Soft skills - Reduce costs and successfully implement complex projects

Migration projects, which aim to prepare a company for the years ahead, require a great deal of specific knowledge. Thereby, productive inter-exchange between specialists over the entire project duration is essential if projects are to succeed. For this reason, employees with the required soft skills to initiate this communication between specialists undoubtedly belong in the team for any complex project. Modern IT landscapes continue to evolve. Simple updates are not always enough to return systems to the state of the art. Migrations are unavoidable in some cases. They are almost always very challenging since the system must ultimately undergo a major change during ongoing operation. Moreover, the chosen technology must be sustainable since it will have to provide a solid foundation over a longer period of time. Accordingly, it is generally necessary to recruit experienced external specialists. Here, it is important that the team is reinforced not only with technical specialists but also with persons who have good soft skills. Of course, specialised engineers are a mandatory element in migration projects. They possess the necessary experience with such projects and know the best practices. However, an appropriate interexchange with the business side must also be ensured in order to fully utilise the expertise that specialists bring with them. This requires team members with strong project management abilities and soft skills. The following example underlines the extent of these benefits. In this case, the requirements engineer was responsible for the communication between the various participants.

Soft skills – leverage during project start up

In a company an Internet solution is being migrated. After conducting a general survey of possible requirements among the business professionals, the requirements engineer organises a workshop. Various IT professionals are also present alongside the product manager. The developers bring many good ideas and provide indications on the time and work that will be involved for the specific requirements. Among other topics there is a joint discussion about different ideas for displaying products on the screen. The original requirements would result in website visitors needing to scroll down to see all of the products. As an alternative, some developers propose working with tabs. This approach allows website visitors to switch between products with a single click. The proposal makes sense to the product manager and is implemented accordingly. Moreover, other employees who are responsible for architecture, design and development now have precise specifications, and are thus better able to assess what the product manager wants.

Soft skills – better results in the requirements engineer phase

The interexchange in the requirements engineering phase leads not only to better solutions, but also enables cost savings. This is because the dialogue makes it possible for sensible compromises to be found between performance and technical complexity. This applies in particular to so-called non-functional requirements such as response time. Stakeholders frequently set extremely ambitious goals for these types of attributes. For example, the system response time should for the most part be under a second. While such targets are usually technically feasible, the effort involved is often disproportionately high.

Wheel of expertise for a consultant

Fig. 1: Wheel of expertise for a consultant

The leverage effect of the interexchange is especially great at the project outset. However, for complex projects in particular, it is critical that the interexchange is maintained throughout the project duration. Indeed, undertakings such as these cannot be planned down to the last detail. There are always areas that are resistant to straightforward approaches, and which require close analysis together with stakeholders before resolution on the technical side. In such situations, employees with effectual soft skills are of great benefit. Accordingly, it is important for the team to have – in addition to technical experts – employees with the relevant talents: • Readiness to assume responsibility • Problem-solving orientation • Adaptability to the stakeholders and to the project situation • Capacity for teamwork • Ability to tap into and make sense of information • High level of self-motivation Anybody with these skills and a technical background should manage to quickly find his or her way around in specialised technical areas. This means that if an employee with good soft skills is brought onto the team, it is not essential for them to also have technical expertise.

Soft skills - better results during system and acceptance tests for a migration project

A company involved in passenger transport is replacing one of its systems, and the new system should provide a foundation for the next ten years. Since the existing system will be replaced 1:1, the project is handled primarily by the development department. In the system and acceptance test phase, the necessary level of trust will be established among the technical personnel and the management. External specialists are brought in for this purpose who have extensive experience in the area of testing along with the required soft skills. The testing is planned so as to proceed smoothly and be transparent for the stakeholders. The technical department and also the developers are closely integrated over the course of the entire test process. Extensive manual end-to-end regression tests and explorative testing are used (informal test design procedure in which the tester actively manages the design of the tests by applying the information he gathers during the test process to create new and better tests). By heavily involving the technical department in the regression and acceptance tests, confidence in the quality of the developed software is boosted for the customer and also for the management. Teamwork with the development department is also critical in order to discover major errors and thus assure quality.

Building confidence through testing

Fig. 2: Building confidence through testing

Soft skills - a confidence-builder in the test phase 

Practical examples like the ones given here might appear at first glance to be stating the obvious. Every job posting nowadays is seeking a person who is both a self-starter and a team player. It is above all in complex, high-risk and intensive projects such as migrations that employees often return to familiar patterns of behaviour: Here, energy is devoted exclusively to the technical challenges, and the perspective of their counterparts on the business side or on the part of users is lost. This poses the risk of misunderstandings, and can ultimately even cause rifts between the individual departments. Employees with particularly strong soft skills do more than just prevent such developments from occurring. Their efforts lead to better solutions, and can open up great potential for savings. For this reason, they are just as essential to the migration project team as the technical specialists.