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Category Archives: Best Practices

Planning for Test Data Preparation as a Best Practice

Best Practices, Data Management, Project Management, Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC), Testing

By Paula Grose

After working in and managing testing efforts on and off for the past 18 years, I have identified a best practice that I use in my testing projects and I recommend it as a benefit to other testing projects, as well.

This best practice is test data preparation, which is the process of preparing the data to correlate to a particular test condition.

Oftentimes, preparing data for testing is a big effort that people underestimate and overlook. When you test the components of a new system, it’s not as simple as just identifying your test conditions and then executing the test—there are certain factors you should take into account as you prepare your test environment. This includes what existing processes, if any, are in place to allow for the identification or creation of test data that will match to a test condition.

A test case may consist of multiple test conditions. For each test condition, you must determine all the test data needs. This includes:

  • Input data
  • Reference data
  • Data needed from other systems to ensure synchronization between systems
  • Data needed to ensure each test will achieve its expected result

Planning for test data preparation can greatly reduce the time required to prepare the data. At the overall planning stage for testing, there are many assessments that should be conducted, including:

  • Type of testing that will be required
  • What testing tools are already available
  • Which testing tools may need to be acquired

If, at this point, there are no existing processes that allow for easy selection and manipulation of data, you should seek to put those processes in place. Most organizations have a data guru who is capable of putting processes in place for this effort—or at least can assist with the development of these processes.

The goal is to provide a mechanism that will allow the selection of data based on defined criteria. After you do this, you can perform an evaluation as to whether the existing data meets the need—or identify any changes that must be made. If changes are required, the process must facilitate these changes and provide for the loading/reloading of data once changes are made.

One word of caution concerning changing existing data: You must be certain that the existing data is not set up for another purpose. Otherwise, you may be stepping on someone else’s test condition and cause their tests to fail. If you don’t know for sure, it is always better to make a copy of the data before any changes are made.

About the Author: Paula Grose worked for the State of California for 33 years, beginning her work in IT as a Data Processing Technician and over time, performing all aspects of the Systems Development Life Cycle. I started in executing a nightly production process and progressed from there. As a consultant, Paula has performed IV&V and IPOC duties focusing on business processes, testing, interfaces, and data conversion. She currently leads the Data Management Team for one of KAI Partners’ government sector clients. In her spare time, she is an avid golfer and enjoys spending time with friends, and playing cards and games.

Consulting Survival 101: A Project Manager’s Perspective

Best Practices, Managing/Leadership, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

By Jamie Spagner

Those of us who have worked in the corporate world—or any type of workplace, really—for an extended period of time know that longevity is not a guarantee. Your job within a company may change due to corporate restructuring, personnel/job role updates, or any number of other factors.

A silver lining may be consulting. For many people, consulting is a logical step to extend a successful career. If you have worked in project management positions throughout your career, transitioning to consulting may be able to provide you more freedom and flexibility, as well as the opportunity to offer your expertise to the people and organizations who need it the most.

It’s easy to believe that your decades of experience and the various letters—PMP, CSM, SHRM, etc.—after your name will be all you need to prepare for this exciting new chapter. Of course, it’s not always so simple.

After 15 years in the corporate world—and six of those years consulting—I’ve discovered some lessons that most consultants learn the hard way:

  • Do not take things personally: As human beings, we are emotional. One of the best things I have done to improve overall satisfaction in both my personal and work environments is learning not to be governed by my emotions. As a project management consultant, part of my job is making recommendations; sometimes these recommendations are followed and sometimes they are not. Either way, I try to be more logical and less reactive to the way a situation makes me feel.
  • Humility over hubris: There will be times when you know more than your client, but boasting about this is rarely a good idea. As consultants, we are teachers, not show offs. Timing is everything—use your intelligence to know when to show your intelligence.
  • Practice patience: Organizations move at different speeds and as a consultant, we advise, but rarely get the chance to set the pace. Be patient and stay engaged—this way, you will have more impact ensuring the final decisions your client makes are the ideal.
  • Trade in your ‘Nos’: As a consultant, you should be prepared to offer an alternate solution to your client, rather than immediately telling them ‘no.’
  • Champion your client:Consultants should support and champion our clients’ successes, not take credit for the wins. Remember, when people say a home looks lovely, it’s the homeowner who takes the credit, not the architect.

Practicing these tips may not guarantee your success in the consulting world, but they may help keep your sanity, and, quite possibly, your job. Remember, these are just recommendations, so use them or don’t—I won’t take it personally (she said, taking her own advice).

About the Author: Jamie Spagner is an Executive Consultant for KAI Partners, where she works as a Project Manager for a public sector health care client. She graduated from California State University, Sacramento with the Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies/Public Relation. She is a loving mother of a teenage son named Wyatt. In her spare time, she enjoys shopping, spending time with family/close friends, and working out.

How to Use Problem Statements to Solve Project Issues

Best Practices, Issues and Risks, Problem Statements, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP)

By Stephen Alfano

Who doesn’t have problems? Now, a real question: Is there a simple, surefire, and quick way to break problems down?

Answer: Problem statements.

A problem statement is basically a short, yet compelling description of an issue, or set of issues, that must be resolved. It’s used by problem-solvers of all stripes—from research scientists to project managers to postgraduate students—to drive an effort from beginning to end to ensure and validate an anticipated outcome (not a problem with a well-written problem statement!).

How do you write a problem statement?

I recommend carefully breaking the problem—and the undesirable world it lives in—into three basic components:

  • Vision – This is the description of the anticipated (desired) outcome. Think of it as a view of the future with the changes that will result from the issue(s) being resolved.
  • Issue(s) – This is the description of the problem using a narrative derived from real-world experience (e.g., use cases or test results). It’s usually only a couple of sentences in length and straightforward and concise in tone and manner.
  • Method – This is the description of how the problem (and issues therein) will be resolved. It’s often prescriptive language—sometimes filled with jargon—that helps the problem-solvers map out their path to success.

Of course, there’s a great deal of background detail and mitigating factors that must be condensed to create those three basic components. (We’re talking about a scaling down a small mountain of data and accompanying data analysis into a couple of paragraphs.)

Truth be told, problem statements can be problematic. The input isn’t always neatly packaged. It often comes from structured and unstructured sources that need to be identified, categorized, prioritized and, in some cases, synthesized to establish the following:

  1. the root cause of the problem
  2. the known consequences of the issues that users (and key stakeholders) both up and downstream face
  3. the ill-effects associated with the known consequences
  4. the myriad assumptions and constraints (the pros and cons) within the method used to resolve the issues

Above all, problem statements require persistence and patience. Distilling and editing the content to be clear and concise takes rigorous work—and lots of practice using a tried and true template.

Below, you’ll find links to some of my favorite problem statement templates and best practices:

How do you think problem statements could help your project mitigate issues and achieve success?

About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organizational Change Management Consultant and Communications Expert. He has over 25 years of experience leading and managing internal and external marketing initiatives for both private and public-sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and support services to California State Departments.

10 Best Practices for Setting Clear Job Expectations From the Start

Best Practices, Employee Engagement, Hiring, Human Resources, Managing/Leadership, Onboarding, SHRM

By Melissa McManus, Ed.D and SHRM-CP

I’ve heard people say if you set expectations then you should be prepared for disappointment. From my perspective as a Human Resources Professional, if you fail to set clear expectations, then the only likely outcome is disappointment.

Expectations are an essential business function. The inability to meet unspoken expectations can lead to frustrations for both the employee and the employer. Not only do clear expectations create an understanding and a guideline, they create accountability for the employee. With clear expectations, the employer knows what to expect from the employee and the employee knows what to expect from the employer and the job itself.

Expectations should be established from the beginning. When I hire for a position, I always include the basic functions of the position, the necessary qualifications, and desired skills I am seeking in the job announcement. Before I have even looked through resumes or interviewed potential candidates, I have already begun to set expectations for that position. Expectations should be further identified through onboarding, orientation, and discussions with team members and supervisors.

Here are some of my tips for setting clear expectations from the beginning:

Guidelines for setting clear expectations:

  1. Expectations should be clear and understood by all parties so that there is no confusion
  2. Expectations should be outlined early and often. Setting them once is not enough—they need to be revisited on a regular basis as job functions can change and evolve
  3. Set attainable, realistic expectations; keep in mind your floor could be someone else’s ceiling
  4. Expectations could be in writing (i.e., in the form of a job description), simply verbalized, or both
  5. Expectations could differ from position to position; they should be specific

 Benefits of setting clear expectations:

  1. Improves performance
  2. Happier employees
  3. Establishes goals
  4. Sets priorities
  5. Enriches team dynamics

Having clear expectations, goals, and objectives is a must if you want your staff to be as productive and efficient as possible. Job success is not simply trying to determine who can sink and who can swim; I think the rate of turnover experienced in certain positions is a direct result of either unclear or unrealistic expectations. If you want quality, high performing employees, then you should give them all the tools necessary to be successful.

What has been your experience with setting expectations in your role as an employee or in a role you hire for or manage?

 About Melissa: Dr. Melissa McManus is a human resources professional and research guru. One of her greatest strengths is her resolute ability to soak in new information and her never-ending thirst for knowledge. Melissa has a Master’s degree in Counseling, and a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership with a focus in Human Resource Development. Melissa’s professional interests include human behavior, career development, research, writing, training, and knowledge transfer. She is passionate about life and describes herself as an avid bookworm. In her free time, when she is not running her kids to gymnastics or karate, Melissa enjoys reading (a lot), wine tasting, being with friends/family, and spending time with her husband and two children.

4 Ways to Adapt to VUCA

ADKAR, Best Practices, Communications, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Prosci, VUCA

By Debbie Blagsvedt

I recently attended an Association of Talent Management Development (ATD) seminar on Change Management Strategies, as well as a Training Magazine Network webinar called “Leading with Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the New Workplace.” In both of these seminars, VUCA was mentioned.

VUCA—an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity—seems to accurately define the world in which we currently live and work. Working in a VUCA environment, combined with the need to quickly and efficiently adapt to rapid-fire change, is forever a part of today’s organizational culture.

A friend of mine—who has recently taken up running half marathons as a hobby—shared with me how Usain Bolt, the world-renowned Jamaican sprinter, became the 21st athlete to break the world record for the 100m sprint over the last decade. While the 100m record was broken merely four times from 1900 to 1950, the same record was shattered 17 times in the following 50 years!

You may ask, what does shattering world records have to do with VUCA in the workplace? Research shows that the time span between the launch of a new product and its extinction from the market is decreasing every year. This results in shorter lifespans of companies, a constant overhauling of ways of working, and disruption and change brought about by technology and customer demands. The effects of these changes across the globe happen at lightning speed, and all with VUCA at their core!

In the workplace, the churning of change running constantly in the forefront can result in change fatigue, employees face down, with their noses to the grindstone. Add to that the tension, fear, and a grappling within ourselves as to whether we have the competence and the confidence to take on this new world. The result is oftentimes employees waiting for the latest trend to blow over so they can get back to what they were used to doing.

Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work well in today’s work environments. After contemplating VUCA and its relationship with change and the topic of “Leading with EQ,” here are some ideas that hopefully will help you ride the VUCA storm:

  1. Take on Volatility with Versatility
    • We all know what it’s iike to have a volatile stock market—unexpected drops and unstable economies are unsettling. Try attacking volatility with versatility—it is essential to hone your ability to be flexible and adapt to different situations. Remember Gumby, that clay figure youngsters loved to bend so the legs were on top of his head yet Gumpy could still stand on his feet? Next time you are faced with volatility, be Gumby-like!
  2. Move from Uncertainty to Understanding
    • A common reaction to uncertainty is fear, which typically leads to resistance. In today’s digital age, technology is a key defense for increasing understanding and awareness. This can be done in many ways including through shared dashboards, online collaboration tools, simple instant messages, and targeted SMS communications. Try creating online learning communities as a forum for employees to learn from each other. This can increase employees’ awareness of what is and what isn’t known which can help reduce fear and even stress.
  3. Tackle Complexity by Building Connections
    • Create direct connections among people across the organization to allow them to sidestep cumbersome hierarchal protocols. Remove barriers and create connections to foster more direct and instant connections, allowing employees to share valuable information, find answers, and get help and advice from people capable of providing the answers. Equally as important in tackling complexity is to build organizational competencies to succeed in tackling complex issues.
  4. Address Ambiguity with Leadership Agility
    • Develop a vison that accounts for VUCA. Stay focused and be a role model to employees in leading and navigating through the chaos. Build change stamina by being aware of the state of readiness of the organization at all times. Use surveys to assess change readiness and learn how it will impact employees. Put stretch goals into place, make them fun, and reward employees for tackling them.

These are just a few ways to adapt your leadership or personal development for the rollercoaster that is VUCA. How do you manage change in your workplace?

About the Author: Debbie Blagsvedt is an Organizational Change Consultant with over 25 years’ experience in change management, performance management, process improvement, training, and facilitation. She has a worked in both the private, public, and non-profit sectors in industries that include health, legal, financial, social services, high tech, and transportation. She currently works as an Organizational Change Consultant with KAI Partners on assignment with a child welfare services agency.  Debbie is passionate about collaboration among teams which she believes leads to high employee satisfaction and is equally fascinated with the rapid-fire speed of change and what it means for organizations today. Debbie grew up in the bay area but now considers Sacramento her home. She has many interests from home projects to wine tasting, volunteering, witnessing the changing face of Sacramento, and going on new adventures with her family and friends. Not to mention nightly walks and occasional mountain hikes with her dog, Emmett.

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