Posted tagged ‘planning’

The Eleven Percent Solution

September 29, 2011

It seems appropriate, on this last day of the major league baseball season, to ponder the difference between success and failure, two terms that get thrown around a lot in sports and business.

The New York Yankees are having a successful season so far.  They are likely to end up winning 98 baseball games this year if they hold on to the lead they have right now.  They lost 64 games.  If you think about it, that’s a lot of games to lose.

The Cleveland Indians will not be in the playoffs and I suspect some of their fans would not consider their season successful.  They won 80 games so far, and lost 81.  Even Steven…

What’s interesting about that to me is that the difference in wins between the Yankees and the Indians is a mere 18 more games won by the Yankees.  Over the course of 162 games and six grueling months, that amounts to eleven percent more games won by a “successful” team over a “failure.”  Not a lot.

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Coincidentally, I was also at a panel discussion last night about innovation.  One of the questions from the audience was “do you celebrate failure?”  Good question!   I was a bit surprised by the answer, which was pretty much “no we don’t.”   I thought perhaps the speaker would wax eloquently about how important it was to coddle your team and accept interim defeats.  But no!    I think the gist of the response was that, although you have to learn from mistakes and continually correct your course, just because you’re innovating doesn’t mean you have to expect, tolerate, or celebrate failure.

So here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the Cleveland Indians are popping champagne tonight?
  2. Do you think the Yankees high-fived each other in the clubhouse after one of their 64 losses?
  3. Does you think that the most successful sports teams get angry when they lose and use it as motivation to go out the next day and kick some butt?
  4. Does your team or organization hate to lose?
  5. Do you think that anyone on your team believes that an 11% improvement in their results, however they are measured, would mean the difference between success and failure?

Answer key:

  1. no
  2. no
  3. yes
  4. you tell me
  5. If not, I think the Indians are looking for a backup catcher…
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The Road Ahead

June 23, 2011

 

Last week, I officially signed the paperwork to form a new, larger consulting company called the BrightStreet Group with three partners, Pete Richardson, Shane Jordan, and Jason Welch.  One of the many things we hope to do to help our clients is to align technology and business goals more closely.

It seems to me that between social media, cloud computing, CRM, mobility, virtual workers, highly interactive websites, legacy system rewrites, system consolidation, and collaboration, there is no limit to what an organization could spend on technology initiatives.  But do all those things make business sense for everyone?  Just because everyone else is doing it, does your business need a Facebook page?  Or no data center?  Or a CRM system that acts as the center of your application universe??

One of the few things that I am certain of is that the answers to those questions is not the same for every business.  At the same time, the pressure to invest your technology budgets wisely and demonstrate real business value back for those investments has never been greater, right when the number of places where you can invest is growing faster than ever.

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We all blame scope creep and bad estimating as the top two culprits for technology project cost and schedule overruns.  But I think there’s a silent third burglar in that group.  That sly thief is technology leading business around by its nose.

I have been in quite a few meetings lately where technologists start talking, tossing around caveats, acronyms, constraints and rationales, and the business folks get the same look on their faces that I get when my auto mechanic starts explaining to me why the noise coming from the rear passenger side of my car is going to take 3 days to fix and cost $1200.  I nod, pretend to understand, and get out my checkbook because I need my car back and he knows it…

But what if my mechanic asked me what I used my car for, how far I typically drive in a week, how tolerant I am of minor noises, whether my life insurance is paid up, and what else I am thinking of spending the $1200 on??   And what if he had a different fix that was more suited to my personal needs?

On a muggy summer evening, isn’t is great to dream…?

Dante was right

June 13, 2011

Here’s a challenge that quite a few of my clients are facing these days.  How do you foster collaboration, social networking, and other employee “bonding” platforms while not letting the “inmates run the asylum” at the same time??

The short answer is that you take governance seriously.

That’s where Dante comes in.  Dante, as many of you astute students of medieval literature well know, was a 14th century poet who wrote The Divine Comedy.    In the Inferno cantica, Dante describes the nine levels of hell.  Those being:

I think Dante’s model has some relevance even today.  So here are my six circles of Collaboration Governance Hell:

1.  I have no Governance plan.
2.  I wrote one but “forgot” to share with users, stakeholders and sponsors.
3.  I wrote one and shared it with stakeholders and users but did not get anyone’s explicit approval.
4.  I wrote one after our intranet was up and running for 2 years because things were “starting” to get out of control.
5.  I downloaded Joel Olsen’s white paper / governance plan and did a mass find/replace with my company’s name.
6.  I wrote one but it’s just a list of all the things that I don’t think users and site admins should be allowed to do.

If you’re hanging out in one of these circles, don’t despair.  Just double your resolve to get out by:

– leveraging good governance content that is already available on the internet

– customizing it to reflect what really matters in your world and culture

– assuring it gets reviewed and approved by ALL your stakeholders

– developing a way to gently enforce it without emulating the Third Reich…

If you can follow all these steps, someday you may actually find yourself in Purgatorio…  OK, so that’s not Paradiso, but it’s a start!

Less is More

April 7, 2011

I had a strange convergence of events this week.  I have been working closely with a client during the requirements phase of a big, complex project that could easily evolve into “more is more” if we’re not careful.  I am reading ReWork by Jason Fried, which is just an interesting little collection of one or two page thoughts on how to work smarter and be more productive.  On page 83, there’s a segment titled “Throw Less at the Problem.”   Inspiring and counter-intuitive!  But here’s the convergence topper!

I was watching Jimmy Fallon’s talk show.  His guest was Jerry Weintraub who, among other things, supposedly managed Elvis Presley’s road show engagements for a while.  He told a great anecdote on the show, which I will try to summarize:

He said he booked Elvis at an afternoon gig in Miami in July.   According to Jerry, Elvis had two key requirements for his performances:

  1. there need to be women in the front rows of the audience (duh)
  2. the venue has to be full

Jerry booked an 10,000 seat arena for the show.  He called to check on ticket sales and was told by the local promoter that the show had sold out.  When Jerry got there the day of the show, the promoter fessed up and said they really had only sold 5,000 seats and that he lied about the sales because he thought that’s what Jerry wanted to hear.  Who wants to go to an indoor concert in the middle of a July afternoon in Miami??  So Jerry had to sell 5,000 seats in a few hours to make sure the arena was full for Elvis’ concert.  Or did he???

He said he hired a few local workers and removed 5,000 seats from the arena!  Brilliant! Elvis was very happy with the “sellout” for the show.

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So next time, before you throw more resources, money, time and effort at a problem, consider what you might take away instead…  Who knows what you might come up with!

Going down?

January 14, 2011

As a leader within your organization, I am sure that at one point or another you’ve had a discussion about your company’s “elevator speech” – this concept that you should be able to explain exactly what your company is all about in less than 1 minute.  Many companies take this quite seriously, and even practice and drill their C levels, business development team and others about what they should say and how they should say it.  Seems reasonable to me.

But what if you had A WHOLE HOUR to talk about yourself and your company??   Assuming you opted not to repeat your elevator pitch 59 times, then what?

I had the pleasure of sitting through two such “moments” today as part of the vendor selection process for an enterprise-wide ERP implementation (and yes, I know that’s redundant…)  It was, to say the least, illuminating.

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So here’s my quick “top 5” things NOT to do, in case you:

  • a) find yourself in a similar situation
  • b) actually think any of my alleged “insights” are worth taking seriously

Drum roll, please!

  1. Don’t read slides to me that have the same content that is already in the response to my RFP.  I know I didn’t read it, and you know I didn’t read it, but still…
  2. Don’t tell me how many partner/customer/developer/consultant of the year awards you’ve won.  That’s like auditioning for a part in a movie, walking in with an Emmy statue, and asking me if I still want you to actually read the script…
  3. Don’t tell me “who reports to who.” In the unlikely event I can’t figure it out from the business cards you just handed me, if you do win the business, and the project goes south, there will be ample time for me to find out who your boss is and call her.
  4. Don’t show me a methodology slide you “tweaked” from ITIL, PMI, COBIT, Lean, Six Sigma, Seven Sigma or Eight Omega and tell me that’s what makes you different and better.  That’s like showing me an overhead photo of the Brickyard at Indianapolis, grabbing a marker and drawing an arrow that goes around the track in a perfect oval, and then tell me that makes you Helio Castroneves…
  5. Don’t tell me the project is going to take 6,473 hours to complete and if we start on February 3, we’ll be done on October 15 at 3:44 PM.    I know my requirements are 60% accurate; you know my requirements are 60% accurate.  Why not say there’s a good chance we could finish between Sep 30 and Nov 15, depending on what we learn about each other in the next 6 weeks.  Is that so hard??

Would you press 4 for me?

 

Boris, Natasha and QA

November 30, 2010

 

Last month, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alexander Anderson Jr., passed away at the ripe old age of 90.  Definitely one of my favorite cartoons as a kid!  I remember, among other things, Boris Badenov, the villain, saying, “I send Lady Spy (aka Natasha) with package which is really bomb.  She gets caught, she throws bomb out window, who gets blown up?  Me!”

Setting aside the fact that those were simpler times, and that the TSA likely would have stripped-searched Natasha and found the explosives long before she could heave them out the window, I had a similar experience last week where I felt a bit like Boris.

I have been providing training to one of my client’s Trustees, an elite group of successful, influential and typically ‘senior’ folks who are going to begin to receive documents, view calendars and do other things on line in their new “board portal” that they had done by email, snail mail or telephone in the past.  Good idea!

Because of the sensitive nature of the materials on the portal (as you can imagine) I was not granted access to the “real” portal – just a training version with generic content.  As many of you savvy readers will conclude, I also was therefore not able to “test” the real portal myself and ensure it worked flawlessly before demonstrating it and educating these local titans of industry.  Not a problem, I was told!  The rather granular permissions model, access from outside through the firewall and the search feature were all thoroughly tested by the system administrator.  Excellent!  No worries!!

Wait for it…

That is correct!  When I went to the law offices of one of the trustees, and stood over him in his corner office while he first used the portal, the search feature found documents from another site ‘by accident’, it didn’t allow him to participate in discussions that it should have, and it even threw a lovely 404 error when he tried to access one of the documents that search ‘found’ for him.  I, of course, was left to “explain” these behaviors and assure him they’d be corrected (which they have been).

A cautionary tale:  If you’re doing something important and you leave the Quality Assurance to others with no means to verify it’s been done thoroughly, just remember that when the bomb gets thrown out the window, you’re the one standing under it…

The Department of S&E

September 19, 2010

One of the things I thought was cool about 2001 A Space Odyssey was the name of the computer, HAL.  Being the not-so-intuitive type, someone had to clue me in that HAL was IBM, just one letter each toward the front of the alphabet – H instead of I, A instead of B, you get it…  (side note – Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001, A Space Odyssey, denies this and claims it represents Heuristic ALgorithm…)

Did you also know that the budgets for Research and Development for IBM, Microsoft and Intel are, respectively, $6 billion, $9.5 billion, and $6.5 billion?  Even recognizing that new products and technology are the lifeblood of those companies, that is still some serious cash to throw at one department, relying on them to come up with the next big thing.

  What about the rest of the folks at IBM, Microsoft, and Intel?  What is the budget for them to innovate?  I fear it may be $175.89.  That’s the cost to purchase and mount 6 or 7  “suggestion boxes” in the cafeteria, lobbies and break rooms.

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I wonder how all the employees who aren’t part of R&D feel about all that.  And not just at IBM, Intel and Microsoft.  They are just easy targets because their budgets for R&D are so mammoth.  What about your company’s R&D budget?  How much is it and where does it go?

I have to believe that teams that work with their company’s products and technology have an amazing number of ideas for how to improve them or how to create brand new ones.  But I worry that many of the employees who aren’t in R&D are, perhaps inadvertently, being messaged that they are in S&E, Stagnation and Entrenchment.  And I have seen this!  Employees seem all too comfortable to work very hard at keeping things just the way they are (stagnation) and avoiding new tasks, responsibilities and challenges (entrenchment).

It’s easy to think that’s the employees’ fault, right?  I mean, they’re jaded, what are you gonna do? 

Why not take a little of that R&D budget and give it to the S&E teams?  Give them a serious incentive to innovate and improve your products and services.  Give them the opportunity to become an extended and welcomed arm of R&D.

Or, just learn how to hum Daisy Bell…