Business, featured

To Gold-plate Or Not To Gold-plate?

We have already looked at context switching, now we look at productivity itself. Which aspect do we consider? We will look at how much work needs to be done to achieve the target.

Let’s start off with the titled question, anyone with knowledge of project management will have heard of the term Gold-plating. Gold-plating means to keep working on the project/product past the given functional requirements to enhance it. It is usually known that the technical perfectionists are most likely to carry out gold-plating a product in hopes that the client will appreciate their efforts and initiative.

The question is whether and when it is acceptable to carry out gold-plating?

I will talk from my experience at university. Any project or coursework given to us had clear requirements of the output. We knew exactly what we had to achieve and how much our reward (marks) would be. We worked to achieve that goal and did not improve our answer further. Whatever gold-plating we carried out was in the presentation of the results and in the reports.

When a project is assigned, there is also a budget that is assigned with it. If the functional requirements are well-defined from the beginning and the reward agreed, there is no need to go past the functional requirements. If any initiative needs to be shown, it should be shown when defining and agreeing the requirements with the client. The client might appreciate the gold-plating but will not usually penalise if it is not done. Sure if it is a software project, make sure the interface is usable and neat but no need to add fancy effects which might later become annoyances.

Last year I was a technology forum hosted in London by one of the largest Investment banks showcasing their trading software. The project manager was telling us how a couple of members of his team had worked few extra hours to enhance the interface by adding eye pleasing fading effects etc. , but only for the traders to feedback saying these effects were slowing down their speed and were annoyances. The development team had to spend more time removing all the effects and keeping the interface simple. This cost them a lot of time and also morale. This time could have been spent well developing the next iteration or working on another project.

A lot of project managers will attest that the project cost could have been lowered and completed in a shorter time if it wasn’t for gold-plating their work to impress the client. Fair enough that the first couple of times, a little gold-plating can be done to impress the client and retain them for longer periods but it cannot be done every time and in the long run. Another cause for gold-plating is over-estimation of budget. Just because the expenditure in completing a project to functional requirement is lower than the budget, doesn’t mean that the extra budget needs to be spent. If the client accepts the functional output according to the requirements, they will probably be impressed more knowing that the project was completed with lower costs than the estimates.

So what is the answer to the titled question? Well it depends what the motivations are behind gold-plating. If it because there is budget left for it, then there is no need to gold-plate the output. If the aim is to impress a client and reel them in for longer term then gold-plating is acceptable or when presentation is important. Gold-Plating can also cost money and time affecting not only that project but others as well. The outcome and reward of gold-plating should be carefully assessed for each project.

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Technology

MS Office Mathematics Plug-in

This official free plugin by Microsoft is simply amazing. This is for Word and OneNote 2007 & 2010. Those who use OneNote already know that if u enter a simple arithmetic equation it calculates automatically. such as you type “2+3=” and press the space bar and OneNote will fill in the result “5” at the end. However, this does not work in Word. It is particularly important in Word since a lot of reports are written in Word and may require calculations. You can use the equation editor and just solve the equations using this plug-in.

This plugin goes beyond this. you can enter any equation with any number of variables and it can either solve for all the variables, plot 2D or 3D graphs. you can enter a table of data and plot simple graphs. Calculates complex arithmetic, integration, differentiation, complex integrals, etc.

Very simple to use, enter the equation in Equation editor and right click the equation and select the calculation to perform. for multiple equations, select multiple equations. It recognises subscripts as variables and superscripts as powers. I have found this plug-in very useful for my university work. Really this is for anyone who works with a lot of math.

Hope you find this plugin very useful.

Thanks

Source: MS Office Maths Plug-in

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Business, featured

Learning from Students – Context-Switching

Learning is an ongoing process for everyone and the source can be anything or anyone. No matter who you are or what job you are doing, we all can learn from students’ habits and behaviour. In some cases, it can improve mental agility, in some efficiency and some times even creativity.

Students are stereotypically seen as having bad or no organisational skills, no work discipline and worst of all doing things at the last-minute. What most don’t realise is that students actually are able to dynamically organise their tasks instantly while achieving their end goals for each task satisfactorily. There are a few things students are good at without them or anyone else realising: Fast context switching, high intensity productivity, and on-the-fly scheduling.

Context switching

‘Multi-tasking’ is fast context switching. No one can really multi-task, but people can switch tasks very fast appearing to multi-task. Students do this well. Picture a scene in a group study area filled with students some know each other and some don’t. Now every one is working on something different and some actually not working and are procrastinating on Facebook or YouTube (as usual). One student has a question regarding his work, he goes and asks a fellow student who is working on another subject; this student has to be able to understand what is being asked quickly in order to answer the question. Some times people just ask, “hey, how did you do task 5 to calculate….?”. This question doesn’t mention a context. There is no warning beforehand; no “Can I ask you a question regarding ….. subject?”. It mentions in 2-3 words the question and its questions number but gives no direct clue regarding the subject.

One has to extract all the relevant information from these keywords, think about any background and possibly extrapolate the details of the question from memory or using common assumptions. From 3 keywords, extracting all this information requires a sharp and agile mind. Now the subjects of this question and the student’s work may have no connection at all yet, the student is able to quickly give an answer which is, in most cases, the required and relevant information. If the student isn’t able to answer it, he/she will quickly ask a question regarding an important assumption asking to verify certain information before proceeding to answer.

This ability to switch from one subject to another in an instant is important and requires a sharp & agile mind. This ability is very useful in the workplace where you might be handling a few different projects.

N.B.

This is the first part of a small series of posts. More to come soon after I finish my exams. Keep checking and commenting!

Thank You

 

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