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opTEAMize – The ‘Ideyeah’ Behind It

The Ideyeah Behind Opteamize

In this article, we are going to talk about the ‘ideyeah’ behind our product, opTEAMize. Fun Fact: We were originally known as Ideyeah Solutions LLP., hence this article’s title. It’s not because we don’t know how to spell ‘idea’.

Anyway, our product is sure to improve your business. Here is why.

A recurring problem for the managers running IT Services & Consulting companies is getting the right people on the right projects. One of the critical tasks in the project planning phase is the efficient and quick formation of project teams. A failure to do so can manifest in cost and schedule overruns employee attrition and the dreaded loss of credibility.

In small-sized enterprises, a reasonable team organization policy can be conducted by a person with a good knowledge of the capabilities, competencies, and current assignments of the employee. In medium and large companies with many concurrently active projects, the team formation becomes a challenge.

This is compounded by the fact that 38% of US companies do not use any automated systems to manage professional services*. Further a report from the National Computing Center, UK reveals the top reasons for implementing automation in professional services:

icon-arrow Increase project effectiveness : 58%
icon-arrow Achieve better visibility : 56%
icon-arrow Improve planning and forecasting : 54%
icon-arrow Improve resource utilization : 54%

Techniques for the formation and design of teams have been investigated from time immemorial. One of the most famous and practical models was presented by Dr. Mertith Belbin in 1981. His model categorized individuals in nine roles regarding their specialty and attitude toward team working. About 15 years back P.J. Wilde and M.S. Trevistan made some progress on this issue but plenty of questions still need to be answered on the efficacy of such systems.

Over the last few months, the opTEAMize team has been grappling with this issue and in the next few pages have outlined our ‘way’ of trying to solve this problem for our initial set of prospects in IT services and consulting organizations.

We also looked at Edward de Bono’s Sixth Thinking Hats’ principles and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment to understand the psychometric elements of group thinking. Our own thought process was biased towards essentially understanding and breaking down the three models that are prevalent now in IT product development & consulting services.

There were three models that we looked at to form the ideyeah behind opTEAMize.

a.Top-down approach

The availability of employees with just about the right competencies and skill set requirements is sometimes the sole criterion to get them onto the next project coming down the company’s way. A top-down allocation system is used in a majority of the cases. This approach to staffing the IT projects may end up in some employees continually getting into some good projects or others getting thrust into ‘difficult’ projects.

In IT parlance this may mean a very poorly scoped project, impossible deadlines, hard-nosed clients, poor quality of teammates and/or scope creep. Some managers are also known to pick their favorites or employees with known skills.

b. Market-oriented approach:

Job portals and recruiting solutions have attempted to tackle this from a market-oriented approach. Sites like Elance, oDesk (now part of Elance), Guru, or Freelancer have a list of people with defined skills who are able to execute projects on-demand. Majority of jobs going to these sites are still of low risk and lower commercial value.

c. Internal market or self-service approach:

Very few companies have dared to attempt a true internal market approach. Here the employee gets a view of the sales pipeline and can ‘offer’ his services or apply to come on board. This can work in smaller companies of size lesser than 100 but has several practical issues in bigger companies where some projects can run for extended lengths of time.

Core Requirements

We looked at all the above 3 models and came up with a wish list of 4 core requirements for our minimum viable product.

  1. Simplify the complex and time-consuming process of team selection through automated mapping of project required skills, availability and cost of the employee.
  2. Reduce data entry through loaded suggestions; Use existing validated data in HR and project management systems wherever possible.
  3. Enable the manager with a tool to quickly narrow down his search akin to the ‘human touch’ that he/she is used to.
  4. Incorporate elements of our own Value to Company (VTC) methodology which helps quantify elements of the Employee Value Proposition

Our Approach

Now, to the ideyeah behind our product. How did we go about it?

There have been different approaches to formulating teams:
icon-arrow Genetic Algorithms
icon-arrow Hybrid grouping genetic algorithm approach
icon-arrow Fuzzy-genetic decision support system
icon-arrow Agent-organized networks
icon-arrow Fuzzy optimization approach
icon-arrow Analytical hierarchy approach
icon-arrow Clustering
icon-arrow Integer programming
icon-arrow Plain old ‘human touch’ approach with a sprinkling of MS Excel

We chose to take on the “cannot reveal now” approach. The goal of optimization is to find a proper combination of a series of parameters to achieve the most satisfaction, either minimum or maximum, depending on the requirement of the problem. The first step is to get the project basics like size, location, duration, budget and skill set requirements. The second step is to assign a weight to the competency requirements (skill sets and domain expertise) and client and internal expectations.

Note: The genetic algorithm work with a combination of weighted parameters, not the parameters themselves. The third and final step is to get the intangible factors into the system. From a competency and soft skills assessment perspective, some factors which have been considered to support the team formation or composition are:

icon-arrow Understanding of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) & methodologies
icon-arrow Programmer prerequisites and personal effectiveness
icon-arrow Knowledge of standards and certifications
icon-arrow Individual preferences
icon-arrow Team preferences

Advantages of the opTEAMize Product

The algorithm searches for, selects and displays the results based on best % fit for competency and cost and a mix of both with the teams getting sorted from the largest weight to the smallest weight. Of course, one can always override the algorithm generated optimized selections based on margin improvement or other employee or ongoing project related reasons.

It was also very important for us to ensure that the ‘what’s in it for me?’ questions from employee and project/resource/delivery managers were addressed upfront in our MVP. The principles of resource planning remain the same but we have infused a structured and data-driven approach to make decision making smoother and a pleasure rather than a chore.

Optimize Selection with opTEAMize

Based on our intimate understanding of the Delivery process, we wanted to bring a “sports team fantasy selection” approach to moving people around on various projects. Also incorporating a ‘drag and drop’ UI is on our wish list. This should hopefully be released in later versions of the Ozone module.

To claim that we have a completely novel approach to solving this problem would be naive but once enough initial data is added, companies can most certainly start optimizing their current selection process. We can justifiably show a 50%+ savings due to a reduction in time taken to put together the team.

Hey, we have not even started talking about savings due to gross margin improvement! You can visit the ROI page of our website www.opteamize.in and derive your own ROI savings. Hopefully casting aside some of the complex spreadsheet macros and drop the scores of meetings to ‘finalize and freeze the team’ will generate enough ROI to buy more licenses than originally envisaged.

Another intangible benefit is that our solution reduces the possibility of wrong and inaccurate quotations and selections due to hasty calculations. We can also look at it as a career planning tool, help implement some clauses of CMMI and map to global IT skills frameworks such as SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age).

Challenges We Expect to Face

We anticipate some of the following challenges as we go to market and seek paying customers:

  1. Large IT companies have developed in-house software (with advanced analytics) or use Professional Services Automation (PSA) / Resource planning systems.
  2. Some HR software users who collect or use employee data may perceive it as redundant or even worse, a threat.
  3. Many managers may have developed manual ‘thumb-rule’ calculations or spreadsheet templates and might feel that the “human touch” is lacking.
  4. Employees may not find equally high value as perceived by some in higher management.
  5. Integration with 3rd party enterprise software (and possibly some assessment/testing add-ons) may be necessary to get entry into some companies.
  6. Project & profile data needs to be constantly updated for reports to be accurate.
  7. opTEAMize may become another licensing chore for the internal IT Infra team in an on-premise model.

Why opTEAMize?

A final word on the current state of affairs. The resource management arena is dominated by big HR giants, Professional Service Automation, Talent Management Systems and/or in-house IT developed software, most of whom follow a top-down approach to solving issues.

Being a nimble system, opTEAMize has several advantages over all of them if used as a stand-alone system but we understand that our prospective customers have already made huge investments in these technologies and we want to assure them that we can work seamlessly alongside these systems supporting and complementing them and thus deriving greater value. Adding a service element to skill mapping and creating a skill database for IT companies is another option being looked at.

In conclusion, we hope to overcome the above challenges in due course primarily through the superior value that our product delivers. We understand how IT services teams work and this is a product that has been developed to be a vital bridge between the Delivery team and the Resource Management group.

So, that was the ideyeah behind opTEAMize. Thanks for listening. Contact us for more. Now back to transforming the way you work, one process at a time!

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