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Category Archives: Best Practices

7 Tips to Work Successfully in a Virtual Environment

Best Practices, Employee Engagement, General Life/Work, Managing/Leadership, Team Building

By Angela Darchuk

We live in a world where most of us use technology to do our job, and often that can include being able to do our job from anywhere. With businesses offering work from home or flexible schedule options, many employees now have the opportunity to work in a virtual environment.

Since starting to work in a virtual environment four years ago, I have found ways to make sure working virtually is a success for me and the virtual team I manage. Working in a virtual environment has its challenges and it may not be for everyone, but with some self-motivation and these tips, hopefully you can make your virtual work successful:

  1. Be Open: If you are joining an already established virtual team, and especially if you have never worked on a virtual team before, be open to the process. Virtual teams require a lot of positivity—there is little worse than a team member joining a team and being negative to the process.
  2. Ask Questions: Ask questions about the process, what is expected of you on a daily/weekly/ monthly basis, and seek clarification if you don’t understand what is being asked. It’s a waste of time for an employee or a supervisor to do or receive unnecessary work, so make sure you understand the expectations from the start.
  3. Get to Know Your Team: Getting to know your team can be hard when working in a virtual environment. Talking about your life, your likes and dislikes, and your personality can help open up a dialog and make the team comfortable together.(Working in a virtual environment may mean working solo, but it isn’t just about you doing your job—it’s also about collaboration with others in different locations (and maybe even different time zones!) More tips for virtual team success can be found in our blog post, How to Create a Successful Virtual Team Dynamic.)
  4. Know the Roles Your Teammates Play: Knowing the role of each of your teammates is important. When you know what others’ jobs are, you can leverage their expertise when needed. Additionally, if you are familiar with everyone’s roles, you can start to anticipate what may be needed from/by other members of the team.
  5. Be Involved: Be involved by offering information, providing solutions to issues, and volunteering for action items. A weekly meeting—usually via conference call or video conference—is a must to make sure the team is involved, but if you need more frequent meetings, just ask.
  6. Show Initiative: Showing initiative can be difficult in a virtual world, but if you see something that needs to be done, talk to your supervisor about what you can offer. Your skills and abilities were some of the reasons you were hired, so offer up new ideas to help!
  7. Ask for the Proper Equipment to do Your Job: As a virtual employee, it’s important you have the tools to do your job. This can include software and hardware; in addition, you should have access to tools for conference calling, sharing screens, direct messaging, and project management. However, be mindful of what is a ‘need’ and what is ‘want’—equipment needs to be budgeted and you should be able to justify the request.

As a virtual employee, it is your responsibility to show your value so that you thrive—hopefully these tips help your venture into virtual work a success!

About the Author: Angela has a background in book-keeping and office management. She worked for several small businesses in the Sacramento area before taking a job with the State of California. She worked for Dept. of Child Support, EDD and the State Treasurer’s office before making the jump back to private sector where she feels more at home to voice her opinion and help grow a company. Angela is currently the Administrative Services Manager for KAI Partners. In her spare time Angela loves to read, dance, and go to Disneyland. When she goes to Disneyland, her favorite ride is It’s a Small World. She is a graduate of Penn State University, has been married for 18 years, and has two boys, ages 19 and 13 (who hate It’s a Small World).

Why you Should Document Business Processes

Best Practices, Business Analysis, Documentation, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Small Business

By Denise Larcade

One thing I’ve seen in my 25+ years working in change management and business analysis is that documenting Business Processes and supporting documents like Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) adds value to a business in a variety of ways.

Unfortunately, some believe that documenting processes and procedures is not always the most exciting of tasks, and it’s often put off from one person to the next. Before you know it, the documented process for a task may be severely outdated—or nonexistent.

A lack of documentation can reduce efficiency of your business if, for example, someone goes on vacation. The back-up who’s covering for them should have access to the Business Process Diagram (BPD) and accompanying SOPs so they can do the job of the person who’s out. If there’s no documentation, the back-up has no idea what to do. The impact to the business is that while the process may be well-defined and streamlined, if it’s not documented, then time and labor is not utilized efficiently.

A complete lack of documentation can be a major problem if an employee leaves. Without knowing their day-to-day processes, it will be difficult to hire a qualified person to take over for them, not to mention keeping business running in the interim.

Luckily, documenting processes and procedures is not a daunting task. Businesses of any size can and should document their process. KAI Partners, a certified small business with fewer than 100 employees, regularly documents its processes and procedures.

When starting out, a good rule of thumb is that each WHAT documented in the BPD should be supported by some documentation on HOW (oftentimes an SOP). Further, when the Business Processes are updated, the accompanying SOP should be updated at the same time.

For example, if the diagram step in the BPD states, “Create Invoice,” there should be a manual/guide, SOP, or job aid detailing how to create the invoice. If today the invoice is created on a Mac and tomorrow it’s changed to a PC, the step in the BPD may not change, but the supporting documents will.

So, what do you do once you’ve documented your Business Processes? Stick them in a drawer and forget about them? No!

Depending on your current business state, you should look at your Business Processes quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. For mergers and acquisitions, I recommending looking at your processes quarterly. If your business is not going through a major change, you should check in with your Business Processes every six months or every year.

When you do regular audits of your business process, you’re checking for:

  1. Accuracy.Is everything the same, or have you made any business changes that should be updated? Think about the scenario above—if the software used to create the invoice is inaccessible due to a licensing issue, a work around may need to be created to keep the BPD current. If the work around does not have a solution date and may be a long-term work around, you should consider updating the BPD to reflect that. (Another reason why regularly-scheduled reviews are valuable—it forces the business owner to address something that was supposed to have been fixed by a certain date.)
  2. Improvements. Is there a way you can improve or streamline the process? What steps no longer need to be done or how can we automate? Perform a cost analysis to determine which step is most efficient.
  3. Future state. What may the future of this process look like? Look at how is the industry shifting or how have other organizations changed. If there’s a new system the industry is using, assess the initial cost to stand up using a new system, as well as the cost over time to change to the new process. This information will be helpful in the future, as changes start making their way down the pike.

I recommend every business—large or small—regularly document and update their processes and procedures. For those who are on the fence, just remember that while eliminating processes may eliminate roles, streamlining a business process means you can now put people in roles that need more attention. This will help your business running at its most efficient.

About the Author: Denise Larcade is an Organizational Development Consultant and Merger and Acquisitions Expert. She has over 25 years of experience in training, development, and leading companies through organizational change management. Denise has worked in corporate retail, technology, and government healthcare and most recently has experience with large-scale implementations nationwide. She currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing client support to one of KAI Partners’ state clients. Denise grew up in the Silicon Valley and relocated to Utah and Idaho before recently returning to her native California roots.

3 Steps to Achieve Work-School Balance

Best Practices, General Life/Work, KAIP Academy, Learning

By Danielle Cortijo

Congratulations, you’ve taken the first step in one of life’s major balancing acts called pursuing an academic degree, all while being an active full-time employee! You’ve earned this moment of celebration by simply making the decision to participate in this major undertaking for your future. It won’t necessarily be an easy one, but some would say that nothing worth having should be. The implication is that the struggle helps you to appreciate the journey and the result that much more. The reward of finally completing that final exam—turning in the last paper and receiving your coveted degree—will be the ultimate prize.

But remember, success requires balance. This is the voyage of the avid professional’s daily work life. The one-to-four year mission to seek out new degrees and new ways to handle it all…To boldly juggle responsibilities like no one has juggled before!

Speaking from my own past and current experience, discovering how best to squeeze it all in has been nothing short of some of my most challenging moments in life. If you’re someone who is constantly trying to outdo themselves academically like me, you may relate to my past and present battle of having a full-time commitment to work, all while maintaining a heavy school load and even higher GPA.

As we speak, I am an eager Analyst by day and a relentless graduate student completing her degree in medicine by nights and weekends. Sound daunting? Well, it doesn’t have to be—not completely. Achieving success is definitely doable and I’m here to share some tips on how to do just that!

  1. Support Team on deck: I can’t stress enough how important this particular factor can become for anyone pursuing their degree while working full time and doing their best to maintain some semblance of a regular life. It’s a challenge and sometimes you just might need a soft place to land. That can come in the form of support from incredible friends or family who understand who and where you are in life and help you to return to center. Don’t be afraid to lean on whoever you’ve chosen. You’ll be all the better for it.
  2. Scheduling is a MUST: It is so, so important to create a schedule for yourself that will allow you to keep track of everything you have on your plate. More importantly, it will force you to always be aware of assignment deadlines for both work and school. Find what works for you. Are you the weekend warrior, someone who can get it all done in 2.5 days? Or are you the all week guru, someone who needs to complete little by little after work during the week with a finale weekend? Whatever your preference and best tactics, be sure to put a schedule in place that works and helps you be the best school and work balancing champion you can be.
  3. Disconnect, Disconnect, DISCONNECT: This may sound like the opposite of what one would want or should do, but honestly, it is utterly necessary. You will need time to concentrate and focus on your work when it’s company time and school when it’s education central. At the end of the day, all stops begin and end with you when it comes to your final product. Your tasks at work carry an equal amount of importance as do your assignments for school. So, do yourself the biggest favor and let it be known that disconnect time is in full effect. You aren’t being selfish. This isn’t you ignoring life. Try to see it as you giving back to yourself by providing adequate time to achieve your dreams. Trust me, your GPA and daily work will thank you for it.

These steps can be the very things that preserve your sanity and help you to maintain both your stellar professional face and academic prowess. It’s true that we are perfectly imperfect creatures, but doing all you can to shine in all areas of your world can feel extremely overwhelming if the planning and consistency in the rituals you establish aren’t properly maintained.

It is indeed possible to successfully balance your work, home, and academic life all in one. Try not to let the stressful moments get you down. Create your own work and academic rhythm and achievement will follow! It can be done—I am living proof.

About the Author: With a Bachelor’s in Communications and actively pursuing her Master’s in Complementary Alternative Medicine, Dani has an extensive professional background in the public and private sectors focused in Contracts, Human Resources, QA, and Process. Currently the Procurement Specialist on the amazing Administrative team for KAI Partners, she is working diligently to assist in the successful acquisition of procurements for the company. When her world slows down a bit, she loves scouring for an incredible deal on retro sneakers with her partner in crime, listening to music 24/7, and laughing as much as humanly possible.

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.

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