I'll take the chicken, the cornflakes, and an IP-PBX

Costco Wholesale CorporationImage via WikipediaNo, really. Read this:

"Microsoft Response Point Phone System Retails on Costco.com
Response Point small-business phone system from hardware manufacturer Quanta Computer is now available for purchase directly from Costco.com.

REDMOND, Wash. — May 28, 2008 — Microsoft Response Point, an easy-to-use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system designed uniquely for the needs of small businesses (one to 50 employees), is now available to purchase on Costco.com, a leading global retailer. Costco.com will now offer the award-winning Syspine Digital Operator Phone System from Quanta Computer Inc. featuring Microsoft Response Point phone system software.
“A small-business owner does a little of everything — CEO, accountant and IT trouble-shooter — all before lunch,” said Richard Sprague, senior director, Response Point at Microsoft Corp. “Costco.com’s easy online purchase process, combined with Response Point’s easy setup and intuitive magic blue button for voice dialing, gives the small-business owner another easy way to gain a powerful communications tool to help grow his or her business.”

You have GOT to be kidding me. I first thought that it was April 1st, but then, well... It's a good thing (TM) that IP is making its way into low-end telephony, but I would - and that's just me - have reservations buying my business critical hardware at Costco. Support, anyone?

It's probably too early to say - and, to be honest, I really want one of these to play around with - http://www.syspine.com/ - but I really, really hope that this will be marketed properly - as a small business or prosumer only system, with decent support and reliable and tested upgrades and replacement parts.

Otherwise, I'm afraid we'll just go back to the "IP telephony isn't ready for primetime" and "it has horrible voice quality" and "it keeps breaking up", and, and, and... Well, at least it's got G.711.


What's this "Zemified!" thing?

Notice the little orange button at the bottom of some posts here? It belongs to http://www.zemanta.com...

A long, long time ago... I knew a couple of people. Some of them decided to move to London and be cool (note: I moved to Budapest because I'm cheap! ;D). Well, they managed to create one of the coolest blogging tools around - Zemanta. To steal from them a bit - "We evolved from an enterprise, tailor-made product to generalized web service, from a two-men band to a 15 people venture-funded company, from Slovenia to the World. It’s not anything near final success yet, but it’s a nice start."

TechCruch had a nice review - "Start writing a blog post and Zemanta looks at it and then starts to add the most likely links to the text, which you can then edit (something a lot of bloggers would kill for no doubt). It also builds links to related stories. This kind of application exists a lot in academic and enterprise content management systems but hasn’t appeared on the Web very much to date as these tend to be very CPU/resource intense technologies.". Read the whole thing here.

You know what the best part is? It scans the web for Creative Commons content, so bloggers can post images without the fear of being sued by an angry photographer/artist (provided you link back that is - but it does it for you as well, so you'd need to manually delete the link).

The applications works on Wordpress, Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal and MovableType (for now), and you can get it here.

Free alternatives to MS Project?

Microsoft Office Project 2007Image via Wikipedia
Let's face it, MS Project costs real money. If you're a small company, buying licenses for it will eat up your project margin faster than you can say - well, "margin". However, don't despair - there are free Project Management tools around!

One: OpenProj. Best free PM application ever.

OpenProj by Projity is a desktop replacement of Microsoft Project. OpenProj has equivalent functionality, a familiar user interface an even opens existing MSProject files. It does Gantt Charts, PERT charts etc. Available on Linux, Unix, Mac or Windows, and it's free - how much better does it get? Review here, Download here.

Second: Zoho Project.

The team at Zoho is one of the coolest "Web 2.0" companies out there. Their online office suite includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, CRM, project management, invoicing and other applications. Being web-native, all Zoho applications are operating system independent. It supports creating tasks, ownership, setting deadlines and tracking milestones; working with calendars, Gantt charts, reports, share supporting files—all the cool features expected in a project management package.

The major difference is that while one can debate the merits of online/offline for individual productivity applications, project management by definition is team-work and as such a natural fit for the Web. Zoho Projects is free for one project, and has a scaled price structure above. 12$ a month gives you 10 projects and 2gigs of file storage. And, even better - if you're running an open-source project - well, it's free. "Beer" free.

Third and last: Ganttproject

Another free alternative - a little less fully featured than the others, but from my experience, the developers take the time to listen to their users (heck, they've incorporated some of my suggestions!). On their website, they claim that "This set is enough for most people (remember that 80% of MSProject customers use 20% of it's numerous features)" - which is probably true, I know I might use 35%, and I'm a heavy user :). Your mileage may vary, of course.

Best news: platform independent(ish), works in Java (so you need a Java Runtime Enviroment if you're running Windows), and free for any kind of use.

More at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_project_management_software - but I've tried all of these, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them!

Does your Contact Center work this way?

Shameless "share and reapply"* time.

"Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers—people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people. How are you making sure that you’re filling your organization with the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out?"

So true. Your customer - especially if you operate mostly in the metaverse - has his one and only contact with you over the phone, e-mail, your Voice Portal... Either a person he can't see on the other side of the line, or a "soulless" machine. He builds his impression based on his experience there, so you need to work really, really, really, reaaaaalllly hard to make sure it's one he remembers, finds "enjoyable" and leaves him satisfied.

Enter Zappos. They probably have the best Customer Service Agent training idea ever. After a week or so of their initial Agent Traigning,it’s time for what they call “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.”

Commitment? I has it.

More at Harvard Business Publishing.

* Share and Reapply: Procter and Gamble speak for "Steal something which another country already did and use it in your country."

The truth about consultants...

"... The best consultants are the ones who come with a portfolio of products and tools. Their trick is to have a really good portfolio of stuff that really works, is really good, and can be sold and implemented quickly in a very cost-effective way. So it isn't necessarily a bad thing at all when a consultant offers to sell you tools, as long as they are the right tools and the consultant really knows how to use them... "

I especially like the following points:

1) "This can only be accomplished through a large custom development project."

2) "Of course your data is safe."

3) "We'll need a day or two for optimization and debugging."

4) "Yes, we've done this before. There are several companies using this product (or technology). They really like it."

7) "The upgrade (or change) will be seamless and will not affect production."

9) "Yes, we tested this thoroughly before installing it."

Heard it. Might have (will never admit) said it. :)

More at "I, Cringley" (above part stolen from there as well)

Goodbye, mr. President.

dr. Janez Drnovsek
2nd President of the Republic of Slovenia

1950 - 2008

$0.00 Is the Future of Business

Wired strikes again. For all of those in the US, you can get this months edition of Wired for free. For all those not - it's on-line, as usual. However, I'd like to share this gem of a marketing idea with everyone:

"On a busy corner in São Paulo, Brazil, street vendors pitch the latest "tecnobrega" CDs, including one by a hot band called Banda Calypso. Like CDs from most street vendors, these did not come from a record label. But neither are they illicit. They came directly from the band. Calypso distributes masters of its CDs and CD liner art to street vendor networks in towns it plans to tour, with full agreement that the vendors will copy the CDs, sell them, and keep all the money. That's OK, because selling discs isn't Calypso's main source of income. The band is really in the performance business — and business is good. Traveling from town to town this way, preceded by a wave of supercheap CDs, Calypso has filled its shows and paid for a private jet."

Business 2.5. :) There's always a point in "giving" away things - in Projects, sucking up some freebies that you'd normally charge to the customer can - and usually does - result in a very happy customer, one that asks for more changes, and those you can charge at your going rate. It's about building credibility, about creating trust and about "leading the way" (Sorry, that's a rip-off of an Avaya saying ;)) to where you want to go.

Don't be afraid of doing things for free. Just know what you want to get out of them

More at [Wired].

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Spaceship Captains. Err... Project Managers.

You find good hints in the most unlikely of places.

For the record, I'm a bit of a Sci-Fi buff. No, not that kind, the good kind! HONEST! (Actually, it's worse, I like Hard Sci-fi and Military Sci-Fi, with a dash of Space Opera...)

Anyway. Embarrassing confession for the day - done. The folks over at io9 (a Gawker Media Sci-Fi themed blog) came up with a list of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Spaceship Captains".

Right, so it's a bit tongue-in-cheek to apply this to Project Management, but hey, read them yourself. (I stripped them of the Sci-Fi comparisons, but if you're really interested, click on the link above to read the whole text):

  1. Rules are made to be broken.
  2. Show your crew that you're willing to take a bullet for them, and they'll do the same for you.
  3. A good leader has to get laid once in a while, and she shouldn't be ashamed of it.
  4. True leaders do not ever make decisions alone.
  5. It's not the tools; it's what you do with them.
  6. A little subversion goes a long way.
  7. No matter how in control you are, always be ready for something for which you're completely unprepared.
Now... Don't take them all completely seriously - use your judgment, man! (or woman, we're not sexist here)...

I like 1, 2, 4 and 7. How about you?

[Annalee Newitz at io9]

Eliminate the F–Words

Eliminate the F–Words
By William Arruda

If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stop using four–letter words that begin with the letter ‘F’.

No, I’m not talking about cleaning your mouth out with soap. Of course, cursing your boss is probably not going to get you very far. But the F–words I share with you here are far more lethal, more destructive and more devastating to your career and professional fulfillment.

The ugliest four–letter words that begin with ‘F’ can hold you back if you don’t keep them in check. The words?

F _ _ R
F A _ _
F _ N _

Have you guessed them?

The key to career success is to get the F–words out of your vocabulary, mindset and actions. Here’s how.


“Look not mournfully into the past. It comes not back again. Wisely improve the present. It is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future, without fear.”
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sometimes fear is good. If you are walking alone down a dark alley at night, fear will keep you alert. However, in the workplace, fear is often less productive.

I work with lots of clients, many at the C–level, most of whom can become paralyzed or at least ‘slowed down’ by fear from time to time. And once they are able to look at the situation that prompted the fear from a different lens, they open up to new opportunities.

In your job search, fear can prevent you from making a networking connection or asking a high–profile colleague for help. It can impact an interview with a prospective hiring manager or stop you from applying for a position that you would really like to have. Fear impedes success; and fear breeds more fear. So the more you fear, the worse the fear becomes.

Replace the word ‘fear’ with ‘greet’. Greet challenges rather than being afraid of them. After all, a challenge is really an opportunity to shine and to grow and demonstrate your greatness. If you hope for the best rather than fear the worst as you search for your next job, you’ll be far more successful, and you’ll enjoy the process.


“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
–Sir Winston Churchill

If you never fail, you aren’t taking enough risks. And without risk, you don’t grow or stretch yourself. Without growth, you stagnate, while those around you move ahead. Failing, if you look at it from a different perspective, is really a step in succeeding. So replace the word ‘fail’ with ‘grow’.

Often, it is fear of failure that prevents action.

In your job search, failing can be valuable. When you get down to the shortlist of candidates but are not selected, you can learn a lot that will be useful to your next hiring opportunity – perhaps for an even better position. If you chose not to risk failure, you risk growth.

Highlighting your failures during a job interview can be just as powerful. Let a prospective manager know that you are motivated to take calculated risks, and willing to fail if it means learning, growing professionally, and moving forward. Take inventory of events that you classified as failures and look for the growth that came from that. That growth is valuable content for your resume, cover letter, and personal web site.


“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.”
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I think fine is the ugliest of all four–letter words. No one gets excited about things that are fine.

“Hey Chris, how’s the new guy in sales doing?”

“Oh, he’s fine.”

Fine, adequate, average, OK. Do you want your work or candidature to be described with these words?

Yet, you were trained from a young age to become fine. In fact, your full–time job has probably involved resolving weaknesses instead of maximizing strengths. Sure, I think it’s great to improve your weaknesses – but not at the expense of maximizing your strengths, and only if those weaknesses will get in the way of your success. When you apply your strengths to everything you do, you raise yourself far above ‘fine.’ You become great, excellent, exceptional, extraordinary. And that’s how you want to be known. Isn’t it?

When you stop being fine and focus on your greatness, people will use superlatives to describe you. You start to build your personal brand around those things that make you differentiated and interesting.

Replace the word ‘fine’ with ‘great’ and strive for greatness by leveraging strengths rather than improving weaknesses. Never settle for adequate.

If your resume or online identity is fine, work with a career coach to make it great. And if you interviewing skills are ‘fine’ practice interviewing until they are stellar. After all, with so many candidates for each open position, it isn’t likely that the hiring manager will be satisfied with fine.

Eliminate the F–Words

To eliminate these words, practice makes perfect. And the key to eliminating them is to first recognize when they are part of your vocabulary and your actions. So it’s up to you. “Fear, fail, fine” or “greet, grow, great”. Decide which words will be a part of your vocabulary and approach to your job search, and then make decisions accordingly.

Be great!

William Arruda is a career coach and one of the world’s leading personal branding experts. He, along with his partner, Kirsten Dixson, developed the Reach Branding Club, a unique, web–based, multi–media personal branding program for consultants, executives and professionals with members from all over the world.

Copy/pasted from the theladders.com newsletter on 6th Feb. Appropriated without permission, so let me know if it needs to be removed. All rights belong to TheLadders.com, Inc. | 137 Varick St., 8th Floor | New York, NY 10013, and I strongly suggest you register with them - the newsletters alone are worth it, and there's a free membership option!

Please excuse the inappropriate behaviour.

Imagine this.

David blogs about becoming a PMP, and complains about the state of PM-ing-as-a-profession in Slovenia, and the inactivity of the Slovenian PMI chapter.
"... I've never heard a peep out of the Slovenian one. Frankly, I was surprised that Slovenia even had a chapter - last I checked, PMing as a profession wasn't really on the map yet. Not that anyone has a map."

A kind reader points him in another direction - that of the IPMA and its Slovenian Chapter (caution, in Slovenian only). So, I drop them a mail saying "Hey, I'd like to take your certification as well - on a private basis, as I need to do PMP at work anyway." Seeing as I used their official form, that they've got the application on-line, and that the deadline to apply for this years certification is 20th of Feb - you'd think I'd get an answer pretty quickly, right?

No such luck.

Let me guess: they cater mostly to Government institutions and State-owned companies? Do over-analyzing courses in PM theory? Maybe a dash of out-of-office-let's-all-go-to-Bled trainings?

And then they, see, heaven help us, Capitalists! Ones not working in the country? Expats? EVIL! EVIL I TELL YOU! RUN, RUN AWAY!

State of PMing in Slovenia on the 5th of February, 2008: Still dead.


Oh my. Two of the expert articles in the last edition of the magazine:

"Strategic and Project coordination as a condition for successful construction of railway infrastructure on the example of an... entrance"??! (... and question marks/exclamations are mine, maybe "entryway" is meant, as the article discusses international rail corridors), and:

"Post project Projects of recycling plant construction". (what the fuck is an post-project project?)
It deals with the - pardon me - shit that is produced after recycling water in a recycling plant.

Now, as completely valid and inherently useful as these two things are, they do - ever so slightly - reinforce my opinion as to which market segment the organization is playing (and who is doing the paying).

And it ain't mine.

PMI membership renewal time...

Someone, remind me, why do I need to pay 119$ to these folks again? Actually, that's not the issue - I know what I get for the money - a cheaper exam (for, shockingly enough, 119$), the magazine, some e-mail news and a good website as a resource.
But the local chapters (I'm in the Hungarian and the Slovenian ones) confuse me. Really, what's the point? The Hungarian one sends me mails in Hungarian (asking for a mail in English got me a packaged response in Hungarian), and I've never heard a peep out of the Slovenian one. Frankly, I was surprised that Slovenia even had a chapter - last I checked, PMing as a profession wasn't really on the map yet. Not that anyone has a map.

Ah well. Seeing as this year I really will get around to passing the PMP (no, really, it's in my development objectives at work, so I have to pass it if I want my bonus), I'll at least use it. If anyone wants to get in touch with me, I'm 893543. Look for me on the "PMP list" in a couple of months.

(If I'm not in jail, because I shoot someone for the "PMI way of thinking", which is, in my insignificant, humble opinion, in certain cases about as much in touch with reality as the good folks over at [io9].)

[Project Management Institute]

How to start projects you'll actually finish?

More link-love! If the kind reader (I know there's one of you out there!) would click over to the blog of Scott Young, she/he/it (a.k.a. Sheit) will have the pleasure of reading a post that discusses how one really should be fully aware of what you're getting into when starting something (well, we're speaking about Projects, but let's be honest, it applies to most everything in life...). A quick snapshot of what you're going to be reading:

"Feature creep is dangerous in projects because your initial three-month endeavor quickly becomes a multi-year odyssey. Projectitis, or recklessly jumping from project to project without completing everything, is also a common disease. The best way to control these two problems is simple: know what you’re buying into before you pay for it."

Good solid advice - and don't forget what I talked about yesterday - keep in touch after you're done. It does wonders for good customer relations and your up/cross sale opportunities!

[Scott H. Young]

Mobile E-mail

Ah, BlackBerry. What would life be like without the genius of Research In Motion, the greatest company ever to hail from Canada, eh?

I confess, I have a soft-spot for the Berry in my heart - implementing it into three mobile operators in Central/Eastern Europe was my first real international project. Ah, the good old days. I shudder to think how bad I did (hey, I can be a general after my own battles!), but hey, we managed to get it running!

As you'll no doubt notice, I have a bit of a gadget problem - and the fact that I work in Telecoms doesn't help my other problem, which is constant availability. At work, we use Goodlink, well, they're Motorola-something-or-other by now, but hey, we're a corporation! Say you're a freelance consultant, or just plain cheap?

Enter emoze. Boy, do I like these guys. You get a free "push" E-mail service ("push", because it's not really push, but more like "poll the server every couple of minutes for new E-mail and then send it to the device") that just plain works - and works with most E-mail providers, and your corporate Outlook/Lotus too - provided that you have Outlook Web Access, or that your work PC that runs Lotus Notes is always on. And yes, it works with the Jesus Phone. Erm, sorry... iPhone.

But.. There's a caveat...

"In order to provide the emoze Software, emoze gathers and processes the following information:
  • Register Information
  • User Profile
  • Personal Data of Friends
  • Feedback Information
  • Passive Information
  • E-mail Addresses
  • Mobile Numbers"
Before you run off and start using it on your corporate E-mail, read the privacy policy and make SURE your IT is OK with it. You don't want to get fired, do you?

EDIT: Now, this is interesting... the emoze team got in touch with me, saying:

xxx.xxx@emoze.com has left a new comment on your post "Mobile E-mail":

Hi there!
Please note that emoze does not gather the information you specified. emoze merely routes the emails from your mailaccount directly to your phone. There is no"store and forward" and no way we can get the info you speak about. Please correct this or contact me at info@emoze.com

Now, I'm not sure what sort of info I'm speaking about here - the above is a copy/paste from the emoze web site, and the link I gave leads back to their privacy policy - but it's reassuring to see that there's no data stored - and they officially get additional points in my book for being efficient, communicative - and reading my blog :)

In Uncertain Times, Do Certain Things

Right. I'm a thief! :) No, not really - I'm going to borrow something from our corporate blog, which I think is good advice for the season:

"The events in the financial markets these last few days certainly bring to mind one metaphor – a rollercoaster – as actions by the US Federal Reserve and other global entities target the current volatility.

Still, the uncertainties of the current financial markets provide an excellent opportunity to focus on the certainties we do know.

Conditions like these frequently result in a “hunkering down effect,” and a focus shift toward cost and efficiency that can overtake the top-line aspirations of a company’s business cycle. It’s clear that there are only two routes to a better bottom line – reducing costs or improving customer satisfaction and retention. Or even better, a combination of both.

A widely accepted constant is the value of the retained customer. And these days, a positive customer experience is considered the more powerful indicator of customer retention. The confluence of the current externalities, the rise of social networks, and numerous technology innovations make it an opportune time to take the counter-strategy of "leaning into the wave." Invest in an improved customer experience, and you just might emerge with a better bottom line than ever."

Forgetting for the moment that this is meant to sell more of our Contact Centers and IPT solutions (which I live from, so BUY THEM!), it's good advice to any Project Manager out there - your job doesn't always end when the project closes down. Pay attention to your customer. Even if you're not officially assigned to them anymore, let them know every couple of months that you're still around, still care, and are still willing to help them. After all, it was you and your team who gave them something of value - you're always the one with the quickest answer to their questions. Care about them, and they'll care about you.

Source: Zack Taylor on the Avaya Corporate Blog

Conflict management


You show up on a customer site. Your contact there is out sick, and his temporary replacement has no idea what was already done. He starts a shouting match that he'll have you all fired immediately, that the product is crap and that you're all incompetent. Of course, the fact that he never read the brief, or that it might have been good if he'd had at least glanced at the last status report has managed to escape him.

Now what?

There are many ways to calm down a heated debate (new speak for argument), in my case most of them involve finding a large server and accidentally dropping it on someones toes. (No, not really. I wouldn't do that to an innocent server.) However, since the way I'd resolve the argument in my daydream isn't something that seems to be socially acceptable - to say nothing of proper business behavior, some suggestions from the blog of Jay Morrissey might come in handy:

Your guide to resolving any heated argument
and Fight back against verbal intimidation

Check out the rest of his site too - lots of good advice to be found! [www.jaymorrissey.com]

Home office

I work either from home or from a customer site about 90% of the time. For me, it's simply easier and more relaxing to be able to work from home - no screaming (and you don't know screaming until you've heard three Hungarian girls talk about... anything...), no disturbances... Ah. Peace and quiet. I simply find I'm more productive when at home.

Now, a home office might not be for everyone - I've had some issues when I first started with people going "oh, you're at home, can you help me with ", or "can you please clean the kitchen and do the laundry" - but I've trained them well :) I don't bother getting dressed up, or "tricking" myself into going to work while still at home - I know what needs to be done anyway :) However, if you're just starting out, here are some helpful tips:

Advice for setting up a home office
[Productivity 501] via [Lifehacker]

Project Management, the 2.0 way

Hey folks.

You interested yet? Lately, I seem to have gotten some good fortune - it seems that people think I'm good at what I do. Dangit!

Time to share with the community at large (read: bore people to death). I'm on my way to being a PMP, and I envision this place as a helper to anyone that wants to get started out in this wonderful world called Project Management.

Have fun. Stick to deadlines. And be nice to me! :)