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“The minute you start compromising for the sake of massaging somebody’s ego, that’s it, game over” – Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay is a Scottish born British chef and restaurateur, and his restaurants have been awarded 15 Michelin stars. He is a world-class performer and knows how to cook an excellent meal with the ingredients and resources that are available to him. Gordon is well known by a broad audience through his TV shows. In his latest TV program he guides a number of top talented chefs through an ‘obstacle cooking race’ and ultimately awards the winner with the title ‘Master Chef’.

When I thought about how you keep a SAP project on time, budget and quality, what came to mind is that doing SAP projects is similar to running an ‘obstacle race’. In order to pass all the obstacles you, like Ramsay, need to be fully aware of the quality of the available ingredients and resources. With ingredients I mean things like: standards, leading practices, software functionality, hardware, infrastructure, processes, data, policies, procedures, regulations, performance indicators, etc, and for resources think about: people, vendors, thought leaders, dollars, facilities, methods, tools, etc.

Once you are aware of your capability to deliver, the next steps are to explore the course of the race and its potential obstacles, and to continuously update your plans. This is an iterative process throughout the project lifecycle. Be mindful of the fact that although an obstacle may look familiar to you, it can behave very different. So what has worked for you in the past, may not work this time. Be creative and fully leverage the insights from your team. Examples of obstacles that you may encounter are: poor requirements definition, misalignment of key stakeholders, silo-ed behavior of teams, unqualified people in key positions, poor data integrity, severe software defects, poor testing, indecisiveness of the key decision makers, weak support organization, inadequate organizational change management, insufficient communications, unplanned work, scope changes, resource conflicts, lower than average vendor performance, etc.

Now let’s go into more detail on some of the obstacles and determine actions that you can take:

  • Requirements: when organizations struggle with defining business and technical requirements, there oftentimes isn’t a coherent vision that is well articulated, communicated and shared. Fragments of the ’to-be state’ are lingering and waiting for qualified individuals to take on to put more detail and definition to it, such that they can ultimately be glued together in a high level solution architecture that can function as a reference model for requirements definition. Organizations who initiate a SAP project, must have qualified resources available that deeply understand SAP, for example solution architects. They are responsible for solution management from start to finish, from requirement to implementation
  • Silo-ed behavior: with the implementation of SAP, due to it is integrative nature; organizations are forced to shift from vertical to horizontal behavior as business processes go straight through many functional disciplines. From an organizational change perspective, this is for many organizations a big hurdle to take, especially when activities and transactions shift from one silo to another, for example from finance closer to end users in supply chain processes. The key action is to create the awareness and understanding at all levels in the organizations, and find common ground between the involved functional business teams to work out an effective, practical model
  • Software defects: although you can trust that SAP is thoroughly testing its software, there will always be software defects that require their assistance. Especially when you are implementing fairly new SAP functionality, make sure that you have the right level of attention and support from SAP itself, as there will be cases where the system integrator cannot help you. Get to know the experts

As you can tell, there are many possible obstacles that can derail your SAP project and the potential impact can be very high because of its broad and deep exposure. SAP solutions permeate through the body of the organization and can cause immediate operational disruptions, and it’s on this particular aspect that SAP projects are quite different then other technology projects. It is very important that senior leadership has this kind of awareness in mind at all the times when they initiate, plan and execute SAP projects. Its imperative to start with the end state in mind with a well-articulated vision and roadmap, work all the way backwards to the start of the project, uncover the needs to be successful and identify the possible obstacles that can throw you off-guard. To make that happen, invest in qualified people who have been in the field and know what needs to be done. Or in Gordon Ramsay’s context, identify the ‘Master Chef’ who has proven his ability to cook and can serve you an excellent meal.

Bas de Baat

SAP Program Manager, PMP©

 

 

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Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth – Sherlock Holmes

Being from dutch descent, I obviously have a passion for soccer. Years ago, Louis van Gaal, a well-known and very successful dutch soccer coach gave his point of view of world-class performance, by saying: “quality is about ruling out coincidences.” Years later he completely re-build the footings of soccer club Bayern Munchen, and ever since that transformation, they have dominated the European soccer leagues. And now he is replicating the same principles at Manchester United.

What would Louis van Gaal do if he was a project leader? I think if you translate his principles to project management, many troubled IT business transformation projects most likely wouldn’t have ended up in that state. What would some of his principles look like?

A key principle is to have a plan and alternatives, call it a plan B, that are well-communicated and shared at all levels in the project and relevant business areas. The plan provides a clear sight of the future end-state and the path to get there, in terms of deliverables, approach and time line. There is a common belief that the planning process is more important than the plan itself. The process is a recurring, consistent, collaborative and inclusive activity supported by all key stakeholders and has plan versions at different abstract levels. There are many walk-throughs of the plan with the all the players, and together with the leaders they discuss major risk and mitigation strategies so everybody is well prepared. The core team is far-sighted, able to connect the dots and keen on translating requirements into work products, making estimates and crafting smart delivery strategies and tactics.

The project leader is audacious and creative in finding the most attractive path from A to B given the quality of the players, the business context and other conditions. When Louis van Gaal was the head coach of the dutch soccer team during the last world championships in 2014, he realized after thorough analysis, that he needed to change the tactics from an offensive to a more defensive style. The average age of the team was relatively low and therefore the experience level. He changed the formation from a 4-3-3 system to a 5-3-2 system. That change caused a huge turmoil across the country, because the default formation that dominated the ‘dutch school of thought’ was 4-3-3. Louis van Gaal was convinced of his bold change and trained the team on the new approach in a very short timeframe. They pulled it off by ending in 3rd place by beating Brazil and exceeded the expectation of the Royal Dutch Football Association. Germany won the tournament, and many of their players came from Bayern Munchen. Louis van Gaal was successful because he had an alternative plan and the courage to execute it. He got the buy in from the team players, and subsequently prepared, coached and motivated them to win. He changed before he had to, and knew what it looked like

Another principle is to implement industry best practice project management and delivery processes in the initiation phase including effective methods, tools and reporting. All project staff must be trained in the functional use of this model before the actual work starts. Ideally, the training is repetitive and addresses case material where performance did not hit the quality mark. That’s an effective way to build consistency. Major motivators for talented project staff is to learn new skills and gain experience throughout the project lifecycle. Seasoned project leaders find ways to combine that progressive learning ambition with continuous improvement of team performance and team bonding. An example of that would be recurring ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where people come together and discuss a very relevant topic, or at times an odd, fun topic to trigger the creative minds.

Knowing what’s important and what’s not and being able to set the right priorities for the team is another principle. The project leader needs to be observant and have an eye for details without loosing side of the big picture. He has a transparent work style, open-door policy and is an effective communicator. Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg wrote a book about ‘How Google Works’ [2014] and said that one of their key responsibilities was to be a ‘router of information’. They said: “Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish.”

If Louis van Gaal would be a project leader, he would make a lot of notes, gather a lot of data, conduct detailed analysis and with all of that provide constructive feedback and coaching to the team players. He would share his opinion based on facts, and point the team into specific directions. He may consider doing project analysis, based on video recordings of the team performance and all kind of statistics. This approach is becoming more and more a differentiator in soccer and other sports. Big data and analytics has entered that industry the last couple of years as well.

The use of fact-based data in the decision making process is another principal. The project leader would use it for example to assess where the project is vulnerable and define corrective measures  to be ready in case identified risks materialize into real problems. Together with the core team, the project leader would think through scenarios for areas where any surprise can catch the team off-guard.

There are many more principles from Louis van Gaal that we can apply to project management. They have one things in common and that is their focus on quality. Every aspect of soccer, on or outside the field, must be well thought through and meet high quality standards. That in combination with real-time fact based reasoning and decision making must put the team on the right track for high performance.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©