New Video: Healthy Conflict in Projects, Part 2

In the previous video on healthy conflict in project teams, we explained how this is one of the essential things that a project team must get right to ensure the success of the project. In this video, we talk about what that looks like and a step by step guide to resolving issues.

Here’s the video:

Our COVID-19 Relief Policy

We’re starting to hear from companies who are being impacted by the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re telling us about workforce reductions and furloughs and asking questions about their subscriptions, renewals, and license transfers. After some internal discussions, we came up with an idea of how to help our customers who are having a hard time because of the virus.

Effective immediately, we are adding a new policy for our Project Analyzer customers:

  • If your organization had to lay off employees due to pandemic-related economic conditions and want to transfer their subscription to another user, we’ll help you facilitate that license transfer and extend the subscription’s expiration by three months.  
  • If your organization furloughed employees due to pandemic-related economic conditions, contact us when they are back at work, and we’ll extend their subscription’s expiration by three months.
  • If your organization laid-off employees who were active Analyzer users and they will not be coming back, please forward this offer to them: if they contact us directly, we’ll offer them a complimentary 3-month subscription to help them get back on their feet. Terms and conditions apply. 
  • This offer expires on 9/30/2020, at which time we’ll assess whether or not to extend it further.

We hope that you and your colleagues and families are staying safe during this time.

 

Our 20th Birthday

Today is Steelray’s 20th birthday, which is old age for a software company. As I reflect on that fact, one question comes to mind:  

How?

How on earth did we make it 20 years? In between all of the mistakes and false assumptions and questionable decisions, we must have been doing something right to get here. After some thought, I came up with a list of “pillars” that have supported our health and longevity.

  • Financial Health.  Just as people need water, food, and oxygen to survive, a business only survives with cash. Not running out of money has always been top-of-list!

  • Happy Customers.  You don’t achieve and maintain financial health without customers. Having happy customers who like us and our products has been the difference-maker. We are so grateful to you and know that we need to continue delivering exceptional products, service, and value to you.

  • A Mission That Matters to Us. Our mission is to make the finest software for project schedule visualization and analysis.
    • By “finest,” we mean the most useful and most usable software products in the market.
    • We make the best tools for the best practitioners. For 20 years now, we’ve applied our team’s expertise in project management and building software products to build and offer solutions that provide great value to you.
    • We realized that great schedules come from great schedulers, so making better schedulers through our software is part of our mission.

  • What We Do and Where Matters. At some point, I realized that how you spend your workdays is as essential as any of the other pillars. 
    • We want to work on cool stuff.
    • We want to be an excellent place to work.

  • ‘A’ Players. As cliché as it sounds, the single biggest thing I’ve done to make it 20 years is to hire and develop a team of ‘A’ players. I am eternally grateful for the team we’ve built. Nothing else I’ve done has mattered more to our journey. Because when the project management landscape undergoes change, and a whole new set of skills is required, I’d rather have a team who have the brains, skills, and mostly attitude to embrace change and pivot quickly to the new reality. The alternative is firing and hiring, and who wants to work for a company like that?

As I write this, we are self-quarantined and have replaced working in the same office with online meetings, webcams, and screen sharing. The conferences we planned on going to have all been canceled, so we’re not able to see our customers in-person. I am missing the office and the conferences and look forward to the day when it’s safe to come out and play again.

Mostly I want to say these two things: 

  • Thank you, Steelray customers. Let’s celebrate our 40th together too.  
  • And thank you, Steelray team. You are the best!

Go ahead and treat yourself to a slice of cake today!

I Hate Marketing Emails

Because I’ve had my email address for almost 20 years, I get a lot of marketing emails spam.  A LOT of spam.  Gmail filters out a nice chunk, and I use an Apple Mail add-in called Spam Sieve to filter out another sizeable percentage of it.  Despite that fact, a lot of unwanted email still reaches my inbox.

For the past week, I’ve deliberately been clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email to take me off of that particular list.  Some of them make it very easy, and some of them try to throw up roadblocks.  This one from Responsify is particularly, uh, “challenging:”

email with tiny unsubscribe text

Yes, a link in that microscopic text at the bottom is how you’re supposed to unsubscribe. They’re betting that most people won’t bother to navigate the obstacles required to get off of their email list.  I scaled the email to be larger and (with my nose about two inches from the screen)  I found the unsubscribe link.

After a week, it’s too soon to know whether I’ve made a dent in the unwanted emails.  I’m wondering if they will reach a critical mass and if the time I’m spending unsubscribing would be better spent hitting the delete key.  Will email as we know it become unusable because of spam?  

We make software products that help our customers visualize and analyze their project schedules, and we’ve used email marketing campaigns from time to time.  In my mind, it’s like we’re one person in a stadium of 80,000 shouting at the top of our lungs, trying to be heard above everyone else.  I’m not saying that email campaigns are pointless, but we’ve found other marketing channels that work better for us.  Five personal emails might be more effective than 500 “eBlast” emails.

I’m curious to know what you think.  Email me?  😉

A Must Have Software Utility

I’m kind of obsessed with productivity tools, and they generally fall into one of two categories: the ones everyone should use and the rest.

It’s our company mission to make must-have tools (viewers, analyzersexporters) for people who are writing, updating or reviewing project schedules.  We live in a niche; we design and deliver productivity software products for a specific group of people.

Some tools have a much broader range.  One tool that everyone should use is a text snippet insertion utility.  I use TextExpander, and while I don’t know if it’s the best or the worse, I know that I love what it does and how it does it.  It works well for me.

The purpose of these tools is pretty simple:  you type abbreviations or shorthand, like “fyi”, and the tool will insert a longer set of words, like “for your information”.  I set up “b@s” to be my email address — using the first letter of each side of the @ sign.  I have dozens of abbreviations now, and for me, it’s like typing in fast motion. Filling out forms is almost fun.

Almost.

Occasionally, it expands when I don’t want it to, which means I chose an abbreviation that occurs “naturally in the wild,” so to speak.  Good abbreviations require creativity and practicality.  I tend to use the same three letters in a row like three s’s for Steelray.  (You can bet I didn’t type out the entire “Steelray” just then)

You know you love a tool when you miss it the minute you start using a computer without it installed.  The tool can be habit-forming, but in this case, it’s a good habit.  A tiny little superpower.

There are others in my “must-have” category, and most of them are like TextExpander, in that they do a very specific thing in a very useful way.  If you’re not using one, I recommend you take a week and give it a try.  It takes a little practice, but it’s worth it.

Two New Year’s Resolutions

Today is January 2, the first workday where we get to practice our New Year’s resolutions.  Did you make any?  For Steelray, New Year’s resolutions take the form of annual objectives.  This year, we’ve made two big resolutions.

listeningFirst, we resolve that we’re going to do a much better job of communicating with you.  That includes sharing news about releases and events we’re attending.  Communication is a two-way street, so it also involves listening very carefully to your feedback, ideas, and suggestions.  In fact, the listening part is the far more critical part of communication.

sharing ideasSecond, we’re going back to our roots and delivering groundbreaking software — this time in the area of schedule delay analysis.  I can’t share the details yet, but that day is coming soon.  We’ve been in R&D mode for most of last year, working on the technology.

At times, we encountered roadblocks that made us question whether we’d be able to push through. And we pushed through. (If it were easy, it would have been done already.)  We’re not there yet, but we’re getting much closer.

phone usAnd, in keeping with our first resolution, I’m spending time every day speaking with potential users of the software, understanding how it can best help and how it would be used.  So, if you’re someone who looks at schedules with the purpose of understanding the impact of changes to the schedule, please reach out to me.

Let’s talk!

IPMW 2018 Tools Talk

We are just a few days out from the start of the Integrated Program Management Workshop 2018 in Washington D.C! We are so excited to exhibit our products and demonstrate how they can improve your productivity. We will present our Tools Talk on Tuesday, November 13th from 1:30-2:15 pm in Room 307, so if you’re attending, we’d love for you to stop by our talk. If you aren’t able to make the conference or miss our presentation, continue reading for a summary (and feel free to reach out if you have any more questions about our products!)

Steelray Software Unlocks the Secrets in Your Schedule

If you think about it, a project schedule is really a large set of information that includes planned activities, assignments, and what has happened so far. On large schedules, a lot of key information is sometimes “buried.”

At Steelray, our mission is to help you make sense of your product schedules. At IPMW, we’ll be showing off new products and technologies that help you do just that. 

If you’re new to our suite of products, we’ll introduce our best-in-class suite of tools for project schedule visualization and analysis. If you’re already using our tools, you’ll see features that you probably didn’t know about that will save you a great deal of time.

Steelray Project Viewer is the leading viewer for project schedules.  At IPMW, we’ll be introducing an edition for Primavera P6 and showing how easy it is to navigate through your Primavera schedule.  With features like quick filters and a built-in search engine, we’ll show you how you can save time and make better decisions by using our viewer.

Steelray Project Analyzer is our flagship schedule analysis solution.  We introduced Analyzer at IPMW over ten years ago, and we’ll be demonstrating powerful features that no other competing solution offers.  This year, we completed an overhaul of the product that brings new levels of performance and stability to the product, and we’re excited to show this to you.

Steelray Project Exporter is an add-in for Microsoft Project that now comes in two editions:  a free version that exports to UN/CEFACT XML, and a commercial product that exports to the new IPMR2 Format 6 in JSON.  We’ve significantly improved the product, making it easier to use and more flexible, including self-correcting some common issues that break strict compliance with the standard.

Don’t forget to stop by our booth if you’re attending and keep an eye out for prizes! Looking forward to showing off our software and helping you with your project management!


STEM vs. “Soft Skills”

Modern education places a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. However, a project at Google set out to determine the value of so-called “soft skills” in their workplace.

Google initially set out to hire computer science students with top grades from the best science colleges upon its conception in 1998. But in 2013, they tested hiring, firing, and promotion data and found that STEM qualities actually ended up last on the list of the eight most important attributes as an employee at Google. The top seven were soft skills: the ability to be empathetic, excellent communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, to name a few. Their findings led the company to reconfigure their hiring process and expand their focus beyond technology-based fields of study to humanities majors and MBAs.

Even at a company as technical as Google, studies continue to show the value of soft skills.  The article states:

“the company’s most important and productive new ideas came from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.”

And that begs the question, what is smart anyway? We tend to think of people who excel in technical subjects such as math and science as the smart ones, without the same regard for those who are excellent writers or can paint a masterpiece.

Furthermore, these “soft skills” cited in the article go beyond academic subjects we learned in school. Studies noted that emotional safety, generosity, and curiosity were qualities that aren’t taught to us by teachers, but rather by peers. This shows that our socialization plays an equally important role in our contributions at work, not just our academic excellence.

As a software company, we’re focused on our technology and using fantastic software engineers to build our products to the best of our ability. But we also work to recognize that being a great team member goes beyond coding. We strive for personal and professional betterment, which makes our office a prime space to excel. As important as technology is in our set of skills, it’s equally vital not to overlook the soft skills as well.

A 4-Day Work Week?

Happy Friday everyone! Today, we’re discussing human productivity and the efficiency of an experimental four-day work week.

Earlier this year, a firm in New Zealand ran an experiment where it let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five. Employees chose which day of the week to take off, and the experiment resulted in more well-rested employees, better work-life balance, and limited distractions, with no change in productivity despite the shorter work hours.

The article begs the question as to the efficiency of a 40-hour work week. Of course, everyone is different, but this experiment showed that people were able to recognize inefficiencies and correct them to work smarter, not necessarily harder.

It’s vital for us as employees to recognize times that we’re doing quality work and times when we’re not. It’s difficult (maybe even impossible) to be 100% productive, all day, every day; and it’s also essential for us to take breaks. So what’s the perfect balance?

Honestly, there isn’t one universal answer. Everyone works differently, and this experiment ran well because employees had the ability to choose which extra day they took off, allowing them to optimize their time in the office and take well-deserved breaks when they needed it. But besides being bored or feeling sluggish, how do we know when we’re not productive?

Some may be familiar with the term “flow”: in other words, it’s the state of being in the zone, when one is fully immersed in an activity and has full focus and enjoyment in the process. There are, of course, varying stages between boredom and flow, and we often don’t work at a flow state for eight hours a day. But achieving a flow rhythm might reduce the time it takes to complete a task; for example, a task that might take four hours in a non-flow state might take two in flow.

There’s no real answer to achieving flow since everyone works differently. But the experiment of a four-day work week and the results it produced imply that individuals are able to deduce their own inefficiencies and make themselves better. At Steelray, we continually strive for personal betterment, in and out of the workplace, because we believe that the drive to learn and excel is what makes us remarkable people with really cool software.

Do you think you’d excel with a four-day work week? What day would you take off? How can we measure our productivity to know if we’re getting better or worse?