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Jovia Nierenberg

Jovia Nierenberg

Jovia Nierenberg is Chief Operating Officer at Experience in Software. That’s the company behind the new project management tool Webplanner. She’s only 23. I asked her about her life as a COO, what’s next for Webplanner and her advice for young women wanting to work in project management.

Jovia, how did you end up being COO at 23?

My father founded Experience in Software (EIS) in 1983. Shortly after finishing college, I began work at the company doing some basic bookkeeping. Just a few months later, my dad got sick and could run the business less and less.

We were at a pivotal turning point with the beginning of Webplanner’s development, which I was product managing. Given my father’s health complications and my experience working at the company, it made sense for me to assume more responsibility and become COO of the company. I’ve really enjoyed streamlining EIS’s business processes and learning how to run a company.

So what does your role involve?

At a small company we all wear many hats. I do everything from defining company procedures and operations to product-managing Webplanner to checking the mail. I also manage other employees, do Webplanner customer support (someone else does Project KickStart customer support), design the user interface of Webplanner, manage company finances, and various tasks that do not fit into anyone else’s job description.

Wow, that’s a varied job. Tell us about what role you play in the development of Webplanner.

Webplanner development is probably the most fun part of my job. When we have new features and pages, I draw the initial user interface sketches and work with our primary developer to turn the sketches into reality. I focus primarily on product intuitiveness; whenever a user has trouble understanding how to do something, I go back and see if that functionality can be made easier to use.

I manage the development team and communicate with customers about bugs they’ve found and changes they’d like to see. Whenever I use any web app or other piece of software, I’m thinking about how we can make Webplanner better. I record ideas and cool things I see in the world in an Evernote account.

Much of my process has been inspired by Steven Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From. I’m very interested in how people think and plan and how we can develop Webplanner (and future applications) to help people innovate.

Webplanner screenshot

Webplanner screenshot

It sounds like you’ve got a lot of good ideas for the product. How is the development of Webplanner going and what’s next for the tool?

Very well!!! Our beta testing group has doubled in size in the month of May and is continuing to grow. Our last big hurdle before release is getting our billing system set up. Once Webplanner is on the market, we plan to go mobile with an iPhone/iPad app and an Android app.

There are also many updates in the works, including improved multi-project functionality and better integration with other software like MS Project and salesforce.com. We will, of course, continue to incorporate the feature requests we get from our users too.

First Project KickStart, now Webplanner. Why do you enjoy working with project management tools?

I am fascinated by how people think and tools that can help people accomplish their dreams. Project management software helps people turn their ideas into reality and I find that very exciting.

What advice do you have for young women who want to go into project management or software development?

No dream is too big. Passion and good planning are equally important when it comes to accomplishing your goals.

Read books that feature success stories. I recently enjoyed Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff. Read blogs and forums that interest you. Develop a network of people to bounce ideas off of. Go to local tech events and introduce yourself to people. It’s been my experience that if you’re warm and friendly, people are eager to help you when you’re starting out. I’ve gotten great advice this way.

There are also many organizations dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs. For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area (where our office is located), there is  Women 2.0, who we met at a SF New Tech event. Wherever you’re located, I recommend finding resources like that and taking advantage of what they offer.

I also want to put in a plug that at Experience in Software, we’re always looking for bright young women interns who are interested in getting into project management or who would one day like to start their own companies.

Thanks, Jovia!

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Two weeks ago I told you about my trip to Paris to speak at PMI’s Ile de France chapter. The other speaker that evening was Christophe Campana, one of the founders of consulting company Campana & Schott.

Point Croissance (Point of Growth, also known as Poetic Totems) sculpture by Lim Dong Lak at La Défense

He told me how his company was changing its recruitment adverts in an effort to attract more female applicants. Currently only about 10% of the company’s consultants are women. About 10% of the attendees at our event were women. About 10% of graduates from the French Grandes Ecoles are women. Christophe has an uphill struggle on his hands but he is one of the switched on male managers who have realised that having women in the company is beneficial for everyone. I wish him well. (And if you want to apply, C&S sounds like a great company to work for.)

Using SharePoint 2010 on projects: a case study

Christophe’s presentation focused on how companies can use Microsoft SharePoint to help the project management process and delivery.  He explained how Campana & Schott use SharePoint to manage their entire business.

C&S has around 180 employees in multiple countries across 9 subsidiary companies.

They manage 150-200 projects per year. Small projects take up to 15 days and larger projects can take over 500 days.  The team spent most of their days on email. The company was suffering from high telephone bills and expensive travel costs. The company’s success is based on the knowledge of the people involved so they constantly need access to each other’s expertise.

Christophe explained the criteria for a tool to address these issues:

  • It must be available off-line with the ability to synchronise when the user went online again
  • It must have high availability
  • It must work globally
  • It must be implemented with no training and no extra ongoing admin overhead
  • It must be used to standardise information and project delivery but with flexibility to allow the project manager to organise the team as he or she saw fit because project contexts differed greatly.

They decided that SharePoint addressed all of these needs and created a corporate intranet called CeaSar (see what they’ve done there?).

How it works

If you are familiar with SharePoint, you’ll know how it can be used to create workspaces and tailored views of information depending on who is browsing. The CeaSar site has a tailored home page, which shows the user’s projects and clients. You can then browse to a project site.

A project site includes photos of the team members, announcements and other project documentation.  Your own profile includes a dynamic organisation chart linked to Active Directory, and you can ‘subscribe’ to your colleague’s pages. And unlike Facebook, Christophe said, they don’t have the option to say no.

The project sites also include pertinent emails, and Christophe explained that the team routinely copied the SharePoint site into emails. This gives the software the ability to automatically store emails in the project area.

The team have also used the list function in SharePoint to create risk and issue logs. Christophe said that this avoids team members wondering if they have the latest copy of a document, as they always know that they are looking at the most recent information with SharePoint lists.

Want more information on SharePoint? Read my review of SharePoint for Project Management

Advanced search

SharePoint gives you the ability to rate documents so if you feel it is really relevant to the project, you can give it 5 stars. This apparently makes it easier to find again as you can display ‘my top documents’. But the search is so good that I’m not sure that rating information gives you a great deal of added value.

You can publish documents direct from Word to SharePoint, and the idea of a powerful search tool means that you don’t need to attribute it to a particular area (if I understood correctly). Dynamic search will find it again when you need it. I think it will take a mindset change to get people to do this rather than save documents to a shared drive.

The new search feature gives you the option to refine your search by various criteria, much as Amazon allows you to refine you search by category, release date, format and so on. This is a nice feature but it is hardly trailblazing. For example, Ravelry, the knitting and crochet site, allows you to search patterns and apply filters for hook/needle size, yarn type, age range and more, and has done for a while.

Forms for Project Charters

Christophe also demonstrated an application that C&S had written for an Austrian client. It was a light touch approach to managing portfolio requests. It was form-based. The first form enabled people to suggest ideas for projects – a kind of Project Charter. A workflow behind this allowed the project to be approved or rejected.

Another form was a monthly report which the project managers completed each month. Apart from that, nothing was mandated: project managers were free to use whichever scheduling tool they liked, and manage the projects how they liked. The application provided standardised reporting and the ability to capture data on projects at various levels.

All this data was stored in a database and could be presented in a variety of ways. The portfolio team could view project dashboards to see overall performance, and then drill down to individual projects. Very impressive, and not a great deal of time required from the project managers either.

Christophe said that he had never seen such growth in the take up of a product as SharePoint is enjoying now in the 25 years that he has been working with Microsoft tools. That more and more companies are using SharePoint for project management is testament to the fact that it must work. I’m sure he will be busy for years to come helping companies get the best out of the tool.

What are your experiences of using SharePoint for project management?

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Here’s my video diary of my recent trip to Paris. I was invited to speak about social media for project managers at the Ile-de-France PMI Chapter, but I took the opportunity to see the city and some friends as well. As you’ll hear from the video, my pronounciation of cannelles* and quennelles** are identically awful. My French teacher would be horrified. A transcript of the video is below, along with notes on the French words.

I’m in Paris to do a presentation for the Ile-de-France PMI Chapter. It’s the first time I’ve done a presentation in a country where the language isn’t my own or where the majority of the presentations won’t be in that language so that’s going to be quite a challenge for me. So at the moment, I’m at l’Esplanade de la Défense and I am about to meet some friends for lunch.

I’m on my way to find the venue for this evening’s presentation and I don’t exactly know where it is but I am currently walking past the Centre Pompidou and there’s renovation works going on which makes it very noisy here. But the parvis is full of people. There aren’t any street entertainers here which they used to be, which there frequently are. But I imagine that’s because it’s a Tuesday.

Okay, here we are! Espace Saint Martin and that’s where I’ll be giving a presentation tonight. So now I just need to go back, get ready and I’ll be back here about 6 o’clock.

My hotel is on this side of the Centre Pompidou different. It’s much more impressive from this angle, and it’s huge. Basically where I’ll be speaking tonight is diagonally here on the other side of the square with the Pompidou Center in.

I’ve spent the afternoon going through my slides because what I’ve realized this morning was that there is not a lot of technical language but there are some turns of phrase that I could actually make a lot easier for a foreign language audience to understand. So I’ve just been going through and looking at what phrases I could change to simpler English, I’ve added in an extra slide which I think will put more words on the screen so that will make it hopefully again easier for them to understand.

And I’ve written the part of my presentation I’m doing at the beginning in French and I’ve had that checked by a French native speaker so hopefully that’s going to be okay. And I’m about now to get my bits and pieces together and head off round to Espace Saint Martin to do the presentation.

I have to say that this is a very impressive space. This is the upstairs of the building and there are all these rather odd statues. And obviously the other side of that is a big auditorium. We’re actually speaking in a small room downstairs and there’s me and there is a project management consultancy company who do SharePoint and are doing a SharePoint demo tonight so that should be quite interesting as well.

This is the room that I spoke in this evening. And apparently they had between eighty and a hundred people turn up. There were people arriving quite after the session has started. But there were very few chairs and people had to squeeze in at the back which was great really. It’s great to see how many people turned up.

I’ve been talking with the President of the Chapter and he said it’s a growing and very busy Chapter with lots of events planned. So I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet some of the people and to speak to them.

Well, it’s about quarter to ten and I’m back from doing the presentation at the Ile-de-France Chapter of PMI and it went really well. There were great questions, the people were lovely, all the Chapter members and the organizers did everything they could to be helpful, and they served cannelles* after with some drinks as a pot^ after the event, after my speech and Christophe’s speech. He was from a company and they spoke about SharePoint implementations and how that can help manage projects.

So overall, it was a really nice evening and I was speaking to one of the people beforehand around why my blog is called A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. And I thought actually that things had moved on and that really we had addressed the fact that there were not that many women in project management speaking and writing. But in a room of eighty, ninety people, there were eight women including myself which is not a great representation of how many women I’m sure working in project management in France today. So I hadn’t realized quite how different it would be in a different geography because it’s certainly not like that at UK events but it’s interesting to see the representation of women in the room and I’m back from that now.

I stopped at the supermarket on my way back to buy some of the things that I missed from France. So this is roule au fromage^^ and I’ve also got some quenelle in here as well, and this is Michel et Augustin. And that was a product launched, a product brand that was launched when I used to live in Paris and I think they’re great. So I have no idea what these are…parmesan and mustard, cheesy biscuits. So I’m going to take all of these home with me and take a little bit of France home as a memory.

* Cannelles: little cakes from Bordeaux. Read more on Wikipedia.

** Quennelles: erm, French dumplings. No idea what is in the vegetarian ones and would probably prefer not to know. Read more on Wikipedia.

^ Pot: drinks and nibbles.

^^ Roule au fromage: puff pastry rolls with cheese and bechamel sauce inside. Think sausage roll without the sausage.

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Pour le quartorze juillet

I’ve been working in London eight weeks now and I’m getting used to the early starts, the over-crowded public transport and the dirt that seems to cling to the inside of my nostrils every day. I occasionally hear French voices in the street, and it makes me more inclined not to let my own language skills slip, so I’ve started a campaign to keep my French going, especially as this weekend London’s French community have been celebrating Bastille Day in a big way.

If you’d asked me six months ago if I would ever use an iPod, I would have categorically said no. But I got one in December, and now I couldn’t be without it (and I’ve just realised I can play solitaire on it too). I’ve been on to the French homepage of iTunes and subscribed to lots of newspods. The best I’ve found so far is RMC: Le tout info en sept minutes which is a quick round-up of all the news stories and about as much as I can be bothered to listen to.

I’ve also read the first Alex Rider book in French, which was excellent, although there was some vocabulary about car crushers that I had to make a best guess at. I’ve now bought Mission Polaire, the second in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, which I’m having a harder time with. I must have missed the French lesson on mythical creatures, so I’m guessing what type of fairy-thing the characters are from whether they have wings or not.

Regular readers will know I had a short-lived obsession last autumn with the Spanish TV series Un Paso Adelante, which was dubbed into French as Un Dos Tres. On my last visit to Paris I bought series three and four and am once again addicted. Could Adela try any harder to mess up her life? And Juan, Diana and Ingrid: now there’s a love triangle that’s going to run and run. So all in all, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of not letting my old skills slip away.

Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t do a very good job of separating languages. In a meeting last week with one of the directors I was giving a project status update and said, “We should be able to rattrape the delay.” Then I realised that wasn’t actually English, and worse, the grammar of the sentence didn’t work either. “We should be able to catch up the delay” isn’t the most articulate way to explain that your replan has made some improvements to the project timescales.

Luckily, I don’t think many people noticed – they got the sense of it from the context, a bit like I worked out that description of the car crusher. Either that, or they weren’t listening at all…

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Working away

“Can you be here for 9.30?”

“Yes, that’s no problem,” I reply. “With the Eurostar it’s less than three hours.”

This is the official line: from leaving the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord to arriving at Waterloo International is less than three hours. But who has a meeting at Waterloo station? Once you add on the travel time at each end and check in, it feels like you have been awake for days before you reach the meeting room.

Knowing I won’t be able to sleep on the train I plan the night before in meticulous detail to maximise the amount of time I can spend in bed the following morning.

I decide that it’s about time I hemmed my suit trousers properly instead of just leaving them tacked up with safety pins, so I spend twenty minutes trying to make sure the stitches in not-quite-the-right-blue-but-all-I’ve-got-at-short-notice cotton don’t show. I try them on. They are a bit too short to wear with heels – which is a good thing, as it means I don’t have to clean my posh shoes. I opt for flats with blue flowers on instead, which go better with the trouser length, and put them by the door.

I fold up the top I am going to wear and put it in my laptop bag. Then I get out a reasonably smart T-shirt I can wear for the journey instead. Previous experience with croissants has shown me there is no way I can manage not to get crumbs all over myself, so changing into my ‘proper’ outfit on the train has become second nature. All the other things I’ll need are laid out or packed: a wrap as it’s freezing at that time in the morning and I’ll be taking my suit jacket off as soon as I get on the train, my make-up bag, tickets, passport. I wash and blow dry my hair, hoping it will hold the style.

At 5.45 the next morning I roll over and turn my alarm off.

At 6 am I get up and am on the metro for 6.10 am. Then the day really starts: speeding through check-in, working on the train, rushing on the underground to get to the office in time. I dash from one conversation to the next, stopping five minutes before each one to touch up my make-up and compose myself. I always try to fit too much in when I go to London, but all the meetings go well and I’m at my hotel at 6.30, in time to watch the end of Masterchef.

Saturday starts at a different pace. I take the underground to Southgate, north of London, which feels a world away. I’m not sure I’ll be welcomed back by those residents on the Piccadilly Line though, after squealing, ‘Look at all the little houses, it’s like a proper town!’ as the tube popped out overground. Suffice to say I had not visited that bit of London before.
I meet a friend and we eat huge slices of carrot cake in an Italian deli before getting back on the tube to Shaftesbury Avenue. We just make it to the theatre in time to collect our tickets and queue for the toilets (was the theatre built before women went to the theatre? I have rarely been in a theatre with such inadequate facililites) before the house lights go down.

Equus was fantastic. Richard Griffiths stole the show for me with all the best lines. Jenny Agutter had a great trouser suit but her part was a bit weak. And of course, there were other good bits too.

Then the pace picks up again: dash to the hotel, collect my bags, taxi to the station and back on the train.

At Gare du Nord, someone stops in front of me to light a cigarette, even though it’s now illegal. I dodge the men waiting to catch tourists with their bus ticket scam – I couldn’t look more foreign with my Asda carrier bag and a rolled up copy of The Guardian. The display boards tell me it will be five minutes before another train comes along. In that time I’m treated to a chorus of homeless people shouting at each other across the tracks. When I finally make it my front door, some dog, or someone, has urinated up the wall and I lift my suitcase over the trickle.

It’s good to be home.

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It’s International Women’s Day

It’s international women’s day, a moment to reflect on the state of affairs for women around the globe. In my world, an office move has left us pretty badly off: we used to have two toilets between seven women and now we have four toilets between twenty-three. I’ve not had to queue yet but I’m sure it will happen.

But seriously, I’m not so put upon. With 70 million girls unable to access education, those of us who have done the education thing (and spent time complaining about it) fall into the category of the fortunate.

Even in developed countries where access to education is taken for granted, there is still ground to make up. French women, for example, earn 80% of what their male counterparts take home each month, and given that 51.4% of the population is female, it’s the minority that benefits from this inequality (although ironically men don’t seem to be capitalising on their earnings advantage.) Only 12% of the French parliament is made up of women. That’s worse than Greece, which traditionally has a reputation for being a pretty macho state, and a long way behind the 47% of the Swedish Rikstag.

So, to all my female colleagues and women everywhere, happy international women’s day!

Et pour des webnauts françaises : aujourd’hui nous fêtons les femmes. Bonne journée à vous toutes !

Quand tout se fait petit, Femmes, vous restez grandes – Victor Hugo

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