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August 4, 2010 at 12:09 Leave a comment

Update: My working-student-mum experiment

Hi there, in case you wondered… I’m still alive! The last weeks were just really busy, as I had the first ugly workload peak in my personal little ‘Being a working mum and studying as well’ experiment ;)

Besides getting up to speed with my customer’s team (which is working out great now), I had to submit my first assignment for my current course (B821). As I also wanted to spend time with my little one, a few things had to be ‘re-prioritized’, amongst them doing sports (except for a weekend playing Softball!) and blogging ;)

For my study report, I had to do a financial ratio analysis based on Ryanair’s Annual Report 2009 and forecast their performance. There was just too much information, not enough time and a very limited word count (3,500 words). Plus, in the ‘hot’ phase at the last day, OpenOffice gave me a hard time: I had about 15-20 little OLE tables in there, copied over from Calc, which vanished arbitrarily from the document with every save and/or application crash. Oh well, I’m not very keen on getting the score for that assignment back. I hope/think it will be enough for a pass.

So much for my update. And, the good news is: I’ve gathered some interesting topics for my next posts, like a few Prince2-related discussions and why bad projects are so hard to kill. Plus, I hope I finally manage to move my blog over to my new website soon. Stay tuned!

June 15, 2010 at 07:57 Leave a comment

One afternoon in Presentation Land

Yesterday, I ‘just’ wanted to import a Powerpoint presentation into OpenOffice Impress and create a rather simplistic presentation.

Phew, what an experience… It started off pretty well. After importing, the slides didn’t look too messy, so I wanted to adjust the Slide Master, for some better alignment and a few issues of personal taste. To cut a long story short: I gave up after roughly an hour. I just couldn’t convince Impress to change the styles of the different outline levels the way I liked them to be (really simple things like bullets, indents, …). As soon as I changed for instance outline level 2, level 1 got messed up again, and vice versa.

At this point I’d like to stress that, despite being an ex-Sunnie now, I’m still rather fond of OpenOffice, and I use Writer and Calc on a regular basis, e.g. for my study assignments.

However, yesterday afternoon I decided that I had enough with Impress and needed a copy of PowerPoint! A quick check at revealed prices for MS Office on Mac of 300-700 EUR. Dude! (Although I do officially have student status now, the license still doesn’t allow any commercial use, so the ‘cheap’ 89 EUR license is not an option for me). Maybe I’m still a bit anti-Microsoft at heart. But anyway, that made things look different again.

Luckily, Apple offers a free 30 day trial-version of Keynote, so that’s what I tried next. Hurray! Works like a breeze. At first sight it looks far less sophisticated than PowerPoint, but you can do a lot to make your slides look professional / fancy / wahtever you like. Great drawing capabilities, transitions, object embedding, etc. PowerPoint file import worked well. Managed to adjust slide masters. Exported to PPT and PDF and it’s looking really good.

So I’ll probably buy a family license of iWork for just 99 EUR, which has Keynote plus Numbers and more stuff in it, and I hope I’ll get by with that. Maybe I’ll have another look once the new MS Office is out for Mac, but prices would need to look really different.

Any similar experiences on your end??

May 11, 2010 at 07:46 1 comment

Back to business school!

On May 1, my next course at the Open University Business School (OUBS) started officially. It is called ‘B821 – Financial Strategy’ and is one of the ‘electives’ of stage 2 of the studies towards the MBA degree. I am about half way through my MBA program now, with two 6-months electives (one of which is B821) and a one-year closing project (‘MAD – Making a Difference’) left. Phew.

The OUBS Masters program is 90% distance-based learning, with excellent course materials, online collaboration and the support of local tutor groups. It looks like there aren’t enough students in Hamburg, so I’ll have to travel to Frankfurt for my tutorials. Well, it will probably be worth the ride.

The good news this time: I am through more than half of the course materials already, as I had the opportunity to start studying early. I hope this will give me the needed flexibility as I’ll soon have to combine work, studies and my family.

So far, the course is really interesting and a bit easier to digest than I thought. The maths in there are pretty straightforward. The bigger issue is putting the right numbers into the formulas and then making sense of it afterwards.

I am currently working on my first assignment which is about Ryanair, and deals with financial ratio analysis and forecasting based on their 2009 Annual Report. It is really interesting to dig into Ryanair’s business model and numbers, and put this into perspective with the current business climate and the situation in the airline industry.

I’ll keep you posted…

May 3, 2010 at 09:35 Leave a comment

NPV Reloaded

Surprisingly, my blog post NPV explained in simple words has been the most viewed page on my blog, so far. Wow! I have just resumed my MBA studies at the OUBS (will write more about that soon), with the Financial Strategy course, which takes a lot of these appraisal techniques to the next level.  So I thought maybe you’d like to hear a few more thoughts on NPV and how this can be applied in your business lives, too.

To recap, Net Present Value (NPV) is a financial appraisal technique which discounts all expected cash flows of an investment (e.g. a project with all related costs such as development, rollout, maintenance,…) to today’s value of money. If you get an NPV of zero, this means you will be able to get the expected level of return (the one which you used to discount your cash flows) and could go ahead with the investment. Of course, the larger the positive sum of the NPV, the better. From a pure financial perspective, you should reconsider investments with a negative NPV. So far, so good.

There are several limitations of this model. One of it is that you are only considering one scenario (usually, the most likely one). As all of the cash flows are futuristic, and a bigger portion of them usually uncertain (like expected cash inflows from sold products or actual maintenance costs occurring), the NPV concept has been expanded to ‘Expected NPV’.

The idea is very simple but quite powerful as it allows you to better take the real world and potential scenarios into account:

  1. Decide on a range of scenarios you’d like to cover.
    Typically, in a project context this would be something like ‘Best Case’, ‘Most likely’, and ‘Worst case’.
  2. Assign probabilities to the identified scenarios. Make sure all the probabilities add up to 100% ;)
    For example:

    Best case:   20%
    Most likely: 60%
    Worst case:  20%
  3. Calculate the NPV for each of the scenarios.
  4. Calculate the arithmetic mean NPV, which is simpler than it sounds: Just multiply each individual scenario’s NPV with its probability and add it all up:
    Best Case:   NPV = 10.000EUR * 0.20 =  2.000EUR
    Most likely: NPV =  5.000EUR * 0.60 =  3.000EUR
    Worst Case:  NPV = -1.000EUR * 0.20 = -  200EUR
                 Resulting Expected NPV =  4.800EUR

Aside from getting a EUR/USD/GBP amount out of it, the process alone will help you getting a better feeling for your project. Have a look at the scenarios – how widely are they spread, how symmetrical are they w/ regards to their probability and outcome? Any extreme values? As always, calculate and interpret in brain-on mode!

Usually, NPV will be used in the early stages of the project and should be part of the business case brought forward. In the Prince2 world, it should be completed by the end of the ‘Initiate a project’ stage where the Business Case is verified and baselined.

How common is NPV in the project appraisal and authorization processes in your organization? Please participate in the poll below.

April 28, 2010 at 11:14 Leave a comment

No Prince2 manual on the iPhone?!

So I bought this heavily DRM-restricted Prince2 2009 PDF for roughly 100 EUR. It is easy to read on the laptop. So far, so good. I didn’t try printing it yet.

Now I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to read it on my iPhone, too? This way I could look things up quickly, or read a few pages on the subway.

After quite some time google-ing around I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not possible at the moment to read Adobe Digital Editions DRM PDFs like the Prince2 2009 manual on the iPhone. The main reason seems to be that Adobe can’t get Flash to work on the iphone. Apart from these technical issues they seem to be unwilling to cooperate with an existing app like Stanza to make their books accessible from the iPhone. If anyone knows a solution, I’d be glad to hear!

The only ‘mobile’ solution for me is then to print it out and carry a heap of paper around all the time ;) (Where the DRM kicks in nicely, as you can print only one copy which will look really messy soon. Oh boy…)

All in all, really annoying! Lesson is learned – be careful with the format of eBooks you’re buying, and check beforehand for available readers on the platforms you need. Grrrr. Why can’t computer stuff just work for a change? Does it always have to be so complicated for consumers?

April 21, 2010 at 20:23 3 comments

Prince2 2009 – What a pleasant surprise!

Though I got my Prince2 certification in 2002, I was more involved with PMI in the last few years. I wanted to refresh my Prince2 knowledge lately, so I bought the Prince2 2009 PDF guide (in German). Thanks Andreas for the link! (See for all available languages here). And what should I say… I was really really surprised. Positively!

There is only one little downer: The DRM (digital rights management) on the PDF document is pretty tight. For close to 90 EUR it is not exactly a bargain, but you can only read it in Adobe Digital Editions with your personal ID, and you’re allowed to print it ONCE. Fingers crossed the printer has a good day when you try it. Mac users be aware – doing ‘Print Preview’ counts as printing already. Ummm.

Now back to the guide and methodology: From my ‘first contact’ with Prince2 at the beginning of the 2000’s, I remembered it as being a really academic read, very bureaucratic process,… The new guide is really easy to digest – nicely structured, modern layout, linked, etc. The content feels much closer now to real project life.

I also like the new method construction with the ‘principles’ and the ‘themes’ and that the authors made very explicit that it is more important to live the principles rather than mechanically following some documented process in brain switched-off mode. What is also nice are things like specific guidance on tailoring / scaling the methodology based on certain project types (more than 20 pages).

So much for my first impressions. Good job, OGC folks! And b.t.w. there is a nice vodcast from Andy Murray here (plus others).

April 12, 2010 at 09:49 2 comments

A little confession

Ok … today I have to confess something. After many years of using office software I discovered that a supposedly common function totally went under my radar. Here’s the mystery: You can actually HIDE slides in StarOffice Impress and Powerpoint. Ummmm. So far slides were rather binary to me: On or off (deleted). So there’s another option: You can just skip them in your preso. Nice, I’ll try it out next time ;)
But never mind, I heard the most powerful pitches are held in the old-fashioned way at a flip chart anyway!

PS – I believe I finally made it – a really short blog post ;)

March 30, 2010 at 08:56 3 comments

The New Project Manager

I had an interesting discussion last week again about the changing role of Project Managers. Quite timely, PMI posted a relevant article in their current PM Passport (‘The Next Generation of Project Managers’).

So what are the distinguishing qualities of the New PM? I’d say:

  • Collaborative/participative rather than autocratic leadership style
  • Understanding and appreciation of the business, seeing the project in the larger picture
  • Living the responsibility for project outcomes
  • Being a specialist in management disciplines such as Project Management in general (in different flavors, as fits best with the current project), Change Management, Communications and the like, rather than a technical expert
  • Using Web 2.0 tools, easily working across building / country borders

This trend is for one thing coming from within the PM community, accelerated by organizations such as PMI or OCG. For another thing, changing characteristics of the business environment and the projects themselves call for changed project leaders: Projects safely based in one ‘silo’ of an organization are getting somewhat rare. Most projects nowadays have a technical as well as an organizational component, touching different departments such as IT, HR, Finance, Sales,… Often, the need to integrate into the existing IT environments adds to the complexity. In such an environment, the ‘new’ PM style is more likely to succeed.

As with many things, also this medal has two sides: Not all organizations want / are ready or capable to deal with this new style yet, as it can seriously interfere with established structures, roles and the culture.

People I talked to seemed to share the impression that Germany is a bit behind in this trend. It is quite amazing how many job adverts for ‘senior’ PMs also list deep technical skills in one or the other area as requirement. Maybe this is due to Germany’s strong engineering culture, combined with and some typical German traits?

Would you second these thoughts and observations? Any comments?

March 22, 2010 at 09:22 1 comment

IT Study 2010 and Panel Discussion

As promised (better late than never), a few more thoughts from the presentation of the results of the ‘IT Studie 2010’ at the Cebit. The study involved about 280 mid-size (min of 200m EUR yearly turnover) to large companies from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. (see my first Cebit post here)

I could not find the detailed results of the study online, so I’ll have to rely on my notes. The most interesting part was the panel discussion with CIOs of Fraport, Daimler, and Allianz, as well as the German MD of SAP, anyway.

A recurring topic was innovation vs. stability and the need to find a healthy balance here. Also, IT customers are becoming more experienced (and cost aware) and don’t follow every hype blindly any more.

I won’t bore you to death with numbers of desktop / server OS usage etc., you know the picture. What was interesting: Currently, 80% run Windows XP on the desktop, around 10% Vista, only 3% Windows 7. In three years, Windows 7 is expected to be running on 77% of the desktops. In the panel discussion afterward, it turned out that it is pretty common practice to skip major releases. Daimler and Fraport CIOs stated they had skipped Vista completely on their company desktops, and will make the move from XP directly to Windows 7. Speaking of innovation vs. stability!

Dr. Kleinemeier’s (SAP) comment on that topic was that SAP is trying to accommodate customers better by keeping the application core stable, and allowing them to update / add enhancements with more flexibility.

Many organizations expect shadow IT to grow again, facing reduced budgets.

I was a bit surprised when they stated the average usage time for laptops is 3.7 years, tendency still growing. Feeling better now about your Stone Age model?

ERP and particularly CRM systems are still huge building sites and will keep many of us IT professionals busy. 65% of the study participants had stated that their primary ERP system is SAP, followed by 10%, Oracle 4%, plus others. Interestingly, 30% of the SAP customers stated also they were open/looking for other options, which was far more than the other groups.

Little quiz: How many companies said that they have no CRM system at all?

  1. 10%
  2. 24%
  3. 37%

The correct answer is: 37%! Not sure what they’re using, maybe pen and paper or excel sheets they didn’t count as CRM ‘system’.

How many companies do you think have a ‘standard’ CRM system (SAP, MS, Oracle,

  1. 15%
  2. 28%
  3. 55%

Correct answer: 28%. So there is still an amazingly high potential for standardization and interesting migration projects ;)

To summarize: 37% have no CRM system, 28% ‘standard’ systems, plus 35% ‘non-standard’ systems.

In the discussion, the three attending CIOs named usability as biggest challenge with their ERP systems, followed by up-to-dateness of data and support of mobile devices. Will usability of ERP systems ever be comparable to consumer products? Answer: This is a real balancing act with other requirements such as security and integrity, but one of the focus areas of the near future. Folks like sales reps or consultants working at their customers’ sites use their fancy iPhones, Blackberries, etc. The second they connect to their companies’ IT systems, things get slow, ugly, complicated, and they loose patience. Sounding familiar?

And last but not least something that was not mentioned at all: Cloud computing. It was probably in the study somewhere under virtualization as a means to reduce cost, but was not a big topic for the CIOs (yet?). One of them stated that they’re still waiting for a fair and attractive cost model.

If I ever find the study results online, I’ll post the link here.

March 12, 2010 at 20:24 Leave a comment

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