Post

Sep 23
Lists, Lists and more Lists

​I find myself starting up a new series of projects this week and of course, whenever I'm starting out, I find myself building a multitude of lists to organize myself and my team. While I was plugging away, I asked myself, why do I do this?

Is it mandated by my profession? Is it a compulsion that I need to seek therapy to remedy?

Even when I write blog posts, I inevitably put a bulleted list in there somewhere...

So why?

The answer is really all about how my mind works. Likely others are the same and will be able to relate well to this post. Let me explain.

When presented with a large document like planning document or Charter, I find myself wanting immediately to break it down into it's components so that I can digest it better and parse it out if need be.

I always feel more comfortable when I can take a bit of information and put a little meta data around it, for example with an assumption.

For each assumption, I need to know whether it is valid and if not who is going to validate it and when and so on. That way I can track it's progress and refer back to it quickly using filters and sorting etc.

When you really look at my blog articles, many of them result in me advising you to create a list or a matrix (preferably in SharePoint) to track something. Some examples include:

  • Stakeholder Needs
  • Risks
  • Assumptions / Constraints
  • Issues and problems
  • Key Dependencies and Deadlines
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Action Items
  • Test Cases
  • Defects
  • and on and on...

 

Really when you really break it down, a Gantt is nothing but a glorified list with some fancy fields to track dependencies. There is nothing wrong with looking at a Gantt in this way.

So my advice to you is simple this week.

If you have the urge to create a list, don't fight it. Even if the creation of the list is simply an exercise in parsing data and making it more understandable to others who may want to refer to it in the future, do it.

It's not a waste of time.

Trust me on this.

Let me know what you think via LinkedInFacebook or @SRB_PPM

By S. Rosalind Baker, BSc., JD, PMP, Pragmatic Project Manager 

Sep 09
Risk Management and a Butternut Tree

​I came up with the idea for this article whilst stuck in traffic trying to get down to the lower city. You see, I live in Hamilton Ontario, a city that is bisected by the Niagara Escarpment. Yes. Imagine the cliffs that Niagara Falls flows over. Now imagine those same cliffs bisecting your city. If you can do that, you can appreciate the rest of this article.

In order to get from the upper city to the lower city and vice versa, you need to either take the highway or one of the "mountain" accesses. Some of these accesses are quite modern, and others like the West 5th and Queen Street accesses are quite old. They were built to service the farmers on "the mountain" back when there were still farms up here. Suffice it to say, if one of these accesses "goes down" for any reason, traffic Armageddon results.

The Queen Street access is currently "down", displacing the 20,000 commuters who take it daily. The access has been out of commission for several months. And it's still down post Labour Day due to an over-due construction project. Hence my inspiration.

So. Why am I stuck in traffic?

Simply put, my annoyance as a driver can tied to a combination of the following:

  • the application of a risk management technique on a road construction project and
  • a not so lowly butternut tree.

 

I should put out the following disclaimer: I am in no way involved in the management of the construction project in question nor do I have any personal knowledge of the decision-making that took place. Instead, I refer you to here and here for the newspaper articles upon which I am basing my analysis.

What was the risk?

The purpose of the project was to make heavy improvements to an aging road. In so doing, the foliage surrounding the road was bound to be affected. The Niagara Escarpment is a special geological formation that has many indigenous species. For this reason it is highly protected and regulated. Any construction that involves the escarpment requires heavy involvement from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Environmental impact assessments abound and delays can result. This project was no different.

Let's face it. Environmental impact assessments take a lot of time. The window available for the construction was narrow due to our relatively short summers and the fact that the provincial government had plans for repairs to the highway. The project team was presented with a choice:

  • wait for the assessment and risk losing the window and kicking the work into next year thereby disrupting other long term remediation plans; or,
  • go ahead before the assessment is complete (fast tracking) and accept the risk that the tree huggers might actually find something.

 

How was it managed?

The project team decided to take their chances and accept the risk that there might be an environmental impact identified that could cause delays to the project. This technique is also known as risk acceptance. It is a valid technique but it can bite you in the behind at the worst possible time.

How did it manifest?

Enter the butternut tree, more affectionately known as Tree #907.

 

(Picture provided by the Hamilton Spectator)

It's not just any tree. Apparently this butternut tree is one of the very few of a dying species that is resistant to the deadly and awful butternut canker. This tree required DNA testing and drilling for endangered roots, thereby putting a halt to construction.

What are the chances that such a rare and precious tree would throw the schedule into chaos? Clearly the probability was large enough.

How did they handle it?

It seems that the project team handled it as they should. They put out lots of communication via the media so that folks like me can understand exactly why we are stuck in traffic instead of shaking our fists at the general ether.

Also they are working with the MNR to fast track the process of assessing and dealing with this tree so that construction can resume and the project can finish, hopefully sometime in October.

What now?

Now we wait.

Also we remember to avoid travelling to the lower city during the day unless absolutely necessary!

I hope you enjoyed this bit of fun. See you in a couple of weeks!

By S. Rosalind Baker, BSc, JD, PMP, Pragmatic Project Manager

Sep 03
My Not-So-Technical Technical Writer Career

Origins

I fell into Technical Writing.

I was working on a shop floor building aircraft and car parts when an accident with an errant ¼" steel plate relegated me to barking at customers over the phone for several months and setting up a customer list on our very first PC. While I was doing that, a co-worker told me about courses at York University in something called 'Technical Writing'. I had an English degree, he said, and a knack for mechanical, scientific and technical thingees.

Knowing I could not work rotating shifts all my life, I ended up going to college at night and getting editing and writing degrees while still working full time.

The Issue

I've been doing this for 15 years now and when I talk to my fellow writers, one thing haunts me: I've had a considerably different career than most of them. They seem to wallow in the technical side. They migrate documents from one software to another. They set up knowledge management systems. They design mobile apps.

What do I do?

90% of the time, I'm trying to establish the basics. Writing a style guide for the spelling-and-grammar impaired. Going to location after location that will not pay for proper knowledge management or documentation software and doing everything on Microsoft products. Introducing the concept of not hoarding iterations of documents on your hard drive (otherwise known as version control). Applying a digital mop to a spill of fonts, colours, justification and spacing. I edit everything from emails to policy documents.

And someone is going to complain about the previous sentence fragments.

Maybe the combination of the English degree and the editing degree attracts a certain type of customer. The chaos has let me learn business process and indulge in my love of design. Still, when I look at industry publications and see the latest headlines or talk to someone who is entering the world of contracting, I wonder if there are other writers like me out there who are secretly wondering if the STC is going to burst into their house one day and take away their membership card armed with red pens and strikeout signs.

I'll have an Oprah moment and say one thing I know for sure is that writing and editing terrify a large percentage of the population. I am not the top super mega sale writer of the universe, but I have been doing this for a long time and have some accumulated wisdom to share with you.

Step 1: I have to write something and I can't even get started

Stage 1: Acceptance.

You have to write something. It will not go away even if you bury your head beneath a pillow. Stop procrastinating. You do not have to put cursor to screen or pen to paper at this very moment, but you must do something.

Stage 2: Blankness, then visions of Stanley Kubrick movies.

I have no idea what to write about. You may know something about what you have to write about, but have no idea how. I hate to tell you, but most topics aren't original. Do your research! Find a pamphlet, an email, a user guide, a web site, a blog, a business proposal that is written for a similar audience (Financial institution? Software product users? Diabetics?) Read the material and get ideas. If you are writing something for your employer, troll the company Intranet. You may find material already exists that you can link to or adapt.

Note:  If you are unsure at all about how you are borrowing from another person's work, go to this site for an excellent guide to plagiarising (which is amoral to a writer): http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/overview/.

Stage 3: What is this supposed to look like? Is it a cat?

Use what you found in Stage 2. Maybe you stumbled across your company's style guide or templates (if not, search for them). The point is that material was written for a similar audience and can give you design ideas. The financial institution used a blue and grey and white colour scheme, a simple font and kept the flashy current design tricks like multiple typefaces to a minimum. Software quick reference guides were short, had lots of screen captures and addressed the user as 'you'. Ding ding ding!

Stage 4: The top of the page is mocking me. Stop mocking me!

So don't start there. Who said you had to type a title and go from there? If it gets you writing, start from anywhere, the middle, the end. Ignore grammar, punctuation and style to start with. Just write. Write in whatever medium feels comfortable and wherever the moment hits you…I have received a course outline on napkins from a restaurant, for pity's sake.

P.S. Who says you have to write? If it explains the concept better, draw a diagram or a workflow (this method has the bonus of providing a space to doodle if you get stuck).

Adjunct: All I have now is a bunch of stats, numbers, definitions.

Time for the technical writer's best friends, tables and lists. They exist to organize information. Organize that information!

Stage 5: I've produced something. I'm scared.

Unless you are writing for a cloister who has taken a vow of silence, your masterpiece is going to be read by someone. Therefore it should be reviewed by someone. Sadly for me, most companies see editors as a frill (and documentation as well, but that's another whinge).

Time to bribe! Suggested bribe = caffeine. 'I'll read yours if you'll read mine'. Even better if the reader can be a member of the intended audience. If they read it, look blank, and say 'What is this for?' then you have Missed the Point. Go back and take another stab at it, smug in the knowledge that you have just completed a review cycle.

Speaking of reviews, the next terrifying step is Editing Part I: The Mystic Portal.

By Ismay Bisset, Hon. BA, Cert. Techical Communication, Process Junkie ... Edit This

Aug 26
What kind of manager are you?

If you're any good you don't actually do anything. The best managers let their staff do the job and make sure the job they're doing is the one that needs to get done.

Back when I was a young grasshopper…

I believed in the Herculean management style and that sheer brute strength and heavy lifting would get the job done. This resulted in me working twelve hour days with everyone mad at me because I was cranky all the time from lack of sleep. As that didn't work I moved onto politics - I'll work the system to accomplish what needs to get done. This focused more on what others were doing but again resulted in them being mad at me.

Accept the things you cannot change…

Eventually, I realized focusing on other teams rather than my own was not effective. There are a lot of companies out there that follow some form of quality management system. For those of you who do not work for one of these companies may I suggest the following - focus on what your team is doing right and not what other teams are doing wrong. Whether you work for accounting, on a shop floor or any business unit, making your team more efficient and effective will get others to pay attention.

Change the things you can…

Review the tasks within a process that are performed by your team. No matter where in the process or the size of your team start your review when an item (product or service) is received by your team and complete the review when that item is handed off to the next team.

Determine the following:

  • How many items are received in an incomplete or defective state by your team?
  • Are these items rejected and sent back to the previous team or rectified by your team?
  • Are all the tasks performed by your team necessary or are there tasks that have been made redundant, but your team was not updated?
  • Are the procedures efficient or do they require staff to enter or perform similar activities several times?
  • Do staff understand their role within the process and criticality of their job?
  • Are staff capable of completing the tasks assigned to them?
  • Can staff complete the tasks assigned to them in the time allocated?
  • Will training improve your staff's ability to complete the tasks assigned to them appropriately and in a timely manner?
  • How many defective items does your team hand off to the next group?

 

Base your review on fact not conjecture

Sit down with each of your team members and either review a sample of items they have already processed or observe them performing the tasks. Remember two key caveats:

  1. Staff will tell you what they are supposed to do - not what they actually do - and
  2. People make mistakes when others are hovering.

 

Because of this I recommend selecting a sample of items to review with your staff. If they are working with a computer system have them present the activities they are required to perform. You may be surprised at how functions work or the format information is presented.

Collate and Report

Identify all the process tasks that require reengineering and determine if the change impacts your team only or other teams.

Implement those that impact your team only. Retrain and redeploy, with HR support, team members as necessary to successful implement the changes.

Ensure your team does not pass on any defective items, but report on the number of items you do and why.

Report on the number and type of defective items your team receives. Ensure you capture and include supporting evidence.

Create detailed requirements for system changes if and as required.

Capture metrics that detail your department effectiveness and efficiencies both prior and post changes.

Will it be worth it in the end?

Every organization is different based on the management team that operates it and that team may or may not appreciate your efforts. If there is no interest in pursuing your activities on a larger scale across more teams then continue to focus on your team and ensure they are operating effectively.

You cannot force change on those who are not within your sphere of control.

__________________________________

You're welcome share your opinions about my opinions. Comment below or reach out to me on LinkedInFacebook or @GameChangeLinda on twitter. 

By Linda Mitton, CISSPCISMCISA

Aug 06
Chasing the Magic Timeslot

​Have you ever had issues with booking a workshop?

Now that you've finished laughing at my very obvious question, I'm going to talk a bit about booking key meetings and why it always seems to be so hard to do when it means the most.

Booking meetings isn't always a difficult task for a project manager to take on. For example when you are in the execution phase with an engaged team, you likely already have a communications plan in place with a set meeting schedule that you can take advantage of. Because your team is engaged and motivated to succeed, you have a better chance of getting a slice their time so long as you don't develop a reputation for wasting it on trivia. 

When is it so hard?

Even the best and most efficient meeting runners have difficulty booking workshops under the following circumstances:

  • You are in the Initiating or closing phase and folks really don't care about your workshop
  • You are trying to book during a busy time of year
  • You are trying to book a session with senior or executive management
  • You are external to the organization

 

I'll take these in order.

Getting stakeholders to give a hoot

When you are in the initiating phase on a project, most folks don't even have a clue why you are booking a session to say, build out a section of your Charter for example. So how do you extract a workshop-sized time slice out of their busy week to spend with you on this?

Here are a couple of techniques that can work very well.

Leverage your Sponsor

Before you even send out a meeting booking, work with your sponsor on an introductory communication that explains what is going on with the project or program as a whole and what the anticipated next steps are, i.e. this workshop you are trying to get into everyone's calendar.

If the stakeholders are first introduced to you and your project by someone senior in the organization, you will have much more traction when trying to find an agreed upon slot.

Send out an introduction yourself

If you don't have a cooperative sponsor, you may consider working on something else...

If not, you are stuck putting out an introduction yourself. In this case, make sure the introduction has the following information:

  • Purpose and history of the project and program as you know it to date
  • Identities of the key stakeholders who are driving the effort
  • Information on how the effort ties into the strategic goals for the organization.
  • Goals and agenda for the workshop
  • Location and venue details

 

If you simply send out a meeting invite with a title and location, trust me, it will be ignored.

Remember - use lots of white space! A wall of text will turn off a prospective attendee just as quickly as an empty meeting invite.

Four Seasons of Project Management

In Canada we joke that we have two seasons: winter and construction. In project management, we actually have 4 seasons:

  • Winter Holidays (November - January)
  • Year End (January - April)
  • Summer Vacation (May - September)
  • Actually get some heavy lifting done (September - November)

 

Let's face it. If you are trying to kick off a project, or get something going with a workshop, you should target September or October if at all possible. Kids are back in school by then and everyone is buckling down to business again. Once the project is launched, you can work out a cadence for regular meetings and then proceed to work you and your project into the day to day lives of the key stakeholders. 

That's not to say that it is impossible to start an initiative at other times of the year, it's simply more difficult. Now you know why most sales cycles for solution delivery teams tend to take place during the summertime with the kick-offs taking place in the fall.

Busy Important People (BIPs)

When you are working with executives, I have some simple advice. Do not try to book the executive directly. Some feel that they are "cutting red tape" and saving time by going right to the source. If you try this, you will end up with a very confused or annoyed BIP. If you want to get the meeting booked within the next month, work with - another key stakeholder - their admin assistant.

The admin assistant knows all about the BIP's schedule. They are the gatekeeper to the BIP's precious time for a reason: these executives are strategy folks with less time for minutae. They have people who are paid to do the minutae for  them. Respect this and don't treat this key stakeholder like an idiot or an underling. 

PMs who persist in the notion that they can bully an admin assistant into grabbing an early timeslice eventually end up in a different line of work. Managing the schedule of an executive is not easy work particularly if the executive is a dynamic person who needs to travel a lot. Just remember: a little respect goes a long way.

Booking from the outside In

If you are an external consultant working on a project with "internal" stakeholders, this becomes a question of technology and access. If you have an account on the internal mail server, you can likely see everyone's free/busy information and finding a slot is relatively easy.

If you don't have a view to this information, you have a few options:

  • If you are both on Office 365, you can look at a federated trust. However this option is often only viable once the relationship is well established and you are deeper into the project.
  • Use third party solutions such as Doodle to get folks to vote on timeslots. If you don't have too many attendees, this can work well. However, I've seen Doodle voting for a workshop take days before a slot is agreed upon.

 

The best solution in my experience is to work with that key admin assistant who

a) understands what you are trying to accomplish and

b) has access to the free busy information for the internal stakeholders.

That way even if a solution such as Doodle is needed with other vendors for example, you can limit the number of voters and available slots by first consulting the "internal" free/busy information

Once the workshop is booked, it's now up to you to make sure you make it one that is worthwhile, one that generates results and one that doesn't waste anyone's time.

Good luck!

I hope you had fun with this week's post. Please share your office goodies below or via LinkedInFacebook or @SRB_PPM

By S. Rosalind Baker, BSc., JD, PMP, Pragmatic Project Manager 

Jul 29
Is your Compliance House in Order?

When I accepted a job as Head of Compliance, I walked into a department with a group of staff who mainly did name checks for new clients and acted on Production Orders when served.  My mandate was to make the Compliance Department into a vibrant, working environment with a robust Compliance Framework in place.  It was a daunting task and one that took a long time to bring to realization.  

Along the way, I started developing five mini departments starting with KYC and Investigations, moving on to Training, then Quality Assurance and ending with Policy.  What I didn't realize is that these mini departments were actually specific rooms in my Compliance House:

ComplianceHouse.jpg 

The Compliance Framework - Basement

We can't build our house and put the basement in last.  The foundation of our house is critical.  If we build the house and don't get the basement right then we could be in grave trouble.  Before you build your Compliance House you have to put the necessary processes in place first.  This includes items such as our overall compliance framework which includes having the right staff and having the appropriate policy and procedures in place. 

KYC - Front Door

We need to watch everything that comes in and out of our Compliance house, including customers and the money they have.  This can be broken down into KYC and Investigations.  We must know our potential and existing customers at all times.  We achieve this by performing KYC for all potential clients and investigating existing clients that are performing high risk activity.  KYC and investigations go hand in hand and it makes sense they should work together.

Knowledge - Entertainment Room

Everyone needs to know about Compliance.  This is achieved by having policies and procedures in place along with training people on an ongoing basis.  Just like the entertainment room in a house has information available from the TV and the internet, so should there be compliance information available to staff and management alike.  Knowledge is the key and sharing this knowledge is important to the Compliance House.  Keep compliance interesting, make it entertaining so you can draw in people and teach them compliance in a more exciting way.  This could include using movies and TV shows to make your point or using the internet to bring training direct to someone's computer.

Quality Assurance - Roof

We need the roof to protect us from the outside environment.  We must perform quality assurance checks on a regular basis to ensure we are protected.  This includes checking to make sure staff are performing their compliance duties as expected, including the use of policies and procedures.  If we don't check to make sure our roof is steady then we are in danger of the roof falling in, welcoming unwanted risks into our house.

The mop and the hammer

Finally, regular maintenance on your house is mandatory.  We do this by using cleaning supplies and tools to keep our house strong at all times.  Performing updates to our compliance framework is the cornerstone of Compliance.  If we can't make sure everything is working the way it should be and there are efficiencies in place, then our house could collapse.  We need to maintain our house on a regular basis to make sure everything is supported as it should be. 

Is your Compliance House in order?  When considering this article I realized I made some mistakes when developing and implementing my Compliance House.  Instead of creating rooms that support each other, I created multiple houses that all stood in a row with fences to keep the other houses separate.  So when you ask yourself "Is my Compliance House in order?", consider the interaction between the functions needed in a Compliance Department and see how you can combine as many of them to create a more cohesive and strong structure.

If you would like to comment on this post or any others, please do so below or you can find me on LinkedIn.

By Allison Baillie, CAMS, Int. Dip. (Comp), The Obedient One

Jul 22
Free Is Never Really Free

​Managing technology is no different whether you're a multi-national conglomerate or a small business owner. The only difference is the multi-national has a department. As a small business owner you typically have either your cousin or the advice of friends to help.

Business categories

Personally, I categorize small businesses as having less than 10 people working with or for them. I subcategorize these businesses further into those that provide:

  • Products: the independent corner store or clothing store;
  • Services: a personal trainer or consultant; or
  • Combination of both: Veterinarian or auto service centre.

 

Standard client expectations

No matter what type of business you're in or how large it is, as clients we expect the people we do business with to have the following:

  • Telephone: cell service and land line
  • Voice mail: both cell and land line
  • Internet connection: with respectable upload and download speeds
  • Smartphone: integrated with your office system
  • Email: accessible everywhere and integrated with all your devices
  • Website: at least describing your services and contact information
  • Laptop / tablet: including all the software necessary to effectively provide your services
  • Backups: regularly captured and sent off-site.

 

What does all this cost?

As we all know, that depends on the services you choose and how much you use the various services you purchase. Some services we can't get for free like access to the public telephone system or an Internet connection. Some businesses use a patch work quilt of services, but I've seen some consultants go that step further in the pursuit of free services and:

  • setup office in Starbucks for free Internet
  • use google docs
  • gmail or iCloud

 

It's not really free though is it?

Assuming a 22 day work month, Starbucks will cost you anywhere from $55 to $150 a month depending on the type of coffee you drink to get your free Internet. In addition, the work environment is rather noisy and your clients will hear everyone in the background during a call.

There used to be a way to create a personalized domain and use Gmail as your email host, but that no longer exists. Google has removed the free version. Let's face it - using a Gmail account doesn't present well with your clients either.

The real hidden cost though is how much time you're spending on technology both the ongoing maintenance and one off changes.

 

Determine if it's time to engage a Micro IT shop.

Technology should provide you with efficiencies that help you win and retain clients. As small business owners it's very important that our time using technology is spent either finding the next client or providing service to our current clients. The time spent on managing our technology is either lost billables, a lost client opportunity or lost personal time.

Micro IT shops are technology specialists that focus on businesses with ten (10) or fewer people. For a reasonable price the good ones will configure you to present professionally via the technology available and relieve you of all the tasks that don't require a personal decision, such as, "should I delete this email?"  The really good ones will be able to help you with the things you need to consider prior to deleting that email.

To determine if you should consider engaging a Micro IT firm, you should track how much time you spend on technology for work purposes that isn't billable to a client for the coming week. Then categorize this time into occurs regularly i.e. you do this task every week or it is an unusual occurrence. Do the unusual occurrences happen often? How often? Then consider if there are any tasks that aren't getting done, like updating the content on your website? Why is this outstanding? When was the last time you backed up your important data?

If some of these tasks are outstanding or you're spending more than five (5) hours a week on maintaining your technology you should consider engaging a Micro IT shop. 

 

What do we do?

Determine what's best for you based on how you like to work and the type of clients you engage.

Present options including their merits and faults. We know you need information to make an informed decision.

Create a work environment where technology actually makes your job easier not harder.

____________________________

You're welcome share your opinions about my opinions. Comment below or reach out to me on LinkedInFacebook or @GameChangeLinda on twitter. 

By Linda Mitton, CISSPCISMCISA

Jul 15
Home Sweet Office

​I work from home. I love it. I didn't always love it. Over the years, I discovered that there were a few essentials that I needed to have in place in order for my home office to work for me in the way that it should.

This week I thought I'd list out some of the critical items that you need in your home office to make you the best remote project manager that you can be!

A Land Line

If you believe yourself to be one of those post modern types that doesn't need a land line, you might want to have another think. A cell phone is great for when you are on the go but they have limitations. For example, if you have a handset that takes power from the telephone line, you can still make calls in the middle of a power outage without having to worry about your battery dying. Also while wireless costs are coming down, we project managers spend a lot of time communicating and this costs money. I don't think that wireless plans in many countries are quite there for us yet. One day I might end up parting with my land line but that day has not yet arrived.

Below is what I look for in my telephone set.

Quality Speakers and Microphone

This is not something you should scrimp on. You will find yourself on the phone quite a bit and  you want to make sure that you can hear and be heard. The better they can hear you, the less they will grouse about the fact that you aren't there in person!

Hands Free with large visible mute button

Let's face it. You are likely working at home to be closer to your family. Guess what. Families make noise. When that happens, you need  to be able to quickly mute your end of the line in order to minimize disruption on the call. On conference calls you should be in the habit of having the mute on when you aren't speaking.

I recommend a large visible mute button so that you can mute without having to think very much. Pressing *6 takes too many brain cells when one of the kids decides to knock over a lamp or the dog decides to start barking for no reason in particular.

Wireless hand set with headphone attachment

We have established that families are noisy. They also don't give a rat's behind whether you are on an important call or not. A handset with a headset attached is a great solution particularly when you aren't actually running the meeting. It's amazing what you can get done while you are on a conference call. You can clean up the garbage the dog strews all over the floor or clean up after your child after they eat their lunch.

Just remember: when you are in the toilet, make sure you are on mute!!!

Big Buttons

I like big buttons because I'm getting on a bit in years and like to have to dial once instead of 5 times to get the person I want on the other end :-)

That's probably just me.

Anyway, here's a picture of what I use:

Telephonys.jpg 

It's not fancy but it gets the job done.

Video Camera /Video Conferencing Solution

If you are lucky enough to be able to leverage video conferencing solutions, you want to invest in a decent camera/microphone/headphone suite. Sound quality and video quality are also key here.

I use a Logitech HD Pro Webcam Pro c920 which does the job nicely and it sits well on my monitor. It has an nice microphone built in. Also in a pinch (i.e. there is noise in the background) I will use a USB headset to go with it.

Computing and Networking

As cell phones have their limitations, so do laptops. I love them and they are great particularly when I'm on the road but in my home office, I prefer the lower cost per unit of processing power / RAM that you can get with a desktop. Also two 25" plus screens can't be beat when I'm doing my emails and working on a complex project schedule at the same time.

That said, I often find myself using my laptop or IPad when I can't or don't want to be physically at my desk.

Wireless (with an nice range) is also critical, particularly on a warm day when it makes sense to take my IPad to the deck and enjoy some sun while working my inbox. Also I invest in the best possible internet services plan because I am a heavy user of the cloud and I don't like to be taken down by a large file transfer.

Because I'm an Office 365 user, I have access to most of software tools that I need as a project manager (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Project, Visio, SharePoint). I don't have any specific additional software recommendations here. What matters when working from home is that you have decent hardware to run them on: particularly memory, processing power and monitor size.

Printing

I have been through a few printers over the years and as I've had some wins and losses in this area, I have learned that I absolutely need to succeed on a project:

  • The ability to print in letter, legal and sometimes 11x17 (for large project plans)
  • Colour and Black and White
  • Decent per page speed
  • Ink I can easily and cheaply replenish with a trip to my local office supply shop
  • Scanning software that makes sense and which doesn't crash my machine

 

What I don't need anymore in a printer is:

  • The ability to fax. Seriously. Who does that anymore?
  • Small footprint. I'd rather sacrifice the space to a better machine.
  • The ability to print photos. I can't remember the last time I did that for work or any other reason. I have Facebook and Apple TV. That's good enough for me :-)

 

Right now, I send my print jobs to an Epson WF-7520. I don't have any complaints.

A Gas Powered Generator

Don't laugh. Mine has come in handy more than once!

I live in a reasonably large city. I work with an international clientale. My clients don't care if there is a weather event where I live. They need me to be available at all times. Because I've had to do this more than once, I've learned to connect all of my essential equipment through one surge protector that I can then plug into the the generator with an extension cord when and if the power goes out. Within 10 minutes of scrambling around, I can be back up and running status meetings like it's my job. :-) In the meantime, I still  have that handset that's powered off of my telephone line and my cell of course so long as it still has juice.

Virtual Office

One of the investments that I have made that I don't regret is a virtual office. We use Intelligent Office and they have provided us with excellent service over the years. We use them for:

  • Boardroom and office rentals as we need
  • Telephone and Deliveries Reception
  • Business line with voicemail
  • Mailbox

 

I find the staff there to be highly professional and using this service has kept our overhead low and our productivity high. A quick email to the front desk to let them know I'm going to be on the road for a meeting is all I need. They are also adept at filtering out the sales calls and shunting them right to voicemail.

If you don't see the sense in spending on bricks and mortar or a full time receptionist, a virtual office is the thing for you!

Miscellaneous Decor

It may sound old fashioned but I still keep a paper calendar on the wall. I know I can use my computer or any number of devices to tell me what day it is, but nothing is faster than being able to flick my eyes quickly to the wall.

Also when I'm working with another time zone that I really care about, I'll have a small clock set to that time handy to save me a few mouse clicks.

Other than that' it's basically tables chairs and filing cabinets.

Oh and clutter. There's always clutter.

I hope you had fun with this week's post! Please share your office goodies below or via LinkedInFacebook or @SRB_PPM

By S. Rosalind Baker, BSc., JD, PMP, Pragmatic Project Manager 

Jul 10
Tax Evasion Trends - Do They Matter?

​What Tax Evasion trends do you look for when analyzing transactions?

I was talking to some friends about this article and was explaining to them how money laundering works and one of them said "Aren't all criminals you report also tax evaders?"  I laughed but had to agree.  I am sure many of you have heard the argument that prostitution should be legalized so that taxes could be collected.  A criminal activity and tax evasion all rolled up into one nice little package - if only it were that easy! 

Tax Evasion is a sticky subject in the world of AML.  There are many predicate offences to money laundering and in some countries, tax evasion is one.  What this means to me is that tax evaders, like drug dealers, need to launder money as part of their criminal activity.  We are obligated to look for money launderers and we do this by keeping track of suspicious trends and putting in place ways to analyze these trends.  So are there suspicious tax evasion trends?

I posed this question to LinkedIn members and received many examples, both from onshore and offshore jurisdictions which included the following:

  • Use of high risk jurisdictions where the customer has no known connection
  • Use of companies in locations where disclosure of beneficial ownerships is not required
  • Complex account structures, possibly with the use of nominees
  • Frequently cashing cheques instead of making deposits*
  • Large use of money orders
  • Wire transfers that go through multiple jurisdictions
  • Non-residents receiving deposits from other countries where the funds do not go back to their country of residency*
  • High turnover of company funds with minimal profit*
  • Set up of multiple companies by one person
  • Accounts with excessive digital currency/exchange activity
  • Cash businesses where cash is deposited into personal accounts*
  • Profession/livelihood does not match their transactions
  • Use of third party cheques
  • Movement of money from company accounts around tax time*
  • Frequent deposits (lump sum or structured) followed by immediate outgoing funds
  • No cash deposits to a cash intensive company*
  • Even dollar amount cheques paid to suppliers or for expenses
  • Cash/cheques deposited into children's accounts
  • Overseas withdrawals / excessive use of credit cards, especially cash advances
  • Request for reference letters by company service providers who are known to assist persons in setting up offshore accounts

*suspicious trend that could be directly linked to tax evasion

When you look at these examples can we, without a doubt, say that these are tax evasion trends or can we simply say that these types of transactions could lead to suspicion?  When we see that a client is sending frequent small dollar wires to multiple offshore tax havens, you might find this suspicious.  What we don't know is the predicate offence.  It could be a multitude of crimes, including tax evasion.  When looking at all the trends I received from LinkedIn members, I asked myself which trends would other criminals NOT use.  I have highlighted (*) the trends that I believe could be directly related to tax evasion and should be included in our suspicious analysis arsenal.  

Thanks to a LinkedIn member, the OECD Money Laundering Awareness Handbook for Tax Examiners and Tax Auditors was recommended. http://www.oecd.org/tax/exchange-of-tax-information/43841099.pdf  Although it is geared towards Tax Specialists it provides really good scenarios of how someone might tax evade.  Set out graphically, using placement, layering and integration, these suspicious scenarios can be translated to other financial service industries.

The key word is "suspicion". We don't need to prove a person is committing tax evasion, we just need to suspect there is some form of money laundering (which could eventually lead to tax evasion).  When we raise suspicious transactions, we do not "guess" what predicate offence it relates to; we leave this to the investigators to determine.  Having said that, we do look for specific trends of money laundering for specific types of crime. 

So why can't we implement some analysis for the trends mentioned above or outlined in the handbook? 

There is no reason not to and if, by implementing these suspicious trends we assist in fighting the battle against tax evaders, then good for us!  Really, what have we got to lose?

If you would like to comment on this post or any others, please do so below or you can find me on LinkedIn.

By Allison Baillie, CAMS, Int. Dip. (Comp), The Obedient One

Jul 02
Go Phish!

As we've become better at making our user base more suspicious the mischievous element have adapted and upped their game.

Mischief

It's appropriate that the Canadian laws put hacking under the law pertaining to mischief because it certainly feels like a game of strategy. How do I keep my personnel from being lured in by your wonderful invitations, including myself?

Tip of the hat

They've evolved from luring us with our curiosity - "why do you love me?" (Love Bug) to our naughty side with pictures of Anna Kournikova - to our fear of our banking information being compromised. But we're onto them now and we'll never click again. Right?

Nope.

We've definitely made them work a bit more, but now they've made their emails look much more mundane and benign. They do however take the time to research me and find out my interests. It was very kind and helpful of me to put up my volunteer work in my LinkedIn profile.

Now they send me emails supposedly from various charities and government bodies that I typically interact with. They did overstep when they sent me a personal invitation from the premier of the province. If you're american this is our equivalent of governor.

I hovered. Just as I suspected it was a phishing email.

Then I started receiving others such as...

OAC_PhishingEmail_Hover2.png 

 

What I particularly liked was that if you researched to see if it was a hacking website or a service site they actually put up a news page to lure you that way. 

 

ofsys.comSearch.png 

This is where I tip my hat.

Vigilance is the price you pay

To keep your clean-up and recovery costs down. I give people some grace because the phishers have been taking the time to craft something that looks legit. However, I've been at security conferences where the security analyst talks about how even he just clicks and says yes to everything. Really!? I must have misunderstood the context. In my context we afford our user base the tools to protect both themselves and the organization to which they belong. 

All it takes is two seconds to hover.

And only once for you to be distracted for whatever reason and click. It won't matter how many viruses or phishing emails you catch it's the ones you didn't that matter. If you're not already you should be reporting on the:

  1. Number of attempts made
  2. Number that made it through your defences
  3. Number that were reported as making it through your defences
  4. Number that were activated and reported
  5. People who consistently click without checking
  6. Dollar, time and lost productivity costs to clean up each incident.

Create a culture of hesitation!

 The objective is to create awareness and encourage people to hover and we can't do that without proper metrics.

To click or not to click – that should be the question.

____________________________

You're welcome share your opinions about my opinions by commenting below or by reaching out to me on LinkedInFacebook or @GameChangeLinda on twitter. 

By Linda Mitton, CISSPCISMCISA

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