Posts Tagged 'Teams'

May 11, 2011

Acunote: Tech Partner Spotlight

This is a guest blog from Gleb Arshinov of Acunote, a SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partner specializing in online project management and Scrum software.

Company Website: http://www.acunote.com
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/acunote

Implementing Project Management in Your Business

Project management has a bit of a stigma for being a little boring. In its simplest form, project management involves monitoring and reporting progress on a given initiative, and while it sounds simple, it's often an afterthought ... if it's ever a thought at all. Acunote is in the business of making project management easy and accessible for businesses of all sizes.

I've been in and around project management for years now, and while I could talk your ear off about Acunote, I'd rather share a few "Best Practices" for incorporating project management in your business. As you begin to understand how project management principles can be incorporated into your day-to-day activities, you'll be in a better position to understand the value proposition of tools like Acunote.

Track Planning, Not Just Execution
One of the biggest mistakes many companies make as they begin to incorporate project management is the tendency to track the progress on the execution of a project. While that aspect of the project is certainly the most visible, by monitoring the behind-the-scenes planning, you have a fuller view of where the project came from, where it is now and where it is expected to go in the future. It's difficult to estimate how long projects will take, and a lot of that difficulty comes from insufficient planning. By planning what will need to be done in what order, a bigger project becomes a series of smaller progress steps with planning and execution happening in tandem.

For many projects, especially for developers, it's actually impossible to predict most of what needs to get done upfront. That doesn't mean that there isn't a predictable aspect to a given project, though. Good processes and tools can capture how much of the work was planned upfront, how much was discovered during the project, and how the project evolved as a result. In addition to giving you direction as a project moves forward, documenting the planning and execution of a given project will also give you watermarks for how far the project has come (and why).

Use Tools and Resources Wisely
It's important to note that complexity of coordinating everything in a company increases exponentially as the company grows. With fewer than ten employees working on a project in a single department, you can probably get by without being very intentional in project management, but as you start adding users and departments that don't necessarily work together regularly, project management becomes more crucial to keep everyone on the same page.

The most effective project management tools are simple to implement and easy to use ... If a project management tool is a hassle to use, no one's going to use it. It should be sort of a "home base" for individual contributors to do their work efficiently. The more streamlined project management becomes in your operating practices, the more data it can generate and the more you (and your organization's management team) can learn from it.

Make Your Distributed Team Thrive
More and more, companies are allowing employees to work remotely, and while that changes some of the operations dynamics, it doesn't have to affect productivity. The best thing you can do to manage a thriving distributed team is to host daily status meetings to keep everyone on the same page. The more you communicate, the quicker you can adjust your plans if things move off-track, and with daily meetings, someone can only be a day behind their expectations before the project's status is reevaluated. With many of the collaboration tools available, these daily meetings can be accompanied by daily progress reports and real-time updates.

Acunote is designed to serve as a simple support structure and a vehicle to help you track and meet your goals, whether they be in development, accounting or marketing. We're always happy to help companies understand how project management can make their lives easier, so if you have any questions about what Acunote does or how it can be incorporated into your business, let us know: support@acunote.com

-Gleb Arshinov, Acunote

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
November 18, 2009

SLeinfeld

The show about nothing that took over NBC years ago is being lived out at SoftLayer. In case you haven’t been keeping up, SoftLayer has a team called STAT and without making you sit through the gory details we use ninja tactics in our efforts to keep the churn rate low. Much like the show Seinfeld which was about everything and nothing at the same time, the STAT group does everything and nothing as well.

It has been said that the team does simply enough to stay employed and we get a little grief from just about everyone in the company but I just blame the stealthy ninja tactics for all that. We haven’t built a bed under our desks just yet but a prototype is being designed as we speak. When the products, support, and culture are so cool why would customers want to leave?

The STAT group has been around since the dawn of time (2008 to be exact!) and have many years of tradition handed down which we must use daily to complete our mission. Some of the traditions have gone away over the long journey since our inception like a loud and proud bell ring when a customer was saved. It seemed to annoy some of our non SLeinfeld co-workers. Those crazy developers said “No bell for you!” There are other traditions that have gone away over time but we continue to make more as often as possible.

Our latest episode is a pretty cool one so we will not be “jumping the shark” just yet. It is one that the industry may have never seen. If so, it is very rare and this makes the STAT team very proud. In the on-demand virtual datacenter industry, churn is defined as, “when a customer doesn’t want your services anymore!” That being said we have designated churn as a bad thing (like Elaine dancing!). A higher churn percentage is not as good as a lower one. Get the picture? From this day forward let it be said that in October 2009 the STAT team and every other person involved with SoftLayer including every employee in every department and our resellers and customers have achieved a monumental goal! The year over year churn numbers are equal in raw numbers and LOWER in percentage for the month of October. When you incorporate the sales growth into that equation this is an impressive accomplishment because typically when you add servers month after month the churn rate grows due to sheer volume. So I say to everyone involved, take a few hours today and go hit some golf balls into the ocean (except Jones), you deserve a break!

Just know that the next time the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you feel like someone is watching you or their might be someone or something lurking in the shadows and Kramer doesn’t burst through your door, don’t be frightened it is most likely just a STAT team member waiting to help you in a time of need or maybe just goofing off in a relatively close proximity to you and creating yet another day in SLeinfeld land.

RIP Seinfeld!

September 28, 2009

Game Time

It’s Sunday morning and I’m leaving the NOC to make my morning rounds of the Washington, D.C. datacenter. Grumpy and tired I walk through the double doors into the fluorescent glare of the server room. In 30 paces the colorful eth bundles of our servers come into view and then I realize. I love the sound of server fans in the morning.

The past year and a half at SoftLayer’s newest datacenter have been incredibly stressful and rewarding. Those who endured have gained my respect. Personal differences have subsided and camaraderie has formed. Of course anyone would wonder how many tech nuts does it take to make a clan? And from the glue of hardship was born Team Orange DOW2.

You might wonder why people who work together so much (sometimes for 12+ hr shifts) want to spend more time with each other. I mean, haven’t you had enough already? The answer is that we already have so much in common and finding a few extra hours to hang out together online is a joy we can’t get enough of. Of course, the entertainment value of an innovative RTS like DOW2 is multiplied immensely when played with friends. Of the other SoftLayer members of Team Orange DOW2 I am the newest to multiplayer gaming and am impressed by how much tech goes into it. Numerous options for in-game chatting (Team Orange uses Mumble, which has the least lag and cleanest interface), hi-powered video cards (1.5GB onboard ram!), dual core procs running on Win7 RC, live-streamed replays with on-demand libraries, and much more.

Everyone has heard the theory that gaming has pushed the boundaries of computing, but I believe it is more likely that datacenters like SoftLayer have pushed the boundaries of networking and helped make advanced tech more affordable to the ravenous mass of online gamers. The number of mega-powered game servers hosted by SoftLayer is a testament to the unholy integration of gaming and networking, and to that all of us closet gamers must say, “moar please!”[sic]

September 25, 2009

How a great NOC team is just like a great F1 Team.

Those of you who follow auto sports understand that it’s not just a sport of physical endurance and skill. Those two traits are definitely part of it but a large part of a team’s performance in a race also comes down to the tools and devices the team interacts with to achieve their results. If the driver is as strong as an ox, skillful and able to endure 12hrs of in the seat driving it still won’t guarantee him the race unless his car and crew are up to the task and able to perform at that same level. Likewise if the driver is not up to task but the car and team are you will have a similar inability to achieve. This sets auto sports aside from many of the other team sports we have come to love over time like football, baseball, soccer, etc. These sports all involve teammates however their reliance on tools and other devices to achieve their results is much less than in racing. Because of this it is incredibly important that all members of a Formula One team, from the car designers to the pit crew and driver, be performing at 100% at all times. This is not entirely unlike how a great operations team works in a datacenter. All members of that team must be able to fulfill their role to the best of their ability and then some. An ops team that has the best hardware and tools along with the best technicians and knowledge is an unstoppable force comparable to the Ferrari’s and Brawn GP’s of F1.

A driver can only do so much with the equipment they are handed on race day. If Sebastian Vettel is given a car with a bad engine for example it makes his job much more difficult, if not impossible, to succeed. The same goes with datacenter equipment. That is why SoftLayer prides itself on using high quality components from high quality manufactures for all networking and server applications. Of course being the best requires more than just high end equipment and tools. It requires people of an equal caliber. That is why SoftLayer goes above and beyond to ensure that their staff is well informed, capable and happy. This creates an environment where people not only want to personally succeed but also want to share in the successes and failures that the company experiences, much like any well developed team would. This also creates a feeling of investment by those who are on the team which in turn pushes each member to do their absolute best at all times. SoftLayer’s involvement in recent large media events was a huge undertaking that the company turned in to successful ventures. Just like how Ferrari is always pushing for the win and to be the best, so is SoftLayer.

Innovation is another competitive trait that you see often in F1. BrawnGP and RedBull Racing (both relatively fledgling teams in Formula 1) took an alternate interpretation of the design guidelines this season which, after much ado, was found to be a perfectly legal interpretation that many of the other teams didn’t see or use. These innovations helped BrawnGP, a new comer to the sport (technically they are the defunct Honda team but that is for a different discussion), lead the championship standings this season and has handed them a number of victories. Here again the kinds of innovation you see in the top tier or racing you also see with SoftLayer. No, we didn’t add wings to our servers but our network within a network topography and CloudLayer services are great examples of how SoftLayer is taking the old rule book and innovating new ideas, products and services utilizing a different yet valid interpretation. The success yielded from these experiences continues to motivate the SoftLayer team and is proof that following to the beat of a new drum can, in many aspects of business and sport, be a good idea.

May 18, 2009

Special Ops: The “SEALs” of SoftLayer

When you think about a Special Operations Unit, you probably think of TV shows like, “The Unit”, or maybe you have the Military Channel and have seen the reality TV show, “Navy SEALs: BUD/s training”, or maybe you are one of the 7 people that saw that 1980s movie starring Charlie Sheen…………naaahhh. Anyway, whether it is secretive missions in Iraq or taking out pirates, real Special Ops Teams are very well trained individually and as a team. It takes a desire on the part of the individual to be the best at what he does and a desire to be an intricate part of a highly skilled, successful team.

I have been at SoftLayer for over 2 years now, and I particularly enjoy how our support team has come together in much the same way as a military special ops team. No, most of us do not wear our hair “high and tight”, and, unlike Navy SEALs, there are various piercings about the face of several of my teammates adding to an already very “distinctive” style of dress (There is a very loose dress code in the support department). But, the focused hours of training put into being the best at our craft is very similar to a special ops team.

I remember an occasion during my time here at SoftLayer when we had a sudden outage in which a switch failed. Any major data center will have a piece of equipment fail eventually, but the difference comes in how it is handled. Monitoring alerts went off and the team jumped into action. The managers and shift leads were instantly organizing, although the rest of us already knew what to do as training had prepared us. Each of us took a group of servers and checked for network connectivity in order to localize the issue. We fielded phone calls while the switch was being replaced. Tickets were answered quickly and grouped according to information needed by the specific customer. Verbal, IM, and email communication was flying and everyone knew the status from moment to moment. The switch was replaced and the event was concluded. Customers received the information they needed to pass on to their customers and peace was restored. I am amazed by the speed and efficiency with which this situation was handled. And, our customers were very happy with our speed especially considering an outage is never good news.

We would all like for everything to always work perfectly, but knowing that a highly efficient, highly competent, well-trained, focused, “special ops” team is ready at a moment’s notice, whatever the mission, is very comforting to our customers when financial success is on the line. Secretly, I have always wanted to be part of a special ops team, I just never imagined it would happen at a technology company called SoftLayer.

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