content meaning that people can basically do anything from anywhere.  We make all of SharePoint your design canvas.  The main barriers we cut across are data types, lists, sites, site collections, web applications, and, even farms.  The impact is that for advanced designers they think in terms of the actual user experience wherever and in whatever context vs. the app user interface.

Apps: Single Sites vs. Distributed Systems

Most people are site bound.  They think of SharePoint site by site – because they have learned to live within the barriers.  In reality, SharePoint is a distributed system or even more correctly a “system of systems”.  Sometimes you will build a single site app, like a Help Desk.  Other times you are really designing and building systems – a collection of sites.  An example is a Portfolio of project sites where you might have a PMO, a couple of Portfolio Management sites, and a mere 50 or 100 project sites spread across departments working in different site collections.  The key is to design at the system level first, thinking about the user role and experience, with the local sites coming next.  Back to the Help Desk and that single site.  Where do the users enter in their Help Desk requests? Where do they see the status and activity?  Can they first search a knowledge base or access a self-service community?  Should it really be designed as just a single Help Desk site for 10 help desk engineers or is it really a system to help users be more productive with a user population of say 3,000?

Think Collaborative Application Design Patterns

Most users think that an IT Help Desk, a Chemical Materials Storage Request system for a Pharmaceutical, and, an IDIQ HR Staffing app are very different applications.  To a CorasWorks builder they are basically the same with a bit of work to customize the “language” of the app.  In effect, they are what we would call a “Request” collaborative application design pattern.  In this world of collaborative work management apps you begin to see that most apps fit into common, re-usable patterns.  This is what drives the repeatability of our Standardized Solution Types mentioned above.  Thus, a catalog of 10 standard base app templates representing each of the solution types can serve your needs to create 100’s of business function specific applications.

Think about the Work-Stream(s)

We are very focused on the app.  In practice, this allows us to focus and meet a need.  However, in reality often work in one activity kicks off work in the next.  Or, in order to get the work done of one app you need to tap into another set of teams/apps/processes. When you step back and see how these activities tie together, you are thinking about what we call the work-stream.  For instance, in the big picture, an Idea Management app, would hand off to a Project Approval App, that hands off to a Development Project app that feeds your Change Management app.  The project approval app may have a process to request a capital expenditure (from finance) or a market study (from marketing).  Each of these apps can live on their own and usually have completely different users and contexts and make up multiple work-streams.  But, they connect.  They are loosely coupled.  And, you can have them all inter-operating within a CorasWorks-SharePoint environment.

william